If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Friday 2 July 2010

Caravans - warning, contains strong language

Don't get me started ...

I've often thought about doing a blogpost on caravans, but then I reckoned that no-one would want to read five pages of foul language followed by a single shot and silence.

So here's just an observation.

I had to do a couple of repairs on the van before we give it a clean and put it to bed until the next time. Both things were the result of such shitty build quality that I am barely able to contain my contempt for whichever 'engineer' thought they would be a good idea in the real world.

The first was the so-called wardrobe rail. This is a metal rail about 18" long inside a tall cupboard, on which it is supposed that you hang your clothes. When we got home, and bearing in mind a couple of rough roads between S Brittany and home, all the clothes were in a heap on the floor. The rail had fallen off. People with carpentry experience look away now, but let me tell you how this rail was attached to the caravan. Each end was in a plastic socket, which was screwed to a batten of MDF, which was in turn glued (a stripe of glue about 2mm wide) to the interior walls of the cupboard - which were composed of 2mm ply. The glue was reinforced with four pins which were thinner than a human hair. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. It is now attached with a full-width application of all-purpose adhesive, backed up with four steel bolts with penny washers to spread the load on the ply. And I did the same for the other end, which hasn't failed - yet. You could hang a grand piano off it. Cost - under two quid. Time - about 30 minutes. Aggravation because Swift couldn't be arsed to do a proper job when they built it - massive.

The second was even worse. There is a bracket which carries the outlets to the sink and shower water drains on the side of the caravan. The little plastic covers that blank off the outlets fell off within a year of new, but it seemed OK without them. In France, I plugged in a waste pipe to the outlet and the whole thing came off in my hand. It dangled for the rest of the holiday and all the way home. This bracket was attached to the underneath of the caravan at the side - the equivalent position on a car would be under the sill, immediately behind the front wheel. A position which takes quite a lot of water if you travel in the rain. How were the brackets attached to the caravan body? They were screwed into a piece of softwood, which was then glued to the flimsy side-skirt of the caravan. The wood had simply rotted and left the pipes and outlets to blow around in the breeze. How anyone with experience could imagine that such an arrangement could last more than a few months in British weather is beyond me. I replaced the rotten softwood with treated timber that won't rot for 25 years, and attached it to the caravan body with bolts that won't give way in the wash of the first artic to pass on the opposite carriageway.

I haven't mentioned the towel rail that fell off because someone hung a towel from it, or the fridge door that broke off in someone's hand, or the catches that simply break in normal use, or the retractable blinds that don't retract, and when they are 'professionally' repaired last for half a day before failing again. Or the bed support that broke on the first day of a holiday when someone put their weight on it (that's what beds are for, right?) and was repaired with a proper piece of wood and has lasted seven years without a problem since. Or the weather seals on the lockers that come adrift and cost pounds to replace - and then last six months before coming loose again ("it's a common problem, Sir, there's nothing we can do but replace them and hope for the best"). Or the sealing strips round the windows that apparently don't like sunlight and pull away from the frame and need replacing at God-knows-what a metre plus labour. Or the locker lights that have never worked, but it doesn't matter because from the way they are sited thay don't light the locker anyway. Or the gas heater that failed and needed expensive refurbishment despite never being used. Or the pan drawer in the cooker that always opens while on the move and distributes pans around the floor of the caravan because it's only held shut by a cheap fucking magnet.

I could go on, and I probably will, but not here.

All in all, the caravan reminds me of a line in a James Bond novel (sorry, no idea which one; my internal Bond concordance has failed me), where he describes a motel room as "not a place to get seriously drunk in". The caravan is like that: very nice and tasteful, but if you got drunk in there you would end up sitting in a pile of matchwood with your accommodation open to the skies. I know caravans need to be light, but must the construction be so crappy? The internal joinery of ours makes MFI look like Sheraton. All veneer and surface and 'customer appeal', but lacking the qualities I need to see, like robustness, durability and hose-down ease of maintenance.

I'll fess up here: I like our caravan. It's our home when we are away, it's very modest compared to most, and the bed is large and superbly comfortable. I love camping, and with a caravan you get most of the benefits of 'proper' camping (the fresh air, the ability to do as you please*, and the fact that people who camp are generally nice, friendly and relaxed) with none of the drawbacks or limitations (the bad back from constantly bending and sleeping on a lump, the burnt food from primitive cooking arrangements, the nightmare of putting away a large wet tent on your last morning). I like our caravan; I don't like caravans - the way they clog up the roads, the way people seem to want to turn them into replicas of home with table lamps and potted plants and doilies on the table and satellite dishes and the sheer naffness of some of the names, like 'Senator' and 'Monarch' and 'Aventura' and 'Elite' and 'Connoisseur' and 'Navigator' and - Oh God - 'Rallye' and 'Impression'. Do these people have no sense of irony? "Hey, I might be a balding retired accountant with piles and no sense of humour, but you can tell I am really a hardened world adventurer like Ewan and Charlie because my caravan is called a 'Trekker'.

But our caravan is medium-small, a little battered now, and modest, and I like it that way. In fact, the more knocks it gets, the more I like it. I'll even forgive it the utterly shite joinery, at a pinch. Anna absolutely loves it (I think it's that nest-building thing that women have) and, although I doubt if I would buy another when this one dies of old age, I'm happy with it.

I still feel like a chump when I am towing it, mind you. That's why I have a huge "Think Bike: Think Biker" sticker on the back.

* Many's the time I have sat outside the caravan with a beer and watched the sun go down, and thought "if I was staying in a hotel, I would be in a bar and paying bar prices for all of this". And you try popping out of your room into a corridor for midnight pee in a hotel - they don't like it.


  1. The size of someone's caravan tells you a lot about their sense of entitlement in ways that the size of a house doesn't. Houses tend to stay where the are so that at least you can avoid them by not going to where they usually stay put.

    The owner of a huge caravan is someone who believes in their divine right to plant their huge fat arse right on your face when you're really not in the mood. However slender the owner, the huge caravan represents the huge fat arse they always wished to have at their disposal for planting on anybody and everybody.

  2. You're not wrong. There could be a whole 'nother post in this topic.

    There's the caravan sliding scale (which isn't linear, I think) and the side-scales concerning really BIG tents and motorhomes, both modest and American.

    Big caravan = big arse is an equivalence I think I can live with.

  3. I suppose the salient question is "does my arse look big in this"?


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