Blog 7 – In the Camper Van with Mary

Sarah, Mary and Alison Isle of Arran 2017

Welcome dears, to Jed. Here we are in a little old VW camper van. You know the one, the tired white thing on wheels that houses a flippant battery and makes long lasting acquaintances with rust. It smells like an old car your father or great uncle might have driven you in, once – a memory that only shuffles forward in your mind when its remnant fragrances greet your nose. Jed sits obediently on the drive behind the house, waiting to be ignited with the turn of its key. Waiting to squeal with joy at being started up once again. You may think that this is the slipping fan belt that makes such a high pitch when Jed is started, whereas I am sure its the sound of delight. A squeal, a screech, a scream of release. Think of When Harry Met Sally, the cafe scene. This is what I’m talking about. I love this smell. I love this van. I love the fact that I finally feel well enough to come out to play in it. Covid 19 it seems has left left the chest wall building. Yay.

Jed was bought in 2017 for a bag of beans. It is the only vehicle I know where the sound level inside stays at a constant, whether the windows are down, or not. And it doesn’t matter what speed you travel at, or what time you leave, you are only ever going to get to your destination when you get there. Of this you can be sure. It houses, amongst a few spiders and redundant sachets of ketchup the wonder of possibility. It houses hope and dreams of where to go next? You get behind the steering wheel and you don’t see the miles that need to be eaten up, you see the smiles on the faces that are waiting for you. You don’t worry about the stores in the cupboard, you dream of the what might be on the pub menu, if you find one open, when you finally get to the place you are going to. You will eat at a pub table and later sleep in the quiet of the pub car park. In your little parked up van. Always with snoring friends. Amen to that.

When I was 15 Jed was born to Volkswagan. Fifteen was such a good year for me. I loved school, had some great friends and could ride my bike, smoke a cigarette, drink a can of coke and give my friend Siobhan a seater, all at the same time. Now, that is multi tasking. When I was 15 I felt free. Just two more years to wait before I could drive. The following year 16, was going to be even better. I was certain of it.

So when I sit in Jed (aptly named after my dad whose name was not Jed but he liked to refer men he held in high esteem as Jed) I think about all the things we have been through separately and now we are together. We can pool our experience and enjoy some life together. Whoever had Jed before me and before the man who swapped him for a bag of beans, clearly loved this little van. He runs like a dream and when you drive along you feel as though you are in a carriage. There is a bounce to Jed that only some royals may be familiar with. A true bounce.

Our first family trip in Jed – the very day after we exchanged beans – was to Scotland. We were on our way to Harris, and we made it. The scenery to Skye via Glen Coe can only be described as moving. Overlooked by immovable giant munros staggered with waterfalls, we passed soaring peaks which are now memories’ friends when searching for something soothing to think on. But you have to see them to have them. You have to fall in love with them to be able to recall them. I never can understand why people in the UK might go South for holidays when really, the gorgeous stuff is all up North. Trust me. It is beautiful.

We made it all the way to Skye in our helpful Jed, with one night in Glen Nevis and one dinner from a greasy burger van. And from Skye we had to complete our journey on foot thanks to all the over zealous wanna be pioneers, in camper vans, all on their way to the isle of Harris, having booked their ferry ticket early… …. Hmmm. Anyways, luckily for us we had friends Calum and Karen to meet us. And we had family accommodation awaiting us with smiles and love where their two young sons could amuse our two young daughters. When we arrived at Scott and Margaret’s house that looks over the coast we were met with the sweet siren of Scott’s bag pipes as they were played with skill, heart and a tapping toe. We had arrived, albeit in their car, and we were welcome. So very welcome.

If you haven’t ever been to harris I urge you to go. Though if you do go in a camper van make sure you book the ferry from Uig in advance, so as to avoid disappointment. On Harris the ground is thick and rolling with fertile peat and the waters are like stewed tea; dark and honest. The beaches that tempt you with their sublime sands, cast lights low and subtle over lunar rocks. There are no trees yet the place is lush with green cushioned terrain dotted with cleansed sheep who own the right of way. And just when you think you can capture the beauty of the light and the scenery and get the children in an orderly fashion to pose for a photograph, the picture changes. The wind conjures a fury and a meteorological dimmer switch moves everything from blue white to a sombre grey. With or without rain drops. Only to light up once again, eleven minutes later and burn your nose.

On Harris there are a few restaurants and we found one of them. It was open from six until 9 and fully booked. I wondered after we left the restaurant into the sea warm winds towards home, why do they have to close so early? And in the sound of the nothing as it tinkered above the grass I found my answer. Those that worked there, if not serving a fully packed restaurant, were permitted to go home, coorie up and just …. think. You have some lovely thoughts in a place such as Harris, its a place for dreaming up words to be said or dreams to be lived, you just have to give yourself to the tempo. Yet, ironically the time on Harris can hurry by, faster than the train that isn’t there.

Another great trip done in Jed was later the same year when I took Alison away for a while to give her a break from her gruelling cancer treatment. I met her directly from the London to York train and hurried her into the front seat. Right then I said, no excuses, you can now have a mini break. We drove straight up the M1 then we did a left to pick up Sarah from Carlisle and made it up to Dumfries to spend the night laughing that the name Dumfries – which does not represent daft chips – and wondering where the nearest toilet might be. And what to do if someone came and asked us to leave. We had parked the van in a lay by just a meter from a sign that said, ‘no overnight parking’. After some thought and googling for the nearest police station we decided that the only way we might get moved on would be if there was a busy body out and about in the morning. We decided if someone challenged our parking options, we would all be from a very foreign county, unable to read or speak English. That should get us out of a sticky situation, we decided.

The next day we crossed to Arran on a ferry that had enough space for us. And whilst driving around the perimeter of the heighty mighty Isle we discovered the joy of stopping and putting the kettle on. Just because we could. A kettle in a big car with a bed, could you want for anything more than this? Everything was going fine until the following morning I washed the breakfast dishes in a puddle next to the beach. Alison certainly was a stickler for hygiene. Don’t worry I protested, as soon as we get to some hot water, I will give them a proper wash. When we stopped for lunch we found seals and I saw in the still bay a submarine that came up and them went down again. I looked at my friends. Did anyone else see the submarine that just came up for a bit and then went back down? No, they said, we would have noticed that! But might they have? Sadly therefore, I can’t say for certain that I did see the top of a submarine and even if I did, it’s best not to be too sure of it. For British Intelligence sake.

The last time I took Jed for a stretch away was last summer. My sister Marianne and me went to St Andrews via the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What a riot Edinburgh is during the Fringe. Bursting with bevies of extroverts – mostly in knickers – trying with all their might to push theatrical boundaries and entertain anyone. In contrast, St Andrews is saturated with hopeful academics earnestly aiming to fit the mould and please their parents. We cooked fillet steak and drank red wine, Marianne cooked green beans in a tin cup. We talked about our parents, our children our loves and friends. We camped next to the old pier and were awoken at dawn by fishermen leaving early to catch the tide.

On our return journey over the boarder and down the A1 we decided to try the road to Lindas Farne Holy Island. A couple of miles down the road we found ourselves in a queue. Perfet timing! We just had to wait for the water to go down and then we could make our way to the island which was usually cut off by the tide and time. And so we waited and waited and ate some chocolate biscuits until I had the brave idea of just going for it. Are you sure, asked my unsure sister. There are a lot of people watching us. Look, they waiting for the water to go down, they will see us.

Marianne, I say, do you think I would be driving Jed with such aplomb if I cared that people are watching? I started the engine that squealed with joy and off we drove, careful and considerate not to drown. Jed is higher than other cars and the timetable says we can go now, I told her, we will be fine. But what about the hole, asked Marianne? And then, a friendly chap with a generous face put his head through the window and hindered our acceleration. I pulled the handbrake. You are going for it then? He asked, you gonna’ do it? Hmmm I thought. Go away, I didn’t say to the strange head at my window.

Yes, we are but Mary has a hole! Yelped Marianne to the wide mouth stranger. There is hole, so we might get wet! she told him.

Marianne, I said, stop telling everyone about my hole and it’s not a hole so much as a space with some van missing.

Mary, she tells me in a very elderly sister kind of way, You have a hole over the wheel on the drivers door. She has a hole! She sings to the stranger in the window once again. I wind the window up, bid the stranger farewell, get the revs up, release the handbrake and make the journey. Marianne, I say, stop going on about the hole! Think of other things. Like the height of the water, it looks low enough to make it. Why do you have to tell that strange man about my hole it’s none of his business?

We clenched our knees and slowly drove into the flow of the cause way. Look, you see! I said, It’s not coming in. And so on we went. A journey that can not be turned back from, in a van with a hole, over water, with folk watching. What could go wrong?

Sister was right, the hole was going to play a part in the crossing as the water was so much deeper than we had anticipated. Salt water came through the hole and drenched my galoshes and we screamed along with the fan belt. And when the fan belt stopped its screeching we continued ours, until we reached the dry part of our destination and then we cheered. Yes, we made it, even though we had a hole on our way to Holy Island. What do you want to do first I asked Marianne as we parked in a huge and spacious car park with so much choice of parking spaces. I want to eat something she said, all that excitement has made me hungry. So we walked to the nearest cafe, me with a wet right foot, and Marianne ate a dressed crab salad with real salad cream. And a cup of tea. A perfect day, hole or no hole.

Its all times like these I think about the places we have visited and how each destination was reached with such ease and joy. And even though we can talk to family and friends on the phone it’s just not the same as firing up an engine and burning some fuel to get to their smiling faces. Smiling faces in the flesh are something to behold and enjoy, just like a dressed crab salad and a proper cup of tea.

Until next time


Forgot to say, if you want to help me raise money to start a charity to help our fellow humans through grief then please do click here and make a small donation. I have raised so far £630 which is amazing! Thank you every one for your wonderful support but above all, for your love and smiling faces.