Bumming around in a van with no Izal makes me a happy camper – Susan Morrison
Once you’ve had a Scottish caravan holiday with an outdoor shower block and hard toilet paper, a motorhome is the business, thinks Susan Morrison
He’s up to something. I can tell. He doesn’t do digital usually, but he’s surfing the internet and muttering about campervans again. It’s becoming something of an obsession.
He’s been a campervan dreamer for about a decade, ever since we went on a road holiday to America. We hired what they call an RV and drove around southern California. We thought we’d hired a huge luxury transport until we parked up at our first campground and realised there were Americans who drive mobile homes bigger than a two-bed flat in Leith.
He fell in love with it. We cruised the freeways and made friends with some startingly nutty people in camper parks. California is traditionally considered the natural homeland of the mildly bonkers yoga-retreating, hatha-chanting, chakra-drawing lot, and I can confirm all of that, and that was ten years ago. I don’t think much has changed.
It’s probably easier to be a bit off grid in the sun. You try a life on the open road during a Scottish July and you’ll find your chakras sodden and your quinoa soggy.
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There is something about life on the open road that seems to attract the slightly off-beat person, don’t you agree? Why are you staring right at me?
Mind you, California camping grounds were nirvana compared to the caravan parks of my youth. Who can forget the shower block? Going to the toilet in the middle of the night clutching the torch, grabbing your duffel coat in the teeth of a howling storm – and you just knew that the bog roll was the infamous Izal. Who amongst us has not played Monopoly for the 320th time to the background hammering on the roof of a caravan directly under the weight of a Scottish downpour? The constant whiff of slightly damp children, bedding and woolly jumpers?
At the end of our road trip he practically had to be torn off the bonnet of Road Bear (we named it) and, for a Yorkshireman, actually got a bit teary.
I suppose I should count myself lucky that he hasn’t gone for the traditional mid-life crisis options of high-powered motorbikes or trading in his current wife for a smaller, fitter version. Men do that, I’m told. I warned him. I said, some men make off with younger models. He said, what, like Airfix? 1:72 scale?
I think he’ll be fine with a campervan.
What on earth was the point of Izal anyway? I have terrible, half-buried memories of rolls of something that resembled greaseproof paper hanging on a nail in my dear old great auntie’s house in Dunoon. Her loo had a huge hole direct to the outside behind the pedestal of the bog She wouldn’t let my dad fix it, because in her words ‘it’s nice and airy’. You also ran the risk of exposure. In the winter, going to the toilet meant watching the snow swirl around your ankles.
It was always Izal. I’m not sure if that was a Presbyterian thing. There may have been something redeeming about a harsh toilet roll. I seem to remember adults spending a lot of time standing when I was a kid. I’m sure there was a connection. Soft paper was suspect and not for the likes of us.
Mind you, it was a handy thing to have about on a rainy day, since us kids could use it for tracing paper. Can’t do that with your supersoft bog roll, can you?
Tourist information that would make VisitScotland wince
Stand still long enough on any street in the city centre right now with a lanyard on and someone will ask you a question. And I always answer them…
An American lady, pointing at Edinburgh Castle, “Can you tell me what that is?”. “No idea madam, it wisnae there yesterday. Went over budget. There’s an inquiry going on.”
“What is ‘broon’ sauce”? “Excellent question. First of all, ‘broon’ sauce is not ‘red’ sauce. Broon sauce is a by-product of the oil industry and listed on a separate stock exchange. The economy runs on it. Well, the late-night chip shop market at any rate.”
“Why does that gun fire at 1’o’clock”? “Technically Leith and Edinburgh are still at war. The referendum of 1920 solved nothing. We warned Cameron back in 2016, but did he listen? Nope.”
“What flavour is Irn Bru”? “Why are you even asking? Drink it. You can practically feel the hungover body respond to the restorative flow of the golden nectar. Drink, child, relax, and get in touch with your inner Scot. We don’t bother with things like trying to work out what flavour things are. That’s a bit too Californian.”
“So, you guys have a First Minister and there’s this thing called the Secretary of State for Scotland? What does he do?”
“Beats me, mate, but he gets to ride about in a very nice car.”