First ever Caravan trip
This story happened on: 14/08/2018
How was your first caravan trip? This was mine………….
It was the early nineties and my daughter was 15. She was beautiful, a teenager, temperamental and besotted with her first boyfriend.
“I know where this is going” I hear you cry, but that was not the case.
As the long summer break loomed, thankfully for me, she declared that “Mr Universe” was going on holiday with his parents in their newly purchased caravan, to a camping site in North Devon. This event was still some 3 weeks hence, but already the sulking was starting.
“What AM I going to do for two weeks?” “What do you care?” “It’s just not fair and we’ll be sitting here doing nothing!” The tirade came following my polite refusal to Mr Universe’s parents, asking if Kimberley would like to join them. I thanked them for their kind invitation and wished them a wonderful trip in the process. Our recent family holiday to Andalusia now seemingly dim and distant history.
“Kimberley” I said, “There’ll be plenty of opportunity for you to spend time with Mr Universe when he gets back. Besides, your mother and I were thinking of taking you away for a week at the same time”
“Really? Where?” came the reply from a dewy-eyed daughter
“Scotland?” I said (putting more miles between Mr Universe and Kimberley, hadn’t even crossed my mind)
“Scotland!!!?” “It’s freezing cold and takes forever to get there”
And then Kimberley disappeared into her room, only pausing to give me that look, the one which shocks every parent to their skeleton. “Am I really such a bad parent?”
“Why don’t we take up Walter’s offer of his caravan?” My wife suggested.
Walter was my brother-in-law and we got on famously. I had forgotten a telephone conversation some months back when he declared he’d bought a new-to-him caravan and that he’d taken his wife and 2 kids off to a camping site for a “wonderful weekend, getting back to nature” The caravan had all the “mod cons” he declared, generously offering it for our use “Whenever you want.” The old grey matter whirred into action, secret discussions held, Yellow Pages consulted, excited phone calls and plans made. Walter wholeheartedly agreed to lend us his caravan and then came the bomb-shell, “Does your car have a tow bar?”
My Toyota Corolla had a 1300cc engine (12 valve) and whilst it had been utterly reliable for the last few years, it had done 137,000 miles, flown through it’s MOT, still drove like a new car, but sadly, was not up to towing a caravan and didn’t have a tow bar. A trip down to the local garage ensued and a deal was done where Corolla morphed into an 1800cc Ford Sierra 5 door hatchback which had a tow bar already in situ and, I was informed, “perfect for towing a caravan”
The day came before Mr Universe departed down south and a few tears were shed. Perhaps now might be a good time to console Kimberley with the news that we were actually not going to Scotland, but we had booked a pitch at a campsite in North Devon instead? Indeed, the very same site as Mr Universe and Co.
It wasn’t quite the expected ‘movie moment’ when a massive hug ensued and I was declared the best Dad in the world. I seem to recall “Cool!’ being uttered.
So we packed up the car the next day, ready for our departure to Walter’s to pick up the caravan the following day.
“Why can’t we go today?” came the obvious comment from Kimberley.
She didn’t even notice the car had changed.
Fortunately, Walter’s house was some 60 miles south of us and we arrived before he and his family were up. Kimberley had no hesitation in banging on the front door and greeting them with a beaming smile. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the caravan. My heart sank. I read “new-to-him” to mean the caravan was newish, but like everything Walter did, it wasn’t. My eyes caught the wife’s at exactly the same time.
“Lovely” she declared as Walter came proudly into the garden in his dressing gown. Kimberley threw the door open and promptly declared the caravan was magnificent. It was clean. It had a 2 ring burner, a fridge (which didn't work), the water came out of the folding tap like Niagara Falls, with Walter jumping up and down on the foot pump. So furious were his efforts, the caravan shook like a nightclub dance floor.
“There seems to be a lack of beds” I declared.
