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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.