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MAL-DE-PETITES- ROUTES. (more commonly known as ‘Small road sickness’ ) is a chronic ailment by which the sufferer is drawn to explore un-sign posted small roads and lanes (bohereens) usually with grass growing down the center. Research into its cause and treatment are ongoing. It is thought to be hereditary and to date no cure has been found. 

I started 2020 with a new thought.

Imagine if I were to buy a caravan.

After all, I am free every second weekend from work and childminding.

The spring is approaching,

The west is calling.

How lovely it would be to make good use of those days, exploring, writing, sketching, walking and of course cycling.

But a caravan is heavy and not so easy for a grandmother to unhitch and manouevre on her own!

There will be times I may even have to push it manually into place (I won’t always be parking on flat concreted pitches. ‘Wild ‘camping’ will be involved whenever possible).

Or what if I get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere? or get stuck on a narrow road? Or god forbid have to reverse when I discover the road I drive down is a dead end? (I am a sufferer of the dreaded ‘small road sickness’).

Plus I will need to store the yellow bicycle in it when in transit.

And am I forgetting I am psychologically scarred from childhood caravanning experiences?

*******

It is 1966. I am ten years old.

My father has spread out a road map of Ireland on the table and, with a magnifying glass in one had and a pencil in the other, is pouring over it.

‘Aha!’ He shouts.

My mother hurries over from the sink where she has been drying the dishes and still clutching the tea towel, leans over his shoulder to look at the spot he is jabbing the pencil at.

‘See this small road here?’ My father doesn’t relinquish the magnifying glass so my mother has to squint.

”If we take it we could skirt around this side of the town and avoid the hill’.

The town he is talking about is Ballinasloe, and the hill on its main street is the bane of his life.

In fact it is the bane of all our lives and as it is the last main town we have to drive through before we feel truly in the west there is no avoiding it.

Each year, we children (six in total at this stage, two more would be added later) hold our breaths and lean forward, urging the car on and praying no tractor or herd of cows will wander out in front of our entourage and stall us .

If we get a clear run at the hill we will be fine but if we have to slow down for any of the above obstructions, the smell of burning clutch will fill the car, and my father, not the calmest of men at the best of times will issue a stream of curses, while my mother will hum softly to her self. (A thing she still does at the age of 88 when she is concentrating on something important).

However, one year the clutch did burn out and we were stranded in the town well known for its travelling people and horse fairs.

And even though we were seasoned caravanners ourselves, my father was uncomfortable. (though in hindsight this may have been due more to the fact that he hated towns and crowds than the worry of being mistaken for one of the travelling community).

Luckily the towns mechanic was able to replace the clutch for our Vauxhall estate but by the time he completed his task darkness had fallen so we spent the night parked in the yard of a convent. 

Since that episode, every year a week or two before we set out, my Father plans his strategies to avoid the ‘hill’ and every year he fails! (Last year we ended in the middle of a cattle market and only after much shouting (the farmers) and cursing (my father) we managed to unhitch and turn the caravan manually and escape humiliated and dung covered. 

Oh how my father would love the new bypass! 

Now while I am on the subject of childhood caravan trips would it bore you if I mentioned another factor which might impinge on my decision? 

Choice of good camping spots.

You see as children we had strong ideas of what constituted such a place, and we rated them according to the following factors.

Swathes of green grass leading to large stretches of beach which in turn lead to the ocean, were high on our list.

Add rocks for climbing and diving off, and rock pools for poking about in and we were in our element.

Our summers spent in such places spread from Donegal in the north to Kerry in the south.

In fact I would bet you 100 euros you could not name a beach along the wild Atlantic way that we had not camped on.

How my father found all these places at a time before google maps or shared digital information astounds me. 

Then, one year for reasons unknown only to himself, he decided we would set up camp at Corcomroe , a ruinous 13th century Cistercian abbey on the Burren in Co Clare)

We were fiercely disappointed at this sea lacking place but didn’t dare complain.

So we made the best of it, running over the limestone slabs, generously warmed by the sun and deliciously smooth under our bare feet.

We had competitions about who could leap across the widest flower filled chasms that the Burren is famous for. And eventually began to love this stony place as we roamed far and wide across its limestone fields.

We added it to our list of best places.

But the rating for this encampment rose even higher when we made a discovery in the old abbey graveyard.

It was evening and there was still an hour or two left of daylight. We were in the process of  jumping from tombstones to tombstone, (I know! I know! but we were unsupervised children) a process made even more challenging and therefore more fun than the limesone slabs.

‘Look over here’ One of my brothers was hunkered down peering at something.

We crowded around him. A large slab had been pushed aside and through the gap we could see far down into the dept of the grave.

As our eyes become accustomed to the dark interior we managed to make out some bones. One sister ,younger than me, squealed and backed off, but my eldest sister ,who would later study archaeology, looked with interest.

‘Its a dead monk’ She declared ‘I can see his skull’.

We continued to peer, shivering in delighted horror into the gloom but none of the rest of us could make out anything more sinister than a few bones.

‘I’m going in’ My eldest sister declared. sitting on the tombsone and swinging her legs down into the dark space.

But as she did my mother called us for bed and we had to defer our exploration plans till the following day

The next morning however my father announced that we are leaving.

He had been woken night after night by the sound of monks singing and it was driving him crazy.

We look at each other in disappointment but knew better than to argue with him.

Packing up the encampment was carried out with military precision and we each had our designated chores to make sure it runs smoothly, so my eldest sister got no opportunity to slip away and explore the grave.

Anyway she ruined it later by saying it wasn’t a human skull after all but that of a fox or sheep.

As I write this and with memories flooding back I become more determined to find a caravan suited to my needs.

Maybe I will spend some time retracing these magical childhood places.

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(Missing my lovely turquoise camper and the travels we had and the places we made home)

Coming in the next episode: The Eriba, The Go-pod, The tear drop, The kip. (Weights, heights, measurements and costs.)