“This one folds out to make a huge double” Walter proudly demonstrated. “And this one (at the other end of the caravan) well the slats broke, so now it’s a small single. “There’s an army camp-bed in here, too” A door revealed a cupboard, which had the ex MOD bed folded up against the wall along with a Porta-Potti.
“I wont be using that” declared Kimberley. (My thoughts entirely)
“There’s a new gas bottle and a new water carrier” Walter declared proudly. “Now, let’s get you hooked up”
So off we went, heading south via the M6 then M5. This was not my first experience of towing, my previous job entailed driving a twin axle ‘Tow a Van’ all over the UK, behind a Range Rover, hence, MIRO’s, MPTLM’s and other abbreviations meant little to me. I had also driven in Europe. With over 150,000 miles towing experience, I felt confident towing Walter’s ‘weekend retreat’ even without a stabiliser (which it didn’t have) and the new tug felt more than capable. I was also looking forward to sleeping on the camp-bed after using one some years earlier and having a brilliant sleep, under canvas.
Approaching the RAC building on the M6, traffic was at a standstill, so much so, an unexpected knock on the passenger window made me jump!
“Your nearside caravan wheel has got a lump in it” declared the helpful motorist.
I pulled onto the hard shoulder and after inspection, saw the biggest egg-shaped bulge on the inside of the tyre. I had previously checked the wheel nuts and tyre pressures at the first garage we came across after leaving Walter’s and wondered if I had incorrectly put too much or too little air in the tyres. Whatever, ‘major catastrophe’ averted, the wheel needing changing and I was so relieved to find a spare in the front locker which looked unused, although there was no jack. Thank you Walter. A few years back, a call to a couple of mates and we’d have lifted the caravan up ourselves to change the wheel, but my rugby days are well passed and it now entailed a walk to the emergency phone box.
I thought I could see the operator through the office window I was that close. Less than 30 minutes had passed by the time the RAC were changing the wheel.
We eased ourselves back in to the now crawling traffic until we covered the few hundred yards turning off onto the M5. It seemed almost all the traffic was also heading toward North Devon. After stopping at the first services to check pressures etc we continued on at a steady 55 mph. The weather was calm, sunny and warm and life was pretty good, until nearing the M50, a couple of motorists sailed past us, frantically waving and gesticulating towards the caravan.
”What now?” I thought.
For only the second time in my life, I was now on the hard shoulder again. Making sure the girls remained behind the barrier, I looked at the Sierra, the hitch, the caravan wheel (well the nearside one). Nothing……until I got to the back.
I couldn’t believe my eyes!…… Half the caravan was missing!….Yes! the bottom half of the caravan’s exterior was missing! No more! Gone! Disappeared! Departed!
I felt like I was in a Monty Python sketch,
“E's passed on! This caravan is no more! It has ceased to be! 'E's expired”
Below the rear window there was a seam and everything below that was gone! Forlornly, I looked around and back up the carriageway, nothing. I was left staring at a pile of wooden battens and what looked like loft insulation, together with lots of wires flapping around.
Fortunately the rear light clusters were intact, the hazard lights proudly signalling to the world, that we were in fact, towing a hazard!
Ashen-faced I reported back to the co-pilot, who cursed her brother. Kimberley let out a large groan “Typical”
I searched around the front locker and found a cricket bat whose handle had been strapped with electricians’ tape. I managed to salvage enough to secure the loose wires and set off in search of inspiration, turning off the M5 at the next junction. I knew from experience the A38 runs for miles alongside the M5. Before we had even found a phone box to search the directory, there in front of us, was the nicest looking caravan dealer in the world! Maybe our luck would change?
After a few smiles and ‘knowing looks’ a very helpful service manager explained that, as it was Saturday, they could only do an emergency repair, unless I was able to leave it with them for a couple of weeks. One look at Kimberley and the conversation changed to the possibility of part-exchanging Walters’ pride and joy, hiring something, or driving away in something else today? All this proved fruitless and it was pointed out to us that ‘our’ caravan was indeed too old for them to take in part-exchange and in it’s current state, was worth about as much as a portion of chips. We were left to peruse the stock of new and nearly new models (some costing more than my house!) whilst emergency repairs were carried out. At least Kimberley would get to see Mr Universe later that day and that cheered us all up!
A couple of hours later we were on our way again, but I was so wishing we weren’t as I was now towing a caravan whose rear half was covered in cling film. Yes, two hours in the workshop and now I’m towing a mobile cling-film dispenser - or so it looked! Kimberley’s only comment was “I’m not staying in that, we look like the Flintstones" I was tempted to share her views but then I had a brainwave. Whilst searching around in the front locker, I noticed a couple of windbreaks. Hopefully they would by long enough to wrap around the back end, thus concealing our misfortune and furthermore, we’d be given a pitch which was hidden, out of the way or against a wall or something similar.
We arrived at our chosen destination well after everyone else. Our pitch was ‘the last one’ I was hoping against hope that it was not the one I was staring at on the sitemap, proffered by the kind receptionist. The site was elliptical in shape.
Just like an eye, the pupil, right in the centre, well that was our pitch! (which no-one else wanted) A pitch that everyone had to walk past at least forty times a day, smack bang dead-centre. Bullseye!
“Nothing else, anywhere?” I suggested “Like behind that farmers’ barn over in the next field?”
“Sorry, we’re completely full” said the receptionist, along with her biggest smile.
My heart sank again as I gingerly manoeuvred between the other campers; every caravan seemed to be brand new; all with awnings or sunshades; every face on the site was watching us (or so it seemed) some even lifting their hands to their mouths aghast. They had never seen a mobile cling-film dispenser!
Kimberley had taken her leave of us at the entrance, vowing to catch-up later and to go hunting for Mr Universe. The wife shot inside the caravan as soon as I’d driven on the pitch. Thankfully it didn’t entail any manoeuvring and she took shelter without the need for a step and prior to me winding down the leg supports.
“Get that windbreak sorted!” She snarled. I hadn’t even activated the handbrake as she went into hiding.
And then all my fears and worries were allayed. The couple who were next door on their pitch, got up, came over and offered their help to unhitch and level the caravan. They hadn’t caught full sight of ‘the dispenser’ yet.
“We used to have a van like this” they said, almost in unison.
“Was it anything like mine at the back?” I asked.
Inquisitively, they moved to the rear. Their jaws dropped in unison!
I told them briefly our story, that it was a trip planned so that daughter could see you-know-who, borrowed the ‘van, the problems we encountered and then we all roared with laughter. Other neighbours came over too, not to be nosey, but to help. Thankfully the windbreaks did overlap each other and once pitched, our misfortune was hidden from view. No longer did we look like the Clampetts on vacation!
I didn’t do a thing thanks to all our fellow campers. Indeed they were incredibly generous, even consoling the wife, but particularly when Kimberley (now with Mr Universe in tow) let it be known our fridge didn’t work. Someone knew of a mobile mechanic who came the next day and replaced a thermocouple thing for about a tenner and in the meantime, our milk and cold drinks were stored by our neighbours.
At least after breaking the bad news to Walter that his caravan now had a modification, I could tell him his fridge was fixed!
A wonderful holiday ensued, however I did decide to travel back home in the dark, the roads being so much quieter!
It does makes me wonder why all caravans are not made of cling film? Walter never got round to having the repair done, or sending me the invoice, the caravan standing in his garden for a further 10 years, yet when the caravan breaker came to pick it up, apparently it was still dry.
It was an experience which still fills me with laughter to this day and even Kimberley can now see the funny side of it. Most importantly, it taught me how wonderful the caravanning fraternity can be.
Nothing was reported on the radio about stray caravan parts causing any injuries or accidents or damage to anyone.
Kimberley’s relationship ended with Mr Universe some 2 years later.
Kimberley is not my daughter’s real name, neither is Walter’s. Apologies to anyone that is.