My 40th birthday will certainly be a memorable one.
In the lead up to my birthday, we (Emma and I, with the combined encouragement of the kids) decided to get a caravan. We enjoy getting away from time to time and have done so in our large family tent (which is a great tent in every sense of the word), but having thought of various ways of tackling our planned holiday to the Swiss Alps this year to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and my 40th in a reasonably-priced way, we explored various options of managing to do.
Our first consideration was to hire a car and take our large tent and sundry equipment, but any car hire company seems to charge upwards of £700 for one week with a Galaxy or similar large-ish MPV type thing when you leave the shores of this country.
Our other consideration was the fact that we will probably be overnighting in 4 different places. If we take our family marquee, based on it taking approximately one hour to set up and another to break down, and then having all the faffing around with damned inflatable beds, that’s a lot of time eeked out of our holiday just setting up home for the night or two.
The next idea was to hire a motorhome for the week. After some research on the Web, it became apparent that this would cost around about £1000 for the week. It also came to light that many privately-owned motorhomes are hired out to others in order to fund their purchase for the owner. For some time, this seemed to be quite an appealing idea in itself and we entertained, albeit for a very brief time, the idea of getting a second-hand one ourselves and renting it out to fund its purchase, but there are big risks involved in doing that, and no guarantees, so we went off the idea pretty quickly.
Then we had a week in Tewkesbury at the start of the month at the Tewkesbury Abbey Caravan Club site. We met up with Emma’s mum and step-dad, Joyce and Ron, while we were there. They’d gone for the whole week, whereas we had decided to go from Monday to Friday. We took our family tent and Joyce and Ron were in their caravan. The day we arrived, the heavens opened and, as has been my normal experience when camping, the process of setting up our tent was a wet and muddy one.
I don’t mind so much setting up a small tent for myself (like on my motorbike trip last year), even when it’s raining, as it’s a quick process. It was tough, however, setting up our large family tent as the rain fell – especially while people around us were snug in their caravans. We had a nice week anyway, and the weather came good in the end. Having spent some of our evenings with Joyce and Ron in their caravan, we did find ourselves in the position of considering whether it might not be a good idea to hire or buy a caravan for our planned family trip to Switzerland in July.
So, when we got back, I started looking into buying a second-hand caravan. After a fair bit of time on Autotrader’s caravan section, checking some dealerships, and doing some reading-up, we’d pretty much decided which layout we wanted and then narrowed this down to a make/model. As a family of five, we needed a five or six berth. We decided that we wanted one with fixed bunk beds, as these take up little room. In the end we decided to try to get hold of a Cristall Sprint TKM – a German/Dutch-made caravan with excellent towing properties and excellent construction, but light enough to be towed by even smaller cars. These appeared to be going for around £6000-6500 in the second-hand market. Importantly, German/Dutch caravans have an excellent reputation for resisting the curse of caravans… damp.
After a couple of failed attempts at getting one (the first sold pretty quickly, and the second one was a little too overpriced and not in particularly great condition), we thought we’d just have to wait until one became available. Then I went against recommended advice on buying a caravan and had a look on eBay. And there it was… exactly the model we were after, with a few days left until bidding ended.
I arranged to go and take a look at the caravan before bidding, which meant a trip to Ashington, a few miles north of Newcastle. In the event, it seemed like a good excuse for a day on the motorbike and also an excuse to come back via my old home village of Oxenhope in West Yorkshire and stop off to visit my parents’ grave.
I made my way up to Ashington, and really enjoyed the ride up. People who have not ventured North are missing some beautiful parts of our country, and even I, as a Yorkshireman, had rarely visited the North East of England.
