Sean O'Grady: Camper vans - All the home comforts, not too bad to drive

I never knew you could plug a camper van into the mains. Did you? The revelation came to me in the Carlyon Bay Caravan and Camping Park, Cornwall. All I had done on taking delivery of our test vehicle, a new Volkswagen California camper van, was hop in it and drive down there, slightly dreading the idea of living in the thing.

One assumption was that the only way to keep warm when resting in a vehicle is to leave the engine running and turn the heater on. Given the unacceptable cost and waste of fuel involved, as well as due deference to the planet, I was prepared for a chilly few nights as I enjoyed the fag end of "summer". But no such privations were endured.

Campsites these days – apologies to those of you who are weatherbeaten regulars – have these little posts in the ground and you plug your camper into one. Then, using a continental to UK mains adaptor, I found I could plug in a portable DVD player, and watch the original Saw movie in the middle of a field. Not good for the nerves.

The second revelation was that this beautifully crafted VW has an auxiliary heater system that just uses a little diesel to keep the van warm – and leaves the engine off. It is effective. While it is keeping the van warm, a similar secondary motor is keeping the mini-fridge cool. The kitchen, such as it is, consists of the fridge lid (worktop), a twin gas hob plus a little sink, with the water pumped up from an on-board tank.

Your California also has two double beds, one constructed from the rear bench seat plus a sort of ledge in the boot and the other in the pop-up tent in the roof. This, I hasten to add, is electrically driven, so no mucking about with spanners in the middle of the night.

The third revelation was less of a shock. The VW California isn't too bad to drive. An awful lot better than Jamie Oliver's classic 1961 VW "Samba" camper I had a go in a few months back, at any rate. I kind of suspected it because I knew the California was based on the VW Transporter, which, like most vans, is designed to help its driver to spend lots of time in its cabin. Thus, the seats were excellent.

However, it is still a van. That means that you will not get, even for your £38,000 outlay, steering wheel controls for the stereo, or decent handling, and it is a bit too big to park easily. Obviously, it's able to keep up, but unless you use the slightly incongruous "S" setting on the auto gearbox, you are going to be holding up the rest of the traffic, in true Emmet style.

Emmet, in case you didn't know, is the derogatory Cornish term for an idiot tourist – like me. Maybe, but at least I didn't fall for that bogus website promoting Porthemmet, "a palm-fringed Cornish beach where topless sunbathing is encouraged". Carlyon Bay and St Ives were scarcely less lovely than that elegiac-sounding hoax. Dha weles!

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam