The Caravan Sales Business next door to our garage had a Caravan in Saint Tropez which they rented out, I had done a deal with them and reserved it for 3 weeks in the Summer and I was about 3 days away from setting off in my car on the 1200 mile drive, I was stopping overnight at my mates in Portsmouth then on to Dover across to Calais and then next stop Pampelonne Beach in the South Of France.
My “Smoker” at the time was a New Polar White Vauxhall Cavalier GLSi Hatchback and I wanted to keep the mileage down on it so that it would be more saleable when it came off our Demonstrator Plan, and I had decided to go in an Older used Vauxhall Carlton that was in stock at the time, I had chosen this one on the grounds that a few thousand miles more on the clock wouldn’t make any difference to its resale value, and that it was the only car we had in stock that was fitted with Air Conditioning, A/C was very rare in the 80’s few cars had it fitted as standard and it cost a fortune as an extra cost option, I had fully serviced the Car and checked everything it was all ready to go.
On reflection I should have removed it from our advert, there was no Internet then, and it was when advertising in the local paper used to work, a local guy had come to look at it and even though I wasn’t offering him a very good deal on his part exchange he still wanted to buy it, his PX was a Vauxhall Cavalier CD 5 Door Hatchback finished in White Gold Two Coat Metallic Paint, and it was minging inside, but it did have Air Conditioning, I would valet this car and this would be my transport for “The Route De Soleil”
When I finished the valet the car looked a hell of a lot better but it did have a minor imperfection and it was one of my many pet hates, there was a trolley dent right in the middle of the rear nearside door, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and once I see a trolley dent I can’t look past it, there was no such thing as “Dentmasters” then, today you would just ring them and they would come and by inserting a series of metal rods between the window and the door skin they would work the metal and push the dent out leaving no need for the car to be resprayed, it would take about half an hour and cost £45.00
Two Coat Metallic was also an extra cost option and was quite rare, the cars colour had a coat of lacquer over the top, it served as a protection from the elements, stopping the paint oxidising (fading) and gave the car a better shine Back in the 80’s to repair it I would need to sand the paintwork around the dent using various different “Grits per Inch” wet and dry paper “feathering” the edges of the lacquer, base colour and grey primer, the high spots caused by the dent would need to be carefully tapped down, the dent then filled with “plastic padding, that would also have to be rubbed down till it was exactly the same curvature as the door, then I would need to spray it with “primer filler” to cover any minor imperfections in the repair, “flat” it down again with “1000’s”wet and dry, Spray it with White Gold merging into the original paint on thedoor, (You couldn’t spray Door edge to door edge as the slightest difference in colour shade would stand out even more) before the White Gold Paint was completely dry the Top Coat Lacquer had to be applied so that it would key to the basecoat and not flake off the next time the car was power washed, all this had to be done in a dust free environment.
I decided that I couldn’t sell the car with the dent in, so I may as well have a go at repairing it before I went on holiday, after all, I couldn’t make it look any worse, I rang our usual paint supplier and he gave me the bad news that there were about 14 different shades of this particular colour and that if I wanted a good match I would have to bring the car while they compared it to their paint samples
There was no such thing as a spectrometer in those days, it was a piece of card painted in the colour with a hole in the middle so you could place it on the car and see if it matched with the naked eye, and a repair that matched in daylight could often stick out like a fighter pilots thumbs under artificial street lighting at night, but spurred on by blind optimism a couple of hours later I had the paint and started the repair, everything went according to plan until I applied the lacquer, you can’t actually see if it’s a good colour match until the lacquers on and It wasn’t, I may as well have painted the door red, A blind man on a galloping horse would be able to see this repair.
Our usual paint supplier said he couldn’t get the paint any closer and suggested that I use a different manufacturer, which I did, Infact I used 2 as the second lot of paint was a mile off to, one shade was too silvery, one was too gold, the 3rd seemed too yellowy , they were all wrong and I couldn’t live with it knowing that anybody in the trade who saw it would say “Which Incompetent did you get to do that” so I set about mixing my own shade with a little bit of all 3, normally paint is mixed using super accurate weighing scales, my mix was like a “Nigella” Recipe I chucked everything in to the concoction and it came out perfect, it had taken me 2 full days working well after the garages normal hours of business to do it but no one would ever notice, I’d even managed to get my new paint finish to match Vauxhalls standard “Orange Peel”, there was a Vauxhall colour called China Blue, but we renamed it Chernobyl Blue because it always had “Fallout” (imperfections, inclusions, specs of dirt) in it, Vauxhalls paint finish left a lot to be desired.
I was setting off on my long journey after work that night and I was already knackered, I had taken too much time on the paintwork and hadn’t had time to service the car and check it over, Cavaliers were known to have several inherent faults, the main one being the camshaft knocking but this one was ok, so I went up to the parts department and got the replacement parts for the rest of the faults just in case anything went wrong on my journey, I also loaded my toolbox into the hatchback.
My mate “Mad Bill” was a larger than life character, he was a little older than me and he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, I met him a few years before when I was staying at a Campsite at Port Pothuau in theSouth Of France, I had always wanted to go to St Tropez but I knew my £75.00 Ford Anglia wouldn’t make it, I couldn’t afford to stay in a Hotel so I went with a firm who did a very cheap package holiday deal, to keep the cost down instead of the 2 hour flight to Nice airport you had to endure a 36 hour Coach ride from England, the trip was pure hell but it was a lot better than the site which was overrun with ants and bright green frogs, If I’m honest it was pretty horrible and nowadays I wouldn’t contemplate staying there, but I was only 18 the weather was fabulous, they served beer in 1 litre glasses and we were just up the road from St Tropez to me it was paradise but a lot of the Women who’d arrived on the same coach had believed the hype in the brochure, they were very disappointed and the sound of crying filled the campsite, one Woman refused to get off the coach and went straight back to the UK, it was more like the wailing wall than the place where the beautiful people hung out.
