Caravan living

I wish I lived in a caravan, 

With a horse to drive, like a pedlar-man!
Where he comes from nobody knows,
Nor where he goes to, but on he goes.’ 
William Brighty Rands

That poem has stuck in my mind since childhood.  I loved it.  The vision of a wagon, laden with stuff, entranced me: 

Chairs to mend and delf to sell —
He clashes the basins like a bell.
Tea-trays, baskets, ranged in order,
Plates, with the alphabet round the border.

And then the vicarious pleasure I took in traveling along, knowing:

The roads are brown, and the sea is green,
But his house is just like a bathing-machine.
The world is round, but he can ride,
Rumble, and splash to the other side.

As a (pre internet) adult I was reminded of it by something and my mother found and copied it out for me.  I still have it in her handwriting. 

So, I got something of the thrill of my grandchildren, when for the third time, they climbed the six or so steps into our rented caravan by the sea, last week.  They were joyous, rushing from room to room, exploring the cupboards, pulling the curtains open and shut, leaping on the settees, and generally loving the small space with everything perfectly arranged for a by-the-sea holiday in what the advertising burble calls ‘the perfect resort park’.

We’d followed the resort instructions, ‘Make sure you pack your bucket and spade because we’re just a five-minute drive from the beach’ and not just bucket and spade.  It’s stunning how much stuff you can pack into a ‘compact’ hire car, for 2 adults, 2 children and 2 days.  Fortunately, this time the children did not both bring life-sized Ikea stuffed dogs, but they brought plenty of other things they couldn’t do without.  It reminded me of that wonderful cameo in the film What we did on our holiday, and the child’s insistence on bringing the huge stone called Norman.

It was a short (mileage) trip from home to resort, but a long (time) trip – accident, flooding, M25 normal traffic slow flow, etc.   Getting closer to destination, every time I looked at the satnav it said ‘30 mins to destination’. Like the children I felt I was trapped in an endless loop of always having 30 mins before arrival and never getting there.  

Nevertheless we did eventually arrive, more than two hours longer than satnav originally said.  Clearly it had, insufficient AI to factor in roads flooding, a traffic accident (not us), need to have a wee – twice, dropping a model farm animal onto the car floor – more than twice, urgent requirement for ‘something to eat’ – all things contributing to frayed edges and all four of us finishing the last hour of the trip whining, ‘Why do we have to be in the car so long?’

The children couldn’t wait for us to finally park.  In the torrential rain they insisted on walking from the resort entry barrier to the caravan, eagerly looking for number 733. We arrived drenched but happy (children) and in need of a G & T (adults).   

This sort of ‘resort’ is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Some people enjoy camping, others secluded up-market country cottages, others campervans, others 5-star hotels.  We were in one of 800 or so static caravans, arranged in neat lines, where, as the advertising burble goes,  ‘You’ll find plenty on park to enjoy too, whether you spend your days around the indoor and outdoor swimming pools or keeping active on the sports court. Kids will also love the adventure playground and arcade.’   

But it is what we like.  This trip was the third to the same place in one year. There’s something wonderful about hearing the rain on the metal roof, the enclosed warm space (really efficient heating), the sort of spartan minimalism of just enough to be comfortable and the novelty aspect of living in ‘not a house’, but with the familiarity of ‘house-ness’ – table, sofa, dining stools, cooker, fridge, bedrooms, etc.

Then there’s the on-siteness of everything.  The resort’s  organised to enable you to have no need to stray outside its perimeter.  It’s a kind of voluntary detention centre should you choose it to be so.  We didn’t, after starting each of our 2-full days there with a swim and session in the adventure playground, we went to the wonderful activity farm on day 1 and the beach and pier on day 2.

I’m not sure I’d want to live permanently in a static caravan park, but tastes of caravan living do reinforce my yearning to live with the absolute minimum of stuff.  I’ve always characterised it as living with just a bowl and a spoon. I know there’s no possibility of that – what about a kettle, or some clothing, etc? But it’s a kind of directional aspiration that I haven’t yet achieved. 

I love the idea of trundling through the country living minimally but comfortably.  That led me to campervans.  As soon as I mentioned campervans, it turns out I’m behind the curve.  At the local Parkrun today one of the runners was just going to collect one he’d just bought – ready to set off in it to two music festivals. Another runner has just returned from two weeks campervanning around the north of Scotland, and a third is setting off on Wednesday to do a round trip of Europe accompanied by partner and dog. 

Campervanning is a whole new world to me, and I love exploring new worlds – there’s a community, a language, conventions, and know-how, to get to grips with.   Listening to those three runners talking about their trips,  I felt an idea coming on – maybe the grandchildren would enjoy a campervan as much as a static caravan – but a better idea is to test it out myself, first.  A childhood yen to live in a horse-drawn house like a bathing machine is a far cry from a campervan, and it would be dotty to lash out and buy one without experiencing it.

So, I’ve booked to hire a campervan.  My gallant daughter is coming.  She’s already experienced van living so I will rely on her for expertise and guidance, also for driving as I am outside the age limit for campervan hire.  We’re going for a weekend, and I’m going to look out for a plate with the alphabet round the border, in my local charity shops.  I might strike lucky and, if so, I can imagine I’m fulfilling my childhood vision,  rumbling and splashing to the other side of the world in my house like a bathing-machine.

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