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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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