We’ve just spent our first night in Mavis for the 2018 season. It’s a fresh morning and dew glitters on the hedges around the site beneath the looming presence of The Roaches rock formation, a dark fortress mounted on hills of dirty greens and browns. Dogs with full bladders waddle on the end of leads for their morning exercise, their owners hunched over and swaddled against the morning chill and eager for young Fido to empty himself of yesterday’s Pedigree Chum so that they can hurry back to their warm caravan and prepare breakfast.
One chap sported sandals, a pin striped shirt tucked into ¾ length shorts and a cardigan. He bade me an overly cheery good morning as he bounded up the slope away from the shower block. I considered offering fashion advice in reply but coming from a man in combat trousers stained with egg and his jumper on inside out I thought it wise to avoid the topic.
I returned to Mavis freshly abluted and to Alison who greeted me with a cheery ‘eek…I’m soooo excited to be back in Mavis’ whereupon she hunched herself up tight like a toddler preparing for a tantrum and squealed with delight. Our happiness at being in Mavis, finally doing what we love again was in stark contrast to the previous two days, and despite our joy we were still on a tight deadline and had some final chores to do back in Leek before we could finally hit the open road. Time was ticking away… Tick Tock…
Thursday 23 March. 6pm.
Sat in a coffee shop in Stafford we were edgy and tired. Over cups of tea we chatted about matters of no great consequence and made small talk. The day had been busy with tensions building as we packed up the contents of our house and, judging by the amount of stuff we found, most of our neighbours house and Leek Library as well. Our storage unit in Stoke was already bulging and stacked floor to ceiling. Every trip brought fresh concern about space and reassurances that ‘of course it will all fit’ despite the evidence of our own eyes that we were choosing to ignore.
Eventually we’d left the house with boxes and piles of stuff roughly sorted into…Rubbish, Probably Rubbish, Storage, Storage if space otherwise move to Charity Shop pile, Charity Shop, Mavis, Don’t Know. Although we had all of that to return to, now we had fresh worries. We were due at Windmill Studios in Stafford for a radio interview about Downwardly Mobile. I feared making a fool of myself, which frankly I did through most of the book so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if I had. Finishing our cuppas we set forth with a determined stride in our steps that gradually became a purposeful walk, then a slow stroll and eventually a rather nervous scurry across a busy road and up to the studio. Greeting us outside the old windmill, which hosts the studio, was Rachel, one third of our interview/interrogation team, who made us welcome while we waited for Ian and Lisa to join us. We’ve known Ian and Lisa for a while after meeting at The Acoustic Festival, so we felt in safe hands as we were led into the basement past a worrying collection of torture equipment, although on reflection was probably tools for milling the wind or whatever one did in a windmill, and into the studio.
Our fears and worries melted away as we were given tea and biscuits. I was discreetly led to the only chair that sat on four sturdy legs rather than upon any of the motley collection of reclaimed office chairs on hydraulic risers, any one of which was almost certain to result in my sudden disappearance under the desk mid chat. Thankfully, or perhaps by way of insurance in case of a Raymond shaped catastrophe, Alison and I were being interviewed together.
Let us now proclaim that Rachel and the team were the best possible introduction to being interviewed we could have wished for. Rachel was prepared with pages of notes, quite possibly more than I used to write the book, was generous and genuine in her praise, asked insightful and thought provoking questions and picked up on themes running through the book that I’d forgotten about.
We can’t thank Lisa, Rachel and Ian enough for their time and interest and for making it such a rewarding experience. By the time this is published as a blog post it will have aired so I hope we’ve done their show justice.
After a lovely post interview chat we headed back to Leek and into a house that, had we not known better, looked like it had suffered from a very localised tornado. We went to bed elated from the interview and scared of the day ahead and the work we had yet to do. Tick Tock…
Friday 24 March.
There’s a Laurel and Hardy film where the intrepid duo have to deliver a piano up a long flight of stairs. The whole film, from set up to an increasingly improbable series of disasters, along with their continuous bickering, is comedy gold. Of course for the purchaser of the piano the story wouldn’t be so funny…which brings me to the first tension of what was to be a very trying day. We had commissioned ‘A Man with a Van’, chosen in part because of reviews commenting on the friendly service. At the appointed hour a scruffy white van rattled to a halt outside chez Canham in a cloud of toxins and dispensed a husband and wife team of, how do I say this politely, wouldn’t be troubled by being blown away in a strong wind. They both resembled Oliver Hardy, right down to identical moustaches. If only they’d thought to wear matching bowler hats. They eased themselves down out of their van and gingerly set foot on the road in a chorus of oohs and aahs. The gentleman of the duo held his back as he straightened up, something clicked loudly, possibly the suspension on his van, possibly a vertebra, and he shuffled over to us proffering a sweaty palm.
