Travels in a Pandemic

A travel log of the summer of 2020 spent touring southern Britain ... well parts of it.

BY GUY JONES

Copyright 2000 Guy Jones. All rights reserved.

It is the summer of 2020.

We should have been going to France for a whole calendar month, travelling around in George, our Bailey Pageant, Champaign Edition, caravan.

We should have been eating too much French cheese, drinking too much French wine and speaking a load of bollocks in bad school boy/girl French.

And we should have been doing it in the sunshine!

But it was the summer of 2020.

There were an awful lot people not doing what they should have been doing.

With a pandemic weeping across the globe, France was very much off the radar.

So, following the principle of, ‘have caravan will travel’ and being allowed to do it under the Government Guidelines ... as far as could be made out ... we decided to hit southern U.K. and social distance our way to adventure ...

Part 2

Biggleswade – First Stop – 30th July – 3rd August

People have asked, why Biggleswade?

The truthful answer is, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never actually been to Biggleswade as such’.

This is an answer that is generally regarded as an unhelpful answer to almost any question that it is humanly possible to ask (the ‘almost’ is simply to cover myself against those smart alecs who are even now formulating questions to which the only possible useful answer is ‘I don’t know. I’ve never actually been to Biggleswade as such’).

You see, I am using the name of Biggleswade for two reasons.

Firstly, it is an approximation. Biggleswade is bigger and therefore more well known than, Old Warden, which would be more accurate.

Secondly, it has the name Biggles in it. As in James Bigglesworth. Air Ace ... you know the one ... who flew a lot ... you know ... that chap who inspired several generations of young boys to develop a gung ho attitude, a desire to do a lot of derring-do and face the unfaceable with a rather archaic and really quite misplaced sense of nationalistic pride that has not generally been useful in our nations attempts to move it’s attitude about the rest of the world into the C21st.

Beyond sharing the name Biggles, as far as I can find out, there is no connection between Biggles, the fictional Air Ace who shot down half the German air force in both the First and Second World Wars, single handily, and Biggleswade, the sleepy market town in Bedfordshire that stands on the banks of the River Ivel.

However, move a little way out of Biggleswade and you come to Old Warden, the home of the Shuttleworth Trust, an independent charity that preserves, maintains and actually flies many of the planes that our fictional hero, Biggles, flew while winning the wars and saving us all from the fate of having to spend our childhoods, under the covers, fackel in hand, reading about the exploits of Jakob von Biggles, Luft Ass, as he leads the glorious liberation of the down trodden and miss informed ...

At Shuttleworth they have, amongst many other old aeroplanes, a Sopwith Pub ... or is it a Camel ... or do they have both ... a Spitfire and the only flying marine Hurricane (the difference between a marine Hurricane and a non marine Hurricane is that the marine one has a hook to catch the cable on an aircraft carrier that stops it falling into the sea on landing. Not a big difference, unless you are actually trying to land your Hurricane on an aircraft carrier, whilst it is still moving, and taking a quick dip, before the operational debrief, is not on your immediate ‘to do’ list).

They also have the oldest flying machines in the world. Things that are only the addition of a moped engine away from being nothing more than over sized kites. And when the wind is favourable i.e. none existent, they still actually fly them.

To put it simply, if you are not into old planes then there is no real point in going to the Shuttleworth Collection ... and by association, Biggleswade itself ... unless you like old cars and motor bikes and buses. They have got them by the score and yes, they still run them and even, if you are there on the right weekend, race them! Which is fascinating to see, if only to marvel at what life was like before some spoil sport invented Health and Safety and all that, thereby, in one fell swoop, taking all the fun out of seeing people get mangled by mechanical things in the name of sport.

But if you are not into that ... there is always the Swiss garden or the grounds of one of the nicest country estates for you to meander around, wondering no doubt as you wander, why it was ever considered OK for some people to wallow in such opulence, while the rest of us had to grovel for the chance of scraping up master’s horse droppings for a living.

Add to all this the prospect of an air show, a pop up campsite and the opportunity to spend a long weekend sitting in a field watching the coming and goings of magnificent men (and women) in their flying machines that, by modern standards have barely enough umff to even stay in the air, let alone perform aerobatics and mock dog fights; and I can’t think of a better place to hide away for a long weekend, while the rest of the country is doing it’s head in over what they are going to do for a summer break at the back end of the first wave of a pandemic.

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It is the way of things that, every silver lining brings with it a cloud. Shuttleworth’s pop up campsite had 3 such ‘clouds’. No electricity, the internet is patchy at the best of times and there are NO TOILETS!

And so to the main focus of the weekend. Facing up to reality. Going away in the caravan, whilst Covid-19 was doing it’s preparatory initial sweep in preparation for the main attack of the 2nd wave, was going to require the breaking of Caravan Protocol No. 1. The No Solids rule.

After years of Caravan Protocol No. 1, being religiously observed by all who have crossed the threshold of our caravan, with the noticeable exceptions of: my mother-in-law who ‘followed through’ whilst under the influence; my 6 year old nephew who was caught short and promptly tried to cover up his misdemeanour with half an entire toilet roll; we were now going to have to face the unfaceable.

