Have you ever listened to Simon Mayo’s, True Confessions, on Radio 2? Have you any of your own that deserve to be aired?
Asking myself that question, I was struck that there is something I really should confess, so here goes…
It was July 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. My boyfriend of 7 months, and I, had no money between us. He was still at University, I was working for the Civil Service. We were 20 years old and looking for a cheap summer holiday.
My father, a sergeant in the police and well liked and respected by his colleagues, knew someone in the force who had a mobile home in Walton-on the-Naze, Essex, that they let to friends and family. We could have it, said my dad’s friends, for a ridiculously small fee.
We jumped at the chance.
The night before we were due to go, as I travelled home from work and waited for the bus for the last leg of the journey, a friend stopped to chat and offered me a lift home in her mini. My bus was late so I accepted. Carol walked me to where she had parked her mini.
The downside of the lift was that the mini needed a jump-start and I would be the one who had to give it that jump-start. So, with larger and taller friend at the wheel, I, 5’ 2” at a pinch, put all my strength into pushing and bumping that heap of metal.
After a few bumps, the engine spluttered into life.
I got in the car, rubbing my shoulder, which felt a little sore.
The next morning, I awoke in a little pain but was hopeful the ache would fade as the day went on.
My father was giving my boyfriend and I a lift to the camp site. A little old fashioned, he mentioned that he had told his friends that Dave and I were engaged. (This was 1977). So, my boyfriend, aka fiancé and I, packed our bags and climbed in his car. Dad dropped us at the camp site where we were introduced to the lovely middle-aged couple, Diane and Terry, who had offered to rent their beautiful mobile home to us, for a pittance. Any guilt I might have felt, at pretending to be engaged, was offset by the pain I was experiencing in my left shoulder, by this time.
The caravan was equipped with a TV but without electricity, it had to be powered by an old car battery, which sat on a plinth on the floor next to it.
“If it runs out, you can recharge it at the local garage,” explained Terry.
Thanking our benefactors and bidding my father goodbye, we prepared for our bargain week in this caravan, aptly named, Terridi.
By the evening, my neck and shoulder had seized up and Dave had to apply hot flannels to my shoulders to ease the pain.
Each day, I could only walk for a certain amount of time before the pain got too bad and we had to go back to the caravan for the application of hot flannels and a gentle massage. I think Dave enjoyed the massage, more than me. We drank wine, watched television and played cards, enjoying our solitude.
This pattern went on for several days. We’d explore in the morning and go back to the caravan for a rest and to watch some TV, in the afternoon, until my shoulder, gradually, improved.
One afternoon, sitting in the Blue Room at The Royal Albion, (out of the blue), Dave proposed. I accepted. We were officially engaged after all. He bought me a budget eternity ring and told me I should keep the news quiet as he didn’t believe in long engagements and he still had two more years at University. I agreed of course.
We couldn’t have been happier.
The night before we were due to go home, Dave decided that he would take the car battery to be recharged as a gesture of goodwill. Having no car, he had to carry it there and back again.
On his return, he heaved the battery up the steps and into the caravan. Resting it on the fabric bench, he wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans and remarked that it was heavier than he had thought it would be.
At that point, I noticed something seeping out of the battery onto the cushion covers.
‘What’s that?” I squeaked, uneasy now.
“Oh sh**! Battery acid,” Dave swore.
“Move it!,” I cried.
He hoisted the battery into the air and staggered back down the steps, setting it down on the ground. I noticed he was wiping his hands on the front of his jeans now.
I was more concerned with the state of the seat cushions. The battery acid had leaked rather badly. I grabbed a bowl and filled it with soapy water, biting back all the comments that were on the tip of my tongue.
“We’ll have to scrub it, neutralise it,” I exclaimed instead and set to with the scouring pad. The area I had cleaned looked ok. In fact, when I stood back, I could see that it was now far brighter than the rest of the bench. There was nothing for it but to shampoo the entire seat.
Meanwhile, Dave did something with the battery and sat it back on the metal plinth from which it had originated.
Hot, bothered and worried about the consequences of the battery acid eating into the fabric, I stood back to survey my handiwork. The cushions were now gleaming. We could only go to bed and hope for the best.
The next day, we hardly dare look but it was ok, the cushions looked no worse for wear. They did look incredibly clean though.
We wondered whether to leave a note to explain the mishap but decided against it. Instead, we left a thank you card, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine on the coffee table.
By the time my father appeared to take us home, we were more than ready to leave.
Later that day, walking round our home town, we had reason to climb a flight of steps. Dave went first. It was as he reached the third step that I noticed a hole appearing below his left buttock. In the era of tatty jeans, this was not in itself unusual but as I watched, another hole appeared and every time he lifted his foot to climb higher, more of the fabric seemed to disintegrate.
“Your jeans!” I hissed,
“EH?” he returned,
“They’re falling apart!” I stuttered between giggles.
Sure enough, by the time he had reached the top step, his underpants were clearly showing through the tattered denim.
Looking down he groaned. We feared that if we didn’t get home soon, his jeans would just disintegrate which made me wonder…
Were those sofa cushions really ok or did the fabric slowly rot away? Was there a time delay? I imagined that lovely couple getting up one morning for breakfast and wondering what on earth had happened to their cushions. Even worse, had the acid eaten into the floorboards and was the caravan, even now, full of holes?
We never did find out and it is only now, Dave and I having been married for 36 years, that I feel I should “’fess up”.
So, Dear Diane and Terry, if you ever wondered how your caravan seats came to disintegrate overnight, I am very sorry, it was us, the young, unengaged, but about to be engaged, couple whose intentions were good and who left you a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates, in appreciation of your generosity. We did it.
There, it’s done! I have confessed. Diane and Terry might well still remember the incident. My father died in 1986 so I can’t ask him if they ever got in touch to ask about the calamity. The jeans, by the way, had to be thrown away, what was left of them, and Dave learnt his lesson about handling car batteries.
I should also confess that that was the first time I ever used a four letter word!