Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Difference a Day Makes

We are officially in the last week of residing at my brothers ... in a brick building with rooms and walls and a proper bathroom, and places to escape from each other ... other than outside. In late breaking news the cat has found a new home with a friend of my mothers in Harlow. Final manoeuvres will be made this Wednesday for the cat. And as long as our saucepans, a mattress topper and a car based laptop charger have arrived by then, we can leave Terra Firma on Thursday or Friday.

We don’t have a plan for a route for the next few days or weeks, other than follow our noses west to meet with our vehicles logbook when the DVLA finish with it. Then copy it, along with Amanda’s licence (which has taken over three weeks to sort out ... mine arrived back midweek last week), then drop the copies to our friends in Wiltshire and Somerset, and with that all done, we’re free to head south.

We do have to acquire Euro style Number plates, a Tax disk and an additional Electronic key fob as mentioned previously ... all these items require the presentation of the Logbook at the vendors. The plan (that we don’t have) is to shakedown for a couple more weeks in the west country making it up as we go, with a view to crossing either the English Channel or the Bay of Biscay, (weather dependent in northern France in October) sometime in the middle of October ... this requires the owner to have the Logbook ... there’s a theme here.

Going straight from England to Spain (Santander) saves us huge amounts of driving to get to guaranteed warm, but does cost a relative packet. This particular enterprise was suggested by our financial planner ... my mate Adrian. It has certain advantages: in twenty four hours you’re in Spain, the cost of the ferry is between £300 and £400.

If you take the cost of fuel from the UK to Spain, compared to a ferry or the train from the UK to France and the days it will take to get to Spain with stops (if you make stops), and tolls where applicable then it works out about the same in terms of cost, as the drive, and you do France on the return next spring. It’s an option, but as above we’ll see what the weather looks like, after all we’re English we are used to cold and wet.

The argument against going direct to Spain, is the fact that France is very civilised in terms of camper stops or `Aires’ as they call them. Amanda speaks passable French, which as mentioned elsewhere gives us an easier ride while getting used to dealing with driving on the wrong side of the road, in a vehicle that’s designed to drive on the right side of the road J.

All of a sudden, less than twenty four hours from the previous post, we are there. I said to Amanda earlier I’m suffering from abject terror. That sense that we’ve been planning, and playing at this for so long, that now we are on the cusp, approaching the blind side, I’m suddenly not able to get my head around the going. All we have is a pot of money, a big yellow tin can with wheels, and each other ... and if there is a saving grace, it is the previous statement. I have an Amanda. I may be good at plans, I may think and even over think everything, but I’m doing none of it on my own. Where I procrastinate Amanda dives in, she won’t let me stay terrified, she won’t let us hang around one more day than we need to.

Now comes the mad rush to tie up any loose ends.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Nearly There Nearly

It’s been a while since I scribbled. We have been very busy gadding about here there and everywhere. In summary we’ve move ninety percent of our remaining old kit to the lockup (we’ve also spent some several hours re-ordering the inside of the lockup to accommodate our remaining kit, and to box some items that got left loose ... it’s like doing a Rubics cube from the inside). Our bedroom looks like student digs, with a mattress on the floor and our going away clothes in large `Bag For Life’ type bags around the perimeter.

We’ve spent a few nights out in the van, usually just on friends drives, because we are popular late night company and can stay and have a few aperitifs. However we did do a random `test the new Snooper Satnav’ camp and decided that if we were going to drive to a destination we may as well stay the night. And we were so glad we did; we ended up at the Steeple Bay Holiday Park: not the most adventurous or exciting destination, however as a roll-out on the fly, it ticked all the boxes.
We rolled in at nearly 8pm having had settings induced issues with the Satnav (oversite on my part, I’ll say a bit more about the Sat nav another time). It cost us a fiver(£5) to book in on the non-electric tourer field. It was dark and misty as we drove across the field, a sheen of ethereal night dew shimmered on the grass in the headlights, under-lighting the misty tendrils that ebbed and flowed with a breeze falling offshore as the heat of the day itself ebbed away, and the cooling air fell under the warm mist creating a gaseous undertow,  shadows danced and moved as if alive ... the sites pond with its reed beds hew into view carving a deeper hollow of dark in the milky thickening mist; our headlights caused a whiteout and then ...
And then I stopped the engine turned off the lights and everything was backlit from the toilet and washing up blocks behind us, and all the spooky atmosphericness disappeared in a puff of ... swirly mist and halogen spotlights.

