The Saga of the Pemberton

Another story from the Derbyshire Tomboy

Mom asked me if I would like to go to Chapel St Leonard with Auntie Minnie and Uncle Ken and my cousin David for a week’s holiday. I jumped at the offer.

Now Auntie Min and Uncle Ken always thought they were a step above the rest of the family because he was a car salesman in the motor industry and drove a big car. "Are we going to stay in a hotel or a boarding house?" I asked. "No" said Mom. Auntie Min had told her they had been loaned the Company caravan. That will be another first for me I thought - staying in a caravan! So that was something to look forward to.

Two weeks later Mom had been to see Granma and Auntie Min was there bragging about "this damned caravan" she said. Now, I did not own a case so one of Mom's friends loaned me one and I was told to start putting things on the side.

"Have you got some dresses, you know what she's like. She'll be doing the lady muck and expect you to look nice in this posh caravan park you are going to."

"I'm not wearing dresses all the time!"

"Well I can tell you that you will not be Rocking and Rolling so don't take those type of clothes!"

That gave me the sulks.

Then two days before the start of the holiday Auntie Min asked if I had some nice feminine dresses as there would be dances in the club. Honest - our Minnie is the biggest snob going, I don’t know where she gets it from.

So the day of the holiday was here. Auntie Min, Uncle Ken and David, who was now 10, came to pick me up. Mom asked if there was anything apart from towels, tea towels, bedlinen. "Oh no" said Aunt Min "it's a fully fitted Pemberton caravan - isn't it Keneth?"

So with that off we trundled. I sat in the back with David and the overspill from the boot. We stopped half way with a flask and some of Auntie's dainty sandwiches. Nearing the end of the journey David was so excited he was ready to jump out of the car. The sign came up for Chapel St Leonard so Uncle Ken said "You had better get the address ready, there are so many caravan parks". Auntie Min kept saying "Oh look at this one Keneth - it's got fountains, and this one's got lovely gardens!"

Before we knew what was happening we were driving out of Chapel St Leonard. "You must have missed it Keneth- turn round!" So we did the return route again. By this time David was getting on my nerves, and Aunt Min was twittering on that Uncle Ken had the wrong address so we pulled up and asked and were told to drive out of Chapel St Leonard down a lane to a farm "Follow that lane and you will see the park sign."

So back we went again covering the same route and down the lane. Uncle Ken pulled up saying "Here we are!" We all looked open-mouthed at this little sign, lop-sided in the hedge near a field gate. We drove in and pulled up at the reception building. Uncle Ken went to sign in and collect the keys. "Right" he said "let's find the caravan and unpack".

The park was very big with rows of caravans, very military-like. Aunt Min's eyes were on stalks looking for the number. A man sitting outside his caravan came over and asked us what number we were looking for. "Oh that's on a plot on its own," he said , "it's down there in the corner".

We drove down to where we had been shown and looked at the number painted on rough plywood, and there in all its glory was OUR Pemberton, if you could call it that. It was small and rounded in shape and had no wheels but standing on four oil drums filled with concrete. And if that wasn't enough to give Aunt Min apoplexy it had been painted bright red, which made it look like a large tomato.

We all sat in the car waiting for someone to make the first move, when Aunt Min said "They've given you the wrong key, Keneth, take it back and tell them it's a PEMBERTON BELONGING TO YOUR COMPANY.” He turned round in his seat and said "The man said when I fetched the key that the Company had not used it for long time." No wonder, I thought.

Uncle Ken opened the door to be greeted by a build-up of frowsty air. That just about tipped Auntie Min over the edge. We scrambled into this minute space, Uncle Ken saying "It's not TOO bad", me thinking where are the beds, Auntie Min trying to open windows to let in fresh air and stating if she had known it was in this state she would never have come and when he got back he was to make a complaint to the Company. David was asking "When can we eat?" which caused another panic and a rapid search of cupboards for crockery, with another upset when David opened a door and the hinge was so rusty it fell off onto the floor. This of course ended with him and Uncle Ken, who was in the dog-house, shoved outside.

After Auntie Min and I had discovered three saucepans, a frying pan and a kettle I asked her about beds. Two single seats would be our beds and David and Uncle Ken would be in the kitchen end in a double bed. We had yet to see how a single wardrobe would accommodate all our clothes. Auntie Min asked for a fire to be lit so she could air the seats and David was given a sandwich to shut him up. The heat from the fire was increasing the frowsty smell from the seats so we decided to fry bacon and eggs to cover the smell. David was sent to get water with his father and we unpacked the food we had. Auntie Min had packed enough to feed an army. Just the essentials were put in the wardrobe, the rest was confined to the cases in the car.

After getting "the Pemberton" ready for the night Auntie Min and I declared we needed the toilet. So the four of us took off to find the toilet block and within minutes were met by the same man who had directed us to our caravan.

"Are you looking for the toilets?" he said. Uncle Ken said yes we were.

"Well" he said in his dialect "there be four blocks on the site and yours is very close so there's no need to get caught short!!"