I arrived around midday and spent a good hour looking around the caravan and talking with the seller. Part of my own reassurance was to meet the person who was selling it, and I fairly quickly established in my own mind that he was a genuine family man whose family had just outgrown the caravan and who was looking for a caravan with more of living area so that he and his wife could go caravanning now that their grown-up kids had lost interest. Having had a good look around and under the caravan, I was happy that it was in good, close to excellent condition and so made my way back home via Oxenhope, where I took the opportunity to ride around the area and film my ride using my bike helmet-mountain video camera. I got home at around 19:00, after a round trip of 484 miles, had a bite to eat, went to a BAiT rehearsal and then came back and prepared for the end of the auction, which was due to end at 23:20. I made sure that I was there for the last few seconds and put in a couple of bids. In the end, nobody else bid against me (someone had already placed a bid a few days prior, but had not met the reserve price) and I won the auction at the bargain price of £4000. To say I was chuffed would put it mildly.
I contacted the seller to arrange collection and we arranged that I would collect it the following Monday (13th June – my 40th birthday).
On my birthday, we got up quite early. Emma and Tristan were coming to collect the caravan with me while the girls were at school. We anticipated arriving in Ashington at around 11:30, and hoped to be back at around 17:00. All was going well on the trip until, approaching junction 47 on tha A1(M), the brakes on the car failed in the third lane. Luckily, I was able to make it across to the hard shoulder, change the gears down gradually to first (thank goodness automatics still have lower gears) and then drive slowly enough on the hard shoulder of the slip-road that I could safely pull on the handbrake and stop the car.
I called the RAC, who responded within about half an hour, quickly diagnosed the problem as corroded brake lines, and recovered us to a nearby garage in Harrogate. The garage was excellent and got straight on with the job, but advised us that it would take a few hours and that we might like to walk into Harrogate town centre and have a look around, so that’s what we did, and it was a quite a nice five or so hours in Harrogate. We had a look around, I withdrew the cash for the caravan, and we had a nice spot of lunch at a café in the town centre. The garage was good to its word, and the car was ready just after 16:00, and so we continued on our journey.
No sooner had we got back on the journey than we had a phone call from Murron, back from school, stating that she couldn’t get in the house, because she only had the Yale key and we had locked the front door using the main key. She went around to a friend’s house and in the end her friend’s mum was kind enough to offer to put the kids up overnight, as we weren’t going to be back for some time and that was a better solution than us waking them up in the middle of the night. Very kind of her.
We arrive in Ashington at around 18:00 and spent about an hour sorting out things there. The wife of the couple selling the caravan very kindly made us some sandwiches and had also left a bottle of wine, a bag of Haribo sweets, and some chocolate cake as a kind of welcome gift to the caravan. That was a nice gesture, as was the effort the husband went into to help get us hitched up and going, and his explanation of a few more things around the caravan. Finally, we set off on the journey home. Emma said that the wife of the couple selling the caravan was a bit tearful as we were about to head off – it’s funny, but not surprising that we gain emotional attachment to inanimate objects, given the memories they contain – particularly when these memories are bound up in happy family memories.
After an uneventful journey back home, apart from the suicidal bunny which ran in front of our car, we arrived home at around 00:30 and put the caravan in the car park for the flats next to us, outside our house.
We spent a good part of the following day cleaning the caravan – not that it was dirty, apart from the rabbit guts I had to clean off the front of the caravan, before taking it to its place of residence, where it will be stored while it’s not in use.
So, buying a caravan must proove that I’ve turned 40. Do I feel any different? Not really. The world doesn’t appear to have changed much in the last 20 years. Music and fashion have pretty much stagnated. If you go back 20 years from 20 years ago (to 1971) and trace the changes in fashion and music in following 20 years (to 1991), the difference is remarkable; transitioning from Prog, glam rock, and flares, through to punk and drainpipes, New Wave/New Romantic and high-fashion, rap and hoodies, Britpop and electronic dance music. Today, more or less the same kind of music that was popular twenty years ago still pervades. Cars haven’t shifted shape massively either. The main, observable things which have changed have been technological (mobile phones and home computing, along with the coming of age of the World Wide Web). Otherwise, the last twenty years have kind of blurred together.
Perhaps that’s why I still feel like I’m in my mid-twenties. My tastes haven’t changed that much and neither has the observable world in which I live.