For any newcomers, here’s the first installment to this blog post Clara goes to Brasparts. For all the returning visitors, fully up to speed with our latest Clara adventure, here’s…
Clara had successfully got us to our first campsite, but after a rather botched parking attempt, she had spluttered, died and now refused to restart. Without any real desire to rummage in Clara’s hot engine, we left her exactly where she was, unpacked, pitched our camp and opened the beers. Despite her mechanical woes, Clara functioned as our holiday home perfectly well. The following morning, mid breakfast cooking, her gas bottle ran out We did have a few small backup camping stoves, but these weren’t really ideal. So it was probably time to give our local garage a call to pick a few brains. It didn’t take too much picking before, ‘ a quick spray with Easy-start’ was the advice given. For readers unfamiliar with Easy-start, this wondrous substance is basically magic fairy dust in a spray-can. A few squirts and even the most stubborn engine will miraculously leap into life. Needless to say we never leave home without at least one of these cans in Clara’s cupboard. The makers of Easy-start owe us and Clara a massive thank-you for the last four years. I’m sure business has been booming
Sure enough, with Tracy behind the wheel and me armed with the magic fairy dust, Clara did indeed start. She didn’t exactly leap into life and it did take a fare few tries, but she started. A huge relief. We opened more beers to celebrate. I jest. It was way too early for beer. Instead we grabbed the opportunity of having a working vehicle, to make a quick supermarket trip. We needed to restock provisions and hopefully find Clara a new gas bottle. I say quick, however, nothing is ever quick in Clara. Simply driving her off a campsite is a prime example. We have a handwritten check-list of crucial jobs that must be done, before even attempting to move Clara. Astronauts un-dock from the International Space Station quicker than Clara leaves a campsite We have gas to turn off (when you actually have gas!), electric hook-up cable to disconnect, batteries to swap over, a roof to collapse and lock, chairs to re-position, leveling chocks to remove, a canvas awning to disconnect, to name just a few. In the dark days before ‘the check-list’, we failed to do many of these things and Clara still has the scars to prove it.
With Clara’s un-docking procedure complete, we climbed on-board and fired her up. What followed probably registered on a nearby Richter scale Someone had clearly tweaked the volume settings on Clara. She sounded absolutely horrendous. Tracy and I just stared at each other, both a little puzzled. Did she always sound this loud?
Thinking maybe that a bit of muck just needed to work it’s way through Clara’s engine, we vacated our usually peaceful campsite as quickly as Clara would allow us to. The sleepy village of Brasparts was the next to feel the full force of Clara’s thunderous noise. People glance at Clara all the time when we’re travelling around. Sometimes children will point and smile. This morning the locals bore a look of bemusement and in some cases, mild panic. I can only apologise to the poor residents of Brasparts and to the poor souls of Pleyben, who next suffered Clara’s monstrous noise. It was hugely embarrassing and rather worrying. What the hell was wrong with Clara?
Just outside Pleyben we found the Intermarché and disappeared inside. It was a pretty somber shopping trip. We were both deeply worried about Clara now. Would she even get us back to our campsite? We had no idea and that annoying knot in my stomach had returned. Back outside I gave our friendly garage another call, just to see if they could guess how serious this problem was.
‘Hard to tell exactly mate, but could be your exhaust manifold. Not major serious, but maybe worth getting it to a garage before you come home.‘
This was reassuring to hear. We climbed back into Clara, fired up the rocket and set off for Châteaulin. We’d failed to replace Clara’s empty gas bottle, but apparently the town of Châteaulin was our best bet. Half an hour later we were returning from Châteaulin, still minus a gas bottle. The shop was getting a delivery of bottles on Wednesday. Today was Friday Clara thundered back through Pleyben and then back through Brasparts, before returning to our peaceful little campsite. Hard to believe, but Clara seemed even louder as we trundled across the field towards our pitch.
Our camping neighbours, of which we had just four, looked a little perplexed as our flowery camper thundered back towards our awning. We had a lovely hippy’ish French couple next to us, who just looked like our kind of people. Across the field we had an older German couple, who appeared to be in the midst of the most depressing marriage ever. She read books in their car, assembled pine cones into bizarre shapes and did tai chi in her big pants most mornings. The husband with his silvery brillo-pad hair & beard combo spent most of his time simply staring into space. All four of our neighbours were now intently watching our attempts to dock a stupidly noisy Clara back into her camping pitch.
We have a drive-away awning for Clara. It’s basically a tent with a little tunnel that attaches to the side of Clara. It’s a lovely little invention that makes our camping that much more cosy and roomy, but does make returning to your camping pitch rather tricky. To successfully reconnect our awning, Clara needs to return to the exact same spot that she left from. Margin for error is basically zero. All I had to guide me in this complicated docking procedure, were the little twigs and tent-pegs we’d positioned in the grass before we left this morning and my wife’s expert hand semaphore. It wasn’t quite Mission Control, but usually worked OK. Today it was proving especially tricky. I was now on my fourth attempt and determined to hit the spot this time. I didn’t. About a foot short of the magic spot Clara spluttered, died and refused to restart
‘Shit shit shit… I’ll push her.’ The field was pretty level. We were only a foot short.
‘Are you sure?’ Tracy was stood directly in front of Clara and looked a little concerned.
‘Yep, should be fine.’ One and a half tonnes of metal, twelve inches, across a level field. How hard could that be?
Surprisingly, getting 1.5 tonnes of metal moving on a grassy field was fairly easy. Getting it to stop was the big issue. Especially when the seemingly level field began to slope down Tracy was still positioned right in front of the now moving Clara, with a terrified look on her face. It’s a look I’ll never quite forget. I quickly leaped back into Clara and stamped my foot down, hard on the brake pedal. Missed and hit the clutch instead!!! Clara continued to move and Tracy was now yelling frantically. I hit the brake and yanked at the hand-brake. This was easily the most piss poor parking attempt we’d ever managed in Clara. We were now bloody miles away from our parking spot, but at least my wife was still alive
With the help of our friendly French neighbour, Clara was carefully nudged back across the field and into position. Awning was attached and our little home was complete once more. Tomorrow, regardless of whether Clara started or not, we were not shifting her.
We had a much needed day off from Clara on the Saturday. Took a walk/hike into Brasparts, ate pizzas and drank beer. On the Sunday we admitted defeat and called for help. Clara was seriously beginning to stress us out. We had our second campsite to get to in a few days and had absolutely no confidence our stubborn vehicle would get us there. We had European breakdown insurance and thought it probably wise to use it.
A very calming voice from our insurance company assured me that everything would be fine and we had absolutely nothing to worry about. Help would arrive first thing Monday morning and our insurance company would deal with everything…
‘But our campervan is our home. It’s where we sleep, where we cook, where we store food. What happens if we lose our campervan?’
‘We’ll sort all that out for you…’
When I fill out my review of the service we received from our insurance company (and they have asked me), I may quote the above paragraph, just to highlight how shockingly wrong and untrue that initial conversation was. If they had been true to their word, this little story would be fast approaching it’s end. As it is, I have a whole extra blog post of trials and tribulations before this ludicrous tale reaches its conclusion.
‘Clara goes to Bénodet’ will follow soon…