Ill prepared as we were for a night out with regard to dinner, we’d stopped off at a petrol station and picked up a bag of frozen scampi, a tin of beans and some bacon and baps for breakfast (we’d already picked up teas and milk). It mattered not; we cooked using the oven and hob to do the beans and scampi, made a couple of teas and then built the bed. All things being equal everything worked fine. We set off the CO alarm (Carbon Monoxide) because we didn’t have the door or side window open a crack. This is a subtle difference from the previous van, as it was able to vent direct out the rear, sharing the dual vent from the fridge. It was good to know the CO alarm worked and we just opened the door a crack to allow the roof vents and door to create an updraft.
In the morning we grilled bacon, cut bread, made tea, used the site facilities to shower etc, we emptied the toilet cassette, allowed our waste water (possibly a pint) to drain, on the gravel and left for home. It was a comfort; we’d used all the main facilities apart from the shower, and slept like logs for the most part.

Steeple Bay in the morning was a glory to behold. The mist from the night before was back with the dawn (if it had left at all), the light was soft even though the sun was relatively high; there was still a tinge of pink to the sky. We both wanted to walk along the dyke and explore, I had wondered if the dyke would lead as far as Stone or St Lawrence bay. But we had to leave, Amanda’s sister was in town equipping her son for university in England, so we had to get back home, get changed and get the train into Covent Garden for late lunch, and a bit of site seeing. And since then we’ve been back to the grind of getting ready and waiting around.
I chased the DVLA for an update and got a comprehensive one. The long and short of I will re-cap here, but first I’ll ask a rhetorical question: Do you know why governments cost so much money? Pedantry, pedants, bullshit. We made three changes to the logbook, we filled in all three boxes or sections required to complete all the changes. However the DVLA can only change one thing per submission, so the thing they have changed is the colour, when the document returns we need to fill in an additional form to tax it (that’s their priority, getting the tax class correct), then we have to submit the additional form with the logbook again so we can get a tax disk, and to obtain the correct tax class mark and make the additional change to campervan. There is an argument that the guy in the post office several months ago should have known about the V10 change to PLG classification, rather than his “it’s registered as an ambulance here have some free road tax”. However, as we filled in the boxes to change it thus, one would have thought that sending the logbook back with all changes complete including the tax class (as noted on the form and on the covering letter) that they the DVLA would have just sorted it out and then left us to tax it when we got the Logbook back.

It irritates me, it’s a waste of time, it’s another two weeks minimum, and there is no mention of the additional form required on the submission process on the .gov site, unless there is a query and inspection required. But more than that, it’s the fact that they want three separate submissions (I should say that the additional form V10 forms one submission and gets the tax disk).
We still need to get the cat re-homed and Amanda has taken charge of that process, as I have been sadly remiss ... I’ve had her since she was eight weeks old, she’s like a comfortable pair of shoes. She knows my moods, I know hers. She is my familiar, if I was a witch, she would be the perfect broom ornament. I can’t keep her on the road, it’s not fair, she needs a little cupboard love, a bed to kip on and a garden to run around in. At fourteen she’s no longer a young cat despite appearances often to the contrary.

