You can’t break down here!

The start of another weekend of camping and we were merrily cruising along the M11 heading for the front lawn of a friends tea rooms near Saffron Walden, where we and three other families from our campervan club intended sharing food, drink and generally having a good time. It was all going so well until I heard a motorbike behind us making an awful grinding/squealing noise. After checking all the mirrors I discovered that, at that moment, we were alone on the motorway and that the awful, and very expensive sounding noise, must be us.

My emergency action was taking it out of gear and lifting my  foot off the gas pedal and then a visual check of the warning lights. They showed that the oil light was still off (phew!), and the ignition light was on. The engine revved freely when I accelerated it but the noise was deafening and still sounded very expensive and very terminal.

As we were level with a slip-road I took the decision to get us all off the motorway, find a safe place to stop and then try and figure out what was wrong. At the top of the slip-road I coasted onto the roundabout and spied a little track which we rolled down and pulled off to the side out of everyone’s way and managed to keep the van moving until we’d gone past a cycle path.


Once I’d switched the engine off, and in the sudden silence, which was almost deafening, Jan and I exchanged a glance which said “Oh Pooh! How much is this gonna cost?”


I suggested that Jan took Chloe, our chocolate Labrador, for a quick walk whilst I try and find out what the problem was, so they ambled off into the nearby woods and I wandered around to the back expecting the worst.


It was nowhere near as bad as it sounded. Basically the fanbelt had snapped, flicked around and smashed the engine fan guard and then twisted itself into a knot which was banging on the fan blades making an unholy racket.

Even better was the fact that I not only had a spare fanbelt, but also the tools with me to fix it beside the road. As I started to unload the tools and spare fanbelt Jan returned with Chloe and set about putting the kettle on for coffee and making a bacon sandwich for lunch. We may have broken down, but Jan and I like to do our breakdowns with style.

I’d been careful to leave the road and cycle path clear as I coasted to a stop so I didn’t block the little road we were on. About 15 minutes later I was hunched over in the engine bay removing the fan guard when I sensed a big white van drive past us and stop a little way down the road.

The driver got out and came back towards us.I assumed he was coming back to offer assistance or to check that we were OK or even to just chat about VW Campervans.

“Can you read?” were the first words out of his mouth and he started pointing at a sign across the road.

“And Good Morning to you too”, I thought and it was then that I noticed the sign he was referring to.




It was a nice sunny day though, and the repairs were proceeding according to plan and the coffee was good. In short I was in a very good mood and I stifled my instinctive response and instead replied sweetly “Yes mate, I’m pretty good at it actually. Why do you ask?”

He possibly thought I was lying about my reading abilities, or he might have had doubts about my eyesight, but in any event he then went on to actually read me the relevant portions of the sign. I barely managed to keep a straight face as he slowly and loudly emphasised the “No Breakdowns” clause.


Jan was cracking up with laughter on the other side of the van, which made it almost impossible to maintain my composure but somehow I managed it and then, in all seriousness, I agreed that I hadn’t really planned my breakdown properly this time. I told him that usually I planned my breakdowns to happen in Tesco’s car park so that my wife could do the weeks shopping at the same time. Sort of killing two birds with one stone as it were.

His response?

“Well you got it wrong this time then didn’t you, ‘cos there ain’t no Tesco’s round here is there?”.

I agreed that “I’d messed up this breakdown spectacularly and I should really have researched my breakdown destination far better before I set off”. I went on to reassure him that “Our next five breakdowns are all scheduled and organised already. We’re having three for Wales and another two are planned for when we go to Yorkshire and that barring any unplanned, or unexpected as I call them, breakdowns, we shouldn’t be needing his roadside verge again”

“Yeah….Well…..Good”. He said and, dribbling a bit and with his knuckles only slightly dragging on the floor, made his way back to his van, turned it around and drove past us (again) with plenty of room to spare and disappeared off down the M11 slip road.

For my part, I carried on fixing the van, then drove down to meet our very good friends with their vans and had a fantastic weekend.


The happy campers.


Ambling back after a nice afternoon stroll to pet the horses.


I had a bit of trouble with some of the smaller campers, this one insisted on a duel with feathers, (I won by the way, despite what Amelia thinks).


As we all have old campervans there was obviously a certain amount of praying to the Gods of CV Joints and Exhaust Pipes.


Sometimes you have to take extreme measures to protect your beloved campervan, especially if you’re camping with someone who isn’t very skilled with awnings and the springy poles that hold them up.Obviously I won’t embarrass him by telling you his full name on here but I can say that it starts with ‘An’ and ends in ‘drew’.


My favourite aspect of owning an old campervan, the communal sharing, cooking, eating and drinking surrounded by good friends with feral herds of children and dogs running around.



4 thoughts on “You can’t break down here!

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