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I’m all excited. We’re heading to Wales this weekend. I have never been to Wales; I’ve listened to lots of talk about Wales and sheep in my time, but I don’t understand any of it.
Before I know it, we’re on our way and Philippa stands-by patiently to start telling The Sap the way. He spent an hour before we left, pressing her buttons so that she’d know where he wanted to go. The Chief sat impatiently after observing that most women know where a man wants to go before he even thinks about pressing any of her buttons. If she’s anything to go by, these Chief Cooks and Bottle Washers must be really clever people, which makes me think that they must progress to doing something important like running a multi-national company or a huge investment bank, even being a politician would be a small step up the ladder from being a bottle washer.
Talking of ladders, they both thought that the one I left the factory with is useless. It was made from small square steel tube and in my original colour brochure a child of eight is shown halfway up it. I don’t think the people that designed me expected adults, especially largish adults or fat plonkers (the largish is a sop to The Chief but there’s no sop to The Sap) to be sleeping or doing anything up there. He reckons the pain-provoking ladder proves this.
They both tried to climb onto their new mattress last weekend and found it nigh-on impossible without something on their feet. The Sap thought he was being clever; he wore his shoes to climb the ladder but couldn’t get them off because of the lack of headroom. You try lying under a bed so you can’t get your head high enough to allow your hand to reach your feet! He could just do it if he turned on his side and brought his feet up in turn to his hand. Next thing I knew he was shouting and hollering ’cos he’d got cramp in his thigh. It must have been bad because I don’t think he even used the ladder to escape below from my over-cab and that cramped experience.
It also dawned on him that if he wore shoes or slippers and managed to get them off, there was nowhere to keep them but he couldn’t just chuck them down below or he’d never reach my toilet during the night, unless he dived out of bed. Worse still, with The Chief in bed first, taking up her two thirds, he feared for his bladder, so made me a new ladder to make it easier to get up into the over-cab bed.
I don’t expect the ladder issue is finished yet, but I wouldn’t mind betting it will be over...the ladder that is, before the weekend’s out. But for now, it’s a step in the right direction with its kind-to-bare-feet wide steps, albeit painted pink.
He tells her that first off we’re heading for a place called Devil’s Bridge, which is near Aber-wrist-ache or some such place, because he wants to visit a two-wrist railway he hasn’t seen since the last time, but won’t tell her when that was, or with whom.
He is laughing again about sheep and wrists as he tells her about a time in Wales when he tried to rescue a poor sheep that had rolled over and was stuck with its feet in the air. He was getting annoyed with all the Welsh people supposedly on their way to work, because there he was kneeling on wet grass, huffing and puffing to get this poor sheep sorted and all they could do was peep their horns and shout abuse at him. He has told The Chief that if she should see any sheep in funny positions, with or without anybody nearby, she must keep it to herself because he’s no longer interested in bleating sheep or horny-sounding Welshmen.
It’s been dark for a while now and we’re not going to make Devil’s Bridge before the witching hour, so he pulls into a lay-by and encourages The Chief to set about preparing the evening’s sustenance. Afterwards he says it was a creditable feast, given my humble culinary facilities.
After a few rounds of something called cribbage, which I shall leave to your fertile imagination or a dictionary to solve, it’s time for them to head up the new wooden hills. She’s first and yep, the ladder decides to play rough with her only half way up. He manages to stop her naked decent to the floor below. Now he is under penalty of being denied her culinary and other skills, if he doesn't promise to come up with a means of stopping the ladder from moving perilously under foot. I am getting quite used to his weasel words and I can tell that it is a half-hearted promise. I should say it was, until he climbed out for the first of his nocturnal loo visits and found himself nearly thrown on the floor. Badly shaken, it reminded him that a solution was really urgent and could not just join the endless list of things to be done.
Word must have reached the hills of northern Wales from the valleys of the south where Blodwyn the Blacknose was ‘rescued’ by The Sap all those years ago, because every sheep for miles around seems to have gathered in my immediate vicinity. It’s the middle of the night and all are flocking well near me and are bleating for all they are worth. She wants to know what they want, as if he is an expert on the needs of sheep. Half asleep, he says that the only thing they need is to baa-grr off, and he shouts abuse out of my little window, but they don’t move and the bleating gets worse.
