Seldom have these words been heard in a caravan, "Where's nunc-nunc?" (22-month-old Jennifer speaking). "Upstairs in bed."
Now the operative word here is upstairs, for we were in the Statesman, the new double-decker which Berkeley have produced for the Motor Show. But first to set the scene.
The Statesman had been placed in a large field surrounded by bullocks, rabbits and rain, while i nside were Martin Lumby of the Caravan and 'Trailer Trades Journal, his wife and daughter, Jennifer, and, on the first floor back, myself, wife and nine-week-old Gay Anne. And if you can think of a more severe test of a van, you are welcome to try it '
The top storey had to come sometime. If the manufacturer can't increase the size lengthways or sideways, the obvious thing to do is to go upwards to the stars. Amateur builders have made such a van, it has been produced in the States and at least one other manufacturer is planning the same thing. But Berkeley's are first in the British field. In appearance, the Statesman (or L3 as this prototype was then known) is like a BOAC bus with the double room extension at the rear. The van is painted green and cream, there are no end windows and the side windows can be fitted with gay green and white sun blinds in the French style. Stabilising rods, which slide into slots on both sides of the van, can be obtained. By tightening the detachable screw metal top, the wide metal bases of the rods bite into the ground and help to keep the van steady in high wind. In normal weather it should not be necessary to use them.
In layout the van has five rooms ; a front end kitchen, lounge with stairs on the offside leading to the bedroom. A door on the nearside leads into the washroom and toilet, and then comes the ground floor children's room with two single beds and a cot attachment.
The obvious advantage with this arrangement is that one can go to bed without a major upheaval and general post. The beds are made up and the which meant that children can sleep away from the noise of the lounge.
The kitchen is full of storage space. Nearside larder, cutlery drawers, cupboards with sliding doors under the plastic sink and drainer, lockers above, shelves each side of the kitchen, Calor Gas B500 cooker on the offside by the window.
One of the jollier games we played was "water tipping". A ten-gallon tank was under the sink but we had no water carriers or a pouring funnel. So saucepans and a bucket were taken 500 yards for water, then poured into a kettle, then into an empty ale bottle we happened to have with us and then into the tank. But in the normal course of things a cranked funnel and carrier would be part of the residential equipment.
The womenfolk were full of praise for the kitchen and especially the Formica covered working tops.
Dividing the lounge from the kitchen are two doors, one full height and the other stable type. We had mixed feelings about this and can see the top half of the stable door decapitating somebody round the corner.
Part of the price one pays for fixed bedrooms is a smallest lounge. This one measures 7ft. wide by 8^ft. long. We were supplied with two dining chairs, two folding chairs and a large easy chair which can form another single bed. There is an excellent dining table which extends to 4ft. long. Underneath is a shelf for books chairs couldn't be pushed underneath, consequently it was a minor mountaineering feat to get from one side of the room to another at times. Actually the standard equipment of the lounge hadn't yet been decided when we were carrying out this experiment.
The built-in furniture is distinctive and very well made. There are no knobs on the drawers of the nearside sideboard, they pull out by a hand recess under the front edge. Next to this is a large cupboard for brooms and shelves for cleaning materials, the door opening bv a Tutch Latch. On the offside are two windows, a 30in. x 20in. surmounted by a 30in. x 15in. giving plenty of light and if sited well an excellent view, in our case a large wet hedge.
A solid fuel stove, in this instance an Essex, faced the lounge with the hot water tank in the washroom. This room is a cunning piece of design. A "secret" panel slides up to reveal the gas cylinder and an Elsan; the latter is on castors and wheels out for use. When this is stowed away, the action of closing the panel opens a large compartment. Also in the washroom is a plastic sink with storage space underneath. Plasticcurtains slide roundon a rail for the gravity type shower. Hanging rails and ahammered glass window complete the equipment.
This room also solved the nappy drying problem. By putting a Crossland gas fire there via a point in the lounge and length of tubing, it made a good airing place or orchard house!
The end bedroom is well ventilated, having fixed wall vents, and comfortable ; it is a gross hyperbole to say that every time I turned over upstairs, M.L. fell out of bed below!
The top room has probably the largest caravan bed ever, 6ft. 3in. x 4ft. llin. The 2ft. wide gangway is dropped to give 5ft. 9in. headroom. At the end of the gangway is a dressing table with mirror (there is a full length mirror in the lounge and shaving mirror in the washroom). A long, narrow wardrobe extends the length of the bed, the gangway at the end being 1ft. wide. To get into bed, which is 3ft. 2in. off the deck, there is a sliding platform, which also serves as a seat for the dressing table. With this drop, the wife felt she was sleeping on the edge of a precipice and it might be reassuring to have some type of folding rail at the side. There are gaslights in every room, of course, and in addition there is a battery operated night light at the head of the bed. (Very useful this, when the baby wakes up before dawn.) One can sit up in bed, and behind the padded headrests is the airing cupboard and storage space.
This short trial of ours was a privilege but at the same time tantalising. The van was a prototype, still in course of development. Between mid-August and the opening of the Show quite a lot of improvement must be going on. Even from this incomplete version, however, it is clear that Berkeleys have one of the star exhibits of the Show, and that the double decker is here to stay.