I’ve got two competing ideas in my mind at the moment so rather than choose one of them I’ll recount both of them and leave it to you to decide if either of them carry any weight. On Saturday we were in full-on packing mode and at the last moment I decided to clean and waterproof our walking boots – there they are drying on the window ledge. Packing is hard work. We once set out with a tent and no poles, and on another occasion with no bivvy mats. I used to keep long lists and tick each item off as we went along, but as our needs changed and the three boys left home, the list became obsolete and we went back to making it up as we went along. There’s always the danger that I’ll forget something important. Running out of medicines on a trip to Snowdonia taught us the importance of carrying the NHS app on our phones.
Then we graduated to a campervan after 40+ years of tent camping and a whole new world opened up to us; a whole new world in which the second thread of my post becomes important. This was a comment on the radio by a woman recounting her childhood memories. Her father was what was then known as a travelling salesman and spent much of his life on the road in North America. Consequently he spent a great deal of time in motels. He used to let his daughter travel with him occasionally and he would invariably say as they swept past the tumbleweed into the car park of a motel in – let’s say – North Dakota – “Ah well, if we lived here we’d be home now”.
Right from the first trip we fell in love with the campervan because it felt like a second home which could go anywhere. Inside was always home and outside – through the windows – was the wide world. For some the appeal of campervanning is chintzy curtains, gleaming chrome work and matching T shirts. Also for some – and I bear them no ill will – the very thought of using the built in cludger is anathema; the idea of sleeping near a tank full of human effluent is horrible beyond imagining. Not for me, though. For me the very thought of pulling on a raincoat and wellies and sploshing across a field in the rain at 3.am is truly hell on earth. After four decades of tenting, cooking kneeling down, sniffing gone-off milk, schlepping across muddy fields and queueing for the toilet or a shower which eats money like a hungry crocodile, oh and waking up frozen stiff; I’m now firmly on the side of convenience and comfort. Spartan virtue scores zero but the built in shower and toilet, fridge and cooker are a joy. We even had a satellite television until the dish fell apart on the roof accompanied by terrible groaning noises. Ours is an old van and it’s extremely temperamental so we carry a full tool kit and expect to have to do running repairs and even resign ourselves to life without an appliance if the replacement is beyond our reach. I’m aware I may be underselling the thrills at the moment and if you’re the kind of person who wants five star luxury on wheels you wouldn’t want to get into budget campervanning. If you read the accounts of extreme suffering on some websites you will discover that for a certain sub-group of wannabe campers, noisy suspension or a certain lack of power whilst towing the family Range Rover on a trailer can ruin lives.
A campervan is just like home, but home in a submarine! So packing becomes an exercise in setting priorities. So long as I’ve got my laptop, the portable router and an aerial on a magnetic base I can usually find a phone signal and internet so I can carry on writing and posting. That’s a lot of fairly expensive kit but it works for me. Madame and I also need a lot of books around us, in my case for reference, plant and fungus ID’s. We have drawing equipment too. We only bring a small quantity of lightweight clothing and a washing line. If the weather is lousy we can dry clothes in the bathroom which has its own heating outlet and becomes a wet room in thirty seconds. As for the long dark nights, the router is usually just about fast enough to drive a TV even where the phones can’t find a signal – but it uses a fabulous amount of expensive data and in any case there are better things to do on long dark nights – including (but not exclusively) listening to life enhancing music on the bluetooth speaker and drinking wine.
I toyed with but rejected calling this piece “These boots are made for walking” – but good walking boots are the number one priority, especially for septuagenarian plant hunters, and we always take out hand lenses and collecting kit as well as my favourite notebooks which have wax coated pages and – with a pressurised space pen – can be written on even underwater. As you may know, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, I love a good list – our oldest son is sure that this is an indicative sign of some sort of spectrum!
Anyway – you can thank the rain for this posting – but the sun is coming through now and I can feel a walk coming on. Our immediate neighbours on the site are a dozen young people in little festival tents. Our hearts dipped when we saw them arrive but in fact they’ve been extremely quiet and superficially at least, well behaved. I mentioned this to our youngest son who told me they were all probably taking magic mushrooms. I couldn’t possibly comment but we wish them well – there’s not much going for young people at the moment and they must needs take their pleasures where they find them.