A stiff test of parenting skills is knowing what do when it’s raining and you’re sitting in a seaside caravan. We go away every August Bank Holiday and it always rains on Saturday, even though those lazy-get BBC weather presenters forecast otherwise. Instead of practising with hairbrushes in front of the mirror, dreaming of becoming the next Wogan or Parky, Carol Kirkwood et al should read the manual of the £15m weather supercomputer and figure out how the damned thing works.
This year, we abandoned our usual retreat on Dungeness’ nuclear coast and decided we’d give Great Yarmouth a crack of the whip, following favourable reviews from my usually unimpressed brother. Alas, the Saturday weather curse followed us into East Anglia, but by lucky hap, when we checked in at Haven Wild Duck Caravan Holiday Park, I'd lunged at the leaflet display. A series of colourful pamphlets offered wet-weather refuge.
In East Anglia, animal worlds and safari adventures abound, but elephantine entrance fees means there’ll be no big cats or ungulates for us in this six-week holiday. It’d be cheaper to book a taxi to Africa. One of the leaflets looked most enticing – the East Anglia Transport Museum near Lowestoft. With its collection of half-cab buses, trolleybuses and trams, this would be a place that my two kids would no doubt love, but they haven’t been with us for this trip. I'm with the wife and her two kids, whose appreciation of transport only goes as far as Transformers.
Apart from ants in the kitchen and the defective guard on the gas fire, this year’s caravan, situated five miles south of Great Yarmouth, is more plush and better kitted out than most homes. I could have done with a couple of pieces of ice in my gin and tonic in the evenings, but that’s a small gripe. You can see why gypsies aren’t keen to move into houses. All children would rather live in a caravan than a house. The door’s always open, so they’re getting a taste of pre-1980 Britain, where you could run in any direction you wanted and not fear too many murdering strangers or internet paedo rings.
In the early Eighties, my younger brother used to tell me that strangers, who invariably drove vehicles made by British Leyland, carried garden canes in their car boot. Rather than an interest in nomadic gardening practises, my brother would explain, with some joy, that the canes were for “shoving up your a***”. This is when he was eight. As a public-information exercise, it proved a powerful tool on our estate.
He was very good at off-the-wall character sketches, was our kid, especially touch-feely family members, weaklings and our stepfather, who used to shout a great deal. He would mimic our stepfather like a mynah bird. When we had the house to ourselves, which was a lot of the time, my brother would stand at the bottom of the stairs and bawl as loudly as he could, “Ehhhhh! What do you think you're doing? What do you think you are, bloody radged?” Radged was a term localised to the railway plant works, meaning “simple”. He’d then thump upstairs, slam open the bedroom door, and proceed to give me and my sister an enraged good hiding. The good hiding was an improvised bolt-on for comedy effect; smacks were rare in our house. Our kid would also do a superb sketch in which our stepfather would playfully change a light bulb while tap-dancing. It was Vic Reeves entertainment five years before Big Night Out ever reached Channel 4. We didn't really need the telly on.
I expect my brother would be very good at building sandcastles, but I’m the master. Me, the wife and her two boys lead the world in sand-forged construction. We’ve become a very tight unit and, through years of practise, are able to build extremely complex islands in a short space of time. Typically, our sandcastles will feature a moat, several bridges, dominant castellated towers (with flags), roads, substantial sea wall, intricate tunnels and stone/shell trim. We could show Balfour Beatty or Clancydocwra a thing or two about effective urban planning. If I knew how, I’d wire up miniature street lighting.
Our latest projects, while staying in the caravan, have been typically avant-garde. For the first time ever there was a curved tunnel on one of the moats, while a road passage ducked beneath an entire island – it was a bit like the one in the Alps that has so many crashes and blazes. We’re also adept at three-way tunnels, and have been known to construct the odd viaduct. There’s very little in life that’s more exciting than building a fortress settlement when the tide is rushing in. It’s a vision of London’s future. The first extended wave will be effectively repelled by the sea wall, but you know that doom is close at hand. We have people gathering to witness the destruction of our St Michael’s Mounts. The sea eventually surrounds our islands, then engulfs the streets. All those hours of crafting reduced to soft slop-dob. I have to say, the quality of sand around Great Yarmouth is among the finest we’ve ever worked with.
I’ve never been a fan of 2p gambling games at seafront amusement arcades but if it’s raining, I can see that £5 thrown away in one of these mesmerising grottos of flashing lights and mirrors shouldn’t be knocked. Holiday time works in much the same way as a taxi’s meter. It charges by the minute, and an amusement arcade is just as cost effective as buying four ice creams and a couple of coffees. I’m not one for gambling, mind. I've only bet on the gee-gees twice, and that was at an actual racecourse. Mug’s game. However, once a year, we allow ourselves the thrill of hearing small coins crashing from a copper overhang, especially if there's drizzle and sea har. The wife becomes very focused on the 2p games. We won quite a few prizes during our gambling hour, including two tin soldiers, a "gold" bar and a one-eyed soft toy from Despicable Me.
