Thursday, 29 March 2018

Back to square one, part two.

Hooray! The new van is fixed. A simple problem easily solved as explained yesterday to  fellow travellers on  Motorhome Adventures Facebook group site:
"Thank you all for the sympathetic messages. Pleased to report - problem solved. Returned to Oaktree Motorhomes this afternoon and they sorted the issue in about 2 minutes. As well as the 50A fuse on the leisure battery supply there is an anciliary one next to it - 2A - it had blown. View of the technician - a 2A fuse is somewhat small and he replaced it with a 3A - even that seems a low ampage to me - but I am not an electrician. Anyway, van fully functional and we are heading off tomorrow for two nights to get our heads around all the new systems. I have to say - hats off to everyone at Oaktree Motorhomes - they have been a pleasure to deal with from start to finish."
So, here we are in Carsington Reservoir campsite, our delayed 'test out the van trip' missed the tiny window of spring weather which lasted all of two days last weekend.

A sunny day at last - a week ago we were snowed-in for two days


Winter has returned with 4° overcast mornings and intermittent drizzle. The good news is - we worked out how to control the dual fuel heating system; it is better than the basic gas boiler on the previous van and will keep us snug and warm when travelling in southern Europe during the winter months. We have tested everything else and it all works fine.

Then back to wintry grey

The first of many 'new van hero shots'
Yet we still feel back to square one, like we did the first time we took Maisy away. An odd mixture of excitement and bewilderment. It strikes you just how much you become used to the layout of a particular van, small things, like the place you put the coffee pot or the whereabouts of the electric toothbrush charger. Creatures of habit, changing van is almost as confusing as moving house. Still, overall we are pleased with it, it is more comfortable, fuel efficient and quicker than dear old Maisy.

We like Bertie - lower profile - more aero-dynamic, improved fuel efficiency.

Leather upholstery - posh!

Brighter interior.


Like our first outing in Maisy we opted to use a Caravan and Motorhome Club site close to home. It makes sense in so much as  they are well designed places  with good facilities and a heated sanitary block, which means if something does malfunction on the van we can still manage. However, it was not long before I was fulminating about the 'clubby' nature of these sites.

We are members of the organisation because it gives us access to 1200 small 'associated sites' found mainly on farms, small set-ups with only half a dozen pitches or so. In the absence of municipal 'aire de camping-cars' like you get in France or German 'stellplatz', then these 'members only' associated sites are the nearest thing in the UK to a national network of inexpensive motorhome stopping places. Somehow it is typical of British culture that these are 'closed shops' whereas places over the Channel are open to 'tous le monde'. It encapsulates the difference between being a subject not a citizen, a condition so hard wired into our national psyche that most people seem blissfully unaware of their subjugation, in fact celebrate the curious conflation of being beholden with belonging by enthusiastically embracing strange misapprehensions concerning sovereignty.

In the club's main sites the worst aspects of a  little Englander mentality abound, they are written into the rules and uniformed wardens are on hand to keep order. A simple example - on arrival the warden presents you with a plan of the site, carefully explaining all the facilities and rules of site circulation with much wielding of a yellow highlight pen. Special attention is drawn (literally - framed in yellow) to the rules governing pitch positioning.

Very British - arcane club rules to keep order and maintain social niceties - designed specifically to flummox foreigners.
"Why?" any normal person might ask themselves, "should you have to park with the offside rear bumper next to a pitch marker?" As the little diagram shows it is all about ensuring that all habitation doors open on the same side and people never end-up face to face, so prompting the excruciatingly embarrassing situation of having to say hello to a stranger in the morning. Now this would seem strange behaviour indeed to anyone hailing from a more socially relaxed culture. For us, however, it's all about 'keeping yourself to yourself' and avoiding over-familiarity.

It would be better to explain the no opposing doors convention unequivocally on the plan, because the whole 'off-side rear to the pitch marker instruction' makes no sense if you have, as we do, a van manufactured abroad. Continental mohos and caravans have habitation doors located on the right, so following the site instructions will inevitably mean foreign interlopers break the rule.

Of course clear explanations are not going to happen because saying what we mean is not very British. Hidden rules, arcane conventions, hints, irony, innuendo, it's one of the surreptitious, semi-masonic ways we have to signal national identity which enables us quietly to presume superiority. How can you understand the rules unless you are a member of the club? Brexit is not about excluding foreigners, simply ensuring they must always be signed in as a guest, hence all the ridiculous golf-club fee memes circulated by 'Leave' in the wake of the vote.

