Caravans T HERE are caravans and caravans. The Encyclo- pa.?dia Britannica
recognizes only one kind, namely, " A body of merchants, or pilgrims, travelling together for greater security against robbers," with camels as their beasts of burden, " harnessed in strings of fifty or more," and the leader " gaily decorated with parti-coloured trappings, tassels, and bells." And the Encyclopaedia is, of course, right ; that is the authentic caravan—a desert fleet of merchantmen, travelling laboriously over burn- ing sands with many cargoes, silks and oranges, carpets and embroidered shoes and coloured cloths ; a stirring and romantic spectacle, with nothing odd, or wayward, or too familiar about it. Caravan : the very syllables of this word, properly considered and dwelt on, suggest " something rich and strange." Yet it is impossible to get away from the fact that, from the point of view of the people for whom it was compiled, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has, as it were, " said a mouthful," and is talking about the wrong word altogether. To the average Briton a caravan has nothing to do with camels and bells, and it does not look romantic. It is simply a smallish house on wheels, drawn by an old horse or a new motor car. There again we have sharp divisions. The caravan drawn by an old horse has practically nothing in common with the motor-drawn vehicle except that both are on wheels and may be moved about the countryside at the will of their occupants. The horse-drawn residence is usually little more than a creaking wooden shack moving in a perpetual odour of cooking rabbits and Spanish onions, with a crazy chimney in its roof and a couple of whippet dogs tied up to its underparts and running patiently along with it ; whilst the modern motor caravan is a luxuriously furnished London flat with every con- venience down to shaded electric light bulbs over the beds. You would find as many resemblances between a lighthouse and the Bank of. England.
Life in a horse-drawn caravan is very delightful in the summer-time and autumn. When we—that is, myself and the family of gipsies who owned the caravan and allowed me to travel with them—were on the road, we had nothing to do but smoke, tap the old horse now and then with a willow sapling, encourage the whippets running below us, and gaze at the changing countryside ; and of course, eat stewed rabbit and onions. We travelled through the apple-country of Kent, when the land was golden and rose-coloured and softly ripening, and even- tually came to rest in a hop-garden. Then we had nothing to do but unhook—or should it be disconnect ?—the old horse from our house, poach one or two pheasants from the Medway woods, and go out into the hop-garden and pick hops. It was all very beautiful until the rains began. But when water dripped through the roof and gave me a cold bath at night I began to wonder if better caravans than this could not, somehow, be invented.
I had not heard of these flats on wheels then. The other day, however, I looked over one, and said to myself, as I turned on the radiator, " Well, this is exactly what I should have liked to have had in that hop-garden. This is the sort of fiat I should like to live in—always a different view when you wake up, mountains one day, blue sea- lochs the next, and no trouble with breakfast. Why didn't I know about this before ? "
It wouldn't have been any good, though, and alas isn't any good now. You want thousands of pounds, or nearly, to be a gipsy of this sort. Look at some of the things you have to pay for in these Trailers—I am glad, by the way, that a new word has been invented at last. Now we know where we are.
In the first place, these perambulating motor flats are waterproof, steel-armoured, and may be enamelled in any gay colour you like, so that they don't rust ; secondly they have tyred wheels, and only two at that, so that they can run along the roughest of roads as airily as water wagtails ; thirdly, they may be divided into at least three comfortable rooms, all as light as could be with big bungalow windows, and the living-room fitted out with chintz-covered settees, folding writing-desks, book-cases —every conceivable whatnot that a thoroughly educated and up-to-date gipsy (and, of course, all gipsies, except the horse-stealing and hop-picking sort, are educated nowadays) could desire ; and fourthly the de luxe trailer, the really de luxe trailer, looks as trim and respectable externally as a stockbroker's holiday villa at Cannes or St. Malo. You don't have to rough it in the caravan of 1928: in fact, you can't.
And why, after all, should anyone want to ,rough it when they have no need to ? We are all, nowadays, terribly keen on talking about " getting back to nature " : out into the open spaces with only the blue (or grey) dome of heaven above us, a hunk of bread and cheese for food and the running water of the brook for drink. It is a beautiful idea, but, except for a very feiv people, it is all wrong. Hardly anyone in England likes sleeping under the dome of heaven ; they know too well that, whatever colour the night-sky may start by being, a deep violet -- - or a pansy-purple flecked with silver, almost any minute it may change- to a wet, soggish grey. It is much better to have a roof, and a roof that does not leak, over one's head. And bread and cheese is an impossible diet to live long on—I know, I have tried it for several days at a time. Also, I prefer wine to water ; and you can't carry a cellar about with you in an old tumbledown wood shack.
We really need a new slogan for this " back to nature " business. " Fit your flat with wheels.! " ; " Carry your house with you—become a snail man." Something of that sort. Why do we go on pretending that we like dis- comfort, when so few of us ever even give it a trial ? Who would buy a horse-drawn shack if he could afford a motor trailer ? Certainly any of the gipsies—I mean the old; unimportant sort of gipsies-that I have known, would have exchanged their caravan for a successful author's or a hundred-pound-a-week actress's ; that is, if they could be free from Press photographers and, of course, the social obligations of living in a perfectly beautiful flat. But there is always a " snag " somewhere.
We seem to have come a long way from camels and tinkling bells in the desert ; but there are caravans and