All the mods and tweaks are made. Once we have the Logbook back we will sort out an additional Electronic key fob. On Monday, we are going to whizz to Stanford Le Hope to get the clutch changed and a bearing on the drive shaft sorted. The bearing I have heard occasionally when pulling away uphill on a bend (usually right hand ... there is one of these hill turns on the way to the lockup) one of Benchsounds engineers confirmed my suspicion when I was sure I was hearing things and took the van in for a confirmation drive by an engineer. The clutch is just me being a bit paranoid from a certain perspective, and belt and braces from another, the clutch like tyres and cam belts is no brainer, we are going to do lots of miles in foreign lands, we might as well go with fifty thousand miles worth of clutch rather than an indeterminate amount of clutch as I see it. Benchsound will also be a supply only of all the auxillary belts, and I’ll take advice on any other odds and sods of recommended mechanical spares to carry.
From Tuesday onwards I think the plan is to be out an about as much as possible overnights. Once the tax is sorted and the logbook is in process, we can plan to meet it at our eventual address in Somerset and leave my brothers for good (cat re-home aside). I have one trip to London planned to meet some mates from work, we have one evening promised to friends in Tilbury, we have some saucepans to be delivered they are horribly expensive, but worth it for convenience and space saving, and a mattress topper to complete the bedroll which has changed significantly ... I think I have a some more writing to do to get some of the finer points down for the record.

It’s bedtime again, we’re are professionally knackered.

Sunday, 22 September 2013


We are waiting for the DVLA. If I’d known it would have taken this long, I may have been tempted to stay employed for an extra month, so much for the DVLA’s advertised fortnight turnaround.

With the change in season, we’ve been soberly reminded of the need to head south, or be prepared to wrap up warm or be able to get dry, or be able to dry what we take with us ... heading south is the better option (on the matter above one of my jackets let me down ... drizzle; heavy drizzle soaked through to the liner, only two years old, I have a Nikwax wash to do).

I’ve been tinkering with the motorhome, little tweaks that make a difference to comfort convenience, best use of space. I made a new hatch in an existing locker to make grabbing gear less of a chore, I’ve fitted some Elastic net pockets to the rears of the passenger seats for flat grab and goes, I’ve put an elasticated floor to ceiling net behind the drivers seat to prevent any loose objects finding their way forwards, or out of the over head storage area backwards while we’re driving. I’ve re-fitted the central heating controls and grabbed back a few inches in an offside upper locker. I’ve made a neat webbing strap and clip affair to hold the waste water tank while we’re in transit. Added in a couple of handles as coat rails (the long slim D shaped ones you find on kitchen furniture). I replaced both of the internal cab door openers, a few grommets here and there, a dipped beam lamp and so on and so forth.  

A friend of mine very kindly donated a day and a half of his time, to assist in the fitting of the spare wheel holder on the back door, and the fitting and bolting through of the safe. I must also say that same said friends wife and children provided company, dinner, drinks and entertainment for the thirty six hours Amanda and I were at their house doing what was originally estimated to be a two or three our job. Our super new stereo with Sub-woofer tweeters and all has been installed, so for the first time we have radio, CD, MP3, Bluetooth, handsfree phone etc.

We discovered that we can’t have towbar fitted, without going to the expense of buying in the towbar kit, then taking it to a fabricator to make custom bars to take the load over the Glide-rite air suspension system metalwork ... but of course before doing that we would have to sod about speaking to Glide-rite to make sure that’s ok ... someone dropped a long unheard phrase into my head a few days ago `Ball Ache’, that’s what finding out about towbars is, and who needs it.
In small chunks we’ve taken our remaining furniture to the lockup, so we saved on a man and van, there’s just a double divan and a mattress remaining and they will fit exactly as and when our last day at my brothers comes. We are there, we are ready to go. Our clothes now sit in two heaps in our temporary bedroom. Our final load the van items are in a table/safe heap on a table, and in an activities and accoutrements heap in my brothers lounge.
This is a different kind of frustration, this, I imagine is what it’s like  waiting for a visa, or a date for an operation, or to get a letter saying you got a job. We have said that we may just bail and go up the road to a campsite not more than eight minutes from here, and just get Dave (my brother) to text us when post arrives, it would be the last strand of the umbilical. We’ll see what Mondays post brings and then make a decision.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nearly There

Enjoy this trip, enjoy this trip, And it is a trip ... Countdown is progressing, Uno, Dos, Uno, Dos, Trez, Quatro ... shut up that Ghetto Blaster etc; sang S Express some years ago ... crickey I was 21.

