Q & A | Part 4

The final part of the series and moving away from caravanning and travel but still some subjects close to my heart. Here we go, let the inane waffle commence:

Your favourite ale, considering all the research you must have done by now, or are you still looking?

Second part first, I’m always looking! There are now well over 600 beers in the Ale Archive that I’ve sampled at least a pint or 500ml bottle of, over the years. Thanks to caravanning I’ve been able to try beers from other parts of the country that just wouldn’t make it down to my part of the world, be that local seasonal brews, where limited quantities are made or ones deemed not commercially successful nationwide. Very few - less than half a dozen - I’d never try again and I’ve been fortunate to come across some superb ales.

I generally although not exclusively, prefer darker bitters but, ever since trying a pint of Camerons Castle Eden in Robin Hood’s Bay in 2007, having drank lager for around twenty years, I’ve tried all sorts. I like stouts and porters too and sometimes a golden ale works for me, particularly in warmer weather.

Right, to my favourite. Or favourites. I’m going to preform a minor cop out and pick two because I enjoy them both equally: Fullers’ London Pride and Timothy Taylors’ Bolt Maker. A pint of Pride, in a Fullers pub where it’s likely been expertly kept does it for me every time. A pint of Bolt Maker in a Taylor’s pub in Ripon was one of the best I’ve ever had. But as I said, I’ll keep looking!

Was Trev part of the school bus team, also did he enjoy real ale or the contents of your wine ‘cellar’?

Yes, in fact Trev joined the college about three weeks before I did. It was only ever meant to be a stop gap before we headed off in to Europe for our long trip with Patsy. The house wouldn’t sell though and cash was running dry. I’d been applying for numerous jobs with no joy but one of our then neighbours was Transport Manager. It’s not what you know etc. Anyway, Trev moved away from driving regularly but joined the Security team adhoc and that’s how he first got involved in the college Open Days. His skills at coaxing drivers of huge 4 x 4’s into the tightest of spaces in order to cram in as many as possible were legendary. Later he moved to become Caretaker at the Nursery & Pre-Prep school but spent the last year working adhoc for various departments. He was due to re-join Transport as a regular driver in September 2018 for his last year before retirement.

Trev returned to real ale at the same time I did. He much preferred it in a pub though and rarely drank at home at all, the odd nightcap notwithstanding. When caravanning, if he were to drink in the van, it was usually white wine. He loved red but in later years it didn’t agree with him.

If you were invisible for a day…

Ooh, the possibilities! However, keeping it clean, I’d like to roam the corridors of power and listen to just how our political masters come up with some of the decisions that they do. More personally I would like to have been on on some of the meetings at the school that have had direct implications for me, Transport and the wider college community. I suspect though that it wouldn’t be long before I blew my cover with shrieks of exasperation and dis-belief!

If you had created the Teletubbies, what would you have named them all?

Ha ha, that may appear a real way out question for some. However Trev and I shared a childish fondness for them ever since his days as a cabbie in Cambridge. He’d go in very early on Sunday mornings for the juicy airport runs, along with some of the others, and they’d normally be back in the office around seven am. Someone was despatched to McDonalds, bad coffee was poured and cigarettes were lit. The telly in the drivers room was on as per and gradually a bunch of cabbies in Cambridge joined the army of toddlers and late night clubbers watching the antics of Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La-La and Po each week. Daft? Yeah but why not.

At the companys’ Christmas party several of them had got together and presented Trev with a Dipsy back-pack - the green one, to take on our upcoming trip across to the States and on to Fiji, New Zealand and Oz. Photographic evidence would be required and of course we were always up for challenge:

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Dipsy although now 24 years old, still accompanies me on all my trips, as he has since we started caravanning. Weird? Yes, but harmless.

So getting to the point, names. Given my er, sartorial bent, this wasn’t hard: Leathery, Gothly, Rubbery and Hunky. You can probably guess what I’d have them wearing and I doubt it would be suitable for children's TV…

Best show you have seen and why?

Another toughie. I love theatre, both musical and plays - although they have to be comedy for me. Those who read my travel blog posts will know that I’ve been taking the caravan up to London quite regularly since Trev died and I’ve made a point of going to the theatre too.

As I said I enjoy plays too so I’m going to pick one from each category - first up: Musicals.

Bat out of Hell was one of the most awesome shows I’ve seen, the energy and emotion gave me goose bumps - the questioner knows how much I enjoyed it as we saw it together. However the one that JUST trumps it for me was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Yeah, I know, such a cliché, a gay man liking a show about drag queens but it was full of the music I love, the story was quite touching at times and the set was the most stunning I have ever seen. It was a 40th birthday treat too

Of the plays, the two I’ve seen most recently were superb - The Sacred Crow and The Play That Goes Wrong. The latter just gets the title though - pin sharp script and the most exquisitely timed slapstick made for genuine laugh out loud comedy. Superb.

If you were to walk in the steps of a woman for a day, what would you do/change in the world?

Whoa! Right, well I wouldn't do it in high heels for a start if my experiences with Cuban heeled winklepickers are anything to go by. Jeez, torture for the feet. I’d do my level best to remove the expectation that I should wear them - be it in the boardroom, or at dinner or anywhere else. However I would take a pair with me and use them to poke in the eye any stuffed shirt that requires it for his peers, secretary or P.A and that applies just as much if said ‘stuffed shirt’ is a woman. I wouldn’t ban them - just remove the ridiculous expectation that they are somehow part of the ‘uniform’.

I’d applaud any woman - and indeed any man - who has pushed for equality, but I’d also shout down those who, although perhaps believing they’re doing good, end up alienating themselves thanks to personal agendas.

