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We didn’t head straight home from Yorkshire; I can tell The Sap is up to something, but despite The Chief pressing him mercilessly, he won’t let on. Even Phillippa is kept in the dark with only a short burst of programming to take us west from Whitby on the Yorkshire coast, where we looked down on the town from the abbey ruins that The Chief says figured in Bram Stoker’s worryingly immortal classic, Dracula. This outing is fast turning into a literary paper chase! I wonder what The Sap might have in store as we start our westward journey.
After a few hours on minor roads through moorland scenery that deserves to be preserved for posterity but probably won’t be and with the winter sun now dazzling me and reddening the sky on its journey to the horizon and beyond, he stops me on a bridge over...yes, you’ve guessed it, another railway line. He tells The Chief a mainline steam locomotive will soon be passing, hauling a returning special train southbound over Shap, a railway summit on the line between Carlisle and Lancaster. The line is now electrified and rarely echoes these days to the sound of struggling steam engines as it once did. Just as he guzzles his last drops of tea, a distant whistle heralds the appearance of the determined engine, tugging its sinuous rake of old fashioned coaches. The Chief, who seems to have the measure of The Sap, ventures that the train is no doubt crammed full of similar old boys also trying to recapture a long-lost smutty youth.
Pictures taken, we’re on our way south, on what he tells us is the A6...the one-time main road from the glens. He says it carries little traffic these days because everything rushes blindly along the nearby M6, which unapologetically desecrates the once-tranquil fells. He recalls stopping hereabouts as a youngster when he was allowed to stand and watch the trains while his parents took a break for a brew-up on a motor trip to Scotland in the sixties. True, he continues knowingly, the trains shouted their presence and blackened the sky every half hour or so but the traffic high on the M6 throws a remorseless cacophony that echoes day and night across the hills. As he finishes his story we arrive in Kendal where the local council have very kindly pointed out our campsite for the night. We follow the signs and arrive on an empty industrial estate where a little investigation provides a first class peaceful hard-standing, complete with outside tap and no other souls...bless them.
Early the next morning, before workers arrive, we are long gone and heading into Coniston and Windermere where I take a breather while they prepare to wander off to explore. The Chief says she thinks we have been drawn here by yet more literary giants in the shape of William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame.
“Whatever makes you think that?” says The Sap, “perhaps I was drawn here by John Cunliffe!”
“Who’s John Cunliffe?” she asks, thinking he’s joking.
“You must have led a sheltered childhood,” he laughs “these days he is the most read of them all, he created Postman Pat.”
It’s a bright chilly day so tea is required once they return, but I can see The Sap is itching to get going...another train is due, I suspect. Well yes and no. Finally he tells The Chief that they are not here for any railway or literary purpose but he wants to show her a road that is the most spectacular he has ever travelled on in Britain.
I listen in awe as he says what we are going to do: It is only something we can do out of the main tourist season because the road is extremely tight for a campervan of my 6’6” girth, in fact he isn’t certain I will complete the route unscathed...now I am worried.
We travel west on a road that barely appears to be narrowing, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about...there’s plenty of room. Suddenly, though, without warning he heaves me across the road onto little more than a track and that excess room has disappeared; I couldn’t share this road with an escaped sheep and a starving one at that. He tells The Chief that although he shouldn’t really bring me down here because of my width, it is out of season and lunch time. Most tourists, he reckons, will have sought refuge in one of the hostelries at each end of the long narrow stretch, because other than sheep, grass and abundant water there’s nothing for miles.
Gradually the road starts to climb and we weave through the foothills and he is constantly fighting with my steering wheel and gearstick. He tells her that my saving grace, compared to modern campervans, is that I am rear wheel drive so won’t lose traction on the really steep sections and I have a very low first gear and a good lock to negotiate the tight bends.
As we stop in a passing point for the first time to make way for an oncoming car, I wonder why the driver is shaking his head and wagging his finger. The Sap shouts something and sounds my horn defiantly and we’re off again with grass and shrubs brushing along both my sides. We round a tight bend and the road comes back on us and climbs like a confused helter-skelter, then it veers to the right and manages to keep climbing...we pass a car that wisely seeks refuge in one of the passing places and the driver’s eyes seem to pop with amazement as if reflecting on what lies before us. I am getting quite dizzy as we climb in first gear, which to give you an idea, flat out on the level I would barely overtake a push bike pedalled by a 5 year old and a wimp child at that. The climbing seems to go on forever, then suddenly he goes up a gear and we run slightly down hill to a long plateau where a boulder-strewn torrent joins us from the right. All around us are mountains and incredible scenery, the like of which I have never seen before.
