As we enter week 7 (8?) of lockdown in London, it strikes me that my life now has similarities with caravan holidays from my youth.Back before I’d ever been on a plane, Summer holidays were taken in Devon. It was roughly a 5 hour drive from Stoke-on-Trent where I grew up, punctuated by an overnight stay in Bristol to visit my grandparents.
I remember the sheer amount of stuff that had to be taken with us, so that poor Dad had to attach a trailer and roof box to the family car. There were buckets and spades, inflatable dinghies, kitchen essentials (cereal, salt & pepper, utensils), towels, jelly shoes, even bikes! For the first few years we were camping, so the tent was packed in there too. We must have juddered down the motorway! All that mattered to me was my Walkman and books.
Woolacombe is beautiful and I’ll always remember that first glimpse of sea as we rounded a corner. That feeling remains with every seaside visit in every country since. There is it – the vast expanse of shimmering blue. A feeling of freedom, a preview of how it will feel to jump into the water. Refreshing, cool, infinite.
But the realities of camping are a different story. I could never understand the logic of how long it would take us to put up the tent, unpack everything and make it habitable, only to still be sleeping on the hard ground outdoors. I was terrorised by spiders when I went to the toilet blocks, and scandalised by the lack of privacy. I couldn’t even brush my teeth alone, and even as a child, found it hard to relax. I was happiest snuggled down in my sleeping bag in the morning, accompanied by a book and a packet of sweets.
We were also at the mercy of the British weather which can turn from glorious sun to torrential thunder in a day. A memory of us huddling on a deserted beach under a windbreak quickly fashioned into a shelter, waiting for the shower to pass. ‘Dad, could someone press the sun button?’ My sarcasm was often praised through gritted teeth.
So when we upgraded from tents to hiring a static caravan for the week, I was in raptures. Caravans had their own front doors! They had a little kitchen! A sitting and lounging area! Your own toilet! Teeth brushing privacy could resume. A caravan was, as far as I was concerned, the height of living the high life.
If I have to close my eyes and visualise true comfort and peace, sometimes I think of being in the caravan during a rain shower. The droplets beat down on the roof and I watch the sheets of rain through the windows, but I’m comfortable lying on the sofa with my latest book. I am safe and warm. I’ve got all I need for as long as this lasts.
So now it occurs to me that my flat is like a particularly luxurious caravan. I self-cater, eking out my supplies. I chat to my neighbours like we are inhabiting the same caravan park for weeks. We talk about the weather, the flowers, what we can see around us. A visit to the shop is an adventure (although still much more scarier than visits to the campsite shop for sweets).
In the evenings I try to move forward with my jigsaw, an increasing source of frustration. If it’s warm, I sit outside with a glass of wine watching squirrels and the local cat.
I lie in bed at night, thankful I’m inside and channeling that peaceful feeling.