Jeremy Clarke

Missing the point

A social leper tells you of his miserable existence

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We've moved up from a Festival 30 to a Willerby Bermuda. Or rather my philanthropic aunt has. We knew she was thinking of upgrading this year, but we thought she was going to go for a Festival Super maybe, or at a push an Atlas Fanfare Super 35. Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd get a Willerby Bermuda.

When me and the boy and the boy's half brother arrived on Saturday for our annual free holiday in north Cornwall and we were confronted with this spanking new Willerby Bermuda in place of the old Festival 30, our feelings were mixed though. We were sentimentally attached to the old Festival 30. We liked its worn, etiolated upholstery, its ill-fitting doors, and that familiar musty smell, peculiar to old caravans, second-hand bookshops and nonconformist chapel cloakrooms, that greeted us when we first arrived and tugged open the door. It was a caravan without pretensions to being anything other than a holiday caravan. You could walk in with sandy feet and drape your wet suit over the telly for want of a better place and that would be fine. And if we left the windows and doors open all the time, especially when it rained, we could capture that sense of being both indoors and outdoors simultaneously.

A Willerby Bermuda, on the other hand, is a caravan pretending to be a dockside development three-bedroom luxury apartment, with radiators in every room, PVC double glazing, deep-pile carpets, ludicrously elaborate curtains, glass-fronted cupboards, spot lighting, even a fireplace with mantlepiece. It is designed specifically for slamming the door behind you on filthy Nature and being warm, comfortable and secure indoors. Very flash, but somehow missing the point. And staying in a caravan more luxurious than any house we are ever likely to live in has made us self-conscious. It's too good for us. And people are staring at us, too.

The Bermuda is situated on its own spacious plot of land beside the entrance to a caravan and camping site. Everyone going to and from the beach 50 yards away passes by our ranch-style wooden gates. They gawp as they pass by and some pass comment, for there isn't anything approaching a Willerby Bermuda on their site. A couple of Atlas Statuses maybe, that's all, is all that their site can boast. And whereas their caravans are close together in rows like Birkenau blockhouses, we have a third of an acre surrounded by a hedge, with a tree in it and a garden shed. Comments overheard so far are: 'Like a bleeding house,' 'Wankers,' and 'Cor, they must have some dough!'

Rain has been falling continuously since we arrived, out of a sky so low that if I stood on the roof I could probably reach up and touch it. We've done nothing but sit in our luxuriously appointed caravan staring back at the passers by and playing a few hands of pontoon in the evening. The boy and his half-brother, aged 13 and 12 respectively, have arrived at that stage of character development where they just sit or lie down for long periods with their mouths open, growing pustules. And what with the rain, and having no dough and feeling like a not good enough dad, and coming off Prozac last month, and all this carpet, I've lost it.

Last night we were playing pontoon for pence. I was banker. At one point, I said, 'Pay nineteens,' and dissolved into tears. I was sitting there holding the king of diamonds and the eight of clubs and weeping openly in front of the lads. I was inconsolable. 'It's not as bad as all that,' said my boy crossly. 'I've only got seventeen and Dan's busted.'

And now when I hear them making some comment about our Willerby Bermuda, either for good or ill, I get all upset. I want to run out to tell them that me and the boy and his half brother have 15 quid between us and it's not our caravan. I want to tell them that to keep us in Tesco Basics I had to issue a moody cheque, and I'll be issuing another one at the garage for petrol to get us home again. I want to tell them that when I picked up my boy from his mother's, his mother's boyfriend was out the back sawing the head off a roe deer he'd poached so they could eat meat.

I don't know what's happening to me. I've gone nuts. To pull myself together I remember Nietzsche's dictum: 'Never believe any ideas that occur to you indoors.' But with all due respect it's hard not to after three days in a Willerby Bermuda.