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.