And other transport!
My parents thought about investing in a motor caravan around 1970, after we had returned from Malta. I remember visiting showrooms to look at vehicles. The first thing we saw was a Ford Escort van, motor home conversion and I couldn’t believe how much could be squeezed into such a small space, amazing, but unsuitable for a family of four. Over the years, looking around motorhome show rooms, became something of a hobby.
This followed a series of other motor vehicles.
Although my grandfather spent most of his working life as a motor mechanic, he never had a car, instead opting for a motorbike. The Sanderson family transport consisted of motorbike and sidecar.
Dad continued the trend by investing in a motorbike as his first means of transport, before upgrading to a mini.
In 1971 we became the owners of a second hand bright red ‘Commer’ motor caravan. We could travel in style, with plenty of space to sit and good view, as our seats were higher than the average car.
This was in the days before four wheel drives and people carriers, and we were lucky. Most of our friends had to squeeze into ordinary saloon or estate cars, however large their family. We could also take Grandma and Grandad (or anybody else for that matter) for trips out.
On its first outing, it unfortunately broke down, on seemingly the longest hill in Wiltshire which runs along the edge of Salisbury Plain. We were forced to seek refuge in a local lady’s garden and had great fun exploring, whilst parents used her phone to contact the AA. As children, we thought it was just part of the experience, not realising, that actually this lady was a complete stranger. Apparently the vehicle was not particularly efficient, but the conversion was ‘excellent’. It broke down again in Bridgewater sometime later and my father became more and more exasperated with it and decided it would have to go!
It was replaced in 1972 by a brand new, Turquoise Ford Transit, Motor Caravan, and after that, we could never be mistaken. From then until 1980 this camper van was our family transport. It took us to visit friends and relations, moved us from home to home and was our holiday accomodation.
The ‘Caravan’ as it was known by us, was a shade of turquoise, complete with matching orange floral curtains, and we loved it.
We may have been taken for Gypsies, when on one occasion we drew into a car park: out came suitcases, boxes, a flip top bin and feather duster before we put the roof up, lit the gas stove and began eating our sandwiches!
The vinyl driver’s seat stretched across the vehicle as a bench style, three-seater, it could be reclined to create a double bed, but while Elizabeth was young, it was pushed forward to the steering wheel, which created a ‘cot’.
Whilst young my sister sat in the middle in her high chair, which had rubber hooked arms over the seat, (before the days of car seats). I believe both myself and brother had travelled like this too, once we had outgrown carrycots.
In the back, were side seats that faced inwards and would hold four to six people, but for long journeys we would convert them into the main double bed, by sliding the table top into the aisle, and this made a really comfortable mode of transport, especially when pillows and sleeping bags were added.
The roof was a push up, once we had stopped. In the roof space, roll out nylon bunks could be used. Paul and I used these to begin with, but they were not very comfortable, and there was a strong smell of rubber from the window seals.
The next acquisition was a navy canvas awning, which was erected at the back of the vehicle. After this Paul and I slept in this on lilos with sleeping bags. Putting it up caused a few headaches, but it provided a permanent parking space whenever we went out for an outing, although reversing into the designated hole in the awning was fun!
We certainly knew how to travel in style, there were cupboards, a cooker, fridge and yes, even a kitchen sink!
It was replaced in 1980 by a Toyota Hiace Rio Grande but that was never the same and lacked character. We were growing up too, and so as the ‘Caravan’ went so did the family holidays, days out and the trips to Sheffield became less frequent; Dad also retired from the RAF after sixteen years, and started up his own retail business selling toys and hobbies, which gave him a lot less time for travelling and holidays.
As I remember my childhood, the ‘caravan’ was an integral part of it and certainly made our trips and holidays more comfortable and interesting, it also enabled us to take Grandma and Grandad out with us, and we quite frequently all travelled together either to Sheffield or back to our home as they didn’t have a car.
So we would be all packed up, clothes, pillows, sleeping bags, all important box of Lego, Pauls fishing tackle, and anything else of importance that was being transported either in one direction or the other. On one occasion, Grandad was having a clear out, and this included a cobblers last and other shoe repairing equipment. In his day, repairs at home were the norm and stick on soles and heels were readily available. My father thought it would be a useful piece of equipment for his own workshop and so it came home with us.
Off on our travels I was never keen on travelling any great distance, and considered anything above 20 minutes a long journey! Car travel is so common now, that a 20 minute journey is nothing. We certainly never just popped in the car here or there – a car was never available as we only had one vehicle which dad used to get himself to work, anyway mum couldn’t drive.
Now, I look forward to a long journey, I expect the state of the roads has something to do with it. However much we complain about them, there are certainly a lot more of them and they are faster, and more direct. Norfolk isn’t as cut off as it was; we now have the A47 almost all dual carriageway. And a journey that used to take four hours can now be done in under three on a good day, even considering of the amount of traffic on the roads!
We always looked forward to our visits to Grandparents and almost considered them an adventure and, depending on where we were living at the time, we would expect the journey to take anything from two and a half to four and a half hours.
We would normally leave soon after dinner, (this meant the midday meal to us) however, on several occasions we were picked up from school and that was really exciting, especially in the days when it was most unusual to be collected from school by car, (we either went by bus or had to walk), our turquoise mode of transport would arrive, in we would get (by ‘we’ I mean Paul and myself as Elizabeth was not at school then) make ourselves comfortable, and off we would set.
We had various methods of wiling away the time: when we were younger it would be ‘I spy’ and then later we would work our way through the alphabet by using number plate prefix letters (although in those days they came at the end of the number plate. Then when we got really clever we would try making up phrases using number plate letters;- yes those number plates were really useful! I was also a ‘mini’ fan and planned on owning one at a later date. Which I did, my first car. I would count mini’s tallying them onto a sheet of paper
We could never forget the essential mid journey break, we would pull off onto a small side road, preferably with a strategically placed tree or hedge for obvious reasons. Then up went the roof (more headroom), the stove was lit ready for a cup of tea and out would come the sandwiches- no such thing as MacDonalds, we just didn’t consider such things!
I almost forgot, one of the most ‘essentials’ ie, the yellow bucket which needs no explanation.