When I retired we thought I would fix up a towing van but it was beyond it. we went looking for a replacement, and finally decided on a motor-home, telephoned the character who had tendered for the repair of the caravan. I told him what I proposed but he said what I needed was what he could build for me, provided I bought the basic vehicle and designed the layout. I had proposed to buy one with the big overhang but he said they were susceptible to damage from shop sun-canopies, Wanting all the prequisites of a luxury machine, Sophie and I spent hours standing or sitting on bits of newspaper, checking we could get it all in . Apart from the stress of driving the basic van from its depot to our house on a winter evening, in the dark, at the rush hour, everything was great. We soon found its merits and its problems. Shopping meant tying everything down before we could move, and having to park on the outskirts of town because of the height barriers at every car park. But on arrival at a site there was no jacking, just open the long door, turn the front seats round and make the tea.
We met some extraordinary people all over Europe. There were the scroungers who visited just when they thought the bottles would be out, ostensibly to welcome us to the site, There were others who insisted on telling us their life story, blow by blow and strong hints, just short of outright rudeness, couldn’t shift them. There was the lady in Vienna, incredibly endowed, who stood beside the swimming pool slowly and deliberately rubbing some form of unguent into her bare, pendulous bosom while her head was rotating like a lighthouse to see the effect it was having on the assemblage.
Above all though was the man we met on our way to Graz having just left Vienna. He was a ‘lu-lu’! We had just turned off the motorway and were heading for the mountains, but unfortunately, two lorries preceded us and, as is their wont, they drove nose to tail, so it was a case of pass one, pass all, or stay put. For several kilometres the road precluded even a peep and then there was a long straight stretch and I started to pass. In the distance a white sports car appeared but he had ages to slow down so I kept going, passed the lorries with room to spare, and then we could relax with an open road and scenery to drool over, but nonetheless the on-coming car had to flash us, I assume he owned the road. About half an hour later I saw a white car right up against the back of the van and it appeared to have no notion of passing, and then, without warning, it swung out, shot in front of us and braked so suddenly that if my reactions or my concentration had been in the slightest impaired we would have been into it. In truth, the sudden halt was so fierce that the fridge door flew open and the contents came up the van to find us. I remonstrated but he took off. We cleaned up, took off ourselves only to find him round the next bend going slowly. We came up behind him and he did the same thing again, but I was ready this time. There were more instances but to shorten the story, twice he got out of the car and shouted abuse at us in English because we had caused him to slow down on his way earlier, his was the sports car I had seen. On the second occasion he then stepped up to the window I had open beside me and before I could gather his intent, he had the keys out of the lock and said he was going to the police to report me. We were stunned. Not only were they the keys for the engine, the back door and the water tank; the house and alarm keys were also on the ring,
I must admit it took a minute for me to gain my composure, because by now he had disappeared. We were in the middle of nowhere, ostensibly without keys. When the pulse rate had died down and the adrenaline had subsided, Soph got our spare set of keys and it then took us an hour to find the police station, the area was so remote. We told our tale and it took another two hours to get out of there and on our way once more. We did not go to Graz, we were too worried he would be waiting to break into the van if we parked it, instead we went to Salzberg, but we had to go right across to the Rhine before we could find someone to replace our keys.
I told this tale to Ted, Sophie’s brother, and he said there was an elderly woman living near him, in Cheshire, who had been driving too slowly to please another driver and he had stopped in front of her too, and taken her keys, but he had thrown them into a nearby garden. I think any comment on both occurrences would be hyperbole of the highest order.