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Waste and water: unexpected hazards of campervan life


I did eventually get to sleep and we both woke up feeling raring to go. We were keen to get to St Ives, and after a quick breakfast Emm packed up everything inside, whilst I did all the outside jobs. After turning off the gas, disconnecting the electric hook-up, coiling up the cable (again a messy job due to the dew and muddy worm casts) and remembering to raise the steps, I was ready to set off. But much to my annoyance, Emm insisted on checking everything once more. It was just as well she did, as we were about to drive off without our rubber mat again and the fridge was still set to the ‘240V’ position, not the ‘12V’ position. So many things to remember! Surely, we hoped, everything would eventually become second nature to us both.

Even though we’d used the site facilities for showering and most of our washing up, we’d inevitably used some of our water and I thought that we ought to empty our waste water tank and fill up with fresh water before we left the site. The waste disposal facility and fresh water tap were just around the corner by the toilet block and we had to drive past them on our way out. So, no sooner had we started off and turned the corner, I pulled up by the tap and stepped down from the motorhome. We’d bought a plastic bowl especially to collect the dirty water and I got it out of the side locker, put it under the motorhome’s waste water emptying point underneath the steps, bent down and opened the drainage valve.

Nigel Rowland Hicks book coverA stream of murky, smelly grey water gushed out all over my hand and the bowl quickly filled up. I crouched down to turn the valve off before the bowl overflowed, then slid it out from underneath the vehicle and emptied it into the special drain. Unfortunately, the bowl was filled to its brim and, as I carefully picked it up, the inevitable happened and some of the foul smelling water slopped down the front of my light coloured trousers. I thought it was just as well they were not my smartest pair and hoped nobody would notice the smelly wet stain down my crotch.

However, Emm’s eagle eyes spotted it straight away and from the tone of her voice anyone would have thought I’d done it deliberately. I ignored her not-so-helpful comments and extracted another half a bowl full of waste water, which this time I managed to empty without any more embarrassing spillages. I then made a mental note to make up a piece of old washing machine hose which could be screwed onto the waste valve and hopefully drain the waste water straight into the disposal point in future.

Having emptied the waste, I then needed to top up with fresh water which I thought would be a straightforward job that wouldn’t take long. We had a special hose which we’d bought especially for the purpose, and all I had to do was push its so-called universal tap connector onto the tap; remove the motorhome’s water filler cap; put the other end of the hose in the water filler inlet; turn on the tap; wait until water flowed through the hose and started to pour out of the top of the filler inlet; turn the tap off; coil up the hose; put it back in its storage compartment; replace the filler cap, and drive off with a full tank of fresh water.

Nothing could be simpler, or so I naively thought as I uncoiled the hose. I pushed the connector firmly over the tap, walked around to the other side of the motorhome and placed the other end of the hose into the water filler inlet. As I then went back to the tap Emm asked if she could do anything to help, but I politely declined her offer saying that everything was under control and that I’d only be a few minutes.

How wrong I was! The moment I turned on the tap, the connector immediately shot off and a powerful jet of icy cold water sprayed all over my shoes, the bottoms of my trouser legs and my socks. I must have looked extremely comical as I jumped out of the way, cursing to myself under my breath. There was far too much water pressure and I’d obviously turned the tap on too far. I turned it off as fast as I could and confidently replaced the connector over the tap once more. Being forewarned regarding the high water pressure, I turned the tap on again, more gently this time, but the hose connector still shot off and more water gushed onto the ground, just missing my feet as I leapt out of the way once more!

I forced the connector back over the tap yet again, and in order to achieve the best seal possible pulled it up as tightly as I could. I gradually turned the tap on again to allow little more than a trickle of water to flow out. Then, pleased that the connector stayed put and water started to flow slowly through the hose, I went round to the other side of the motorhome to position myself next to the water filler inlet and wait for the tank to be filled. Of course, from where I was then standing, I could no longer see the tap. But even though I knew it would take a little longer for the tank to fill with the reduced flow of water, I was reasonably confident all would be well this time. I waited and watched and watched and waited, but proceedings seemed to take forever. So, finally running out of patience, I lifted the hose out of the water filler inlet, and surprise, surprise, nothing was coming out. Not a single drop!

I cursed again, more audibly this time, put the hose back into the water filler inlet and stomped back round to the tap, where I couldn’t believe what I saw. The hopeless hose connector had detached itself from the tap yet again and water was pouring straight out onto the ground to create a growing puddle of fresh clean water. Feeling stupid, frustrated and guilty that I’d been wasting such a valuable commodity, I thought I now needed to ask Emm to come down from her elevated position in the passenger seat and help. She’d been sitting there engrossed in a book, apparently oblivious to my difficulties and, when she looked up, she thought I was ready to go. When I enlightened her and asked if she’d give me a hand she reminded me that, when she’d offered to help earlier, I told her I had everything under control. Consequently I had to eat a bit of humble pie, as it were, and tried to explain why it was taking so long. She sighed as she reluctantly closed her book, and then stepped down onto the wet grass to help. I asked her to firmly hold the connector onto the tap and make sure it didn’t come off again. She then crouched over the tap with her legs spread wide apart to keep her feet out of the puddle, and held the connector onto the tap as tightly as possible with both hands. In fact, the way she squeezed her small hands around that tap looked as though she imagined she was throttling someone!

Feeling an imaginary tightness in my throat, I once more went around to the opposite side of the vehicle to ensure that the other end of the hose didn’t fall out of the water filler inlet. I then shouted out to her to turn the tap on, which she assured me she did.