So here we are second week of September, not shaking down the moho, but having random sleepovers on peoples drives in the meantime. I don’t really care, I’m past caring, I’ve accepted the fact that the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes diverge from their true course, and that we are fannying around doing bits that we couldn’t do until we had the moho back, cash in the bank and skilled tradesmen to do works.
We are both dead on our feet, but we have several days of tomfoolery to go, before we can launch.
We’ve been on other peoples timescales for several days, if not a fortnight. We’re still waiting for paperwork from the DVLA: Log Book, and licenses with a permanent address change (and in the case of the Logbook, are we to be inspected or accepted based on the evidence provided). Towbar man can’t fit us in until next Wednesday, Stereo man can’t see us until next Tuesday, and behind the drivers seat bespoke cargo safety net man won’t dispatch our super new elasticated floor to ceiling net until next Tuesday at the earliest, along nets shapped to be fitted to the back of the passenger seats for books and bits.
Today Thursday 13th September its drizzle and mist so I’m stuffed for doing external work for Sunday installation of the `spare wheel mount’, I can however fit a hanging rails under sink and outside the shower room, and we have some tut to take to the dump, and we can probably get at least one run to the lockup sorted out.
It’s not that we aren’t making progress, it’s just that progress is slow. We spent three hours the other day being ruthless in the lockup ... some of that stuff has already been in storage for a year, forgotten and unused ... you have to ask: Do you need it now, or at any point in the future. We made space and prepared the way for the final big items and our remaining clothes.
We’ve spent a shed load of money on bits large and small. Satnav, new stereo, and a towbar (as above), Aires Guides, assorted screws, webbing, wastewater tank, nets, bags, tupper wares, specialist adhesives, an airer, a throw, cotton sheets to make big sleeping bag liners, yaddah yaddah yaddah. I have to keep referring to the budget sheet, to see if things were in the original plan and that we aren’t carving chunks out of our travel pot. Selling the car made a big difference, as much of what the car sale money had been earmarked for got bought during the previous year, so when the car money came along it ended up, being hived off as my personal buffer, both in saving and current account, to feed my one remaining direct debit ... the ubiquitous mobile phone.
We have also done a bit of pragmatic robbing Peter to pay Paul, or just binning wafty ideas, that cost with very little practical advantage (alloy wheels being the biggy). I think we’ve surprised ourselves with how much stuff we’ve had frm the previous weekender bus, and stuff just re-purposed, or adapted from the manufacturers original design or designation to our future needs. A simple example being Skubb fold up nylon drawer boxes from Ikea, they weigh nothing, are square sided so wasted space is minimal, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, they are also made of thick nylon, so are quite tough; perfect for dividing and retaining in lockers (Skubb Ikea A Halfords boot tidy likewise, and a fantastic rigid sided fishing bag covered inside and out with net pockets.
This is the thing I think we’ve found in the last couple of weeks ... almost all the non-kitchen items that make life easy, and aren’t clothes are fiddly odd shaped and small. And each of these compartmentalizing things then spans a set of activities, domestic routines, indoor leisure, outdoor leisure, emergencies, cooking, drying, driving, maintenance. It may seem a little anal, but I see campers in cars, and in other campervans, shopping bags and bin liners as luggage ... admittedly lovely and light, but never neat and secure, and an absolute bastard if you have to pack up in the rain.
There isn’t much else to say today. Amanda is packing some bits for a trip to the lockup this afternoon, I’m a having a scribble, and in half an hour or so we’ll be on the move,  Lockup, B&Q, today’s shopping, motorhome tweaks and an early night.

