Martin Roberts

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Even howling winds and lashing rain can't dampen the touring spirit, writes eternally grateful TV star and Practical Caravan columnist, Martin Roberts

It was one of those nights that makes you question your sanity. It was dark. The wind howled. The rain hammered with horizontal aggression. The children moaned. The car tyres skidded as the caravan groaned to a halt on an unfamiliar pitch. Who'd go on caravan holidays in this weather?!

“We could sleep in the car?” I suggested, hopefully, watching the windscreen wipers.

This suggestion was robustly rebuked, as words to the effect of: “Darling, I’d rather not if it’s okay with you,” fizzed aggressively from my wife’s pursed lips. I stared blankly at the sunvisor – partly just because it was in my eyeline, and partly because it gave me a moment to think... It was time to face the storm.

Rain pelted the windscreen. Big droplets. The last thing I wanted to do was open the door and venture out into the tsunami that was currently lashing this south Devon hilltop caravan site. Actually, that’s not true. The very last thing I wanted to do was venture out into the tsunami that was currently lashing this south Devon hilltop caravan site and then try to erect an awning on the side of our van.

“I...” the look from my wife made further words obsolete. I was being committed.

Summer 2014 was generally okay, remember? I think I became a bit blasé when it came to packing wet-weather gear. Suddenly, my Pac-A-Mac faced a challenge that was way beyond its design capabilities.

“You just sit tight with the kids,” I said through gritted teeth. “Leave it to me.”

Within 20 seconds of leaving the comfort of the car, I was drenched. I find that awnings are a nightmare to put up at the best of times. I reckon they were designed by frustrated props people from The Krypton Factor and a close relative of that Rubrick bloke. Really, is there not some way of colour-coding the various poles, or helpfully printing instructions on the underside of the awning? It’s a challenge even on a balmy summer’s day, with the whole family happily contributing where needed. In the middle of Hurricane Blonwyn it was a joke. I wasn’t sure if I should go the whole hog, strap on a harness and take up kite-surfing.

I looked longingly into the cosy interior of the van on the adjoining pitch. A warm glow engulfed the family as they played board games around a snack-filled table. How I longed to be them right now.

I’d just about managed to thread the awning beading through the channel in the side of the van when I was startled by a cagoule-enshrouded silhouette. “It looks like you could do with a bit of help,” said a muffled voice from beneath the hood. It was the same person I’d seen a few minutes earlier, sipping wine with his family – warm, cosy, dry and playing a relaxing game of Monopoly.

“No, really, I’m fine,” I said. Lying. “You don’t have to get yourself soaked, too.”

“No problem,” my knight in Gore-Tex armour continued. Within 10 minutes we’d sorted the awning, levelled the van, connected the electricity and water, and transplanted the family and belongings.

“Thank you so much,” I stammered as my saviour popped the last bits from our coolbag into the fridge.

“Pleasure,” he said. “This is what caravanning is all about.”

I was really touched, I still am, by that Harry Helpful, and all the other Harry and Harriet Helpfuls I’ve encountered and continue to encounter on my touring travels. The rest of the world, please take note!

Visit Martin’s website for information about him, his books and his property training weekends, and follow his adventures on Twitter
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