The demands of tea and sustenance make him pull over for lunch at what, he says, is roughly halfway, but that a more demanding climb faces us. More demanding? Can anything be more demanding than what I’ve already been put through? But so far I am at least unscathed, if a little breathless. He walks across the track to take my picture and if I could puff out my chest, I would because I do feel quite heroic at my achievement. I chuckle as he is corralled by a questioning posse of sheep that gaze at him as if demanding to know whether he is simply mad or is the infamous campervan-driving sheep worrier so recently escaped from Wales and now seeking refuge in the isolated northern fells.
Lunch over and with the inquisitive sheep left to nibble their scant grass in peace, we set off along the plateau before starting to scale the heights of the second trial section. As we approach a veritable mountain that seems to have no way across, he makes The Chief tremble and yours truly Sammy the intrepid mountaineer anxious, by recounting the tale of the night the looming climb almost snatched his life from him. Now I know he must be mad because who in his right mind would give the fates another chance?
He tells us that one afternoon he’d been at work more than three hundred miles south when he was summoned urgently to resolve some equipment problems on the Cumbrian coast. After rushing up the M6, he says he passed through Kendal just after 11pm. To have a chance of making his hotel at St Bees and a welcoming drink before the last residents vacated the bar and it was closed for the night, he rashly decided to take the cross country short cut. As he turned onto this narrow route, it was getting foggy, even before the mountains, and at one stage he had to stop because the glare of the headlamps in the fog made the road invisible. It was well after midnight when he climbed out of his car; he crept cautiously to the front to see where the road was going, only to find that the wheels were on the edge of a precipice. Swallowing hard, he groped his way to the rear of the car where he found that the road had zigzagged unseen to the left. He reversed and resumed his journey, at times just about walking pace, that tempting nightcap receding in importance.
And this is the road he wants to take yours truly on...yes, now I know for certain he’s mad.
Then almost without warning we start climbing...now I have never been to a theme park, as such, but I have watched from a car park as a little carriage packed with masochists climbs ever skyward on some fragile-looking framework. Then it hurtles downward and all aboard scream with fear...then queue up and do it again. I tell you, if I complete this journey, nothing will persuade me to do it again.
I climb and climb in first gear, twisting this way then that before corkscrewing my way even higher...I fret that at any moment I shall miss my footing and go over the side or hurtle downhill out of control. Then the road disappears, “This is the spot,” yells The Sap, “imagine this bit at night in fog!” He winds my steering wheel hard to the left and I follow the road back and down to another one hundred and twenty degree turn at the bottom. We are heading downward all the time now and I am grateful when he tell The Chief it’s over and we, no make that I have conquered The Wrynose and Hardknott Passes.
In just a few days I have learnt to swim and mountaineer...not bad for a geriatric campervan! I don’t think I shall ever face such a challenging journey again...but on the other hand, with these two twerps I can’t be sure.
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The Sap has decided we’re heading north for Easter, but the up-country weather forecast is not encouraging with predicted snow flurries across high ground...well in some ways it is encouraging to The Sap because he is winterising me. We hadn’t been back from Wales a couple of days before he started on a list of improvements to make my living space cosier.
Campervans, like me, were designed almost exclusively for warm weather use. You may well ask why. Well, I suppose that thirty years ago, most campervan users were hardly going to take a fortnight’s holiday in the depths of winter. Nowadays with early retirements, things have changed.
Anyway, when I left the Lunar factory I was kitted out with a pair of long curtains that did a reasonable job of separating the driving cab from the living cabin. Now, curtains may do a fair job of keeping out the early morning light and stopping prying eyes when you’re relaxing during the evening, but as these two have found, especially with curtains that have shrunk and become difficult to close completely, they’re rubbish at stopping heat from escaping.
