I loved the old tractor at Clifford Bridge Caravan site in Devon’s Dartmoor National Park. We visited this caravan site for two to three weeks every summer from the age of 2 to 9. The old tractor was held in place by cement, and kids enjoyed climbing over it and playing with the steering wheel. The tires were warmed by the sun, there was a clutch, and you could pretend that you were actually steering a real tractor down dirt country tracks. There were two tractors, so if lucky, my brother and I could both get a ride.
Near the tractor there were swings. I loved going to the swings to try and make friends. In fact, I saw the holiday as a chance to make friends with the other holiday makers, something that I really struggled to do at school and home. One day a little red haired girl sat on the swing next to mine. I was about 8 and she was about 4. I kept asking her over and over, ”what is your name”, ”how old are you”, ”where do you live”, to no avail. At long last my persistence paid off and she began to talk. I now had an instant playmate and we found each other in the open air swimming pool the next day. She even invited me into her tent!. On another occasion I talked to a girl with very long brown hair that was so long it trailed on the ground when she tilted back on the swings. This girl played tag with my brother, myself and a younger child.
One day I decided to turn my bunk bed in the caravan into a bus. I drew signs on a bit of paper, cut them out and stuck them round my bed. I really wanted to show long haired girl my creation, so I took her to the caravan and introduced her to my dad and the bunk bed bus. Again, I was so excited that I had a friend!. Seeking out other kids on holiday was a strong interest of mine, as, unlike at school, they were not in groups, there was less noise and more space, and I felt more in control and better equipped to make advances. Of course I never saw them again once they had left or the holiday was over, but in that brief moment I had a play mate. Unfortunately, as an adult you can’t randomly go up to a person and say, ”would you like to be my friend?”. This is because adults don’t play in the way children do. Although I really struggled to interact as a child in groups, at school and to maintain any friendships over time, the next level of friendship development (complex small talk and non verbal understanding) is a million times harder. As an adult you no longer have the option of being friends just for a day or just while doing an activity, and I feel as though I am locked in the childhood stage of friendship development.
In another creative spell I decided to make paper balls by rolling bits of paper up and then wetting them under water, so the paper stuck together. I also created my own card game that I took out with me on a country walk and played it while walking with my dad.
I collected holiday brochures from the information hub. I cut out pictures of girls, usually with long blond hair, stuck them to a bit of paper and wrote a diary about their life and what they ate.
Every morning we went swimming in the open air pool. My dad blew up my arm bands and fitted them to my arms. This was incredibly exciting!. I tip toed across the grass and pebbly track, and then up the steps and down the concrete walkway round the pool. Once in the pool I swam to the deep end, climbed out and ran back to the shallow end, got in again and swam back, over and over and over again. One year however I developed a fear of swimming in the pool, and my mum had to hold my hands and tow me round the shallow end. She was frustrated because I used to love swimming round the pool. Eventually I overcame my fear and swam back and forth again. Unlike the indoor pool I visited with my school, this pool was quiet and unstimulating. I was also under no pressure to learn how to swim unaided, and no teachers were trying to get me to jump into the pool, something which terrified me.
Just beyond the pool there lived a goat called Donald, and one year a sheep. I befriended Donald and enjoyed feeding him grass and weeds through the fence.
Before going on our country walks we played the card game Happy Families while sitting outside our caravan at a picnic bench. We also had boiled egg and toast outside for breakfast, and one time we had garlic sausages. My mum bought the sausages at a specialist butcher in nearby Morten Hampstead, and walked over the moors with them in her backpack. I could smell the garlic all the way back to the caravan, making me feel very excited.
The inside of the caravan had a distinctive smell that I loved. I enjoyed dangling my arm outside the window next to my bunk, feeling the plastic ribbed exterior of the caravan. One time it rained hard as I went to bed, and I remember that the sound was soothing.
We played football outside the caravan, and I enjoyed throwing myself down hard on the grass, because I’d seen people do this at school and I was copying them. We also played cricket. I had been walking all day but I still had a lot of energy to burn.
Daisy was a nice old lady who lived in a caravan near ours, although her caravan was more like a tent van. Daisy was at the site every year, and she gave my brother and I free tennis balls. On another occasion a friendly Dutch girl took me inside her tent and her mum gave me a juicy nectarine and a pair of pink heart shaped glasses.
One year I found a bicycle helmet on the old tractor. It was covered in stickers and I took it home with me.
On my 7th birthday I received my very first watch. My mum taught me how to tell the time. I looked at this watch all day as we went on our walk, and it made me feel really good because I could tell how much time had passed for the very first time. I also received a plastic toy chicken that lay eggs when you pressed it down.
We regularly walked to a pub called Fingles Bridge where we had a bowl of chips. The walk was through woodland, alongside the river. My brother and I enjoyed paddling in the river. On other occasions we walked over the moors to MoretonHampstead. I enjoyed walking over the cattle grids, past the endless bracken and heather. At the small town we went to a quaint tea room for scones, jam and cream. The jam and cream came in metal dishes, and my brother and I took it in turns to scrape them clean. The cafe also had an antique shop next door, and I loved looking at the animal sculptures. There was also a country church nearby with an organ and golden Eagle.
One year when I was very little, I threw my mum’s map into a stream, just because I wanted to see the map being carried by the water. My mum was not amused!
A cafe we visited had a stream with tadpoles in it. I enjoyed scooping out the tadpoles into a bucket and looking at them close up.
Near to MoretonHampstead there was a fete held at North Bovey. One year there were yummy sandwiches. I had a ride on a pony. At first I was nervous but eventually I lost my fear and enjoyed the ride.
My parents took my brother and I out of school early for this holiday. I enjoyed seeing the other kids at the town open air swimming pool while we waited for the bus. I watched them swimming and felt so glad that I was on holiday, unlike them!
Walking back over the moors, we eventually descended towards the caravan site. I could see the blue of the swimming pool through the trees, a sure sign we were almost back! This was exciting as I could play on the swings and tractor while my mum prepared dinner.
One year, the last year we went to Clifford Bridge, I befriended Emily. I was 8 nearly 9, and Emily was 9. We walked together round the park and Emily taught me how to plait my hair. She also gave me a notebook and pen. Emily was a very kind girl.
When we arrived at the caravan site, I held my little brother’s hand and took him on a caravan site tour, showing him where everything was!.
On the less savoury side, each caravan had portable toilets that had to be taken to a big open sewer hole. I loved watching my dad empty the loo contents into the hole – these sort of things fascinate you in childhood!
On the last day I made up a leaving song to the tune of a school hymn. I sang the song loudly as we went for a brief last walk through the woods, before the taxi came to take us to Exeter train station.