An hour later they’re still creating holy-hell, as if the devil is in the field on his way to his bridge. It gets too much for her and, safe in the knowledge that she can’t get out to do anything, she insists he goes down and scatters the sheep. Knowing there will be no peace from any quarter until he does something, he slides, fireman-like down the ladder...not because he is in any particular hurry to please her, but because he missed his step and now, clad only in his birthday suit, he heads out of my rear door at the crack of dawn to holler at those sheep.
Suddenly, a car driven by a Welsh night-worker or more likely a drunk who thinks the police will have retired to their stations for a cuppa, picks him up in its headlamps and further disturbs the remains of the night with its Colonel Bogey air horns. Anyone would think we weren’t having enough trouble with horns already.
“I’m not coming to Wales again,” says The Sap, having dashed back naked into my sanctuary, “every time I come here I’m harassed by sheep and Welshmen who can’t keep their hands off their horns.”
I don’t believe him, there’s too many steam railways here and even I know already that keeping The Sap away from railways is almost as difficult as keeping him away from food.
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We’re off on a mission this Saturday...it’s bright but still cold. The Sap has at long last found a proper mattress that he believes will just fit my over-cab space...in fact he’s already bought and paid for it on E-bay — the cheapskate. I heard him telling Mrs Langford, the seller, that he wants it for his campervan and that he had seen few four-feet wide mattresses for sale. He discovers that it was only used twice by her granddaughter and is like new.
They have to go to Enfield, north London and he asks the woman whether he will be able to park outside her house. Mrs Langford gives her enthusiastic but innocent approval, telling him that it is a quiet suburban street and there is plenty of space on the road, most often directly outside her house. She says that she and her neighbour are widow pensioners and do not have cars. I can hear her telling The Sap her life story. She then reveals that her neighbours try not to park outside her house because she has heart problems and an ambulance or paramedic car often needs to park there. He and The Chief will have to remove the mattress themselves, carry it downstairs...down the drive and into yours truly waiting outside in our emergency reserved parking spot. Reserved? Yes, because the old sweetie says she has some big bollards and she will get them out before everybody returns from work at 6pm. Bless her.
First though, we have to go north of London and come south into Enfield on the Friday evening, because I’m not allowed through London any more. He says it’s because of a new congestion charge. After my last escapade with the horse, I would have tried to reassure him that I have no problem with congestion at the moment, so wouldn’t be scaring any of London’s horses. It seems odd to me that Londoners and their visitors should be penalised for being bunged up; it's almost as if they’ve committed a crime.
I haven’t been to London for years, but once was driven several times around the roundabout outside what I heard my first owners say was the Queen’s house. She must be a very important lady because it’s a huge house, with gates and red-coated soldiers with big heads, guarding the place. I think we went round five times because I ended up feeling quite dizzy. I don’t think we saw the Queen, but we might have done because there were so many windows she could have been almost anywhere, peeping out. I’d like to think, though, that if she was looking out of one of those netted-windows that evening, she would have seen me. I don’t expect she sees many campervans outside her house, so I tried to give her a pirouetting performance as if she had commanded me to be there.
Right now we’re heading around the M25 toward a place called Stevenage where a camping warehouse sells sleeping bags for really cold weather. The Sap says they have a special underside that won’t go thin with all his weight and so let the heat through. I hope he’s thought about this because other than in the depths of winter, it’s going to be like a furnace up there.
With his super sleeping bags on board, we’re heading south to north London...I have never seen traffic like this, it's one big queue and we’re now bogged down in it. He's bought this special box with a tiny little woman called Phillipa inside, keeping us on track. I am amazed because she keeps holding up maps showing where we are and telling him to turn this way and that. I have no idea where we are, but she must have been here before because she sounds really confident. She tells him that he has only one more mile to go and soon he must turn right and then right again. She then says he has arrived at his destination and keeps repeating it as if she’s proud of herself, but now he doesn’t seem happy with her.
