One Goon goes, another arrives. This evening it was the Goon with the chocks.
But before that, here’s a video.
I’d just shot this video, when a caravan pulled on. The ground here is deceptively uneven and despite first appearances there aren’t many places that are actually flat… and the best of those were already taken; I was on one of them.
I could hear the engine as they drove forwards and backwards on and off their chocks. Normally, this isn’t anything unusual. If you’re going to be parked up for anything more than a quick overnight stop, then it’s worth taking the trouble to get it as level as is possible; you always regret it if you don’t.
This time however it seemed to go on for a very long time. I topped up my coffee and took a seat outside for a proper look.
The husband (I’ll call him George) drove forwards and backwards onto his chocks. They did this again and again, directed by his wife (I’ll call her Mildred). Each time he reversed the result was the same. The caravan slowly lifted, then lurched, toppled and dropped. Each drop was accompanied by a clatter. George pulled the caravan forward again, got out and fiddled with something on the ground, and then the whole process was repeated.
The difficulty it seems was Mildred.
All she had to do was tell him how far to come back, so that the wheels rose exactly to the limit of the blocks…but she was getting it wrong; that much we could all hear, from one end of the campground to the other.
Wind in the Willows is an idyll, an oasis of calm, and George and Mildred were causing an unseemly disturbance. In a city this sort of thing might be easily overlooked, but here their activity stood out like a carnival, and everyone was watching.
I don’t want to mislead here. When I say ‘everyone’, I mean me, the lady from ‘Lady Largo’, and the couple at the far end who had showed me their really clever brackets to prevent the awning lifting in the wind; four people in total.
We were all on our feet looking on… along with all the other watchers.
Small birds had stopped their flitting and sat motionless on their perches. On the river, sixty swans had pivoted towards the action, and forty cows stood shoulder to shoulder along the fence line, all trying to figure out what on earth was happening.
While the action continued, no conclusion was reached; it just repeated relentlessly.
Rev, reverse, rise, lurch, clatter & drop… scratch head, rub jaw, and repeat.
After a while the difficulty became apparent. Like Lady Largo, and the bracket people, I have a pair of magnificent sturdy triangular wedges for this specific purpose, but George was trying to get his caravan wheels to rest on piles of wooden blocks.
People in the larger vehicles have these too, typically people in busses. Their weight is too much for wedges like ours, they simply get pressed into the ground, so these folk carry a set of solid blocks, wedges, planks and boards to both lift their wheels, and distribute the load.
George was trying to do the same, except with a few odd lengths of four by two and a couple of bits of old shelving.
The result was that each time he got the weight of the wheels to bear, the blocks shifted, rocked, slid, or turned, until one side or the other gave way and the caravan bounced down onto its suspension once more.
After about 20 minutes of forwards, and backwards, and in and out of the car, George gave up on Mildred and took charge of giving the directions himself.
This put Mildred in the driver’s seat, and pretty soon we all heard precisely how she was getting it wrong; she needed to get both wheels to hit the ramps at the same time, she was too fast, she was too slow, too timid, too aggressive, or not smooth enough.
He barked the instructions, and the caravan moved forwards, and backwards and occasionally up.
But every time the result was the same… rise, lurch, clatter, bounce.
Mildred was getting it all completely wrong, and George was getting wound up.
Having moved onto the prime spot on the riverbank, I wasn’t using my chocks, so I walked over with them. We ‘Wingers’ are helpful like that.
George was short for his weight, and all up an odd looking package. His singlet had seen good times, but these weren’t those times. It was stretched over a barrel of a chest with flabby but brawny arms that filled the huge openings. His shorts particularly caught my eye; not because of the fabric or the cut… but because of the overall shape. George was followed around by an arse the size and shape of which I had only hitherto seen behind overweight, black, American women.
At the other end, his fat round head sat abnormally close to his wide shoulders. It was as though he’d been born missing a couple of vertebrae.
All of this combined to give him the general appearance of a bulldog.
One of the things about Bulldogs is that you can’t imagine them smiling… that was George.
George and Mildred were contradictions. Unlike George’s robustness, Mildred was petite. She was lean, to the point of skinny, and had a slightly stooped bearing. She had the perished, scrubbed bare look of someone who’d had a hard life of domestic labour, and I spontaneously imagined her with her arms in a tub, or scrubbing a doorstep.
She looked like she bought her clothes from a women’s magazine; particularly the sort that you see in the Doctors’ waiting rooms. You know the ones “Women’s Weekly” or the like. You pick them up, because that’s what’s there, and find yourself learning the ten crucial things you need to do to slim down for summer. The advice all seems a little out of kilter until, you discover that you’re reading about the summer of 1964.
That’s where Mildred’s wardrobe came from.
I’d always found it odd that the ‘Women’s Weekly’ has 12 issues per year, but is still called a ‘Weekly’. Perhaps they don’t think ‘The Women’s Monthly’ will sell as well.