Facing the unfaceable, is as every fan of Air Ace Hero, Biggles or von Biggles for that matter, will tell you, comes to every generation at least once in it's span. For Biggles it was facing imminent death at the end of every chapter or so, leaving him on a cliff hanger to keep the readers turning the pages. For me, it was going to be crapping in our caravan toilet (I am not being crude here. This is a reference to one Thomas Crapper who is erroneously credited with inventing the water closet, but actually did invent the U bend, a feat that should have got him a resting place in Westminster Abbey. But it didn’t. A fact that says all you need to know about the British relationship with all things relating to the potty).

You know, if that isthe worst my generation has to face, I will take it over the ‘unfaceables’ that other generations have had, any day.

So loins girdled up ... whatever that actually means ... it was welcome to the Caravan Protocol Violation Planning Group.

The issue was (here it might get a little detailed and the more squeamish of you might wish to avert your eyes, or even skip straight to Part 3 of this travelogue) not so much the filling of the head. That, after all, with a reasonably balanced diet, will come naturally. It was more a case of empting the thing after ‘the event’.

Here I will digress to help those of you who: have not discovered the holy sanctuary that is the Caravan Life; are still in the Jeremy Clarkson realm of denial in this area of human endeavour; understand the physic and logistics of caravan toileting.

In your modern caravan you are presented, at the business end of things at least, with what looks suspiciously like an actual domestic lavvy. It has a seat that is ‘toilet seat’ shaped, a lid and space to put your reading material, if indeed you are a throne room reader (I am willing to accept that john reading is not for everyone). You can even swivel the seat, a feature that you won’t even find in your average domestic privy.

The modern caravan bog is a far cry from the traditional Thunder Box, which was ... lets face it ... just a large plastic box that moved around a lot when towing and consequently needed regular emptying, especially before moving to the next campsite, to avoid the embarrassing and somewhat heated discussions around things like blame and who’s turn it is to deal with the offence this time. So, apart from the fact that one’s ‘loved one’ and any guests that you might have invited round for drinks and nibbles, are virtually in the khazi with you while you are performing, due to the extremely thin nature of the internal walls, at this stage, the modern caravan loo, looks every bit like a home from home.

The difference is when you come to empty the contraption. Having ‘flushed’, the ‘issue’ is deposited in a plastic box below. This box is accessed from outside the caravan, thus removing the risk of disaster resulting from trying to carry an over full thunder box (full of liquids only Ref Caravan Protocol No 1) through the caravan whilst recovering from a red wine hangover, having forgotten to move the various items of footwear littering the caravan floor.

The box, reassuringly known as a ‘cassette’, just pulls out and has friendly, ergonomically designed handles on it and can be carried, surreptitiously, to the chemical toilet emptying point (a task almost exclusively performed by men for some reason) where you take the safety cap off (safety because without it, that which was surreptitious, will quickly end up a little less hidden and all down the front of your best camping trousers).

Emptying it could be a little easier, it has to be said. It would be handy if you just poured the offence out once you had taken the cap off. But design being what design is, this would be too simple. The designer, eager to make her/his mark on things, has ‘designed’ a U bend into the tube that the stuff has to come down. Possibly in homage to the great Mr Crapper himself, which though laudable, is a little bit superfluous. Add to the contents, toilet paper, that never quite breaks down and you have a ‘designed in’ toilet blockage every time this emptying ritual is performed. There is generally a lot of shaking and swearing and more swearing and shaking. It is usual for not all of the contents go quite where you wanted it to.

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guy@hothousetheatre.com

The solution to this situation was given us in a random conversation with another caravan couple on our last trip before lockdown. It would seem that the whole caravanning community had been struggling with this one. After all, we knew it was coming. The day when they would open campsites but NOT THE BLOODY TOILETS!

Still if this was what was going to save the NHS, protect lives and all that, it was our duty to bite the bullet, to take it on the chin (and other such highly inappropriate terms under the circumstances) and face the unfaceable.

The solution, as it turned out, was simple. Don’t flush the paper.

UUUURRRGGGH! was my first response too.

But it is not all that bad. Everything is the same up until the ‘dropping the paper in the toilet’ point (I am sure you don’t need reminding here about the details of what has to have happened by the time you reach this point). So at this moment it is important to STOP! THINK TWICE! PUT THE PAPER IN THE BIN PROVIDED! SAVE THE NHS! SAVE LIVES!

Of course, for this to have the remotest chance of working, the bin has to be a friendly shade of pink, matching or complementing the decor of the toileting area, be accompanied with matching, scented, biodegradable doggy poo bags, that are not quite see-through, that look stylish enough to be carried, with a nonchalant attitude, when running the gauntlet of casual camper chats all the way to the disposal point, whilst still being fully functional. With all this sorted, and it was no mean feat I can tell you, everything was ready for a month away in the caravan.

Biggles would have been proud of our preparation for a summer of derring-do do. And you know what? So was I.

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