by Paul Sweeney
The Montego was in almost every way an improvement over the Maestro - so I was happy. Caravanning holidays ensued and the 1.6 engine pulled reasonably well, considering there were five of us plus luggage.
And so to "That Holiday". I suspect most of you will have had one particularly bad holiday that becomes the stuff of family legend, endlessly retold and enhanced over the years; this was ours. In fact there was another one that was even worse now I think about it, but that one doesn't fit my "Buying Used Cars" theme so I'll 'park' that story for now (see what I did there?)
What follows is to the best of my recollection a true account of what happened - without elaboration or exaggeration. This story really doesn't need any of that, frankly.
We had agreed to go on a week's caravanning holiday to a campsite somewhere in Devon with the in-laws. In this case that meant the sister of SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) and her young family. They would tow their caravan and we would tow ours.
On arrival, we parked cosily in adjoining pitches at the Haven campsite and very quickly learned that SWMBO's sister shouted a lot. Very loudly .. at her husband, her kids ..at the world in general, apparently. We could clearly hear what she was yelling even when we were inside our caravan with the door and windows firmly closed. We decided long before the end of the very first day that this joint holiday had not been such a great idea after all.
We woke early the next morning and as usual I was first up and out of the caravan. We had an awning on the side of the van and I had often found the zippers on the doorways a bit fiddly, but this time I just couldn't unzip the damn things, no matter how hard I tried. The awning was very similar to the image below with doors at both ends of the long side. Neither door would unzip.
Eventually - driven mainly by a now-urgent need to go to the toilet block across the camp site - I had to clamber out of one of the caravan windows. If you've ever tried to do that, you will know its not easy!
Incidentally, we did have a chemical toilet inside, but SWMBO flat refused anyone permission to use that. Her less-than-poetic explanation, "I'm not sitting here stewing in the stench of your f*cking p*ss" still rings in my ears when I think back. Such a sweet-natured woman.
Having attended to my basic needs, I returned to examine the reluctant zippers from the outside .. and found one of these attached to each zip:
What the hell was this? How did padlocks appear on our awning, and why? It took quite a while to explain to SWMBO what was going on and why she couldn't get outside. Not a patient woman at the best of times, least of all when Her Ladyship's bladder was full! Unsurprisingly it soon became "OK" to use the chemical toilet that had been very definitely declared Out of Bounds to me only minutes earlier - funny, that. But I digress.
The very helpful camp site manager eventually arrived with some tools and cut the locks off for us so the doors could be opened and everyone could escape.
Once I was able to examine the doorways, I found something else trapped in the groundsheet inside one of the entrances; it was a rough sketch. I wish I had kept the original but SWMBO destroyed it in a nuclear rage as soon as she clapped eyes on it. However, I remember it very well - I'm no artist, but here is my best effort to reproduce it for you.
Clearly the sketch was intended to represent me (I was tall and slim in those days) and SWMBO - who it must be said had a low centre of gravity. Gradually the realisation dawned that someone thought SWMBO was the shouty woman when in fact it was her sister in the next caravan!
SWMBO had a helluva hissy fit when she saw the sketch, and marched over to wave it angrily in her noisy sister's face. Naturally, her sister refused to acknowledge that she had ever shouted at anyone and very loudly proclaimed that it couldn't possibly be directed at her. I idly considered simply driving away with the kids while the two of them raged at one another, but tempting as the idea was, that would only have caused tiresome ructions later.
I admit I found all of this highly amusing .. but just who had locked us in our awning and left the artwork? As I looked around for clues, it dawned on me that a pitch a few feet from ours was empty. The previous night it had been occupied by a young couple. So, unable to tolerate the din any longer they had - it appeared - packed up during the night and left, having first exacted their revenge on our awning! By the way, if you are reading this and it was you - thanks! Its a fantastic memory and I'm very grateful.
For the remainder of that holiday, we avoided socialising with wifey's sister and just did our own thing. There was never again any talk of going on joint holidays, which was a blessing as far as I was concerned. Even SWMBO had no argument with that.
So back to cars - what about the Montego? I still liked it; it was comfortable and refined as a saloon car. However as a camping holiday vehicle I had to admit that it wasn't the most practical. When you go camping with children you have to take an enormous amount of stuff with you, and a saloon just doesn't cut it.
Buying it was a mistake - although for my money, the Montego ranked alongside or above the British competition of the time. But yes, an estate car would have been a more practical choice. Despite this, I simply resolved to learn from the experience - I would know better next time but in the meantime, I'd have to put up with it.
I'd owned the Montego for almost a year when I spotted some rust on the bright white paintwork. Not just any old rust, but rust bubbling through from underneath and between seams. This was not good. Not good at all. And so before long, my mind turned to changing the car again. But what car should be next?
It should be an estate car, I had already decided. And enough of these budget models - it would be better to buy a slighter older but better quality car that would last longer. And a bigger engine to handle towing the caravan. Probably not British, then.
What kind of car fit that brief? Find out next time!
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