ET IN ARCADIA EGO (SIC.)
In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of Love. Or so the poet tells us. Alas, mine was a May-December romance and, with the sap rising, my elderly inamorata’s fancy turned inexorably to…..caravanning. Having failed to convert me to the pleasures of rural camping (shudder!), he suddenly pronounced the humble caravan as the antidote for my aversion to the Great Outdoors.
I had long suspected that my elderly termagant (‘ET’) harboured misty-eyed delusions about life on the open road. For me the passage of the seasons was fraught with psychological peril as it heralded the resurgence of his hippy phase. This turned out to be less a case of “Turn on, tune in, drop out” and more like the Dead March from Saul.
For some time I managed to counter ET’s proselytizing with an inscrutability worthy of the late Queen Mother. Then came the fatal day when I capitulated and agreed, sight unseen, to the acquisition of a ‘vintage’ mobile home. Looking back, I can see that I threw caution to the winds in the vain hope that a spot of peripatetic picnicking would act as a prophylactic to the twenty year generation gap and transform my suburban silverback (in his own mind at least) into a figure straight out of DH Lawrence. Less OAP and more Mellors.
It was a proud day for ET when he collected his prize. My own experience bordered on Pinteresque as I endeavoured to flail my features into an appropriate response to his almost orgasmic rapture. Inwardly I regarded the erstwhile passion wagon with a decidedly jaundiced eye, christening it the ‘Cold Comfort Caravan’ on the spot. There was a touch of hysteria about my reactions that day. As we drove away, our new acquisition uncoupled itself from the car so that we ended up bowling down the hill with the caravan bouncing merrily along behind us. It was only the intervention of some burly farm labourers - while I sat heaving in paroxysms of mirth (much to ET’s fury) - which righted our little cavalcade. I would have chortled less heartily had I realised that this incident would result in interminable pre-travel checks conducted with corrugated brow and a deliberation worthy of Shackleton or Captain Scott.
The dream machine did not improve on closer acquaintance. At five feet eleven, I felt clumsy and cack-handed in its lilliputian confines. I also had ‘issues’ with its being second-hand (actually I generally preferred not to think about the number of hands involved in the vehicle’s history). As a refinement of psychological cruelty, ET had previously towed me round various Motorhome Shows, thus giving me ample time to salivate over sleek, sparkling and luxuriously appointed cabins before subjecting me to the reality of our own tin coffin replete with the kind of 70s orange-brown moquette upholstery which brought me out in hives. No amount of estate agent speak could ever reconcile me to the ‘authentic retro furnishings’ or ‘bijou’ loo-cum-shower suffused with eau de mildew.
Our troglodyte existence in the caravan saw me come down with a bad case of galloping claustrophobia and skin crawl. ET, however, was as happy as a pig in muck (literally) – never cheerier than when emptying the septic tank (shudder to the power of three!), fiddling about with the chassis, sitting in our canvas awning-cum-porch-cum-extension in shorts and Jesus sandals (cringe!) however dismal the weather, and (worst of all) having protracted earnest conversations with awful beardy types who invariably referred heartily to me as “the missus” or ‘’er indoors’ (ho ho). My heart sank as it dawned on me that ET actually fetishized what I irreverently called the ‘billycan factor’ – and was unlikely ever to graduate to glamping or, heaven forbid, the modest comforts of a B&B. (The hedonism of hotels, needless to say, was out of the question.) And alas,‘roughing it’ did not remake ET into the Thinking Woman’s Bit of Rough. My fantasies of his transmogrification into a hoarier version of Sean Bean were parked in the deep-freeze.
I will draw a veil over the many and varied low points of the caravanning idyll. Of the communal sanitary facilities, I will say only that their primitiveness called to mind Siberian gulags as depicted by the likes of Solzhenitsyn. Unlike ET, I did not feel a warm fuzzy glow at this exposure to the brotherhood of man. Nor, on those occasions when we went hard-core and sampled the delights of non-electric camping, did I exult in the opportunity to commune with nature. Whistling Blighty while gingerly relieving myself in a nettle patch was not my idea of a good time.
The nadir of our caravanning idyll came when ET solemnly presented me with a large miner’s lamp, to be strapped to my forehead for night-time forays across muddy fields when desperately navigating my way to the ablutions block (if I was lucky) or alfresco lavatory (more commonly). A more grotesque spectacle than myself, apparelled in full combat night-attire with this monstrosity perched atop my head, it would be difficult to conceive. Certainly nothing could have been better calculated to douse the flickering embers of our ill-fated romance.
Do not imagine, dear reader, that I am irrevocably allergic to Brother Sun and Sister Moon or inimical to the current zeitgeist of Laudato Si. Not at all. It’s just that I like nature to be filtered. Preferably through the triple glazed picture windows of a five star hotel or the tinted glass of a comfortable car gently purring through the countryside.
As for the kind of frontier machismo cultivated by my ex and his ilk, all I can say is that for me Boyzone beats Boy’s Own every time!