Brief Encounters !!

Since getting back from the Wedding in the middle of August it should have been an exciting time, waiting for the publication of next season’s sites selection list, would we get allocated a site or not ? However, those darn ‘dark forces’ had other plans for us, I guess they thought that our year was going a little too well for their liking and so decided to throw a spanner in the works to take the smug grins off our faces. I will not bore you with all the details, but last season, after a very minor fall off a plastic caravan type step, no more than six inches in height, which at the time left me with nothing more than an occasional ache in my right knee, which was promptly relieved after a couple of weeks of wearing a sturdy knee support, this minor mishap has since blown out of all proportions, quite literally !! Just a couple of days after returning to work from our time off for the Wedding, I went out on site in the morning to do some grass strimming followed by a period of grass cutting on the ride-on mower, I stopped for lunch, my knee felt extremely painful, not just an ache this time but a real pain that had me barely able to walk, a painful hobble at best, when I rolled up my trouser leg I was horrified to discover that I could not even distinguish what should have been a knee cap, the whole area around my Knee had swollen out of all proportions. Now don’t ask me why, but something told me that this was probably quite serious and time to get a proper medical opinion !! I got Shazza to drive me to the local medical facility half an hours drive away in a nearby town, after a two-hour long and painful wait I was finally called forward to see one of the duty doctor’s, who immediately sent me for an x-ray. The results showed nothing broken so they made me an appointment at a ‘proper’ hospital an hour away, but the appointment wasn’t for a further two days and I was told to rest my leg and take painkillers !! Two days later I went for my scheduled appointment, the Consultant, after looking at the x-ray and examining my knee, diagnosed a ‘suspected’ torn ‘meniscus‘ !! I wondered if this was a generic term for an injury to a ‘male’ limb, is their such a thing as a ‘Womaniscus‘ or perhaps even a ‘Feminiscus‘ I wondered ? Not wanting to sound un-knowledgeable about human anatomy, I attempted to sound confident and enquired, “Is that the ligament” and was swiftly put in my place and told that the ligaments attach to the side, my injury was to do with the ‘Cartilage’ that sits between the upper and lower parts of the knee-joint. Now of course, had he have said in the first place that I had a torn cartilage then I would have known straight away what he was talking about wouldn’t I ?  I came out wearing a leg brace, which fits from the top of my thigh, right down to just above my ankle and restricts the movement of my knee, but at least now I could walk with a limp instead of a hobble !! I then had to wait for a further three weeks for an MRI scan which would, or would not, confirm the diagnosis. Nearly three weeks later and I am still awaiting the appointment with the Consultant to get the results of the scan !! If the diagnosis is confirmed then that will mean a routine day operation, via ‘keyhole’ surgery to repair the torn cartilage, and I am guessing that will entail another wait until they can fit me in to do it. So, as I write this blog post I am having to continue to wear the leg brace and keep taking the painkillers !! I am not convinced that this operation will get done before we finish our Season’s duties and so that would entail either flying back from Spain to get it done or paying to have it done privately !! In any ‘normal’ job this would have prevented me from carrying out my duties and probably having to take time off work, fortunately, Shazza and I can interchange our roles, she is extremely competent in using all the ground equipment and I am competent in all the administrative functions so there is little impact on the effectiveness of the site. Whilst I am now doing a ‘little’ more of the office/admin functions I am still capable of doing some of my more usual duties, although I cannot do anything that puts a strain on my knee, like climbing on and off tractors, strimming etc. I do however still carry out the bin runs, which I know I shouldn’t but I am very careful getting on and off the tractor, I can still clean the facilities block, clean shower heads, conduct routine maintenance and repairs, paint anything that does not move and also do the monthly checks, so I am not totally office bound !! As for the leg brace, it doesn’t stop the pain in my knee it just prevents the problem causing the pain to get worse, or that is the theory ?

On a much happier note, during the last few weeks we have had some surprise visitors to our site, first we had someone who I communicate with on a Motorhome Forum, ‘Alaskaguy’, but who I had never met in the flesh so to speak, he was actually staying on a small CL (Certified Location) next door to our site, but on discovering that we were neighbours called in to say hello. Then, more recently, Roy and Amanda came and stayed on site for two nights. Those of you who have been following our blogs from the beginning of our ‘lifestyle change‘ will remember that we first met them when we were in Portugal and met up several times thereafter, during our ‘road trips’ through Portugal and Spain. We have remained in contact since then and so when they said that they were starting another road trip but in the UK and were going to make our site their first stop we were so pleased, especially as it was during our time off. Unfortunately, my damn knee issue prevented me from being fully mobile and getting out and about, but we did manage to spend one day having lunch in Sutton-on-Sea and catching up and then on their last evening we went out to another local hostelry and had dinner. It was great to see them both again and Roy has been keeping me informed of their whereabouts now they are on their road trip proper. Then another day, Shazza and I were out on site re-seeding some of the worn grass pitches when a couple approached and asked if I was ‘Eric’ ? They didn’t look like ‘bailiffs’ so I confirmed that I was that person and they introduced themselves as Allan and Carol, better known to me as ‘alandcar‘ who, again, I had communicated with several times through my blog and I think also on the Motorhome Forum but had never met them personally, until now. They were staying on our site on their way South and so it was good to once again put faces to people who I had been communicating with over the Internet. We only spent a short time chatting, work to do and all that, but it was great meeting them so, Allan and Carol, if you read this blog post, thank you for taking the time to seek me out and it really was a pleasure meeting you, next time perhaps it will be when we are both ‘on the road’ and we can spend a little more time catching up on things over a beer or three !! Then, one evening, a Motorhome arrives and I book the guests in as normal, their faces didn’t appear familiar but whilst booking them in we chatted, as you do, and I discovered that he was a ‘Gibraltarian’, so we talked about Gibraltar, and of course where we had our apartment in Spain, it being only half an hour drive from ‘The Rock’. The following day, whilst I was out doing some painting, this same couple came by and stopped saying that they hadn’t realised it but they knew us from when we were working at Berwick-upon-Tweed a couple of years earlier and had remembered the conversation we had about just having purchased an apartment in Spain.

Now, like many of my faithful blog readers, they were interested to know the outcome of the sites allocation for next year, did we or didn’t we get a site of our own to manage ? For some of those early visitors I still had no news on that score, however, since then we have discovered our fate !! Shouldn’t there be some sort of background music to aid the suspense before announcing the outcome ?

I can now disclose that Shazza and I consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate in becoming the ‘Site Wardens’ of the ‘Ilfracombe‘ Caravan and Motorhome Club Site located on the North Devon Coast (Pause for much applause, clapping of hands, cheers of ‘hoorah’ and the sounds of trumpets). Now before you all rush to book a pitch for next season let me tell you something about our new location. Firstly, it is a single couple site, which means that we have no Assistant Wardens we will manage the site ourselves. More importantly the site has 88 ‘all grass pitches’ and NO Toilet Block, although it does have Electric Hook Up Points, Service Points for the disposal of Chemical Toilet Waste and Grey Water, Fresh Water taps, General & Mixed Recycling Waste and a Motorhome Service Point. So, if you are quite happy to utilise your own on-board facilities (Toilet & Washroom) then this is a very nice site, quiet and peaceful with wonderful views but within easy driving distance of the lively harbour town of Ilfracombe (4 miles) which has both TESCO and LIDL supermarkets, the sandy beach at Woolacombe (4 miles) and the much larger town of Barnstable (Half an hours drive). The local village has a Community Shop and a Pub that serves meals, what more could you want, okay Mobile Phone signals and WiFi, well we can accommodate on those two counts as well and, unlike our current site, which is ‘Members Only’, we, at Ilfracombe, are happy to accommodate non-members as well, so what are you waiting for, get your diaries out and plan your visit to come and say hello in 2018, although you cannot book a pitch on-line until December, or directly with us on site until March. In case you are wondering whether I am just trying to drum up business because we get a bonus for the more ‘guests’ we have on site, the answer to that one is that we do not, we get paid exactly the same whether we have 10 pitches occupied or 88 pitches occupied. We just like it when we see lots of campers, on whatever site we are working, having a good time, the smell of BBQ’s, the ‘chinking’ of glasses, the babble of numerous conversations going on and of course, the opportunity for me to engage in my two favourite pastimes, talking and ‘people watching’, and if the boss is reading this (and I don’t mean Shazza on this occasion), of course the grass cutting, grass strimming, hedge cutting, emptying bins, painting and general maintenance, after all, it’s not as if we are being put there to enjoy ourselves now is it ?

It is quite useful to be able to go and visit sites before the outgoing Wardens depart, chat over the essentials about the site like where to turn on the main water and electricity supplies, the waste collection arrangements, who services the equipment, any outstanding repairs or maintenance that require attention and of course any ‘peculiarities’ or ‘quirks’ associated to that site or its location. Our new site was due to close on the 2nd October with the Wardens locking it all up and leaving just three days later, that was in less than a week’s time !! Fortunately, our current Wardens had already been thinking about this and very kindly adjusted our work roster to enable us to drive down to view our new site and have the opportunity to meet and talk with the outgoing wardens.

We knew that it would be a long seven hour drive so Shazza prepared some Chicken and Bacon Sandwiches to eat on the journey. At around the half way point we decided to take a ‘comfort’ break and change driver’s, my knee was beginning to feel uncomfortable, apart from that, Shazza also needed to get used to driving the ‘Little Fokker’ as well. Our ‘unscheduled’ stop was the ‘Strensham Services’ on the M5 Motorway. We had parked at the rear of the main services with the other Motorhomes and Caravans and entered the ‘Foodhall’ by the rear entrance. We only wanted a Coffee and the Coffee shop was at the front of the ‘Foodhall’, the main entrance and as we walked towards it you could have knocked me over with a feather, for who should we see just walking in through the doors but Peter and Linda, our former Wardens from last season at Burrs Country Park !! What were the chances of that ? They were on their way to visit friends in Wales and they too had just decided to stop for an ‘unscheduled’ drink before continuing their journey, bloody amazing co-incidence but a very pleasant and joyful one. We could only spend five or ten minutes chatting as we both still had long journey’s to complete, they congratulated us on our promotions, they already knew where we were going as they had seen the list when it had been published, then we hugged and went our separate ways, it’s a small world isn’t it ?

We had booked onto a different club site than the one we would be managing, not because ours didn’t have a ‘Toilet Block’ you understand, more out of consideration because the Ilfracombe site was in the process of being closed down, I am sure the outgoing Wardens would have been busy with other things and wouldn’t have wanted to have been distracted by our presence, so we had pre-arranged to visit them the following morning. The ‘Willingcot’ Club Site was only 4 miles from ‘our’ new site and quite conveniently it did have a very nice, warm and recently refurbished Toilet Block !! We arrived just as it was getting dark, having phoned ahead we were told to just find ourselves a pitch and see them in the morning.

Ray and Fiona, the Wardens at Willingcot, were very welcoming and invited us, once we had returned from the visit to our site, to have a cuppa with them, which, as we were to discover, would be beneficial as they would be our ‘Parent’ site as far as ordering anything that we required for our site, cleaning materials, wood, paint etc. was ordered through them.

It was a bright and relatively warm morning, if not a little breezy, when we arrived at what was going to be our new home although the grey clouds overhead didn’t look promising. We were met by two very cheerful and smiling faces, Richard and Sharon, they had the mornings priorities just about right, we started with a nice hot cuppa !! Of course, although we had already spent time listing the questions we needed answers to, the more we chatted the more questions arose, but they provided us with all the information we required and more !! Some of what they willingly imparted I knew would stick in my brain but it didn’t matter about the rest, for every site there is a comprehensive ‘Wardens Handover File’ with all the essential information, including photographs of where things are. Sharon had also made her own ‘additional’ list for us with stuff like who and where to get our ‘Ice Cream’ supplies for the small on-site shop that we would run, the Calor Gas bottles and so on and so forth, very useful stuff !! I was chomping at the bit to get out and view my new domain, my own ‘Kingdom’, and Richard was keen to tell me that that it comprised of 11 acres of mainly grass. In addition to the 88 pitches, and associated grassed areas to cut and manage, I also had a ‘Environmental Eco Area’, a large grass dedicated ‘Dog Walk’ area, a large ‘Recreational Field’ and a grassed ‘Caravan Storage’ compound !! To assist me I had a Ride-on mower, Tractor and Trailer, Petrol Hand Mower, Strimmer and Hedge Trimmer and an assortment of gardening tools !! In addition to the management of the grass there were several ‘Service Points’ and a ‘Motorhome Service Point’ to maintain, well that should keep me out of mischief for a month or six I thought to myself !! I have to admit that after a good walk around of the site, the storage building, workshop and the ‘Little Fokkers’ new compound, I was wearing a grin from ear to ear, I was looking forward to getting here next season, our first site as Wardens and in a wonderful location and I have already commenced compiling a list of things that need doing, from getting the site ready for opening to some longer term maintenance and repair work. Sharon and Richard had already spent time on maintenance around the site but as on all sites, large or small, there are always things to be done. We thanked Sharon and Richard for giving up some of their valuable time to us, we already know, as Assistant Wardens, what it feels like to be getting close to your ‘travel out’ day but with a long list of things still to be done, as Wardens, there are more responsibilities as we will soon discover, so we bid them farewell and success and enjoyment at their new site next season.

A view of the Reception and Office building with some of my ‘boys toys’ on show !!

No, I do not have to cut the grass fields in the background, there is a farmer who takes care of those !!

This shows part of one of the main pitching areas, there is another couple of areas on the other side of those hedgerows !!

The front part of quite a generous dog walk field

As the harbour town of Ilfracombe was only a short drive away we decided to take the ‘Little Fokker’ into town. This trip was proving very beneficial to us in more ways than one, the downsizing from ‘Big Momma’ would pay dividends on the narrow Devon roads and we were able to take the ‘Little Fokker’ through the narrow town streets of Ilfracombe and park right on the quayside without any ‘brown trouser’ moments. There was no way that my knee was going to withstand anymore strain, with the excitement and enthusiasm of looking around our new site I had managed to limp my way around, ignoring the repetitive ache but now it was telling me that enough was enough for one day. Fortunately, from the car park on the quayside, there was a little tourist ‘Land Train’ that did a mini-tour of the town, so we hopped aboard, well, one of us hopped the other walked quite normally !!

The little tourist Land Train. Almost in our Corporate Colours !!

The tour only lasted around half an hour, but it was long enough to get the lay of the land so to speak and it had started to drizzle with some of that wet stuff, so a few taster photo’s was all we could muster in the grey and wet conditions.

We returned to our pitch at ‘Willingcot’ and then went around for an introductory cuppa with Ray and Fiona the site Wardens. They were able to give us some insights into the local area and we would certainly see and speak with them a great deal more once we took up our next seasons duties. It had been a bit of a short stay and I guess with our surprise visitors and whirlwind trip down to Devon, you might say that this has been a month of ‘Brief Encounters‘.

We were very pleased with the ‘Little Fokker’, having now used it as a ‘On The Road’ vehicle, as opposed to just a ‘Static Home’ it had proven to be both spacious and comfortable for all our requirements, it’s nimble vital statistics were ideal, allowing us to venture to places and down narrow country roads where we would have been reluctant to go, by choice, in ‘Big Momma’. I was mega impressed with one statistic in particular, on checking the fuel economy it showed that on this trip, our longest to date at over 500 miles, we were averaging a rather tasty 31.3mpg !!

So, a somewhat mixed bag of fortunes to write about this time around, with only the knee injury to blight what we consider quite an eventful year. As I write this, we now have only thirty-seven days of our season to go before we can head off into the warmth of the Spanish Winter sunshine but with lots to look forward to next year.

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Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 14 Comments

Heads In The Clouds And A Night Under The Stars !!

It had been a long journey back to the campsite, made longer by the fact that I was alone in the ‘Little Fokker’, as was Shazza in ‘Wuxly’. Before departing Cirencester we re-fuelled and took the opportunity to purchase some ‘snacks’ to break the monotony of the journey. Once back in our compound there was no idling, the ‘Air Awning’ needed to be erected again and it always takes longer when you are tired !! Fortunately it was Wednesday, which meant that we didn’t have to cook as it was ‘Fish & Chip’ van night and boy did they taste even better than they do normally.

It didn’t take long to get back into the work routines, the Summer season was still in full swing and there was an upcoming Bank Holiday looming at the end of the month, that particular weekend had been fully booked on our system for months and with the campsite being only a short stroll to the beach, this was proving to be an extremely popular seaside location. The names and faces of our guests may change, on a daily and weekly basis, but a Wardens duties remain very much the same, so being away for a week didn’t present much of a problem.