Can fantasy football be described as gambling? I’ve been playing the original Pro Fantasy League since 2005 and now see it as an intrinsic part of my existence. I support my own fantasy football team more than I do any league side. I’m happy for Manchester United to run away with the Premier League title every season, but the reality is, if I’ve got a Manchester City striker in my squad of 15 overpaid poodles, I want him to score. In Pro Fantasy League, you play in a division of like-minded souls and hold an auction at the beginning of the season to determine who owns individual players. By the time the season kicks off, only one person will own, say, Rooney or Lampard. Added to this, your division of pals’ teams is interlinked with the rest of the country, so in January you’ll enter a nationwide cup or, if you did well in the previous season, a “European” competition.
There are around 10,000 people playing Pro Fantasy League, and there’s a list of the top 100 players on the site. I once led the country for two weeks, a halcyon fortnight in 2007 where I could do no wrong. I’ve done little right from that point on. I didn’t even win the title in my own league of ten mates that season. Last May, I finished bottom of my division, putting too much emphasis on a Manchester United strike partnership that featured the usually net-clobbering Rooney, who’d decided his interests would be better suited on Fulham Road SW6, and Welbeck, who scored once in the entire season. Interestingly, now that I don’t own him, Welbeck netted twice in Man Utd’s opening game against Swansea. I wanted to kick the telly off the shelf.
Choosing a name for my fantasy football team takes on huge importance during the summer. Former titles have included Baldwin’s Casuals, Wimbledon Miners Welfare, MyPie 47 and VVV-Vimto, to name a few. This season I’ve opted for Rubbish Rovers. As usual, it works on two levels. Having grown up in Doncaster, I naturally started visiting my local club from 1980 onwards, and by the time I was in my 20s had become something of a regular. This was back when Donny were in the bottom division or the Conference. One of the most frequently uttered sentences I’d hear at Doncaster matches was, “Oh, that’s rubbish Rovers, absolute rubbish.” Back at the old Belle Vue ground on the opening day of one season, I timed how long it was before I heard “That’s rubbish Rovers!” and it was 30 seconds. Half a minute into a fresh season and the crowd were on the side’s back! As I finished bottom of my fantasy football league last season, it seemed apt to name my side Rubbish Rovers. Next season it’s going to be Ujpest Dozy.
I hope to finish mid-table. I’ve proven goalscorers in Fellaini, Cazorla, Ba and Aguero, but they’ve done bugger all so far. It comes to something when you’re looking at the crash-helmeted Chelsea keeper Petr Cech to provide the bulk of your season’s haul. I was watching Match Of The Day with the wife the other night. We usually catch the first game then drift to bed – the kids make us too tired. Last weekend, we commented on how slick the opening titles were, although she thinks the MOTD logo looks like a pair of metal underpants. Around ten years ago, I wrote a big story for a men’s mag about Match Of The Day. I had to interview Walker’s Gary Lineker, housewife’s choice Alan Hansen and Albert Sewell, who’d been the programme’s statistician since 1968. It was a feature that largely wrote itself, but the one difficult aspect was tracing Barry Stoller, who, in 1970, penned the Match Of The Day theme music. He proved spectacularly elusive.
After a month, I managed to track him down to Australia – by the sound of it, he’d moved to the other side of the world to escape the Match Of The Day theme. “My career was so much more than that,” he emailed, sounding somewhat agitated. “It’s because of this that I don’t want to be involved with your story.” I explained the excitement that the MOTD theme conveyed, how it had lit up Saturday evenings for generations of football enthusiasts, how it had bonded grandads, dads and sons, how it stood as a piece of music every bit as thrusting and evocative as a Bowie or Hendrix composition. He was having none of it. I’m led to believe that Grange Calvely, the writer of Roobarb, emigrated Down Under to escape incessant enquiries about his cult wobbly cartoon.
Maybe in ten years time, I’ll have to jump on a Qantas space rocket and hide out at Ayers Rock or Erinsborough to dodge lunatic interest about the humble beginning of Morning Warship. “I don’t want to talk about Morning Warship any more," I'll whine. "It was closed down in 2017, I lived at Moscow Airport for a year, then I took refuge in the Honduran embassy, and yes I'm pleased it has maintained cult status and eventually led to Peter Hook re-joining New Order – but nobody ever wants to discuss my fantasy football team, my DJing or the incredible sandcastles I’ve built. There's so much more to me than that blog!”
I suppose we’d better start packing. Checkout at Wild Duck is 10am prompt. After a final promenade along the beach, the Skylark leaves for London at midday. It’s blazing sunshine outside – always is when we’re leaving. My limbs ache from long jump, excessive spade use and skimming stones. These are all good strains to have. I think we’ll be back to Great Yarmouth next year.