No 9 - September 1999
A little knowledge
“You simply can’t miss it. It’s painted cream all over with red bits on the windows and over the door handle.” These words were heard in the communal bath where Silhill had just had the better of Perry Grammar former pupils in a football match. Stanley Penn was talking to one of the younger players. “I will only charge you one hundred and eighty pounds for each week of your fortnight’s stay.” The younger man looked askance but nodded agreement. As an afterthought he asked “Aren’t you using it yourself this summer, skipper?”
“No, we will be staying in the same area but at my wife’s parents’ new house. They love to see the grandchildren, really we are doing them a favour” was the reply.
The younger man was thoughtful, his wife of less than a year had given birth to a son six weeks ago. The Saturday before. he had been grateful to hear news of qualifying as a Solicitor. With the hard grind of intense studying whilst his wife had gone through a difficult pregnancy, a holiday break was necessary.
A new driver, L-plates discarded three weeks earlier, the hundred and forty mile journey would be the furthest the young couple had contemplated.
Gordon’s mother’s words of caution bothered the adventurous couple. “Don’t take a newly born to stay in a tin hut on wheels. The condensation could stifle him.” Skipper Stanley scoffed at this alarm.
“Pauline and I have had several holidays in the caravan since the eldest was five months old. Fresh air is a marvellous environment, sandy dunes and the briny only seventy yards away through a clump of bushes. You’ll love it.” The sales talk carried the day. The thought occurred to Gordon’s father that the football skipper needed the rent money, but the new mother was enthusiastic for a break and pooh-poohed the sagacity of the older generation.
Their new car, purchased by the encashment of Gordon’s mother’s premium bonds, soared along the motorways of middle England. This is a good car, the two young marrieds chortled. The right turn to the North Wales coast was taken at Betws-y-Coed, the car checked to a ‘smooth’ pace, the right foot covered the brake as it passed a ‘steep hill’ sign. Third gear was taken in preparation for the expected sharp incline to come. “I’ll push for a bit more speed to fly up the hill.” His radiant near bride smiled nervously.
“Must be just around this sharp bend” he murmured. Baby Michael in the carrycot was sleeping soundly. Not a peep since the journey started three hours ago.
The holiday threesome were still moving at full speed, moving downhill but awaiting the steep incline to come. A particularly sharp bend was negotiated at speed. They were racing past a four foot high wall built of Welsh slate. The wall was the only division between the road and the mountainside which rolled down half a mile of foliage to the seashore below. The road’s expected incline was still not in sight as the car slid into the slate-built wall at high speed, despite the clutch and footbrake being pushed to the floor. Gordon wrenched the steering wheel to the right. The left side of the car banged into the wall with a crunch that resounded through the countryside. The car spun and completed an opposite lock, now facing the way it had come.
Their seat-belts worked magnificently, husband and wife squeezed through the driver’s door. The baby still slept. Badly shaken they hugged each other closely.
No bones broken, but severe pains in the arms used to protect the more sensitive parts of the body, and in the legs, foreboded heavy bruising. The car’s body had not been so fortunate. The left side wing had soared over the slate wall and rolled down the mountainside and was now resting on the beach. Baby Michael had started crying. It was past the time for his evening feed.
Mother was able to comfort her baby and provide his supper from within herself. The back seat of the car had escaped the impact. Michael suckled contentedly.
The young husband surveyed the scene. He needed to change the passenger side front wheel. The metal hopelessly twisted and embedded into the rubber had ruined the tyre. The wheel was at a right angle to the direction it should travel. Gordon took in his bearings. A wonderful sea view but not a house in sight.
A novice at changing a wheel during daylight, at twilight he was glad of the lamp provided in the maker’s kit. “Oh for the mobile phone left behind in the quest for more peace and quiet.”
Baby Michael, now a picture of peace and contentment, was lying on the back seat, soundly asleep.
Carol was shakily holding the lamp while her husband was examining the Owner’s Handbook. She thought but didn’t say, ‘Surely a person who has passed his Solicitor’s examinations at a high level should be able to change a wheel on a modest sized car’. The toolkit was assembled to an idiot’s guide. “Just as well” remarked Carol. “You’re a desk man, not an engineer.”
“Thank you for that unkind remark, you certainly know how to wound. You’ll soon see I’m an all-rounder.”
He applied his full vigour to the task, squinting in the now fading light.
“Where are the knights of the road, the people you hear about who arrive and whisk you out of trouble at the drop of a hat?” Carol asked.