We were aware that within the next week we would receive the Email from Head Office that would inform us whether our applications for promotion to ‘Wardens’ were, or were not, successful. We could not take anything for granted, we were already aware that two other couples, who had been on our initial training course four year’s earlier, had submitted applications at this point last Season after gaining three years experience, but they had not been successful, so mentally we were preparing ourselves for a disappointment. It wasn’t that we lacked confidence in our own abilities and we knew that we couldn’t have submitted better applications, however, we were well aware that the number of applicants each year just far outweighed the number of site vacancies, generally, less than half of the applicants are successful so the odds were not stacked in our favour. Neither was being successful in our applications a guarantee of being allocated a site of our own at the start of next season. A ‘Site Allocation Committee’ sits and allocates Wardens to sites, however, because other sites can also become available during the course of a Season, for several reasons, Health reasons, change of heart on the geographical location succesful applicants have been allocated, then those ‘Successful’ applicants who are not fortunate enough to have been allocated a site at the start of the new season, go into a ‘Wardens Pool’. As sites become available as the season progresses, and this has happened quite frequently in previous years, then the ‘Wardens in Waiting’, from the ‘Pool’, get allocated to these sites. For those in the ‘Pool’ who are not fortunate to get allocated a site at all during the new season, then they automatically go to the top of the allocation list for the following season. So, in short, even if we were fortunate enough to be successful with our applications we may still commence the new season as ‘Assistant Wardens’ and may not get allocated a site until the following year (2019). So being successful with the applications is no guarantee of being promoted straight away, but at least we would not have to go through the application process again. On the other side of the coin, if we were not successful then we would remain as ‘Assistant Wardens’ and be allocated a site for the following season, we could then, if we so wished, re-apply for promotion during the next Season. We both tried not to talk or think about what our fate would be, but we failed miserably. The results were scheduled to be announced, to each individual applicant via their private Corporate Email, at some point on the 23rd August, and that day was drawing ever closer.

On the evening of Tuesday 22nd, we were in the process of closing up for the day, just before shutting down the Computers I decided to check my ‘Private Email’, just in case, well you never know ? And there it was, an Email from the Human Resources Department with the subject header ‘Promotion Results’, I didn’t hesitate in opening it, let’s just get it out of the way, I thought to myself, it would either be a good evening or a long miserable one !! It wasnt a very long Email so it didn’t take long for the words to sink in, “I am pleased to confirm that your application for promotion has been successful” it was going to be a very happy evening !!

Of course now it was back to the waiting game, the Site Allocations for all of the successful applicants would take place and we would know if we were going to be Wardens of our own site, and where that site was, by the 15th September. That was the date when all staff, ‘Wardens’ and ‘Assistant Wardens’, were notified of where they would be working the following Season, so, when that allocations list is published we will need to trawl through it to find our names, the name of the allocated site and then look to see whether we are listed under ‘Wardens’ or ‘Assistants’. For now though, we just wanted to enjoy the moment, the satisfaction of knowing that all those hours completing the application form, was time and effort well spent and that we would not have to go through the application process again.

The following day arrived and it was back to reality, back to being ‘Assistant Wardens’ for the remainder of the current season, but with perhaps just an extra spring in our step.

By the time our next period of ‘off duty’ time arrived, right at the end of the last busy Bank Holiday period, we decided we needed to get off site and relax and there is nowhere better, at the moment, than our beachfront location. Whilst I sorted out the ‘Little Fokker’, Shazza went to the local ‘LIDL’ Supermarket to stock up on provisions. We were in no real hurry to get off site as we knew that with the almost cloudless blue sky and temperatures at a very warm 26 degrees(c), there would be little chance of finding a parking spot until the day visitors decided to leave. After Shazza returned from her mini-shopping spree and had packed everything away, she became a little impatient and wanted to get down to the beach as soon as possible. We thought that we may have timed it about right, however, when we got to the small approach road that led to the beach parking area, we discovered row on row of cars left abandoned on the grass verges, many adjacent to each other, there was obviously no room left to park on the beachfront. Although we saw a couple of vehicles leave, we decided to park up on the grass verge ourselves, there was no way I was risking doing any damage to the ‘Little Fokker’ by trying to edge my way through, no, we would sit, wait and watch for a few more vehicles to exit from the direction of the beach and for some of those parked on the grass verge to depart. After around half an hour there was a mass exodus and we were able to drive the short distance to the beachfront without having to weave through an obstacle course. When we turned the corner we could see that there were still a lot of families making the most of the beautiful sunshine, the inviting blue sea and soft golden sand, but we were able to find ourselves a parking space without too much of a problem. We had decided to have a BBQ on the beach for our evening meal, with perhaps a glass or two of celebratory falling over juice, well actually, there was no ‘perhaps’ about it, it was already in the fridge keeping nicely chilled !! But again, there was no rush, we soon got the ‘Little Fokker’ turned around from ‘travel mode’ into ‘home mode’, the sun chairs removed from the external garage and nicely positioned on the soft golden sand, just in front of the van, then with a mug of hot coffee we sat in our chairs and were in ‘Chillax’ mood in no time. We watched as the day visitors gradually packed up their belongings in their cars and vans and as the sun worshipping hoards drove away, the peace and tranquility of this lovely place returned.

As the evening drew in, with the tide on the turn back to shore, it was time to light the ‘Smokey Joe’, we had brought both the ‘Cadac’ gas Barbie and the charcoal one with us, but in the end we decided on charcoal, which I personally think gives a much more authentic and satisfying smokey taste to the food, provided that I got it lit and the coals hot that is !! Charcoal barbies can sometimes be so temperamental, a bit like the female of the species, perhaps it would have been better named a ‘Smokey Joanne’, I feel a clip around the ear coming when Shazza gets around to reading this !!

 

BBQ on the beach, perfect !!

We were not totally alone, there were still five other vans to keep us company, although we were all well spaced apart along the parking area. We could see others who had the same idea for their evening meal and the ambience took us back to good memories of when we had done this when we were on the road and ‘Wild Camping’ along the Portuguese Coast. We really did miss the freedom that we had felt during those periods, so much so that we made the decision to stay the night and it provided us with the perfect excuse for pouring ourselves another large glass of falling over juice, not that we needed much of an excuse !!

It was a cloudless night and with absolutely no street lighting, as the sun dropped in the sky, behind the sand dunes, darkness was quickly upon us and the stars were out in abundance. Our conversation was predominantly around the promotion, we had stated that we were willing to go anywhere, back up to Scotland or even Wales would be very nice, but it didn’t really matter, we were prepared to go wherever they sent us, at this particular moment in time we had our ‘Heads In The Clouds And A Night Under The Stars‘, and it had after all been a pretty good year so far, with the decision to purchase our new van, the wedding, my daughter informing us that she would be returning home to the UK early next year and then the news of the promotion, it certainly has been an interesting few months, so now we are just both looking forward to the end of our season and our return to ‘Our Spanish Bolt Hole’ to enjoy lots of ‘Winter’ sunshine and the odd trip or two away in the ‘Little Fokker’, my fingers are crossed that those ‘Dark Forces’ leave us be for a change, it would be good to finish the year on a high note.

By the time we had finished cooking our BBQ there was a chill in the air so we retired inside the van to enjoy our meal but we left all our window blinds open so that we could see the dim glow of the lights from inside the vans of our parking companions, it just added to the ambience. Our ‘Status’ TV Ariel booster gizmo was showing that we did have a TV signal, however, neither of us wanted to watch anything in particular so it was pointless just turning it on for the sake of it, so, once we had cleared away the pots, Shazza snuggled up in the corner of the ‘L’ shaped settee reading a book whilst I sat in the very comfy passengers swivel seat with my feet resting on the driver’s seat. We had no WiFi signal, which, on this occasion, was a bonus as it meant that I wouldn’t be distracted by other ‘Interweb’ stuff but I could still use the ‘Blogpad Pro’ App to commence drafting this blog post. This was a very handy ‘App’ as once I was back on-line, with one ‘click’ of a button it would send what I had ‘drafted’ across to my ‘WordPress’ blog ‘App’.

We felt at home in our new little van, what we were doing right now, parked in a beautiful location with the hatches ‘battened’ down, was exactly the reason why we had purchased it. Without the additional space that the ‘Air Awning’ provides to us, whilst on site, this van would be too small to provide a long-term static home, ‘Big Momma’ had been perfect for that, however, Shazza must be growing into this van as she now refers to the old van simply as ‘The Comanche’, how soon one’s memory of a cherished home pales into insignificance !! But once out on the road, although the awning would be available to us, if or when we needed it, the compact size of the ‘Little Fokker’ would come into its own. The Narrow mountain roads, just half an hour from the apartment, leading to numerous whitewashed villages and towns, that would have been difficult to explore in ‘Big Momma’, should hopefully present few problems for us. New opportunities will soon open up for us and I think that the only issue that I will have will be in reigning in Shazza’s adventures !!

As we had never stayed overnight at this beachfront location before, and although I had said nothing to Shazza, I did wonder whether it would be a peaceful night or whether there would be any nocturnal activities of the ‘Lovers Lane’ variety or even the ‘boy racers’ ? As it happened, apart from one helicopter that had flown overhead during the early hours, it was an extremely peaceful night, the sound of the waves breaking on the seashore a few metres away were barely audible, which was actually a bit disappointing. It’s typical though, here we were with a rare opportunity to stay huddled under the duvet and have a lazy morning and there we were, seven-thirty in the morning, awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I couldn’t remain in bed, I was eager to go out and gaze upon the empty beach, so I threw on a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt and whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, so that we could have our first coffee of the day, I stepped outside to meet the morning.

One of our overnight companions, no sign of life over there yet !!

Chairs out ready, that kettle must have boiled by now ?

Even Shazza had dragged herself out of bed and once I had made our mugs of coffee we sat and watched the sea. As the time ticked by our neighbours, one by one, started to appear, some even strolled down to the sea and availed themselves of a free morning bath, sorry, but I will save that luxury for a much warmer venue !! The day had started bright and sunny but the ‘Works of Fiction’ had forecast a much cooler and cloudier outlook, unfortunately, their Crystal Balls were working correctly on this occasion !! Shazza rustled up a lovely bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast and whilst we were washing up we heard the sound of a small truck pass behind us, we looked to see what it was, as you do and discovered that it was the local Council collecting the rubbish from the several waste bins located strategically along the length of the parking area. We would normally have just taken our rubbish back to site with us and disposed of it there, however, as the bins were being emptied I thought I would walk to the nearest bin and get rid of it whilst I had the opportunity. As I was walking to the rubbish bin, the council truck, on its return, pulled up beside me and told me to throw it on the back, what service I thought and thanked them.

Fortunately, the cooler much more overcast day served to keep the day visitor’s to a minimum, literally only a dozen cars all day and they did not stay long. A few arrived with their four-legged pets and after a short walk on the sand they were off again, some just sat in their cars peering out at the grey leaden sea, some gave a cursory glance across at us drinking our hot freshly brewed coffee, most gave us a smile and then a wave as they drove away. At lunch time the weather decided to turn a bit nasty, the wind picked up and threw the rain at our windows, but we just shut the door and ate our lunch, some herb flavoured crackers with cheese, pork pie, lovely juicy tomatoes and crisps and another mug of coffee, we talked about how we could so easily just be back on the road and living the simple life, drifting from one place to another as the mood took us, deciding on whether to stay for another night or move on. Unfortunately, no such luck, we would remain here for as long as we could but, before the light of the day turned into night we would have to return back to the campsite and prepare ourselves for the following day’s work. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that soon, November would be upon us and we would drive away and not return to work, wherever that may be, until March 2018.

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 8 Comments

“You Have To Be In It To Win It”

The secret was out, well, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really that much of a secret, but when we pulled onto our beach parking spot we soon discovered that we were going to have a lot of company on this particular afternoon.. However, there would be some consolation, there were plenty of ‘people watching’ opportunities……..

It was a little blustery but the sun was shining, there was plenty of blue sky and it was quite warm. A perfect day for dad’s to show the kids how to fly kites, some needing a little more practice than other’s, sandcastle building by the score, some exhibitionist braving the chill of the North Sea, dog’s having fun chasing balls or sticks, BBQ’s smoking, picnics being eaten, cups of tea, or coffee, being poured into plastic cups from thermos flasks, grandma’s and grandad’s sat in deck chairs reading books and Newspapers, protected from the wind by multi-coloured windbreaks, yes, this was the good old British at their best enjoying a day at the seaside and not one knotted handkerchief in sight !! By tea time, the bustling hoards had started to depart in droves and we began to reclaim some of the tranquility of this beautiful location.

As is usual when we visit this spot, we make the most of every possible minute so Shazza prepared us a nice meal, after we had eaten it and done the washing up we just settled back into the comfort of our chairs and stared out of the windows out to sea, where dozens of wind turbines stand, tall and erect, like soldiers on parade.

With the Habitation door open and fly screen across and with the two large roof skylights open, we could both feel and hear the gentle breeze along with the sound of the Sea, which was now on the turn and on its way back to shore, relaxation just oozed in and washed over us.

We made the most of this visit to our beachfront location as we had a busy few weeks ahead of us. It is always a disappointing feeling when we have to prepare to pack up ready to return to our fenced compound, we just feel so utterly free here, not a care in the world and how nice it would be to stay, enjoy an evening stroll at sunset before locking down in the van, huddled up with a hot cuppa then falling asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the shoreline. This is what we could now look forward to when we take the ‘Little Fokker’ across to Spain this Winter and the thought of it excited us. We love the Apartment, and it’s location, but soon we would be able to enjoy the best of both Worlds, slowly but surely we are still moving towards living our dream and although we have had to modify our original plans a little, for at the outset of our journey we had neither planned on purchasing an apartment, or had any inclination of ‘Brexit’, at least now, whatever the impact, the dream was still very much alive and in many ways we were now better placed than we would have been.

In an earlier post I alluded to making a decision that would impact on our immediate futures. When we commenced working as Assistant Wardens on the campsites, we had no higher ambitions other than to keep moving locations each year enjoying different parts of our own Country. However, this Season we decided to apply to become Wardens with the Club and take the responsibility for managing our own site. The application form is quite lengthy and in-depth and both Shazza and myself had to complete individual applications. We knew from previous years that there were always more applicants than sites becoming available, so the rate of ‘unsuccessful’ applications were generally quite high. However, a bit like the Lottery, “You have to be in it to win it“. The application forms were not released until mid-July and had to be submitted by 5th August, which is not a lot of time, especially when I also had to prepare a ‘Best Man’ speech for a wedding taking place just 8 days later on the 13th August !!

Although I have always referred to Chris as my son, he is my stepson, this has to be one of the few occasions that I have used that terminology, as I always consider and treat him as my own son, and I always will. Anyway, he and Sarah announced that after 10 years together, they were getting married. Whether they were formally married or not made no difference to us, although I have to confess that I much prefer being able to describe or introduce Sarah as our Daughter-in-Law, well ‘Partner’ sounds so impersonal. I cannot describe how emotional, elated and honoured I felt when Chris asked if I would be his ‘Best Man’, so this could not be any old thrown together speech, it had to be perfect, one that they would both remember, for all the right reasons. So the pressure was really on, we both needed to construct strong individual applications for promotion, drafting, editing, re-drafting and so on and so forth and in addition I had to put together a worthy speech for a very special occasion. Chris had made three stipulations on my speech 1) It had to be fairly short, 2) It could not contain anything that would embarrass him in front of his friends and members of his new extended family and 3) It had to be good. Well I guess that the latter went without saying, as for the first two, sorry Chris but from your list of requirements, one out of three isn’t that bad !!

The promotion applications were completed and submitted, that was it, no more that we could do on that score, it was now a waiting game to see whether we would be successful, or not. As for the speech, well, it was not a case of not having enough to say, more a dilemma of what to leave out !! I worked on it right up to the last-minute but much like the promotion applications, I had to go with what I had, and hope that I could ‘deliver’ it, as I intended, on the actual day and that a combination of both nerves and emotions wouldn’t get the better of me. As well as the Wedding ‘Union’, it was also going to be a great day for a ‘re-union’ as Stacey, my eldest daughter, was flying over from Australia to attend the Wedding, although we Skype Text regularly we had not seen her for a while so it was going to be good to give her a proper hug again. I do have another daughter, Lyndsay, she will be nearly Twenty Seven years old now, however, I have not seen her for over ten years, one of those unfortunate consequences of divorce and we have no information on her whereabouts or contact details, although I had heard that she is now married. I had hoped that one day that I would have had the opportunity to walk ‘both’ my daughter’s down the Aisle, but I guess that is one huge disappointment and sadness that I just have to live with.

