It was Kev Blakes idea, “I know a really good holiday camp” he said, “its based on sports, you play sports all day” he said, “its not at all like Butlins though” he added quickly seeing our doubting faces, then, “there’s loads of birds and the sun shines every day” – he lied for effect and had us sold.
We were eight lads, 22 years of age, young, free, single, employed, money that didn’t need to be spent on boring things like mortgages or water bills, money in our pockets that could only be spent on ourselves, we drove our own cars, we drank beer, we drank beer and then drove our own cars home, life would never be this simple again for any of us, indeed within just a few short years life would become far more complicated for all of us.
I say we were eight, we were supposed to be eight but then Russ, poor dead Russ these past few years, Russ dropped out quoting an important business meeting in London on the Tuesday of the holiday, “But don’t worry lads” he said, I’ll drive straight to Devon and join you all right after the meeting” and we knew he wouldn’t for Russ was devoted to his job, well he did own the company at 22 years old, and everything.
So we ended up as seven, two to a chalet room and one on his own where Russ should have been and I can’t recall who got the chalet to himself but I’ll bet it was Smithy for its always him who gets the single room by default.
Steve brought the beer, for months he had been saving his beer ration at John Smiths Brewery and as I had a van it was incumbent on me to carry the cargo, my god the poor Escort van almost couldn’t make it over the top of the M62 at 4am on that Saturday morning for the sheer weight of Steves beer ration in the back but true to his word every drop was drunk during the week and the van was far, far lighter coming back – I can’t recall anyone else drinking the beer ration though or actually seeing any of the cans once they had all been transported, sherpa style, into Steves chalet, but Steve is a very thirsty lad and this was the holiday when he got tonsillitis so he drank for medical reasons really.
This was the year that broke Bob Seger in the UK and the cassette of “Stranger in Town” was played on continuous loop on the several hour journey down to Devon – and then sometime around mid-day we finally arrived at Kev Blakes nirvana – The Devon Coast Country Club – and then it started raining.
We were there for seven days and for seven days the rain never stopped and sometime around mid-week we all ran outdoors because we thought the rain had stopped but it was just the rain taking a slight pause, a brief interlude before the next saturated cloud rolled in from the sea and dumped its sodden load on us all so we ran back inside and continued in our world record attempt at drinking the whole holiday camp dry before the weekend.
Fortunately The Devon Coast Country Club had long ago countered the effect of the normal British august monsoon style weather by cleverly involving all of its clientel in endless rounds of indoor games and competitions and as Smithy was our leader and a fearlessly competitive bastard, still is by the way, he entered us all in everything – each morning after breakfast he would stroll across to the large notice board that listed every competition that was to be held that day and he would carefully write all of our names on all of the lists.
So you’d be sat in the bar replenished with a fresh pint when suddenly you’d hear your name announced on the holiday camp tannoy ordering you to report to the snooker room where your opponent in the first round of the billiards competition was waiting.
“But I don’t even know what billiards is” you’d plead to Smithy
“Thats all right, none of us do” he’d reply and arising from the table we’d all troop, most parts drunk, down to the snooker room in beer stained jeans and t-shirts where your opponent, a middle aged man in crisp white shirt, dicky bow and waistcoat would be waiting impatiently polishing his own custom made cue, then you’d sit there for half an hour while he played a game of billiards all to himself and shook your hand at the end telling you that he’d just beaten you 3000 points to nil, or something.
“Back to the bar lads”
One afternoon I was particularly well blathered, outside it was still coming down in sheets and you couldn’t actually see the outdoors through the windows at all, it was like being in a submarine trying to make sense of the underwater world, in one corner of the bar some guests were sawing the lid off a grand piano to use as a raft and years later one of those guests, James Cameron, would use that incident in the finale of one of his films about a shipwreck, or something.
Anyway this particular afternoon, almost blind by drink, use of legs severely curtailed by drink, speech almost unintelligible I heard my name announced once more, “…go to the bridge room please where your partner is waiting to begin a rubber”
I glanced across at Smithy who was laughing fit to bust, “What the fook have you entered me in this time ?” I sort of slurred at him to which everyone arose and accompanied me to the room where the old biddies played cards all afternoon, I sat at a table where three such old biddies were waiting, I smiled the smile of a drunk stupid kid, “how do” is what I said, or words to that effect, “why am I here then ?” and smiled some more.
The three old biddies didn’t look best pleased, “Do you know how to play bridge ?” asked the one who was apparently my playing partner, “Course I bloody know how to play bridge” I responded with a wide sweep of my hand to add drama, and then fell off my chair, “Oops a daisy” I added as I climbed back onto it and smiled again the smile of a drunken idiot.
I was dealt some cards and we commenced the first rubber, this probably wasn’t a good time to point out to the very serious old biddy bridge players that not only had I never heard of the game of bridge until five minutes ago, but that I also did not hold any knowledge of any other card game at all apart from Snap and Chase the Ace, and I’ve forgotten how to play Chase the Ace now.
So when it came time for me to play a card I just threw a random one on the table, I still haven’t a clue what bridge is all about and I suspect that for the best part of the next hour I just copied what they all did, picking cards up, throwing cards down, doing whatever else it is that you do to play bridge, and ultimately after a lot of scowling from my partner across the table we lost 8040 – 0, or something like that, I stood, smiled like a loon and bid them farewell, then asked if they would be awfully kind enough to remind me where the bar was.
Devon Coast Country Club, August 1978, the holiday that brought down the curtain on our feckless lads gallivanting around, from this point forward our freedom would be severely curtailed, by women *shudder*…