Thursday, July 29
The Story of Ballyferris. Caravans etc.
They were a motley bunch of holiday homes. Not at all like a modern camping site. There were commercial vans with internal toilets and separate bedrooms.
But as well as these were the wonderfully inventive alternative constructions, and in those days...these seemed to me...the most exciting.
Two in particular really captured my imagination. The first, based in the left hand corner on the seaward side of the field, was a double decker bus. Downstairs, the living room with the kitchen area, and upstairs the bedrooms. What fun it must have been for this family to climb the stairs at night and look out on the other vans from their lofty height.
The second, not actually a caravan, but rather a nissen hut left near the entrance to the field and used for coastal defences during the second world war.These were littered everywhere around that area.... after all the war had only ended around eight years before the period I am writing about. We got to know the family who stayed there very well, and even went to see them up in Belfast, in their home.
When I look at some of the magazine articles nowadays, and how they emote rather romantically over recycling, and then think how inventive these people were, well, it makes me smile. They had divided up the space inside, by using old hospital screens. I remember these as ornate and heavy, the type that any interior designer would give their eye teeth for today. So there was a living area in the middle with sleeping areas on the edge, and a kitchen at the far end.The couple who inhabited this extravaganza shared it with their daughter, and we became beach companions roaming far and wide.....often to the point of forgetting to return to our families at mealtimes.
Much to the distress of my poor mother, with a toddler daughter, unable to go out searching for me.
I think that our caravan was based on the commercial Eccles shape. It was rounded on the roof with a skylight in the middle. The two ends sloped slightly, and each had a window in it. The door was to the left of the front side with a window to the right of that. The back had another two windows...so quite a lot of light which made inside feel like outside - inside! To the left of the door was a long bench with one mattress to sit on and another behind to lean against. At night this pulled out to make a double bed for mum and dad. Underneath was the storage space for the bedding. Great creamy woollen blankets and crisp white sheets with eiderdowns for extra cold Easter or autumn nights. No duvets then, this was the fifties. Along the back wall was a tiny “toy” sink with a lid which covered it, cleverly cut out of the wooden cupboard, constructed by dad to house that and the calor gas cooking rings. Even now, when I strike a match for my own cooker or light a candle, the smell takes me back to those years and the wonder of it all.
Opposite this unit was a tall cupboard used for coats and boots. But the thing that made that great, was the bulge at the bottom covering one of the wheels and this somehow made the fact that we were balanced on two wheels all the more real. When we were small enough we used to climb inside and hide perched on top of this spot. Maybe that could be part of the reason why I love the beginning of the Narnia story, though I feel that perhaps playing hide and seek in a small caravan takes even more imagination!
At the far end on either side were another two bench seats, once again covered by mattresses and hiding storage for bedding underneath. In between them attached to a small drawer and cupboard unit by an ingenious “Dougie” device, was a dining table, balanced on one end leg. This was either up for a meal, stored above the wardrobe or cleverly slotted on two rails attached either side of the short benches. So at night all three children had to go to bed at the same time , which was inordinately unfair on Ian who was four years older than myself and eleven years older than Rosie. Still that’s the penalty for a life of freedom. But I'm sure that it was the main reason for my brother’s later lack of enthusiasm for all that Ballyferris held dear for me.
Above both the end cupboard and the bench by the door, were two glass lamps protecting the delicate gas mantles that gave us our light in the evening. And as soon as dusk fell they were lit. This was always a tricky task. Holding a match too near to the mantle might mean piercing a hole in the fine gauze. Not holding it close enough could mean a build up of gas which regularly caused minor explosions. What excitement. The gentle hissing sound of the lamps had a wonderfully soperific effect on us all and combined with the sea air it meant that sleep came easily to both over excited children and tired parents.
All of the woodwork was of light coloured plywood, which dad had lovingly and carefully french varnished. And the upholstery and curtains were made by mum of heavy,brown, modern furnishing material. Above the sink and cooker unit were two wall cupboards. One held the dry and tinned goods and the other crockery. Brown and yellow checked plates and saucers with yellow cups, very fifties, very smart. Outside the caravan was a meat safe placed to the north, no fridge or freezer facility as yet. At the back we stored the calor gas cylinder and a drain-away for the water from the sink. The collecting of water is another story altogether. Underneath the van , a motley collection of deck chairs, buckets and spades and swimming gear waited for those days when the sun shone and the sea called out to us!
So there it is the wonder of it all, small, compact... and another place altogether.
Now as I’ve written there were other less unusual vans sited around the edge of the field, all commercially built, after all The Caravan Club was started in 1907, all of more than 100 years ago. However in the field to the right of the lane a caravan arrived, some years later, which I’ll mention briefly now but will go on to write about in much more detail in later parts of this story. This belonged to the P...... family and was again a home build. But this was like no other . It was made from a workman’s hut, the type that used to be trailed behind a steam engine. High on metal wheels, it was a wooden box par exellence. And what a family, also exotic... without exception!