Although Chris and Sarah live in Swindon, the wedding would take place in Cheltenham in the grounds of a Manor. Although it is a rarity to take extended periods of time off, especially during the height of the Summer Season, there are occasions when this is permitted or necessary, a family wedding being one such occasion. We probably would not have requested a full week off just for the wedding but we had to collect Shazza’s mum from Doncaster first, then I had to get to Swindon to collect my Wedding Suit and check that it fitted, then we had Stacey to collect from the Airport prior to the Wedding, it was the ‘Twinnies’ 2nd Birthday the day before the wedding, we then had to re-locate to Cheltenham and after it was all over, we had to get Stacey back to the Airport. It was going to be quite a busy week !! Fortunately we had the ‘Little Fokker’, so apart from the night before the Wedding when we stayed in a local hotel, and the night of the wedding, when we were accommodated overnight within the luxurious Manor House itself, we based ourselves on the Club Campsite at Cirencester and Shazza drove down in ‘Wuxly’ so that we had the car to do all our running about.

The big day came, the venue, the ‘Manor by the Lake’ was exactly as its title suggested, it was a magnificent setting with beautiful landscaped gardens and a small centrally located lake. The weather could not have been better, an almost cloudless blue sky with beautiful sunshine which meant that the ceremony would be conducted outside. Sarah had been accommodated overnight, with her entourage of Bridesmaids, in the ‘Lodge House’ within the Manor Grounds, a pre-booked Hairdresser and Make-up type person, who I am certain has a proper professional title, but being a man I haven’t a clue what that is, arrived at appropriate times during the morning. The Groom and his entourage, which also included Shazza, Shazza’s mum and Stacey, were in a local hotel, however, on the morning of the Wedding we transferred across to the Manor House and were shown to a ‘Grooms Room’. Now this really was something else, a large seating area with a bar, and our own barmaid to serve us !! Then another room with a ‘Pool Table’ which led to steps that provided access down into a small secluded courtyard. The barmaid asked us what we wanted to drink, of course, with it being only eleven-thirty in the morning, and the ceremony not taking place until One O’clock, Chris ordered a glass of water, whilst I ordered a nerve settling JD & Coke and everybody else followed suit, ordering a combination of beers and spirits, of course being the best man I offered to stand the first round of drinks, as you do, which is when our barmaid announced that the first round were complimentary !! Chris nearly choked on his glass of iced water whilst the rest of us nearly wet ourselves laughing, only Chris could order water when the alcohol was free !! He quickly changed his tune and ordered a pint of lager !!

“Family Ties”

We don’t half scrub up well !!

A couple of little Princesses were there too !

Just prior to the start of the actual Ceremony, whilst guests were being directed to their seats, Chris and myself were taken to a room where we were introduced to the Registrar. Chris had to go through the personal details that would appear on the Marriage Certificate to ensure that they were correct and that names were spelt correctly. There is an area where the name of the ‘Grooms’ father is entered, Chris asked whether he had to enter the name of his ‘Biological’ father, the registrar stated that he could leave this entry blank if he so wished at which point Chris stated that he wanted my name, as his Stepfather, to be entered, which the Registrar stated was acceptable. Chris had not mentioned to either myself or his mum that he was going to do this, I was completely and utterly lost for words, totally ‘Gobsmacked‘, which, for everyone that knows me, will know that this has to be a first !! I felt tears welling up in my eyes, where did they come from, I had a real struggle trying to maintain my composure, being asked to be his ‘Best Man’ was truly an immense honour but this, well words just cannot express my feelings for this gesture but just reinforces what we already know, we are a family. I looked at Chris and shook his hand and through a somewhat quivering voice I said ‘Thank You‘. Chris, who should at this time of the proceedings have been the emotional one, just said, “Eric, you have always been a Father to me, always treated me as your son, you are the Twins Grandad and Sarah and I want your name on our Marriage Certificate“.

Well, for me at least, the remainder of the day need not have got any better, but it did. The whole day, evening and night was actually superb, so much so that I didn’t want it to end. When the time came for me to stand and deliver my carefully scripted speech, Chris had preempted some of what he knew would be directed his way by saying, at the end of his speech, as he introduced me to his guests, “Eric is known to exaggerate things so please take anything he says today with a pinch of Salt” !! I hadn’t anticipated that so had to very quickly think of a way to counter it, I stood up and started with, “Chris has always been the perfect son who has never given me, or his mother, a moment of anguish or sleepless nights” I got my first, unanticipated, roar of laughter. The rest of the script just tripped off my tongue, those many hours spent rehearsing my lines, where to put my intentional pauses, the inclinations on certain words or phrases and the right time to inject a few of my one-liners paid off. Of course, family events like this are occasions when you not only get the opportunity to re-aquaint yourselves with other members of your own extended family but also new members of Sarah’s extended family as well, they were all extremely lovely people I enjoyed mingling amongst them. However, this day was not about me, it was all about Chris and Sarah, who were truly the star attractions, and whilst I know that it is a bit of a cliché, they really do make a wonderful couple. That said, Shazza and I had a really memorable and wonderful day so a quick message now to my eldest daughter Stacey and her ‘Partner’ Dean, no pressure, but have you given any thought to turning that terminology of ‘Partner‘ into ‘Son-in-Law‘ ? I do so love a good wedding and I would dearly love to be able to ‘walk’ my daughter down the Aisle without the aid of a ‘Zimmer Frame’ or ‘Mobility Scooter’ !!

The week off from work was going so quickly, where had those last four days gone to ? It wasn’t going to slow down either, with the taste of Champagne and Wedding Cake still fresh on our lips it was time to whizz Stacey back to the Airport for her long flight back to Australia. However, it wouldn’t be that long before we would be seeing both her and Dean on a more frequent basis as they would both be returning to the UK in March 2018. I know that this will be difficult for Jo and Terry, Dean’s parents, who live just outside Sydney, but perhaps we will have more of an opportunity of meeting them again when they come over to visit. We met them four years ago when they were on a tour of the UK, it was our first season working for the Club and we were located right up on the West Coast of Scotland and they made a point of coming to visit us. We have spoken to them each Christmas since then, via Skype Video and we had thought that it would have been us travelling to Australia to visit Stacey and Dean when we next would have had the opportunity to meet them again personally, but like everything in life, you just cannot take things for granted, things change and you have to adapt to those changes.

With one day left of our week we had the opportunity to spend it with our twin Grandaughters, whilst Chris and Sarah have always made a point of keeping us in touch with via Skype Video chats, this week they had got use to seeing us every day so they were quite comfortable in our company. With the Bride and Groom on a ‘Mini-moon’ as they called it, Sarah’s mum was looking after the twins so we collected them from her house in the morning and took them back to the campsite at Cirencester where they enjoyed exploring the ‘Little Fokker’. After a walk into the local town we returned to the van for lunch, then the visit to the Sites play area and we finished off by taking them to a Kids ‘Magic Land’, an internal soft play area where they could climb over things, go down big air-filled slides and just generally have a good time. In the car on the return journey to Sarah’s mums house, we had the front Windows down as the weather was so hot which made the girl’s hair ‘whoosh’ around their faces, which they thought was fun and laughed at, then we sang songs and Nursery Rhymes, very loudly, the twinnies joined in and did all the actions, people in cars that were overtaking us just looked across and on seeing the girls in the back gave a knowing look, been there, done it, got the tee-shirt, sort of looks and smiled at us, we never realised how much fun it was being Grandparents, we can legitimately act like kids again ourselves and it is considered absolutely normal and acceptable !!

Exploring Grandads new van

No Fear of heights !

Thirsty work this entertaining Grandparents stuff !!

And then it was all over, we took down the ‘Air Awning’, converted the ‘Little Fokker’ from ‘Home’ mode back to ‘Travel’ mode and then commenced the Four and a half hour drive back to our seaside home. It had been a great week but non-stop from start to finish, we knew we had to commence ‘working’ again the following morning but we could have both done with a holiday first………….. !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 16 Comments

It’s The Simple Things That Make Life Wonderful !

I was well into watching the latest edition of the TV medical drama ‘Holby’, when my beloved suddenly announces, “Should we change sides ?” I gave her one of my puzzled looks before responding to her somewhat random question, “No, this is my chair and I am quite happy and comfortable where I am thank you“, she gave me one of her bemused looks, the one that says “What the hell are you on about“, perhaps I had misunderstood, maybe what she was actually referring to was changing the channels on the TV, so before she barrated me verbally, I quickly changed my response, “We always watch Holby on a Tuesday evening, what’s on the other side that you suddenly want to watch ?“, but the wrinkles formed tight furrows across her brow and her eyes narrowed so that her eyeballs were glaring at me through nothing more than narrow slits, I could tell that she was already bored with this conversation, I prepared myself for a right good verbal battering headed in my direction, “No you silly bugger” she said, with a chuckle. I slowly removed the cushion that I had wrapped tightly around my head and ears for protection against the onslaught. “I meant changing the sides of the bed we sleep on” she said. Now, call me pedantic, or even fickle, if you want, but if that had been me starting this same conversation, I would have started it a little differently I think, something akin to, “You know we discussed changing the sides of the bed we sleep on…….?“, don’t you think that that kind of opening gambit just gives a little better indication of the subject that you are going to be talking about ? but hey, I just resign myself to the fact that it is another one of those ‘woman things’, you know what I mean, on the same sort of lines as the things that they, ‘the female gender’, often complain to us of the ‘male gender’ about, “It’s not ‘what‘ you said, it’s ‘how‘ you said it”, those sort of lines !! Anyway, let’s be totally honest about this, for you and I both know that this was not really a question or a subject that was going to be open for debate, this may have appeared to have been put in a sort of way to make it sound like it was a question, and that I may even have had a say in the matter, but “Should we change sides ?” was certainly not a question, it was another one of those Shazza statements, more of a ‘This is what is going to happen’ sort of one-sided conversations……………….

The days at our Seaside location are passing very quickly, although it is only three weeks since the arrival of the ‘Little Fokker’, it now feels as if it has been longer, I guess that means that we have settled in, well almost, still a few little ‘bits and bobs’ to sort out. At the start of this Season my ‘chuff chart’ reflected 249 days to do, but as I pen this latest post it now stands at just 110 days, we can almost feel that Spanish sunshine beckoning us !!

Shazza made a full recovery from her sudden illness and although I would not dare say this out aloud or publicly !! I think that she actually got pissed on just three glasses of wine !! Anyway, enough of that, we don’t want anyone finding out that she has got to the age where she, and alcohol, are no longer evenly matched contenders, in the sporting world of boxing I guess Shazza suffered what would be known as a ‘knockout’ blow !! So, now being back to full ‘Shazza fitness’, there would be some catching up to do on the  ‘Adventures’ side of things.

I was still getting used to this ‘interacting’ sort of business with something called a ‘clutch’, an additional foot pedal on the floor of the ‘Little Fokker’ and to be perfectly honest, the short three-mile journey’s to our beach escape just wasn’t enough time to practice the ‘foot shuffle and hand on gear stick‘ routine, I knew I should have held out for the uncomplicated version, just like the one that had been on ‘Big Momma’, the sweet simplicity of an Automatic Gearbox, bliss !! Now Shazza came up with a suggestion, she was willing to sacrifice one of her valuable days off, and the potential opportunity of having an ‘Adventure’, just to allow me and the ‘Little Fokker’ to have some more ‘bonding’ time, she can be really considerate at times, I thought. “Why don’t we take the van for a bit of a longer drive” she had suggested, “Where do you want to go” I asked, “Oh, let’s just set off and see where we end up” she said. The country roads in the ‘Lincolnshire Wolds’ are very hilly and quite often very twisty and with quite a few ’roundabouts’, so there was a great deal of going ‘up and down’ the gears, best done in a vehicle with an Automatic gearbox I remember thinking on numerous occasions during the journey, but I was now getting to grips with this manual gear changing M’larky, could it be that I was actually beginning to bond with this ‘Little Fokker’ ? At each roundabout that we came to I would ask the same question to the Co-pilot, “Which Way ?” and my Co-pilot would make the decision. We entered the outskirts of ‘Horncastle’ and I remembered that one of my former colleagues lived here, “Should we go and have a cuppa with John” I suggested, but Shazza didn’t think it would be fair to just turn up on his doorstep unannounced, perhaps she was right. So at each set if Traffic Lights, Roundabouts or road junctions I just continued to ask the same questions “Which Way“, and followed the direction commanded. We came into the picturesque little town of ‘Woodhall Spa’ and we came to a roundabout, “Straight across” came the instruction without me asking the question in advance, then, she directed “You need to take the second turning on the Left“, now don’t ask me why but I started to suspect that this thoughtful ‘bonding’ trip was a bit of a ruse and that it was actually another well planned ‘Shazza Adventure’ !! As it happened we had come in from a different direction to the one she had thought and there was no ‘feasible’ second on the Left turning. So, I plucked up the courage and enquired “Where are we trying to get to ?”, she smiled mischievously, “Jubilee Park” came the response. “You should have told me” I quipped, “I wanted it to be a surprise” she retorted, “Well, had you have told me, I would have taken the third exit at the roundabout where it was signposted to Jubilee Park” I said smugly. You would have thought that I should have known better by now !!

Now, one advantage of only being a six-metre long van, rather than the former ‘Big Momma’ proportions, is that this ‘Little Fokker’ can turn around in places that were formerly of the ‘No bloody chance’ variety. We were soon parked up on a lovely ‘free’ parking area on Jubilee Park. The Park had an outdoor Swimming Pool, and this being a gloriously hot and sunny day, it was crowded and there was certainly no opportunity to swim in it !! There were other activities available if you so desired, you could hire equipment and have a game of ‘Croquet’, a game where you have to hit a small ball between two sticks with a bloody great big wooden mallet, it is probably a little better than that other popular pastime of walking around a big grass field knocking a little ball into a hole with long-handled clubs, but whatever turns you on I suppose !! From Jubilee Park it was an easy gentle stroll into the small one street town, or was it a village ? Anyway, it was a pleasant enough day but Shazza’s stomach clock was telling her that it was lunch time. We found a local hostelry, ordered two drinks and two reasonably priced meals and sat people watching, and listening in on private conversations,  don’t you just love ‘Public’ areas, you get to learn so much about people you do not know !!  After lunch we innocently looked into the window of a small local butcher, we hadn’t intended buying anything but their large home-made Pork Pie and Sausage Rolls were screaming out at us as we passed, “Buy me, oh please buy me” said the Pork Pie “And us” cried the Sausage Rolls, so we did. I hadn’t recalled ever visiting Woodhall Spa when we used to live in this area but Shazza, whose memory is only excellent in remembering places, if those places are associated to food, reminded me that in the early part of our ‘romance’, we came here for a meal one evening, an Italian in the in the woods she informed me, and yes, I did ‘think’ about making a remark about remembering stopping so she could have a ‘Pizza’ in the bushes, but then thought better of it !! We found the premises, sadly no longer an Italian Restaurant, now a tourist attraction, ‘The Tea Room In The Woods’ as it is aptly named, it looked pleasant enough but after our large lunch and couple of drinks we were not ready for anything else right at that moment. We strolled through the woods, probably further than we should, well I did suggest that we took the path to the Left, but Oh No ! Shazza knew the way back !! After spotting a nice lady walking her dog, she looked like she knew where she was going, and although she looked elderly and the dog was of the Labrador breed, it was not of the traditional ‘golden’ variety with a ‘Yellow High Visibility’ jacket so I took a chance, “Sorry to interrupt your walk but you could tell me the way to Jubilee Park please” I asked, very politely. “I am heading towards that direction myself” she said, “Walk with me and I will show you the way” she very kindly offered. We about turned and walked with her in the direction that we had just come from, after a little while she stopped and pointed to a path on our ‘Right’, the same path that had been on our ‘Left’ when I had suggested it, I thanked the lady and wished her a pleasant afternoon, after she had gone, I looked at Shazza, she looked back at me, then we both burst out laughing like a couple if delinquent adolescents. We did eventually make it back to the ‘Little Fokker’, it had been a lovely day, but now we were just beginning to feel a little weary so it was time to get back to the Seaside. Now, I know that this may only be a ‘man’ thing, but I take a keen interest on just how much mileage I get from my vehicles, although at its best, I got 25mpg out of ‘Big Momma’, realistically she returned an average of 22.6mpg, not bad for a 5-tonne, 9 metre long vehicle with a 3 Litre engine I thought, but after just 300 miles the ‘Little Fokker’ data reflects that it is currently averaging 27.1mpg, I will be interested to see the data on our much longer journey through Spain later in the year.