Until next time, ttfn.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Big List

It’s been a while since I took to the keyboard (I could find out exactly, but I’m going to guess at least a week), for anything other than finding information, or ordering stuff. And for this absence of virtual presence we have some real results, in no particular order.

We have the Motorhome back, it’s MOT’d, it has five new all season tyres, the hand brake has been tweaked because everything went slack while it was off the road fro conversion. I have sold the Golf, I have sold the fridge from the previous motorhome, I don’t have broken scaphoid bone, but my right arm is still not quite right. We have a super new Snooper Ventura Pro 8500 satnav system with DAB digital radio and TV built in (small TV 7” but more than we planned on having).

We’ve acquired a spare wheel cover ... why you ask? Well because the fab little box Paul made inside to house the spare wheel was far too useful to have a spare wheel in so I found these people, these people these people these people and these people to put together a bespoke external spare wheel mounting solution for the newly shod spare wheel. It’s basically who could supply the cheapest glues or activators, to assist in mounting the universal wheel holder to the back offside door. And who could provide a good quality UN-branded wheel cover that doesn’t come with a picture of a tiger, a wolf or a stag, isn’t made of highly polished steel and didn’t cost a million dollars. So Vanbitz, provided the mount and Wheelcover2u provide a blank cover (exactly the same size as the Landrover Defenders), Woolies, Magnum and Sealantsandtoolsdirect supply the various adhesives required to provide padding and adhesive properties.

The plan is to bond in a sliver of ply to reinforce the door skin internally using Sikaflex 512 caravan adhesive, drill the mounts holes through the door skin and timber, set the mount externally using a little more Sikaflex on the skin to prevent metal on metal (paint) contact and a little extra adhesion (though none should be required). The idea is to prevent the wheel from distorting the door skin once it’s mounted, and for belt and braces and again to protect the bodywork, I‘ve acquired a sheet of self adhesive neoprene to create a buffer round the wheels circumference, again to prevent paint damage.

We have a new stereo on order and that will be fitted Tuesday week, along with some speakers, and a small subwoofer ... it had to be done, after all we are living in it for two years, so why not make the most of it. We have abandoned the idea of Ham Radio and or a CB.

We have a number of legally required items for the continent, bulbs, fuses, high viz vests, triangles ect. And on the weekend just past we did a Pound Shop stores run to make the going easier, this involved picking up lots of soap, toothpaste, minor medical supplies, deodorants and odds and sods, that are clearly freely available all over Europe; however we have created a “worry buffer” while we get used to way of the road ... which if you watch `Jay and Silent Bob strike back’ can be a confusing place.
It seems that for everything we tick off the list, we add something else to the list. We are waiting for our licenses back from the DVLA along with the log book, (however as per previous post this is now academic as Adrian Flux have accepted us on as a motorhome).
It’s been chilly and wet today, and we are both dog tired after driving six hundred to a thousand miles in the last week or so ( this is one of the reasons we don’t want to be doing massive hops across Europe ... it’s knackering). Because we are knackered and the weather has turned a little cool, we have taken a day off of sorts, sorted out a few bits and pieces online, done some more post and taken stock. Tomorrow I shall do some odd jobs, in preparation for the weekend (that I’m hoping will be bright and dry), so the wheel mounting job can be done by myself and a mate nearby, along with fitting the safe. And then next week, we’ll move as much of our gear to the lock up as possible before getting a man and van to take the last bits, and then we’re gone. We have a date for diving across the Channel in mind, and a couple of weeks of shakedown to do, though it is going to be a bit of a baptism of fire, because time has just run away.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Insurance (like death and taxes, unavoidable).

