Fox Poo, Ticks and Goose Eggs; a Caravan Manoeuvering Course – and a Near Death Experience!
D Day (Departure Day) minus 1 5th June
Packing up your entire life takes longer than you think. My hot tip here is to keep the pressure off yourself by NOT diverting from the main event by needing to post all the items you sold on eBay the night before you move permanently from a house into a caravan.
Kai helped our efforts tremendously by starting to eat our environmentally friendly packing chips. So besides trying to clean the house, get all remaining worldly goods to fit in the van and frenetically packaging oddly-shaped parcels at 10pm (how do you pack up a golf club for posting?), we were also soaking half-dissolved corn chips out of Kai’s whiskers.
D Day; A Near Death Experience 6th June
From today, we are Upper Class Trailer Trash and home is where we park it! All the essentials to see us through our travels are rammed into the van; 1 box of clothes each, the rest is either sports stuff or dog stuff. (By Wednesday, we took about 1/3 of these ‘essentials’ to store at Mark’s Mum’s. It is surprising how little you really need. We have been shedding ‘essentials’ ever since – Big Blue is now only half full!)
Our departure from ‘The Brick’ was fraught. The inventory lady arrived in the middle of our frantic exit clean, then the keys got lost… The plan was to leave at 09:30, giving us plenty of time to drive to Selsey, collect the caravan, then head back to Winchester to pitch at leisure. We finally left home at 14:30 and by the time we had picked up the caravan, it was the height of the evening rush hour.
We were camping at Hare Farm in Twyford, near Winchester. We nearly didn’t get there. Not just because I thought Mark would never have enough manoeuvring room to get the caravan out of storage (we STILL hadn’t sussed that we could just pull it by hand on flat ground!); a mile and a half from the caravan store, a wide load flew recklessly around a blind bend, right in the middle of the narrow road.
“I am not even going to look” I screamed as Mark hugged the wall to our left and I hugged Kai. Thankfully, we had taken the opposite approach to the HGV, advancing into the blind corner at a snail’s pace. Still, how he missed us, we just don’t know. It could only have been by millimetres. We both had our eyes shut, waiting for the near head-on impact. I was praying that Mark would survive; it wouldn’t be so bad if we were both still alive and able get out together to see whether the entire right-hand side of the van and caravan had been ripped off.
Ironically, the wide load was a flatbed truck carrying a static caravan!
We continued on to the motorway feeling more than a little shaken. Other than a woman performing an emergency stop directly in front of us on the M27 to allow a lorry to exit a slip road, then executing a 90 degree turn into the tiny dirt road which led to our field of residence, shaving off half our jockey wheel in the process (it was our bad. We hadn’t retracted it fully!), the journey to Hare Farm was completely uneventful…!
We arrived with no food or fundamentals like WINE. We really needed wine. Caravan Confucius say – Bring simple meal and booze for Arrival Day. Luckily, we found a Chinese takeaway.
10pm – We christened our pristine new shower with the dogs. They were a little disconcerted by their change of circumstances. They decided to add to the atmosphere of relaxation by barking incessantly and then when I took them for a walk, rolling in fox poo. Lani had great clumps of it stuck to her collar. We hadn’t yet learnt to check ahead whether a site had electrical hook-ups and shower blocks, so we were on a CL (Certified Location) in the middle of a field with no facilities and reliant on our solar panel.
It wasn’t how I expected to feel on the first day of Living our Dream. I was so tired that I wanted to cry and was sitting in a caravan that smelled of fox poo overlaid with the minty shower gel that we had used to try to remove / disguise the smell and a hint of Chinese food. Mmmmmm,
Livin’ the Dream Day 1 7th June
Things always look better the morning after, particularly when you had some wine. (Luckily there was a convenience store nearby as well as a Chinese!)
We awoke to the sound of skylarks and watched swallows swoop and dive above a hare in the field. Our neighbours are goats, alpaca and rare breeds of chicken. We have no electric hookup, so our phones, computer and all connection with the outside world gradually ran out of charge and we finally found what we have been seeking. Peace!
Chewbacca, the billy goat kid was born the day we arrived. He was feeding from only one side of his mum, Leia’s udder. I had a part to play in remedying this. I used to look after some goats in my summer holidays when I was a child. I was awarded two goose eggs for showing Ruth how to milk Leia! We used my prize to cook the ULTIMATE fry up, served on our Wedgewood plates, of course. We are Upper Class Trailer Trash, after all!
We had been sweltering in a mini heatwave and trimmed the dogs. We bought them a paddling pool to help them cool off, but they seemed to think it was just an over-sized drinking bowl! Then, of course, it turned cool and wet – just in time for me to spend the whole weekend outdoors doing my Caravan Manoeuvring course!
The wet, warm weather was great for ticks. Poor Ruby had one on her eyelid! Kai had to go to the Vets to have the head of one removed and an antibiotic injection.
The Woman at the Wheel – Practical Caravanning Course
I promised to let you know how I got on with my Practical Caravanning Course. The truth is, I was absolutely dreading it!
