Grab your coat, you’ve pulled

Let me start by reassuring my readers that I have not been cheating on my wife.  I’m talking about pulling of a different kind.

One of the great things about being married is that you also gain a whole new family, and whereas traditionally the in-laws are meant to be evil incarnate I’m pleased to say that I love my additional parents very much.  My father-in-law is one of those sort of people who has everything.  If you need a particular garden tool, he’ll have three.  If you need to rig up some lighting for an amateur drama stage, he’ll have more than enough cabling just lying around waiting to be used.  If it’s raining and you didn’t bring an umbrella, he has nine spares.  It does of course mean that going to visit is a battle of wills – if you even hint at not having something, it’ll have been smuggled into your boot before you’ve left.

And then he offered us a trailer tent.

Now, Ellie and I have both had a fair amount of experience camping, in one form or another, and we would both quite happily go on a camping holiday.  I used to go on plenty of family camping holidays when I was growing up, and Ellie has done even more extreme camping in North Wales and Peru.  But with a child on the way, camping was pretty much relegated as something we might go back to in a few years’ time.  But then we were offered a trailer tent, and it was a temptation we just couldn’t pass up.

The first step was getting the car ready.  I spent many hours researching tow bars, weighing up the options and trying to find places nearby that could help.  In the end we went with a company called TopFit, which is based in Gloucester but which mainly operates out of the back of a fleet of vans – rather than you driving your car to their garage, they bring their van to you and work on the car at your home instead.  It was a good price, and the work was done quickly and competently, and our Ford Escort is now equipped with a tow bar with twin electrics.

Then on Saturday we drove up to Gloucester to visit family and pick up the trailer tent.  I had been looking forward to this for some time, actually, rehearsing the entire journey in my head time after time.  First of all we had to get the trailer tent out of Dad’s garage and put it back on its wheels – it has a nifty set of caster wheels that slot onto the side so you can tip it up and store it more efficiently.  Then we had to check that everything was inside that needed to be.  This is where we had to vet everything that Dad picked up, in case he tried to palm off various bits and pieces that we didn’t need but he wanted to get rid of.  We successfully managed to avoid taking ownership of two tables and a wok, but I’m sure once we put it all up we’ll find all sorts of stuff that had been sneaked in without us knowing.

As for the number plate, we sort of bodged that one on this occasion.  The previous number plate had been done with sticky letters, rather than a ‘real’ number plate, so we took those off (with some acid chemical type thing that just happened to be in the garage) and created new letters and numbers with some electrical tape.  It wasn’t too bad actually – a lot better than some number plates you see on the road sometimes.  We’ll get it done properly eventually, but for the sake of the journey home I figured we could get away with it, even it wasn’t using the ‘official’ number plate font.

So then we hooked it up to the car, tested the lights, gave everything one more check, and pulled away.  I was expecting the weight to be a big issue, given that an Escort isn’t a particular big car, but the 1.8 litre engine seemed to cope with it just fine, even pulling away on a slight incline.  In fact, the drive home was mostly uneventful, as if the trailer tent wasn’t there at all.  I did drive more slowly than usual, taking corners carefully and leaving more than the usual amount of stopping space in front.  But the little Escort coped with it all just fine, helped no doubt by the fact that the trailer is actually braked (pressure on the towing bar of the trailer activates its own brakes, which is very clever and seemed to work very well).  I did notice the extra weight going up some of the steeper hills through Somerset, but otherwise it all went swimmingly.

I even set myself a little challenge when we pulled in at a service station on the M5 between Gloucester and Bristol, by pulling into a space that required me to reverse back out.  I did leave enough space at the front so that I could pull out forwards if it all went horribly wrong (the car park was mostly empty), but in the end it was all fine.  I was very pleased that I very naturally got my head around which way to turn to get the trailer to go where I wanted it, and although I would still need plenty of practice to have complete control of it, it was incredibly satisfying to know that I had already mastered the basic principle of it.  Unlike James May.

The biggest challenge was actually when we got back home.  It was dark and raining when we arrived, which made it a bit more miserable, and with Ellie being ‘great with child’ she wasn’t able to lend a hand manually manoeuvring the trailer into the garage.  The bit of drive outside the garage is also on a slight slope, so I had to be careful that the trailer didn’t drift off uncontrollably.  Thankfully there is a handbrake on the front, so I kept hold of that so that I could stop it if it did get out of control.  Then it was just a case of swinging it round and pushing it into the garage.  I say “just” – in actual fact it was a bit of a nightmare.  I pushed and pulled and strained, with my trainers struggling for grip on the wet tarmac, using all my strength and energy trying to get the trailer to move.  And then I realised – the brakes were still slightly on.  Oops.  Once I had released the brake handle fully it was fine, and was into the garage in moments, but I was already exhausted.  A lesson learnt.

So now we have a trailer tent in the garage.  It’ll be spring or summer before we’ll actually get to play with it, but it’ll certainly make holidaying much cheaper.  So thank you, father-in-law, for offloading something onto us that we can make use of.

I also ought to just clarify the title of this post, in case any of you are still confused, as Ellie was.  The coat refers to the fact that it was raining.  The pulling was of the trailer tent, by the car, and later by me.  There is no ‘other woman’.  Promise.

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