It appears that the adopted name that I have given my new travelling companion is not going down well with everyone ? Now I cannot for the life of me think why. I had a big van that I called ‘Big Momma’ but I couldn’t call this new one ‘Little Momma’, that wouldn’t have been very original now, would it ? So some thought had to go into it, I did consider just referring to it as ‘The Van’, but that was too impersonal, and so I tried to find something that would have a link between me and ‘it’. It is, in length a much smaller van, so ‘Little’ seemed appropriate, I used to be in the Royal Air Force so a link with that seemed feasible, but the van was a ‘German’ build, now, a ‘Fokker’ was a German Military Aircraft so that all seemed to be a logical fit and thus, the ‘Little Fokker’ was born, although I am sure some may still suggest that it would have been more technically correct to have called it the ‘Kliene Fokker’, but that to me just lacks a certain something…………? Shazza’s mum, Sonia, really doesn’t like it being called ‘Little Fokker’, now I could be wrong here but perhaps her interpretation, or association, with the word ‘Fokker’, could be a bit different to mine, but what really shocks me is that I didn’t know that Sonia knew words like that !! Shazza herself is not a big fan of the name of our new van either, she wanted to create a link between our Spanish connection and the old van. “What would you have called it ?” I enquired, ‘Poco Momma‘ she suggested, “Really?” I said, with a wry smile on my face. “What is wrong with that ?” she grumbled. I then reminded her of a similar conversation we had about the large number of ‘initial viewings’ I had when I first launched ‘Big Mommas Great Adventures‘, she had suggested then, that certain people trawling the Internet for specific ‘Adult Sites’ may have mistakenly seen the title and believed the nature of the content to be a bit different to that which they found themselves looking at !! I then suggested that ‘Poco Momma’ may have received a similar viewing audience, “I hadn’t thought of that” she said with a very dirty laugh !! I also suggested that it may have had the wrong connotations if someone asked me where I was going and I responded that “I was going in to Poco Momma !!” So, the ‘Little Fokker’ will remain the ‘Little Fokker’

Very many years ago, when I were nowt but a lad, just left school, my first job, as a Trainee Legal Executive, was with a firm of Solicitors in the small market town of Louth. Strange really that 45 years later, a lifetime really, and I find myself working at Sutton-on-Sea, with the town of Louth nearly on its doorstep. I knew it was not a town that had capacious parking facilities and I really did want to go and look at this place again, I had enjoyed my few early years here and I had fond memories of the place, so for this adventure, yes, a very first ‘Eric Adventure’, we would take ‘Wuxly’. We chose to go on one of our half days off, after a long period of working we were ready to get off site and although it was a grey overcast day, it was a Wednesday, which meant that it would be Market Day in Louth. I remembered the tightly packed stalls, it wasnt a large market by any stretch of the imagination but I remembered that it was always busy, one row of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, the opposite side selling a variety of cheeses, breads, meats etc. a second row of stalls selling clothes, assortments of tools, haberdashery and then around the corner, the livestock auction, nothing large just mainly chickens and rabbits but the crowds would gather around waiting for the bidding to commence, I couldn’t wait to get there and experience it again and perhaps be transported back in time again, in my mind at least. We arrived in Louth around the same time as the drizzly wet stuff, we drove down the one main street, past the Market square which, although the square was just as I remembered it, the distinct lack of traders stalls and the absence of shoppers wasn’t, but the pavements appeared busy enough, at least we hadn’t arrived to find that it had turned into a ‘Ghost Town’. We found an available parking place in one of the small public car parks, only the one left but then we only needed one !! We made our way back up the Main Street, the buildings hadn’t changed much but the names of the traders above the doors had, in the days when I lived there, there were no such names as ‘Greggs’, ‘NEXT’, ‘Santander’, ‘O2’ and the many other ‘modern’ stores but that’s modernisation for you.

My father was in the RAF and shortly after I started working he was posted to another location so, not wanting to give up my new career, I found lodgings, with a Vicar and his family, a wife, daughter and two sons who lived at home and an elder son who was at University learning to become a teacher. My employment did not bring in much of an income, Twenty-eight pounds a month, Ten pounds a month of that went on paying for my lodgings but that included evening meals. In order to supplement my meagre income I would finish work at the Solicitors at 5pm, change from my Suit into jeans and tee-shirt and then go straight to work in a Fish & Chip shop where I worked until around 11pm. The only respite from this was on a Tuesday and Thursday when my employer permitted me to leave work early at 4pm, so that I could travel, on a 50cc moped, to College in Lincoln, one hours journey away, to attend Law Classes. It was a decent journey in the Summer but a very long, cold and dark trip in the Winter months. The only full day off from work, from both the Solicitors and the Fish & Chip shop, was on a Sunday and the Vicar, whose house I lived in, never demanded that I attend his Church, but seeing as only he and his wife attended, but none of his own Children, it wasn’t surprising that he put no pressure on me to attend either. Anyway, I couldn’t come here and not go and see some of these places, I knew that the people that I would have worked with then, would be long gone by now but I just wanted to see if it was still as I remembered it. When I started working at ‘Mr Chips’ it was a small ‘take-away’ shop, however, before I left, the owner had purchased the adjoining property, knocked through and turned it into quite a modern looking restaurant. I had always thought that it would have sounded better if it had been called ‘Mr Chips Plaice‘, but a mere whipper snapper of a lad would never dare make a suggestion like that, especially if he needed to keep his job !! The building was still there, all the fish and chip fryers still inside, the restaurant and even the signage outside above the door with the name ‘Mr Chips’, but alas it had closed down. By this time we were feeling a little hungry, and we were getting wet in the persistent drizzle, so we went into the ‘Turks Head’ public house which advertised that it sold food. We sat at a table, shortly after ordering our drinks, a lady, sat across from us with her husband, walked across to us and said, “Hello, fancy seeing you here“, my first totally irrational thought was, surely she doesn’t recognise me from when I lived here all those years ago, then she said, “We are staying on your campsite and recognised you, even without your uniforms on“, we passed the usual pleasantries and then she returned to her table.

After what I can only describe as a poor quality meal, we both expressed the opinion that if that is what ‘Pub Food’ is coming to its time to stop eating out. We ventured across the forlorn and near desolate Market Square and into the small ‘Indoor Market’, at least that was still going, I commented to Shazza. However, inside it had changed, no individual stalls with Independent traders selling their wares, no, it was like stepping into one of those large stores, a cross between a General Hardware, DIY and general Bric-a-Brac, we had a mooch around, as you do, it would have been rude not to.

I knew the layout of the streets, it was as if I had never been away, but like re-visiting a favourite hotel, the place looked the same but all the faces were different ! Wandering out of the Indoor Market and down Eastgate, towards where The Solicitors offices were that I used to earn a crust, well half a crust. I remembered that there used to be a small butchers shop, right on the corner, each morning at around 10am I would go and get a hot ‘Bacon’ Pastie, shaped liked a traditional Cornish Pastie, but with chopped bacon filling instead of meat and vegetables, you knew they were ready and out of the oven as the fantastic aroma wafted right along the street, it had my mouth-watering before I got anywhere near the butcher’s front door. Alas, this had now gone too, replaced by a ‘Hair & Nail’ parlour. We walked a little further and the old three-storey brick building was still there, I had hoped to see the shiny brass plate outside on the side of the wall ‘Haddon, Owen & Son, Solicitors and Commissioners of Oaths‘, but no, it appears that Haddon, Owen and whichever was the Son, were no more and the building displayed a modern sign above the door advertising a firm of ‘Chartered Accountants’. I felt quite disappointed and saddened, I know places change over time, but this is the first time that inside my head I felt as if I was getting old, until now, whilst my exterior shell may have betrayed my ageing years, in my mind I have always felt younger, much younger, but today, reality came a knocking, with a bloody great big sledgehammer !!

I spent the return journey quiet, and in deep contemplation, part of the time I was that young boy again, the memories that were stored in the deep recesses of my brain came stampeding to the fore and like an old scrapbook, several pages turned and I re-lived part of my youth again. “Are you okay” Shazza said, Which brought be back into the here and now, “I’m fine” I said, but in truth I felt an inner sadness. It is strange how experiences can provoke other inner contemplations, the truth was, I can remember everything that I had done in my life since being that young sixteen year old boy, the jobs I had, the places I had been, but I had never considered the time that had lapsed, Forty-five years, the time, the years, had all passed so quickly and yet there is still so much more that I want, and need to do, before it gets to the stage where I can no longer physically do them and I certainly do not want to use the words, “I wish that I had done………..” or “If Only“.

Our half day off, was followed by a full day off, no ‘Shazza Expeditions’ were forthcoming, informed or surreptitiously, I was not interested in having another trip down memory lane again, not yet at least, so we decided to have one of those ‘Cliff Richard’ moments, ‘On The Beach‘. I had got the knack of detaching the ‘Mother Ship’ in a matter of minutes and we were soon parked up at what had become our most favourite ‘kick back and chill’ spot. Within fifteen minutes we were parked up, the ‘Little Fokker’ transformed from ‘on the road’ mode and back into ‘home’ mode, Shazza prepared my favourite ‘brunch’, hot bacon in crunchy cheese-topped rolls, served with a hot mug of coffee, my saddened mood started to lift from yesterday’s outing, ‘It’s the simple things that make life wonderful‘ and there is nothing better than a hot mug of coffee and a bacon roll to put things back into perspective !!

After a spot of ‘Personal Contemplation’, best done with………….well I guess you know the format by now. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling, which, I know, you don’t have to tell me, was very unusual for the mud coloured waters on this side of the Coast ! The golden pristine sand just beckoned us to walk barefoot upon it, so we accepted the invitation and strolled down by the water’s edge, occasionally letting the cool water flow between our toes and over our feet. The last time that we had done this was last Winter, in Spain, but now, apart from the difference in the colour of the sea, with the warmth of the sunshine on our faces, the relaxing sound of the gentle waves, a faint breeze, we could have still been there. I think it is primarily the sound of the sea that has a mesmerizing effect, for Shazza was silent, as was I, both deep in our own personal thoughts. When we have moments like this it takes us back to when we were on the road in ‘Big Momma’, parked up on the edge of an expansive Barragem (Reservoir) or on the Aire at ‘Alvor’, on the Algarve, right next to a beautiful beach. We still longed for the day when we would be doing all of that again, now, with the ‘Little Fokker’, those days may just be that little bit closer, okay so not proper fulltiming again, not just yet at least, but now we can enjoy the best of both world’s during our Winter breaks, time spent in the luxury of the apartment just a fifteen minute walk from a beautiful Mediterranean beach and time away in the van, exploring new places and re-visiting some favourites.

We had walked for a little under two hours, then returned to the van. It was time to open up a nice chilled bottle of ‘White Zinfandel’ and just sit and watch the sea, as it was on the turn and would soon cover the sandbanks we had left our footprints in. There were not so many people here as there usually were, but I think that the ‘Works of Fiction’ had played another one of their tricks, inciting people to remain indoors but then getting their forecast wrong !! However, there were still sufficient bodies around, who like us had chosen to just ignore the ‘Works of Fiction’, so it enabled us to do a spot of ‘People Watching’. Shazza then prepared our evening meal and after washing up and getting back into ‘on the road’ mode, our ten-hour relaxation period had come to an end and so we returned to the Campsite and back to life, back to reality……………….

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 9 Comments

A Shazza Misadventure !!

We had enjoyed taking the ‘Little Fokker’ to the beach and now, seeing how it easy it was to detach the mother ship from the support pod, we could not wait to go on another ‘Shazza Adventure’. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that this next adventure had already been planned by Shazza, before we had barely had time to brush the sand from our feet, what may surprise you though, as it did me, was that she actually told me of her cunning plan !! But for now it was back to work and wait for our next bit of time off before we made a relatively short forty minute journey, in the van of course, to ‘Gibraltar Point’. This is one of those nature visitor attractions managed by the ‘Lincolnshire Trust’, it has a visitor centre, Cafe/Restaurant and a large glazed viewing area so that even during inclement weather the ‘Twitchers’ can view the variety of birds, butterflies and insects that abound in the area. There are also several walking trails around the site so that the more energetic can get out and about, being next to the sea there is also access to another fine stretch of beach, so this would make for another good day out. ‘Wuxly’ was now getting used less and less, which is a welcome blessing as far as Shazza is concerned, and although we had discussed selling the car, it has now got a reprieve. The original intention to part with both ‘Big Momma’ and ‘Wuxly’ around the same time, was because with the ‘Little Fokker’s’ dimensions, we could use it to go and do the shopping so it seemed pointless keeping the car as well. However, our local large Supermarkets, Morrisons or Tesco’s in Skegness and the CO-OP or LIDL in Mablethorpe had car parks that were designed for cars, the clue was in the title I guess, and not for Motorhomes or even van conversions. It wasn’t the actual parking spaces themselves that would have created an issue, it was more the amount of manoeuvering space getting in and out of them and there was no way I was going to risk scratching my new pride and joy !! However, even more than the weekly shop requirement, we discussed the practicalities of needing the car for other things, for example, if one of us needed to go somewhere else, the Doctors perhaps, then, without the car, it would have meant that we would both have had to go in the van, there were other similar issues but the long and the short of it was that we have decided that whilst we are working it makes sense to keep ‘Wuxly’.

Every fortnight or so, we have a nice social evening with our fantastic wardens, it was becoming known as ‘Chip van Wednesday’, for obvious reasons, yes that’s right, they were held on Wednesday’s !! However, we cannot give this social evening that name as a permanent title as the next gathering, it has been agreed, will be a ‘Cheese & Mediterranean’ evening, a variety of cheeses and crackers with a mix of Olives and who knows what else ? As long as the Vino Tinto is flowing who really cares !! We were on our next period of time off, the afternoon on the Wednesday and all day Thursday, so we agreed that the Wednesday afternoon we would spend more time on sorting out our pile of belongings in our compound garage and start to get the essentials into the ‘Little Fokker’. It just happened to coincide with it being ‘Chip Van Wednesday’, the get together’s always started at just before 7pm, so as we didn’t have to stop to cook a meal it gave us extra time to sort the van. By the end of the day the belongings on the impending ‘Garage Sale’ pile appeared to be very much larger than the ‘stuff’ being placed into the van !! However, the important stuff was now in, ‘Kevin’ the Kayak of course and his essential accessories, to name just one. After quick showers and a change out of our ‘grubby’ attire, we went across for yet another very enjoyable social evening, with, on this occasion, the said ‘Fish & Chips’ and of course a bottle or three a couple of glasses of falling over juice !! These are not late night affairs, we may be able to have a lay in the following morning but our Wardens needed to be up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they were on duty. However, Shazza was not well throughout the night, she was violently sick three times throughout the night and into the early hours of morning, if it had been to the excessive imbibing of said falling over juice, she could probably have accepted her condition but to be honest we had only drank no more than three glasses of wine each. Neither could we put it down to the food, as we all had the same and the rest of us were fine, so we don’t know what caused Shazza to be so ill but it hit her hard. She certainly was in no condition to go out to ‘Gibraltar Point’, but that would still be there to do on another day, so I am afraid that on this occasion you could say that it was more a case of a ‘Shazza Misadventure‘.

Now I do not wish to come across as uncaring or unsympathetic towards my beloved, but Shazza was feeling so bad that she didn’t venture out of bed all day, now, what is that saying again, something about every cloud having a silver lining ? Shazza generally likes to know everything that is going on, even if she isn’t involved in the task, so when I am sorting through our hoards of tat cherished belongings, I can often feel a burning sensation in the back of my head as her eyes are fixed on my every move, then the voice from over the other side of the garage, “What are you going to do with that ?” or, “You are not keeping that are you ?“, which was actually a statement rather than a question, or the most common enquiry of my beloved, “So where is that going to go ?“, well, I dare say that some of my readers may be able to relate to this scenario ? But today was going to be a little more quieter than usual and dare I say, probably a lot more productive !!

It is always easier to decide where the larger items are going to go, probably because there is only a very limited choice of where they can actually practically fit. In my mind, I am trying to work out the logistics of what I am likely to use, or need, the most, so those items need to be easy to get to. I like to have all my tools, fuses, screws, jubilee clips, assorted electrical tapes, hose connectors etc. etc.  in one place, my large torch and warning triangles together and readily accessible, and so on and so forth, so it isn’t just a case of throwing it all in and job done. This ‘Little Fokker’, has one major large external storage area, the garage, but then it has other smaller storage shelves within that garage and I guess, like lots of other vans, there are always a couple of other smaller external lockers, but they inconveniently share some other essential components, like on this one, the main electrical block or the leisure batteries. Then, there are some spaces that you think are ideal, that is until you discover that your storage vessels are just that bit too long, or too wide to fit in them and then it’s back to the drawing board !! I had a bit of that frustration, but fortunately not too much and I soon had one space which accommodated all of my ‘man tools’ and of course the essential ‘bits and bobs’ that go with them. I had a space on one of two shelves, just inside one of the large garage doors, which now houses my ‘Go Fix It’ kit, a handy 12volt tyre repair kit and built in mini-compressor, supplied courtesy of Hymer, alongside my warning triangles and large hand-held torch, and there is still some space left on the shelf, but I am certain that I can find something to fit in there !! All in all it was a god mornings work, the van was beginning to get loaded and the mountain of ‘Garage Sale’ goodies was increasing, I could hear the ‘ching, ching’ of the future adventure funds ringing in my ears already. Now you may be thinking, ‘What about Shazza’s stuff ?‘, and that would be a good question to ask and, if I may say, very well presented. My immediate response would of course be ‘What Shazza stuff ?‘, Kevin the Kayak belongs to the both of us, those tools and ‘bits and bobs’ are for work on the van, which belongs to both of us, if we breakdown, at night, and need a torch to see the best place to put the warning triangles, then in essence we are broken down together, so one shouldn’t look at this storage space as being ‘my‘ storage space, it is in fact a joint enterprise therefore all these things are stored in ‘our‘ storage space !! It’s very much like Shazza comandeering the majority of the inside lockers for ‘her‘ stuff, but I guess that if I want to eat, ‘we‘ need somewhere to store the foodstuffs, the saucepans, the crockery and the cutlery, the system of allocation of internal space appears to be working quite well, although it is early days and I have to confess that I am still trying to get used to where everything now is. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a galaxy far far away, oops sorry ! That’s another masterpiece I am working on, in the days of ‘Big Momma’ I had my own wardrobe, bedside locker, overhead locker for my shirts and jumpers, but I now have to appreciate that we have downsized so we have to be more economical with our use of internal storage space, now then, where has she put my clean underwear, I can’t remember if she put them in the cupboard with the corn flakes, the one with the cream crackers or perhaps the one with the nuts !!