I looked at Auntie Min's face who looked as if she had swallowed a dose of malt vinegar. We thanked him and as we walked away Auntie Min said "I hope he's not going to be on sentry duty every time we need to step outside, Keneth." After seeing that the showers were basic, Auntie declared "I am not coming here in the morning and you and I will wait till Keneth and David have come for a shower then we can boil the kettle and have a strip wash." So my ablutions were organised whether I wanted it or not!.

The first night sleeping in "the Pemberton" was very chaotic with Auntie Min and I trying to make beds, Uncle Ken trying to get the gas lights going, which after several attempts spluttered into life. David was moaning because his comics were in the car. We all had to charge round to make the double bed which was more like a shelf. It was like working in a teacup. A thin curtain divided the two sleeping areas, so after changing into our sleeping attire David was rammed under the slope of the van and Keneth was teetering on the edge. Auntie Min and I settled into our bunks when we were met by the sound of plopping from the gas light. This went on for some time till she could stand it no longer, so after informing Uncle Ken to come and do something about it his answer from the other side of the curtain was:

"PUT THE BLOODY THING OUT!" And if that wasn't enough the next thing she wanted to know, which threw me into a panic, was what do we do if we need the toilet.

"If you think I'm going to that toilet block, Keneth, you are sadly mistaken!" There was a loud thump from the other side of the curtain and the door being open and shut, the curtain was yanked open and an enamel bucket thrust through with Uncle Ken saying

"Here. Now for God's sake let's get some sleep!".

I lay there thinking if this is what caravan holidays are like I hope I never get invited again.

So ended our first night's sleep. We got out of bed, drew back the curtain to find Uncle Ken hanging onto the edge of the bed with his feet in the sink, and David still wedged under the slope of the roof. We sent them packing for a shower and attended to our ablutions in peace. By the time they returned breakfast was on the go and a pot of tea. You had to have all the windows open because of the small area and the cooking. There was the feeling you were living in a saucepan.

We decided to get veg and milk from the farm shop. We hadn't gone far when out steps the proverbial "sentry".

"Are you lost again?" he said. Auntie Min's lips tightened up like two bootlaces. "No thank you. We are just going to the shop." then "Are you sure Keneth that he's not the park owner? I've never known a man to be in so many places!"

We entered the well-stocked shop and bought enough for an army barracks. After an afternoon on the beach to shut David up and splashing in rock pools we returned to "the Tomato". Auntie Min decided that with the limited amount of utensils we had that dinner would be lamb chops minus the mint sauce (we had none), potatoes, carrots and cabbage, tinned fruit and cream for afters. That's if we didn't blow the caravan up with all these saucepans and frying pans on the go all at once.

Uncle Ken was asked to sort out the "plopping" light, who, looking confused, went outside. A little later he was heard talking. "Who's he talking to?" said Auntie Min. I wiped the steam from the windows and there stood "the Sentry". I looked at Auntie whose face was the colour of the outside of the caravan from cooking.

"Someone is giving Uncle Ken a hand" I said, playing it safe.
"That's kind" she replied.
We heard "Thank you for your help, and he's not so bad once you get to know him."
"Who is?" was Auntie's reply.
"Why, the chap you dislike so much."

I carried on chewing my chop, knowing I was getting bad looks from across the table. David was twittering on about blocked pipes and "the Sentry" had taken it off the gas container. Auntie's face was like thunder and I was trying to overcome the fight with my lamb chop which was so old and tough it must have escaped ritualistic sacrifice in the Bible.

That night we did not have a plopping light and awoke next morning to find Uncle Ken with his feet still in the sink. After another day on the beach and a fish and chip meal out, which cut out the ritual with the pans, Uncle Ken said we could go to the Club House tonight for a change. "That would be lovely and you" - staring at me - "can put on a nice dress." There was a lot of discussion about what to wear and I must make a good impression because Uncle Ken was a Mason so they were used to clubs. We set off in all our finery not having a clue where it was so asked someone we met. When we arrived it did not look posh at all. It resembled half a Nissan hut from the war and the other half a cricket hut joined together.

"Do you know this place gets worse every day."
"Stop moaning. Let's get inside. I want a pint."

We entered to be met with a fug of cigarette smoke and a Rock and Roll group on the stage. People turned round and looked at us in our posh attire. Uncle found a table for us and got Auntie a gin and tonic, who looked as if she had had an electric shock. On his return from the bar with more drinks he had "the Sentry" with him.

"Are you enjoying yourselves? They always have a good turn, you know. See you tomorrow perhaps" and walked off.
"Not if I can help it!" murmured Auntie.

The rest of the week was spent on the beach or short rides in the country and playing snakes and ladders in the evenings.

I'm not going to say that we did not have some laughs, because we did. But on locking up "The Pemberton" for the last time, and poor Uncle Ken being given a long list of complaints from Auntie Min to pass to Head Office on his return, we bade farewell to Chapel St Leonard and headed home.

When I related all the happenings to Mom it kept her happy for two weeks saying "She's such a damn snob our Minnie, and I bet your Uncle Ken's life won't be worth living for a while!"

Marian Walsh
September 2021

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