The campervan is the ideal vehicle for a British spring (at present there is no foreign spring available). There are two extremes to consider. There is the original VW which looks like a fairy princess with big dewy headlamps for eyes. I was driven to Glastonbury in the old VW by a woman who looked like her campervan. They had the same temperament: metal flowerchild. Both broke down, though only one wrote her testimony in prose. There is also the American Winnebago Class A, which is essentially a full-sized kitchen inside a lorry. It has a face like Judge Dredd, something called 'medical device storage', and it is owned by the sort of person who needs to travel with a full-sized kitchen. The Class A looks like a school bus for perverts. That does not mean I don’t want one. For some reason I yearn to park one outside Castle Howard. Sitting neatly between these archetypes is the VW Grand California 600 (catchline: 'Home is where you park it'). I note that does not say, 'parallel park it' and I didn’t.
It is immense: six metres long; three metres tall; it weighs 3.5 tonnes. The 680 model, designed for four adults, is even longer: is it for polyamory? In case you might not notice this travelling house, it is painted with a preening red stripe.
The interior is wondrous: there is a double bed in the roof with a detachable ladder, and another below at the back. Everything is stowable, or foldable, or spinnable, or lockable. It is like a jigsaw puzzle that, like life, will never be solved. The lower bed is under a skylight, surrounded by lockers, lights and cabinets. This is a room of unspeakable charm because it will go anywhere there is tarmac to guide you. There are mosquito nets and mood lighting; climate control and a music system; four seats around a table (the front seats swivel to face the others); a kitchen and bathroom; an awning; outside table and chairs.
It has the same amenities as a home, but you cannot treat it like a home. I made that error with the Mercedes Marco Polo, a lovely, glossy thing with pale interiors that excited comment at the campsite in Dorset. It was stylish: too stylish for a critic, three men and a dog. I was foolish: I packed duvets and suitcases; many pots and pans; a dog cage. The campervan looked like a horder’s lair trundling to crisis. To eat or sleep I had to decant it into carrier bags, which detracted from the stylishness and made the experienced campers feel pity and later, I suspect –they are not the kind to say - anger. I should not have taken the dog. He hated it and posed for a series of sullen photographs so I would not repeat my error. This time I leave him at home with his nine beds and priestly acolytes.
I pack light for the Grand California - sleeping bags not duvets, no pillows nor suitcases, just a few pots and pans - and we drive to the Black Mountains.
It isn’t fast – how could it be, when it is really a house? It feels solid though, and very stable; and it is comfortable. The mattresses are deep and soft; the water in the shower is hot; the kitchen is new. It is warm when you need it to be and airy when you don’t. I lie at the back under the skylight reading – the lower bed is parallel to the dashboard, and snug – pondering the possibilities of book and campervan. I suspect it takes a lifetime to appreciate such a thing, and all the places it can take you, but not for the children. They are enchanted by the loo. They plan for it; they hide in it; they share postmortems of their doings in it. If they like travelling loos, perhaps they should join the navy?
There is no storm, so I cannot tell you that the Grand California rocked on the cliff. Rather we park in the shadow of the mountains or drive to Hay-on-Wye to buy books. My only complaint is also a tribute to the campervan: I want to go further in it. Meanwhile, I sit and listen to children tell tales of toilets they have loved.