On every outing so far, the pair have huddled next to my gas fire. It has been amusing to watch them playing a version of musical chairs as they swap places. The heat rushes past them down the cabin past curtains that might just as well be football nets and once inside the cab throws itself out of the glass and steel skin like as if it has a death wish. So every fifteen minutes they change seats to warm the cold sides of their bodies, but worse still their feet have never been warm.
So The Sap has designed and made a partition wall out of two inch cavity-wall foam slabs. I have to say he’s done a pretty good job and he’s covered it in the same beige carpeting he now has on my walls. This removable wall sits up in the over-cab space and he can take it down and have it in the Tee-shaped aperture between cab and cabin in seconds. He tested it last night and the cabin soon became too hot with the gas fire flat out here on the south coast. Over the next couple of days he plans to line my ceiling with polystyrene tiles, so he reckons the living space ought to be good enough for the snow-bound wastes of the North Yorkshire Moors...we shall see.
I suppose Yorkshire is a logical place to go after Wales. He says it, too, has moorland hills, sheep, rain (which often falls as snow) and its own near-incomprehensible dialect. The Chief reckons it’ll be a bit easier to navigate without all those double consonants and words that seem to go on forever and obliterate the map in their quest for space. We discovered a backwater village called Sodom in north Wales, but not even Yorkshire’s doubtful collection of place names stoops quite so low. Up there, I’m told, they have places like Penistone, Scunthorpe, Humpswaite, Giggleswick, Crackpot and even Hole Bottom.
Eee, Ah’m reet lookin forward to gooin thar.
With names like those it’s hardly upmarket, but it’s so far up-country according to Phillippa, it’s almost knocking on the door of that other Celtic paradise...The Peoples’ Republic of Caledonia, where they hope to take me one day. Yorkshire is a damned long way according to Phillippa’s continual rehearsal of her well-planned route. I keep trying to pluck up courage to speak with her because I know The Sap won’t like her chosen course and neither do I, it’s all humiliating high-speed motorway, which is not natural snail territory.
When The Sap returns, weighed down with essentials for our forthcoming outing, Phillippa is still talking to herself and has just cycled again to the bit where she gives instructions to turn left onto the M1 off of the M25. He’s quick to put her right, “I bloody told you I don’t want to go by motorway, Phillippa...I pressed the damned ‘no motorways’ button, why do you choose to ignore me?” He’s sort of telling the truth; I watched him do it, at least I watched him go to do it, but as with the off button when he went out, he was distracted and missed. If she could say, ‘No you didn’t, you fat twerp,’ I’m sure she would. After cancelling the motorway option, he again leaves Phillippa on ‘repeat’ mode but after a while ungallantly clips her around the ‘ear’ for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s the misogynist in him...he only chooses to use the navigator with a female voice so he can shout at her when he thinks he knows best and believes she’s wrong, then if she doesn’t give up, he smacks her casing in the sensitive spot that rarely fails to work her off button.
When we finally set off for Yorkshire just before Easter, I was thrilled. I quite like their approach to getting the best out of me...with my previous owners it was always rush, rush, rush to get to their chosen campsite before dark. The current idea of a perfect campsite is to find a quiet spot down a lane or in a lay-by, just as it’s getting dark. Although I listened intently to Phillippa droning on about a detailed route taking us up through the Peak District and an overnight stop at Matlock Bath, I only vaguely remember the route we actually took because every now and then The Sap has to assert his authority and deviate from her track. He often takes what he believes will be a shorter route but Phillippa always manages to show that his short cuts are long cuts, but still he persists. First port of call, apart from the couple of overnight stops is to be Keighley and then Haworth... Brontë country.
The Sap wants to see the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway while The Chief is excited about going up on Haworth Moor to see the ruin at Top Withens that is said to have inspired Emily Brontë when she set out to write Wuthering Heights. I am delighted that she likes to look at old ruins because The Sap and I should still be pleasing to her eye for a few years yet.
I find it quite interesting watching steam trains that are even older than I am rumbling in and out of Keighley station. It's a biting cold day and the steam drifts across into the car park where I'm sitting.
After half an hour we move on to Haworth and they park me between the town and the railway line. No more than five minutes passes after they leave before I hear a distant Sap shouting out excitedly to The Chief. Now I can just see him pointing up at a building on which I can make out the word Spooks, but he seems to be pointing above it and it isn’t until later when we’ve parked up in the car park for the Top Withins path that I get to see the picture she took when he hollered. Anyway, The Sap reckons that by the time Joe Public sees this blog and the picture he has modified to protect himself from Welsh wizardry, the locals will probably have changed the name in the picture because in these be-nice-to-all politically correct times,
even perverts have rights.
