I am sitting on our pitch in our campsite here at the Municipal Campsite Kaysersberg having my breakfast. An inveterate ‘people watcher’ I am thinking about all the other ‘happy campers’ around us. As per usual they are made up of various European nationalities, a fascinating combination of the wonderful and the eccentric, the really friendly and the absolutely awful. We immediately give them all ‘nicknames’ as usual, indicative of their personality types.
Back home in the UK Julia and I get up anywhere between 7.00 and 8.00 a.m. – one of the privileges of being ‘retired’ and living in a quiet hamlet where nothing much happens until the ‘paper boy’ (a man of around 50 years of age) arrives to deliver our morning paper. I have ‘first breakfast’ (readers of Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings will understand) and then disappear into The Den (our study/office/prayer room) to pray, study, mark papers, etc. until around 10.00 a.m. when Julia calls me for ‘second breakfast’ (see earlier comment about Hobbits). We usually have this in the Snug and watch Homes Under the Hammer on TV while we eat (a programme about buying houses or flats at auction to ‘do up’ and either sell on, rent out, or live in).
Here on our campsite (unlike those in their caravans and camper vans) we have no TV. We are greatly amused by the Dutch and Germans who studiously visit every vacant pitch on the campsite when they arrive, armed with the apposite app on their mobile phones in order to determine which pitch will enable them to have perfect satellite reception for their TVs? One of our delights in going on our extended camping holidays is the prospect of being ‘TV free’ for several weeks on end. So, instead of watching Homes Under the Hammer on TV whilst enjoying our breakfast we watch Mobile Homes Under the Hammer with all the equally weird and wonderful people that you tend to find featured on the TV programme.
Mobile Homes Under the Hammer is not a bad description of our campsite. We are one of the few pitches that hosts a tent. Nearly all of the other campers are in either caravans or camper vans. Perhaps this is due to the time of the year. Come July and August, when there will be a lot more families, there will probably be more tents. But now, in June, when the campers are mostly ‘wealthy retired’ (apart form us, that is) there is a profusion of largely really nice caravans and camper vans. The campers are mostly elderly Dutch or German with a spattering of Belgians, Swiss, French and Brits. The elderly Dutch in particular arrive in the French campsites during May and stay until half way through July (when the prices go up) when they return home to the Netherlands. They then often return in September for another month.
We have owned a couple of caravans in times past (courtesy of Julia’s parents upgrading) but we have never taken one on to the Continent. We played around with the idea of buying ourselves a camper van … until we started looking at how much they cost. Even an old one would have cost us about £15,000, and a really ‘posh’ one can cost in excess of £100,000. Camper vans are very restrictive as well … we have seen some that tow a small car behind … because you have to use the van itself if you want to go anywhere? On the whole we prefer the idea of a caravan and maybe we will go for one of the smaller ones like an Eriba eventually. The caravans and camper vans on our campsite here in Kaysersberg are mostly rather posh … but it is the people who we find most interesting, and entertaining?!
Our immediate neighbours are a German couple whom we have nicknames Hansel and Gretel. They speak excellent English and are here for just a few days in order to celebrate Hansel’s birthday. In contrast to the other Germans on site they have a camper van that is possibly even older than I am? It wheezes on to their pitch and Hansel immediately connects the battery to the camp electricity so that it will charge up enough to get them back home to Freiburg again.
Next door to them are a Scottish couple, Mr and Mrs McTavish. They have an ‘Ecosse’ badge on their car and caravan (rather than a GB sticker) and they refuse to speak to us because we are English?! When they have a query about anything they would rather speak to the elderly German couple opposite them (who speak hardly any English) than speak to us? One wonders just how much this ‘Scottish Independence’ thing has permanently damaged British interdependence?
The elderly German couple in question – Herr and Fraulein Reallyelderlypersons – are wonderful. He must be about 90 years of age and she is probably the same age but look about 70. She does everything from cooking the meals to humping their chairs and tables around their pitch. She clearly loves her husband and does everything she can to help him enjoy camping – something that I guess they have done together for years. They are very friendly and smile at us a lot. The other day it was very cold and I was dressed in my warm camping trousers and coat with socks and walking boots. ‘You are cool?’ Herr Reallyelderlyperson said to me in hesitant English. ‘Yeah man!’ I replied!
Just along from these elderly Germans is a Swiss couple from Berne – William Tell and Heidi? They too (like our Scots friends) are very proud of their heritage. They fly the Berne flag outside their caravan, and every evening ceremoniously light a lantern on the flag pole at dusk? In contrast to the Scots, however, they are really friendly and helpful to all and sundry,
Opposite them are two French couples on neighbouring pitches. We call one couple Monsieur and Madam Frogzlegz (if you had seen him in shorts you would understand), and the other couple we call Monsieur and Madam Escargot (because they move very slowly). Monsieur Frogzlegz sports a huge moustache. Julia is not very keen on him because he leers at her every time she passes by? On Sunday the four French campers got together for Sunday lunch. The lunch commenced at 12.30 p.m. and was still going strong (several courses and bottles of wine later) at 4.30 p.m. They seemed to move their table around the Frogzlegz pitch with each course, depending on where the shade was?
Right down by the entrance, in obviously the most expensive campervan on site, are Mr and Mrs Poshbrits. They occasionally acknowledge us (as fellow Brits) but for the most part ignore everybody else. Their campervan is ‘all singing, all dancing’ and probably cost more than our house in Bewdley? They don’t seem to do anything all day, every day, other than sit outside their van in the sun reading?
My favourite family, however, is a German family just along from us … the Reallykindpersons. The family unit consists of Father, Mother and three children. The middle child, a girl, clearly has learning difficulties. She cannot speak and communicates with grunts and hand movements. She clearly loves her Father especially, and he obviously loves her. She will often simply just take his hand, and loves to be near him, watching what he does … fixing one their bikes or cooking on the barbecue … and enjoying just being there with him. They seem a very happy family. They tend to keep themselves to themselves but I have grown to admire them.
One of the churches Julia was in discussion with earlier in the year had as its ‘mission statement’ something along the lines of serving their community and endeavouring to ‘see Christ in everyone’. Personally, I was never sure exactly what they meant by this … but observing the Reallyelderlypersons and the Reallykindpersons, albeit for just a few days, has helped me to understand it a little better!