Camping, 1970s stylie

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Over forty years after the 70s surfed in, some bottle green things made of metal and rubber are still trundling along.

For the first time in my life I’ve spent a week driving something bigger than a car: a 1971 VW camper van called Maggie May. Here are ten things I learnt that I hope will help anybody else who is mad enough to do likewise:

  1. It takes approximately one day and one shoulder massage to overcome the effort of hauling that much steel around single track Cornish bends without power steering.
  2. Rapidly growing a thick skin is advisable when BMW and Audi drivers impatiently sit centimetres from the rear bumper, swerving and flashing to try and zoom past the lumbering hulk going at 20mph up the hill (N.B. the speedo is in km/hr).
  3. Graciously smiling and waving at admiring glances from old folk, camper enthusiasts and other camper drivers is mandatory: practise the various responses while stationary so that risk of fiery death is minimised while trying to simultaneously wave, steer, stamp on the brakes and avoid the hedge.
  4. Befriend Quasimodo before leaving so he can do the cooking over the two-ring burner: it’ll save your back (especially if the table’s up at the same time).
  5. Humping stuff from the boot to the cab and installing the hammock / blinds every night before being able to make the bed is a skill that improves with urgency: a good test is doing it without leaving the van while it’s pissing down outside and a tired toddler is in meltdown inside.
  6. Petrol is damn heavy. A full belly is the difference between taking a 14% gradient in 1st or 2nd gear, versus 3rd when she’s running empty.
  7. The gears are there somewhere in the ill-defined gate — just fish for them and take your time. Oh, and hill starts require a fair amount of rollback before the bite point engages: cf. Learning Outcome #2.
  8. Banging your head at least six times a day is compulsory, even when you know the low bit is there.
  9. Never trust the comedy handbrake: leave in gear when parked.
  10. If it needs to be fixed, a rubber glove and elastic band will do nicely.

Above all, remember the Camper motto: vestros tollet tempus, a.k.a. there’s no hurry.

Maggie May in all her glory Maggie May's bumper Stef before popeye arms Stef in Maggie May's cab Stef in Maggie May's cab 1970s camper repairs Wedging stuff in the boot The passengers enjoy the sound system

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