Ba ’eck t’were cold up on ’aworth Moor! As usual she is gasping for a nice cup of tea as soon as she stumbles into my sanctuary. After the kettle is readied to sing, he has the partition in place and the gas fire on. I have to give him credit...it seems to work a treat...he’s even hinged it half way up so it’s possible to scramble underneath into the cab to retrieve something. Apparently, up on the moor, she came hurtling down a slope, arms wide and shouting ‘Heathcliffe’ when she slipped, carried on down on her backside and crashed into him. Eeee! I don’t think t’were like that in t’book. Muddy wet clothes are now hung up above my gas fire and it is so warm they can now sit in their undies in the midst of winter. Tea and food behind them, they settle down with barely a glow from the gas fire and it’s like a hot house all evening, so hot in fact that so much heat has congregated in the above-cab bedroom that he has to open the window briefly before they climb into bed.
We’re going even further north today, heading for the North Yorkshire Moors and yet another railway, this one running from Pickering to Grosmont. Midway between them is the hamlet of Goathland, which doubles as Aidensfield in the old TV series Heartbeat. On arrival she says it seems quite strange to be sitting outside the village garage drinking tea and expecting to see some old police cars hurtle through what still looks like a 1960’s village. Just before dusk descends we head east up a winding track to the moors but quickly Phillippa tells him to turn right, then to turn around and finally to turn back.
“Shut up, Phillippa,” he snaps, “we’re going by a track that cuts across the moor where we’ll stop overnight...it will bring us out in Grosmont in the morning.”
“Turn back, turn back,” she seems to cry, before stepping further out of her programme in her desperation to protect us, “turn back, this track is impassable in winter.”
For her trouble she is cuffed around the hypothetical ear and powers down in a sulk. He finds a spot just off the track and we settle down with The Chief cooking a stew which almost has the effect of making this diesel-gobbling campervan feel hungry.
The next morning there has been a fair old fall of snow which allows my idiot owners to run around like a couple of kids having a snowball fight, but they hit me more than each other, I don’t mind though, it is all quite amusing. After breakfast we continue the spectacular winding track and descend into a valley where the fast flowing river is shown on the map, but there’s no bridge, just a warning sign for a deep ford. “She told you the road was impassable, ” says The Chief, patting a slumbering Phillippa.
“Don’t you side with her, that’s all I need. If you want to do something useful you can pull on your Wellington boots and see just how impassable that damn ford is, because it’s a long way back.”
“Why don’t you walk it? You’re the twerp that got us into this.”
“And I’d be the twerp who’d have to walk back again! No, you must go so that I can watch carefully and steer Sammy in your footsteps...so don’t fall over!”
I can’t believe she’s going to do it, but she pulls her boots on, slams the door and heads for the river, which looks ruddy deep to me. He opens his window and shouts, “Go on, if the water just goes in your boots, Sammy will go through okay...if it reaches...well, if it gets that high we’re all going to get a soaking.”
Then he seizes the moment and rushes by her, causing a tidal wave that dampens her ardour for days and I’m sure he is given smaller portions of her cooking as punishment. Wisely, he said nothing...she could have used some unusual flavourings in his portion if he had. Even so, her absolution was a long time coming. I’m not sure about Phillippa’s forgiveness though...I swear that several times when he switched her on, I heard her say, “Told you so!”
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Thump! The Sap has just dashed in and slams my back door, he’s furious. He’s standing on the doormat as naked as the day he was born shivering with a mixture of cold and rage. In fact, if you take into account there’s an awful lot more of him, he’s even more naked than the day he was born. The Chief is still cocooned above the cab, which plainly hasn’t helped his demeanour. Noisily, he lights the gas fire, fills the kettle and clatters it onto the stove, knowing that just a whiff of tea will wake her easier than any poking, prodding or shaking.
Eventually she eases her legs out of the warmth and carefully climbs down the ladder where she grabs yesterday’s clothes that he has hung above the fire. The tea poured, they sit and ruminate on his stupidity. Who in his right mind would rush out naked into a field full of bleating sheep at the crack of dawn? Twice now in Wales he’s innocently gone into a field of sheep, he tells her, and twice he’s had withering Welshmen hollering and honking their horns, perhaps because they look on the English as Johnny foreigners, typically trying to corner the best females.