“For crying out loud, shut up Phillipa,” he yells as he reverses into our reserved space.
“Watch out!” yells The Chief, “you’re about to run into Mrs Langford’s bollards.”
I am confused because I have heard lots of conversations in my time with that naughty word mentioned, I didn’t know that old ladies had bollards...maybe it’s an age thing or something to do with medication taken for heart problems that makes their voices sound low like a man’s. I heard her answer when he telephoned her and first off he thought she was her husband, if that makes sense. Yet little Phillipa’s voice sounds high and sweet to me, but doesn’t seem to please The Sap right now...perhaps he prefers ladies with bollards. Eventually he cuffs her round the head and shuts her up half way through her tenth, ‘You have arrived at your destination’ message which was making me feel quite sleepy ’cos if we’ve arrived I can have a good rest. I don’t think Mrs Langford realises we are going to stay here all night.
Out they climb and with The Chief sporting her best, ‘I’m desperate for a cuppa’ smile, they head up the driveway and into the house. I reckon there must be quite a lot of old queens living in this street too, because all around I can see net curtains moving and purple heads gazing out at me as if I am an ice cream van they have been waiting for. I hear a door slam and a really old lady, whose nose reaches my driver’s window well before the rest of her, is muttering to herself about parking and bollards. The next thing I know, she has lifted my windscreen wiper and put a piece of paper beneath it. I suppose as a welcoming note.
Then I see my two, heading down the drive struggling with an enormous mattress. I really hope he’s measured it properly because it doesn’t look to me as if it will go through my narrow back door, let alone be turned to go down my centre aisle or squeezed through the narrow gap into my over-cab space. Eventually though, with much cussing and swearing from The Chief, which teaches me some new words, the mattress is standing in the aisle between my downstairs beds. I hear him say that he might have bought a pup, but it must be very quiet...nothing like the noisy yapping little thing the old couple used to bring with them sometimes, which had no respect for my carpets.
The Chief is in a foul mood because the old lady must be one of the few in London, if not the whole of Britain, that doesn’t drink tea and had none in the house. Her first task now is to get the kettle on. His first job, he says, is to work out how the heck to get the little-used-rigid-as-hell mattress up where he wants to put it. I know that didn’t sound quite right, but I bet he’ll be wishing he could stick it in a skip before the morning.
He spots the note under my windscreen wiper and retrieves it; he finds it’s from the old biddy in No. 32 opposite, who tells him that bollards are a sign of heart problems and should not be fiddled with when trying to get a big thing inside. He reads that he must put a note on his windscreen to say which house he is visiting in case I must be moved for an ambulance.
He tells The Chief that he used to visit a wealthy aunt in her exclusive block of London flats where parking was limited. Residents were told that visitors must always put a note on special headed paper in their windscreens saying the car owner’s name and whom they were visiting. Apparently, the Porter had to check that strange vehicles were not trying to avoid the meters that had sprung up. The Sap said that his aunt would always bring him out the filled in headed paper to put in his windscreen. She never put the flat number and always wrote her name illegibly so that the porter would not come knocking on her door.
So, The Sap wrote poorly that they were visiting Mrs Longbridge, reasoning that this would counter inquisitiveness and nocturnal disturbance. The Chief is tickled by this and now cradling a cup of tea is close to smiling. The cup of coffee The Sap had with Mrs Langford, has now been processed and is deposited in my loo before he seeks to tease the mattress aloft.
An hour has passed and still the mattress is not where it should be. They’ve got most of it in the over-cab space, but a lot is sticking out into my living area and eclipses the light from one of the ceiling lamps. They have failed dismally to turn it through 90 degrees so that the long length is across my width, it just will not bend to go through the five feet wide opening. They had hoped to be sleeping on their new mattress in their new dual sleeping bag tonight, but it’s gone 10pm and things look and sound bad.