Changing back, as a gay man I have watched largely from the side-lines as others have thought for equality - marriage, work and pension rights to name but three, often putting their livelihoods and sometimes their lives at risk, particularly back in the dark days. But I cringe at those that, by outrageous behaviour and self promotion have alienated us from Joe public and there are those amongst the campaigners for womanhood who are doing exactly the same I believe.

What is the best memory of a moment when Trev was alive?

There was another question, very similar, that would have elicited the same answer so I’m going with the first one to come in.

This was ultimately quite easy. We shared many, many happy times of course in our near 30 year relationship - obviously our Civil Partnership - later Marriage - just over 14 years ago is pretty high up.

However, I’ve chosen an occasion whose significance didn’t become important until the following day:

31st July 2018, Essex. After a great day out exploring Colchester we went out for a superb meal at the Layer Fox pub south of Colchester then, headed out to the Abberton reservoir just a few miles a way and watched as the sun went down. It was a lovely warm night and later we sat outside the caravan for a while before adjourning for a small nightcap before lights out. Simple pleasures but they’re often the best. Thankfully I had no idea then what was to follow in the morning but that time, just standing together, looking over the reservoir I will forever treasure.

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What does success mean and look like for you?

Happiness, or at the very least contentment. What brings either those is where we as humans vary. It’s never been about money for me. Some deem a well paying job and the goodies that that brings, success - or at least a component of it. I’ve never sought such things so never strived to work to get them. I was lucky to share a large portion of my life with a wonderful man who made me happy and content and we got what was for us, the perfect work/income/life balance. I’m pretty much doing the same now although of course on my own. I don’t decry the go-getters, far from it - we need people like that to build up businesses and employ people like me. Someone who sets up a company from scratch and grow it I admire a lot, it’s tough out there. I don’t admire the relentless pursuit of money by the super rich, earned often on the aching backs of others though.

Right, that is it. Thank you to everyone that posed questions. You got me thinking - not something that comes naturally, but if you’ve slowed my brain turning to much during our confinement, then it’s been well worth it.

Thanks too for reading if you’ve made it this far! Until, next time,

Beers & Cheers

Rich


Q & A | Part 3

In this part we carry on talking caravanning then move on a bit to more general travel related questions. Lets go:

What part of the country would you like to take Patsy that you haven't visited before?

There’s lots of places in the UK that I would like to go to, or explore more deeply. My planned trip to the north-west for the schools’ Easter break would have done just that, stopping first again at the lovely Somers Wood in Warwickshire before heading up to the Wirral club site. We have actually stayed there once, just overnight, after getting off the ferry from Belfast at Liverpool. Whilst we had a day in Liverpool on a previous trip some years ago it’s an area we’ve largely unexplored. Lots of things were on the list including Port Sunlight, a walk along the Wirral Way and a run into Wales for the Llangollen heritage railway. Next stop was Englethwaite club site up near Carlisle. I was planning on doing the Settle/Carlisle railway and some of the pretty towns and villages that run along the line to Newcastle, amongst other things. Then it would have been down to Bolton Abbey - another new site for me. 

I’ll get there, eventually.

I would like to know more about your experience of travelling through the night/leaving early morning to avoid traffic. Would you recommend it and did you find it easy to park up and wait for sites to open?

We have done this twice, three times if you count our trip to France when much of the overnight was on the ferry.

The first was to the Cardiff municipal site in 2012 at the start of our three month around Britain trip and only our second time out. We’d planned to leave at midnight but storms and high winds delayed our departure somewhat. That and breaking the jockey wheel handle when hitching up! Our thinking was - as novices - the roads would be quieter and we wouldn’t be in anyone's’ way. We took a break somewhere on the M4 and again at Magor services, just the other side of the bridge into Wales. The idea was to complete morning ablutions and bed down for a bit of a kip, but with neither of us being able to sleep we were back on the road in less than an hour, hoping to chance our luck at the site. Fortunately there was a large empty car park by the entrance and we waited until the Warden appeared. She took pity on us and very kindly let us on. We set up - in the rain - shared a bottle of wine and went to bed for a few hours.

Just over a year later we did the same for a trip down to Cornwall, near Lands End. The site had indicated a lay-by which we could pull into and wait, and to give them a call when there. This we did, somewhere around 9am and, it not being school holidays yet there was plenty of room. They let us pitch early. We did so, once again in the rain.

When we went to France we got the overnight ferry, departing Newhaven - which is just a few miles from us - at 11:30pm. We arrived in Dieppe at 5:30am I think and, it being Sunday too, the roads were lovely and quiet, perfect for my first experience of towing abroad. We got to our first site around 9am and they were very welcoming. There were no restrictions on arrival or departure time and we promptly set up, you've guessed it, in the rain!

In terms of leaving sites early, it depends when and where. Crystal Palace is always one I like to get away from early to avoid the traffic. I pack up as much as possible the night before leaving the essentials until the morning, trying to be as quiet as possible.

When and why did you start up that awesome resource Site Arrivals?

Aww, thanks Rog. The Site Arrival videos  were Trev’s idea. He thought it a useful resource for caravanners and motorhomers and as no one else had done it then, a gap in the market as it were. We tried to do it on the cheap as per usual but eventually invested in a proper dashcam in the summer of 2016, our first proper arrival video being Cirencester club site.

Trev already had a YouTube channel on which he’d posted bits and bobs from his phone but the Legs Down channel was launched in November 2016. Initially and for a while we would record the commentary ‘live’ as we were heading to a site, but as I got the hang of Windows Movie Maker - a superb program for beginners by the way - I learnt to add commentary and edit footage. I now use Corel VideoStudio  - one of the rare occasions I’ve actually paid for software - which allows me to add in snapshots of road signs etc. It’s constantly nagging me to upgrade but my laptop struggles as it is and in any case it does all I need, for now.

