St Coulomb – Back Home to Mr Cock Up!

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The view on which we set our hearts. But was it worth it?!

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill

It was a long-ish drive from Noirmoutier to St Coulomb, near St Malo – the last stop of our French Odyessy.

It appears that we have been getting a bit cocky with our caravan skills and it was time for the gods to hand us a leveller. Mark had nonchalantly reversed onto our pitch at Barbâtre perfectly; first time. However, it appears that we were to end our trip the way we began – on a colossal note of incompetence…!

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We suddenly found ourselves at home to Mr Cock Up!

At the Camping les Chevrets, we set our hearts on a pitch with a gorgeous view through pine woods over the sea. There was a slight incline to get in the pitch; a few obstacles; not much manoeuvering room. We’re experienced caravanners now, though. Nothing we couldn’t handle.

Manoeuvering such a large caravan, we did, of course, immediately attract an audience. Mesdames opposite, a collection of magnificently Reubenesque French ladies in floral, cotton dresses, came over to point out ‘Beaucoup de fumée!’ – lots of smoke – billowing out of Big Blue’s engine. The French couple next door looked worried. “You know our car is there?” they fussed. A concerned looking Dutch man was trying to retain his Low Country cool, casually reading a book, while keeping a discreet but beady eye on the rear corner of his motorhome.

Another French neighbour adopted a completely different tack. He cracked open a stubby and pulled up a pew.

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The Laws of Leverage; Long Caravan + Slight Incline = Rather Deceptive…!

We did the reverse in a series of 3 discrete and distinct cock ups; each accompanied by ‘Beaucoup de fumée!’ – and the very real worry that the van was suddenly going to burst into flames!

First, the back of the caravan narrowly missed grounding. We pulled forward to get in position, then reversed back and caught the rear corner steadies. I think it was at this point that someone advised us that another person had tried but ultimately abandoned their attempt to get on that pitch. Oh well, that was that.

The gauntlet was down. There was no way that would be thwarted now!floret-153763_640On the third attempt, something seemed to be dragging. I was watching the back of the caravan to ensure that we didn’t catch the corner steadies again while avoiding the car and motorhome. I couldn’t work out what the grinding noise was – then I noticed the furrow ploughed by the jockey wheel…!

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We plough our own furrow… I had wondered what that grinding noise was!

We wobbled back and forth in the small space available and eventually got the caravan on the pitch (yeah!) but still had to get her level and exactly line up the Alko wheel lock. The pitch sloped quite considerably. With a lot of man-handling and some help from relieved French and Dutch neighbours, we raised Starboard to ‘almost level’ on blocks and ramps by pivoting, while keeping the nearside Alko wheel lock lined up and stationary with a wedge. Remarkably, this worked.

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We did it. Eventually!

The difficulties associated with getting on some pitches are sometimes simply not obvious. Mark put it into context; “We had to avoid the car, the motorhome, the post and hedge while not grounding out. Other than that, it was a Piece of Cake!” Mark added that there was a storm evacuation plan displayed in reception. I hope the storms pass us by. Somehow, I can’t see us getting out of here quickly…!

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Princess Ruby approves of the view but doesn’t know what all the fuss was about.

I felt a bit frazzled by the time we had settled. When I went to get water for a much-needed cup of tea, a Danish couple whom we had met at reception were already pitched, awning up and enjoying a late afternoon snack in the sun!

Thankfully, the very English storm that had been brewing since Oléron had been averted. Mark had heroically offered to give up tea to allow our dwindling supplies to last me until we got home, thus saving me from the Ubiquitous Evil that is Lipton’s Yellow Label.

Friends had, however, recognised this for the true crisis it was and had rallied. At least a dozen had offered to post us out an emergency packet of PG!

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The Ubiquitous Evil – we have been subjected to Lipton’s on almost every Continent!

We have experienced a number of parallels with Mark’s first trip to France at the age of 19 (see A Trip Down Memory Lane) He went in a blue van, accompanied by a lady named Jackie (whose name he failed to remember when he introduced us, despite our sharing the same name!)

More worryingly, he chose to tell me now that the clutch on his first blue van had also failed…! “Most of the bolts sheared off the gearbox as well!” he added jauntily.

Those were the days when a DIY car-fix was achievable – long before ‘Elf and safety gone mad.’ You remember – The Good Old Days. When you shared the road with a myriad of dangerous and poorly maintained vehicles…

Mark was on a budget and so had found his own DIY car-fix; “I connected the clutch and gearbox together with wire coat-hangers. Obviously, the two were not perfectly aligned… and the starter motor was held in by a bootlace. So I drove all the way from Toulon to Calais in 2nd gear. I had to get dock workers to push me on and off the ferry!”

Such a Heath Robinson approach was never going to be a permanent fix.

Mark’s trip ended abruptly at Ashford in Kent, when the remaining bolts sheared and the gearbox actually fell out of the engine.

I am rather hoping that we can make it back to Verwood, Hampshire, where we have an appointment with a skilled mechanic, without resorting to coat hangers or a bootlace!

As such, no touring; no sightseeing; no shopping. Big Blue has been placed on bed rest in the hope that she can get us home!

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Cock au Van – Big Blue on Bed Rest in the hope that she can get us home!

When you suddenly find that you are at home to Mr Cock Up, BEWARE! Before you know it he has moved in, got his feet up and is demanding dinner with a glass of wine…

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