I had gone with another mate and his girlfriend, she had turned out to be the laziest moaning cow I had ever met, she’d got sunburnt on the first day and she never shut up about it, we used to take it in turns to go to the bar for ice-cold coke a cola’s the bar was quite a way away and when it was her turn to go she said she wasn’t thirsty so she wasn’t going, as I set off to get the cokes again she suddenly changed her mind an asked me to get her one, all the way back from the bar I shook her can up as if I was making a cocktail, she spoiled my plan and opened it the women’s way it exploded all over her boyfriend with hilarious consequences an argument ensued.
I needed to find a new mate who could take a joke and who didn’t have an annoying girlfriend, Bill had been sat at the next table and saw what happened he was killing himself laughing and it soon became apparent that we had the same sense of humour we quickly became friends, the next day our girlfriends decided to go shopping together and left us in the bar, after a few beers we came up with the idea of forming the Port Pothuau Escape Committee, we made a sign put it on our table asking for volunteers to help us dispose of the soil from the tunnel we were digging it even caused amusement amongst the people that were sober and the Staff were joining in on the joke before long everyone was buying us drinks, the rest of the holiday was just a blur.
I arrived at Bill’s house on the first leg of my journey and after a 4-hour drive I wanted to rest but there was no chance of that with Bill and I was then whisked off to the Officers Mess at HMS Excellent the Navy Base in Portsmouth I wasn’t drinking alcohol but when I eventually got to bed it was about 3.30am I should have known better than to go to Bills as I had to set off to catch the ferry at 5.30am, things went from bad to worse the next morning when my engine started overheating, a quick examination revealed that the core plug behind the distributer had perforated and was allowing coolant to seep through, it was the hardest core plug to get too, Cavaliers were notorious for core plug failures. I could do the ones on the main engine block with my eyes shut but this one was trickier, I had brought every size with me but it was a 2-hour job and if I stopped to do it I would miss the boat literally, I did have some filler in my toolkit so I mixed it and forced it into the core plug it held till I was driving up the Hovercraft ramp and then it gave up completely, I had no choice but to carry out the repair on the car park at Calais.
The rest of the trip was largely uneventful but I was so tired the journey seemed to take forever and when we arrived I just wanted to lie down and have a rest but when I opened the door of the Caravan it was like opening the door to an oven the heat that came out of the van was overwhelming, so was the smell, as the previous occupants had left a bottle of milk on the sink, it was rancid and there were flies everywhere, I needed a kip but there was no way I could go in a caravan for a while, so I put a blanket down on the floor and before long I drifted off into a state of semi-consciousness, it was weird I couldn’t sleep properly as I still felt like I was driving, every so often I would dream that I had to slam the brakes on and it would jolt me wide awake.
I was just dozing off again when I heard someone shouting “Attention, Attention” I could hear the sound of running feet and metal clanging against the floor, It felt as if a coil of rope had been dropped on my shoulder, then my girlfriend let out a piercing scream, I opened my eyes and as they focussed I saw a Snake staring back at me, I have never moved so fast in my life, I was incredibly lucky not to get bitten, but when I’m scared it appears that I can move faster than a Mongoose, in one movement I punched it in the face, and jumped to my feet, there was nowhere for me to go I was trapped between 2 caravans which were about 6 feet apart and the 8 or 9 foot hedge which was directly behind me, the snake was in front of me and had reared up with its head in the air, after my punch the snake hadnt taken a cumpulsory 8 count but it was swaying from side to side I dont think it was dazed, but I was really skinny then and perhaps it was trying to decide whether I was a human or another snake, either way it didnt look happy and its tongue was flicking out in my direction.
The snake had been running or slithering for its life, as the 2 gardeners who had disturbed it in the flower beds had then chased after it trying to kill it with their gardening tools they were now stood behind it, but as it wasn’t fleeing and had chosen to stand and fight they weren’t as brave and were unsure about what to do next, one of them moved forward and lunged with his rake trapping the snake underneath, the snake was about 4ft long and he only caught it midway along its body, this seemed to annoy the snake and it kept trying to strike at me I couldn’t move any further back and I was stood on one leg keeping as far away as possible, like a footballer defending a Stuart Pearce free-kick I was using my hands to shield my groin if the snake bit me there I’d be as good as dead, I wouldn’t hold out much hope of one of the Gardeners wanting to suck the poison out.
Now that the snake was trapped I gestured to the other gardener to bring his rake, move it up the snakes body and trap its head to the ground so that I could get away, as is usual with French Guys they only understand English when it’s being spoken by a good looking woman, and thanks to the PopSong “Lady Marmalade” I only knew “Voulez vous couchez avec moi ce soir” which wasn’t going to help my situation, the second gardener completely misunderstood my “Charades” type plan and my “Allo Allo” French Policeman instructions he picked up the biggest brick he could find and threw it down at the snakes head, he missed his intended target but the richochet hit the guy who was holding the rake on his leg so hard it drew blood the shock caused him to let go of the snake which made a bid for freedom it went between my legs and underneath our caravan, another stone was flicked up by the brick it glanced off the side of the caravan before hitting my car on the rear near side door like a bullet, it left a new even larger dent right in the middle of my once invisible repair.
My tale of woe was met with a certain amount of skepticism when I told it to my mates a few weeks later in the Swan on Sunday Night, but I think the context of opinion was that no one could make up a story like that, and it could only happen to me.
Believe it or not, It is a true story!