I hate Pontins. I mean, have you ever met anyone who liked Pontins Holiday Camps? It’s more like two weeks on the set of The Great Escape than a sodding holiday. I was only fifteen and, despite the fact that I was the future king of underground hippy culture, God’s imminent gift to women, and in the next six months a better guitar player than Eric Clapton, I still had to go on holiday with my Mom and Dad. All because Jimmy Hale’s Mom and Dad left him at home last year when they went on holiday. I mean, it probably wasn’t Jimmy’s fault the house caught fire during that party. Probably.
Anyway, so I packed my new flower-power shirt that I got for my birthday, and the finger-slicing folk guitar with which I am plotting Eric’s future demise as God. We piled into our Bedford doormobile and for three hours suffered partial carbon monoxide poisoning and Mom’s bloater paste sandwiches. Finally, we rolled into Pontin's Holiday Camp, Wick Ferry, Christchurch, Dorset. God what a dump. Even with a glorious sunset behind it, that looked to me to be doing its best to drown itself in the grey choppy waters of the English Channel, the camp looks about as much fun as school, rainy Sunday afternoons, and the dentists all rolled into one.
Our chalet, which was just about big enough to house the mice who also lived there, smelled of boiled cabbage and disinfectant. Not the nice pine smelling one either, but the one they use in the school toilets that made your eyes water.
“Right,” said Dad, all solitary forced jollity, “I’ll just have a bit of a swill (a wash and shave) then we’ll go to the bar. They’ve got a cabaret, y’know. C’mon our Alan, get that poufy flower power shirt of yours on and let’s see if we can’t get you fixed up. (Let’s not). Y’know what they say about girls on holiday (No.) Fwah, bet there’s some right little goers …”
He noticed Mom’s lemon-pursed lips and armour-piercing stare and went off to have his swill.
So, clad in my revolutionary shirt, my hair a pudding bowl cut that was probably all the rage in Bulgaria, my self-esteem wrecked by being a foot taller than I should be and having been laughed at in the street and called Frankenstein ever since I can remember, I trailed miserably after Mom, Dad, Granddad, and Roy to find the bar. We trudged towards the orange glow leaking from the windows of a rectangular, brick building that looked a bit like a dole office. Only not so welcoming.
Inside the bar, a scattering of tables were set around the empty dance floor, life rafts floating around an uninhabited island. A miserable bunch of shipwreck survivors were seated at tables, sipping watered-down drinks crammed with paper umbrellas and slices of fruit. The fifteen or so females I could see were either under ten or over seventy. Girls on holiday, eh Dad? The lights suddenly went out and we were plunged into darkness. Thank God, a power cut now maybe we’d go back to the chalet so I could work on my new song about how many girls I’ve sensitively slept with. But then a spotlight burst onto the middle of the floor. A couple of ex-cons in the audience raised their arms in surrender. A sky blue-coated, middle-aged, pot-bellied bloke, with thinning Brylcreemed hair limped into the spotlight, put a microphone to his lips and without any introduction started singing “Big Spender”. Somewhere in the darkness behind him was a band, who couldn’t see their sheet music. It turned out to be the high spot of the night’s entertainment.
I managed to cadge two half pints of bitter over the course of the whole night. Later, back at the chalet I stood up too quickly, all the blood rushed from my head (it had a long way to go) and I promptly passed out. I came round on the floor with a bruised forehead, Mom fussed, and Dad proclaimed there would be no more beer for me for the rest of the holiday.
The next morning, it started to rain. I knew in my bones it wouldn’t be stopping either until we drove out of the camp gates, ten interminable days in the future.
I decided to spend the rest of my sentence in the sports and recreation hall. There was a table tennis table leaning against the wall, a solitary paddle and dented ball on the floor in front of it. The pinball machine had only one working flipper. At least there was a full-sized snooker table. Granddad was always going on about what a great snooker player he was when he was young. I decided to see what I could learn from the old sod. All I learned was that he farted almost every time he bent over the table to sight a shot, and that he was color blind. He wasn’t a bad shot, he just gleefully potted the balls in any order he felt like and never mind finishing yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and finally black once all the red were potted.
There was only one song on the jukebox that wasn’t stuff like Des O’Connor, Clodagh Rodgers, or Doris Day and that was On The Road Again by Canned Heat. Dreaming of life on the road (preferably the one leading back home) I played it over and over until a scowling camp guard in a sky blue jacket came and unplugged the jukebox.
In the middle of a rainy afternoon with still three days till our release date, a halfway decent-looking girl about my age came into the rec room and sat on one of the folding chairs. When I said she was decent-looking, I meant she appeared to have all her own limbs, as well as straight greasy hair, and no discernible breasts. Regardless, I decided that just to spite the old man I’d go and talk to her. Chat her up. See the look on his face when I walked in the bar with her later tonight. I was as good-looking a bloke as any of the Neanderthals in this camp. She was just sitting there, chewing gum, looking bored. She blew a small, pink bubble as I reach her that for some reason I found a bit arousing.
“Hi,” I drawled in my best American accent, “what’s a nice girl like you doin’ in a place like this?”
She stared at up me.
“Fuck off Frankenstein.”
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