Tuesday, February 3, 2009

California Dreaming

Written by: John Barlow

As I sit here in my dingy subterranean office (well almost, there's certainly no window to speak of!) I couldn't prevent my mind from wandering. Initially my thoughts turned towards the weather which has been frankly awful for a number of summers now. I can remember a time when me and my little collection of pals would pack a few items (mainly beer and instant noodles!) and head off on a Friday after work for a spot of camping.

The summers seemed never ending with sunburn for everyone, due to lack of protection, which nearly led to another story but I won't go there! Copious amounts of warm cider (West Country Lads) were consumed. This usually resulted in some pretty degenerate behaviour and got us thrown out of numerous campsites! A record I'm not proud of as you can imagine.

I recently tried to recapture these halcyon days with my wife but women just don't seem to enjoy the same experiences. You know freezing to death at night, unbearably hot by 6am the next morning. Warm lager for breakfast, uneasy silence for the entire 3 hour journey home, that sort of thing! It started me thinking that there must be a more desirable outdoor experience that doesn't start with attempting to erect a hideously complicated tent and ends in divorce proceedings. I suddenly had a moment of clarity and remembered the legend of the Volkswagen Camper!

Of course, I should have thought of it before especially as I only had to recall my teenage years when after enduring soggy tents and cold showers my parents finally decided to invest in a VW Camper. I remember it was a 1974 type 2 1.6L , a Devon conversion I think although no doubt some VW fanatic will correct me on this statement. What I do know is that my Stepdad bought it from a lorry driver and the next day several generations of my family embarked on a journey of discovery that ended about ten miles away when a few valves in the engine decided that they had had enough of life.

Luckily my Stepfather was quite mechanically minded and we were able to fit a reconditioned engine. Regrettably our problems did not end here and over a number of years a pattern emerged of family holidays starting out all smiles and I-spy games, only to end prematurely on the back of an AA recovery truck. I seem to recall we were on first name terms with some of the AA patrol men.

I remember one year in particular I was somehow deemed to be responsible enough to be left at home whilst my parents went away virtually dragging my long suffering sister with them along with some French student by the name of Gaston or Christophe. Yes! I thought a week of partay-ing for me. Imagine my horror when only a few hours later the all too familiar flashing orange lights of an AA truck appeared through the curtains with the smouldering remains of the camper on the back. It was quite serious this time as it had caught fire in the car park of the Swansea Leisure Centre. Luckily the plucky French lad had managed to extinguish the flames by using a shaken bottle of lemonade as an improvised fire extinguisher, (a handy tip to remember) thus preventing an inferno. The poor old camper looked rather forlorn though complete with blackened air intakes and a melted distributor amongst other things and another holiday had been cruelly cut short.

I'm happy to say though that the latest generation VW camper is about as far away from the aforementioned nightmares of yesteryear as you can get. The California is the latest incarnation and having recently checked one out they are the business. With car-like performance and luxury interiors you could happily spend the rest of your days languishing away in one of these.

Some say they don't have the soul of the good old air-cooled VW's. True there are a few die-hards who spend hours removing rust from their beloved vans you may encounter many in North Devon during the summer months holding all the traffic up!

However after recounting the above tales I know which one I'd go for. Don't take my word for it though there are plenty of specialist VW Van centres who will point you in the right direction.

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