“Well, we did start on a Thursday afternoon for a traffic-free journey,” Gordon answered.
“That we did get, with a vengeance,” was her reply.
The last wheel-nut was screwed into place, the engine roared into life. The car moved slowly forward with a very timid foot on the accelerator; the downhill slope helped. The busted headlights responded to the switch-on button. The sighs of relief were from deep down inside.
More for want of something to say. Carol queried “Are you sure a steep hill sign means an uphill gradient, dear?”
“Of course it does, you silly woman,” her husband snapped. I have just passed my driving test, made an intense study of the Highway Code,” he added.
This remark stung his wife, who replied “When you were changing the wheel, with Michael asleep, I looked through the Highway Code booklet. According to that, but I’m sure it must be wrong,” she added bitingly, “A steep hill sign means the road’s gradient is descending.” Gordon’s fingers clenched on the steering wheel; he still hadn’t found the steep incline he was anticipating. Also, the car had been descending for the last two miles.
“Sorry dear” he mumbled.
The car limped the remaining thirty miles of its journey.
The lamp in the owner’s kit was again proving invaluable. Carol was caring for the baby with the car doors firmly closed. Even in August the midnight air was cold and damp. Gordon was shining his light at each caravan within fifty yards of the toilet block; he remembered an off-the-cuff remark from Stanley extolling this geographical advantage as a selling point. Nothing was discovered painted cream with red bits.
The open air toilets came in useful for washing the baby. The situation had now become more than an adventure, it was now a health hazard.
Carol suggested asking the guard in the administration block. The place was in darkness. “Evidently past his bedtime” said a dejected Gordon.
At least Gordon had a key to the cream and red edifice. He tried the key in the door of a number of caravans to no avail. One irate owner caught Gordon’s wrist as he tried to fit the key in his door. Only when Carol and the baby were shown seated in the bent car did he withdraw the threat to call the police.
The irate owner became a guardian angel. “My brother’s caravan is available for tonight. He’s arriving tomorrow and I have a key.” Carol thought grovelling on her knees would be appropriate but Gordon insisted on retaining a professional man s decorum. The newly arrived family’s first experience of a night in a caravan proved educational.
Mother and son soon felt the warming glow of the central heating system, chilled limbs became supple. Peace reigned, the family slept till daylight. Gordon and Carol missed their usual morning alarm call as baby Michael slept through.
They were awakened by their new friend and neighbour who rapped the door. “It’s 10 &clock, my brother will be here in an hour.”
Husband and wife cleaned the luxury caravan. “A very well furnished and spacious port in a storm” as Gordon gratefully described it.
“I hope Stanley’s will be as nice,” Carol added dubiously.
Their new mentor and his wife made them morning coffee and breakfast. The newly arrived couple now had the flavour of caravan life. The feeling was comforting. “Do you use the nearby toilet block very much?” Gordon asked after using their luxurious bathroom.
“No, never,” said his new companion. “They are only for the older caravans, like that blue and green monstrosity you can see through our rear window. It must be twenty years old. Modern caravans have the full facilities of a five star hotel.”
“Do you let out the caravan when you are not using it yourselves?” a curious Carol asked.
“We do,” replied their host, “but only to people we know. We never advertise. It’s too precious for that.”
“How much for a week at this time of year?” queried Gordon. The host consulted his price list before answering.
“£l45 per week.”
The now contented couple walked to their car wondering if it would complete the return journey to the Midlands in one piece, but perhaps they should wait awhile. The cold winds had given way to bright warm sunshine. “Life is better today” smiled Carol. Baby Michael was laughing and chuckling.
Gordon looked at an approaching car. “I’d know that car anywhere” he said. His soccer skipper’s Porsche braked sharply and halted beside their battered heap.
“You found my caravan OK then?” directing his remark to Gordon.
“No, skipper. We had a bump in the car, arrived later than expected. If it hadn’t been for a good samaritan in the caravan over there, heaven knows what our plight would have been.”
Stanley looked nonplussed. “But it’s there,” he said, pointing to the blue and green ancient heap immediately behind the five star structure they had spent the night in.
The day suddenly went dark. The sun floated behind rain clouds, the north wind blew coldly and baby Michael began to cry. “You said your caravan was painted cream with red bits over the door and windows.”
“Yes. I know, but we arrived late ourselves at the weekend and then had problems with the dogs escaping. I didn’t manage to paint the caravan. However, I have the red and cream paint in Pa-in-law’s garage. As soon as you return home, I’ll get the job done.”
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