“They say you walk about in that caravan naked.” So says smiling Willie from the palatial static in the row along from mine, the one known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’. I am incredulous. Some facts: my 1970s towing caravan, newly pitched on the site in Argyll this summer, is 12ft long from its back lights to its hitch and is one of the smallest it is possible to have. The floor area is five foot by three – not enough to swing anything and you can almost put the kettle on from the bunk. We both laughed at this ridiculous notion – he slightly less heartily. Willie, quickly distancing himself from the very idea he had voiced, adeptly body swerved any further questions. The conversation quickly shifted to more acceptable investigations as we each searched for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do.
A similar rumour circulated around the Ayrshire seaside village where I once lived. It was said that a woman who lived alone in a shore-side cottage, who kept herself to herself, went about the house naked. Local children used to walk past hoping for a glimpse of her nakedness. Was I now a woman about whom people dreamt up daft, frankly medieval notions by which to explain her chosen solitude? There is a common factor in these batty rumours: woman (probably older) alone in a dwelling by the sea prances about in the buff. People, knowing little about either woman, may or may not choose to believe this ridiculous idea, however there is still talk. Who starts such a rumour and why? Do I detect the fear of the crone: suspicion of unfettered female sexuality (i.e. no bloke in sight), the faintest whiff of superstition, witches… An closer examination of on-site gender relations may prove fruitful.
The campsite is occupied by couples, some with young children, others are grandparents with big extended families mainly from the central belt and other parts of Kintyre. No singletons. The campsite stratification jokily identifies the rows of static caravans as, respectively, Millionaire’s Row, Paradise and The Scheme. People drive giant 4 x 4s, own dogs, run noisy petrol generators and the odd solar panel, have timber decks, sheds and complicated arrangements of TV aerials. They enjoy barbeques, sit around on comfortable garden furniture with parasols, have beach bonfires and generally enjoy all mod cons. A fine time is usually had. They are a jolly and obliging lot..once you get to know them. Until I did, few ventured that initial wave or nod. The ice, once broken by my cheery hello, is always followed by my offer to take a look inside my ‘van’. This is always accepted with enthusiasm , “Oh it’s like a tardis!” is a common observation. I suspect relief when they see that my buddhist prayer flags are simply colourful window decorations, the one candle is a small tea light and there is no altar. I have often encountered similar early coolness in touring caravan sites around the country. It usually goes like this: woman fetches up alone towing a caravan, chaps fall over themselves to help and show off, women look on with a faint air of suspicion and a hint of pity. I smile and act a wee bit of the daft lassie and we talk as the men pursue the new project. I then let them all see inside as we search for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do. Acceptance usually prevails, “Come round for a glass of wine later.” they offer. I usually go, to be sociable, and the search for commonalities continues, sometimes confessions flow. “You’re dead lucky. I wish I had my ain ‘van…jist for me, no’ this lot…”. After a couple of days I’m off and it all starts again somewhere new. I will be sticking around this place though, but already this rumour has spread after only one visit.…
The summertime area for touring caravans, including mine, does not as yet have a name. I suggest The Squat to the site owner – he agrees to put it out for consultation. It is in the field which runs down to the seashore. My pitch is nearest to the beach with stunning sea views. A rough wooden fence was built to separate my ‘van from the next man’s. Another rumour had it that my neighbour Chic was not very happy about my prime location. He had insisted that the fence wasn’t long enough to keep my caravan out of his line of sight (had he heard the rumour about my private prancing?). Another clype couldn’t stop himself from telling me that after he saw Chic drinking coffee with me, after he had cut my grass and helped me with my generator. Said Clype had introduced himself and said rather too knowingly “Ah… so you’re Glesca Anni…?”. To set the record straight: when I introduced myself, Chic had fallen over himself with offers of help and coffee saying how very glad he was that I had come over. He also stressed that his partner wasn’t well and he was hoping she would come with him on his next visit. He got to talking, told me practically his whole life story over one coffee and he only occasionally searched for commonalities in that new-neighbour way that people do. I mostly smiled and nodded. We are sound now though, his four year old grandson sweetly calls me ‘lady’.
So there I was, looking forward to happy days spent alone at my new peaceful, settled bolthole by the sea, too small for guests, away from it all, no signal or wifi, where only Radio Ulster can be heard and what happens? Am I an old tale – a crone- the one about whom people can still create strange, faintly witchy fantasies? I am working on being accepted by this new community. I continue searching for connections in that new-neighbour way that people do. It may take some time but the views are worth it.