Fly (Motorhome)Drive (1 Viewer)

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Jul 19, 2007
Sutton on Sea, UK
Funster No
Adria Panel Van.
Since 1988
Anthony Pregrine Times on Line July 2007

Converted on a French motorhome holiday

Like most of us, our correspondent hated motorhomes; until he was the person driving one. Ahh, the freedom, the power, the fun with parking

The depot near Lyons airport was colonised by a herd of motorhomes, apparently at rest. It was an alien world all right. I made a snap decision. “If I’m going out in one of those...” (I couldn’t bring myself to say the word), “then I insist on being captain.”
“Motorhomes don’t have captains,” said someone close at hand. It could have been my wife. Or my stepmother. Or the depot manager. But I think it was my wife.
“They do now,” I said, and immediately felt better.
Until then, a large part of my driving life had been spent cursing motorhomes – mobile blots on any landscape. What kind of people went on holiday in a butcher’s van? And a significant slice of my travelling life had been devoted to avoiding camp sites. I’d had far too much of the communal-living malarkey at boarding school.
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Now, a new fly-drive motorhome scheme was obliging me to crack two personal taboos in one go – motorhoming round camp sites. But I wasn’t going sheepishly. I intended to impose myself. I needed status. “Captain” would do nicely.
Four miles out of depot, food supplies holding up and spirits surprisingly high. Indeed, getting higher. Sitting here on the bridge (“Behind the steering wheel,” corrects wife) with several yards of vessel stretching out behind, I am king of the road. Car drivers down below look up with respect. Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll go through the wrong motorway tollgate, so ripping van’s roof off.
Approach Alps. Peaks soar beyond human realm. “For Chrissakes, don’t get poetic,” chorus crew. Insubordination within 30 minutes. Annecy a lovely town, but streets made for mountaineers or dog sleds – or something narrow, anyway. Not for driving a house around. Must remember that when cab is halfway across a junction, back bedroom hasn’t yet cleared the mini-market.
Drive along edge of Lake Annecy – glorious, song-in-heart, etc – to Doussard at bottom (southern end, I mean, not bottom of lake). First camp site. Reception is shut. Enter anyway and get lost among gravel alleys. Stumble on lady owner, who greets us as if we’ve come to kidnap her dog for vivisection. “When reception’s closed, you stop at the house.” “We couldn’t find the house.” “It’s over there.” “Obviously you know where it is – it’s your house.” “Everybody else always finds it.”
So I grab her poodle and start cutting it up. Manoeuvre motorhome (recently christened Melissa) onto pitch, hook up electricity as thunder rolls round nearby summits. Lightning enlivens plug-in process. Crew start unpacking, stowing stuff in more cupboards than we have in our proper home, discovering provided stuff in yet more cupboards, with little yelps of joy. “Real crockery,” cries stepmother. “It’s like playing house.” Crew much chirpier now we’ve stopped.
Welcome pack from Eurocamp Independent includes constituents for a good finger buffet. Plus moisturised French toilet paper. Plus bottles of Chablis, from which pour captain-sized slug before tackling business of failing to understand Melissa’s instruction manual.
For gas, do this. For water, do that. For electricity, do something else. Then manual suddenly BURSTS INTO CAPITALS, with dire warning relating, I think, to water pump. Potential for incomprehension could mean entire holiday spent reading manual and weeping. So fling it aside and decide to rely on little multilight monitor above door. No further problems. Truly, I am captain material.
Melissa is like reverse Tardis. Mastodon from the outside, snug inside. Couldn’t be otherwise, given all the kit: beds, seats, table, kitchen, bathroom, cupboards. A complete flat crammed into a can – with, it must be said, élan. Still snug, though.
After dinner last night, more Chablis, then Bordeaux, stepmother posted herself into back-bedroom bunk through a slightly-bigger-than-stepmother-sized gap. Climbed ladder to own quarters above cab. It’s like sleeping in a sleeve. “What did you expect? A four-poster?” rasped captain’s mate.
Sleep unbroken till birdsong at dawn. Astonishing, that. Comfortable, too. Have just returned from sanitation block. Ah, yes. Ablutions. Melissa herself has splendid bathroom (shower, sink, WC) jammed into telephone kiosk. Challenge, though, is not space. It’s proximity. Tricky subject, but we’re all adults. Let me put it this way. Make any untoward noise in there – or, God forbid, smells – and rest of crew will know exact state of your digestion immediately. So bathroom largely unused.
Great thing about Melissa is that you can leave on a whim, taking home with you. Like snails. We go faster, though – even if traffic building up behind might demur. In past, I’ve been behind, too, and going bonkers. Slow Melissa right down, to produce similar cathartic effect among Alpine drivers. They show appreciation by hooting, ecstatically.
