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Friday, April 4, 2008

Keeping up with the Joneses in caravanland*

In caravan- land* as much as anywhere there seems to be a desire to keep up with the Joneses. It apparently important to splash out when fitting out your van, especially if you’re just starting out: “Fridge freezers, ovens and grills are now standard fittings, along with cylindrical glass showers, and blow-air heating to warm the whole caravan. The advice in chat rooms for virgin caravanning families is to choose the most upmarket caravans to rent and ‘go for gold’ rather than the ‘basic or silver class,” according to The Times Emma Mahony. UK travel journalists encourage spending on cool accessories by using extravagant celebrities such as Jay Kay as inspiration: “Surely he is the embodiment of a one-man caravan makeover in his Knaus C Liner motorhome bought last year for £46,000, complete with bathroom, leather armchairs, flatscreen TV and sliding glass sunroof with an automatic rain sensor,” Mahony writes. (BTW: did you know some of these things even come with Swarovski crystal lighting? Check this out.) There’s a snobbish-ness to travel writing about caravans that I’ve reflected on in previous posts, a condescension you rarely read in other travel writing. Even when journalists appear to be objective, and even self deprecating, as The Sunday Times’ Emma Smith is in ‘How the motorhome changed gear and drove up cool street’, they can’t resist having a dig in the end: “Across the Atlantic motorhomes have long enjoyed an adventurous rock’n’roll image. Giant RVs or Winnebagos (even the names sound cool) bring to mind heady summer road trips across rugged country and the unrestricted freedom of a wide-open highway. In Britain the motorhome was traditionally about as glam as Bagnor, with all the wild pioneering spirit of Mary Whitehouse. Our motorhomes were cheap, cramped and naff. Something even caravanners could look down on.” (My italics). UK travel journos must have been relieved to discover a caravanning aristocrat. Caravanners themselves reveal there's a class system in caravanland with certain distinguishing signs, as Mahony reports: “As one mother reassuring a new caravanning recruit said rather bluntly about Haven Holidays: “Haven Holidays equals men with tattooed hands and young girls with buggyies and fags hanging out of their mouth. Center Parcs equals 2.4 children, MPVs and North Face jackets. I’ve done them both and while Haven was not really my cup of tea, my four-year-old daughter preferred it.” And the children do seem to love the Liliputian bedrooms, the caravanning camaraderie and the swimming pools on site,” she admits, before having another dig: “Nor does caravanning have to be so downmarket any longer. Southlands Camping Park on the Isle of Wight recently attracted a five-star rating, including the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award for its wildflowers and 1,200 willows.” Unfortunately this kind of travel writing reveals more about the writers than it does about travel, conservation or the socio-economics of caravanning.

Pictured? One caravan whose owners didn't make an effort to keep up with the Joneses.

* caravanland: see next post

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