The Sap hatches what he believes will be a winning plan so that he can turn the mattress without having to lean across it and weighing it down. He climbs the steps and crawls onto the polystyrene block with the mattress above him and somehow manages to turn over onto his back. Can you picture this? It’s a bit like being hidden under a bed that has collapsed and making it worse, above the mattress is only a few inches to the ceiling. It’s a good job he got rid of that coffee earlier because he wouldn’t be able to get out now in a hurry. They grunt and they groan, they swear and curse, I am rocked on my springs and pots and pans rattle in the lockers. I’m half expecting Mrs Beaky from No. 32 to be on her way over to investigate and leave another note about disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the leafy suburbs. If she has been disturbed, I think she must have the wrong idea completely and is fearful to knock on my door in case she is exposed to seeing something she hasn’t seen for donkeys’ years.
Another two hours has passed and finally the mattress is in place, but The Sap is so weary from his struggles that he can’t get out. The Chief is no help because she has collapsed in a quivering heap listening to his protestations and watching his efforts to free himself from the crushing mattress, which has so far only resulted in not much of one leg flailing around above her head. Another half hour passes before he is free, staggers down the steps and throws himself on the downstairs bed on the driver’s side of the aisle.
“Aren’t you going to undress and clean your teeth, while I make the upstairs bed,” she asks.
His snoring gives an unequivocal answer...they, or certainly he, won’t be sleeping up there tonight despite all their efforts.
We’re going to see the London Eye tomorrow, whatever that might be and I hope it sees me, because I’m a rarity in this modern world, complete with an, as yet, unused mattress.
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The Sap and The Chief are taking me on a short journey today. It’s been frosty for ages and despite the propane gas bottle, they have bottled-out of staying overnight for a while. I thought they would, because they’d been on an airbed in the over-cab space when we first went out and had struggled to stay warm with temperatures below freezing. Why they hadn’t slept on my two single beds with their Dunlopillo mattresses adjacent to the simmering gas fire, I do not know. Maybe they just thought it would be warmer cuddling together ‘up top’ or perhaps it has something to do with going upstairs to sleep. It can’t have been for any other reason, because there’s not even enough headroom for the one who gets in first to climb back over the other to go to the loo, let alone anything else.
I think The Sap fell victim to his own knowledge and believed that because air is a good insulator, they would be warm inside their double sleeping bag atop an airbed. He isn’t the first to make that mistake in an over-cab bed. I could have reminded him that air is only a good insulator when it’s static and there’s nothing static about the air in an airbed with two people tossing and turning with the cold. Their body heat goes straight through the airbed into my cab roof then out into the clawing cold of a winter night. He tells her he’s going to put a polystyrene block down, then an aluminium heat blanket before a proper domestic-type mattress to make my tiny over-cab bedroom a sleeping delight. So far, he’s not been able to find a four feet wide mattress at a price he wants to pay...which is next to nothing. He’ll regret it when he’s used up even more precious headroom and she won’t be able to squeeze past him to get to the loo.
Hey ho! I’m still nice and cosy to be inside with frosty grass all around me. A cuppa brewed on my gas hob will be welcoming, she says, but there won’t be any overnight adventures until I have a proper mattress or it’s Spring again. They truly are blinded by the upstairs notion, but I guess it will pass in time.
Today we are going to a large country estate that welcomes walkers and sightseers. Their true mission is to gather oyster mushrooms; I have been here before with the old couple and their grandchildren collecting chestnuts as a change from sitting at the seaside. That was five years ago and, oh dear, things have changed.
I am brought to a stop outside the car park I went in before. Just as well really or the problems they’re having with my overhead bedroom would have been permanently solved with headroom up to the heavens. I’m stopped because they’ve put a damned steel barrier across the entrance. Many innocent campervan owners have driven into these obstacles, erected probably to deter those nice people called ‘travellers’, in this enlightened age; when I was young they were called gypsies. They have earned themselves a reputation in recent years for marauding onto private and council land and costing a fortune for a court order to make them move on...to repeat the process yet again somewhere else. Maybe if they stayed a couple of days and left everything clean and tidy like I do, there wouldn’t be such a fuss about them, but they usually leave it like a waste tip for landowners to clear up. Now, anybody driving a vehicle over 2m high is punished, it’s a wonder we’re still allowed in roadside lay-bys.
