Shakedown - the first trip of the season.

By - Chris Skelhorn


The first time that we went away in a caravan, the future Mrs Cuddles and I had a slight problem with the bed.

Unfortunately, this was BEFORE any nocturnal gymnastics could occur.

In fact, She Who Must Be Obeyed had retired for the evening, and I was just about to do so, and prior to donning the night attire,  (a very big grin!)  I sat on the edge of the bed to remove my socks.

There was an ominous creaking noise, and SWMBO didn't make any funnies about the state of my joints, which was odd in itself.

No, there was a slight problem with our little Sprite 400.

The seats in most caravans have to double up as beds.  This transformation is more easily obtained by 'grooving' a channel in the front edge of each seat, and dropping the table so it rests in the grooves.  The backrest cushions are then placed on top of the table to make a flat bed.

Over the years, the body had obviously 'bowed' slightly, and the table was only just wide enough to sit on the tops of the shoulders!  Any movement caused one side of the table to drop over the edge, thus destroying any bed.

I was forced to make a running repair, so ejecting TFMC  (The Future Mrs Cuddles)  from her sleeping bag  (please don't make your own jokes!)  and stripping the bed down completely, I could see the extent of the problem.

underpants.gif    cornflakes.jpg

Any tools that I'd taken with me were still in the boot of the car, so the only repair materials I had to hand were basically a pair of underpants and a corn flakes box.  I ended up destroying the box by tearing it into strips, which I then folded and used as packing between the edges of the seats and the table.

The next morning, I had to remove the seating and pack it out from the walls by cutting the rest of the box up and making spacers, but we suffered no more problems with the bed!

Last year, our young son and I went to Roundhill in The New Forest for Easter.

Again, when removing my socks, there was a the sound of plastic breaking...

In our Elddis Typhoon, the set up is very similar, but the seat edges are formed out of plastic, and this has become brittle.

We went to Banham Zoo for a couple of days.

Our eldest daughter, Fiona, has been suffering from depression for some considerable time, and recent anxiety attacks have prevented her from living a 'normal' life.

This includes preventing her from attending University.  Because of the depression, she had deliberately selected a local University that runs the courses she wants to become an interior designer.  This Uni is located in Ipswich, about 25 miles away, which means that I can get there to bring her back within 30 minutes, when necessary.

At home, our front windows open almost directly into the road, and at week- ends, the local kids appear to congregate in front of our house and kick up a hell of a racket.

I had the brilliant idea of taking Fiona away for 24 hours or so, on the odd week-end.  This gets her away from the stress of the noise and hassle, but when they discovered the destination of our night out, the rest of the family decided to tag along.

But the first caravan site we tried only caters for residential caravans.  They suggested we try either the site further away, or Applewood, the one we settled for at Banham Zoo.

I have a slight problem.  My current car has no towbar, so I asked a friend if she would tow the 'van for me, which she kindly agreed to.  We left home at around 10:30 so she could spend the rest of the day at the zoo with her kids.

On first arrival, the place looks like a slightly dodgy trading estate, but once you can see the site,  it's great!

The main part covers 14 acres mostly of grass, with roads set out like a giant, loopy capital 'A' with bays marked by tall hedges around the perimiter.  Each of the bays holds Electric Hook-Ups (EHU's) for up to 6 units.

These units can be tents, or motorhomes, as well as caravans.

The area above the crossbar of the 'A' are for non-electric campers and also contain the toilet/shower block, whilst the area below that allows the disabled camper to pitch closer to the shower block.

Above the top of the 'A' is the rally field.  This is for those hardy individuals that like the prospect of 'wild' camping, and take their own 'facilities' with them.  But as the site is so well maintained, they need have no worry about thistles!


We were allocated bay 10 pitch A.

The bays are massive, and even if we'd got a monster TA  (Twin Axle)  caravan, and awning and a Winnebago, we'd still have enough space!

After parking the 'van, we found that the entire site was like a billiard table!  Drop legs and jockey wheel, sort out EHU lead and plug in, fill water carrier and prime the pump, set up the waste carrier, and open all the windows.  Dig out kettle and set water to fry for a coffee.

Caravan kettles are slightly different to ordinary domestic kettles.  Although they look pretty much the same, they only draw about a third of the current.  with a 10-amp hook-up this isn't so much of a worry, but if the site only offers 6-amp or even just 3, an ordinary kettle will cause the entire site to be plunged into darkness!  All your fellow campers will be de-lighted!

So, with this in mind, we plugged in our low-powered kettle!

After coffee, unload car and prepare a light lunch.  By this time the kids  (all four of us!)  were pestering Mother to go to the zoo!

After parting with the thick end of 50  (9.95 per adult times 4, another 7 for AJ, and another couple of quid for the obligatory brochure),  we headed into the zoo.


As with most places of interest, this had changed since our last visit, about 3 years previously.  There were a few new animals, but the biggest improvements were to the living conditions for the existing inmates.

We spent about 5 hours in the zoo, before heading back to the 'van, for a drink and some nosh.

We then just lazed the rest of the evening away.


When it got dark, we decided to set the beds up.  With the older caravans, the table is dropped between the seats to make up the bed, but the Major has a series of slats joined by two long canvas ribbons are utilised.

These are stored by the end walls of the caravan and only pulled out when needed.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered how stiff the slats were to move into place!

Imagine my horror when I sat down to take my socks off, and heard a familiar creaking...


The leading board has got its end strips missing, and so moves more than the quarter of an inch needed for it to fall off.

Couple that with the fact that Mrs Cuddles forgot her own bedding but remembered everyone else's,  means I'd had better nights!

I ended up using two sheets and the travelling rug, whilst everyone else was snuggly warm!

That's why we have a shakedown tour!

Anyhow, the double bed at the front is 6 foot 6 long and a shade over 6 foot wide.

The double at the back is 6 foot 6 long, but only about 4 feet wide.  Over this is a fold-out bunk.

Adam decided that he wanted to sleep in the bunk, but Fiona and Katie thought that he'd roll out in the middle of the night and fall on them!

So they and Mrs Cuddles decided to sleep in the front double, leaving me with the rear bed.


Creak,  creak.

After I was so rudely awoken at 4 am, by that bluddy donkey, and being cold, I eventually decided to go for a walk, in an effoert to make myself more tired.

At 5:40 I was putting my shoes on, and a sleepy Mrs Cuddles asked what the hell I was playing at!

I returned wide awake, and decided to read a book that I'd taken.  Eventually, the rest of the hooligans woke up, and we all had a nice fried breakfast at 9 am.

After that, we joined the great unwashed  (some of them unwashed for some considerable time,  methinks!)&nbp; at the car boot sale/farmers market.

I've no doubt that some of the available pickings are very rich, but 90% of this was dustbin fodder!   The only thing that I liked was the 'dream catchers' that an ageing hippy was flogging off for 4 times its actual value!

Back to the caravan, and a sandwich and coffee, followed by some serious slobbing around.

At around 3 o'clock, I levered myself out of my chair, and started to pack up.  At 3.30, we were ready to leave.

I went down to the office to advise them that we were going and handed over the keys, so they could put the 'van into storage.

The journey home took about 40 minutes, and that's when I got sunburned!

We all agreed that it was time well-spent, and that we'd go again soon.

The short time away certainly did Fiona some good, so I'm going to try and make it a regular thing.  As soon as I get a towbar fitted, we won't have to stay at Banham, but just toddle off to Sandringham to tread on a corgi!



RIYAN Productions