Sunday, 12 April 2015

Birds of a feather

It's funny how, even if you are highly conscious of being a member of a highly-visible minority group, you nevertheless have some wider connections and memberships that transcend your minority status.

For example, your education or social class might have a strong influence on who you feel comfortable with. So might your occupation: a policeman, with a policeman's mindset, might have a quite different set of social contacts compared to a teacher or an artist or an engineer. Much the same might be said if you have a hobby or interest that dominates your life. Thus a keep-fit junkie or a petrol-head car enthusiast will both lean towards like-minded people, and stay away from (and even look down on) lazy couch potatoes on one hand, and the bicycle brigade on the other. More subtly, your personal outlook, beliefs and attitudes will affect who you tolerate or embrace as your friends and boon companions.

Any mix of any of these things will channel you into one world or another, and exclude you from less congenial groups - who may in fact be perfectly OK, but do not draw you to them as a magnet will.

I'm stating the obvious, aren't I? Or at least I think I am. But it's a necessary preamble to this post, which analyses why I like one caravanning club, but almost completely ignore the other, even though I am a long-time member of both. There's something psychological at the back of it. I suspect it's my personal reaction to whom they want as members, and how well I fit into their ways.

Ever since 2002, when M--- persuaded me to come in with her to buy a second-hand caravan, and try out the caravan life, I have belonged to the two big national caravan clubs. One is called simply The Caravan Club. The other is called The Camping & Caravanning Club. Superficially they have a very similar set-up. They are run on a national basis for members who pay an annual subscription. This year, it was £46 for The Caravan Club, and £42 for The C&CC. For that each offers a network of Club Sites that only members can use, well-maintained sites that function as open-air hotels, often in scenic places, typically with hot showers, toilets, clothes-washing and ironing facilities, tourist information and all kinds of useful and helpful amenities to make a stay there pleasant and comfortable. They are generally child-friendly too. The atmosphere is, as I say, 'relaxing hotel', possibly even 'exclusive country club'. But it isn't 'holiday-camp'. There are Club Sites that lean towards the needs of caravanners requiring peace and quiet above all else - or at least as much of it as one can expect, given that they can be busy places in the summer - and Club Sites that cater for the rather more sociable, and of course those happy families.

In addition to the annual subscription, members have to pay site fees whenever they book time at a Club Site. These are modest. I'd expect to pay no more than £15 per night mid-season. There are often low-season deals that can bring the cost down to below £10 per night. What would one pay for decent Bed & Breakfast at a guest house? £40 a night? And at a hotel? £80 a night, if lucky? You can see why it makes financial sense to get around the country with a caravan in tow. Quite apart from the freedom and flexibility it gives you.

Both clubs sign up farmers and other landowners to provide tucked-away country retreats and hideaways limited to five caravans at a time, called Certified Locations or Certificated Sites depending on the club. These are a mixed bag, varying from a scruffy farmer's field with just the right to pitch (though usually at laughably low cost) to manicured lawns and orchards with not only electricity to hook up to, but sometimes an array of facilites comparable in standard to a proper Club Site (and like as not a pitch fee to match). But of course with CLs and CSs you do get to know the farmer, and a big part of their charm is that you can build up a personal relationship. CLs and CSs often have a jolly good country or seaside view, right from where you are pitched. Most Club Sites do not, because of privacy hedges and trees and suchlike - although there certainly are some Club Sites where you can look out onto a golden beach.

Both clubs offer no-deposit advance Internet Booking for members, which is highly convenient. It made planning and booking my Scottish tour this year dead easy. You pay by credit card when you arrive at the site.

I hope you have got the notion of two National Clubs offering a comprehensive service for the touring holidaymaker. The Caravan Club once had a snooty reputation, adhering strictly to the needs of caravan owners and looking down on campervans, but that's all long past. It still doesn't embrace tents, though - it's strictly for wheeled units, towed or self-propelled. The C&CC includes tents, very much so, and thereby embraces all the adventuresome people who travel light, and not just student backpackers. The C&CC also fosters Special Interest groups, and promotes the work of its District Associations for those who like local get-togethers. It has long called itself 'The Friendly Club', presumably to reassure those folk who feel that The Caravan Club is in any way stiff and unwelcoming. But as regards facilities and high standards, the two clubs are nevertheless much the same nowadays.

And yet I find myself using The Caravan Club nearly all the time, and The C&CC almost not at all. In fact since 2010 (and my last-ever trip with M---) there is only one C&CC site that I've been using, compared to dozens owned by, or linked to, the Other Firm. Why has this been so?

Partly it's size. The Caravan Club has the larger network of Club Sites, and as I get older I want the facilities (and backup) those offer more and more. But really that's not the prime reason.

I think it's because The Caravan Club suits my personality better. In search of a supermarket metaphor, I might say that The Caravan Club is the Waitrose, and The C&CC is the ASDA. You know my feelings about ASDA. How I feel uncomfortable there, as if I don't belong. I think it boils down to that.

Both clubs send out glossy printed magazines. These are pretty much a waste of time and paper in my view; although presumably they are self-funding, considering all the ads they carry. The magazines look very similar, and deal with much the same subjects - current topics, holiday destinations to consider, caravan and towcar tests, product reviews, and technical advice. But there is a revealing difference in style. Let's look at the last ones I received, beginning with a selection of pages from The C&CC's mag:

As you can see - if you accept that my examples are fair - there is a big emphasis on 'doing things together'. I don't mind the young-people-having-adventure stuff, but the 'hearty family-and-friends thing' is so not me. It makes me cringe. I just want my quiet pitch, and good showers to use, and that's all. I'm not there to meet new friends, although it does often happen that I get chatting - and enjoy it. But sitting around gulping wine and messing about? No thanks.

Right, let's now turn to The Caravan Club's rag:

Well, I think the editors of the National Trust magazine have had a hand here! Well-behaved kids (not kidz), articles on historic Bath, the Royal Windsor Horse Show, a towcar review long on text to read, and a report on a Cumbrian charity event organised by a local Club centre (with men in dinner jackets). Rather more highbrow, dare I say? More middle class? It's stuff that isn't aimed at the activity junkies in the Other Camp, and might not appeal to them. That guff about horse shows doesn't ring my bell either. But even so, the style, the underlying approach, speaks to something in my DNA that I can get along with just fine. The tone is much more take-it-or-leave-it. So much more acceptable if you are independent, have your own agenda, and don't need to be amused.

So I'm thinking of axing my almost-redundant membership of The Camping & Caravanning Club. That £42 annual subscription, valid till next February, could have paid for at least three nights caravanning this summer. Tsk. Of course, if I leave, I won't be able to use any of their Club Sites or CSs. But, apart from one rather nice CS, I don't anyway. Would I regret excluding myself from that one CS, a nice farm up on the downs near Salisbury? I'll try not to use it, and see if I do miss it.

I realise that I've laid myself wide open to an unflattering accusation. That a perfectly excellent club isn't 'good enough' for me. Hmm. I'd prefer to say that, first and foremost, it's not useful enough to me, and that the annual subscription to it could be better spent. Otherwise, yes, I'm a misfit where that club is concerned.

But hey, I've been a misfit all my life. What's new?


  1. But Lucy, you'd look gorgeous in a Onesie!

  2. Do you really think so? Hmmm.


  3. I have been known to shop at an ASDA, Waitrose does not want our money this far north, but a glance with bleary eyes at the two layouts and I knew that I could only read the second magazine.

    Best spend a few last nights at that favourite site before being banned


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