They greeted us like long lost friends and launched into tales of recent hospitalisation and their collective smorgasbord of ailments, all of which meant that Mr Hardy couldn’t lift anything. Slowly this nugget of information percolated through the general conversation and found its way into whatever part of my brain is responsible for registering alarm…whereupon I steered him back to the topic that I felt germane to the situation. “I’m sorry” I interjected between tales of outpatient visits…. ”I thought you just said that you couldn’t lift?” It turned out that this was indeed the case.
Apparently even showing up in the van was against Doctors orders. It occurred to me then that selecting someone to move our heavy items based on friendliness was perhaps an error on my part. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed an ability to lift anything heavier than a donut without dialling 999 was implicit in our contract. And so our day spiralled…from eventually getting everything dropped off outside our storage unit by Laurel and Hardy to then wrestling the sofa into our storage unit while working one floor up on a platform smaller than a double bed. After a few false starts, a twisted arm, a lot of swearing and a few tantrums we realised that it wouldn’t fit unless we completely rearranged everything.
Time, already a precious commodity today was slipping away at an alarming rate.
Alison negotiated an additional small storage unit to take our extra belongings. We managed a further trip to stuff in more items between bouts of frantic cleaning and running 2 car loads of belongings to Mavis. In the midst of all of the comings and goings I had a minor meltdown when I forgot a pin number I needed, we missed the deadline for getting to the dump and our third visit to Mavis was done in darkness. We tried arranging things neatly and settled for ‘that’ll do…’
Tick Tock… One final zip into town to grab a take away, a quick shower and then to bed; our first night of the year back in Mavis and we were too stressed to really appreciate it. Before I dropped off I remembered to set the alarm for a time much earlier than we’d have liked. Tick Tock…
Saturday 25 March. Pt2.
After pausing to admire the beautiful surroundings we went back to our house to load up the car for the first of two runs to the dump, initially with all the usual detritus and household rubbish which Alison was soon having fun sorting into the various bins scattered about the site, while I staggered around with a teetering stack slightly taller than me trying to work out why every single item required its own receptacle. I remember when the town dump was overseen by surly men in luminous vests and anything short of radioactive waste went into a single stinking skip. At least the Leek site is run by experts in recycling who are not only knowledgeable but charming and helpful too. Our second visit was to deposit some old furniture with a solid heave-ho into what was probably the correct skip and then fleeing into town to leave the keys with our estate agent, into whose hands we’ve entrusted our house to be let over the summer. With a final wave to our winter home we finished stowing everything away in Mavis and eventually, two hours later than planned, we hit the open road. As long as we didn’t encounter too much in the way of traffic we’d arrive at our first stop in The Lake District in reasonable time.
As we use the car on Mull we were travelling in convoy, Alison leading in Mavis and me tailing behind. Which is how I got a fabulous view of Alison steering Mavis along the increasingly narrow roads around Derwent Water in The Lake District, weaving around cars parked in stupid places and dayglow clad walkers trudging back to the car park, and passing within millimetres of double decker buses with steamed up windows and drivers with resigned, bored faces.
If you want to site a caravan park in one of England’s most beautiful places then Borrowdale is overqualified. It sits in woodland overlooking Derwent Water, with mountains on both sides and the looming Helvellyn a menacing spectre at the end of a valley framed by deep winter browns, russets and golds with a sprinkling of fresh spring green poking through, all bathed in dancing shadows as the sun edges over the mountains.
On the other hand if you wanted to place your site in an area that is almost inaccessible to anything larger than a pushbike, down the aforementioned roads, over two weak and narrow bridges, through an S-shaped turn a few precious inches from diners sitting outside the pub and climaxing with a 180 degree downhill switchback between stone gateposts then Borrowdale is just the place. We had less than an hour to park-up, sort out the gas and electricity, unpack, change our clothes and get out again because we were due to meet a friend in nearby Keswick for dinner.
Back from a fun night out we slumped into bed, remembered all the things we hadn’t done, like turning off the gas, re-checked that we’d turned it off despite having inspected it less than five minutes previously, finally settled into the snug embrace of the quilt and immediately needed to wee. Well, I did, and it gave me a chance to double check I’d turned the gas off. Climbing back into bed I set the alarm for stupidly early o’clock and we fell into a fitful sleep.
Sunday 25th March
The clocks went forward last night…so that was one hour less sleep….
If though, you want to feel your cares slip away, to glide gently towards that blissful state of mind where the real world, the one of deadlines, stress, unexpected expenses and slapstick removal firms is in the past, then waking up to bird song and walking in earthy scented woods through which the rising sun casts long shadows, then out onto the shores of a perfectly still lake with mountains reflected on its mirror surface, then this is the perfect way to do it.
We spoke in clouds of warm breath and our pace slackened as we crunched over grass shimmering with a light frost. Mavis looked inviting, and inside we danced seamlessly about each other cooking eggs for breakfast and preparing for the next stage of our journey. We smiled, laughed, teased each other but otherwise spoke sparingly as we fell seamlessly into old routines. Slowly but surely we were finding our way back into a simpler life…back to being ourselves. Tick…