Having arrived at questions of how presumption is encoded into British culture, or at least its more middle of the road - or to quote a 'Mayism' - 'mainstream' aspects,  who decided it was a good idea to pipe Radio 2 into the toilet block 24/7? Is there anything more demoralising or cretinous than the channel's mid-morning request show? Don't people understand that for some of us 'Once Twice Three Times a Lady'  is not merely inexecrable, but deeply disturbing and offensive?  Why would I want my morning ablutions accompanied by a chirpy yet facile commentary concerning Edith from Dawlish's delight at being on her way with Harry to a lunch celebrating their 38th wedding anniversary? Is the world at large in the least bit interested? I began to ponder if  Radio 2 really did waft through the block all the time, even in quietness of the wee small hours will OJ Borg's tribute to the 'Great British Songbook' - Kirsty McColl's 'In These Shoes' or Robert Wyatt's 'Shipbuiding' - echo unheard around the dark, empty cubicles?  However, the converse situation seems equally strange, that this morning at 7:30am prompt one of the wardens  switched Chris Evans on and will, like every day, remember later this evening to switch-off the piped radio before lights-out at 10:00pm - thus saving hapless campers from the moment Radio 2 goes a bit highbrow and Anneka Rice (my God she's still alive!) pops-up to explain the Arts to the masses. 

There is no doubt about it. despite a noble attempt to broaden the appeal of the Caravan Club by interpolating the words 'and Motorhome' into the title, it remains a deeply conventional conservative set-up. It was the wrong place for us to be reminded this morning by the BBC and Guardian apps that it is exactly 12 months until we exit the EU. Now we have two dates where for the sake of our mental well-being we need to be somewhere else, anywhere, Belgium even. Blackhole date number one -  19th May 2018 - Meghan and Harry nuptials; blackhole day two - 29th March 2019 - Brexit. 'When Black Friday Comes...' as Steely Dan sang. Got to be elsewhere - some small, winsome but slightly scruffy port with a view of the Med where we can get quietly drunk would do nicely. But now we are here and I suppose in good old British fashion we will have to 'make the most of it', a phrase that perfectly encapsulates our subjugation, how dissent is casually dismissed as 'remoaning'.

Unlike our first trip out with Maisy to a club site, this time territorial squabbling about pitch boundaries did not actually flare into internecine conflict so comparatively our stay here has been uneventful. In fact the only Caravan Club sites we have in recent years have been in London. These are urban sites full of different nationalities, including last year a couple of mohos that had driven all the way from China. Consequently the atmosphere is less prissy. I had forgotten just how much the  rural club sites irritate me. Now I wish we had not booked into the one in Thirsk in two weeks time. We are heading there to have a refillable LPG system fitted and the Thirsk site was convenient. Perhaps today's outbreak of irritability will exorcise the grump demon, and in a fortnight's time I will be full of sweetness and light ready to extend the hand of friendship even to people who read the Daily Mail.... l doubt it somehow.

One nice thing - it's week one of the Easter hols - lots of excited kids scooting about on bikes - great to see.
In truth despite the wintry chill it has not been all doom and gloom, we have got out and about (see, the place is having its effect, I have lapsed into Dunkirk spirit and make do and mend mode!). Paths lead off from the site into the nearby woods; most were impassable without wellies - it's less than a week since the last snow melted and the going is still very squishy.

Trees leafless, paths - s a quagmire.

Another strange site sight - scarecrows nailed to trees - are we unbelievers going to be sacrificed tonight in some esoteric club members ritual?
This morning we took a speed stroll to the nearby reservoir visitor centre. There is nothing like near freezing temperatures to encourage a healthy brisk pace. We know the place well as years ago we visited the adventure playground with the kids regularly. It has not changed much. We had coffee and cakes in the café then mooched around the gift shops like proper tourists. I bought a bobble hat, I think it's quite fetching, a worthy winter companion for my battered beach bum sun hat.


Yay - new bobble hat!
As we walked back through a landscape appeared to be  struggling to look even a little bit spring-like we began to have second thought about our planned trip to Scandinavia. What about Provence and Corsica we wondered, back through the Italian Lakes. 

England outside, Italy on the table....
I imagine in late spring southern Europe will be very beautiful. Due to work and family commitments we have rarely been able to tour in May and June. On the other hand Scandinavia would be new territory. When we got back to the van I did some calculations. Surprisingly a trip around Provence, Corsica and the Italian Lakes would be almost 600 miles shorter than heading to Stockholm via Denmark and N. Germany. According to Google maps the distance from Buxton to Stockholm is almost exactly the same as Buxton to Rome - both a little over 1330 miles. Given the delights of Italian cuisine, the lure of the Mediterranean and our interest in Classical culture how are we ever going to raise the enthusiasm to drive to Calais and turn north?

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