Class conscious

A few months ago, I asserted in passing that no individual has ever simultaneously possessed a caravan and a university degree, causing the editor to phone with the urgent inquiry, "What about Margaret Beckett?"

But no, that keen caravanner is bristling with HNDs and so on, but doesn't actually have a degree. Then a woman wrote in to say that a friend of hers had a caravan and a degree, but that he was Dutch, and did that count? I regretted to inform her that it did not.

A few weeks later, however, I had a rather tense encounter with my uncle. He has a degree, which I knew about, and also - it unfortunately transpired - a caravan. A short while afterwards, a friend who'd been at a public school told me that one of his teachers, who had a First in maths from Cambridge (and was, in fact, a Senior Wrangler) had kept a caravan in the school grounds.

Of course, the poor chap had the mickey taken out of him relentlessly on account of his mobile home, and while I now concede that the odd caravanner may exist in the higher echelons of the middle class, there's no denying that the practice is regarded chiefly as a ludicrous and creepy fetish of the petit-bourgeoisie.

I called the Camping and Caravanning Club to ask how this had come about, and the spokesperson answered bitterly with two words: "Jeremy Clarkson" (I'm not too familiar with the rantings of Clarkson, but apparently he directs a lot of his fire at caravans). "It's just not taken seriously as a mode of leisure," the spokesman added glumly.

On the other hand, 60 per cent of all people who go camping with the Camping and Caravanning Club are caravanners, as are all the members of the Caravanning Club, who will not let the tenting minority on to their sites.

I myself went camping in a tent recently and was told by the proprietor of the site that tenters of today have a bad name among caravanners, "because they're usually backpackers who stay up all night swilling beer".

It's nice to know that caravanners, possibly the country's leading victims of snobbery, have people they in turn can look down on.

This article first appeared in the 17 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Special Report - Lost souls in the city in the sky