The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - July 16, 2015

Forty-eight hours spent listening to the rain bounce off the roof. We even started a 500-piece jigsaw
Forty-eight hours spent listening to the rain bounce off the roof. We even started a 500-piece jigsaw
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Ilove caravanning.

I’m one of these weird folk who knows that the first leisure touring caravan was called The Wanderer and designed by a Scottish chap called Dr William Gordon Stables in the 1880s, and that the Caravan Club delivered 50 vans in 24 hours to Field Marshal Haig at the end of the Great War in order to help with operations following the German withdrawal.

I know what you’re thinking, having a pint with me at the pub would be such a fascinating night out…

But this love of caravans is because every single holiday as a youngster involved one.

While my schoolmates were whisked off by their parents on exotic summer trips to America or Europe, my holiday would, without fail, be a week in a rusting tin can somewhere on the English coast.

I’ll never forget the awkward conversations when I returned to school each September.

“My summer was so-ooo awesome. We saw Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building and then dad arranged a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. What did you do Steve?”

“Well, we huddled behind a windbreak on a deserted beach in Anglesey, and my sister had acute diarrhoea after she ate some dodgy scrambled egg at a cafe on the A39.”

We never even stayed in a nice caravan, as family holidays were booked not on the quality of accommodation but very much on price.

One year, for example - and this is a true story - we turned up in Whitehaven and reported to the front office at the caravan park.

“The name’s Canavan, we’re staying for a week,” said my dad. “We’ve booked the van that was on special offer, plot X3”.

The staff behind the desk suddenly stopped what they were doing and looked up. There followed an uneasy silence.

“Plot X3?” said the woman in charge with a concerned look on her face, before turning to the man behind her and saying, “Is that van still in existence Gary? Our records show it hasn’t been hired out since 1973.”

When we reached the van we didn’t know we’d reached it because there was a huge overgrown privet hedge wrapped around it.

They had to send for a man with a chainsaw - I’ll never forget his face; he had a huge beard and a look in his eye which suggested he worked part-time as a serial killer - who spent half-an-hour hacking at the hedge just to allow us to get in through the door.

Even as a child, super-excited about being away on holiday - and at an age where all I needed to be in a state of ecstasy was a football and a den to build - I remember thinking that this accommodation wasn’t the finest we’d stayed in.

Of course being British we would never, ever complain and profusely thanked the caravan site owner and the murderer with the chainsaw, my parents even waving them off with a smile as if all was perfectly fine with the world.

Then the moment the caravan door closed, my mother would erupt with the force of several earthquakes and scream, ‘What the hell is this Michael? It’s a deathtrap. Are you insane? Are you seriously expecting us to live in this for a week?”

To which my dad would reply ‘oh, it’s not so bad, and if we pull that curtain across it should just about cover the mould’.

My dad was always like that, possessing a lovely knack of being unperturbed by pretty much anything life threw at him.

He is a man, after all, who on returning from work let himself into the family home, stumbled upon two burglars, and greeted them with the words ‘hello there’, before strolling upstairs to get changed, whistling as he went. In his defence, he thought they were workmen there to repair the boiler. It was only when he came back downstairs and discovered not only the workmen gone but the tele too that he realised his error.

But back to caravans and the reason for writing, for myself and Mrs Canavan, perhaps showing signs of our age, spent the weekend in one in the Lake District.

Whereas once we frequented nightclubs or music festivals, now our idea of a wild time is to buy gingerbread from Grasmere.

We got to the van - near Kendal and owned by my mother - at nine on Friday evening. About five past it began to rain and was still raining when we left to head back to Blackpool at tea-time on the Sunday.

Now as a kid it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. You play outside anyway, merrily jumping in puddles.

Adults aren’t like that. If it rains they stay in, and if you do chance upon a grown-up jumping in a puddle you’d consider ringing Broadmoor to ask if any inmates had recently escaped.

With no TV, radio or mobile phone signal, we spent 48 hours sat listening to the rain bounce off the roof with such force that at one point I swore there was a man sat up there whacking the van with a cricket bat.

So desperate for entertainment were we that we attempted a jigsaw - a 500-piece Lakeland mountain scene (we gave up after fitting 11 pieces together in four hours and having three blazing rows).

At one point we were so bored that we even had to talk to each other.

It was a chastening experience and not - says Mrs Canavan - one we will repeat soon, or at least not until the weather picks up at any rate.