A good half of the videos now use footage sent in by others, for which I am extremely grateful. It has helped the library grow to nearly 140 videos and whilst I continue to visit new sites and folks continue to send in their dashcam footage it will grow further. It’s fair to say they're hardly blockbusters, but if they help one person then it’s worth it in my book.

If you could go anywhere in the world in a leisure vehicle, where would you go and why?

New Zealand, without a doubt. I’ve been fortunate to visit a couple of times and on one occasion - 1999 if memory serves, Trev and I spent six weeks touring both islands in a rent-a-wreck which, thanks to the strength of the pound against the Kiwi dollar, cost us just eight quid a day. An ex NZ Postal Service Toyota Corolla with the rear seats removed and a flat bed laid to give plenty of luggage space.

We started and finished in Auckland, first heading north to the very tip, then south, crossing the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton in the South Island, eventually down as far as the Fjords in the south west, staying in Motels along the way. It was fabulous, we had the time of our lives, skinny dipping - well I did - in beautiful lakes, dolphins swimming alongside a boat off Kaikoura, seeing the Fox Glacier, motels with swimming pools fed by hot water from thermal springs, even riding a horse. I’d do all that again and more in a motorhome, living the outdoor life, rekindling old memories and making new ones.

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If money wasn’t an object, what would be your number one holiday/trip/experience/destination to embark on? No caravans allowed!

Right, I’m going to assume that if money were no object, then neither would time, which makes the question a little easier to answer. I would travel the world. I’d take first class flights, cruises and travel the world’s famous railways - the Orient Express comes to mind as does the one up through the Rockies, along with the Indian-Pacific from Sydney to Perth traversing the Blue Mountains and the mighty Nullabor Plain. I’d take harbourside apartments, quaint little condo’s with roof terraces and beach side shacks. I’d wander the streets of the worlds cities, read a book on a sandy beach under the shade of a Palm overlooking beautiful blue waters. Some places I’d employ guides, others I’d amble alone. And I’d mercilessly bombard you all with blogs along the way!

And we’ve reached the end of Part 3. I thought that would be it but there’s plenty more questions to go. I hope you enjoying reading these as much as I have writing them.

Until Part 4, Cheers & Beers

Rich


Q & A | Part 2

Thanks everyone for your kind words about Part 1. I hope that it entertained you or at least kept your mind off this blimmin virus and occupied for a few minutes! The caravanning questions continue here below:

How did you arrive at the name Patsy for your caravan?

When we first picked her up in March 2012, we had some friends around that evening for a few drinks in her and she was jokingly called the Pikey van, however it was soon decided that that was not really appropriate and likely to cause offence. Many of our previous cars had had names though so we wanted to come up with something. Patsy 1 was a Coachman Pastiche and we were looking for something that would work with that and Patsy the Pastiche had a nice ring to it.

Our second and current van was a VIP, so Vera was briefly considered but we decided to stick with the original name and as someone pointed out that worked too - Very Important Patsy!

On another level the name works too as she shares many of the traits of her TV namesake from Absolutely Fabulous, the most obvious one being that she’s often full of booze!

Will there be a Patsy 3? Who knows? Hopefully P2 will be around for a long time to come yet.

Had you not been swayed by the quality of Coachman back when you bought Patsy 1, what’s the closest model or brand you and Trev would have considered - then or when you were changing to Patsy 2, and why?

Back in December 2011, 4 months before we bought Patsy 1, we had a day visiting lots of dealers in the area with our friends who mentioned Coachman's’ quality - as newbies they all seemed the same to us.

In March 2012 when we finally made a decision to go out and purchase we visited five dealers I think before landing at Roundstone Caravans in South Water, West Sussex. By now we had settled on a layout - two berth, end washroom and they had three in our price range - two Coachman's and an Abbey. Remembering what our friend said, we narrowed it down to those, then plumped for what was to become Patsy 1 as she had a motor mover already fitted. For the record she was a 2004 460/2 Pastiche.

When we decided to change and get the layout that, in truth we should have gone for to start with - side dinette - we did look at a Sterling as we really wanted to buy from Roundstone again. However we sat tight and scoured the listings until we came across Patsy 2 - a 2007 520/4 VIP - at Marquis near Hailsham in East Sussex.

And the perfect layout?

The perfect layout for me is the one I have now - side dinette and rear washroom. A big ‘van for one person But I’ve found in the last 18 months I can fill that space easily. I’m not the tidiest person and although I’ve slimmed things down a lot I still don’t travel light.

Having said that, a fixed French bed layout could work too - something we never considered as a couple as, both being beer drinkers there would be the inevitable nocturnal visits and one would end up clambering over the other - me having to do the clambering no doubt. The likely compromise in living area space would put me off though - at the moment. Making up the bed is a small price to pay and, there being just me, I can leave one side made up as a bed if I’m feeling lazy. I’ve tried this a few times but it does give the feeling of being in a bedsit.

One layout that did get us thinking was fixed rear singles, with the washroom at the back, and we looked at a few of those on our last visit to the NEC, probably at least three years ago. With most though, the lounge space had been compromised but one that did stand out was an Adria something or other. Beautifully finished but with a price tag of £30k a new one was never a contender and would have necessitated a change in tow car in any case.

Following the launch of the Bailey Phoenix in the Summer of 2018, we seriously considered taking up their offer of a loan ‘van. It would have give us an opportunity to try out the fixed singles arrangement to see if it would work for us. That wasn't to be of course and it’s not a layout I would consider now, as a solo caravanner.