There was a hint of a ‘Royal’ in the way Mildred dressed, and I decided it was the frock; the last time I’d seen a floral pattern like that it was on the Queen Mother. Mildred didn’t have the hat or handbag to match though, but her glasses did have an aristocratic influence. Unfortunately the aristocrat in question was Dame Edna.
As I grew closer to them I began to see that I was making a mistake.
It was a sticky evening and the exertions were getting to George. He was flushed in the face, and sweat beaded on his forehead.
Mildred’s assistance had clearly taken its toll, and he had quite enough on his hands without somebody else sticking their beak in. It was hard enough getting this job done with ‘her’; the last thing he needed was more help.
It turned out that George was quite like me in some respects. Though totally different to look at, I recognised some familiar traits.
As a man, I am infinitely capable, I am never wrong, and I never fail to achieve something I have set out to do. That would be admitting defeat, and a real man is never beaten.
I could see that George was like this too. Like me, he would rather drive for a couple of hours longer than stop and ask for directions… And he was going to balance his caravan wheels on these blocks, even if it took all night to do so.
One of the downsides of being infinitely capable is that other people don’t necessarily recognise it, and sometimes they think that you need help. But when you are infinitely capable you never need help… ever! That’s the whole point isn’t it.
Being offered advice when you’re infinitely capable isn’t just annoying, it is extremely insulting.
As I closed on him he became increasingly aggravated, it’s one of those ‘inversely proportional to the distance’ things you learn about in physics.
When I reached him I thought I could see the first whisps of steam rising, and I knew I had committed a grave error.
He had a face like thunder, and I recognised the expression immediately, I’ve worn it myself many times. It said:
“If I needed your bloody help I would have asked for it.”
When you are infinitely capable, all advice is un-needed advice, and offering help is no more, or less, than a direct accusation of incompetence.
The obvious thing for him to do was to accept the chocks gratefully, and then he and Mildred would both have a comfortable night. I wasn’t using the chocks. No-one was disadvantaged or put out in any way. It was a good solution.
But that couldn’t happen.
By approaching with the chocks I was assaulting his very manliness.
Women completely lack the capacity to understand the dynamics of this. All they see is grown men behaving like children.
Just in case I was confused, George explained things to me.
The eleven carefully selected pieces of wood he had brought were exactly what was required for the task at hand. He’d never needed fancy levelling wedges before, and he didn’t need them now… and if they were actually worth having, then he would have brought some with him.
That wasn’t quite what he said, but it’s close enough.
My exchange with George had been rather abrupt. I’d meant to let him know that where they were parking, their satellite dish would be shadowed by that big oak tree. But then, he probably already knew that anyway.
I retreated with my chocks, feigning as much grace as I could. I was like the beaten batsman returning to the pavilion. Lady Largo, the couple with the clever brackets, sixty swans, forty cows and a handful of birds in the bush, all witnessed my slow and humiliating walk back to the van.
Back under my awning, with my laptop, fresh coffee and a bowl of cake and cold custard, I settled down to watch the sunset across the river.
The birds that had been busy all day were now quiet and still, and the overwhelming hiss of the cicada’s had settled into an even rattle. The swans, now in groups of two’s, three’s and fours, were slowly drifting back downstream to re-gather as a flock before the onset of darkness. The river flowed steady and silent; the only sign of motion was the occasional branch carried by the current. Otherwise it was still as a mill pond, undisturbed except for a whispered splish as something unseen below fed on the surface bugs.
The sun went down, and the mozzies came out; that’s how things work on the riverbank.
Most of the cows had returned to their business. Just a last few remained, uncertain if the show was over or not.
With the fading light George had had to lower his expectations.
He had enough blocks to raise one side, but not both, and so the caravan was finally stationary with the driver’s side standing conspicuously higher than the passenger’s. It was a most unsatisfactory result, and it left him very grumpy indeed.
My chocks, still unwanted, sat on the ground beside my van.
After the caravan had finally stopped moving George had gone inside; to open the windows, to unfold everything that needed unfolding, and to connect everything up properly. This was obviously better accomplished by himself alone; and Mildred sat there in the car, waiting patiently for further instructions.
Eventually, the lights came on, the step was placed at the door, and Mildred gingerly stepped in with a box of groceries, no doubt praying that if the stack collapsed, it would be under his weight, not hers.
As she entered I heard her say… “it’s a pity we’re facing the field, not the river”.
“That was brave” I thought.
The last words fired at Mildred told me that the windows she’d failed to close were now letting in mozzies.
George stayed in his chair in front of the dark TV as Mildred moved around closing the windows.
So there they sat, in a van full of mozzies, with their backs to the view, a blank TV, and on a list that the Titanic would have been very pleased to sustain.
I had no doubt at all that it was all Mildred’s fault.
Soon their light was out and a calm finally returned to the campsite.
The more-pork’s coo-ed at the moon shining on the river. The air cooled and filled with dew, and the thinning cicada’s foretold the end of summer.
The sun was up by the time I walked out to enjoy the swan parade and my first coffee of the day, and George and Mildred’s caravan wasn’t there.
It had moved away from the oak tree, it had turned around… and George wasn’t talking to Mildred.
She was probably most pleased by the last bit.