Diehards

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Grand Narrative: the camper van years

On the day my husband turned to me and said, ‘I’ve been looking at camper vans on eBay, I’ll get you one for your birthday if you like.’ I felt no one could be more loved than me. I had long since nourished a fantasy of setting off round the British coast in my trusty old van, stopping off in lay-bys to make myself cups of tea whilst taking in magnificent views and sleeping wherever, whenever, I wished in my own - 360 thread count - Egyptian cotton sheets. In the next few weeks, as he trawled the internet, dashing off emails to people called Vic and Nobby, I poured over the Kath Kidston catalogue and taught myself how to crochet.

The dream grew. In the past year Stevie had taken a job that meant he was away from home all week. Now Bob, our son, was set to leave for a university over four hundred miles away. I wanted to get out and explore too, and a camper van would allow me to do it on my own terms. I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, book ahead, or eat other people’s food, I would be travelling in my own – tastefully shabby - mobile bedsit. I would go wherever I pleased, make my own discoveries, forge new paths, armed only with a hard backed atlas, a fridge full of croissants and the wherewithal for a night-cap daiquiri.

When Stevie first thought to look for vans, he found them everywhere, hundreds on eBay, and umpteen specialist websites. But now that we were looking with intent, the perfect van became elusive. In the dream mine had always been a chalk-blue split screen Volkswagen. But the ‘splitty’, it turned out, was a rare and costly icon. My pale blue one had even featured on the album cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which made it the most iconic and therefore most expensive of all. Bugger. Our budget was limited. We turned to the type 2. Everyday Stevie would email me a small selection of for sale ads. And every evening he would phone with news of near-misses. As time went by I found myself compromising on matters of colour (strawberry ice-cream pink, pistachio green, beige? yeah beige would be cool), styling (a spare wheel mounted on the front, why not?), and age. Still, I continued to crochet coloured squares and stood my ground on matters regarding the kitchen. There would be no point, I insisted, if I couldn’t feed myself. I wanted to sit on beaches at dawn, wrapped in a blanket, a mug of cocoa in hand, and the promise of a bacon buttie hanging.

Stevie, over the course of a few weeks, learned everything one could possibly need to know about air cooled engines, pop-tops, and van to camper conversions. I learned my tastes exceeded my budget. We both learned we’d need to be quick: Vic had sold all four of his vans ‘within an hour!’ for at least double the reserve. It seemed there was at least one person in every street in Britain with the same dream and the cash to finance it. Not only that, they could and would travel to anywhere on the island at the drop of a hat to part with that cash. Stevie had to be where his job was and I was stuck in Scotland where there wasn’t a single camper to be had; a pile of crochet growing beside me.

Then, just as I was beginning to think I’d have to settle for a diamond panda broach or some such froufrou nonsense for my birthday the gods intervened. Stevie was in London and he’d found a van in a Bedfordshire village near to where his parents lived. It was just in our price range. The next day was a Saturday, he arranged to view.

16 comments:

Conan Drumm said...

"trusty old van"

Having recently become the principal carer of a thirty six year old T2 I can tell you there's one 't' too many in the above quote!

Eryl Shields said...

I've just been over and seen your photo.

Wait for the next installment: the 't' fell off very quickly, very quickly indeed.

Kim Ayres said...

If this goes ahead, I hope stopping off at Internet Cafes blogging on your journeys becomes part of that Narrative :)

debra said...

Ah Eryl, another place to have coffee and cheesecake :-)
Will you post pictures?

Eryl Shields said...

Kim and Debra ~ I, perhaps, should have mentioned that this all happened a few years ago, and now...

I thought I'd do a little mini-series, so next installment, next Tuesday - or thereabouts.

Kim Ayres said...

Ah, well I'm still eagerly awaiting the next episode :)

Carole said...

I am anxiously awaiting the next installment...

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ Splendid.

Carole ~ Anxiously? Oh the pressure!

debra said...

hey---what about me??? Can I be anxiously awaiting it too?

Mary Witzl said...

I was reading along, all excited, wondering where this would end up -- imagining that you had given up the whole idea -- and then when it started to look promising, you got to that cliff-hanger I thought 'Noooo!'

And now I hear that the T has fallen off and this was several years ago, and so I won't get to hear your interesting stories of lay-bys and lovely sunsets and interesting people you've met...

You've got to get that van! But even if you don't, I'll be back for the next installment. I want to hear what it looked like. We're buying a new car in a week or two, you see...

Kanani said...

A van? How fun!! I love taking long road trips and there have been plenty of times I would have liked to pull over in a campground and put up a chair or two.
Do go on... this is FUN!

PI said...

I don't know what a split screen is and what will you do with the crocheted squares? I imagine a knitted tea cosy will be a desirable
accessory once you are ensconced.
What a brilliant way to trawl for writing subjects and local colour but when will you get time to work on your garden?

Eryl Shields said...

Debra ~ You can be anxious if you wish, but I don't recommend it.

Mary ~ I have some photographs somewhere, old style ones that had to be sent off for and came back in a packet. There are some interesting stories, hopefully, coming up, mostly about breaking down. But the VW camper really does attract an interesting type.

Kanani ~ I will, I just have to try and remember the good bits. But since I had the van I now travel with a camp stove and tea bags and always have a rug to throw down, stored in the back of my car.

Pat ~ Do you not remember when cars had two panes in the windscreen?

All will be revealed in the course of time. As for my garden...

Rob Hopcott said...

As well as an online writer, I'm a keen amateur folk musician.

I had my first starter / really cheap camper van last year and had a great time using it to go to lots of folk music festivals.

During the week, I would go off and write in the laybys of Exmoor with the birds singing all around and wonderful views.

To be honest, I don't know whether to stick with what I've got, cash in a load of savings and get something really posh and luxurious or get a little sports car and use bed and breakfast.

Today, I drove my wife's posh almost new car and learned how the other half live and I could get used to it.

Eryl Shields said...

Rob ~ It's a dilemma isn't it? My husband has quite a posh, new car, it's fast, quiet, and spacious. My car is slow, noisy and small, but it's very easy to park and with the money I save by not going out in it, because it's so slow and noisy, I get to buy lots of books from the internet. And stay home and write.

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