Having achieved all that I could in that very productive morning, I was beginning to lose a bit of motivation and realistically, I couldn’t have done too much more anyway as I needed access to some of the internal areas of the van and that would have meant disturbing Shazza. So, my next job on my list was to walk into town, a mere thirty minute stroll along the seafront, and find a barber or one of those ‘Unisex’ type salons, it had been over six weeks since my last haircut and it was beginning to look untidy, and whilst at it, you never know I may just get my nails manicured at the same time !!

When we are at our Spanish residence, sounds rather posh don’t you think ? and we go out, either in our own locality or visiting other areas, I often make comment about how friendly the Spanish people are, when passing them on the street they often pass pleasantries, ‘Hola‘ or ‘Buenos Dias‘ or they look and smile or give a nod of their heads towards us. I also often make comment on how different this is in the UK, where people often don’t acknowledge you, or they avert eye contact so that they do not have to speak or smile. Well, I was wrong to make such comments on my fellow ‘Brits’, and believe me I have severely reprimanded myself for making such unfair negative remarks. On my walk into Sutton-on-Sea I passed several people and was truly heartened when they returned my pleasantries towards them, or indeed they looked at me, made eye contact and smiled. My first thought was to discreetly check that the zip on my jeans was in the closed position, to my relief, I discovered that it was and so my faith in my fellow ‘Brit’, as being a friendly bunch, was restored. Now whether this was because the sun was shining, and lets face it, in this Country that is always a cause to be grateful and happy, or perhaps it is just that this place is such a very nice place to be, whether as a permanent resident or a visitor, whatever the reason, it made what had already started out as a good day, an even better one. Now, I have to confess that Sutton-on-Sea had, in the time when I lived nearby, a bit of a reputation for being a place where retirees lived, the older generation, it was a small one street town and compared to the hustle and bustle of its immediate neighbours, Skegness and Mablethorpe, it was considered to be a bit boring. Well it is still a small one street town, there are no slot machines here, no donkey rides or ‘kiss me quick’ hats and to some that may be interpreted as boring. Now, it could be that I am now part of that ‘older generation’ but I find that that the wide expanse of golden sand beach, the uncrowded seafront promenade and the absence of all the ‘glitzy’ amusement arcades to actually be absolutely wonderful, peaceful and tranquil, but it is a ‘lived in’ sort of place where people take the time to pass strangers with a small exchange of pleasantries, or a smile, or a nod, yes i like it here, very much as it happens. There are only two ‘Unisex’ type of hair cutting establishments in the town, surprisingly no traditional ‘Gents Barber Shop’. The first, appointment only establishment, could not fit me in at all that day, the second, appointment only establishment, could fit me in but not for another hour, well I was not in a hurry to do anything else so I decided to have a ‘Al Fresco’ lunch on the promenade. As I made my way back towards the sea front i called in to a nice looking bakery that advertised ‘hot snacks’ and purchased a ‘Steak Bake’, ‘Belgian Bun’ and a small bottle of ‘Lucozade’. I found a good vantage point on a bench on the promenade overlooking the beach and the small ‘Lifeguard’ hut and ate my lunch whilst enjoying one of my favourite pastimes of ‘People Watching’. It was a bright sunny afternoon but there was quite a brisk breeze blowing, however, the handful of hardy sun worshippers were on the beach, sitting on deck chairs, or towels laid out neatly on the sand, windbreaks strategically positioned around them, flapping and bending as the breeze hit the brightly coloured plastic panels whilst they huddled together. It did make me smile and if I had been any good at drawing I could have sketched out some humourous caricatures of ‘Brits on Holiday’. The hour passed quickly and so I walked the short distance to the hairdressers and got a much-needed haircut although I decided against the manicure on this occasion. Then I retraced my steps along the sea front promenade and back to the campsite, where I found Shazza still huddled underneath the duvet and feeling no better.

We were back at work the following morning and Shazza, although still not feeling too well, managed to force herself to get out of bed. Our Wardens, who by now, you will already have gathered, are extremely wonderful and genuinely nice people, suggested that she go back to bed, but her stubbornness prevailed, fortunately as the day progressed she began to feel a little better. We still don’t know the cause, or source of her illness, but I knew that she had recovered by Friday night when, after I went to bed sometime after she had, she complained that I was making too much noise climbing up the ladder and getting into the bed and, that I had taking far more of the duvet than I should have, yes the ‘nagging’ had returned, situation normal once again, thank goodness for that it is a lonely life without my Shazza in normal mode !!

Since her recovery we have had another couple of afternoon’s off and on both occasions we took the ‘Little Fokker’ to what has become our favourite escape, the beachfront parking at Huttoft. It is so easy and quick to get to, the sad person that I am, I even decided to time how long it took, from leaving our site compound, parking up at the beach and sitting down and eating lunch, just fifteen minutes !! We generally spend a good seven hours at this spot, reading, drafting a bit more on this blog, personal contemplation (always done with one’s eyes closed), walking on the beach, people watching and finally enjoying our evening meal before washing up and then returning to site, it isn’t a bad life really. We have now just gone beyond the half way point in our Season and soon the ‘Little Fokker’ will be introduced to the pleasures of driving in Europe !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

The ‘Little Fokker’ Goes To The Beach !!

I guess that there are some institutions that appreciate you doing business with them and others that just want to sell you something, take your money and get you out of the door as quickly as possible. I remember the day we collected ‘Big Momma’ from Chelston Motorhomes, which, at the risk of repeating myself, was a lot of money. We sat and completed the paperwork, the salesman then took us around to the new vehicle storage area where he handed us over to someone else to do the new vehicle handover, then we were given the keys and we drove away, without even a smile and a ‘bon voyage’. Steve at ‘Lowdhams’ had a slightly different approach, first, before any paperwork was shuffled, we were provided with a choice of drinks, hot or cold. Once the paperwork was completed we were taken to the new vehicle storage area where Steve provided us with an extremely comprehensive vehicle handover, he answered all our inevitable questions and showed us where everything was located and how it operated. I was also very impressed that he had listened to, and delivered upon, my requests when ordering the ‘Optional’ extra’s, namely the 3.0 metre long Fiamma roll out awning. On all the models we had looked at the awning rail stopped half way across the habitation door. We were going to fit a drive away awning, the drive away kit, which fitted into the awning rail would, in its normal position, have meant that the sidewall of the awning would have prevented the door from being opened fully, so we had asked Steve if it was possible to fit the Fiamma Awning further across to clear the habitation door. He hadn’t been sure if this was possible due to the shape of the roof and the positioning of the fixing bracket but would ask the fitters if it was feasible. One of the first things that I observed when he took us to the vehicle was that the Fiamma Awning had been positioned exactly where I had wanted it. When we were happy with everything he took us back into the showroom and asked us to wait whilst he drove our new vehicle around to the front entrance. Before we departed he presented Sharon with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, that really was a very nice and unexpected touch.

It was strange driving the ‘Little Fokker’, I had been used to a vehicle with a bit of independence and being able to use its own initiative, something called an Automatic gearbox, but this ‘Little Fokker’ appeared to want me to have some sort of interaction with it, which required me to use my left leg to depress an extra pedal that someone had inserted into the drivers foot well at the same time as moving a gear knob up, down and/or across, a bit ‘needy’ I thought to myself. However, I thought being new that this was some sort of initial ‘bonding’ ritual so decided to go with it, I soon got the hang of this ‘bonding’ process when accelerating and gaining speed but the ‘Little Fokker’ appeared to get a bit petulant if I failed to have the same sort of interaction with it when decreasing speed !! My beloved, sat in the co-pilots seat, kept saying “What on earth are you doing ?”, but the ‘Little Fokker’ appeared to ignore her and failed to answer !!

I had expected to feel a bit of difference in the acceleration, ‘Big Momma’ had a very powerful 3.0 Litre engine whilst this one only had a 2.3 Litre. I was pleasantly surprised though, okay it was a shorter vehicle and only 3.5 tonnes, but it packed a punch that I hadn’t expected and I soon became very aware that I would need to be mindful of my speed !! We had already purchased the ‘Vango’ Kela III Air Awning from ‘Camper-UK’ in Lincoln but we needed the bits that slid into the Fiamma Awning Rail, the ‘Drive Away Kit’, so as Lincoln was on our route back to Sutton-on-Sea, we called in and purchased it. At that point my beloved decided that she would like to have a drive of the ‘Little Fokker’ so I was demoted to the co-pilots seat. She was obviously used to driving a car with three, foot pedals and this changing up and down gears malarkey, so she coped very well and was certainly more comfortable driving this than she had been driving ‘Big Momma’. But for some reason she didn’t want to drive it all the way back to the campsite so after about 20 miles, or so, I was once again permitted to continue my bonding session.

Once we arrived safely back at base camp and reversed the ‘Little Fokker’ into our compound no time was wasted in erecting the awning. It took a while as everything was packed in separately sealed polythene bags and individual carry bags, but once I had everything unpacked it was a relatively straightforward exercise. I think once I have done this a couple of times and got the hang of it, the erection time should get quicker !!!!!!!

Unfortunately, for the next few days we had to live with the van as it was as we are back at work, the re-packing exercise would have to wait until we had more time, so we were living out of suitcases that were stored in our compound garage. Shazza did get some essentials moved in, mainly the cooking implements, pots, pans, crockery and cutlery but for now we could live with the inconveniences. We had the TV, after sitting and looking at a fifteen inch screen in ‘Big Momma’ this eighteen and a half-inch screen, watched from much closer seating positions, was like being in the cinema and watching everything on a ‘big screen’, very nice !!

After our first night it would be fair to say that I settled in to the more compact dimensions a lot better than Shazza. The large and very comfortable passengers ‘Captain’ seat became my armchair and I could stretch out and put my feet up on the driver’s seat. Shazza had to make do with the ‘L’ shaped seating around the ‘moveable’ dinette table, it wasn’t the long, soft, leather upholstered bench seat that she had been accustomed to in ‘Big Momma’ !! As for having to use a ladder to climb up into the bed, and a very spacious bed it was too, measuring 2 metres long and 1.5 metres wide, but getting out in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature, climbing over me before negotiating the ladder, in the dark, this would take some getting used to for Shazza !! Well she has two choices, get used to it or save the cork out of the wine bottle !! I knew that it was going to take some time for Shazza to adjust to the new dimensions of this van, for me, I had already, in my mind at least, started to live in it well before we went to collect  it. But we both knew that the advantages of the ‘Little Fokker’ would come into their own once we got ‘on the road’, what I needed to do was to give Shazza a taste of this so, after working for four and a half days we got a half day off. We had intended to spend our afternoon getting the van re-packed but it was a hot and sunny day and with a nice little beach parking location just three miles away, this would be an opportunity to see how easy it would be to detach the ‘Air Awning’ from the van and then re-attach it upon our return.

Huttoft Car Terrace is a popular local attraction, people go in cars with their children and dogs, beach chairs, picnics and BBQ’s and are able to park quite literally next to the golden sandy beach, with the sea just twenty or thirty metres away. It is also very popular with Motorhomers but it will only accommodate the smaller length of vehicle, we certainly would not have been able to have taken ‘Big Momma’ there, but it would be perfect for the ‘Little Fokker’. It took literally minutes to easily detach the ‘drive away kit’ from the awning rail and by 12:30 we were pulling out of the site gates and a short fifteen minutes later we arrived at our location. The place was crowded, at first I didn’t think that we were going to be able to find a place to park, fortunately as we were getting towards the end of the parking area a car pulled out, thank goodness we had a vehicle that was only 2.2 metres wide !! We settled between an older Compass Drifter Motorhome and a smaller Van Conversion, built on a Ford Transit chassis. We had an unrestricted view of the beach and the sea, except for a handful of fishermen casting their lines from the shoreline.

This is what it is all about !!

Suddenly, Shazza’s whole demeanour changed and a broad smile appeared on her face, from one ear to the other !! “Now do you see the advantages of having this ‘Little Fokker’ ?” I said, with a smug grin, “Oh yes, this is what it’s all about, now I can actually see the advantages of this when we are on our trips” she responded. It was time for a spot of lunch, when we were ‘on the road’ on our European trips we would get to an ‘Aire’ or ‘Free Camping’ location around lunchtime and Shazza would make me my favourite tasty treat, sizzling hot bacon and a fried egg in half of a baguette, well no baguette today, instead my bacon and egg came in a nice soft bap and the two of us sat in the comfort of the van, enjoying every bite whilst taking in the beach and sea views. After devouring our lunch and drinking our hot, freshly brewed mugs of coffee, Shazza climbed up onto the bed and propped herself up and read a book whilst I spent some time people watching before indulging in a spot of personal contemplation, which, as you already know, is best done with one’s eyes closed. A couple of hours later, well after such a hectic and very busy few months there was a lot of personal contemplation to be done !! but I discovered that Shazza too had cottoned on to this fine art and had spent a period in personal contemplation herself. We decided it was time to get outside and feel again how good the texture of sand is on one’s feet and we kind of just sauntered down to the shoreline, our conversation was directed towards one subject and one subject only, the freedom we were feeling right at that moment, it took us back to how we had felt when we were on our road trips, travelling to new locations, stopping for days, and nights, either on an Aire or finding a ‘free camping’ spot. As we looked back landward, where the Motorhomes and van conversions were parked, we could have been anywhere, France, Spain or even Portugal, it reminded us of being on an Aire and there was that sudden inner pang in our minds of just wishing that we were back on the open road.

As afternoon started to turn to evening, which was far too quickly for our liking, a lot of the cars started to disappear and soon there were just a handful of Motorhomes left, and the dedicated shoreline fisherman. There was a sign at the entrance to this parking area that stated ‘No Parking between 10pm and 6am’ but we wondered just how many Motorhomes and vans would be staying for the night ? The old Compass Drifter that was parked beside us departed but the couple in the van conversion, parked at the other side of us, remained and we got into conversation with them for a while. They had driven up from the Peterborough area, this particular spot being just one of their favourite haunts, they told us that they would not be overnighting but would stay until 10pm before returning home. We were beginning to feel hungry but Shazza had come prepared, with the evening sun still shining, she set about preparing us a very tasty ‘Pasta Bolognese’ ……

I could get very used to this again !!

She already has !!!!!

So, we may not have got the van re-packed with all our belongings, as was the initial intention for this half day off, but it proved to be a very successful day for more than one reason. We were able to try out some of the equipment, using power from the leisure batteries, checking that the Solar panel worked, the gas heated the water, the cooker and just the feel for the living space in general. But better than that, it was also just what Shazza needed for her to realise the potential for taking this ‘Little Fokker’ to places that we may have been reluctant to have attempted to take ‘Big Momma’. The down side was that instead of packing up and returning to the campsite, we both just wanted to spend the night here and then hit the road to somewhere new in the morning !!

We drove away from our wonderful seafront location a little after 8pm, it had been a wonderful afternoon and evening and showed us just how versatile we could now be, with getting off site in the van on our days off, and having mini-adventures here in the UK in addition to the adventures that we could also have during our Winter break, bring it on !!

It would have been nice to have reported that I reversed into our compound perfectly, lined up with the awning and re-attached it in minutes, however, I didn’t actually achieve that perfection at first attempt !! The only bit that did not go to plan was the aligning of the ‘Little Fokker’, I was in fact about two inches too far from the tunnel bit that attached to the awning rail, but a quick shimmy of the van and I achieved perfection at the second attempt. It was very easy to re-fit the ‘Drive Away Kit’ to the awning rail and we were soon all secure and comfortable again. We are very pleased with the additional space that this very practical extension provides. We have two reclining sun chairs and a table in the awning, this is where we sit each evening and eat our meal. Although we don’t need it just yet, we have a small portable fan heater inside for when the evenings, or days, turn a little chillier and i have also got a light in there for when the darker nights arrive so all in all we are very happy and comfortable.

