If I had to put my finger on the one thing that suggested we had a problem, it would be the plumes of dense grey smoke billowing from the caravan’s tyres.
The day had started positively enough, with excited preparations for a weekend away. Okay, so I’d planned a few too many pre-trip chores – including a haircut and a visit to a boys’ toys superstore – but that should still have left enough time for essential caravan checks and maintenance. It didn’t.
“It’s making a funny grinding noise,” said my dad, as we pulled out of the drive.
“That’ll be the brakes sticking a bit,” I said, nonchalantly. “They’ll free up by the time we get to the end of the road.”
A pause. “It’s heavier than I remember,” I continued to my wife, as our Volvo struggled up the first hill. Valiantly, the XC90 recalculated the inexplicable weight that it was now dragging, and diverted a few more dilithium crystals into the transmission chain. Within a mile things were hotting up – literally. Whatever the problem was, it had now become critical.
But my brain tried to rationalise what my eyes were seeing. Smoke from the caravan tyres? Surely not: it must be a strange wind-tunnel effect redirecting the exhaust, or a nearby hedge-clearing operation. Then: “Oh goodness, the caravan’s tyres are on fire!”
We screeched to a halt and I started my ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ dance, which basically involves linking my fingers, putting my hands on my head and walking back and forth like a caged polar bear.
“The brakes must still be stuck on,” I concluded to the family faces pressed against the car’s rear window. “I’ll just rock us backwards and forwards to free them up.”
Backwards we went. Forwards we went. Backwards we went. Forwards we went.
“That should have fixed it,” I said and, sure enough, we continued the rest of our journey without incident.
Strictly speaking, that’s not quite what happened. More straining four-wheel drive, more dilithium crystals and, after about 500 yards, more smoke pouring from the tyres. We pulled into a field a mile and a half from home.
“We could always camp here,” said a voice inside my head. “Not quite seaside Dorset, but convenient for the shops!”
I rolled up my sleeves and dragged myself across the stubble of recently harvested wheat beneath the car and caravan. The problem became clear. The nobbly roller of the electric mover – which presses against the caravan tyre – was stuck in the engaged position, and the tread of the tyre was shredded from more than a mile of unwelcome contact. And no amount of prising, hitting, levering or cursing would release it.
By this point, the family was well into their picnic lunch and supportively playing Top Trumps. I concluded that a total disassembly was required, so stoically gathered various socket sets and instruments of destruction from the toolbox, and undid every nut and screw I could see. What I didn’t consider, however, was the effect that a mile of friction would have on the temperature of the mover unit. As I grabbed it excitedly with my fingers, it welded itself to my skin.
I can only begin to imagine what the passing farmer in his tractor thought about the swearing man, hopping by the side of a caravan in the middle of a field, pouring chilled white wine over his hands. Sadly, it was the only cold liquid I could find to soothe my throbbing second-degree burns.
Three hours and an entire can of Burn-Eze spray later, we finally arrived at the campsite. “Next time, don’t make an appointment at the hairdresser on the same day that we’re heading off on holiday,” said my wife, ill-advisedly.
I hear she and the kids are doing well, wherever they are.
Visit Martin’s website for information about him, his books and his property training weekends, and follow his adventures on Twitter.
I hopped by the side of the caravan in the middle of a field, pouring chilled white wine over my hands