'There you are!' cried the Toad, straddling and expanding himself. 'There's real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to somewhere else to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing! And mind! this is the very finest cart of its sort that was ever built, without any exception. Come inside and look at the arrangements. Planned 'em all myself, I did!'
Toad, in Kenneth Grahame's classic children.s book,'The Wind in the Willows' is enthusing about his canary yellow gypsy caravan which is his latest obsession. I imagine it was something like the one my daughter is perched on in the summer of 1988. Unfortunately no-one in the family remembers where this is.
The novelty of the caravan appealed to the child in Toad; it was somewhere to go to 'get away from it all' and lead a very different life to his normal privileged one at Toad Hall. In some ways perhaps we all harbour a secret longing to live the simpler life promised by the Romany ways. In reality it was quite a harsh existence, but we put those thoughts to the back of our minds when we see the cosy interior.
It was indeed very compact and comfortable. Little sleeping bunks--a little table that folded up against the wall--a cooking- stove, lockers, bookshelves, a bird-cage with a bird in it; and pots, pans, jugs and kettles of every size and variety.
We long to 'play house' as we did when children, pretending we are someone and somewhere else, and the gypsy caravan appeals to our romantic notions. In 1967 John Lennon went so far as to actually buy a gypsy caravan for his young son Julian and just last week it was making news again when it saw the light of day after nearly forty years hidden away: Beatles Sgt Pepper's Gypsy Caravan unearthed in Ascot. Here's the original, rather jolly Pathe News report.
JOHN LENNON'S CARAVAN
For others it really is a way of life. Watch this video of Barney Maurice and his family, who live life close to nature and travel the roads in their own caravan built by Barney himself. Just a glimpse at this gentle and alternative lifestyle should de-stress you for a while.
Late in the evening, tired and happy and miles from home, they drew up on a remote common far from habitations, turned the horse loose to graze, and ate their simple supper sitting on the grass by the side of the cart. Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.
When I was a child myself in the fifties, most of our family holidays were spent in a hired, static caravan, usually in a park designed for the purpose. This had the advantage of providing me and my older brother with companions of our own age.
Our picture prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday is a showman's caravan taken from the Fairground set of Tyne and Wear Museum on Flickr Commons, where many other splendid examples of a travelling life can be viewed.