Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AdVANtage Living






You may have noticed its absence  from the roads. Its confinement to driveways in Dublin estates or the back of country homes. Like a vacated Granny flat, its motionless mobile space fading and dating and depreciating over anniversaries of abandonment.  It rests and rusts for years.  Eventually pragmatism wins out over nostalgia and it is sold on to an online bargain hunter or dumped at some final cruel reunion with its cousins, where,  in a neat row for the last time, the unwanted caravan queues for death.

Banishing the caravan is much like putting the family dog to sleep. The need for action and call to action take over as you remove the spent family treasure from the home. Guilt and sorrow take hold when you return alone.

What separates the two is the nature of their design. The animate is destined to die. The need for action-freeing them from pain-is real and kind. The inanimate however is a different story. It is a call, rather than a need for action, that results in its disposal.

The call usually comes from the younger members of the family, who find the permanent mobile home attached to their permanent home a point of irritation and embarrassment. It is an eye sore, a hick, grotesque, useless waste of space. They nag until their complaints, along with a begrudging self-admission that the wanderly wagon wanders no more, become too difficult to deny and the decision is made to vanish the van.

The demise of the caravan as an Irish family holiday institution from the early 90s onwards is largely attributed to a general increase in disposable income and the introduction of low-fare airlines. Foreign travel became affordable and easy. It grew in popularity as people were swayed by exotic destinations that could guarantee good weather and new experiences. Spending two weeks with the family in a leaky, cramped caravan, in a wet, cramped caravan park in West Cork, did not trump two weeks at a holiday resort in Italy. Under Celtic Tiger conditions, other categories bar Cost could hold weight on a trump card.

And so, tugging your accommodation behind you and setting up camp alongside like-minded families fell out of favour. Caravans, like caged birds, were left to sit and ruin at the side of the house until the now teenage children convinced their parents to ditch the last remaining badge of their pre-Celtic Tiger existence, and get an extension.

Our national dismissal of the caravan was reinforced by popular culture programming coming from the Uk. Television shows Top Gear and Brainiac regularly explored inventive methods of destroying caravans.

Ironically it is the very same generation of children , who campaigned against the family caravan, that are now reclaiming the mobile home as their own. The caravan is replaced by the camper-van; a more compact, convenient and well, cooler, set of wheels, particularly if it is a vintage 70's, retro, pseudo retro or hand painted model. The passengers/inhabitants are groups of friends rather than families. The destinations of choice are predominantly music festivals, although vanning is also popular with surfers.

The new wave of vanning has been sparked by the growing number of successful music festivals popping up around Ireland over the past ten years. Veteran festival goers, who have tried and tested the circuit , decide to invest in a van that will take them around and around again in relative comfort and style. Testament to this trend is the introduction in 2010 of Vantastival in Co. Louth, a free spirited festival aimed specifically at van enthusiasts, although all are welcome.



The camper-van has become the ultimate accessory for the festival elite. Anyone can wear floral wellies or a mac or novelty shades and pretend to fit in. But the camper-van is the secret nod between true, devout festival goers; an emblem of their commitment and subscription to the weekend hippy club.

It's not a mainstream club, but it is growing. The lifestyle appeals to a range of people, generally over 25, who can afford to buy a van and escape the higher rate of insurance applied to those below this age. They are usually leftist but often apolitical, well educated, free in spirit but not of commitment people, who combine watered down hippy sentiment with the festive Irish session at weekends and on their 21 days of annual leave.

Depending on their owners the vans can occupy two places during the week. They are parked in front of their parents' relatively new extension: an eye sore , a waste of space, a flag marking the fact that the 27 year old unemployed son is a permanent fixture of the permanent home. The van may also be found outside a brand new duplex; with crumbling walls and faulty plumbing; an over-priced, undervalued anchor for the good time machine. If only it was a time machine.

The latter group are moving on camper-van style: They arrive to the alter in the back of a vintage Volkswagon classic, upgrade their own van with the money they make from the wedding; slap a Baby on Board sticker on the back; and park next to the like-minded young families at the festival-themed weddings of their like-minded friends. Blindly, blissfully they follow in the tracks of the previous generation.

And then from nowhere, a glimpse, a flicker; the slow creeping elevation of the caravan as vintage gold. The retro tin-home-tug-along making its comeback on the organic pages of blogs and as a celebrated motif in underground art circles. Those who resisted the movement to expunge the caravan may soon find themselves the much envied owners of a now 'priceless' vintage classic.  Hands off kids.  Better still, they can now milk their van for political kuddos; a badge that they, unlike their neighbours, family or friends, did not lose the complete run of themselves during the Celtic Tiger;  A badge that says 'I did not vote Fianna Fail'.  


The campervan is mainstream and slowly the caravan returns. Watch that space at the side of the house.

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