If you could change one thing about Patsy, what would it be and why? If you change to a different layout, what would you choose and why?

Whilst it’s rude to discuss a woman's’ weight I am afraid we must because it would be just that. She’s heavy - although solid - for her size and at the M.T.P.L.M we’re looking at about a 93% ratio with car. Rosie is no longer in her youth in car terms with her mileage into six figures and at times she does feel underpowered these days.

Patsy IS a bit lighter though now. A few years ago we took out the fourth bed - the fold down bunk over the dinette - most of which now resides behind my sofa. Whilst I decided to put the microwave back in, the pull out canopy - quite a considerable weight - has now gone. I tow with the Aquarolls, Waste Master, mains cable, locks and clamps etc in the car and this helps to keep the nose weight thereabouts too.

As for layouts, when the time comes to change Patsy - and I hope that’s not for a long long while yet, along with the fixed bed mentioned above, something smaller and lighter would be considered as that may mean I can keep Rosie a little longer if she doesn't have to work as hard. I suspect I would miss the build quality of the old girl though.

Tell us Patsy’s best bits.

Ironically, her solidity, which of course impacts on her weight as I was just moaning about! Sure things have worked loose and parts have been replaced but at twelve years old she’s allowed a bit of leeway, particularly given the mileage she does. The finish is good, the seating - the old fashioned sprung type - remains supportive, yet comfortable. Inside she is a proper home from home, the colour of the décor and furnishings giving a lovely warm cosy feeling on chilly nights.

Although  just another white box, she still looks mighty fine in my eyes, even more so when polished up, despite a few ‘war wounds’ that have been inflicted on her by us over the years, not least when trying to retract the pull out canopy on my own for the first time. I swore loudly. A lot!

Moreover, she has helped make so many great memories of our time together and that is perhaps her best bit.

And that’s it for Part 2! In Part 3 there’s some very interesting questions on travel generally, as well as ale and of course Trev.

Cheers

Rich


Q & A | Part 1

Firstly, thank you to everyone that took the time to read my previous blog post. Not my usual tone I know but it was important to me to try and accurately convey how I felt at the time. However, on to more light hearted matters.

Thank you again to everyone that came with some great questions. They really got me thinking - a rare and sometimes hazardous occupation given the state of my brain cells just recently. I’ve roughly collated them in to caravanning and non - and in some sort of vaguely sensible order too. So, here we go with Part 1:

What made you start caravanning?

In 2011 we holidayed in Spain at an apartment own by friends of friends. We got talking - well Trev did - and enquired how they ended up where they were. When the decided to sell up and retire, they knew they wanted to move to Spain but wasn’t sure where. They hitched up and toured for several months trying out different places until they settled on somewhere they felt they could call home. We’d had vague notions of ‘doing’ Europe and perhaps eventually retiring to Spain too. This started us thinking.

Back in the UK that winter we got talking to two friends who were long time caravanners - the only two caravanners we knew at the time - and had a nose around their van. Not knowing anything about caravanning we were really impressed with all the creature comforts and what a home from home it was.

Our job at the time was parcel delivery - we both detested it, it was only ever meant to be a stop gap  - and the company were making things harder and harder. The straw that broke the camels back came early January 2012 and we packed it in. We had a holiday already booked to Gran Canaria and decided that we would use our time there to make a decision, which we did. It was to sell up, downsize our home, buy a caravan and go travelling - for a year or may be more.

What was your first caravanning trip you and Trev went on and did the first setting up go smoothly or was there the ‘set up tiff’?

Our first trip was in March 2012 to the Crystal Palace club site - a relatively short, if not quick, trundle up the A23. Our friends mentioned above were already going, so we could follow without worrying about the route and they would be on hand to help with any teething troubles. I had already had a practice setting up the utilities on the drive anyway and the weekend prior they’d helped Trev with loading the inside of the caravan correctly.

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Set up went fine until it came to the dreaded awning. There had been an awning supplied with the ‘van which the previous owners had left - a little porch thing. I was all for not bothering but Trev insisted - after all, pretty much everyone one else on site had one, so why not? It didn't go well - there were no instructions, not that either of us would have ready them initially anyway - and after many crossed words it ended up back in the bag, and was not used for several months after.

When you and Trev went out in Patsy did you have your own favoured jobs when setting up?

Yes, I did the outside and he did the inside. If I’d completed the outside jobs quickly I’d be inside drumming my fingers waiting for him to get the kettle on!  He’d often replenish the water though once set up, the only thing that seemed to be exclusively ‘my’ job was the bog! Didn't bother me though and the arrangement worked well. The various awnings though - when we had them - were always a joint effort.

Favourite site and why?

A favourite site is very subjective as we look for different things - in the middle of nowhere, close to attractions, on site amenities etc. A strong contender was the Old Hartley club site, overlooking St Marys’ Lighthouse and Whitley Bay, with the added bonus of a great pub not two minutes walk away. However I would have to concur with the questioner on this one and that’s the Berwick-on-Tweed club site. We’d left Warwickshire in snow and had a long drive up the A1. When we finally arrived it was several degrees warmer and the sun was out. The site was easy to get to and the views were stunning, looking out over the harbour and across the the town.

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Facilities were the usual club standard and there was plenty to do in the area. We drove up to North Berwick along the coast, down to Holy Island, to Wooler and Etal and Ford. We got the train to Edinburgh and enjoyed walking around Berwick itself too, particularly around the walls surrounding the town. A fabulous stay and one I hope to repeat at some point.

What is your absolute favourite number 1 thing about caravanning?