I listen in amazement because my previous owners have all been normal, conformist types that took me on nice campsites away from sheep and trouble and avoided confrontation of any sort. These two are certainly different but I’m not yet sure if it’s down to crass stupidity or both having rebellious streaks which are compounded by being together. They are certainly going to change my life, I just hope they don’t manage to shorten it too soon.
I hear him telling her that in the early seventies when he first got too close to a sheep in Wales, it wasn’t the disaster it could be today because the boyos only had their parents’ Brownie box cameras to capture his embarrassment. Luckily, there was no internet back then, so pictures of him on all fours, half naked, trying to get poor legs-in-the-air Blodwyn the Blacknose into a more comfortable position, wouldn’t have gone beyond the local chemists. They certainly wouldn’t have reached far-off Cardiff, where woolly-minded journalists sometimes flocked to unearth the latest sheep-dipping scandal. In those days, there would have been little chance of his images going national let alone becoming a cause célèbre with The League against Cruel Sports baying at his heels.
But nowadays he says he is worried about this particular nude incursion into a field of sheep because 3G mobile has finally reached the depths of Welsh Wales. The Sap fears there is a possibility that the passing drunkard with horn blaring might have realised there could be money to be made. Apart from the attractions of living things, he believes there’s nothing the Celts like more than English money.
Would you believe it? Now he’s got me at the histrionics, pondering all sorts of possibilities about the recent horn blowing . Now, I’m a level-headed sort of campervan, yet the rarefied damp air of the Principality seems to have brought out the Kinnockesque in me. For my readers who don’t understand this British political nuance, suffice to say that it alludes to a one-time leader of a UK political party who seemed constantly smitten with verbal diarrhoea and stupid statements.
I ponder whether the promise of short-term wealth might have taken Dai the Drunk’s immediate focus away from some earthy Brenda the Barmaid. After all, some female must have waved her sizeable temptations before him all evening so clearly to raise his blood pressure. Now bear with me, don’t dismiss my offering out of hand. I am sure I could plainly see, as he drove by, that his flagging resolve was stiffened even more by the prospect of transient riches with which to buy his Brenda’s fitting attachment. Yes, without a doubt I saw him take his non-honking hand from its R.S.I-inducing activity and fumble for his Smartphone. Despite the alcohol, the blood pressure and those licentious thoughts about Brenda spread before him, there was the possibility, if only a faint one, that his poised Smartphone did indeed record The Sap’s discomfiture, while the car, not unusually with a drunk in charge, steered its own wayward course.
The Chief says she doesn’t know what he’s worried about because he’s not famous enough for any pictures to go viral and who’s going to recognise his backside anyway, other than his long-retired proctologist?
He has calmed down, overwhelmed by logic; it’s 6am, a soothing cuppa and some toast and they’re ready to point me in the direction of Devil’s Bridge...It’s a Sunday and early, the place appears, unsurprisingly, to be closed. He tells her that it seems impossible to believe that in living memory Wales had ‘dry’ counties where pubs weren’t allowed to open on Sundays at all. The men of many such places chose to sleep all day and avoid Sunday’s wretched reality of closed pubs and open chapels. The Sap reckons that many of the ‘Great Little Trains’ that chuff from Llanfair-no-wayre to Pant-y-hoes and back, owe their latter day salvation to the railway licensing law that enabled alcohol to be sold on moving trains, including trains crawling across those parched counties. Anyway, the trains don’t run for another five hours, maybe to allow Dai the Drunk and friends to recover from last night’s binge before embarking on the next.
It’s a typical grey overcast day and I am parked opposite a sign that says, ‘Entrance to the devil’s bridge viewpoint and gardens’. They are huddled in front of what looks like an old football turnstile incongruously guarding the entrance and are rifling through pockets and purse to find a second £1 coin, but without success. Now this next bit is funny...after both offering to forego the undoubted pleasure of the view, the two squeeze into the stile and he reaches back through the bars to feel for the little slit. After a groping struggle he eventually finds the spot and I hear the coin thump into the empty box below, whereupon they inch their conjoined bodies, penguin like, around to the viewing side. Now if those two lovers of good and plentiful food can squeeze their combined girths through, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people managed to claim their 50% discount, provided, of course, that old Trevor the Turnstile’s watchful eye has drifted away into bygone memories of better days when he worked down the pits in the Rhonda Valley and his only encounter with a turnstile was on Saturday afternoons at Swansea Town’s Vetch Field, long before Swansea itself was promoted to the City league.
