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Rear View Mirror: Bye-di-Bye

As Pontins faces uncertain fate, Tony Schumacher recalls a highly charged escape

Written by . Published on November 19th 2010.

Rear View Mirror: Bye-di-Bye

THE coarse blanket pushed down on me like a horse hair shroud. I lay on the floor behind the front seats of the car, the heat pawing at my face and sweat trickling through my lank hair and down into my eyes.

My cheek pressed into the carpet as we approached the checkpoint, heart pounding I look at the springs of the seat in front. Stop, inch, stop, inch, stop

“Stop moving!” someone said from above and I felt a kick and then the weight of a harshly placed boot across my back. “You’ll give us away!” the voice hissed. I heard a match strike and the sulphurous smoke leached through the blanket and pushed what remaining oxygen I had further from my lips.

“I can’t breathe!” I whimpered.

“Sssh!” another kick.

My chest heaved and for a moment I thought I might cry, when the smell of cigarettes added to my agony I had to pull the blanket back from my face, I couldn’t take anymore. I surfaced like a drowning man, gasping, desperate for sunlight on my face. I looked up, past the occupants of the rear seat and out up to the sky through the back windows, I sucked deep on the smoky air, it wasn’t much better than when I was under the blanket. The car lurched forward and then stopped again.

“Get back under the blanket!” another kick.

“Keep him covered” another voice, this time from the front.“If you move again I’ll kill you, understand?” said Boots, he flicked his foot again, a physical full stop.

I whimpered.

We’d bid a final farewell to our home many long hours before, desperate to flee. My father had loaded the car early that morning on his return from the factory. He wasn’t the only one not to have slept that night. I had lain awake watching headlamps chase across the ceiling, too excited and anxious at what the future held. Could it really be true that in this place they gave you free ice cream and that there were brightly coloured places for children to play all day and night? Or was I being teased by my friends?

Today was the day I would find out, God willing.

We set off early, deciding to travel in a two-car convoy for safety, my father’s younger sister, her husband and their children had joined us for the break-out.

They had the bigger car so my sister travelled with them, they basked in the luxury of rear winding windows and a medium wave radio. Nerves were strained in our car, my mother had the map in front of her as we weaved through the mountain roads, she twisted it like a paper steering wheel as she tried to make sense of our unfamiliar surroundings, pointing at junctions as we passed.

“It was that one! I’m certain! I think.” Another cigarette for the nerves, passing it to my father for him to draw on “It’s straight on, I think.”

Later she passed me a cup of diluted orange to drink, it was warm and cloying but it was all we had.

“Go easy! It has to last us!”

I passed the cup to fellow rear seat refugees, my brother, with his boots, and his mate, Dave. Dave who shouldn’t be there.

We pushed on across the border; nobody wanted to be on these roads at night, I can still remember my father’s eyes in the rear view mirror as he watched my uncle frantically flash his headlamps behind us.

“There is something wrong with them, they want us to stop!”

My mother strained to turn and look past me out of the rear window.

“What should we do?”

“We can’t leave them.”

The tick tock of the indicator sounded like a time bomb as we waited for my father to return to the car, we sat on the verge as trucks thundered by. Dad suddenly leaned through the window.

“Give me the water, they need it, they are overheating.”

“But John! It’s all we’ve got!”

“We can’t leave them!” those words again, blood thicker than anti freeze.What seemed like days later we saw the first signs of our destination, our poor car, staggering on like a mule in a desert.

“Anthony, get on the floor.”


“We don’t have the right papers.”

“But I don’t want to go on the floor.”

“If you don’t get on the floor we can’t go in, Dave shouldn’t be here,” my brother said as he took the blanket from the parcel shelf.

“Why can’t Dave go on the floor?”

I didn’t get an answer, the blanket went over my head and down I went, trapped in some early form of rendition. I felt myself pushed out of sight. My cheek pressed into the carpet as we approached the checkpoint, heart pounding I look at the springs of the seat in front. Stop, inch, stop, inch, stop.

The window wound down.

“Papers please.” Click of glove box. “It says there should be a girl.”

“She’s in the car behind. They have a radio.”

I silently thanked God they hadn’t made me wear a frock, suddenly the blanket didn’t seem so bad after all.

“She should travel in the car that has her pass.”

“I’m sorry, we didn’t know, they are a couple of cars behind, they broke down, it’s a been a terrible journey.”


I held my breath; “Please” I prayed “free ice cream!”

“Okay, straight through the barrier follow the road and don’t stop.”

We’d done it! The Promised Land! Welcome to Butlins.

That’s the most vivid memory I have of the summer of 1978 annual Schumacher holiday. We were having a change from our usual haunt of the much loved Llandudno. My parents had been talked into trying a holiday camp and here we were. Behind the wire.

I remember the board in the show lounge, “Baby Crying in chalet B4” and I remember tut-tuts as some poor mum would have to do the walk of shame on her way to nurse the wailing tot. I remember the paper thin walls and the lino on the floor, and how cold the “heated” outdoor pool was. Kids should have been basted in goose fat prior to immersion.

I recall chicken in a basket and drunken people laughing outside while I tried to sleep, communal singing, bingo and fairground rides with queues that stretched forever. Even then it felt old fashioned; the colours in the photos looked faded before the pictures were taken.

About two years ago, I did a gig at Pontins in Ainsdale, which went into administration last week. I arrived early, and papers in hand, drove up to the gate, the guard waved me in without a glance, the barrier was already raised and there wasn’t a queue.

I found a Blue Coat who pointed the way to the room I was performing in and, as I sat waiting for my spot, a nice girl came into the room and asked would I like something to eat. Later she brought me some chicken in a basket. Fresh from 1978.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousNovember 16th 2010.

Yet another lovely story from Tony. Congrats

Sun BurntNovember 16th 2010.

Hark at him! Swanking around at expensive Butlins!

We poor people all had to make do with Robin Hood Camp!

The Big SisNovember 16th 2010.

Seems like only yesterday! Brilliant!! What would dad say about you writing about him and now his picture!! x

Professor Chuckle-book-earlyNovember 16th 2010.

Marvellous stuff Mr Shoes. But I warn you, you'll be laughing the other side of your face if the some Yank buys up Pontins wanting to expand the Guantanamo Bay franchise. If that happens you can kiss good-bye to that much coveted Blue coat. It'll be the Orange Boiler Suit.

Erik DerojaNovember 17th 2010.

Viz a name like Schumacher und zay still asked for your papers?

AnonymousJanuary 28th 2011.

Good to see Pontins will live again! Let's just hope Britannia look after them better than they do the Adelphi.

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