Hooray, another cheap holiday! This time was at Devon Cliffs near Exmouth, during a rather cold and wet April. The holidayers were to be me, my mum, my grandmother and my sister (and her dog, Sweepy).
We all managed to cram into our trusty old Rover 400, but packing the luggage in exercised my Tetris skills to the limit and we narrowly escaped decapitation by my gran's big Scrabble box (to add insult to injury we later discovered my mum had already packed Travel Scrabble and we never played either of them) every time my mum braked sharply until I managed to wedge it in place with Gran's walking stick.
We planned to leave at midday, so by 3pm we had got as far as Bitterne, before going back for Gran's handbag. Then it was about my lunchtime, and Clare hadn't eaten either, so we stopped at McDonalds in Millbrook. Then we finally got properly on our way, but I found my mum's driving a bit stressful, because ours isn't the most quiet of cars even by 10-year-old diesel standards (I think there's something wrong with the exhaust) and it isn't clever enough to change gear automatically when the driver merely waves at or pats the gear lever.
Just east of Dorchester I took over the driving, but soon realised that the wheel arch liner was rubbing the tyre, having been loosened by speed bumps a few weeks ago. I had to stop a few times to tuck it back into place as well as the usual toilet stops. During the holiday I spared no expense repairing it - with some string. Annoyingly I had to buy a ball of string, while at home there was a ball of thicker stuff in a much better coordinated shade of green.
I managed to keep driving all the way there. After a few wrong turns I finally managed to convince my mum that her misconception that it might be next door to Bicton Botanical Gardens and general guesswork were inadequate and forced her to divulge the postcode to program the satnav. Unfortunately, that took us down a single-track lane and told us our destination was in an empty field. Not being your most manly of men I asked for directions at the nearest garage where it turned out this was such a common satnav mistake that the proprietor had a map with the correct route highlighted - about 3 miles away! Anyway, we got there just after 7pm and variously had pizza and fish and chips for tea.
I felt well pleased with myself for driving so far, and thought I'd done quite well in terms of pace. I'm usually a bit of a granddad driver, and the car was slower than usual with all the luggage, but I seemed to be leaving other cars behind rather than having people stuck behind me.
Not bad. Luckily, considering the weather, it had a gas fire in the lounge, and heaters in two of the bedrooms. Clare and I had a twin bunk "room" each. After she'd bagged the one farther away from the old snorers, giving complicated reasons why, I realised she'd left me the one without the heater. I got my revenge by fidgeting in bed, forcing her to change bunk to the one against the far wall, because the adjoining wall was so thin it was flexing and pushing her out of her bunk. The bunks were very narrow with almost no padding over the springs. With that and the snoring I don't know how I managed to sleep at all.
The fire did have a tendency to go all spluttery and have to be turned off and on again whenever we opened the door while the wind was up. Then after the gas cylinder ran out and I changed the valve over to the new one the grill never did work properly again. I had to give up making toast because the bread was going stale faster than it was cooking.
Needless to say, the TV strictly followed UK caravan site bye-laws: no remote control and no Channel 5. I managed to subvert the latter by taking along my laptop with a digital TV USB "stick".
We were too tired to bother with the untertainment on the first night, but on the second night we decided to brave it rather than be entertained by Gran telling us about the pain in her neck (the irony) while wearing her hearing aids turned off. We were treated to a ventriloquist who was so famous he'd been on Sky 3 and in an advert, even though you could see his lips moving from the back of the hall. His act was quite funny, but he also did some singing with his PA too loud. Then an Abba tribute band came on, who were quite good, but also uncomfortably loud, so we left.
After that the population of the caravan site diminished greatly due to it being the end of a half-term weekend so the entertainment was scaled down. The next time I went there was an Alan Carr impersonator and a woman with bingo wings singing to a karaoke machine and trying to get the audience to sing along and do sort of Mexican waves and stuff. Oh dear.
Then came the highlight of the evening: a large section came out of the front of the stage and then raised up level with the main stage. A very impressive act.
This was followed by some of the resident entertainment staff dancing on it, then the stage did its clever trick in reverse. Then there was a disco. Spare me.
The site was really big so we usually drove around it due to everyone being old or otherwise clapped out. It had what appeared to be its own beach which was quite an impressive one with a big expanse of sand - at least at low tide. For some reason dogs are only banned on it from May until the autumn so Sweepy was able to enjoy chasing seagulls along the sand, but the trek down a steep cliff path put the old ladies off a bit. On the next headland there was an army base on the top of the cliff and they had daily gun practice, so Sweepy spent most of her time terrified and trying to hide in amusing places.
The pool seemed rather good, but we only got to try the indoor pool because of the time of the year and mostly poor weather. It had fountains and showers, all sorts of slides (I did have one go on the big water flume), an inflatable which lots of kids were enjoying, and a spa bath. By wearing her hearing aids in the pool my Gran was able to ensure that they wouldn't work for the rest of the holiday in case she inadvertently switched them on.
Our first outing was to Exmouth for Sunday lunch, during a brief surprisingly warm spell, so we were able to sit outside. We ate at Exmouth Pavilion and were very pleased with the standard of the food. Afterwards we visited a craft fare in the adjoining hall where Mum and Gran bought useless souvenirs about the meaning of names and a smelly sheepskin rug respectively, which ended up in my "bedroom" because it was the only space available.
On the Monday, I think, we went to Budleigh Salterton (its name is obviously derived from "Bloody Sod All There Town"), but it was early closing day at two of the shops, so there was only one left. More souvenirs. Luckily the magazine rack Gran chose was collapsible so we didn't need to get a roof-rack.
I've lost track of the days a bit, but on one of them we went back to Exmouth for a boat trip. It was sunny but a bit on the cold side. Luckily the boat was well supplied with rug/scarf things, probably because nearly all the other passengers were from a coach trip apparently for the Walking Rollators Senior Users Club.
Our most adventurous trip out was to Exeter where we got lots of exercise going down the steep hill and back between the cathedral and the quayside. Gran nearly bought some bulky woollen goods. I was disgruntled at having to pay to use a public toilet. They probably make a loss by the time they've paid for the turnstiles and enforcing staff.
Fairly uneventful, and I wasn't the only one who wanted the toilet stops. Mum did the first stint of driving again. When we were on the Dorchester bypass she got into a bit of a panic about the lack of roadside eating establishments so she went off on backroads in a vaguely Wareham-bound direction looking for a village pub. We found one which had a name something to do with cheese. The food was OK, but a little bit expensive and pretentious, and very slow to be served. A man at the next table was complaining bitterly about just about everything. Mum and Clare felt their steaks were ruined by the lump of herbs in butter plonked on top, but otherwise we didn't have anything to complain about. It takes a lot for Mum to complain about butter. After that I took over the driving, and this time the satnav was much more useful at getting us back on track towards Southampton and finding a detour around a traffic jam.