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May 2001 - Follow the Van
With six editions of Comment already under my belt here on the wonderful World Wide Web, I notice that I've, so far, omitted to make any mention of motoring, or the problems encountered by motorists.
This is prompted by my recently receiving a letter asking me why I haven't had a go about that pet hate of REAL motorists, the caravan.
A mate of mine just calls those demented souls who propel the vehicle on the front of the tow bar, "vanners", so that's what I'll use.
Now, I expect we've got the odd vanner reading this, and I rather suspect that I'm about to upset him; but, as the saying goes, if the flat cap fits, then drive it down the white line at twenty miles an hour, or something like that.
There are many, many unanswered questions about caravans and vanners and in this edition of Comment I'll attempt to answer some of them.
Firstly, we must understand the similarity between the basic "vannus ordinarious" variety and my other favourite, "driverus hibernatus", or the "I only come out in the summer" driver.
Neither of these two species so much as touch the wheel of a motor car between October and March, so are totally out of practise when faced with traffic of any kind.
Now, we shouldn't confuse the basic model of vanner with the "vannus superious" who I will deal with later. Vannus superious is the all-year model who even goes to the Christmas Rally with a coal fire in his van.
Neither should you mix vannus ordinarious up with "vannus totalus naffus", better known as the "hippy" or "traveller". I'll not be dealing with him at all I'm afraid.
So, this month's edition of Nick Harvey's Comment will deal in the main with vannus ordinarious, with a little of vannus superious towards the end.
That's on the assumption that I don't digress off onto something completely different; and, as regular devotees know too well, there's quite a good likelihood of that happening!
Vannus ordinarious then. Or the common vanner. And, let's face it you can't get a lot more common than a vanner!
I mentioned that he's not awfully good in traffic didn't I? This is normally witnessed by the initial manoeuvre where, having manhandled the van off his front lawn, he attaches it to the towbar and attempts to reverse into the road.
Both the car and the van haven't been touched since the previous September, but that doesn't stop him commencing operations without so much as noticing that all six tyres are practically flat.
After thirty minutes of trying to get the car to start after the winter, he decides to put it in reverse, let it roll off the drive and slip the clutch to start it.
Wrong! This is where he totally closes his street to traffic for about an hour by jamming car and van at right angles across the road, still without getting the damn thing to start.
A little while later the AA man arrives and puts some petrol in the car for him. First turn on the key and he's off, weaving his way to the garage for more fuel and some air.
You'd think that as he only drives in the summer, and with the van on the back, he'd remember it's there, but no. He's actually on the garage forecourt in the petrol queue, totally oblivious to the fact that the van's still out in the road, blocking the town centre completely.
He remembers he's got the van at about the same time as he remarks about the garage canopy being low!
Thankfully, the garage manager is happy to take his Visa card in payment for all the floodlights he's ripped off the canopy with the roof of the van.
Not so though, in payment for the unleaded pump which WAS on the end of the island before he turned sharply to go round to the air line. That'll be an insurance job the manager tells him.
Having completed operations at the garage, he decides that a run round the block wouldn't be a bad idea, just to check all is in working order. It's just a pity he didn't check on the changes to the one way system that they introduced in January while he was hibernating.
Half way down the one way street, he meets a huge lorry coming the other way, the PROPER way!
Now, vannus ordinarious is a simple soul, so he'll probably spend most of the summer trying to work out exactly what those words the lorry driver used actually mean!
Two traffic wardens, a lollipop lady, six pedestrians and the bloke from the chip shop are all needed to guide the van back the four hundred yards to the junction. Reversing isn't the vanner's speciality!
Home safely, well relatively safely, he prepares for the following day and the start of his first holiday of the year.
Up at the crack of dawn, he bundles the rest of the family into the car and sets off for the coast. Now, vannus ordinarious is a tribal animal by nature, so the first job, once on the road, is to find some more vanners to make a convoy with.
Having succeeded in his first objective and found another couple of vans, they move into formation at the front of the traffic queue and commence the second part of the plan.
Carefully checking their maps, they work out the route to their destination involving the steepest hills and therefore, the most inconvenience to other motorists.
The three of them ensure that the distance between them is no more than a towbar's length so nobody can overtake, then move to phase three of the plot which is gently slowing from the thirty five miles an hour they'd been achieving so far; down to a much more sedate twenty.
Vannus ordinarious is now king of the road! Vannus ordinarious is now totally in charge of traffic flow!
The only additional part of the plan which now needs to be put into operation is the strange custom which has to be carried out at traffic lights.
If the lights are on red, the vanner sits tight in his car. As they change to red and amber he gets out to check on his towbar. By the time he's completed the check, my my, how sad, they're red again!
Specialists believe that this traffic light custom is to ensure better "bunching" of vans in traffic streams, but as far as I know, nobody has ever confirmed this theory.
To cut a very, very long story short, the vanner eventually arrives at his chosen destination. This is a lay-by five miles up the road from his home.
It is time for tea to be brewed! The family get out of the car and mum gets into the van to put the kettle on. Little Johnny goes behind the hedge to do whatever it is that Johnny's do behind hedges and vannus ordinarious consults the map to plan the next five mile stretch of the journey.
This five mile cycle repeats itself until a caravan site is reached.
Seven days later the whole operation is repeated in the opposite direction; and this regular migration is repeated in full on a roughly monthly basis until it's time to rip the September page off the calendar.
Vannus ordinarious then pushes the van back onto the front lawn and goes into his hibernation phase until the following March.
Not so vannus superious however! He will continue the rituals right through the winter months. He's almost certainly a member of one of the many special tribes, known as club members.
They hold rallies at weekends to teach their members the specialist arts such as driving in convoys of six vans, rather than the usual three.
Vannus superious is a much more dangerous breed. They specialise in surprising you with such tricks as popping up on Boxing Day when you were certain the roads would be clear enough to quickly dash over to Aunty Agatha's with the forgotten Christmas present.
They also have MUCH bigger vans. They need them to keep all the extra stuff in.
This superior breed practically live in the van for much of the year so they have telephones, office equipment, fax machines and all manner of other extras to keep them going while away from home.
Because they even venture out in the snow, they have lots of additional heating appliances in the van to ensure the windows are completely steamed up at all times.
The driving habits of the superior model are very similar to those of vannus ordinarious, so during the summer months it's difficult to tell them apart.
It's not important to do so however, as the annoyance factor is the same regardless of the model being followed. They ALL end up doing twenty miles an hour and steadfastly driving down the white line, so you can't see past them.
Well, I hope this in-depth analysis of the vanner has been useful to you as you drive about your merry way this summer. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to write in and ask. I'll do my best to answer any queries.
To all the vanners reading this, I have just one thing to say. Thank goodness you ARE reading this, as it means you're probably not out on the road!
Another edition of Comment will be winging its way to you in June, so please tune in for that one.
In the meantime, I'm just going out to evict vannus totalus naffus off my back yard. Right, I'm off, where's me towbar?
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