Memories of boyhood bedtime, caravan holidays and feelings of security, cosiness and warmth behind closed doors

One of my earliest memories is climbing into bed, imagining it as a boat surrounded by water. Pulling the covers up to my chin, my mind’s eye supplied the rippling waves and I knew that as long as I kept my feet under the blankets I would be safe, cosy and dry. Sleep rapidly followed. Iggle Piggle, eat your heart out, I thought of it first.

Later I became a father and, for several glorious years, owned a caravan. I still felt, as I closed its door and retired to bed, the familiar comfort of shutting out the dangers of the outside world and retreating to my secure and cosy ‘cave’, with the added excitement of knowing that it would follow me wherever I decided to go tomorrow and still be there at bedtime when I needed it.

I don’t think Rosemary (my long-suffering wife) ever felt that way about caravanning. For her it was hassle, but she rarely complained and spoke of it only after we sold the ‘van (when the kids – who loved it – were suddenly too cool to do it any more), but the romance of it all has never left me.

Chas Gill, wife Rosemary and their daughters Victoria, 5, and Lucy, 3, enjoying a family caravanning holiday in 1984 (33114740)

Among the highlights of those holidays was the unplanned change of diet. At home we tended to have a broadly similar diet from one week to the next, which had very little to do with repertoire in the kitchen but everything to do with convenience for two working parents, and the habit has followed us into retirement.

On those holidays, the trip to the local grocer, whilst based upon the ‘usual’ weekly shopping list, almost always resulted in different provisions being purchased and hence different meals prepared. Not only were we picking from dissimilar shelves, we were also seeing different items on those shelves, so the goodies that we took back to our mobile cave comprised variants of staple foods plus local items that caught our eye that we wouldn’t consider buying back home – holiday treats that made the experience different. Speak not to me of the chocolate bars that were a regular feature of our holiday shopping basket!

So it was that the nostalgia of caravan holidays with my family was reinforced, not only by the excitement of where we would end up tomorrow, or my faux caveman attitude to mock survival, but also by the unexpected gastronomic treats of being away from home.

Chas pictured by his caravan in 1991 when he was 45 (33430045)
Chas pictured by his caravan in 1991 when he was 45 (33430045)

All of this has come to the fore recently, as I start my fifth week in lockdown, attempting to avoid an encounter with coronavirus. Now classified as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ by Her Majesty’s Government, I am living permanently behind closed doors, secure from the waves lapping around my boat and, because of the recent food challenges, enjoying a novel diet of what we can get rather than what we might choose.

I hasten to add we are not going without. One of the dubious benefits of having a health classification like mine during these worrying times is that we do get delivery slot priority, so we can order what we need online and it arrives within a couple of days. But often our boring, regular shopping is not available, so we have to choose something else and suddenly we are into the adventurous mindset of experimenting with alternatives. The net result is that we are actually eating rather well, with every day bringing a fresh surprise, using the alternatives that we are offered.

So, what has this done for my attitude to house arrest? Well, I have to say it’s interesting. Rather than feeling stir crazy, I’m experiencing once again those feelings of much earlier days of security, cosiness and warmth behind closed doors, of different meals, early nights because we don’t go out, later mornings because there’s nothing to rush around for the next day other than Amazon or supermarket deliveries, the occasional treats, such as home-baked bread and cakes, and the excitement of where we will be going tomorrow in our mobile cave.

I know that many of you reading this will consider that our current shared experience is about as far from a vacation as anyone could get, but for me it feels a lot like being on holiday and it gives me comfort. It stops me thinking of my home as a prison and I recommend it.

Of course, there are at least two flaws in my argument. The first is that our current cave doesn’t move. But is that really so? Caravans move in space from A to B, taking time to do so. My home moves in time, from today to tomorrow, occupying the same space, but it is no less of a journey for all that.

A new day brings new events, new situations, new challenges, a new view on life and new hope.

So the recipe for the romance of a roaming holiday is complete, with the added advantage that it isn’t too inconvenient for Rosemary and poses no dangers, as long as we stay on board and keep the door shut.

The other flaw? No chocolate. But the Easter weekend fixed that. Stay well and stay safe in your caves.