Steaming in a damp field

VIDEO I don't think caravanning is for me.

James Marston

I DON'T think caravanning is for me.

What did you do at the weekend, James, my colleagues asked me on Monday morning?

“Well I woke up doubled up on a small chair on Sunday morning after a most uncomfortable night in a damp field in Dorset and had to dismantle an awning in the rain.” I replied.

It as hardly the glamorous response you might expect from a Suffolk wanna-be-but-not-quite-celebrity.

Nevertheless, I found myself leaving the county of my birth and my small Felixstowe salon with sea views (distant) heading to the West Country on Saturday to take part in the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

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It is an absolutely huge event and nothing can prepare you for the size of the show. It spreads over 600 acres, more than 200,000 people visit, there are 1,000 traders and 2,000 exhibitors, the fair even has its own radio station.

And there's not only steam engines, but also some of the most unusual exhibits I've ever seen including.

- Lego displays in caravan awnings.

- Owls standing on poles.

- Men digging holes with old diggers.

- Craft tents full of odd things.

- Horses and carts with men and women in tweeds.

With 25,000 people on the site it is the size of a small town and everyone stays in caravans and tents.

And for those of you who know about caravans, I found myself in a four berth Lunar with a back bathroom and omni light.

Now don't get me wrong I don't mind caravanning as an idea, in fact it quite appeals.

It is a nice thought isn't it? Roaming the countryside, enjoying the peace, taking in lovely views, bedding down in a cosy van - it sounds lovely.

But like so many other things in life the reality is different.

Caravanning is far too intimate.

No sooner have you woken up, after perhaps some of the most uncomfortable nights sleep you'll endure all year, you have to make your bed. And once one person is awake, everyone is awake. There's no lying around relaxing.

And as for the toilets - well all that defies description in a family newspaper.

Even my father, who's so keen on steam engines he took his own to Dorset, felt the need to comment on the plumbing arrangements.

“I must admit dealing with the cassette toilet after five days here does somewhat test your enthusiasm. I shall have to give it all a perfunctory hose down,” he said.

Thankfully by the time all that happened I was safely back in Suffolk.

NOREEN, my oldest fan and the only lady in Felixstowe who remembers me as a polite little youngster in short trousers and a cap, has hit the headlines.

I saw Noreen, who first moved to the town in 1948 and enjoys a home with sea views (panoramic), in our Felixstowe office only the other day where she told me all about it.

“James,” she said: “We've been in the paper. Did you see us?”

I had to confess I'd missed it.

Anyway, Noreen went on to tell me that years and years ago her family donated a hospital to the town and now, nearly a century later, Noreen and her family have donated again, this time a new garden for the very same hospital.

What a lovely thing to do.

AS usual the drama of the Ipswich most Operatic and truly Dramatic Society (IODS), of which I am an enthusiastic member, is edging ever closer as we prepare for our latest production, Sounds Familiar.

At rehearsal the other evening we sang a number of patriotic and slightly jingoistic songs as part of a flag-waving section of the show.

Co-director Mary, a very theatrical lady who enjoys nothing more than a good show, started a full and frank exchange of views half way through a rendition of Jerusalem followed by a hearty performance of Rule Britannia.

“It's Chari-ot not Chari-ut! Chari-ot, chari-ot, chari-ot! Get it right!” she hollered.

“And it's Shall rule the waves! Shall rule the waves - not will rule the waves,” she added with considerable force.

With ladies like that at the helm it is no wonder we had an empire.

During the half-way break, during which I enjoyed the benefits of Silk Cut and a Dr Pepper, Sue, the oldest lady in the society, approached me.

“I've been reading your newspaper column,” she said “And was thinking about all those Olympic sports you mentioned.”

“Oh yes,” I replied expecting a nice and well deserved compliment about my command of the English language or stunning good looks or even, though unlikely, potential sporting prowess.

“Well I was thinking you should ask for a crisp eating contest. You could go in for that,” she giggled.

Naturally I laughed it off and pretended I was amused, which I was, almost.

These old people do say the most outrageous things don't they?

WHAT marvellous news - Strictly Come Dancing is coming back to our screens.

One of my favourite shows - partly because it's colourful and fun and there's no swearing, no violence and it's nothing to do with police, hospitals, or buying a house - Strictly is far more exciting than that awful X-Factor.

There's really nothing better than serving yourself a crème de cassis or gin and dubonnet and a few cashew nuts while you get ready for your Saturday night out and having five minutes watching the celebs dance around to nice music.

I shall look forward to the day when I am a famous hack and they ask me to take part - I've said it before and I'll say it again - though I'm no athlete I'm quite light on my feet for a big man.

I note with some schoolboy amusement that one of the contestants, apparently a rugby player, is named Austin Healey - better than being called Ford Focus I suppose.

ROB Dunger of BBC Radio Suffolk almost fame has been talking about me on air, or so I hear.

Rob caught the attention of garage owner Colin who recently fixed my wing mirror of my small blue Polo after some cretin annoyingly knocked it off.

Colin said: “Was that you that guy was talking about on the radio this morning?”

I answered with conviction that it almost certainly was.

I later discovered that Rob, who used to be a florist, thought my evening meal of sardines on toast a little strange. I don't know about you but I enjoy tinned fish apart from tuna which we used to feed to our family cat Beth, who died.

Naturally, though neither vain nor publicity-seeking I am not too bothered about Rob's comments.

As Oscar Wilde once said: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”