Colour photograph of a white caravan from outside the wooden orchard gates, framed by trees, with a red brick tiled cottage behind it. If you look very carefully, you can see a Westie immediately behind the gate.


Holton Lee

Visit 31: 9 - 11 July 2010

Colour photograph of reeds reflected in pond water, with a grassy bank in the background.

Our next visit to Holton Lee takes place at the end of the hottest week of the year to date, and after an extremely busy fortnight during which a PA has clashed with a truck while driving my van. This explains why we are in Julie's very ancient jeep, sweltering on the motorway on a Friday afternoon. Only when we finally get out of London do I realise that I've forgotten the caravan key .... Fortunately, Denise has the spare and invites us to have supper when we come to pick it up. The prospect of this keeps us going through more long hot motorway hours, when we think we might start to melt.

Luckily, by the time we are driving through the New Forest the weather has already started to improve - there is a breeze blowing, and we smell the sea long before we reach Poole. We are only able to go to Dorset for a couple of nights as Julie is chairing a conference on Monday, but it is still worth it to get away from London. After tuna salad and strawberries with Wally and Denise, we all start to feel better, including Genie who is very lame as she has somehow hurt one of her back legs. She is on anti-inflammatory tablets, but so far they don't appear to be working although it doesn't seem to bother her much.

We finally arrive at Holton Lee around 9pm, and find there is a churches' camp in full progress. Connect 10 has brought together 30 churches of all kinds from around Dorset for a five-day programme, and it is great to see them at Holton Lee. Everyone is very friendly, but as dark is falling rapidly now we head for the caravan and I unpack while Julie visits our neighbours to arrange to hook up our power supply. I will never understand why the caravan was wired partly to run on the battery and partly on mains power, although I can see why certain items like the TV need mains voltage. Thank goodness the neighbours are so accommodating as we can't get the fridge - essential in this weather - working without their help despite the fact that it is supposed to run on bottled gas as an alternative to the mains!

Anyway, the main thing is that the caravan is still in one piece, although there is further unwelcome evidence that the layer between the outside panels and the interior decoration is deteriorating. It might well be the last Mustang caravan left in the world, since it is 30 years old this year. As I discovered last year, the Mustang Owners Club is still going strong, but I am the only one who actually still has a Mustang. There is not much more we can do to conserve it now though apart from erecting a frame over it and putting corrugated plastic panels over the top and back of it to protect it from the weather more effectively than the cover can do.

We unpack quickly and are soon watching eviction night in the Big Brother house. Why is British television so rubbish in the summer? And what will we do next year, as this is the last ever Big Brother? Often we are too tired even to read, although we always read a lot while we are down here too. However, once the programme is over we turn the television off and just enjoy the peace and quiet - soon we are having the best night's sleep we have had in a month. We are watched over by Maggi the teddy bear - her 'bravery certificate' from last month's visit makes me laugh whenever I look at it on the wall over the bed.

Colour photograph of purple thistles in long grass.

We wake up to choruses of bird song - the birds this year seem more plentiful and sing more beautifully than ever. We lie there just listening for a while, and then have breakfast in bed and rest some more. It is already hot outside, but with the curtains shut and the windows open, we are able to stay fairly cool in the caravan. Only hunger eventually sends us to Wareham, where I enjoy my usual tofu ice cream at the wholefood shop. I also manage to buy some matt black spray paint at my favourite ironmongers, Lords, for an installation that I am creating at the Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum when my Abnormal exhibition finishes its tour there in autumn 2011. And we visit the Kucchi Bazaar where, as usual, we are able to buy various birthday presents as well as things for our own homes.

Having somehow remembered to pick up essential food items too, we return to Holton Lee where we spend the afternoon reading in the caravan in the relative cool and shade - bliss. Last Saturday afternoon I spent 40 minutes performing outdoors in the boiling heat with Graeae Theatre Company's Rhinestone Rollers comedy wheelchair line-dancing troupe; this is a wonderful contrast. Only when the sun starts to set do Genie and I go off for a walk and take some photographs - Genie riding on the footplate of the scooter that I have borrowed from the stables as I haven't been able to fit mine into Julie's car. We visit the nearest bird hide and then take the boardwalk to the island in the reedbeds, but the closest we come to seeing deer is a rustle in the distance; clearly they have decided to stay where it is coolest too.

After we return and hand the scooter over to Julie, I read some more until it is time to prepare supper. Julie is late getting back from her own photographic trip, and when she finally arrives, to my horror tells me that she was confronted by four carloads of teenagers who were intending to camp in front of the Chase Manhattan hide, just a little further into the woods than Genie and I got. She has managed to persuade them to leave, but only minutes before they were going to light a fire. As the heath is dry as tinder, Holton Lee has had a lucky escape - as of course has Julie. Later Genie and I watch for intruders coming back, but the church people are leaving the site (they told us earlier that they had 250 people arrive for the day, which was wonderful) and this seems to help to put trespassers off from entering.

We have another blissful night's sleep, after which it is time to start packing up again - far too soon. But we are meeting Wally and Denise for lunch at the Craft Courtyard, and then visiting our artist friend Silvia in Twyford on the way home. One of my PAs has mended the caravan cover, so we are able to get that back on for added protection before we go. It's only been a flying visit, but as always after visiting Holton Lee, we feel refreshed by it and look forward to returning again soon.

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