Caravan Tale #3

Continuing my caravan Tales from the past: If you have not yet read 1 & 2 – suggest you start at No 1… A Grand tour of Europe by Caravan…

Our first caravan holiday

It is now a number of weeks later and we have started our rather late “summer” holiday. In fact it is the 8th September 2000. In between times the caravan has been into Lowdham Caravans, and had a service for safety’s sake.

Not only has the holiday been a long time arriving, with both of us having a very busy time at work but we have been thinking it might not happen at all ……

The French farmers, trawlermen, hauliers and taxi drivers are all highly irritated with their government for what they perceive as high taxes on fuel and in the time honoured way of the French, they have been taking to the streets …… in the case of the trawlermen to the ports, actually! – and blockading anything that moves.

The trawlers started it by blocking the ports a couple of weeks ago, stopping many holidaymakers getting home and delaying others on their way to France. That seemed to have cleared up when they got some kind of deal but then the farmers and hauliers started up. They chose to blockade the oil refineries – and what a successful tactic that seems to have been! Within three or four days, something like 60%- 70% of the fuel stations around France are now out of fuel altogether …… there have been TV interviews with British tourists stuck in Lyons, for example, not being able to fill up their tanks.

Just for the record, we pay much more tax on our fuel in the UK and the current price comparisons are set out below (remember September 2000?):-

                                                UK                                                       France

Deisel                                  83.9p/litre                                           56.6p/litre

Unleaded                             81.9p/litre                                           70.0p/litre

The difference is chiefly associated with tax differences between the two countries and the ironic thing is that it is the French who are complaining …… “..or it was until yesterday!

Since France seems to have ground to a halt, we checked firstly, with our insurers (AA 5 star travel) and it does seem to be an insurable situation if we choose not to risk going over the Channel. Then we checked with Brittany Ferries and we have changed the cross-channel journey from yesterday (Thursday) until next Monday afternoon. So, instead of driving down to Portsmouth yesterday we stayed in bed this morning and caught up with some sleep!

We phoned last night and booked ourselves into a caravan club site at Wickham, near to Portsmouth …… pleasant site, roomy between caravan sites but it is very cloudy – but warm. (that’s the weather I mean, not the caravan site!)

The element of stress this morning arose because it turns out that the Welsh farmers and a small number of Hauliers around the country seem to think that their French counterparts have the right idea. We do not yet know whether this action will escalate in the UK and lead to the same disruption here as has been the case in France. Just to be sure we have filled up the tank once more, so at least we can be sure to get home, provided we do not drive about the countryside willy-nilly. Or we can venture about 130 miles into France and get back to port again, by which time the blockade might have run out of steam!

So – for the moment it is enough to have eaten a cold collation of our own and some hot chips from a mobile fish and chip van visiting the site. And we are seated comfortably listening to a guitar duo playing something vaguely classical on Radio 2. Sorry I cannot tell you what it is called but I know I have heard it before……wait, the announcer has just told us it is music by … it sounded like Ferdinand Calhonez …… (but checking later on Google it seems it was probably music by Ferdinand Carulli – born in 1770 and died in 1841, who was first taught the cello and then he was introduced to the guitar and learnt to play it without teachers, since there were none in Naples at that time! Amazing what you can discover on the internet!)

~~~~~ time passing…..

Well, we are now on familiar and anticipated territory – we have made it to the Loire.

I have to say we had a pleasant sojourn at Rookesbury Park Caravan Site at Wickham. Saturday was mainly cloudy and pleasantly warm with the sun making an appearance later in the afternoon. After consulting with the site warden, a bluff and jovial chap in his early sixties (an archetypal Caravan Club warden……??) we took a path, wending through woodland which joined a waymarked circular walk of about two and a half miles through the Forest of Bere.

We bid “good day” to a number of fellow walkers of varying ages and two lady walkers of a certain age tried asking us where the West Walk car park was – but since we hadn’t arrived by car and were entirely map-less (and clueless!) we could be of little help. We did tell them however, that if we saw them again then we may all be lost! I am happy to report that we did not see them again!

On the Sunday the sun shone brilliantly after a hazy start, through a cloudless blue sky. Tricia sat in the sun and I pottered off in the car to a nearby hotel to watch the Italian Grand Prix, won, to my irritation by the arrogant Michael Schumacher, bringing him within two points of Haakinen who came second in the race with just two races to go in the season. Coultard’s chances of becoming World Champion in 2000, already pretty slim were finally dispatched to the level of impossibility when he was knocked off the track in a major pile up at the second bend of the first lap. None of the drivers was hurt – which is a testimony to the amazing strides in vehicle safety in recent years but, sadly, a marshall was killed by flying debris – the first fatality since Ayrton Senna was killed, also at Monza, five or so years ago.

Monday, 11th September, was pleasantly sunny and was still warm – warm enough to break into a sweat sorting the caravan out ready to leave. I had thought that preparing to move the caravan would be altogether a cleaner job than packing up a tent and probably quicker, too. So far this has not proved to be the case but whether that is because we are, as yet, less practiced at it or whether we have happened to be on fairly steep slopes on the sites we have visited I cannot yet comment.

Talking of slopes, the overnight stop we had booked through the caravan Club for Monday night, just outside Ouistreham was sloping quite markedly from left to right as well as from front to back – so, of course, I got thoroughly sweaty again chasing my tail round and round the caravan winding the corner steadies down – and up – and down again as I lowered and lowered the jockey wheel again and again to achieve an acceptable degree of levelness. All in the dark of course!

The channel crossing itself from Portsmouth to Caen was pleasure pure and simple. First the sensation of `getting away from it all` was bliss after a long, long time waiting for it to materialise and not knowing whether it would. I think we both needed this break, we have both been so busy. But the sun was shining, somewhat mistily at first, then through broken cloud…. and the sea was flat, flat calm. We had a pleasant meal in the `Normandie`s` buffet dining room. And, as we ate, we watched the sinking sun shining across the calm sea as the resident pianist regaled us with a medley of what sounded like theme tunes for Western cowboy films.

More to follow……

About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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