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.


London February 2020 | Part 1

This trip had been some time in the planning – as most of mine are – and whilst my last visit to the Caravan & Motorhome Clubs’ site at Crystal Palace was only in October, I wanted to make the most of it while it was still open. It was my 10th visit and quite possibly the last as, at the time of typing, the site is scheduled to close in October as Bromley council want the land for redevelopment.

This trip would be a bit different as friend and fellow caravanner Sandra would be joining me for a few days, staying at a nearby hotel and I was looking forward to having company. We’d booked up several things including a couple of visits to the theatre, something I always enjoy when in London. Sandra has written a blog post of her recollections of the trip and I’m going to include that in this series of blog posts, interspersed with my own usual waffle.

I was due to head up the A23 on the Saturday – it being school half-term – and with arrivals not permitted before midday this meant braving the likely considerable traffic along the Purley Way, however it came clear early on in the week prior that a re-think would be required thanks to the imminent arrival of Storm Dennis for the weekend. Whilst I was keen to get away after a long and sometimes trying half-term, I was not going to put myself, others and dear old Patsy at risk. Options were limited – Sunday was out as the weather forecast was still grim and living on the coast the predicted winds were considerable. Monday was a little better but with Sandra due to arrive on the train around midday and a show booked for the evening, it would have been the last resort. Travelling up Friday night was do-able, however with access to the storage yard only permitted during daylight I would have had to put Patsy on site locally at Brighton for a few hours then hitch up when I finished work at around 7pm. To be honest I didn’t relish that at all.

There was a window of opportunity early on Saturday morning with the severest of winds not predicted to arrive until around 10am. I called the site and they were more than happy for me to rock up early, the only caveat being that I may have to wait if I arrive whilst they're cleaning the facilities. I took that to mean that I should arrive before 10:30am which I was more than happy to do. The only issue would be if the storm came in early and for the next couple of days I kept a very close on on the weather indeed.

Sandra recalls:

This blog entry for me starts on the Thursday evening before the Storm Dennis weekend. It was fast becoming apparent to us both that our travel plans needed to be looked at very carefully if we were both not to fall victim of the storm.

I decided to bring forward my departure to, likewise as early as possible, Saturday morning and arriving at 11.45am, 15 minutes before the warning. It was to prove a very wise move as transport links on the Monday morning were in a complete mess and I would not have been able to get there. Equally important was the fact that we had already booked several theatre shows, the London Eye and other visits in advance.

Saturday 15th February

20200215_081403Another check on the weather over an early morning cuppa and it was all systems go – the storm hadn’t advanced and my window of opportunity for a safe tow was on. Patsy was almost ready to go, most of the essentials being loaded in during the previous week. All I had to do populate the fridge, remove the plethora of clamps and locks and we’d be away. A glance at the voltmeter suggested the battery was just about holding up so I motor-moved her on to the back of the car and we were exiting the storage yard at 8:20am. Given a journey time of around two hours I’d still likely be on site before bog-cleaning commenced.

The tow up went pretty well, with little buffeting on the exposed sections of the A27 which I knew through experience to be vulnerable. Once inside the M25, the pace was as usual much slower and by the time I hit the Purley way, getting above second gear was a luxury. There were more pot holes and sunken drains to avoid too, along with suicidal Deliveroo riders but I still made reasonable time, pulling up outside reception at 10:10am. There was no need to stand on the brakes at the mini roundabout outside the site as is per usual, although the required sharp turn for the about face did remind me once again that Rosie’s rear diff oil needs changing. She managed a reasonable 28mpg on the 60 mile trip though. I wouldn't have expected much better to be honest, taking everything into account.

The wardens could not have been more helpful. After some light hearted banter they changed my allocated pitch as it was understandably still occupied, allowing me to get pitched straight away. Patsy’s home for the next week was to be Pitch 23 – another I’m sure she – or her predecessor Patsy 1 – has occupied before. Located in the North-Western corner of the site, the nearby TV transmitter looms large above. Almost opposite I spotted the ‘van belonging to fellow caravanner and friend Rob and family who had driven down the night before and utilised one of the Late Night Arrival Area’s.

I made several attempts to reverse Patsy onto her pitch but I was worried about getting Rosie’s nearside front getting overly familiar with the caravan directly opposite so having got her thereabouts, unhitched and engaged the motor mover to finish the job.20200215_103853

Well she moved about a foot before coming to a halt. Clearly the battery was the cause and the tow up had not replenished it sufficiently. It’s suffered several complete discharges now and after after eight years I suspect it’s had enough.