Seeing so much more of this great country of ours, something we would have never done otherwise. Start up costs aside, it makes places more accessible, being able to stay for longer in our little home from home, surrounded by creature comforts and not tied to meal times. I wished we had done it a long while ago but have certainly made the most of it since.

What single caravan item do you regret wasting money on the most?

Fortunately, neither of us were one for stuff or gadgets, so this was quite easy: the pump-up awning.

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At the time, for a bit, we thought it was good but was extremely heavy and prone to condensation. With the purchase of Patsy 2 and the greater indoor space she gave us we found that it was no longer necessary and more of a hindrance. It was replaced with the pull out canopy which was undoubtedly one of the best caravanning items we bought.

While away in the ‘van do you cook? If you do, what type of meals do you prepare?

Short answer is no. I normally bring the results of my batch cooking at home with me and buy or bring sides like frozen chips, jacket potatoes and veg. On longer trips I’ll intersperse these with ready meals or a meal out with friends if they are nearby. Sometimes I’ll buy something like a gammon joint and roast or boil it for a meal and then keep the rest for sandwiches.

However on a recent trip a friend was staying nearby and cooked two delicious meals in the ‘van, both from scratch, and made it look very easy indeed. Cooking has never been my thing - although eating certainly is - Trev did all the cooking by choice and I was more than happy for him to do so.

Right, that’s it for Part 1 folks, I hope you enjoyed it. In Part 2 we’ll cover Patsy, other forms of travel, real ale - sorry, research - and a bit about our life too. Until then…..







London | February 2020 | Part 5

Friday 21st February

With the knee getting some relative rest on Thursday I was looking forward to getting out and about again, my destination being Richmond. I’d copied a suggested walk from a travel guide A DK Eyewitness guide if memory serves - and this was on my reserve list for my previous visit to Crystal Palace back in October.

The most straightforward route according to the Transport for London Route Planner was a train from Crystal Palace to Clapham Junction, changing for Richmond station, the starting point of the walk. The beauty of the London Transport system was that, rather than buying tickets I could just tap my debit card registered to my Oyster account and still get the benefit of daily fare capping. It would make a change from multiple bus journey’s and be considerably quicker too. Nursing my knee - and not wanting to muddy newly polished boots - I eschewed the walk through Crystal Palace park to the station, instead hopping on a bus that would take me at least half the way, leaving just a short walk down Anerley Hill before throwing myself at the mercy of Southern for the first leg to Clapham Junction.

Richmond Green was the first point of note after crossing the road from the station, the impressive red bricked Richmond Theatre overlooking. As you will see from the photo’s it was overcast and still windy but at least dry as I made my way around the edge of the green  and towards the towpath besides the Thames.

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Richmond gets it’s name from Henry, victor in the War of the Roses as he named it after the town in Yorkshire where he held an earldom. Clearly a wealthy suburb for the most part with a plethora of huge 4 x 4’s, utilised no doubt to drop off the little darlings at some Prep School probably 200 yards away, I had actually been here before. Back in May the annual Army v Navy rugby match took place at nearby Twickenham. The Army won comfortably, much to the delight of my friend, a former Para and Falklands and Northern Ireland veteran. Necessary celebrations continued in a pub just off the green and it’s fair to say recollection of the area was a little er, hazy.

_DSC0294Anyway, back to the present. The route took me down a side street with an attractive parade of cosy looking whitewashed houses, the view being improved further thanks to the sign for a pub at the end. It was still too early though, even for me.

I emerged at the Thames just by Twickenham bridge and turned right, following the tow path as it bordered to the right first Old Deer Park and then further on, Kew Gardens. The Thames was high, muddy and running fast. Not particularly alluring but there were plenty of rowers out practicing, a diminutive cox barking orders from the front.

On the opposite bank could be seen first Isleworth, once a small village but now very much a suburb and dormitory of London. Further on, nestled in Syon Park was Syon House and beyond, some modern waterside apartments at Brentford, near where the Grand Union Canal joins the Thames.

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The area may be a very agreeable place to live if pockets are deep enough but being on one of the flightpaths to Heathrow, not particularly tranquil. Jets were constantly arriving from the east but did at least provide some photo opportunities.

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The tow path, once solid, had become increasingly muddy and any hope of keeping the boots clean were forgotten as I turned inwards at Kew bridge. Kew Gardens would have been the obvious next port of call  but the knee was beginning to grumble as was the belly so I decided instead to head for the station of the same name, pondering some pub grub but settling instead for a sarnie from a Tesco Metro on the way.

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Next to Kew Gardens station however was The Tap on the Line, a smart looking Fullers boozer with a garden out front. Thankfully the garden was quite sheltered from the wind as the pub was packed with diners. I took my pint of ESB outside and watched the world go by whilst deciding on my route back to the site. The pint was superb as always - I’ve found that with Fullers’ pubs you can generally guarantee two things - they ain’t cheap and that the beer is superbly kept. Both were true again today.

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Kew Gardens was on a branch of the District Line, which would take me to Victoria, changing for Brixton, where I procured some supplies in the Sainsbury's before getting the number 3 bus back to the site for, first a snooze then a nice cosy evening in.

Saturday 22nd February

Awake early as per usual but I don’t fight it, happy to lie in bed with a cuppa, swapping between the current novel and the pad to catch up on what’s going on in Twitter land and also to get some ideas on what to do on my last full day. The weather forecast would obviously influence that to some degree but not to the extent that I imagined. The high winds were coming back and a glance at the forecast for Sunday - my intended day of departure - indicated a change of plans were necessary. Very high winds were predicted on the South coast - 70mph plus - and there was no way I was towing in that. Monday was little better so I made the decision to head home. Disappointing of course but a very sensible one and after a swift pack up I was on the road soon after 10am. As expected the Purley Way was getting busy but certainly not as bad as could be. It was clearly getting windier as I headed south but Patsy stood her ground, even on the exposed sections of the A27 where, as I’ve said previously, the cross winds can be quite severe. Back at the storage yard, the battery had recovered sufficiently to motor move her ladyship into her resting place. Rosie manged 28 mpg on the journey home which, given the prevailing conditions - mainly head winds - I was satisfied with.

And that was the end of my 10th visit to the Crystal Palace Caravan & Motorhome Club site, where our caravanning adventures started eight years ago. Find the blog posts of that trip HERE.Quite possibly the last too but it had been a real good one, made all the better by the company of friends.

As I type this it’s just a week to go now until my next trip where I’ll be heading to the North West - coronavirus related guidelines permitting of course. It’s an area of Britain I’ve yet to explore much, so very much looking forward to that.  Until then, thanks as always for reading.

Cheers & Beers

Rich



London | February 2020 | Part 4

Wednesday 19th February

After an early breakfast - well early for some, we’re talking 9am here - we set off again in the direction of Greenwich. There were a variety of ways we could get there but in the end I settled for the Number 122 bus, the stop for which was handily placed just around the corner from the site. This took us to to Lewisham where we changed to the Number 180 which took us to Greenwich. It made a welcome change from the usual Number 3 and, once again getting seats on the top deck we were at least able to see a different part of town. It was at this point dry, if a little chilly and certainly breezy as we got off outside the Naval College.

Sandra:

Wednesday, my day of departure arrived but not until late afternoon. We were booked to see Greenwich Museum and Observatory. A mixture of buses and we duly arrived. Obviously, with a keen eye on the clock, we knew it would need a repeat visit to do it all justice, probably a couple of days to see it all. It was a cold and mizzle day, but we warmed ourselves up with a lovely strong coffee in the undercroft of part of the historic Naval college. We then ambled up to the Observatory and had a good look round, we soon ditched the audio guides we had been given and preferred to use our eyes and read. It was interesting to think how it must have looked when it was first was built and the view was almost predominantly grasslands.

The walk up to the observatory took us through the grounds of the Maritime Museum, but that would sadly have to wait another day. It was nice to see the daffodils out though and even in the increasing mizzle there were some stunning views from outside the observatory. In fact I was taken with the whole area and Greenwich as a whole is on the list for a return visit.

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Sandra:

There was an amazing museum style room of all types of clocks and maritime navigation equipment including speaking clocks, GPS and some beautiful crafted brass instruments. The detail and adornments, which were not strictly necessary, were fascinating to see. Of course, there was the compulsory photos of standing astride the meridian line, the only other time I have done that is abroad. A couple of spots of souvenir shopping completed the visit. We then adjourned to the on-site café, which being half term was exceedingly busy and rather on the small side. However, we were fortunate enough to get a table and welcomed a great bowl of lentil and carrot soup, plus crusty sourdough bread and a sandwich for another very nice meal.

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Sadly, it was time to start thinking about getting back to site and collecting my things and getting me to the station in time. We had one more treat in store and that was taking the Thames Clipper boat taxi from the pier back to Westminster bridge. It was overcast and raining but still possible to see sights from a different perspective. Landing at Westminster pier rather than the planned London Eye side saved us quite a walk and by now both of us were feeling the effects of the past few days.

Yes, the weather did take the edge off what was, in every other respect, an enjoyable journey taking in a number of London's’ iconic landmarks. Definitely one to repeat in better weather but it served it’s purpose and gave us an alternative route back to the site, hopping on the Number 3 again near Parliament Square.

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Sandra:

Another bus journey and we were then ready to go to the station. We said our goodbyes until the next time and an uneventful, for once, journey back home. A very happy few days was had which were just the tonic after some pretty awful weather.

I must admit to feeling a bit low as I drove back from dropping Sandra off at Streatham Common station for her journey home. The sign of having such a good time and sharing experiences with others I guess. However, that evening I was to have company again, in the shape of Rob who had got a pass for the evening - his words not mine - and we had a wander up to the Crystal Palace ‘triangle’ indulging in some ‘research’ at a number of hostelries and a good chinwag about all things caravanning and more. The Postal Order - a Wetherspoon’s - had the benefit of our custom for a second round, hardly surprising at less that two quid a pint. An enjoyable evening and just the tonic.

Thursday 20th February

With rain promised for most of the day - and duly delivered, I planned and executed a perfect winter caravan day, cosy warm, radio, reading and one or two naps. Whilst I like to get out and about as much as possible, the rest would do the knee good and I really didn’t fancy trudging about in the rain. Yes, I know there’s no such thing as inclement weather, only unsuitable clothing - or something like that, but  I like unsuitable clothing. Although I suppose leather does keep the rain off. Unlike many I don’t possess any suitable ‘outdoor gear’ and have no intention of changing that.

I would be heading out again though, for the third show of the week, and the weather duly obliged with the rain stopping mid afternoon. Duly tarted up I headed back into town on the dear old Number 3 again, getting off at it’s terminus in Whitehall near Horse Guards Parade. When we first came to London in the caravan, some eight years ago, the route used to finish at Oxford Circus. Then it was shortened to Trafalgar Square. A consequence of traffic, extended journey times and working hours for drivers I would imagine.

Anyway, the first port of call was the The Red Lion, a busy Fullers pub full of a mix of tie-less suits - many no doubt from the nearby government departments - and tourists. I was about the only one wearing a tie. For once I eschewed the London Pride, opting instead for the ESB which was excellent.