It can’t have been very big or particularly interesting, this devil’s bridge because they’re soon back and we’re on our way to Aber-wrist-ache where we park on the vast empty seafront road. Now this could be a nice place, apart from the weather. I can well believe that, given a bit of sunshine, it could be a highly ranked resort, particularly if it were moved a couple of hundred miles south. If it were in Cornwall it would be crawling with tourists at this ungodly hour. Even I, Sammy the Snail, with more battery cells than brain cells, can picture Aber-wrist-ache swathed in glorious Cornish sunshine. It makes me wonder what crimes the Welsh must have committed in centuries past to be so punished by precipitation, but that quite naturally leads me back to sheep. He says that statistically it is always raining somewhere in Wales, which is depressing, especially for the Welsh and may explain why I haven’t seen a happy-looking one yet. Yes, Aber-wrist-ache is depressing; judging by the amount of puddles on the road, the place is well ahead in the rain charts.
The Sap opens his door and dashes to the sea wall to smell the air. His only reward, apart from the shivers, is to catch a great splash of pooh on his head from an anti-English seagull. That must have been the last straw and as he turns toward me, two gnarled Welsh women walking their retired sheep dogs point their walking sticks accusingly at him and squawk in Welsh. He stops and politely asks what they are saying but a sudden squall distorts their heckling words so they sound to me like sleep plucker. Obviously not to The Chief because she’s laughing her socks off and they’re really thick long socks! When he gets in she mops his head and suggests the old dogs and their walkers might be reincarnations of ancient Welsh witches, because how else could they recognise his chubby pink cheeks when they are swathed in camouflage trousers?
Now it’s his turn to laugh his socks off, but it’s not quite so easy because he forgot to put any on this morning. He tells her that maybe his army surplus camouflage trousers are so effective that the old biddies saw right through them. Yet within seconds he has a face as long as a donkey’s thingy when he convinces himself that Dai the Drunk must have exposed his backside to the merciless world of social media. How else, he says, could Myfanwy the Miserable and Gweneth the Grim have identified him as a gwyrdroi except by that damned photograph?
He is not just being stupid, I think he is being exceptionally dim-witted. It is far more likely that it is yours truly that has been identified and word has gone around there’s an English ponce at large in the area, only because he’s driving an exceptionally splendid campervan.
The Chief asks what gwydroi means, that the wizzened witches shouted after him as he dashed for my sanctuary to escape their flailing walking sticks. He says it has a familiar ring about it but he doesn’t know for sure. The he goes deathly white and I bend my ear in anticipation. He now recalls the hordes of sightseers shouting the same word with venom back in 1970. As the police led him away for interrogation he asked what the crowds had been shouting. ‘Gwyrdroi?’ asked the officer, ‘it means pervert...that's the word my superior used when he told me to bring you in’.
The Sap fears that all eyes are now upon him, all tongues are wagging their double quick Welsh lingo, while suddenly flocks of sheep seem to have deserted distant hillsides and been confined to their pens under heavy guard, meaning a fat shepherd with a huge crook. That’s the bent-at-the-end ‘Little Bo-Peep’ type, not the Kray-twins, hardened criminal sort of crook. Quickly, mindful of those ubiquitous net curtains twitching in nearly every window, we’re heading north, not that it will be any warmer but the puddles might have dried up and his new-found infamy might not have reached the banks of the Dee. After a long wet drive we’re in Thlan-goth-lingummy, where she says they have an annual singing competition called an eye-something or other. I ask you...how can anything to do with singing start with eye? It’s as daft as something to do with rhythmic percussion starting with ear!
It’s their lunchtime when we arrive at Thlan-goth-lingummy and he heads through the town looking for road-signs for an aqueduct that he’s been told carries a canal with its barges across a valley. Soon I’m parked up enjoying my handsome reflection in the water while they have a late fool-English breakfast. She suggested Welsh Rabbit but he said he hates cooked cheese...totally mad...now I want to know, what have rabbits to do with cheese anyway, apart from whey-hey!?
