These are two new tea towels this year – one I bought, one was a gift; one theme, two stories.
As a child, my holidays with my parents were always in hotels – camping, caravanning, narrowboats and holiday camps were never on their ‘radar’. As soon as I had the freedom that comes with being able to drive and owning a car, I started going camping. I seriously can’t remember how that came about – it must have been a suggestion from either Nick or Rory; one of them must have owned a tent because I certainly didn’t. So camping was something that started at the age of 18. Camping was almost a rebellious statement against my parents (and grandparents) who thought it was a ridiculous idea. If I had used my common sense then I might have thought that having very bad hay fever probably meant camping was not a good idea but hey, what the heck, a few boxes of tissues and some lozenges and I was away. I was also a favourite food source for Scottish midges but hey, what the heck, some calamine lotion did the trick. I have to say that I loved camping even though I was rubbish at putting up a tent (and there are photos to prove that), I was an avid camper for more than 10 years, nothing flashy, never a tent that you could stand up in, no extensions or awnings, just staying on small remote sites. Camp sites were not like they are nowadays. Showers were a sheer luxury and usually a remote possibility. Clean toilets were something to get excited about.
Unfortunately, my camping career was cut short by a degenerative back condition which meant lying on the ground was almost impossible; but at least I had 10 years of utter pleasure. No problem – my holidays changed – holidays abroad, renting cottages, the occasional hotel; I even ventured into Travelodges at one point. The more I revisited the Scottish Islands and places like the Lake District, the more I began to yearn again for camping, the flexibility of such holidays, staying in great but remote locations. As I planned my retirement, and my proposed odyssey of visiting all the islands around Britain, camping seemed very tempting – a ridiculous idea.
On my last visit to the island of Arran, I came across two camping and caravanning sites, in secluded areas (with toilet facilities!!). Was caravanning going to be a compromise? Would it provide that freedom to move around as the whim takes you, moving with the good weather? Would it give that feeling of being in the open air, that you can rarely get with a cottage? I didn’t know. It was a risk. I didn’t know anyone with a caravan to ask. As luck would have it, the Leicester Mercury ran an offer on cheap stays in static caravans. A static caravan wasn’t going to be the long-term answer but it did give me a chance to go and try one out (and play caravans). It was great fun. Next problem: how was this going to work since I didn’t have a driving licence and I did understand that it was going to be necessary to ‘tow’ a caravan. After lots of discussions, plans and viewings Liz and I decided to go ‘halves’ on buying a caravan. Since we often went on holiday together this made sense (possibly). We agreed on a small, light, dinky caravan, not new since this was going to be an experiment. We looked at hundreds of caravans (as if we knew what we were doing) – with and without showers, with and without static beds, with and without dinettes, with and without awnings, with and without motor movers. We learnt all the right language, understood about towing weights, CRIS numbers etc. Most importantly, we learnt about motor movers. Now they are exciting, especially the remote ones. None of this dragging a caravan around to get it attached to the car. Sometimes I love technology. Using a motor mover almost feels like driving; very daring. I often wonder if you should be allowed to use a motor mover if you have had your driving licence taken away from you. So having made an outline decision, the process of choosing went on for ages. If we were both honest, we were both terrified and avoiding making a decision meant we didn’t have to admit this. Avoidance has always been a safe policy of mine.
Then one Saturday we were at Kimberley Caravans in Nottingham, getting in and out of loads of different caravans, and suddenly saw Carrie (that is what we named her: Carrie The Van) and with no hesitation just sat in her until we could flag down a salesperson, for fear that if we left her, someone else would buy her. Fantastic. Very proud owners. Liz said she was very confident about towing Carrie (but it is easy to say that when you don’t have a tow bar!). Learning all the tasks was a nightmare. For someone who can’t change a fuse, learning to hitch and unhitch, attaching the water, draining water, setting up the electrics, ensuring Carrie was level, was horrendous. Fortunately, it became clear that there needed to be a division of labour, based on physical ability because there were tasks that each of us couldn’t do. My jobs were to do with bending and kneeling which was good because they weren’t the complicated ones. It was so exciting bringing Carrie to Leicester. She sat in her home for four months because we were too frightened to use her. By the time, we took the plunge for the first time, we had both forgotten everything we had been taught. This, of course, is where YouTube comes into it’s own. If we got stuck – YouTube.
Carrie has now been to Edinburgh twice, Norfolk, Derbyshire, Stonehaven, Devon and the Lake District. Every journey we have made, we have forgotten how to do at least one task. YouTube. Carrie is great; the world in miniature and she is ready to tour the islands.
So back to the story of the tea towels. The Camping and Caravanning Show was held at the NEC – not something I would normally go to but this year they were going for a World Record in building a life-size ‘Tear Drop’ caravan in Lego with a full working interior. Liz has a 6 year old grandson, Hamish, who is into Lego big-time (in the same way I am in to tea towels) so we agreed to take him. They did create a World Record but I thought there would be a tea towel associated with this. But no. It was a great disappointment but then I found this cute tea towel covered in caravans and thought it would be a good reminder of a great day out. The Lego Competition paled into insignificance compared with Hamish’s fascination for all the caravans and motorhomes on display, climbing in and out, trying out roof bed spaces, opening secret storage spaces under the floor. At one point a salesman asked Hamish to climb into one of the upper storey bed spaces to demonstrate to a customer how easy it was to use. We heard him saying to people “Have you seen this place to keep things under the floor?”. There is no question that this 6 year old will make a superb salesperson and we will probably see him on the Young Apprentice in a few years time. He would certainly give the current candidates a run for their money in any sales task. Using this tea towel I can never forget that day out and Hamish demonstrating the versatility of caravans.
My second tea towel was a present from Steve who I was helping to sort out his cupboards as part of the process of decluttering. I love helping other people declutter (and no, I am not hoping for some tea towel cast-offs). I am not sure that I will be able to ever get any drying up done with this tea towel because I’ll never get anything done if I look at the cartoons. They are some of the funniest cartoons I’ve seen, drawn by someone who, no doubt, has been caravanning. No matter who you speak to, or how experienced they are at caravanning, everyone has had disasters (on a regular basis). The caravanning community is very supportive of each other because there are some many occasions when people need rescuing – hence the artist knows about this. It is the attention to detail that is so clever and makes them so funny. There are 9 cartoons in all. My favourite, without a doubt, is the middle one on the bottom row: “Are you sure you don’t need a car when you have a caravan mover?” Anything to do with motor movers is bound to cause havoc. Rapidly followed by “Watch out for the dog, I tied him to the steps” (left hand column, middle row). As I am writing this blog, I am still laughing at the cartoons and remembering some of my own caravanning disasters – the ‘jockey wheel’ falling off, forgetting to put the back stabilisers down, forgetting how to disengage the motor mover (everything goes back to the motor mover). Just using the tea towel will remind me of all things caravanning but it will also remind me of the great time I am having helping Steve decluttering. I think I probably need to reserve these two tea towels for use in the caravan alone, while I embark upon this new stage of my life.
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