When I was quite small, I guess about four, five or six, my family went to the east coast and we stayed in a gypsy caravan. It was in a remote field belonging to a farmer and his friendly wife, and I remember her standing by the fence chatting to mum. I might have imagined this but I seem to remember she brought us a jug of milk every morning and some eggs. The farmer was one of the bluff gruff men with a twinkly eye and a way of relating to children. He told my sister and me there was a donkey in the field and that it ate thistles (but maybe I have muddled the thistles bit with Eeyore)
We must have come by coach because we didn’t have a car, and again this might be an actual memory, an imagining, a muddled scene from another time, but I seem to think the farmer picked us up in a battered old car putting our suitcase in the boot. I wonder if he was someone my dad or grandpa knew, I wonder if that was how we came to stay in the gypsy caravan. In fact only us children slept in it, my parents had a small tent, which must have had a separate groundsheet and be held up by wooden tent poles, and secured by wooden tent pegs round which were looped the guy ropes.
I don’t think the weather was particularly pleasant, it’s often dull and with a biting east wind on the Norfolk coast. I’m sure we must have been near the coast, although I don’t specifically remember going to the beach or paddling and swimming in the sea. However we did that so often, it’s like an all purpose childhood memory of days and holidays by the seaside. Hunstanton, Snettisham, Hopton, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Sheringham and Cromer, places we used to go. The week – or however long it was we stayed in the gypsy caravan, didn’t have perfect weather, because we sat inside, drawing and painting in our magic painting books that Aunty Glady had given us. Magic painting books – which you can still get, require no paints, only a brush and water, and if you’paint’ over the picture, suddenly colours appear! We used to love them, and paint within the lines very carefully so the colours didn’t run into each other. I’ve seen children with them since then and they just slosh the water on any old how so it’s just a muddy rainbow and a right old mess. I don’t want to harp on about ‘oh when I was young’ or go on about how few possessions we had and so we valued them more – but it was true. We were so excited to have the magic painting books we tried really hard to ‘paint’ them properly!
I only have a very general image of the inside of the caravan, but I know I loved how neat and small it was, and how everything fitted, and the beds appeared when the table was let down or put up, and the shelves to put everything on and the clever cupboards and drawers. I guess it was probably a tatty thing by today’s exacting standards, but in my imagination it’s as gaily painted and decorated as the magic paintings. There were steps down from the door – a door which split in two with a top and bottom half, another wonder to a child, and one of us fell off the doorstep, missing the steps and onto the floor. Was it me and did I try and be brave like a cowboy and not cry? Or was it my sister two years younger than me?
How did mum prepare the meals? In my imagination we had a camp fire but I think it more likely there was a primus stove. I di have a strong impression of sitting on little stools round a fire, so maybe dad made one each day for us – he was a country boy and had been a soldier so he would know how to do that easily. One morning we were sitting on our little stools, or maybe I was sitting on the wooden steps of the caravan, or maybe my sister was, and one of the chickens which pecked around us, suddenly stole my sister’s fried egg. We were shocked, and I think she cried – which must mean that we were quite young because she didn’t often cry. I was so startled, it was so unexpected. I guess my mum quickly fried her another, and I wonder if my parents made a joke to each other about the chicken and egg.
I have never forgotten that holiday, and many years after, the farmer offered to sell the caravan to dad – another reason to think my dad must have known the farmer and his wife, or maybe my granddad did. Sadly my parents didn’t have any spare money and the caravan was probably sold to someone else. Ever since then I have been fascinated by gypsy caravans, and when i read Wind in the Willows, it was very vivid to me. Now it seems my dear writing friends and I might be going to stay in a gypsy caravan, in the future when we are free. I can’t tell you hoe excited I am!
My featured image is not of the gypsy caravan as you can see, I have no pictures of it, but here we are, on the beach, at about the age we would have been.