They have left me in peace and head off to cross the valley on this aquaduck thing. They disappear around a bend in the water, so what happened next I do not know, but all the time they’ve been gone there’s been a flotilla of funny pencil-shaped boats going by crewed by even funnier rubber-shaped people who wave at me as if they know I’m a celebrity.
Suddenly, they’re back and as usual she is ‘gasping’ and ordering him to ‘get the kettle on’; She’s so bossy! Little do I know that disaster lurks beneath the tranquil surface of the water. He has left something switched on so that when he tries to start my engine there is only a clunk and it does not burst into life. Stupidity to the fore once more, they manage with the help of a passing local, who I expect wished he had passed much earlier, to push me forward half my length. Then it’s back I go with The Sap managing to start me in reverse gear, but he only just gets his foot from revving accelerator pedal to my brake in the nick of time because my back wheel is halfway down the grass to the water. I can see my life shortening by the day, because unlike those pencil-shaped barges, this blob of a campervan can only swim like a brick.
With a sense of relief I’m heading back to Thlan-goth-lingummy but he stops along the road where The Chief climbs out to photograph what I now know to be the aqueduct with one of those pencil-shaped barges and rubber people in transit. Reaching Thlan-goth-lingummy he parks me at the top of the car park just in case my battery isn’t yet up to scratch...I can’t see any nearby hazardous water, which is a great relief but there is an enormous stone wall at the bottom, which I hope he stays well away from. He has taken The Chief to see the steam railway which once stretched from somewhere to somewhere else and took many of the Midland’s holidaymakers to west Wales. Now though, he says, it has joined the ranks of those that trickle to Panty-y-hoes and back, but they have plans to expand. From what I’ve recently learnt, they should just focus on survival.
The sun must have set because the grey clouds have got darker. In my past lives I would have been comfortably parked up on a nice little campsite by now, but these two have an aversion to such gatherings and off we go to look for a suitable bolt-hole for the night. He spots a straightened piece of road where the old road is still accessible, albeit one end is closed off and we settle down for the night; at least we thought we had until a familiar noise outside brings a sense of doom and pulling back my curtains reveals a field full of sheep. Like a shot he’s on his way again.
The Chief deepens the doom and gloom when she reminds him that the chances of finding somewhere to park up with no sheep nearby must be akin to finding decent cheese without calories which she knows is something The Sap has been hoping to find all his life. But he presses on remorselessly, climbing ever higher as we head for the Horseshoe Pass and the road to the north Wales coast. We pull in to a picnic spot but it’s now too dark for The Sap to read the sign that says ‘No Overnight Camping’, only in English.
They’re tucked up in bed when they hear a car enter the site and despite the fact we’re the only ones here, it parks right next to us. Any second we expect a knock on the door but nothing. The Sap is out of bed like a shot and pulls back the curtain expecting to see a courting couple so overcome by urgency that they didn’t even see me in the corner. But no; he tells The Chief that there is only one man in it and he’s just sitting there, no booze, no wacky baccy, no R.S.I., no nothing. He tells The Chief that he’s not coming back to bed while the threat remains outside. He says that in some ‘Aires’, those roadside stops in France, thieves have been known to squirt engine ‘cold start’, into campervans. This is basically ether, as once used as an anaesthetic and when the occupants are judged to be out for the count, the thieves break in to steal anything worth having.
He tells her to go to sleep and he will exercise his manly duty and keep guard all night. As the dawn breaks, The Sap has slept fitfully next to my door, stirring with every forest sound, when finally our next door neighbour starts his engine and leaves. For days afterwards they speculate what he had been doing in the car park and particularly why he had to park next to us.
My favourite reason? He had been shacked up with Jones the Bread’s wife but when Jones came home early from Wynifred the Widow’s, Jones chased him out but he couldn’t go home because he knew Ivor the Engine was there still enjoying his wife, Glenys the Gaumont’s pleasures until it was time to prepare the engine of his great little train for its journey to Pant-y-hoes and back. Maybe our companion for the night sought safety in numbers in case Jones the Bread came looking for him. Talk about interbreeding...and not only with the sheep and rabbits.
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