Thirst temporarily sated I walked up to Trafalgar Square then in the rough direction of Covent Garden, procuring a sarnie for tea, then partaking of round two in a nice little boozer called the Lemon Tree, managing to grab a rare seat in the window to watch the world go by over a very fruity plum Porter.

It was still a  bit too early to go to the theatre so I returned, for what was to be for the final time this trip, to the Lyric - a favourite as I’ve said before  - before heading to the Apollo in Shaftsbury Avenue.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was the show in question and what fun it was. Unashamedly camp and full of foot tapping songs it tells the story of a teenager called, funnily enough Jamie, who’s ambition was to be a er, drag queen. There was the sombre, tender moments of course as is de riguer in a musical but ultimately a feel good show that was uplifting, entertaining and funny too.

Thank you for reading, Part 5 - the final part, coming soon.


London | February 2020 | Part 3

Tuesday 18th February

Another exciting day ahead and the weather, at least initially played it’s part. Our starting point at Lambeth Bridge meant another ride on the dear old Number 3 bus, making it’s steady progress through the likes of Gipsy Hill, Herne Hill and Brixton.

Today was a significant day sartorially - not often you’ll come across that in a caravanning blog - as I donned my old ‘Matrix’ coat for the first time in a number of years. It’s quite fitted so has not been an option up until recently. Clearly, the er, real ale, merlot and cheese and biscuits diet has been paying off. Bar my first long leather coat - which I’ve had for over twenty years - all are second-hand, having been procured from eBay. They garments’ relative unpopularity meaning there were some real bargains to be had.

With the roadworks still in place on Crystal Palace Parade - the same roadworks that were there on my last visit in October - the nearest stop to the site heading into town was still suspended. To save our legs we jumped on a bus to take us in the opposite direction, crossing the road and joining the Number 3 at it’s starting point. Thanks to Transport for London’s pricing structure this didn’t cost us any extra - always a result in my book!

Sandra recalls:

Tuesday morning was much better weather wise, and this was the day booked for the London Eye, something I had never done before. We duly arrived in London and spotted a lovely independent coffee shop right on the river, both of us remarking how similar position wise it was to the one we had visited last year in York. I was both excited and slightly nervous at the thought. I need not have worried as the late morning sun and relatively clear skies made for some amazing views and was a memory that will stay with me for a long time.

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Some may recall that I did this a number of years ago with Trev but was delighted to have the opportunity to do it again, in it’s 20th year of operation. As before visibility was pretty good although this time I left the DSLR at home.

We’d considered continuing our walk along the South Bank, as I did last year, but the clouds were darkening, the wind was getting up and, being by the Thames it was pretty chilly too. We decided to turn tail, hopping on a number 453 bus at Westminster Bridge before transferring to the tube at Oxford Circus.

Sandra:

We then made our way over to Notting Hill, another area I had not visited before. The Portobello Road made for an interesting stroll down, looking at some of the more genuine antique shops and avoiding the sadly, multiplying tourist tat shops which are springing up.

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The weather was starting to turn inclement and we had spotted what looked like a good place for lunch - the Prince Albert. We were to be very pleased that we did, both from the food and drink perspective but equally as the sky had turned very dark and it was pouring down. We both had chicken and leek pies with mashed potato – they were delicious, home made and of a sensible portion size. We followed this with treacle sponge and a chocolate brownie. Replete, noticing the weather was improving, we made our way towards the second theatre show, via Covent Gardens. A nice meander around there and listening to a very good busking quartet passed time very well. We had time for a drink in another pub right by the theatre and passed a little while watching the bike lane road crossing to the side of the pub. There were, what seemed like hundreds of them coming through in packs and as they pulled up at their traffic lights, it was amusing to see them jockeying for start position and racing across the road. They just kept on coming. Of course, there were the few who decided red lights did not apply to them and weaved in and out of traffic in close your eye moments.

The classical quartet, in the undercover area were very accomplished and, for a novice when it comes to anything other than funk or disco, easy on the ear too. Whilst we could have stopped for a drink here - no doubt for the price of a small mortgage - we headed instead first to the Nell Gwynne, one of my favourite London boozers, just off the Strand and roughly in the direction of the theatre. It was quite noisy, a group clearly having been engaged in ‘research’ for some time. We decided to move on and, once having located exactly where the theatre was, took refuge from the returning rain in The Wellington, on the corner of the Strand and Aldwych. Whilst London Pride is one of my all time favourite beers, so is Timothy Taylors’ Landlord and clearly it’s journey down from Yorkshire had done it no harm at all.

Sandra:

As on Monday night, we had taken our baguettes with us fully intending to repeat the previous night and eat them in the theatre before the show started. Unfortunately, the security guards at the entrance were not impressed and refused to let us take them in, citing theatre policy regarding food. It was, by now, starting to drizzle again and we opted to quickly eat our sandwiches in the fire escape doorway of the theatre along from the entrance. It was certainly novel and caused much humour on both our parts!

The show we had booked to see was the ‘Play that goes Wrong’. I had heard good things about it and there are now several touring shows all around the country. Another very full theatre, even though not first night. We were again treated to a show of a very high standard and it caused much laughter once more. A steady ride home on the bus completed another fabulous day.

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This was truly hilarious, again proper laugh out loud comedy. A different beast to the Upstart Crow so I’m not going to compare but the timing was spot on with the visual gags and slapstick executed to perfection. There was no small amount of proper acting too, the cast playing their roles as aspiring actors in an amateur dramatic production superbly, the frustration and desperation slowly increasing as disaster envelopes them, with hilarious consequences. The same company present ‘A Comedy about a Bank Robbery’ which I saw in October and there is now another - ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ - which, if anything like the other two, will be well worth a watch.