Nigel Rowland Hicks book coverHowever, still nothing seemed to happen. So, assuming she’d not heard, I shouted a bit louder and repeated my request. Emm told me not to shout and, in no uncertain terms, told me that she had turned the tap on. So I had no choice but to wait for the tank to fill. Again, it seemed to take forever, so a touch too sarcastically, I yelled back for her to double check that the tap hadn’t mysteriously turned itself off and that water was actually flowing out of it. She bellowed back to the effect that of course it was turned on. But still nothing seemed to be happening at my end.

I could see water in the hose and tried to be patient as I waited a bit longer. Then, thinking we should turn the tap on a bit more to increase the flow, I called out to Emm to ask her to please do so.

Mystified that still nothing much appeared to be happening, I carefully took the hose out of the water filler inlet and couldn’t believe what I saw. Or, for that matter, didn’t see. Not one single drop of water was coming out of the hose!

I put the hose up to my eye and peered down it in a comical sort of way, fully expecting the water to suddenly gush out and give my face a good soaking, just like a scene from an old silent comedy film. But nothing happened, which was probably just as well. I thought that for some unknown reason Emm must have turned the tap off, as I just couldn’t think of any other explanation. Surely she wasn’t having a laugh at my expense?

I shouted out to her again, a bit louder this time, and told her that nothing was coming out of the hose and that, if she wanted to move on to St Ives, she’d better stop messing about and turn the bloody tap on properly. Or words to that effect! She informed me, in an even louder voice, that the tap most definitely was turned on and remarked whether I thought she was stupid or something!

I put the hose back into the water filler inlet, not so much to fill the tank but so it didn’t fall out and drag on the ground in the mud, and then went back round to the tap. Actually, more like stormed round to see for myself precisely what Emm had been doing – or rather not doing – which could have caused the water to disappear into thin air along a few metres of translucent plastic pipe!

I’d half expected to find that she’d abandoned the tap and was back in the motorhome with arms crossed, not best pleased that I’d raised my voice. But no, she was still valiantly bending over the tap, legs spread even further apart, as the puddle under her had now reached the proportions of a small garden pond!

It was so incomprehensible until, on closer inspection, I deduced that the tap was lower than the motorhome’s water filler inlet. Consequently the water would only flow so far along the hose until it reached the point where it was the same level as the tap. Then, rather than defy the laws of physics by continuing on its short but impossible uphill journey into the motorhome’s water tank, it would make its way through the inevitable gap around the hose connector and pour out onto the ground.

I was really surprised with the design of the universal tap connector which was supplied with the hose. It was just a flexible, funnel shaped piece of rubbery plastic, which was meant to be pushed over the tap and supposedly kept in place by nothing more than friction. However, as soon as the tap was turned on, it was never going to stay in place, and if physically held in position, as we tried to do, the water was always going to take the least line of resistance by forcing itself through the imperfect seal between the tap and the connector before spilling out onto the ground.

It was a stupid design, and I thought we surely couldn’t be the first motorhomers to experience this problem. I remembered I’d had similar problems at home before we set off, but then I was trying fill up from the utility room mixer tap. Although the connector didn’t form a perfect seal, at least the mixer was physically higher than the motorhome’s filler inlet and I did get water to flow into the tank. Just at that point a man nonchalantly strolled up to the tap to fill his rather elaborate caravan water tank. This was a large (5 gallon?) cylindrical plastic tank which was fitted with a detachable handle and, when full and too heavy to carry, could be rolled effortlessly along the ground back to the caravan in a similar manner to a lawn roller. He appeared not to have witnessed our shenanigans, and rather than have him watch our difficulties Emm offered to let him fill his tank before us. But the poor deluded fool told us he was in no hurry, and insisted on waiting for us to finish topping up.

Nigel Rowland Hicks book coverJudging from his reaction when we exchanged greetings, he seemed to think we knew what we were doing and that he wouldn’t have to wait very long. I asked Emm, in a nice tone of voice this time, if she would please go round to the other side of the motorhome and make sure the hose didn’t come out of the water filler inlet, whilst I held the worse-than-useless, so-called universal tap connector in place.

Luckily, with my bigger hands, I managed to grip it much more firmly and achieve a much better seal.

As I turned on the tap, I immediately appreciated the problems Emm had encountered. Once water was flowing, there was no way the connector could ever stay in position, nor was there the slightest possibility that the seal could be made anywhere near good enough. And even though I had my large hands squeezed tightly around the connector to ensure the best seal possible, some water still poured out over my hands, up my sleeves and onto my feet. However, at last we somehow managed to get enough water to flow along the whole length of the hose and deposit itself inside the motorhome’s water tank, where it was meant to go.

Whilst all this was going on, Emm and I stayed outwardly calm, and the caravanner had to wait no more than five minutes whilst we “expertly” filled our tank, disconnected the hose, coiled it up, stowed it away and replaced the filler cap ready to set off. He seemed genuinely impressed with our teamwork and, totally unaware that before he came along we’d gone through twenty-five minutes or so of extreme exasperation, must have thought that filling a motorhome water tank was a darn sight easier than topping up a cumbersome caravan water tank, then having to roll it back to his caravan on the end of a handle like a heavy lawn roller.

All this running water made us both need to rush to the adjacent toilet block, and once we’d attended to our calls of nature we were ready to hit the road at long last. As we finally drove away, I thought we urgently needed a hose connector incorporating a hose clip or suchlike, to enable it to be tightly clamped around a tap to form a perfect watertight fit. We certainly didn’t wish to act out this water torture pantomime again, and I made a mental note to investigate what types were available and buy some at the earliest opportunity.

Extracted – and slightly cut – from Nigel’s book ‘Some People Prefer Hotels‘, due out on the 2nd April 2014, that painstakingly tells the tales of a couple’s string of adventures as they take their first campervan on an epic journey to Cornwall.

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