Marigold waving. This was our low-key camper van phase.
We’re at a camp site; legally for once as paying customers, and I’m rapidly losing the will to live. I’m waiting outside the shower block bearing a picture of a very fat woman bending over – not telling you what is on the entrance intended for ‘men’ – while my wife finishes her three-hour shower. Okay, that’s an exaggeration: it’s no more than two and a bit hours. I feel like a faintly seedy lurker out here as the token person with an enormous penis (oh, now I’ve given away what’s on the other door) when a woman comes out, all of a rush. She’s about thirty, a tall, statuesque blonde wearing very few clothes. Obviously, the details are sketchy as I barely noticed her! She walked past me and then came back.
She’s Dutch, by the accent, but has got me pegged as a Brit straight away. I look down; nope, not got sandals on with grey socks or carrying a rolled-up Daily Mail, so how does she know?
‘You come play tennis with me?’
I should point out this is a supreme example of one of those wrong place and definitely wrong time moments. The woman doing the asking is my size, six-foot, and has swimmers’ shoulders to match. A while ago I’d have jumped at the chance to play tennis with someone who looks as if she could be really good. The trouble is she has long, tanned legs with seemingly perfect knees while my knees are held together by gaffer tape and assorted bits of Meccano
“No, I’m sorry, we’re just going out,’ I say. ‘We’ve only stayed for one night.’
‘Okay,’ she says and sets off to find another victim. A few paces away and she turns back, shrugging off the towel draped around her shoulders. She’s wearing a tight yellow tee-shirt and micro shorts; neither of them ideally suited to playing tennis.
‘Can you see my nipples in this?’
Obediently, I look at the tee-shirt and affirm the said protrusions are indeed protruding. ‘Shit,’ she says. ‘Better go and find a bra. Thanks.’
She swishes off and my wife turns up looking freshly scrubbed and extremely pink. ‘A huge Dutch woman was in there; wandering round naked; driving me mad by talking to me with her boobs right in my face.’
‘I think I just met her.’
Before we get back to our van we’re approached twice and asked if we want to go line dancing and learn Spanish respectively. Everybody’s really friendly, hearty and well-meaning and we can’t wait to get away from the place!
We’ve only been on the site for one night. Plug into the electric, charge batteries, do a ‘big wash’ in the launderette and have hot showers. On the road, we sort of manage. Wash small stuff by hand, dry in the sun and find a shower wherever we can. I usually use the beach showers that are everywhere along the coast. Cold water and may involve wearing swimming trunks if there is passing traffic. My wife, delicate creature that she is, prefers to walk onto campsites with a towel in a shopping bag and has a shower under the pretence of being a resident.
Caravan sites, in a Spanish winter, are busier than in the summer. Most of the good places are occupied by massive RVs – the ones as large as a bus with slide-outs to extend the living space even more – usually owned by Germans or Dutch ‘campers.’ It’s a very different life in what amounts to a bungalow on wheels than in our ever so humble van. Wherever we go, we’re the smallest, with the least facilities and the fewest possessions.
There are dozens of big vans, usually with an awning to double the space and even a ‘garden’ shed to house the gear. The overwhelming sense is of permanence; the absolute antithesis of ‘travelling.’ Most of these winter visitors from cold and rainy Northern Europe drive a thousand or so miles, park up and stay on the site for months on end. Yes, they pop to the shops on their bikes, knees pedalling furiously under garish shorts, but that’s about it.
I counted forty-two ‘activities’ available to residents, per week. Bridge, bingo, (Agghh!) bowls and also boules, barbecue night, beer brewing for beginners, badminton – well, you get the idea and that’s only the ‘Bs.’ Maybe it’s me being a miserable old scrote, but it appals me. We travel round the countries we visit, meeting new people, seeing different things, experiencing different cultures. The idea of squatting in one place, hemmed in by others and doing exactly the same activities on any allotted day makes me cringe.
So far this trip, only a couple of months in, we’ve parked up
surrounded by high mountains, on lake-shores and on deserted and achingly beautiful beaches. We like ‘wild camping.’ You choose a place with a stunning view and it’s the last thing you see when you go to bed and the first when you wake up in the morning. Providing you don’t become a nuisance and leave the place as you found it, you’re unlikely to be moved on. We’ve been in some great locations this trip and the best part is, we get variety. Every few days, we move on; find somewhere else to stay. Why restrict ourselves to a view of a toilet block and the person in the next van pegging out her underwear?
We leave the site and find a spot alongside a beach where there’s a beach bar with free wifi. It’s one of those simple shacks where the barman is laid back and the coffee is strong and cheap. The ‘facilities’ are in a pair of wooden cabins round the back and a notice, in several languages, asks customers not to flush paper down the toilet, but to place it in the bin provided. It’s a common enough system in parts of Spain, Greece and other countries where the effectiveness and availability of mains sewage is patchy, but never fails to send English visitors into a state of apoplexy.
At the next table was a family from Orpington. I know this because they told me. They’d saved more than the cost of the fine they faced for taking three children out of school in term time in reduced air fares and hotel costs. Apparently, this made them very clever and resourceful people.
I tuned them out and persuaded my laptop to make contact with the U.K. Newspapers in search of wisdom and an enhanced appreciation of life. Well, you never know.
A little boy, about four years old, had been running about on the beach for a while and then turned up to announce he ‘needed to do a poo’ to the Orpington crew adding, for emphasis, ‘a big one.’ His mother, Silk Cut in mouth and wearing a leopard skin pattern wrap-around creation several sizes below what was required, snarled at him to ‘bugger off and go then.’
The poor tyke toddled off round the back and was away a good ten minutes. Not that anyone else noticed. When he returned, he told the whole bar all about his ‘really big poo.’
‘Was there any paper?’ his mother demanded.
‘Lots of it. In a plastic bin on the floor.’
There was stunned silence and then pandemonium as the mother exited at high speed dragging her son behind her in search of soap and water. It cheered me up no end.
Now, here's a selection of our various homes on wheels.