You know it is summer when, attempting to drive north on one of those windy A roads, the traffic has formed a queue even before you leave the motorway. When you eventually, painfully and gradually start moving and discover what the cause of the slow up ahead is, inevitably it is a caravan.
I don’t know how their operators can stand it. “It” being the build up of bulging psychic rage from the host of drivers in normal vehicles behind who risk death from oncoming traffic to pass. The caravaners would have to be inhuman not to sense the turmoil. Yet if you look into the depths of the cockpit as your screaming engine propels you past, you might catch their look of serene concentration as they tootle heedlessly along the road. That their vehicle handles like a wet loaf of bread, and everyone else stares hard as they swerve recklessly into the wrong side of the single carriageway, seems to create not a moment of unease for them. But then the smug so and sos have tea-making facilities and a chemical loo that can be used, at a pinch and with a few dextrous handover manoeuvres, whilst on the move. They are in no rush. And as such, the very existence of the boxy home on wheels, a snail in vehicular form, is the equivalent of a two-fingered affront to everyone else behind them, who is probably late to get where they would rather be. The caravan driver really can’t give a stuff.
But perhaps you are a bit like me. While I glare furiously as I pass them, a deathlike grip on the steering wheel just like the rest of you, is it a touch of jealousy I feel veiled behind the adrenaline rush? Because while Proust had his posh biscuits, a caravan is sure to make me feel a bit soppy and nostalgic, with childhood memories flickering like campfire and tasting of roasted marshmallow.
I blame my parents. For every summer until I was of age to snub their offer of two weeks away, it was a caravan, in some form or another, in which we made our holiday.
Actually our sylvan adventures through the years saw a sort of Darwinian evolution of mobile camping vehicles.
First it was tents, back in the day when they were cumbrous things made of particularly musty canvas. Then came the wondrous tent trailer, which only took hours to erect once arrived under the trees near the lake, which was a vast improvement on the nasty contraption of yore which usually unfurled from its storage bag at least one peg and guy rope short.
But it was the camper I remember best. The six-seater dining table flipped over to become a bed at night. And as we drove the long miles to our destination, I would watch the lines on the road from the bed atop the truck cab until mesmerised.
But the tiny camper was still only an evolutionary stage as the parents moved on to bigger and better. One of the times I visited them in Canada, they had a five-wheeled trailer pulled by the truck. It was carpeted, wallpapered and curtained inside. When parked, it had telescoping sides that stretched out to increase the interior space so that it was more capacious than my flat at the time. But it was still modest compared to others. In North America they specialise in a sort of recreational vehicle arms race whereby the winner drives a seven-bedroomed monstrosity towing a Ford and a speedboat.
Of course you don’t see that sort of thing here.
Narrow, winding British roads mean you can’t wend something much bigger than a horse trailer down them if you are to end up staying anywhere besides the car park of a motorway services.
Yet what you learn in a caravan, RV or other thing on wheels is that you get to bring certain comforts of home with you on your adventures. A tarp over the doorway does wonders in some light rain and if it’s pouring there’s always room to squeeze in around the table inside to play Cribbage. Some now even have TVs.
In effect, your holiday starts as soon as you have stocked up on campfire food and pulled out of the drive.
The journey is as much as part of the destination as getting there.
No wonder they all look so calm, while the rest of us try to rush by.