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Do Chips Come With That?
by Andrew Vaughan
It's the summer of 1980 and the Islington Five are about to become "Sunseekers". It's the era of cheap package tours, Benidorm piss-ups and Freddie Laker's cheap jaunts across to America. Inexplicably we decide to go to the South of France and by coach. Fuck knows why but I assume it had something to do with the lad that was organising it having a thing for all things French. He would often let on he was French and did, some years later, go out with a drop dead gorgeous French girl (from Tufnell Park!) but as he goes under the name of Anwar Sardiwalla I think we can assume the nearest he'd been to our friends across the channel was grade C O' Level.
Oh and we were going camping as well. Sunseekers Holiday Camp, Canet Plage to be precise.
The trip was planned with military precision and on the Saturday before we were going (we were going on the Sunday) we were all down the Post Office getting our temporary passports and then scuttling down to Paddington to a jeans shop, that everybody in London seemed to frequent back then, for our holiday clothes. Fashion historians note that we were amongst the best-dressed lads in London back then and we all kitted ourselves out in unfeasibly tight drainees (30" waist, oh those were the days) and an assortment of striped tee shirts that were all the range back then. Job's a good un!
The next day saw Anwar, Tony the Banker, Guzzling Gary, Big Dell and yours truly beginning our trip to Canet Plage in South Eastern France from the exotic surroundings of Kings Cross Coach Park after Sunday lunch in the pub opposite. Needless to say we were rocking before we got on and our place on the back seat was assured as the rest of the party were all the wrong side of 60. Amazingly the trip by coach was fine as a quick jaunt to Dover was followed by a smooth sailing in the bar of the ferry to Calais and was followed up with the common decency of the French to serve alcohol at their service stations. Despite the whole of France deciding to go on holiday during August and meaning the motorways were packed from Paris onwards the journey was no worse than going to West Brom on a Tuesday night.
We arrived sometime during daylight the next day and the campsite was pretty impressive. Even our tent was okay. Big enough for us five and the five French mademoiselles we were going to pick up that evening. There were special safes for our valuables and in all honesty the facilities were as good if not better than many hotels I have since visited. The beach was literally a stone's throw away and we were flat out catching the rays before our espadrilles hit the ground. Lemon juice in the hair and covered in coconut oil we hit the midday sun. I think it was the sound of the locals promenading that woke us some 8 hours later. Dell who "doesn't need sun tan lotion as he doesn't burn" is molded to the beach as we try and lift his 25 stone frame without hitting his red bits (ie all of him). Thank fuck the communal showers never reached a temperature of more than 0 degrees Celsius.
We soon sort ourselves out and despite the fact that we all have bright orange hair we look the part as we hit the main bar on the site. The place is in full swing but after the 23rd playing of Phil Collins we head into town for some jackbit before hitting the main (only) disco. "Steak and chips cinque times, mate". An hour later and several Gallic shrugs - nowt. An hour and a half and the steaks arrive with a plate of ready slated crisps. "What the fuck!" Needless to say chips are crisps and fires are chips in France. My request for a blue bag of salt goes unheeded
"How fucking much?"
"Fuck that we're off"
And away we went. A word of advice don't do a runner whilst wearing espradillas. We must have got all of twenty yards before we all had to take them off, shove them in our hands and start sprinting. Needless to say the French waiters response was as slow as their service and despite having to make a 500-yard detour every time we went out for the next two weeks we got away with it. We soon found 'Le Planet Discotheque' and paid whatever francs it was to get in. We then spent the next 5 hours being fucked off by the girls and stared at menacingly by French skinheads before tucking the shoes under the arm for the second time that night and hastily making retreat to camp. We were not welcome.
We all crashed out before waking 45 minutes later as the sun burned through the tent and we were down the beach by 7am (and would be for another two weeks) for more kip. And also to look at the girls. They were all utterly stunning. Naked women that didn't carry a pint pot around was a novelty back then. A couple more attempts at finding nightlife in the town came to nothing and we soon settled in the camp bar. And despite the constant whining of Phil Collins in the background it was a good craic. I even managed to get a shag one night. I'd been talking to this Welsh feller (and his family) for a few nights - he was made up when he'd found somebody that liked rugby - when one night he said: "My daughter needs a good fucking". Which was kind of him to ask and rude of me to refuse. It was all quite pleasant if not a bit disconcerting when the old man came back to his daughter's tent asking her "How's it going?" as she gyrated on top of me whilst I moaned not so much in pleasure but more as she kept knocking my sun burn". Thank fuck she was going home in two days!
We'd all now settled on proper chips at the campsite café each night and had even got the DJ playing The Specials. Every night would basically be the same as the various nationalities (English, Welsh, Scots and Irish) snarled at each other whilst getting pissed. As us five were "Londoners" even the English seemed to dislike us. The days were spent on the beach playing football and looking at increasingly beautiful local girls. We even managed to engage a few in conversation and almost 30 years on and numerous trips abroad I can honestly say I've never seen more beautiful girls.
Naturally we shunned all the trips available except Carcassonne - "a beautiful walled city" - that we spent 4 hours in a bar because it was too hot to move and a day trip to Andorra. If it had been Anwar's holiday aim to find a beautiful French girl it had been Tony and Gary's aim to find this new Lacoste polo shirt that people were beginning to wear and the word was that they were dirt-cheap in the tax-free state of Andorra. They were that and more. We got there and to a man (bar Big Dell who to this day doesn't give a fuck about such things) we were smitten. Pink fucking shirts - "magnifique". And more than that they were cheap and even more than that the silly shop assistants were nowhere to be seen. A quick nod, a quick "yeah go on" and we and half this shop's product was gone. We spent the journey back arranging who would have what. That night in the bar our reputation as "Soft Southern Poofters" was confirmed as we looked like a packet of fruit pastilles as we sat at the bar.
Throughout the two weeks there had been a five-a-side football competition going on and we'd reached the final. It was billed all round the site and on the day about 300 were watching. 295 were supporting some lads from Yorkshire whilst our support came from 5 Scottish lads that we got on with. Our normal 3-1 system didn't adhere us to the crowd and we lost on penalties. "You just can't recreate that pressure in training".
And that was about it. Our first holiday abroad ended as it began with a long coach journey home. It had been a surprisingly well-behaved affair. We were bronzed, young and sporting some natty shirts. I'm still great mates with all the lads. Anwar's now one of the main bods at one of London's Electricity Boards and gets to visit Kensington Palace and the like. Tony is no longer a banker but is still one of the best-dressed lads in London. Gary has (shall we say) a Bohemian lifestyle while Big Dell is a confirmed Francophile and as I write this is currently out there following the Tour De France around.
A year later I was working in the travel industry and our gang spent the next 10 years going around Europe free of charge and misbehaving far more than we did on that first journey abroad.
I have neither been to France nor been camping since.
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