Our journey back was across Waterloo Bridge this time, taking the 59 bus from Aldwych and swapping to the 3 as routes converged near the Imperial War Museum. A welcome drink back at Patsy as she returned to habitable temperature brought an end to another enjoyable day.

There’s more - eventually! Part 4 out soon. Thanks as always for reading,

Cheers & Beers

Rich



London | February 2020 | Part 2

Sunday 16th March

Sandra joined me for breakfast in Patsy, then shortly after we headed off for our days’ outing - to Colchester to see my cousin Andy, and Janet who has not been well of late. My original plan was to take the train and I was looking forward to a rest from driving for a few days. However when it became clear that a significant portion of the journey would not be on rails at all but on the dreaded Rail Replacement Bus, I decided to drive. Not only that but while the winds had dropped somewhat, it was persisting down and bitterly cold. Hanging about for connections would not have been much fun.

I remembered the route from the site across the Thames towards the A12 as we’d done it in reverse once before when towing down from Cambridge to the site, although at that time Trev was driving. It was straight forward enough and incident free although all my concentration was required to avoid the liberal scattering of pot holes, sunken drains and floods big enough to launch a dinghy in.

We had a good catch up in Colchester and the plate of sarnies was most welcome indeed. I decided to be good and stuck to tea although Sandra was more than happy to drive back had I availed myself of the contents of Andy’s beer fridge.

We headed back the same away, traffic was considerably heavier, particularly approaching the Blackwall Tunnel, a warning on my Satnav App - Android Auto - I’d chosen to ignore. Traffic speeded up again once in the tunnel however which ensured I hit the lurking pot hole at close to the legal limit. The jolt was enough to loosen teeth and sounded grim but Rosie appeared to emerge unscathed. Once through I decided for fun to see which way the Satnav App would take us back to site and it rewarded me with a great example of why you shouldn’t rely on basic satnav’s when towing. Up some very narrow and steep side roads that even London’s Bus Drivers would shy away from, we were however rewarded with a couple of good views across to the city. Well, Sandra was, I was concentrating on the tarmac ahead and looking for more lurking craters!

Another nice cosy night in Patsy ensued and with a full belly and a couple of beers under my belt it’s just possible I may have nodded off in front the telly at some point before turning in.

Monday 17th February

I woke to a much brighter morning and, whilst it was still breezy it was nice to see some blue sky again and after breakfast we headed next door to Crystal Palace park joining the plethora of dog walkers and their four legged friends, enjoying this calming oasis in urban South London. It was muddy work in places, away from the main path but a very pleasant couple of hours nonetheless, paused by a lovely coffee in the café, a transaction that was more complicated than need be thanks to the young assistant who, to start with couldn’t remember two different coffees, then proceeded to charge us for a total of eight! Whilst making no assumptions, I used to - back in the dim and distant - dabble in something more noted for munchies and giggles but that also played havoc with short term memory.

Right, where were we? Ah yes, whilst the Crystal Palace athletics stadium and complex were undoubtedly looking tired and in need of some TLC, a number of the exhibits in the famous park Dinosaur trail were looking very fresh indeed thanks to recent work by a group of volunteers. They - the sculptures, not the volunteers that is - have been there since 1854, first restored in 2002 and upgraded to Grade 1 listed status in 2007.

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Back at Patsy it was my turn to demonstrate my culinary skills - or at least juggle the order in which stuff went into the microwave - and we sat down to the products of some of my batch cooking. We both cleared our plates and are both still here to tell the tale so it can’t have been too bad. For the record; sausage casserole, root mash and peas.

Sandra:

20191022_171157Monday duly arrived and the focus of today was the show that evening of Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre, starring David Mitchell of ‘Would I lie to you’ fame and various other shows and sitcoms. The play was written by Ben Elton and we were both looking forward to it very much. We made our way into London on the No. 3 bus and duly arrived in Whitehall. We then meandered up towards Trafalgar Square passing both Cenotaphs – the latter one remembering the work of women during the wars was very poignant to see in real life, a first for me.

Richard also wanted to show me the linear measurement plaques at the rear of the square.

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It was now approaching time to get to the theatre and a drink in a very old-fashioned pub - The Lyric - beforehand.

Duly consumed we made it to the theatre to see a growing press pack and barriers in front of the theatre. We were amazed to see that it was actually opening night and there would be ‘stars’ appearing to watch the show. When I had booked the tickets some time ago, I had not realised this so was a pleasant surprise and cue some celebrity spotting. In fact, we saw them after the show, not before. Alan Davies and Ian Hislop were two we recognised and there were a couple of female actors who I knew from TV but neither of us could put names too.20200217_180657

Back to before the show, we had a drink in a lovely bar area upstairs and we had been fortunate to get end of row stall seats so had a commanding and uninterrupted view of the stage. We had packed our baguettes before setting out so, quickly consumed them whilst waiting for the show to start. This I learnt is quite common practice these days and nobody, in this theatre, batted an eyelid. Why this is 20200217_175304so pertinent will be found out later in this entry.

We were then treated to a magnificent comedy/farce/drama show which had us giggling like school kids from start to finish. A truly exceptional performance and set to match. David Mitchell gave a sterling performance as Shakespeare and the supporting cast were faultless too. The reviews the next morning were as complimentary as we would have expected. A quick after show drink in The Blue Posts and we made it back to site via the No. 3 bus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show too, properly laugh out loud funny and full of the sharp satiric wit of Ben Elton. References to modern day life were plentiful and tightly woven into the story. Cracking stuff and whilst it was great to see David Mitchell on stage, a strong supporting cast made for a outstanding evening’s entertainment.

That’s it for Part 2 folks, Part 3 heading your way soon.