We called the caravan club for an insurance quote (we are members), they wouldn’t insure the vehicle unless it was registered as a motorhome. This obviously presented a problem and I was a bit irritated, but not surprised. The caravan and camping club isn’t an insurer per se they just have a deal with an insurance company that assures preferred rates and deals to members, with a certain set of stringent restrictions. In part it smacks of a `certain’ kind of snobbery, a certain kind of snobbery endemic to clubs regardless of the clubs interests or activity, which is why we are members in name only, and use the facilities but don’t get involved in rallies and club gatherings ... it’s all far too anal. The one time we got talking to some other members (that wasn’t a work mate of mine), it ended up as a well intentioned lecture on `why’ we should attend rallies and what have you, and how we all have to start somewhere (this was regards our previous motorhome). Our lecturer had a twin rear axle’d separate bed roomed affair, that they sat in or by while watching TV for two days  ... for our part we went scrambling along a beach and did the Golden Cap walk to Seatown from Charmouth, highly recommended ... in a non-club member fashion. We nodded and yes’d at the right times and then forgot all about it.

Having failed to insure with the C&CC we tried Adrian Flux. Adrian Flux are a specialist insurance broker for a raft of companies. We went through the quote process with a fella who had clearly heard it all before, which in our circumstance made the whole process so much easier. Registration document not required, photos not required, certificates not required ... unless you claim.

Fortunately for us, we meet all the requirements of the DVLA, and will attempt the re-registration process, which our brokers representative said is fraught with pedantry, and over cautious arse covering in case of `liability’, and that often as not the DVLA just return the logbook, with registration entries such as `Van with Windows or Van Modified’.

Adrian Flux on the other hand “assume” that you aren’t stupid and work on trust, because the bounds and mark’s of what is a motorhome/campervan vary so greatly in specification (from a 1969 VW camper, to a 2013 Winnebago Land Yacht) that the core rules apply (which can be found by following this link ( if you’re interested). If they send an assessor at point of claim and you don’t meet the criteria, you aren’t insured, simple. This could clearly be serious if you’ve managed to kill someone on the road, especially if you’re several thousand miles from home, but on the other hand it does put the onus on you to ensure your vehicle is safe and sound.

So the brokers went off with all our details, we sat on hold for a bit and then they came back with what can only be described as a “very reasonable quote”. The insurance gives us 365 days foreign travel, contents cover, windscreen cover etc and all for under £600 ... (the worry is that we’ve hit that over 45 mark and are considered old enough to be a danger to ourselves only ... or approaching dotage).

 There is a subtle irony to whom the eventual insurer is though; to whit Footman James. They are an AON company. I’ve racked servers in their comms rooms, re-ordered their server racks and re-run power and network to all their nodes and dealt with the power-downs to enable the works. I’ve sat in their call centre weekends and evening when the place is empty, and I’m on hello terms with the man who still heads up that branch of AON as company/division CEO. So not only am I reminded of whom I worked for every-time I see a Manchester United shirt (I don’t follow football), I am now their customer, where once they were mine.

It is nice to be insured, it’s good to have ticked that box. We have the wagon back at home with us. It needs a damp dust a few personal touches, and a bit of familiarisation with the systems, and then we are pretty much good to go ... narrator refers to previous list, recants statement “we are pretty much good to go” puts head in hand and sobs.

On Monday after my X-ray and follow up appointment for my hand, we are going to the lock-up to pick up our basics and argue about where stuff goes (wrong not to). Then we sort out the photos we took this weekend for the DVLA, and then we’ll have ticked of some more boxes. We did sleep in it on Saturday night, because we popped to friends to show it off, had a few sherbet's and couldn’t drive home. We had to borrow a sleeping bag and pillows, the bed goes together easy, the lights all work as does the loo, and come morning time the temperature inside compared to out was positively balmy. It wasn’t the most auspicious first outing, but that in some ways that makes it all the better, because all the boxes were ticked for an overnight stop completely on the fly.

Photos to follow.
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