None Shall Pass
If you have ever been stuck behind a caravan on a B road during the Summer holidays, you will understand why this is the unofficial motto of The Caravan Club. Don't get me wrong - I fully understand and appreciate the attraction of a 'staycation' - especially during Covid, however, I must be allergic to the smell of chemical toilets.
I have a work colleague, Roger, who spends as much time thumbing through the latest issue of 'Practical Caravan' as he does staring at his computer screen. He is a recognised expert on the quickest way from A to B anywhere south of The Wash - whilst avoiding width restrictions of course!
About a week ago he explained that his wife Adele, had left him for someone who owned a luxury campervan. Apparently they had been to Italy on holiday where things had come to a head following an altercation with a couple of Italian motorists; this lead to an argument between themselves involving the airing of a few home truths and finally the realisation that she preferred luxury campervans to spartan caravans. Adele had persuaded Roger that whilst the divorce was being sorted out, she would remain in the marital home and he should move into the caravan on their drive.
Roger and I sat at adjacent desks and despite his best efforts to put on a brave face, it was obvious that Adele's departure had hit him hard. I heard him making a private call to one of his fellow caravaners and was telling him how stupid he felt by being conned. My ears pricked up at the mere sound of the word and from that point on I needed to find out the full story. As soon as he was off the phone, I transformed from the guy who mercilessly took the Mickey out of his dining table that transformed into an ironing board into an empathetic and comforting chum.
It took all of one question to get Roger to open up about the con. Apparently things had been rather tense since Adele had told him that she trusted the SatNav rather than his map reading. I'm confident that Roger would have preferred to have been criticised for his (lack of) sexual prowess rather than anything to do with his driving. They'd had breakfast at a roadside cafe and as Roger adjusted his paunch over a pair of jeans the like of which had last been seen in pre-Glasnost Russia, he noticed a couple of locals looking at his caravan. He didn't make eye contact and assumed the smug look of a fat ugly bloke with a trophy wife as he patted the side of the caravan and got into the car.
They hadn't been driving for more than 5 minutes when he heard a bang and some half-wit on a scooter cut in front of him causing him to swerve. Roger masterfully corrected the swerve and when he looked up, the moped had disappeared, however, he was now aware of a loud honking and an old Mercedes flashing its headlights directly behind him. Being a long way from home and keen not to fall foul of Italian Old Bill, he immediately pulled over. He was fairly sure that he had not run over the scooter rider but the driver and passenger were making such a noise he realised it must be serious.
He got out of the car and chivalrously told Adele to sit tight. As he walked towards the rear of his caravan he was confronted by two Italian guys shouting and gesticulating so wildly that might have come direct from Central Casting. Roger attempted the typical English strategy of speaking loud and slowly to calm things down, but it had little effect. The smaller of the two men was holding what was obviously the mangled remains of a wing mirror and was doing a mime of a collision between his car and Roger's caravan that would have rivalled anything that Gino D'Acampo on 'Give Us a Clue' could have managed.
He ushered Roger to the rear nearside of his caravan and pointed out the three broad black scuff marks that appeared to be at the same height as the wing mirror - at least when it had been still mounted on the Mercedes! After more wildly animated charades it became clear that the driver of the Mercedes was telling Roger that as he had swerved to avoid the moped, the back of his caravan had clipped the wing mirror and tore it off. Roger was crestfallen, as he knew this would provide Adele with further ammunition to criticise his driving.
The passenger of the car then took out his mobile phone and began a loud diatribe that included the word 'Carabinieri' This conjured up visions of men in red-striped trousers and plumed hats carting him and Adele off to some hell-hole, fed only on pasta and forced to listen to piped opera music. This would have ruined Adele's strict Atkins regime so he bravely decided to indulge in the game of charades. He assumed the persona of the charades legend that is Lionel Blair (who can forget watching him pull off Twelve Angry Men?) as he removed his wallet from his bum-bag and pointed at the wad of Euro's it contained. The effect was immediate; the two gesticulating lunatics were transformed into two steely-eyed negotiators.
Roger pulled out two €20 notes which immediately caused indignant screams from both Italians. Not wishing to revisit the pantomime of a few minutes earlier he added another two notes. Surely a wing mirror from an old Mercedes could not cost more than €80! The passenger spelled out the word C-L-A-S-S-I-C C-A-R and fumbled with his iPhone and very quickly produced a website illustrating what looked like a similar wing mirror with a price tag of €240. He thought that was bad enough but when he realised they wanted him to pay a further €50 for fitting it, he immediately calculated that this was roughly 10 years subscription to Practical Caravan magazine!
He looked over at Adele and gave her a reassuring smile and thumbs up, and then guided the Italians out of her view before sheepishly handing over €290. They both shook his hand and returned to their car, made a U-turn and then disappeared in a cloud of smoke that would have impressed the Captain of the Bismarck whilst trying to outrun the Royal Navy. Returning to his car he told Adele that the Italians were simply trying to find out where they could buy a similar caravan to his. Adele was totally disinterested.
Late in the afternoon they pulled into a very pretty caravan and camping site and once Roger had found his pitch, connected the electricity cable and changed clothes he felt that he deserved a cold beer. He and Adele walked into the on-site bar that was already filled with similarly dressed Brits; sandals with socks, long shorts and flowery shirts straining to contain pale flabby bellies. They nodded to a couple they vaguely recognised and sat down at a nearby table. He had barely taken his first gulp when the other couple walked up and asked if they could join them. Roger invited them to sit down and the conversation soon returned to the various routes to get from A to B during different times of year. The Winter nights must simply whizz by in their homes!
As the ladies accompanied each other to the loo, the other guy breathed a sigh of relief. He hurriedly told Roger that earlier that day he had the worst day of his caravanning life. Two Italian guys had virtually robbed him of €300 by pretending that he had clipped their wing mirror and threatening to call police if he didn't pay up. The other guy had since examined the 'damage' to his caravan and realised it was nothing more than a mark from a broad black marker pen which came off with a wet finger. Roger feigned both concern and sympathy then quickly nipped outside to his caravan. Even as he licked his finger he knew in his heart that the damage would disappear as quick as the contents of his wallet. And it did.
Returning to his table where Adele and the other couple were still sitting, they had now been joined by another English guy who ran the bar on the site. He told them that a good 80% of his customers were Brits as they liked to stick together. He then warned them that if they had not visited the area before, the locals practiced a scam on anyone who had non-Italian number plates and Brits were their favourite victims. They would allege that their victim had collided with their car and demand compensation in cash or they would call Police. It was incredibly simple but effective. Roger and his new chum made brief eye contact before laughing and assuring him that they would never be so gullible.
The bar owner left them in peace and Adele told Roger to buy a round of drinks to celebrate their safe arrival without being scammed. As he reached for his wallet he felt himself go bright red as he said 'Sorry love, can you lend me some money? I need to go to a Cashpoint'