It came as a shock to realise that we haven't taken our little caravan out since last August, almost 7 months ago, due to a combination of factors including family commitments, ongoing house works and latterly, the dreadful storms which raged from late autumn through till only last month. Normally we're all year caravanners, even spending Hogmanays away with camping friends. We're determined to make up for the hiatus though, and are planning to get away for a few days at least once a month throughout this year.
However, after such a long lay-up, there were a zillion things to do and check on the van, before we can hitch up and head off. She had to be de-winterised, all the water systems sterilised and flushed through, thoroughly cleaned, inside and out, mover checked, tyres and brake checked..... the list this week has felt endless.
As usual, Small Dog performed immaculately in her role as supervisor. As soon as she hears one of us opening the little drawer which holds the caravan keys she's right there, ears perked, head tilted, tail wagging, waiting for an opportunity to slip out through the front door, across the drive and up into the caravan, where she makes herself comfy on the front seat to watch us methodically work our way through the long list of stuff to do.
She has her own top cupboard, which houses her towel, coat, jumper, brush, shampoo, poo bags (empty), hot water bottle, spare blanket, medication, doggy first aid kit and several squeaky toys. She particularly likes to supervise us checking her cupboard, especially the squeaky toys which invariably have to be confiscated after she's rigourously tested them for 20 minutes or so.
However, no matter how careful our checks, there will inevitably be something which won't go right, either when we're hitching up to the car, or when we arrive on site. Usually there's a problem with the caravan lights (brakes and indicators) which should operate in tandem with the car. We got so fed up with this happening that last year we changed the plug which connects the caravan to the car, so hopefully it will be fine.
We will of course be very rusty at hitching up and it will take 10 times longer than it should. We each have our own tasks.... I isolate the battery and engage the mover, PP winds up the legs. I stow the boards, PP sets the jockey wheel in the correct position. I monitor the back of the van while PP uses the mover to manoeuvre it away from the fence, negotiating an unhelpfully placed street light and moves it into place behind the car.
Then it's the tricky bit. We have to precisely position the car and caravan so that the caravan hitch is directly above the tow ball at the back of the car. The tow ball is the size of a ping pong ball. If we're lucky, when we wind down the jockey wheel, there will be a satisfying clunk as the two engage and a little red button pops up to confirm that docking is complete. If we're not lucky (and we're often not) the caravan hitch will miss the ball and continue pushing down the back of the car, so we have to wind up the wheel and reposition the car.
This is both frustrating and annoying. If we have an audience it's also embarrassing. We often watch other couples trying to hitch up on campsites and can gauge how well it's going by their fixed rictus grins and clenched teeth during hissed conversations usually accompanied by a lot of stamping around, hands on hips and exasperated pointing.
The one who's doing the manoeuvring always reckons that the one who's doing the directing is making a right hash of it.
And vice versa.
When, eventually, through a combination of brute strength and ignorance, the caravan is properly hitched to the car, there are then another series of checks to make sure everything is safe before being able to drive off. The caravan indicator brake lights must be checked, all the connections double checked, stabiliser engaged, mover off, handbrake off etc etc.
There's a lot to remember and it's so easy to forget.
Throughout this pantomime, Small Dog watches proceedings from the comfort of her blanky on the front seat of the car. When we finally both get into the car, she generally gives us a long suffering sort of look, mixed with a hint of derision and a bit of "I told you so" thrown in for good measure.
Despite all of this, we are all looking forward to our first trip of 2014....let's hope it's the first of many.
This is on Small Dog's wish list!