It would be so easy to keep taking the ‘Little Fokker’ off site on every period of time off that we get, and I am certain that a person, who shall remain nameless, will be wanting to do so at every opportunity, now that she has tasted freedom once again, but for me, I need to get to grips with the logistics of what we can practically store on board and what surplus ‘ballast’ has to be disposed of, it will be a painful exercise as I feel sure that I will still need everything that I carried in all the storage compartments that I had in ‘Big Momma’, well at some point I will need them surely ?? So the next period of time off, if I get my way and there is definitely no guarantee that that will happen, but if it does then we should soon be organised once again and I should be able to write about more ‘Shazza Adventures’.

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 16 Comments

Less is More

I cannot believe that my last blog post was written over two months ago, it’s not as if we have been sat idle doing nothing. There has been a lot happening in our lives, not all of them have been the sort of things that we would have preferred to have been doing, but they were essential necessities nevertheless. My last post was about ‘Running Repairs’ and to bring everything up to date, I can now report that they have all been sorted, the garage, which as you may remember, damaged ‘Big Momma’ whilst she was in having her annual service and MOT, finally came good and paid for an independent Motorhome dealer to supply and fit new rear skirting panels. We also had to use more of our precious days off to get the two electrical elements in the water/heater replaced and the ‘knackered’ vehicle alarm system replaced with a brand new one. As if that wasn’t enough to be going on with, the electrical element in the fridge/freezer decided to pack up as well, although to be honest I think it was just a case of jealousy, it saw that other ‘fixtures and fittings’ were being given some attention and so decided it wanted to get in on the act, but finally everything was once again back in perfect working order, except that is for me, I had developed this really agonising pain, which lasted for weeks, I didn’t need a doctor as I knew exactly what the diagnosis was, a serious pain in the ‘Wallet’ !!

Now I loved everything about ‘Big Momma’, she ticked all the boxes, from her capacious cream leather upholstered lounge and matching swivelling ‘Captains’ chairs she exuded luxury, the ‘L’ shaped galley layout meant that I still had the freedom to wander the complete length, front to rear, or vice versa, even when Shazza was preparing or cooking a meal, the spacious Island bed, separate shower, separate bathroom and a well proportioned dressing area, were a real bonus when we were on the road, although it didn’t matter so much whilst we were living on a site as we had a bathroom provided. The Three Litre engine with automatic 6 speed Comformatic gearbox made driving effortless and then there were all the ‘optional extras’ we had put on, ready for our adventures living fulltime on the road. Now ‘Big Momma’ didnt come cheap, but as our intended fulltiming home she was well worth every penny, but this has become an issue for me, as we were not using her for the purpose that we had originally intended. Of course, the direction our adventures have taken us since purchasing ‘Big Momma’, just over seven years ago, are of our own making and although we had not originally intended to work again, once we had retired from our former career paths, or intended to purchase an apartment in Spain, these lifestyle choices have seen a change in how we have used her. Whilst she is a very comfortable and spacious home for us whilst we are living and working for eight months of the year on various campsites, during the Winter, when we migrate South to a much warmer climate, ‘Big Momma’ is just too big to park in our allocated parking space at our apartment, which means that over the Winter, for four months, she is left back in the UK, cold and empty.

It was time to think long and hard about what we were doing, or more accurately, what we were not doing. Although we had had some good adventures in ‘Big Momma’, albeit in small bite size chunks, we had unintentionally got ourselves back into living more of a ‘Conventional Lifestyle’ rather than living the dream in a more ‘Unconventional’ style, wandering nomads. Other things had also happened that were completely out of our control, let’s face it, how could we have foreseen ‘Brexit’ at the time we bought ‘Big Momma’ and although we were keeping the dream, of extended touring in Europe, alive in our minds for some point in the future, the uncertainty we face now, along with many others, of what ‘may’, or ‘may not’ happen with the enjoyment of basically our current ‘unrestricted’ freedom to travel within the European Union (EU) could have a serious impact on those dreams ever materializing.

We do still have a number of options, we could sit and wait and do nothing and see what the outcome of us leaving the EU is, as far as any tourist travel restrictions are concerned that is, rather selfishly I am not too bothered about the ‘other’ stuff. We could choose, in 2018, to take a year out from our ‘Elf & Elfette’ duties and go and do an extended tour of Europe whilst we still can. We could give up our jobs completely and go and have adventures ‘on the road’ irrespective of the outcome of ‘Brexit’. We could of course always give up our jobs and take up permanent residency in Spain, that way, living in a EU member Country we could still enjoy the freedom of travel throughout Europe, although there would still be the logistics about where we could park ‘Big Momma’. Then again, we could always sell the apartment in Spain and re-invest our Capital in a ‘Bolt Hole’ in the UK and so, if travel restrictions are imposed as a consequence of ‘Brexit’, we could still enjoy shorter durations of touring in Europe and the remainder of the time we could divide between touring the vast number of locations within the UK we still haven’t seen and spend the remainder of our time at our ‘Bolt Hole’. Then again, we could sell ‘Big Momma’ and purchase a smaller vehicle, one that would fit into our parking space at our apartment in Spain, that way, during our extended four-month Winter breaks, or 90 days if it all goes pear-shaped, we could enjoy part of the time in our Spanish ‘Bolt Hole’ and part of the time getting out ‘on the road’ in the smaller van, re-visiting some of our favourite ‘Aires’ and the gorgeous beaches and towns along the Algarve coastline and exploring new locations, after all, Spain is a vast Country and Portugal is only a four-hour drive from the apartment. I have now given myself a headache just listing all of these ‘options’, they were all feasible.

There was a lot to consider, each of our potential options had ‘pro’s’ and ‘con’s’, but one thing was for sure, we couldn’t just stay as we were, call us insane if you like but we are both enjoying our life as Seasonal Wardens with the Caravan and Motorhome Club, we were also enjoying spending our Winters at the apartment in Spain, the only thing missing is that bit of ‘Open Road’ adventure and we were both missing that quite a lot, so, we needed a solution but what was it ?

All of the ‘options’, listed above, whilst written in just a few sentences, have actually been the subject of very many deep and meaningful discussions over several weeks between myself and Shazza. I know that to some it may sound Churlish, but our reluctance, or is it sentimentality, in parting with ‘Big Momma’ is a repetitive stumbling block for us. We were both in agreement about not giving up the jobs, well not yet at least, for some it may be unimaginable, but we actually enjoy them and let’s be totally honest, the extra income on top of my two pensions gives us an exceptionally good quality of life. However, sentimentality or not, we were not getting the best use out of ‘Big Momma’ but downsizing would also mean less living space and, more importantly, much less storage space. If we were to go down the route of changing vehicles in order to be able to take it, and park it, at our Spanish ‘Bolt Hole’, then we had to consider something that was a maximum length of just 6 metres, that would mean losing nearly 3 metres !! Not only did we not know what that loss of that much space, living and storage, actually looked like in the flesh so to speak, but more importantly, what would the financial implications be ? ‘Big Momma’, although in very good condition in all respects for a seven-year old vehicle, with very low mileage at just a little over 21,000, what would she be valued at for part exchange against a new vehicle, could we even afford to change vehicles ? We had obviously scoured the Internet but it was hard to get a feel for the actual space, they used special lenses to make areas appear much larger than they actually were, the same sort of way that Estate Agents websites do it. So there really was only one way to find out whether we could live for eight months, fulltime, in a smaller van with less cupboards, drawers etc. and whether we could realistically afford to make the change and that was to physically go and look at some smaller six metre vehicles.

We had two Motorhome dealers within a reasonable travelling distance from Clumber Park, ‘Brownhills’ at Newark, the dealer where I had purchased my first three vans from, two used and one brand new, this was only a half hour drive away. The other dealer was ‘Lowdhams’, not far from Nottingham but a bit further away, an hours drive. We visited ‘Brownhills’ first, they had lots of brand shiny new 6 metre vehicles to choose from, van conversions and coachbuilts, Autotrail, Swift, Adria, Knaus etc. The lady sales assistant took down all the details of ‘Big Momma’, including our extensive list of optional extra’s that we had fitted to her to make our life on the road comfortable. She went away to get us a price that they were willing to give us in Part Exchange on a new vehicle, whilst we very methodically inspected the range of vehicles they had on display. Even though we knew what we were looking for, layout wise at least, it became monotonous and extremely tedious, perhaps our hearts were not really in it, or perhaps the price tags on the window stickers, before the addition of ‘Essential’ optional extra’s, brought us back down to earth with a hefty bump !! Our spirits were lifted when she came back with a price on ‘Big Momma’, I had underestimated her worth by a large margin, we were suddenly reinvigorated. However, whilst we saw some very nice vehicles, many of them just did not come with what we would consider as basics in this day and age, a standard radio was a ‘optional extra’, cab blinds were a ‘optional extra’ etc. etc. We were already going to be giving up a lot so we yet again questioned the wisdom of changing what we already had, a van, that apart from being paid for and of course its size, had absolutely everything we needed. We did the sensible thing, we walked away, after all, we still had ‘Lowdhams’ to visit.

We used our next day off, from ‘Elf & Elfette’ duties, to drive to ‘Lowdhams’, we had our eyes on one vehicle in particular but would also take the opportunity to look at what else they had to offer. Funny old thing, once we had given them the details of ‘Big Momma’ they matched the Part Exchange price that ‘Brownhills had offered, music to my ears. From what we had viewed at ‘Brownhills’, and now ‘Lowdhams’, although a lot were very nice, we ruled out van conversions as we just could not visualize ourselves living in such a confined space for eight months, especially during the British Winters. We looked at the 6 metre coachbuilts but again, whilst they had the basics of what we required, fixed bed, shower and bathroom, kitchen and a lounge area, each of the one’s we looked at just didn’t leap out at us as being the right compromise. Again, we walked away and decided to stick with ‘Big Momma’.

Time had flown, after having spent a great deal of our off duty time getting routine maintenance on ‘Big Momma’ sorted, the Annual Service and MOT, as well as the growing list of running repairs, the weekend visit to stay at a local holiday lodge, to spend time with the ‘Twinnies’ and then the fruitless trips to view new Motorhomes, we soon found ourselves into the twelfth week at Clumber Park, a third of our Season gone already !! We had a visit by our Regional Manager and he said he had a proposition for us ? There were a couple of fourth year Assistant Wardens at another site on his region who, for whatever reason, needed to be closer to home, which was the Nottinghamshire area, he asked if we would be willing to do a swap with them. Anyway, to cut a long story short, on the 5th June we moved to our new site at Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire. It really is a small world, this site, a gentle fifteen minute stroll to the beach, is just about 25 miles from a village that I had lived in for a little over eleven years. The same place where I had met Shazza nearly thirteen years earlier, spooky this serendipity isn’t it ? It is a smaller site than Clumber Park, only 110 pitches instead of 178, only one toilet block instead of two and, a first for us, this site is a ‘Members Only’ site. Our new Wardens are absolutely brilliant, really genuinely nice and very friendly people, they gave us such a lovely warm welcome when we arrived and they remind us a lot of Dougie and Avril, our Wardens from when we were at Berwick-upon-Tweed. We love it here, the site is lovely, lots of work though, plenty of grass that just will not stop growing and loads of hedges that need cutting back, thinning out and trimming, but we work well as a team here and we always have time to have a laugh and enjoy what we are doing, give me a two-couple site any day of the week. There are lots of secluded beaches along this coastline but we quite enjoy walking from the site, just a gentle fifteen minute stroll down to the promenade, which is lined with multi-coloured beach huts, very picturesque and then walking along the seafront into the very small and quiet, but lovely, seaside town of Sutton-on-Sea where we very often occasionally stop and partake of a beverage or two, or perhaps three !! We have a local Fish & Chip van that visits the site every Monday and Wednesday evening, sometimes even on a Saturday, depending on what other events he has booked, and very nice they are too, it’s a good job that there is a lot of physical work to do on site, it means that I don’t have to keep too much of a close eye on the calories what with ‘Cake Fridays’ as well !!

So, there we were, at last very content with our lot, or so I thought, when one evening, out of the blue, my iPad ‘pings’ indicating that I have a new message, perhaps an Email, a BBC News alert or a Skype message. No, it was something that was going to make our lives a little more adventurous again. I subscribe to certain ‘channels’ on ‘You Tube’, video blogs on Narrowboats, Canals and even ‘Which’ Motorhome Reviews. This particular ‘Ping’ alerted me to a ‘Which’ video review of 2017 Motorhomes, not just any Motorhomes but specifically, Small Motorhomes and Van Conversions. Having nothing better to do I thought that I may as well watch it, well it would have been rude not to !! Most of the vans being reviewed we had already seen and ruled out, except for one, a ‘Hymer Exsis T414’ which got an excellent review, in fact it won the small motor van of the year award measuring in at a mere 5.99 Metres in length and 2.2 metres wide, and I have to say that I could see why, for a small van it was exceptionally spacious, the most common downside, for us at least, was the lack of lounging space in the front, the dinettes were so narrow that when sat facing each other, at meal times, our knees touched, Shazza certainly wasn’t going to be having any of that !! never mind there not being enough room to stretch out your legs. However, the Hymer, had a small ‘L’ shaped seating arrangement which provided that bit of extra leg room, this model for the UK market even had a ‘Thetford’ cooker with 3 Gas Hobs, an Electric Hot Plate, Separate Grill and Separate Oven. Most continental vans only have a Stainless Steel 3 gas burner hob and an oven, but usually no grill. I was quite taken with this vehicle and surprisingly so was Shazza. We finished watching the video review and then immediately started searching the Internet for the nearest dealership that actually had one in stock so that we could go and look at it. Strangely enough, our nearest dealership, now a two-hour drive away, was yet again ‘Lowdhams’, we hadn’t seen this van when we were first there, perhaps because we equated the ‘Hymer Brand’ to costing mega bucks and well out of our price range, so maybe we had just switched off to any vans that displayed the distinctive ‘Hymer’ logo. The following day we rang the dealership to enquire if they had the Exsis T414 in stock, they stated that they had but, although a new and unregistered vehicle, it was a ‘demonstration model’ and so had 200 miles already registered on it, however, being a demonstration model it had quite a lot of ‘Optional Extras’ already fitted, Remus Cab Blinds, Kenwood Radio/Multimedia Player with Bluetooth and a host of other things, and even better, because it had been used as a ‘demonstrator’ it was reduced in price, a price that if they were still to honour the Part Exchange offer on ‘Big Momma’, would bring it within our price range and allow some room in our budget to add a few little essentials like an ‘Alarm’, ‘Tracker’, External Habitation door security lock, a 150 Watt Solar Panel, Additional Leisure Battery, 2 x 11Kg Gaslow System with external filler point, external gas BBQ point, a Fiamma Awning and a 18 inch TV/DVD. But hold those stampeding horses !! We still hadn’t seen this vehicle ‘in the flesh’, it may well be a ‘Hymer’, it may well have won the small camper van of the year award, it may well fit into our parking space at our Spanish ‘Bolt Hole’, but would it be right for what we wanted, we really needed to go and take a look at it before we got carried away !!

Our next time off just couldn’t arrive quick enough, every night I watched the video review again, pausing to look at areas in a bit more detail. I went on to the ‘Hymer’ website and read the vehicle specifications, the insulation thickness, the size of the onboard facilities tanks etc. and I have lost count of how many times I looked at the 360 degree internal view !! It looked too good to be true, this little motorhome, due to its rear transverse bed, had an external garage that was wider and taller than the one on ‘Big Momma’ !! The only negative aspect, from my personal point of view was that it was a manual gear change and not Automatic, I really liked the ‘Comformatic’ 6 speed Auto on ‘Big Momma’.

Our time off finally arrived and we set off once again in the direction of ‘Lowdhams’, we kept trying to contain our excitement by reminding ourselves of the reality about the ‘livability’ of previous small vehicles that we had looked at, yes the ‘Hymer’ brand was renowned for build quality, for good insulation, for Standard features that were ‘Optional Extras’ with other motorhome manufacturers etc but my sceptical mind kept coming back to the fact that 6 metres of space can only provide a limited amount of practical comfort irrespective of the name on the badge. The first bit of good news when we arrived at the showroom was that Steve, the sales person, confirmed that the Part Exchange offer on ‘Big Momma’ still stood. He showed us to the ‘Hymer Exsis T414’, opened up all the external locker doors and the habitation door then left us alone to scrutinise the motorhome in-depth and at our leisure. We spent ages, inside and outside the vehicle, trying to imagine where we could put all of our ‘Essentials’ from ‘Big Momma’ and then what room would be left for a few of the ‘Desirables’. It was obvious, from the lack of internal and external storage capacities, compared to that of ‘Big Momma’, that we would have to once again be ruthless and would need to get rid of a lot of ‘stuff’ that we carried comfortably in our current very capacious home, but let’s face it, we have been here before, when we downsized from a large four bedroom house to a 9 metre Motorhome !! We had quite a few questions for Steve before we left the showroom, which he answered in full, nothing difficult but important to us, then we left, without making any commitment, but actually feeling quite positive about this little van, although, I have to be honest, still with a degree of hesitation or perhaps even disbelief in the reality of actually going to make a decision that would once again change our lives, and our balance in the savings account !! It appeared to be a much shorter journey back to the campsite, there were quite a lot of ‘What If’ type comments, coming from both Shazza and myself, we would both consider a ‘negative’ aspect of the ‘Hymer’, but then one of us would come up with a solution, this was not boding well for the future of ‘Big Momma’.

