Now that – very gradually – the world is opening up again, where do you want to go? For most people, the answer would be: anywhere but here. And how, with some measure of caution, are you going to travel? If you want to avoid the viral-shedding crowd, it can’t be a plane or a train. The obvious answer is: in a bubble. I’ve flirted with the hot-air balloon, but the fundamental reality is that what goes up must come down. A bubble on wheels would be way more practical. I used to dream of a non-stop surfari on board a Volkswagen camper. It only took one trip for me to realise it was a bit cramped and there was a lot of bending and stooping involved. Then I discovered vans, or one van in particular.
This is not so much the Lady in the Van as the Woman, the Man, and their Dog in the Van. Alan Bennett’s memoir – filmed with Maggie Smith – is essentially a story of a homeless old woman who happens to live in a delapidated old van parked in his driveway. The more recent Nomadland (now showing in cinemas) strikes a similar note of pathos and melancholy. Frances McDormand wouldn’t have chosen to buy her van if not for her husband dying. She accepts her fate with gritty stoicism. The original book the film is based on, by Jessica Bruder, depicts an impoverished senior sub-culture, haunted by recession, drifting desperately across America – invoking the climactic scene of Thelma & Louise as the only way out.
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