Van de Caractère


Author's note : a caravan stunt double was used in this photo to protect the innocent
Author’s note : in the interests of anonymity, the caravan pictured is a stunt double.

“Come with us!” urges Beth, swirling her glass of chardonnay in my direction. “We’re camping on site! It’ll be fun!”

“No tent!” I counter.

“No problem!” she replies. “We know a lady who rents out vans on a casual basis …”

Whereupon follows a glowing description of their tourer, which – at surprisingly reasonable cost – will be delivered to the pitch, fully-equipped down to two types of wine glass. Can’t argue with that.

It was ages since we’d been to a music festival. It was, in fact, in the years BC (Before Children, that is.) Images of misty summer meadows, floaty dresses, daisy-chains and heavy rock start unfurling nostalgically in my mind’s-eye.  Could be fun.  The children would love it.  We find ourselves talked into going.

One phone call later and it transpires that yes, Mrs Caravan does have another available – an older model, but with quite a luxurious-sounding name.  So that’s all right, then.  She goes on, breathily, to deliver the killer blow.  “It has a fridge!”

This detail is imparted in a tone of voice so weighted with significance that I am deeply impressed, despite knowing nothing whatever about caravans. I repeat the spiel to Beth.

“Must be nice, then!” she says. “Caravan fridges are always the first things to break.”  Neither of us realise quite how prophetic this observation is to prove.

Fast-forward to the Festival, and we arrive late after a longish and somewhat fraught journey involving traffic jams and incessant are-we-nearly-there-yet-ing from the back seat.  We bump our way, per Mrs Caravan’s directions, past ranks of gleaming tourers sporting TV aerials and Austrian blinds, searching expectantly for ours.  Then, behind Beth and Ted’s (which only needs some bikini-clad model draped over it to look brochure-perfect) our home for the next seven days hoves into view.

There, somewhat unsteadily, stands an ancient vehicle of doubtful pedigree, wearing a mongrel appearance conferred by a slapdash paint job allied with the liberal use of not-quite-fitting-or matching spares. Its awning is ripped top to bottom and secured with a generous (although seriously inexpert) application of staples.  Beth, I notice, has wisely made herself scarce.

“Fret not!” booms Mrs C, striding over from her Range Rover, mannish and wild-haired in floral wellingtons, with her hand thrust out in welcome. “Gales aren’t forecast!”

She flings open the door proudly, and we’re greeted by a sudden sheet of flame.

“Blast!” she shouts, leaping into the fray and wresting the fire extinguisher from its holster. (“Ooh, Mummy – it’s just like Thunderbirds!” breathes six-year-old James ecstatically.)

“Stupid fridge!” she yells. “It sometimes does that.” Having defeated it in a fair fight, she proceeds to rip out the vanquished and semi-molten appliance and throw it into her Range Rover before departing in a spray of mud.  We’re still standing open-mouthed and speechless.

Tentatively, we climb in to inspect the van. Mrs C’s strategy, we discover, is to obscure its true age and general delapidatedness by camouflaging all available surfaces with doyleys and plastic ornaments.  It looks a bit like a tacky 1950s seaside gift emporium.  The door (not original) doesn’t close properly.  Or lock.  A complaint to Mrs C elicits a key, which doesn’t turn.  We give up on her and use a piece of string.

And the waterworks didn’t. By now, we can’t see the point in contacting Mrs C, and call on the skills of seasoned caravanner Ted. He kindly gives the van the once-over and declares that everything else (that’s left) is safe and functioning properly.  Yay!

He then crawls underneath and disappears into its undercarriage, where he proceeds with some complicated troubleshooting that seems to involve sucking and blowing into assorted lengths of old piping, and occasionally hitting something with a hammer. I think he’s feeling guilty.

About three hours later, even Ted reluctantly concedes defeat and trudges back to his gleaming tourer covered in mud and disillusion.  This is when we start to find everything unaccountably and increasingly funny.

Age and manifold defects apart, the van pleasantly surprises us by being well laid-out and comfortable, which is much more important in the long run. It’s actually rather nice not having to worry about the kids breaking anything.

We do, in fact, have a marvellous time.  A heated exchange with Mrs C after we get home results in a mutually satisfactory compromise over the (admittedly suspiciously low) price.  So everyone’s happy.

Well, we must have been. We’re going again next year.

© Sue Williams

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