The adorable but utterly exhasted Julie
To say that I was never the practical, hands-on mender and fixer type is to put it very mildly indeed. In our family, if something needed doing it was very, very rarely me that did it. My brothers - our Barry and our Deryck - would be the ones re-sumping sprogulators, tightening floor strut gussets or installing new wash-house clackings while their prim bespectacled brother sat effetely in his room reading the Children’s Newspaper and daydreaming of Richard Dimbleby.
Practical stuff like how to fix a puncture, fit a plug or make an egg sandwich were irrelevant to me. At this distance, it seems, I thought that my brothers would do all that stuff while I studiously and smugly concentrated on trying to turn into a combination of The Lady of Shalott, Oscar Wilde and the Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend.
(My brothers were, and remained, very pragmatically-minded lads. They once dug a hole and buried a double-bass in it.)
My plan to become the fey and precious aesthete of East Durham didn’t work, though. I was coaxed and coerced down from my bedroom to peel spuds, do the washing-up and take Paddy for a walk.
(Ah Paddy - our hugely wonderful pedigree mongrel. I seem to have spent most of my formative years tramping the streets of Acre Rigg watching his tail wagging happily ahead of me and dreaming my dreams. If you want to know whose fault I am, it’s his.)
(I suppose I should try and get to the point before this posting gets parenthesised to death.)
This is all by way of saying that the daily operation of a campervan - the electricity supply, the water tanks, the lighting system, the cooker, the magical rearrangement of the seats and cushions to make a double bed - all of this is intimidating in the extreme to someone with an impractical bent like me. And thats what the marvellous Julie had to contend with when I got my in-depth training course in how it all worked.
‘All you do’ she said ‘is pull this knob here and turn this handle. As long as you make sure that this light here is on, it should work.‘ Or ‘Open this hatch every day, use this tool to measure the level and, if it’s a bit high, unwind the green hose - NOT the red one - attach it here, close the hatch and press the top right-hand RED button inside the van...’
Julie tried very hard not to talk to me as if I were a cack-handed old fool and generally succeeded. She admitted later, though, that a process that normally takes 25 minutes at most had just lasted the best part of 90.
Needless to say, it didn’t all sink in. Which is why, at my very first campsite, I had to call the company’s emergency number to ask how to assemble the bed - a process Julie had shown me. Twice.
So - just in case you’re thinking of hiring a campervan in New Zealand (or anywhere else) - here’s what happens when you’ve finished the driving part of your day and arrive at your chosen campsite.
Park up at the reception lodge, go in and announce your arrival to the grinning kiwi behind the counter. Smile very, very sweetly at him/her or you risk being allocated a plot between the toilets, the bar and the bouncy castle. This actually happened to me at Dunedin.
Note the artistically-connected power supply2
You will be given a chart showing where your plot is. Drive round the site until you find it. At Blenheim, this took 20 minutes because - quite seriously - I had been holding the chart upside down.
Park up by reversing your campervan as gingerly as possible onto the plot. This is usually not a problem, unless you’re manoeuvring uphill inches from a family enjoying a lively repast on one side and a group of six children playing rugby on the other, which is what happened at Akaroa.
Take the electricity cable from the back of the van and attach one end of it to the socket on the outside of the vehicle. This may take a while if you’re me.
I wasn't smiling an hour later, when the bed was still pretty much as you see it here5
Attach the other end to the electricity supply post provided on the plot, making sure not to use another plot’s socket. At Martinborough, another van was using my socket but I didn’t complain. I was 64, English and alone. They were in their 30s, Australian - and there were four of them.
Make sure the electricity supply is working by going into the van and switching on a light.
Go back outside and flick the supply button from OFF to ON. From now on, if you start the van’s engine, the whole vehicle will explode.
Open the hatch and turn on your gas cylinder; fully on to the right, then one turn back to the left (for some reason).
Go inside the van and pick up all of the things that have fallen off shelves and out of cupboards while you were driving so very, very carefully to make sure that nothing fell off shelves or out of cupboards. This will include books, maps, teabags, spoons and the delicious honey cookies you bought as a treat.
Boil a kettle to make some tea; remember that, to ensure the gasring ignites, you have to turn the knob FULLY on and hold it there for 10 seconds with one hand while, in the other, you have a lighted match rapidly burning towards your fingers.
Wash up a cup for your tea. If you try to do this without switching on the water pump, the van will explode. If you turn on the hot water tap without switching the water heater on, the van will explode.
Spend an hour or so trying to figure out how to put the bed up. When you finally get it done, leave it in place for the rest of your holiday. You have been warned...
At Te Anau...
As you can see, I missed the fence by about 2 inches and couldn't open the back doors at all
Give up on the toilet-cum-shower, a space so tiny that you can touch both sides with your shoulders. The toilet is impossible to use without accidentally kicking the shower nozzle and dousing yourself in ice-cold water (because you forgot to turn the water heater on). In any case, unless you remember to ‘turn this lever here fully to the left’, using the toilet can become an unexpectedly cathartic experience.
Use the campsite’s toilets and showers instead, although this will involve self-consciously crunching over gravel in the middle of the night and getting hopelessly lost amongst campervans and tents (which is what happened to me at Papamoa Beach).
Close the curtains and go to sleep until the VERY LOUD fridge 6 inches from your head switches itself on at 2 a.m.
In the morning, you will have to check the level of fresh water and top up the tank (using the RED hose). You will have to check the level of waste water and, if necessary, empty its tank into a dump-hole (using the BLUE hose). You will have to switch off the water pump and heater, turn off the gas and finally - finally - unhook the van’s mains electricity supply and store the cable. At Te Anau, I drove off without doing this and the van very nearly exploded.
By the time I reached Auckland - and the end of my kiwi odyssey - I had just about managed to do all these things properly. I was ready to adopt my campervan as my new home and give her a name when we had to part company forever.
Just when you manage to conquer your inadequacies, being adequate becomes irrelevant.
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