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Cars, camping and the consequences of crude oil

My childhood summer holidays were mainly spent with my mum and step-dad, G, in their caravan. But in the late 80s the family also got a bit braver and ventured to Europe on a number of Keycamp and Eurocamp holidays.

Apart from the first year, when we travelled in style in a yellow Datsun Sunny, the holidays were made possible by the purchase of a burgundy Austin Montego estate.

It had been bought after Mum and G saw an advert in the local paper declaring a “genuine reason for sale”. Sadly the owner of the car had died so the car was going for a song, as they say. It was only when they went to view it that G realised the owner had been the pharmacist who had given him some very specific help – namely when he was in pain from a routine, but rather painful procedure and needed a bit of, erm, manly support, shall we say?

It was perfect for us. With four children to accommodate on weekends and for holidays, the estate car meant that three of us could sit in the back seat and we could take it in turns to stretch out in the boot. No child seats and compulsory seat belts for us as children of the 80s. It was mainly my younger brother who sat in the boot, crammed in between our sleeping bags and holdalls he was at least able to stretch out his legs.

So it was, in a car they were both very proud of owning but which was somehow inextricably linked to G’s most delicate bits that we holidayed in Belgium one summer.

On the beach one day me, my brother and two step-sisters got stuck into the serious job of making sandcastles, watched by G who had perched on some nearby rocks. He was wearing white shorts (something Mum says she would never have bought so he must have been unaccompanied on that particular shopping trip) so, of course, there was going to be a problem.

Most parents will now be questioning the wisdom of sitting down anywhere in white shorts, let alone on a rock on a beach. Unfortunately for G, this wasn’t any rock, this was a rock with crude oil on it.

G describes it as like treacle, thick and sticky – you can see patches of it in the picture. But he obviously didn’t notice straight away as he happily posed for this snap for the album.

Yet when the time to go back to the camp site arrived and G stood up, he discovered that not only his white shorts were soaked with oil, but his undergarments too. Mum had packed swimsuits and a change of clothes for each of us kids, but hadn’t thought she needed to do the same for G.

And she was darned if she was letting him get crude oil all over the seats of the car they were so proud of. There was only one course of action left open to him. G had to remove his shorts and pants so he could drive us back to the camp site.

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Mum found him a small towel with which to cover his modesty during the trip, but that didn’t get around the little issue of getting naked from the waist down in the car park of a popular public beach in the height of summer, accompanied by the giggles of all four children and the barely contained exasperation of his wife.

25 years later and he still hasn’t lived that particular choice of seating down and the picture resides proudly in the family photo album so the story can be recounted to anyone who asks to see them.

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