The Sap drives a little further along the road and nips into an open gateway where a track leads into the woods and thoughtfully he parks me to one side. He tells The Chief he is going to leave a note in my windscreen explaining that we do not constitute an advanced scouting party for a hoard of travellers and will be back and gone within the hour.
Oh dear, they won’t be happy when they come back. They have only been gone twenty minutes and a Landrover draws up and a little man climbs down and walks all around me. He peers in the windscreen and sees the note before climbing back into his Landrover. He moves off behind me and the next thing I hear is the rattle of chains...this worries me.
It’s a bright cold day and I can see them now with beaming smiles and laden with bulging carrier bags. They must have been successful. As they draw nearer their smiles disappear, so something unpleasant must have happened behind my back.
The Sap is swearing and The Chief is near to tears. They put the mushroom-filled bags inside and he starts me up and turns me around, swearing and cursing all the while. For the first time I can see why they are so upset. The five bar gate has been closed and there is a substantial chain around it and the post, with a padlock. For a moment I am afraid he is going to charge the gate in his temper and try to break free, but he stops. He asks The Chief to make some tea while he gets us out.
He is ferreting around inside my under-bunk lockers and appears in front of the gate weighed-down with tools. He lays into the gate, not with an axe or a sledgehammer but with a pair of spanners. He tells The Chief, who has brought a steaming mug of tea, that he is going to take the hinge bolts out, which will free one end of the heavy gate. He’s now got a little trolley jack under the gate and is driving out the bolts. The two of them manage to heave the gate open, pivoting on the chained end. Before you could say Jack Robinson I am outside, released and parked in the road.
She starts carrying the tools to me but he says no, he is going to put the gate back together so whoever thought it was funny to lock us in will wonder where the hell I have gone. I can hear them grunting with the weight of the gate and putting all the bolts back in. In the distance I can see two horses with riders approaching and they speed up when they see me on the road. The clip-clop of horses alerts The Chief who calls to him to hurry... “Just one more bolt out of the four to fit and tighten,” he calls.
A plummy voice cries out, “I say, you there, what are you doing to our gate? You can’t take that heap of yours onto our land!”
“I’m not,” he shouts.
“Then why, might I ask, are you taking that gate apart...I shall call my husband,” says the woman, who obviously must be wedded to the estate’s owner.
“Who might you be, your Ladyship?” asks The Sap, continuing his re-assembly.
She looks down her nose at him with distain, “I am the gamekeeper’s wife.”
“Well bully for you, Lady Chatterley, I thought you were somebody important,” he calls out, finishing the gate job.
“How dare you, I shall call the police!”
“Oh yes?” says The Sap, “what will you tell them?”
“That you are trespassing on estate land and have damaged a gate.”
Her horse passed its opinion in the form of a nice pile of rose manure.
“Don’t be a silly woman...trespass is a civil matter, as is any damage you think has been done to the gate. However, call the police and I shall report whoever locked us in for false imprisonment and attempted theft, which are criminal offences.”
The other horse-rider has been on her mobile phone and soon a familiar-looking Landrover pulls up and that little man climbs out, “I have been told you are being rude to my wife,” he shouts.
“Ah, so you are the gamekeeper,” rises The Sap, “You also fancy yourself as a lock-keeper, I see. I suppose you had to lock that gate to keep your boss’s pheasants in, was that it?”
“You were trespassing.”
“And you are illiterate...I left a note...we stayed twice as long because of your stupidity.”
“Don’t you call me illiterate...I know what that word means and I’m not stupid,” he bellows.
The Sap climbs in behind my wheel, “Not stupid, eh...the gamekeeper Mellors didn’t have to marry Lady Chatterley...did you have any choice?”
I had the final word as we drove off. A build up of gasses in my system caused me to break wind in my exhaust pipe...and what an ear-splitting noise it was! The horse reared up and deposited her Ladyship in a nettle bed. I laughed because even with her puffed up importance she won't have a problem with headroom on that bed.
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