Once back in the comfort of ‘Big Momma’ with a welcome cup of hot coffee to hand, we discussed the ‘Pros’ and the ‘Cons’ of both vehicles. We needed to take a step back and leave both the sentimentality of ‘Big Momma’ and the excitement of potentially owning a brand new van, out of the equation.

On the 26th September 2013, when, with a mixed feeling of trepidation and excitement we drove away from our house, having sold it and all our worldly possessions, we thought we would be spending our immediate futures travelling around Europe and living fulltime in  a Motorhome. Now there have been several twists and turns in our adventures since then, and all of our own making, but the lifestyle we have currently chosen to follow means that we cannot use ‘Big Momma’ for the purpose that we had originally intended and to leave her empty for four months of the year makes it an expensive door wedge, so to speak. However, talk about some people wanting the world, well I am afraid to say that we still do, we enjoy the jobs we have with the club and we enjoy having the apartment in Spain, but we also miss not being able to get out and about in the Motorhome, using ‘Aires’ or ‘Free Camping’. Now, the choice we now have to make is to keep the luxury, space and comfort of ‘Big Momma’, whilst we are living in her fulltime working as ‘Elf & Elfette’, then leaving her empty over the Winter in the UK, because she is just too big to park at the apartment in Spain, but then travel to Spain in the car and enjoy the luxury of the apartment for four months. Alternatively, we could get a new smaller motorhome, which we can also live in for eight months whilst working, and yet is still small enough to take off site and go off to visit other locations in our vicinity during our off duty periods, or even just to take and park it up on the local beachfront for an afternoon, very appealing indeed.  At the end of the season, then drive the van to the apartment in Spain, where it is small enough to park in our allocated parking slot. The advantage being that we could still enjoy the benefits of the apartment and its immediate location but we could also still get time away in the van, exploring other parts of Spain and using ‘Aires’ and ‘Free Camping’ as well as travelling the short four hours and crossing the border into Portugal, so having a holiday within a holiday. It really does sound a ‘no brainer’, but the one downside that keeps nagging at us is the living space of a smaller van whilst working, and living in it, on site for eight months. I actually think that the ‘Hymer’ internal space is practicable, however, Shazza thinks that she may suffer a bit with ‘Cabin Fever’, especially if we are ‘confined’ during extended periods of bad weather, which, lets face it, is extremely likely here in the UK at any time of year. So, my psychology of their being no such thing as a problem, just a solution waiting to be discovered, I came up with a compromise. We could purchase one of these ‘Drive-Away’ Inflatable Awnings, one that can be detached from the van quite easily when required, but left erected and easily re-attached. I did some research and discovered that there were quite a few different brands on the market. Because we would need to leave it up for extended periods e.g. Eight months, it would need to be quite durable and this narrowed the choice to two main contenders, ‘Kampa’ and ‘Vango’.

There were two other factors in our deliberations, keeping ‘Big Momma’ would mean that her value would continue to depreciate whilst the cost of new vans would increase, thereby taking any prospective change of vehicle, in the future, outside of our financial budget. Additionally, ‘Big Momma’ is a 5 tonne vehicle and that ‘may’ lead to issues with my driving licence when I reach the age of 70, a number that is getting ever closer, especially whilst we are still working. However, a smaller van, let’s just say the ‘Hymer’ for example, is only 3.5 tonnes so not such a problem, especially as we may still want to be having nomadic adventures when I finally retire properly, and am well into my more senior years, health permitting of course !! I am selling myself on this plan already aren’t I ?

It was a long night with lots more discussion, but finally, both of us exhausted and tired, we went to bed having made no decision either way. Neither of us slept very well, our minds racing, we knew that this was an important decision, we knew that financially, if we downsized, that we would never again be in a position to purchase another vehicle like ‘Big Momma’, notwithstanding a substantial Lottery win or surprise large inheritance, both of which were very unlikely, the last thing we wanted to say to each other was that we regretted making the decision to part with ‘Big Momma’.

I don’t know why, but when we awoke the following morning, we both agreed that buying a new smaller van now, and not waiting, was the right thing to do, not any van but the ‘Hymer’ van, but, we needed to also invest in the ‘Vango’ Kela III Drive-Away Air Awning. I guess that we both came to same conclusion, that being that with the lifestyles we are currently enjoying, with the opportunity to still enjoy adventures in the van whilst in the UK, the time in the apartment in Spain and still have opportunities to explore, and continue to have wider nomadic adventures, the change means that in our particular case, even though in reality we would be losing 3 metres in length, losing storage and living space, it would open up greater opportunities so “Less Is More“.

With one short phone call the deal was done and as of Tuesday 4th July 2017, funny coincidence don’t you think, the date, in a certain Country across the ‘Pond’ it is known as ‘Independence Day’, is this an omen ? So we handed over the keys to ‘Big Momma’, we didn’t look back, and became the proud owners of our new ‘Hymer Exsis T414’ motorhome. This now leaves us with a bit of a dilemma, as our new adventurer is very much shorter, we can no longer refer to our van as ‘Big Momma’, or even ‘Big Momma 2’, so I had one of my light bulb moments, due to the length of the vehicle, and the fact that it was a ‘Hymer’, a German brand, perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer to it as the ‘Little Fokker ! I think it has got a certain ring to it ?

Once we get the ‘Little Fokker’ sorted I will post some more photo’s but for now there is just this one…………………

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 22 Comments

Running Repairs !!

So, it has been a while since my last ramblings but unfortunately i do not have too much to ramble about, well not in the way of interesting ‘Shazza Expeditions’ that is. But for us at least it has been quite a busy period, here we are having just completed our seventh week on our new site, just another twenty-nine weeks to go and no chance of getting any ‘parole’, we have started building an escape tunnel but being in the middle of a very large forest it is extremely hard going, circumventing large tree roots and battling through badgers and foxes dens has made tunnelling very slow, let alone being overwhelmed by marauding moles who really were of no help at all, we saw the light at the end of several tunnels, in fact loads of light, but every time we surfaced we discovered that we were just a few feet from where we had started, i coming to the conclusion that it will be easier, let alone quicker to just wait out the next six and a half months !! We were told that this three couple site was much bigger and busier than those we had previously worked on and that it would be a lot harder but to be completely honest, I am finding that one site is much like another, yes of course this is twice the size of our last site, well as far as the number of pitches go, so that means that there are more ‘guests’ to process upon their initial arrival, however, once they are on site and pitched up, unless they have a particular issue that they need us to assist with, then they just do their own thing until they depart at which point they hand in their barrier card and we wave them off with a smile. The footprint of the site is much larger than we have been used to but that just means that the routine day-to-day tasks take a little longer to complete. There are two large facilities blocks to be cleaned, we clean one then move straight on to the next, physically demanding within the set time frames but bog cleaning is bog cleaning at the end of the day and fortunately, unlike our last site, I do not have to do facilities block cleaning every time we are on duty, that’s the bonus of it being a three couple site. The bin runs also take a little longer to complete, with more people on site that means more ‘rubbish’ to collect so more bins to empty, grass and hedge cutting also takes longer to complete but that is only to be expected so upon reflection, or is it reality, it appears to me that those that make a big issue about the size of this site and how hard it is, well it really is just a case of ‘much ado about nothing‘ or perhaps I am missing something here ? The real downsides of this location, from a personal perspective,  for us personally, is the lack of the external communication links, there are absolutely ‘No’ mobile phone signals on site and the WiFi is currently worse than useless, there have been periods of up to four days where I have been unable to get a WiFi signal and on the rare occasions i do, it is so slow that I either simply cannot get connected or I continually get messages stating ‘Server Not Responding’. This makes almost all communications with the outside world nearly non-existent which is fine if you are here on a short holiday and want total solitude, but to be here for just over eight months of the year with a daughter in Australia, who I can no longer see or talk to using Skype Video Calls or see and speak with our twin granddaughters or family and friends, well to put it mildly, its bloody frustrating. The good news is that the Club have invested a great deal of money in installing ‘fibre optic’ for the WiFi, that, we are told, should happen at some point this year, so at least we have something to look forward to provided it is installed before we depart in November !! So, as with my previous blog posts, as there is nothing any different to write about in respect of our ‘Elf & Elfette’ duties, i will not be writing much about our current Seasons duties, unless of course something occurs that i feel is really worthy of sharing with you.

What we also knew about this year was that we would have some extra expenditure on ‘Big Momma’, well after all she is now 7 years old, amazing how quick the time passes, it feels like only yesterday when we were driving down to Chelston Motorhomes in Devon to collect her, all shiny and new. We have the usual annual expenditure associated with the Service & MOT of not only ‘Big Momma’, but of course of ‘Wuxly’, in addition to that we also needed to replace an unserviceable electrical element in our ‘Truma’ water boiler, it should have been sorted last year but the local mobile engineer let us down. Additionally, towards the end of last Season, totally out of the blue, the alarm system on ‘Big Momma’ went faulty so we needed to have that looked at as a matter of urgency. We have now had the whole system checked out, twice, and the bad news is that the Alarm control box is, well quite bluntly, it has given up the ghost, totally inoperative, knackered !!

So, we had ‘Wuxly’ serviced and ‘MOT’d’ just a day before we headed off to start this years duties at our new site, no issues even though she too is now seven years old, but still in good working order thank goodness, we do rely a lot on her these days with the running about doing shopping and sightseeing trips on our few days off and then the long road trips down to our ‘Spanish Bolt Hole’ at the end of the season and of course the return trip and also the running about whilst we are in Spain. Other than the aforementioned bits of work, I had not anticipated any further issues with ‘Big Momma’, but don’t you just hate those ‘dark forces’ that come and catch you unawares with a hefty slap !! Fortunately, this season we are located just about a forty minute drive from Shazza’s mums, which is just a few minutes drive from the FIAT dealership where the van gets its Annual health checks. We had finished work and had planned to drive over, park up at Shazza’s mums for the night and then drop the van off at the garage first thing in the morning. We had spent our lunch hour getting ‘Big Momma’ prepared to move, unattaching the grey waste pipe, the external TV cable and taking the bicycles off the rear carrier, all we had to do was to ‘unhook’ the EHU cable, manoeuvre ‘Big Momma’ out of our fenced compound and that would be us on the road, or so we thought. The time arrived, we got showered and changed, ‘Big Momma’ was transformed into ‘On the Road’ travel mode and then i turned the ignition key and………………nothing !! All the lights on the dashboard instrument panel had been bright but the engine would not start, there was nothing, not even a single attempt to turn over the engine. I had put the vehicle battery onto ‘charge mode’ all morning and it showed 12.4v (Good) so I didn’t suspect the battery, my mind just rushed to the explanation for the fault as being the ‘Starter Motor’, for no good reason other than I didn’t have any other good explanation. It was no good, we used the work phone to call out the RAC and sat and waited. The young lad arrived within the hour and i have to say that i was truly impressed, usually these guys turn up, outside of what some may consider ‘normal working hours’ and just want to get you jump started and on your way as quickly as possible so they can get home for tea, not always a bad plan if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, the only issue with that scenario though is that it doesn’t always actually resolve the underlying issue. However, this young lad, and by his own admission, he was a perfectionist with OCD !! At 23 years of age and still single and fancy free, he had spent most of his life in the suburbs of London, he had worked for the RAC for 3 years and had moved to South Yorkshire just three months ago and enjoyed being able to smell some Countryside air instead of air pollution, these were his words and not mine, but that did make me smile a bit considering that with his job, most of his days or night’s must have been spent mostly on Motorways or busy roadsides with his head under bonnets of smelly vehicle engines, not much chance of smelling Countryside Air from under there I thought to myself !!

‘Big Momma’ has three batteries, one vehicle battery and two leisure batteries and he told me that he needed to disconnect all three in order to get a true reading of the state of the vehicle battery, he did explain the technical reasoning for this, which did make sense but in my non-technical brain I was able to analyse the words he had spoken with my former Police Head on, so, like gathering and recording evidence, you keep things isolated from each other so as to prevent any cross-contamination, simples yes !! So, I had the current vehicle battery changed just three years ago, in fact it was as part of its annual service, but it would appear that they had fitted the sort of battery that couldn’t cope with ‘cold cranking’, yes he did explain it and i think it sounded very logical in a technical sort of way, but it actually went right over my head but to me it sounded very plausible and believable, he even showed me the computer screen statistical analysis of my battery to confirm his diagnosis, I of course nodded in agreement, no they did not look good, I think, I wasnt very convincing but I am sure that he did not notice. He then told me that he needed to check that the ‘Alternator’ was functioning correctly, if it wasnt, then it would be pointless replacing the existing battery with a new one as the same thing would happen. Now i knew a bit about that ‘Alternator’ thingy, so i knew that what he was saying made sense, fill your boots my lad i thought to myself, he also wanted to test that the battery was not being drained by some source of power when the ignition was turned off and the keys removed, this would be a very worthwhile thing for me to know as the van has all sorts of power boxes to support the onboard facilities, usually via the leisure batteries. Anyway, the Alternator check proved to be okay, as were his checks on searches for any unwanted power drains from elsewhere. The final check, although not one that he ‘had’ to conduct as part of ‘this’ callout issue, more him just being thorough, bless him, was to check the health of both leisure batteries, these were both purchased new over four years ago when i had an additional Solar Panel fitted on the roof, I was extremely pleased when he announced that both batteries were ‘as good as new’ and that the readings taken from the individual batteries were identical in both. His OCD came into play when he started to reconnect the leisure batteries, the plastic caps did not snap fit over the terminal points, so he made a small incision and got them to fit correctly. He commented on the untidiness of the mass of wiring at the rear of the battery box, “This is not good workmanship” he stated in a frustrated sort of way, “Whoever installed all of this should have spent more time tidying it all up with just a few cable ties“, I of course was in total agreement with him as he set about tidying it all up, at which point I checked the time on my watch in the disappearing daylight. I did think about pointing out a few other little ‘tidying up’ jobs he could do whilst he was here but then thought better of it, i needed to get on the road sooner rather than much later !! So, the final gambit arrived, did I want him to jump-start me so that i could get it to the garage and sort out the battery issue with them, or, did I want him to supply and fit a new battery that he just happened to have in the back of his van, a ‘Varta’ battery, an AGM (whatever that meant), that was better than the one I had, according to him, and would cope better with ‘cold cranking‘. It didn’t take very long for me to decide, lets face it, this lad didn’t just turn up, jump-start my battery and send me on my way, he was painstakingly meticulous and i took a liking to him, I don’t know what the deal was with the battery, or whether he got extra commission for selling it, I didn’t care I gave him the £137, he gave me the receipt which was also the 5 year guarantee on the battery, he fitted the battery and then, before testing it worked, he noticed some rubber sealing coming adrift from a wooden floor cover in between the driver and passenger seats and he proceed to re-attach it. I did think about booking him to come back out at the weekend to give the van a thorough once over for other little jobs he may find to tidy up or seals to refit, all by way of helping him out with his OCD issue you understand, but i thought better of it. He started the engine, not once, not twice, but three times (The OCD bit in him again i think) then he waved us a cheery goodbye as he drove into the darkness to rescue some other poor unfortunate soul in distress, lets hope they were not in a hurry to get somewhere, I thought and smiled to myself.

We got to Shazza’s mums very much later than originally anticipated, but thankfully the journey remained uneventful. The following morning ‘Big Momma’ burst into life at the first attempt and I drove her to the garage. Shazza had followed me in the car as once we had dropped the van off we were heading straight up to Leeds to visit my mother and have lunch with her, and my sister and brother-in-law who were across from Australia on a rare short visit. I made no mention to the service manager of the previous evenings battery issue, well it was irrelevant, or so i thought, but later events would prove that issue to have been a coincidental benefit in my favour. We arranged to collect the van later that day and before they closed at 5:30pm. It was good to meet up with my Sister again after very many years, she had taken up permanent residency and Australian Citizenship many years ago and as is usual with such visits we caught up on all the family gossip. We went to a nice little Italian restaurant within walking distance of where my mother lives and whilst there i received a call from the garage stating that ‘Big Momma’ had got through the annual MOT without any issues but it had come back later than anticipated and so they would like to keep it until the following morning. I had no issues with that, we had the following day off so would return to Shazza’s mums for the night, hopefully collect the van by lunchtime and then return to the site in good time to get ‘Big Momma’ settled in to her compound again.