As I said in my blog Towing Safely & Legally, I was putting myself through it because I felt that it was important for me to be able to take the wheel. That way, I could give Mark some respite on long journeys or take over if some catastrophe befell Mark and meant that he was unable to drive.
I shambled tentatively into a stark lecture room at Sparsholt College, eyes down as I grabbed myself a coffee and shuffled uncomfortably into a spare seat. I tried my best to be invisible but a U shaped table of unfamiliar faces were staring blankly at me. Little did I know, they were all just as nervous as me!
As I plucked up the courage to look up and meet the staring eyes, I got a huge smile. The huge smile belonged to Bella. I found out later that she was 80 years old and wanted to learn to tow so that she could take the small caravan that she had bought at this year’s Romsey show up to the West Coast of Scotland.
It was a trip that she and her late husband had been planning to do*. I pointed out to her that we actually had twin caravans! Mark and I HAD been going to the same show as her at Romsey but switched to Shepton Mallet at the last minute to view the Knaus Sportcaravan. She bought her caravan on the same day that we accidentally bought our caravan, Kismet! We were Caravan Twins!
Our instructors, Richard and Dave were lovely and as we went around the table doing introductions, I was heartened that not only were 6 of the 12 delegates ladies, but 0 out of 12 of us had any towing experience whatsoever!
I really enjoyed the course and it cast some valuable rays of light on the whole mystery of caravanning, including Reverse Polarity, which up until now, I had thought was something fictional to do with the cult musical “Return to the Forbidden Planet.”
Everyone was really encouraging and supportive – and we all passed with flying colours. Ladies too! Caravans were provided, but we were using our own tow vehicles, so we got plenty of practice hitching and unhitching each other. By the end, I could hitch and unhitch in my sleep! Having learnt hacks to help plan a line to drive through and reverse around an obstacle course, I felt much more confident about the idea of towing Kismet. “Manoeuvring a large caravan is much easier than manoeuvring a small one!” Richard told me. Well, we would see!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for Mark to…
I was Certified! I rang to tell my Dad. He said, “It’s about time…!”
I got back to the caravan and asked Mark what he had been doing while I had been on my course. He looked a bit sheepish and guilty. It took some time for him to admit to the occurrence of a Magic Markie Moment. He explained how he had spent most of the afternoon; “I was stuck in the toilet!”
It appeared that after he had slid the bathroom door shut, a box had toppled over and wedged itself behind the sliding door, jamming it, so he was penned in the privy!
“How on earth did you get out?!” I asked. “I climbed out of the window…” I was gobsmacked! Quite how someone 6’6” can clamber out of a window less than a foot high defeats me. He said that even he had had his doubts, but since I was out for the day and the dogs were getting agitated, he had no choice! He had even managed it without breaking anything. He had recovered from his ordeal by treating himself to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange lunch!
I then felt empowered to admit to my own particular brand of stupidity. I had set our new Snooper Caravan Sat Nav to get me home from my course and couldn’t understand why the road layout on the Sat Nav bore no resemblance to the route I was driving. “I’m not going over a roundabout!” I was thinking. “There is no side road here!” In fact, “Where the heck am I? This isn’t the way I came!” I drove around for ages until I found something familiar. The Sat Nav was no help at all.
When the Sat Nav indicated The Hockley Interchange on the M3, the penny dropped. The map needed updating. I know the Hockley Interchange well. I lived in Southampton many years ago and queued at the Hockley lights for 40 minutes every morning and 40 minutes every evening on my long commutes to work. But that was 20 years ago, before the M3 extension was built (and before Sat Navs were invented!!!) – the Sat Nav was clearly WELL out of date!
It was only when the Sat Nav showed me reaching my destination when I was 3 miles away that I realised my mishtayke. I had pressed ‘Go’ on “Route Simulation” – so it was just scrolling through to show me the route that I had planned! With towering intellects like ours, we will go far!
As we departed from Hare Farm, Ruth thanked me for the 1000th time for helping her to milk the goat and Trevor guided us out past all the obstacles. After my course and with Trevor’s help, I had managed to retract our now square jockey wheel fully, which prevented it from catching on the way out.
But we hadn’t done too badly. Caravan Confucius Say – Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. In that sense, we were beginning to become a little wiser.
We hit the road in the direction of Portland, where we were hoping to score some windsurfing. As to how we got on with storms, a sunken road and a COLOSSAL sense of humour failure – well… You Can’t Read That in a Book – but you will certainly be able to read it in my next blog, which is entitled “You Can’t Read That in a Book”
*I am delighted to report that Bella is very much enjoying towing. She did her trip to Scotland – and was humbled by how friendly and helpful fellow caravanners are!
Stock Photo Credits – Pixabay
Our first year of caravan adventures is now immortalised in the book, Fur Babies in France – From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream. For further details of this and my other books, which include my having to put my towing skills into action across three countries from Budapest, when Mark broke his ribs, click here.