Travelling chimps

Family driving – passenger or driver?

I almost always take the passenger seat when we go away as a family in the campervan. Hubby doesn’t stake his claim on the driver’s chair because it’s ‘his domain as the man of the house’ any more than I take the passenger seat because I’m not confident driving a huge yellow monster.

The truth of the matter is we both make the same gamble every time we strap in – the kids. The other half doesn’t risk it – if you are the driver you have a legitimate reason to ignore the shouting from the back. You can’t dish out the snacks, sort out the iPads, pick up the teddy that fell on the floor or prop up a head that is lolling around at a freakish angle as they sleep (how is that comfy?!). It’s over to your co-pilot.

If you are the co-pilot, you  regularly have to unbuckle, wobble towards the back of the campervan and sort out the issues. This usually results in getting shouted at for doing something wrong and getting covered in various spillages and sticky stuff because lids were not on bottles, apple cores and banana skins are stuck to chairs and when we went round a bend they ‘forgot’ that stuff might roll off the table and now there are crisps everywhere and bottles rattling around. It’s not a relaxing time.

As a driver, this point of chaos is a perfect time to set your driving arena. While your co-pilot is busy timing 60 second intervals so that a one-position clip on fan can be moved between each overheating child, the radio can be set to your listening pleasure. For him this means the cricket – even better, he can put it on headphones because I don’t like to listen to it, further drowning out the kids.

But wait, a traffic jam.

This is about the time the gamble pays off. Children cooled,  tablets on and some kind of snack successfully launched at their mouths, it’s time to sit down and justifiably, relax. There is no foot ache by pressing up and down on the brake every few seconds, just coffee, a podcast and, because you are in a van and higher than most other cars, some nice views.  There are usually even some snacks that you accidentally forgot to give the kids still in your hand.

Of course we can’t always rely on our devices to alleviate the boredom of the road. Here’s a poem I wrote about the campervan whilst stuck on some particularly long and dull toll roads in France. Take that driver – you just got to the look at the concrete.

Poem about a campervan full of recycled objects


Travelling chimps

First campervan holiday of the year

I’m done with winter. It’s cold and wet and I’m fed up of all the layers going on and off while I switch between the sauna of the house and the dreariness of outside. In fact the only good thing about the days we’ve been having is the chance to use the word mizzle.  Spellcheck may not recognise it but Farrow and Ball does – a ‘middle-class mum’ win at the school gates! I’m ready for spring and a chance to get back in our campervan.

Meet the campervan

The van
The colour of dahl…. our lovely riot van

I should at this point introduce you to our curry-coloured ex-riot van. Oh yes, in a former life, this Mercedes sprinter served the force! In fact it’s still kitted out with a hose for spraying crowds, a siren button and a floodlight on the side. Yay!

It’s ‘cool factor’ is slightly diminished by the colour scheme. When we were hunting for campers, there was a lot of talk about ‘stealth-vans’. These are campervans that don’t look like campers so can park like normal vehicles without anyone realising there are people sleeping inside. Unless the owner before us liked parking in rape fields,  there is nothing stealth about this campervan though. It looks like a sprinter-shaped tub of curry.

We did the campervan up ourselves. We’d never done anything like it before but there is a wealth of info on forums. We are also members of a Facebook group where they seem to discuss van stuff all day everyday. You can get an almost immediate response to your query from people who seemingly watch it closely all day. If you are converting a campervan yourself, find this group (and then prepare for everyone in it to want to be your actual friend…  bit weird!).

Life’s a riot in a campervan

The RV (riot van in our case) used to have minibus chairs in it, so we stripped them out and replaced them with new captain’s chairs (the ones that swivel round).  If you are envisaging some kind of ‘Dr Evil’ smooth spin round to face the room, think again. The handbrake has to come off, the chair has to be angled and pulled backwards, it gets shifted a few mm and then a new position has to be assumed to get it past the steering wheel… ya da ya da ya da. 5 minutes later and (assuming you put the van in gear and didn’t roll down the hill) and you are ready to join the dining table.

All vans need insulation or you would freeze. This was insulated as a minibus already, but we added the carpet walls and ceiling (also helps with condensation so the Facebook group tells us). We put new vinyl flooring down and welded in an expensive ‘rock’n’roll bed. I wanted something comfy for us at night but also solid so the kids could be belted in safely for travel.

We live opposite the school and everybody knows the ‘yellow van’ is ours. Dads stop to quiz us about what we’re  building inside and look suitably impressed. They should be. So far my hubby has made bunk beds, kitchen area and a sink.. who knew he was so handy?! Stereotypically (and accurately!) the mum’s ask me about curtain fabric. I also get called by them to let me know when the van is in the way of the bus route and nobody can get their cars down the road to the school – oops!

Delightfully chavvy

Spot the intruder!

Many a time we’ve parked up in an aire in France, slotting ourselves in alongside white RV’s. Kids and toys explode out of the doors  as middle-aged couples reclining on chairs watch on in horror.  We’ve also used it as a mobile hotel in the most inappropriate venues. My particular favourite was in Surrey; running later, we parked in a loading zone outside the church, got dressed and went in to the wedding and then drove to the posh farm for the evening do – parked up next to a manure pile around the back and smugly watched at midnight as all the other guests waited in vain for taxis to find the farm in the dark. Classy!

A view of the sea

Anywho, I digress. One thing the campervan is great for is impromptu weekends away and so we figured we should take advantage of this past weekend. Sometimes we wild camp, but as the rugby was on, we found  a lovely pub in Dell Quay, Chichester. They were happy for us to stay for free in the car park as long as we had dinner. This is often the case with pubs and quiet, country ones usually have fairly small and quiet car parks – usually with a jolly nice view. The Crown and Anchor was no exception – a harbour panorama for the price of a bowl of chips!

Sunday was overcast (but not raining!) and so we drove for 25 minutes into Portsmouth. We went to the historic dockyard for a ‘wander’ (code for not wanting to pay for the actual entry!). Kids had fun looking at cannons and big boats, chasing pigeons and learning how many aeroplanes would fit on the Queen’s new carrier vessel. We came home tired and totally happy to be in our suburban house, safe from the rain – all feelings of wanderlust reduced to a manageable level!