There was a time when parents would happily leave their young children, babies even, locked in a tin box while they partied the night away in a place of entertainment, safe in the knowledge that a man, who they didn’t know personally, would peer into the tin box occasionally and inform them if their infants and babies were crying for them.
Welcome to the world of the British holiday camp of 50 years ago.
You can only imagine the furore in the national press if parents were found to be doing the same today, indeed parents have been arrested for child abandonment on holiday simply by leaving their offspring sleeping in bed while they visit the hotel bar downstairs – when I was a child they did this in their thousands.
Our holiday camp in Cayton Bay consisted of several hundred shabby old caravans scattered over several cliff top fields and one important asset for parents – the Rendevous Club, a place of evening entertainment for adults, a place of dancing and much, much beer drinking, a place that almost every parent visited every night of their holiday and yet the question “What to do with the children” hung heavy in the air.
Step forward the Baby Patrol Man.
We never saw Baby Patrol Man, as small children we feared Baby Patrol Man in the same way as the orphans in “Annie” fear the Child Catcher, I like to think of Baby Patrol Man now as some sort of super hero, a caped crusader who’s only task was to save the world from crying children for it was Baby Patrol Man’s job to wander the row upon row of caravans listening astutely for crying children and thence to alert their drunken parents of the fact.
Each caravan had a letter/number reference and your parents registered their requirement to have Baby Patrol Man listen in at their window as they arrived at the Rendevous Club each evening, in practice this meant nearly every caravan in every field for the whole holiday camp would be full of young families in August.
You’d be put to bed as young children sometimes at a ridiculously early time depending on who was “on” at the Rendevous Club and whether your parents needed to get there early to get a good seat, sometimes we’d be put to bed with other children still playing outside the caravan and the standard Dad’s warning “And woe betide you if Baby Patrol Man catches you out” would be issued.
A curtain would be left slightly a-draw in order that Baby Patrol Man could shine his torch inside the caravan during his rounds and then your parents would leave for a night of drunkenness, wild unconstrained laughter and dancing the night away to the sounds of Roy Taunton on the organ, these were the good times, Prime Minister Macmillan had told them “You’ve never had it so good” and our parents were a little surprised at first but then eager to agree with the Prime Minister and prove him correct.
Ned and I would lie there tucked up in bed, one curtain open, a dusk slowly settling outside, the sound of other families with less alcohol dependant parents still playing with their kids outside.
“Are you asleep yet?” our Ned would ask
“No” I’d reply
“Are you asleep yet?” I ask our Ned
“No” he’d reply
…and so on.
And then, at some random time during the darkened evening the sweep of a torch would approach the caravan window and a quickly hissed “Baby Patrol Man” would force us to close our eyes tight and pretend to be in the land of slumber, you never heard Baby Patrol Man approach, occasionally there would be a crackle of static from the old World War Two walkie-talkie radio that he lugged around the site with him in order to alert the office of a crying baby, but you could see his torch beam from several yards away and always had time to snap your eyes shut tight and feign your slumber.
The torch beam would be directed into the caravan and you’d feel its detecting light on your face for what seemed like an inordinate length of time as Baby Patrol Man tried to determine whether you were asleep or just pretending, the temptation to open one eye and gaze into the face beyond the torch beam was immense, a little like the advice given to big game hunters when an elephant charges, “Don’t run away, lay on the floor and pretend to be dead” is what the wise old safari guides say, sure, thats exactly what you’d do isn’t it.
And so we lay there with Baby Patrol Mans torch beam on our faces and eventually satisfied he would leave and with no crackle of static from his radio we’d breath easy in the fact that for another night we hadn’t been reported, in fact Ned and I were never reported for the crime of being awake when Baby Patrol Man called even though we always were most nights, our parents never had the ignominy of sitting in a theatre audience packed full of revellers all of whom had one eye on the huge chalk blackboard on the corner of the stage with the single red light bulb above it, when that light bulb was illuminated a thousand parents stopped in mid-quaff of their beers and gazed to the board where an accomplice of Baby Patrol Man, maybe called Robin or similar, wrote the number of the caravan on the blackboard, said incumbant of caravan being then obliged to leave the room of entertainment and return to their caravan to calm their screaming children, or maybe beat them with a belt until they went to sleep.
We never had it so good you know.