Caravan snobs can bore off, it’s the best way to holiday in the UK

On the whole, caravanning is cheery, fun, and inherently very British (Picture: Getty Images)

I have often been described as a ‘working class comedian’ – usually by myself – but I sometimes wonder: how working class am I? 

Class is a sticky subject in the UK – the boundaries of working and middle class are blurred, making it hard to decipher where I sit on that spectrum.

Having grown up in and around Stevenage, born into a terraced house and attending the local state school, I now live in leafy north London. My child has a double barrelled surname, I drink bottled beer (and not just on birthdays and Christmas).  

There is one working class credential I do definitely hold, though – I spent nearly every summer of my youth in a caravan park.

And as the Government sends out fuzzy restrictions on where we can and can’t go on holiday this summer, with expensive PCR tests inevitable and lengthy post-holiday quarantines likely, let me, a childhood expert in the humble British break, tell you why I believe caravanning is in fact the classiest way to holiday.

My earliest memory actually took place in a caravan park. My parents had taken me and my infant sister to a Pontins by the coast. I remember standing, frozen with fear, next to a large crocodile – Pontins’ mascot – for a photograph. 

I can’t remember my exact age but I would guess that I was just about old enough to know that crocodiles are dangerous reptilian beasts capable of eating human children, but not quite old enough to realise that beside me was a man in a crocodile suit. 

But this snapshot of dread isn’t representative of the general vibe I enjoyed on the yet to be coined ‘staycations’ of my youth.

On the whole, caravanning is cheery, fun, and inherently very British (everyone on the campsite sharing the knowledge that things would be better if we were somewhere else – ideally somewhere warmer, with a heated swimming pool).

But there’s an unspoken agreement of acceptance; we’re here, we’re technically on holiday, so we might as well try to enjoy it.

And I really did. Part of the joy back when my family frequented the New Beach caravan park in Kent was the freedom. My parents would release me and my sister on our bicycles every morning, safe in the knowledge we could ride around all day, knocking on doors of familiar faces, leaving my mum and dad to relax in peace and quiet. 

Having returned there to the same caravan for a few weeks each summer, my sister and I knew every child, their parents, their pets and even their grandparents who visited at weekends.

The days were filled with bike rides, turns on the swings, jumpers for goalposts and cricket on the beach while evenings were spent in the clubhouse. 

There’s a special place in my heart for the camaraderie you get on caravan sites – even if I sometimes resented these trips at the time (Picture: Jacob Hawley)

In the middle of this pub/social club hybrid full of mismatched furniture, a laminate-wooden dance floor and impeccably priced continental lager (my dad would revel in this) there would be live entertainment every Friday night, a mix of disco DJs, cover bands, and best of all, professional wrestling. 

Looking back now I find this hard to believe, but a wrestling ring would be assembled, the room would be filled with excited kids (none more excited than myself), who were hooked on American wrestling shows like WWE, and a cast of middle-aged men in strange, brightly coloured yet somewhat tatty costumes would enter the ring and do a mixture of staged wrestling and actual fighting. 

My dad still delights in recalling the night one of the more popular wrestlers, nicknamed Bob The Builder, who arrived to the Bob The Builder song, dressed as a builder (easy enough as he was really a local builder) and ended up having a full on fistfight with a fellow competitor. 

I remember it vividly, too: the parents had to pile in to separate them when ‘Bob’ turned to us jeering kids, called us all ‘g*****s’ (some of the audience were from a travelling background, some of us weren’t, all of us found it funny) and stormed out in a strop as we all cheered.

I’ve got hundreds of other anecdotes like this. Another time at the park, the family in the caravan in front of ours kept Pitbull terriers and when the dogs were left alone at night, we’d watch from our caravan as the dogs would fight, causing the caravan to rock from side to side. 

None of this is particularly glamorous, and anyone reading this who had been planning to hit Marbella or Mykonos this summer will probably feel pretty depressed considering this as a substitute.

But there’s a special place in my heart for the camaraderie you get on caravan sites – even if I sometimes resented these trips at the time. 

I once got upset with my parents that, unlike some of the other children at school, we’d never been to Florida’s Disney World and had never met Mickey Mouse. I was about nine, and I didn’t know how much work and saving went into getting to Kent. 

Florida was so out of reach for us – in fact, the long term goal was a family trip to Mallorca, and in years to come that goal would be met. Looking back, that is something to applaud in itself.

Although Britain has changed so much since the Noughties, there are going to be plenty of families this summer who are booking campsites through necessity rather than choice. And if that’s you, don’t feel guilty about it – because your kids will benefit from the experience, even if they do not realise it yet. 

The pandemic has left Britain with a divide. There are some who have enjoyed generous furlough packages and SEISS payments for the self-employed; some who have managed to save during these times, taken mortgage breaks, and now want to spend having stayed home for so long. And so they should.

But there are many working class families who have had no support during this time, who have lost work, continued to pay rent, and would not be able to afford to look abroad even if travel restrictions allowed it.

As a self-employed comedian who received no financial support, lost all of my live work and welcomed my gorgeous but expensive daughter to the world last summer, I’m probably closer to the second camp. 

And while I’d love to get abroad this year, I look back to the holidays of my youth and remember how happy I was on that caravan site. l realise how hugely privileged we were to have those times, and the fact that I didn’t know that we were visiting caravan parks rather than Disney World for economic reasons means my parents did a good job of hiding any financial struggles. 

Those summers were special. The sun didn’t always shine, Mickey Mouse wasn’t present and the beach bars served cockles rather than cocktails.

There were some weeks when my dad couldn’t get the time off work so he would join us on a Friday, me and my sister fighting to get to the door as he arrived at dinner time with fish and chips.

And that was enough. All that mattered was that we were together. We were happy. And, we had chips.

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