AND so ends 42 years of camping and caravanning. Not with a whimper but a slightly angry snarl, for we shall miss it mightily.
Yeah, yeah there have been a few glitches along the way. The night of the Fastnet Race disaster when we spent all night literally hanging on to our canvas, only to find in the morning that no one else remained on the Pembroke cliff site. Some of their canvas was, firmly blown into hawthorn hedges but of them?
The wheel that fell off the trailer in the early hours of a rainy night in Hertfordshire en route to far south west Wales.
The day a gas bottle cooker in a camper van very nearly burned Janet alive.
The incredible rain that trapped our van at the bottom of the field and had to stay there until September.
When the car's turbo gave out ascending the Gevaudan in the midi with a loaded Bailey on the back. Much panic and a mighty enthusiastic quote for 2,000 euros from a hopeful Frenchman ended with the discovery that it wasn't that unusual and re-set if you turned off, let it cool and re-started. Which we did.
The night the thieves broke into our car at Chartres and stole stuff I normally removed! But worse they smashed a side window to get in and finding a unit for a Skoda in Citreon land was a tad aggravating.
Several punctures in less than perfect places – van tyres are cross ply and, well we all know about them.
Or when the wheel fell off the car in southern Spain and left us stranded on a campsite for five weeks longer than planned (but hey it was a super site in a super place and the insurance did pay for a hire car.)
But see we loved it. There is nothing like camping or caravanning for making you FEEL you are on holiday. OK, the weather can be a problem but less often than you think. And you really know you are on holiday from dawn to well into the night. For the stars can be astonishing with little or no light pollution.
And the spring is a real spring on a coast path. And you do sometimes get to pitch 100 metres from the sea – not the beach, the actual sea.
Yes it is true camping folk are very friendly – and 90% of the time that is terrific. Just a few of them are a shade too friendly, a shade too willing to help put up your awning....
OK campsite water can taste like ditch filling on occasion but what is bottled for?
Gas tanks do run empty just when the Sunday roast has gone in for a really long burn. (Less so when you can afford back up gas of course but that was later).
Forget chilly – tents can be but making yourself cosy is an art to be treasured. But vans really are not – well, OK that old 1974 Ace Courier with the glass (glass!) windows was hard to heat but more modern kit is well able to be draught free and warm as toast.
Speaking of which toast is an issue. There is no van cooker that we have found that will toast all of a slice. Gas does do it well but for some reason not in vans. We always cut off the white bits for the birds.
Ah, birds. Yes well they have habits that are not nice from a campers or vanners POV. In the Pas de Calais is a superb camp site (Guines) which is a wooded parkland – with added pigeons. You learn which pitches and which way round to pitch but not the first time. The first time you have to clean the van to move it owing to the sudden overload.
Talking of wildlife there is in Kent a biting animal (rat? fox?) which owes me an electricity hook up cable.
The vast majority of site owners and managers are charming people. Just once in a while you find the one to set the tone a bit lower. “We do not do that on my site” does not indicate that you have committed a transgression beyond mercy. Nor even that you have not done what all campers and vanners do all the time, everywhere. You just failed to notice the minute and slightly tetchy sign that indicated that here, on this site, on 'my' site THAT is not acceptable. What? Parking side on to a hedge actually – to get some shelter from a gale!
On the other hand kids can scream past at 20-25 mph on their mini mokes and powered scooters and a word to the warden will produce a shrug of which De Gaulle would be proud.
Back story: Our first tent was a borrowed three berth job in 1974 (thanks Nicola) and that led through to a vast 22 foot long, 10ft 6 in wide behemoth (picture) that lasted until the 1981 season when, in the midst of setting it up a van arrived and within 10 minutes the kettle whistled. “Next year” growled Janet from a prone position, “I want one of those”
“But darling you already have a whistling kettle” did not settle the point.
A few hundred quid an a 1974 Ace Courier did (picture). The great white whale the kids called it.
It soon went – too heavy and too old and an Abbey Cambridge followed. Then a bit of a gap until a Lynton GP (picture) from Manchester (sadly demised) got us going again.
A couple of forays into small campers was followed by another gap. Then we retired and in 2000 bought a motor home. It took us deep into Italy (picture) but a slight skirmish with leukemia on my part switched us off.
Not for long – up came an Eldiss Acante two berth (picture) – smart but a bit weedy. Anyway a bizarre foray into the world of the Bongo (picture) was soon followed by better thinking and we bought a larger Bailey (picture) which took us around France a lot.
The need for comfortable beds led to a vast twin axle four berth, twin single bedded Adria (picture). Fabulous to tow but a pig on site.
So to the recently sold Coachman Pastiche – single axle and with a front dinette capable of sleeping two in separate beds. Dream job. Sold now for someone else to enjoy. I wouldn't mind but he's OLDER than me! Heigh ho.
* Knock down - sometime parlance for breaking camp; particularly suited to vanning as the stays which prop it up for walking about have to be wound back up.
But, as the sun goes down and gin comes out and everyone mellows... we love it.
When the day dawns bright and clear and some wonderful location beckons, we love it.
When the food at the French market is especially toothsome, we love it.
When the rain lashes down and we settle down to enjoy back to back episodes of My Favourite TV Thing and lift the cork on that special bottle, we love it.
When the week of joy ends and we get a bill one third of what it would be in a hotel, a b and b or even a self catering, we love it.
And when you know you are moving on to a new pasture, in a place you have never been, under your own steam and your own roof, we always loved it.
But that was yesterday. Today is COPD and a nice little rental in the likes of Solva or Sarlat or Colioure or Conil de la Frontera – ah well, not a bad second prize after all.