The following morning we had received no update call about the van, Shazza wanted to do some shopping before we returned to the site but would need to drive me to the garage to collect ‘Big Momma’ when she was ready, i decided to give them an update call instead of waiting. The young girl asked me to hold on the line whilst she went and checked on my vans status, when she returned she told me that the vehicle battery was flat and had asked if they could keep the van all day whilst they charged it up. I explained about the battery issue that i recently had and told her that i was surprised as this was a new battery that was fitted. She stated that this is what she had been told and that she would get the service manager to call me. Shazza went off shopping with her mum and whilst she was out, later that afternoon i received a call from the service manager which set me back a bit,, “Mr Leech, we are just finishing the service off on your vehicle and it will be ready to collect at 5pm“, I remained silent for a few seconds before speaking, “What about the battery issue” I enquired,”Battery Issue” he repeated. I explained the previous conversation with the young girl to which he responded, “She must have got you confused with someone else“. Now maybe its my cynical nature or perhaps my police intuition, but i smelt a rat, a very big and smelly rat. This garage is primarily a car and van dealership and not a Motorhome dealership, so when i told the girl i was enquiring about my ‘Motorhome’ how could that have been confused with another vehicle ? She didn’t say that the service was still ongoing just that they wanted to keep the vehicle battery on charge ? The service manager on the other hand rang to say that the service was just being completed and seemed on the back foot when i mentioned the battery issue ? The stories did not correlate, something was wrong, i just knew it.

When we arrived at the garage at 4:30pm, I could see ‘Big Momma’ parked outside the service bays, i asked Shazza to give the external of the van a once over whilst I paid the bill and collected the keys. The service manager was nowhere to be seen, I went outside and Shazza pointed to the rear corner panel of the van, it was broken and there was evidence that someone had attempted to polish over marks in the plastic but they had left polish residue, perhaps they were in haste to cover things up before I arrived. Now if the polish residue had not been so obvious by its presence, perhaps Shazza would not have noticed the damage, but when I had taken the van in for its service it was unwashed and quite dirty, so no way that was something that I had polished and missed when buffing up. Shazza went inside to get someone whilst I checked over the rest of the van, the Service manager appeared, fortunately I had walked around the van with him when I first took it in, there was no damage recorded on his sheet. I pointed out the damage and stated to him that he would have picked this up when he checked in my vehicle, he could do no other than agree. I told him that I was quite annoyed that this had been done whilst the vehicle was in their care and that it was quite obvious that someone had tried to cover it up, I pointed to the polish residue. He tried to make excuses first saying that it could have been done whilst it was being MOT’d at an independent test station or by another vehicle in the very compact parking area. So I said, my voice beginning to raise “Either the MOT test centre, an unknown driver of a vehicle on your premises or the service engineer working on my vehicle, not only damaged my vehicle but then proceeded to polish out the evidence“, fortunately for him he didn’t need to answer, a Senior Member of the Service Department arrived, she must have outranked the other’s as she was holding the clipboard. I explained everything, even the part where the ‘guilty’ party had attempted to cover up the evidence. Very professionally she diffused the situation by admitting liability as the vehicle had been in their care, she stated that they would have it repaired. I stated that I did not want the damage to be just made good but wanted the broken panel replaced with a new one, she stated that this would be done by a local Motorhome Dealership at their expense. I am now awaiting their call to arrange, at my convenience, for the replacement panel to be fitted but of course this will have to be done during my off duty time as we obviously need to live in the van whilst we are working !!

So, it has been one hell of a first six weeks start to our new season and quite a costly one, but this is where we look on the positive side of things, if we were on the road fulltime some of these jobs would have been an absolute necessity (Water boiler heating element, new Alarm system and new battery) and would have had to have been taken from within our ‘on the road’ budget. This is why I have always advocated that anyone contemplating a full-timers lifestyle should include within their planning budgets a ‘Maintenance Fund’ for ‘unscheduled’ events. Fortunately for us, whilst any ‘unscheduled’ maintenance is still frustrating, having the additional incomes from the Elf & Elfette duties at this current time, makes such frustrations at least financially bearable.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom, we have spent a weekend in a holiday lodge with our son Chris, Sarah his partner, soon to officially become our Daughter-in-Law and of course the ‘Twins’, Lily and Eva. Now they have found their feet there is no stopping them although Lily is still a little unsure about this standing upright stuff and putting one foot in front of the other, she makes us laugh with her impersonation of ‘Bambi’ style walking !! Although with other more essential tasks taking up our valuable time off, we have made several ‘relief’ visits to Sharon’s mums, what a saviour she has been (and her WiFi) and we have also earmarked some more interesting ‘Shazza Adventures’ for future trips out, some in ‘Big Momma’, others in ‘Wuxly’ and some using ‘Shanks Pony’ but such luxuries will just have to wait for a bit longer as our priority is getting ‘Big Momma’ all ship-shape again.

So, whilst I really would prefer to be writing about our ‘On the Road’ adventures or day trips from our ‘Bolt Hole’ in Andalucia, for now though it is just updates on our everyday life, as it is at present, as Elf & Elfette on year four of our ongoing adventures. I hope, in the coming weeks, to be able to write about more interesting things that we get up to and also to be able to update you on a very important decision for our future direction ?

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

“Back To Life, Back To Reality”

From the title of this post, I anticipate that anybody reading this, who is old enough to remember the UK music charts from June 1989, will already be humming the tune, or singing the words, to the No.1 hit by ‘Soul II Soul‘…. yes, for us it’s very nearly that time again, the time when we must put away our flip-flops, shorts and tee shirts, get out of our relaxed holiday mode and get into work mode, ‘Back To Life, Back To Reality‘, as the lyrics of the song go !! Go on admit it, your singing it aren’t you ?

To be brutally honest, it really isn’t a prospect that either of us are cherishing but, for now at least, it is a part of the lifestyle choice that we made so I guess we should stop moaning and just get on with it !! It’s not the actual job itself, even in our former professional lives we never looked forward to returning to work after our holidays, whether they were just long weekends or extended main holiday periods, but I am guessing that we are not alone in having those feelings ?

So, our last couple of days down on the ‘Costa del Sol’ were a combination of packing our bags, packing up our Winter home, well putting it into storage mode for eight months, dust covers on furnishings, clothing that would be remaining here put into protective bags, everywhere getting washed down, hoovered and polished so, like at the start of this season, the apartment would be ready to just walk back into when we return later this year in November, it doesn’t sound that far away when we say that we will be back later in the year. We had hoped to not have to take too much clothing back to the UK with us, although we had left some items back in the UK we kept the majority of it in the apartment. In the UK when we are working, which is the majority of the eight month period, we wear our ‘Elf & Elfette’ Uniforms and just have enough of our own clothing to wear on our days off. However, this year, prior to starting work we had to attend a four-day ‘Training Event’ were the dress code was casual and not ‘uniforms’, but we needed some smarter stuff for the last evening to wear at a more formal end of training dinner. As we were going directly to the training venue from the ferry terminal, and not to where ‘Big Momma‘ was being stored, we needed to ensure that we took the extra clothing with us. We had spent the last couple of trips down to Spain with ‘Wuxly‘ packed to the gunnels, every inch of space being utilised, floor to roof, with no views outside the rear window and no manoeuvering space in the front, they had been very uncomfortable and long ten-hour journeys !! Now, with our ‘Bolt Hole’ furnished and no full car loads, the journeys were very much more comfortable, I had space to stretch my legs out and recline the seat.

Between the packing and cleaning we made time to enjoy the last of our Winter sunshine, Shazza had needed to clean the Cooker and Fridge Freezer so she had ensured that our food supplies had been eaten prior to that, we dislike having to waste both good food and good money by throwing unused ‘stuff’ into the bin, so we had budgeted to eat out over the last few days and our time spent ‘researching’ good, but economical, hostelries had payed off and so we had plenty to choose from. We met up with some friends and had some farewell afternoon drinks at what is still one of our favourite Cafes in the Marina. Our last day was a local regional holiday, ‘Andalucia Day‘ and so the promenade, and the Cafes, Bars and Restaurants that lined it, were all busy. We ‘promenaded’ amongst the locals, selected one of the seafront restaurants and enjoyed a long and leisurely afternoon lunch, sat basking in the warm afternoon sunshine and enjoying the food, with a bit of ‘people’ watching in between, it would have been rude not to !! I lost count of how many times Shazza had pleaded with me, “Please don’t make me go“. We had heard many stories about Wardens ringing Head Office last-minute and saying ‘Sorry but we have decided that we are not coming back to work‘, we don’t know how true these stories actually are but, if they are, then we can certainly understand why. It probably would have made us both feel a little better if on this our last day it had been raining, with grey leaden sky and blowing a ‘hooley’, unfortunately, for us, the sky was a perfect blue, virtually cloudless, very warm and sunny at around 19 degrees(c) and today, the sea was a sparkling vivid blue and green with a clear view of the beautiful Andalusian mountains in the background, this is such a marvellous place and we were both very saddened to leave it behind.

We had put ‘Wuxly’ through the car wash, I do like a nice clean car and windows to start a long journey, she had been re-fuelled and with the last-minute packing done, ‘Snoopy‘ programmed, we were ready, albeit reluctantly, to commence our way North, via Seville, on our, just a little over, nine-hour drive, to the ferry port at Santander, a distance of some 644 Miles. Our ferry departure was not until five-thirty in the evening and we had to book in one hour before sailing, so we decided to get an early night and leave the apartment at four-thirty in the morning which would give us a good twelve hours to play with and a two-hour window for any unforeseen hold-ups en route.

After conducting a final check of the apartment, which included turning off the electric and water, we drove away, as scheduled, at 04:30am, in the dark. We chose to go via ‘Seville’, it would be motorway all the way to Santander, we could have gone via ‘Madrid’, again all motorway and although there wasn’t much difference in the journey time, around twenty minutes longer via the Madrid route, but the latter would have involved a cost of around €30 in tolls whereas the only toll on the ‘Seville’ route was €7, additionally, we may have hit the tail end of the morning ‘rush hour’. We made good time and it had only taken us two hours to get to the ring road around Seville, the volume of traffic had certainly increased at this point but nowhere near ‘rush hour’ proportions we would have faced if we had left our departure point an hour later. After leaving Seville behind it was pretty quiet on the near empty network of motorway link roads. It was quite a boring journey, well it was from my perspective as the passenger, as it remained dark until around 08:00am so no nice views to keep me entertained. What made it even worse, for the both of us, was the fact that we were both feeling pretty miserable at leaving our ‘Bolt Hole’, the local area that we considered our adopted home and of course the lovely warm weather. Throughout the long journey there were several extended periods of silence between us as we mulled in our own personal depressive states, even when we did engage in conversation with each other it was pretty negative and so we weren’t helping each other in the slightest. As is usual, we had packed plenty of munchies to stave off hunger during the prolonged road trip, chicken sandwiches, crisps, a few sweets and a large flask of coffee which served to take our minds off our Malevolence towards returning to the UK.

I would have been quite happy to take a turn in driving but Shazza is not a good passenger, nothing to do with my driving more a case of her wanting to be in control, nothing new there then !! Although she said that she would let me know, if or when she needed a break, I knew that wouldn’t happen and that Lewis Hamilton Mk II would do all the driving again with just a couple of comfort and re-fuel breaks. We had set off with a full tank of petrol but we knew that we would have needed one more tank refill to get us to Santander, however, we also wanted to make sure that we had a full tank of ‘cheap’ Spanish fuel before we boarded the ferry. We made our first stop, the driver filled one of her tanks and after having already drunk several cups of coffee she was in urgent need of emptying another vital one !!  We got to within 11 miles away from the ferry port when we came across a ‘Shell’ service station, a good point to stop and refuel, so we filled ‘Wuxly’ up again, this would enable us to get from Portsmouth to our ‘Training Event’ in Swindon and then from there to Doncaster with fuel still to spare.

We had made very good time and arrived at the ‘Brittany Ferries’ terminal in Santander to a sunny and very pleasant 17 degrees(c) and a slight breeze. Having pre-booked our ferry ticket, and cabin, it didn’t take us long to do the formal check-in. We had allowed a bit of extra travel time in case of unforeseen delays but we hadn’t needed it, so we had a little over three hours to wait until we could be boarded and commence our twenty-four crossing. We had checked the ‘Works of Fiction’ which indicated that the first part of our voyage would be relatively calm, but with 33mph winds blowing south-westerly into the English Channel it would get a little rough as we neared the end of the crossing. We finished the last of our chicken sandwiches, Shazza had made enough to feed an Army and this two person battalion had managed to finish them all off !! Shazza, who is not a good sailor on anything above a gentle swell, took her ‘Quells’ sea sickness tablets then turned to me, “Do you want a couple” she said, “No thanks“, I said nonchalantly, “I don’t need them“. We boarded fairly quickly and we were soon settled into our very nice ‘Commodore’ cabin, the ‘concierge’ reserved us a table for Dinner and asked what time we would like breakfast delivered, we requested the latest time possible as this was likely to be one of our last long lay-ins for a while.

We gazed out of the large window as the ferry slowly left its mooring, we enjoyed a freshly brewed coffee with our complimentary box of mixed ‘macaroons’, very nice indeed. It was a little after 5pm and there were still plenty of people enjoying the early evening sunshine. We turned on the TV and flicked through the selection of channels until we found the UK ones, BBC One & Two and Channel 4, we hadn’t missed much, same old rubbish really but it passed time until we were ready to get our showers before heading to the Restaurant for our dinner reservation. We were a little taken aback when we felt the boat lurching first to the left, then the right, it was not pleasant and it was totally unexpected and worse than that, I was not feeling too well. It would not have helped taking the tablets, not if the shade of ‘green’ on Shazza’s face was anything to go by !! Although to be honest, she wasn’t suffering as much as I was, she could at least manage to stand up, I was not too bad as long as I remained horizontal on the bed, however, Dinner in the restaurant was cancelled !! I did a lot of ‘dozing’ but not much sleeping, the sideways lurching didn’t ease off through the night and it was made worse by the sound of the waves slamming into the side of the boat, Shazza on the other hand slept soundly, “perhaps” I thought to myself, “I should have taken a couple of those sea sickness pills“. I did manage to get up for breakfast but it wasn’t long before I needed to stagger back to the bed and lay down, Shazza had found her sea legs and was quite happy killing time shopping in the onboard ’boutique’, funny old thing ! The bad weather had resulted in a delay to our arrival in Portsmouth, instead of 5pm we didn’t dock until 6:45pm and the UK Immigration Authorities had decided to play silly beggars and checked the passports of everyone in every vehicle, we didn’t get out of the Port until 8pm. Although it was dark we had at least missed the evening ‘rush hour’ traffic and the ‘Works of Fiction’ had got it wrong again, but at least it was wrong in our favour as the anticipated rain failed to materialise. We rang the hotel, where we were staying for the next six nights for the ‘Training Event’, and informed them that we would be arriving later than anticipated. Once on dry ‘terra firma’ I felt fine but by now I was feeling hungry, we would be too late to get a meal at the hotel so we stopped at a Service Station and actually enjoyed a meal deal at a ‘Burger King’ !!

We had a day to spend with our Twin Grandaughters before the start of the Training Event, they are both walking and have ‘morphed’ from babies into ‘little people’ so they kept us on our toes but it was very enjoyable, the best bit about being grandparents is that you can spoil them rotten but can hand them back to Mum & Dad when you have had enough !! I have to admit that we had not been looking forward to the ‘Mandatory’ training event but in reality it wasn’t actually as bad as we had anticipated, in fact there were a few sessions that I found quite interesting and dare I say, even enjoyable. We found out about the re-branding, the changes to the Corporate Logo and uniforms and the future direction of the ‘Club’, well they sold me on it but I am not too sure about whether it will be met with as much enthusiasm by some of our more mature ‘Members’ who don’t always like change, time will tell !!

So, as I publish this we are enjoying our last evening before we have to travel to this year’s site. ‘Big Momma’ has been transformed from Winter storage mode into ‘travel mode’. We were pleased to discover no issues with the van, no damp, mould or damage, although, as last year, the vehicle battery had insufficient power to turn the engine so some assistance was required from an external power supply, namely plugging in to Shazza’s Mums domestic supply. We were pleased with the Solar Panels though, they had kept the ‘Leisure Batteries’ charged and, perhaps, had I thought about it beforehand, I should have switched the solar energy to charge the vehicle battery, note to self for the end of this season !! I guess the only thing now, other than the small matter of work, is what exciting ‘Shazza Adventures’ I will be cajoled into over the upcoming eight months ?

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

No Longer Working For The ‘Caravan Club’ !!

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Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 11 Comments