by Paul Sweeney
So the Montego saloon just wasn't a great camping wagon. I needed more space, more power and superior build quality. I was tired of changing cars every five minutes. I wanted a car I would enjoy owning, feel proud of and want to keep. Was that too much to ask?
Those who have followed my sorry tales of car-related silliness and folly will recall that in the past I had spread my net far and wide when looking for used cars, but not this time. I lived in a pleasant village called Winterbourne on the outskirts of Bristol and as I was driving home one day, I noticed a car of interest parked outside the local used car dealership just half a mile from my house.
It wasn't British of course - and by now I was once more starting to believe that might be a good thing - but it was a fairly big estate car with a bigger engine than my Montego and a marque with a genuine reputation for quality.
Yes, it was a Volvo. A 240GL Estate to be precise, in a rather tasteful dark grey metallic that made the Volvo look really solid and classy. It was automatic, too - that appealed, as I'd never had an auto and was keen to try one. My Dad had a Volvo 144 saloon when I was a teen; he loved it and kept it for years - that was the experience I wanted.
I inspected the car closely, by now after years of running old British motors I had become almost obsessed with finding rust or signs of it. Nothing! This was more like it. A test drive revealed a rather old-fashioned but good quality interior that offered a cavernous load space; this would be fantastic for family camping trips. As for the ride, it was stately rather than sporty, but I didn't mind that one bit.
I did a deal and the Volvo was mine. I remember to this day washing and pampering it on the drive, then standing back and thinking how smart it looked. It felt solid, too. Rugged and able to withstand the inevitable rigours of family life. "If it's built for Sweden, surely it can survive Winterbourne", I thought to myself.
The first weekend away with the Volvo soon arrived - and joy of joys, we had more space for stuff! Naturally SWMBO (She who Must Be Obeyed) and the kids simply brought more with them, so we actually ended up with less free space than we'd had in the Montego .. typical! Fuel consumption when towing the caravan was eye-wateringly poor - but then, we didnt go away every weekend, so what the heck. "Chasing economy above all else is what led you to the cars you've had before this one", I told myself wisely (or so I thought, anyway!).
That first camping trip with the Volvo was considerably better than my last story's 'Padlocked Awning' experience. We arrived fairly comfortably and calmly in North Devon somewhere near the little coastal village of Combe Martin. SWMBO quickly identified a good pitch on the camp site and we set everything up smoothly and without drama.
Another family arrived around an hour after us so having finished, I sat comfortably and not a little smugly on a folding chair with a drink, watching them setting up. The guy had spread his awning out flat on the ground beside the caravan and crawled inside to erect it using the telescopic poles.
His little boy - around 5 years old, I'd guess - was wandering around nearby and picked up the wooden mallet his Dad had carefully laid on the grass ready to hammer the pegs in. He walked about, swinging the mallet and pretending to hit things like he'd seen his Dad doing, the way small children do.
While he was doing this, his Dad's outline could be seen inside the awning, moving around. The lad watched for a moment, then when the shape (which was his Dad's head) came close enough, he casually hefted the mallet and swung it, delivering a hefty 'wallop' onto the shape in the canvas. He'd hit his Dad hard on the head! There was a blood-curdling and indecipherable yell from within the acreage of canvas, then much flapping and swearing as the guy frantically tried to get out from under the canvas - presumably to get at the lad.
The boy suddenly realised what he had done and began wailing so loudly his mother came running to console him. Amusingly, she asked him in that 'special' idiot voice some people reserve for young children and puppies, "Awww did you hit Daddy on the head? Silly Daddy hiding under the awning, isn't he?"
By this time, "Daddy" had managed to free himself and screamed at her, "What the hell do you mean, 'Silly Daddy', you stupid wench? That little **** just walloped me on the head with a f*cking mallet!"
I had to admit, it was wonderful to witness someone else's misfortune; discretely I retired to a safe distance where I felt free to cackle without revealing to the poor chap that I had watched the whole painful thing unfold. It wasn't easy to avoid grinning like a fool when he politely greeted me later that day.
All was well. Now our camping trips were almost bearable - the Dream Team combination of a more suitable car AND the absence of the ghastly in-laws made caravanning seem almost bearable.
Almost - but not quite. I still never managed to enjoy:
In the final analysis, I could sum it all up as, "Why am I paying to endure this discomfort when I could have stayed in my relatively spacious home among all the things I enjoy?"
So if you have ever asked me about camping, you might now understand why I may have seemed somewhat less than enthusiastic.
It all came to a head on one particularly long trip home from Cornwall. As usual, the best weather of the week was reserved for that moment when we were finally packed and ready to begin the long trek home to Bristol from St Ives.
Around half way home, I stopped at a petrol station to refuel the aircraft carrier (Volvo). I misjudged the pump position, driving forward slightly too far, so engaged reverse in order to move back a foot or so. A hideous grinding sound came from the gearbox and I fairly quickly established that only forward gears could now be selected.
I later found out it was a known problem that towing caused the Volvo auto box to overheat, resulting in damage when selecting reverse. A gearbox cooling device was available to cure the problem, but that information came too late for me.
We finally arrived home, my mood dark as I contemplated the cost of an auto gearbox repair or replacement. My Dad's oft-uttered words of advice haunted me now: "Never buy an automatic, son - it's just more to go wrong". At that time, I wished I'd listened, Dad. I decided I would seek a trade-in deal and thereby avoid the repair.
Next time - another car comes into our lives and proves to be perfect for everyday use and an awesome towing vehicle, too; but I hadn't quite managed to put an end to the whole camping experience yet.
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