O’er hill and dale to supermarket above Lake Geneva. Food stocks now low. Have had to eke out supplies of Chablis by drinking only by the glassful. Crew go in, return with bag containing, essentially, more wine. “If you think I’m cooking full meals on holiday, buster, you can think again,” says captain’s mate. Insubordination edging towards mutiny.
Am distracted by admiring glances thrown towards Melissa by other shoppers. She looks good in a supermarket car park. Return to cab with great pride. I am becoming a new, and strange, person.
Lake Geneva – elegance made geography. Sun-sparkled acreage of water, hills and mountains, Switzerland within yodelling distance. All the glam dissolutes have stayed on its banks. Lord Byron. Tchaikovsky. Freddie Mercury. I fear they might have sneered at Melissa. Ill-advised. I’d have driven her over them.
Into Yvoire, a medieval lake port wondrously intact: stone, flowers and, now, ample opportunities to buy milk, jam, summer clothes, wooden cats. Also to eat dace, perch and trout from lake. Which, given state of stocks in Melissa, is lucky.
Camping de la Plage, Amphion (five mins short of Evian) best so far. Lady owner smiles! Swimming pool! Sauna! Seats on toilets! And lake 150yd away through park. From there, looks as if man and nature got themselves as they wanted some time ago, then settled.
Joys of Camping, No 234: spying on other campers. Lady on next pitch has caravan installation to welcome G8 summit: full suite of awnings, wooden outdoor furniture, artificial flowers round base of van. Couple cycle up to pitch on other side, with professional swagger, helmets, goggles, those skintight cycling suits that suggest wearers are bound for special-interest section of local cathouse.
Start erecting tent. Hopeless. Forty-five mins later, looks like bag you’ve just boiled something in. Thank God for Melissa. Plug her in; she’s ready.
Dinner in lakeside restaurant. Return to site, 11-ish. It’s dark, silent. “ ‘Lights out’ has been called,” suggests stepmother, an ex-school matron. Whatever opposite of night owls is, that’s campers. Tumble into Melissa, crew discipline loosening. Not quite like coming home, but near enough. Discover captain’s mate has stowed away bottle of scotch. Instant promotion to warrant officer. Game of Dingbats round table. Captain wins, with correct identification of the saying “Rub salt in the wound”. Celebrates loudly. “Shut up,” says stepmother. “Those cyclists need all the sleep they can get.”
Will attend to her case in the morning.
Evian is enemy territory. Lovely spot, sedate, raffish and well dressed, in spa-town fashion. Parks. Casino. Cupolas. Lake steamers. Ideal for Edwardian gentry. But Edwardian gentry didn’t have motorhomes to park. Trundle along streets and up and down lakefront, like elephant on garden path.
Local populace scowls. Something about motorhomes irks them. Irks many people. (Could it be size? Self-sufficiency? Fact that many motorhomers are Dutch?) Of one thing am certain: will never swear at motorhomes again. We are oppressed minority. But also members of human race, who would spend like other humans. If only they’d supply us with bloody parking spaces.
Eventually find one (in reality, three normal spaces). Calm down. Wander town. No longer associated with motorhome, so people smile.
Treacherous Alpine bastards. Melissa looks particularly beguiling against backdrop of lake.
Transfer operations to soft hills of southern Burgundy: specifically, Cluny, where long monastic tradition ensures Christian charity – ie, ample parking.
Later, roll off beaten track, up various lanes. “You’re lost,” says warrant officer. Busted straight back to captain’s mate. Melissa like ship on sea of rolling countryside. (“No poetry, we said.”) To Dompierre-les-Ormes – settlement so small, barely shows up on radar. Just outside, Meuniers camp site unravels on terraces down slope where cows grazed until village mayor got big tourism idea. Pitches large enough for rugby league (if could only persuade crew), abundant trees, bushes, flowers, jolly welcome, civilised washhouse block. Camp sites weren’t like this when I had no choice.
Park Melissa, so she can share cracking views to other hills. Captain’s mate is washing something up. Melissa roars. Odd. Everything about her innards is sleek, except water pump. Even when tank full, crashes into action like catastrophe at a level crossing. Lovable foible, certainly.
Celebrate last night as only customers in village’s only restaurant. “Off-season very quiet,” says owner, pointing out blindingly obvious. Talk motorhomes. “Many people bring bikes, even scooters, so they can go further afield once parked up in evening,” says man. “Why would they?” asks captain’s mate. “Your restaurant infected?”
Clean Melissa, drain her waste water, drive her home, making plans for next motorhome trip. Have flipped entirely. “Round world, perhaps?” I say. “Burgundy challenging enough,” says captain’s mate. Leave Melissa at depot, with final pat on bonnet. Blot on landscape? Come outside and say that.

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