Fortunately Rob saw my difficulty and helped me man-handle the old girl the final few yards, thankfully there was no levelling required other than a few turns with the jockey wheel handle. Satisfied that her offside was in the vicinity of the pitch marker I set about a rather swift set up, the first job being to crank the heating up to make her habitable. The ProTec towing cover did it’s job in keeping the front nice and clean but also served to show up the rest of the van. The winter has not been nice to her and she was going to need some serious tlc to get her back to her best. I owe it to her, myself and to Trev to keep her nice but a busy week was planned so that may have to wait.

The new charger unit seemed to be working fine and hopefully it would replenish the battery by the time it’s services were called upon at the end of the week.

Sandra was due to arrive at Streatham Common station late morning so set up was rather hurried, before I made the twenty minute drive to pick her up. The wind had got up considerably since my arrival and, back at the site, although Patsy was in a relatively sheltered position, the noise of the wind gusting through the nearby transmitter was initially a little unnerving. After a quick cuppa we dropped Sandra’s stuff off at the hotel and went shopping, splashing some Nectar points on stuff for dinner. Once again it was nice to have someone cooking for me. Later, the volume was frequently adjusted on the telly as the wind got louder and louder, though there was thankfully little movement at Patsy level!

Sandra:

A very busy Friday ensued with getting ready for an earlier departure and Saturday morning arrived and after an uneventful journey for the both of us we duly arrived in London. In many ways, we came to realise that, notwithstanding the storm, it was a good call to have made and we had more time to relax and fit in a lovely stroll round Crystal Palace Park, having a coffee, seeing the dinosaurs, getting covered in mud. We were very frugal and for the first two nights we cooked and ate in the van. Nothing beats caravan cooking and two roast joints went down very well, the latter one providing lovely baguettes to take into the city for lunch on two days.

That’s it for Part 1, more soon!

Christmas 2019 Part 7

Monday 30th December

With friends and family arriving later I had no plans for the morning other than a steady time cleaning and tidying Patsy. I was soon busy with the duster - one of the er, joys of blown air heating being that it likes to distribute dust all over the ‘van. The little hoover came out too and being having done a quick bit of mental arithmetic, made sure that I wouldn’t be drawing too much power for the hook-up. Nevertheless the power tripped as I finished up - not in the ‘van but at the bollard. Easily rectified and I just assume some sort of spike or surge caused it. The likely culprit wouldn’t be revealed until later on.

Alison was first to arrive, soon after one pm and I pottered around helping her set up as well as serving up the all important cuppa. Andy & Janet weren’t far behind and after another cuppa, helped Andy with his erection - the awning that is. We had pondered walking to the village for a meal but Janet had come with a fridge load of pizzas so we decided to reconvene in their ‘van later. I went back to mine for a sit down, noticing that the heater fan seem quieter - and slower than usual. The water pump and loo flush pump both sounded a bit sluggish too and a prod at the caravan voltmeter confirmed that that battery was almost flat.

You may recall I had this issue last year and the culprit was a loose mains plug to the battery charging and 12v supply unit - then easily rectified. No such luck this time. A careful probe with the multimeter confirmed my worst fears - there was mains going in but nothing coming out of either the 12 supply or battery charging points. It appeared that the unit had failed, having only been replaced less than four years ago - then under warranty. I thought back to the power tripping in the morning and suspected that this was when the charger went tits up, with the elderly battery slowing draining ever since.

So what did this mean practically? Well for those that go ‘off-grid’ frequently you’d already know but if like me you usually use mains hook up, you might not. Most of the lights are 12v, the aforementioned water and flush pump are 12v as is the fan for the Truma blown air system. I’d still have heating - although without circulated air - and the water heater would still work as would the fridge and cooker. An inconvenience but hardly a disaster though I still wanted to sort it as quickly as possible. However at 4:00pm on the day before New Years Eve it wasn’t straightforward. Nearby Venture Caravans were not answering the phone, no doubt having packed up early for the day like so many. I found a couple of places online that could deliver ‘next-day’ but again phone calls went unanswered. There was no point in placing an order online if there was no-one in the warehouse to pick and pack it. Sandra, who would be traveling down from Chester the following morning offered to pick one up for me but she ran into the same problem. However her mobile service engineer came up with an idea that I had heard before but had forgotten; hook up a conventional car battery charger to the leisure battery until the proper unit can be replaced.

So off I went to nearby Letchworth to Halfords and having first picked up the cheapest, as per usual, decided that having an automatic one that didn’t need to be switched off was worth an extra few quid.20191231_110209

Back at the ‘van it took some fiddling about - the mains and charging leads weren’t quite long enough to site the charger either inside or outside under shelter, fortunately Alison had a small extension lead and eventually I manged to position the charger out of harms way under the ‘van by the battery box with the mains lead running to the external socket on the other side.

All the right lights were showing on the charger, the ‘van voltmeter was back to where it should be and everything was working. To give the battery the best chance of recovering I kept the heater fan switched off as it would be one of the biggest current draws. The less power used in the ‘van would mean the battery would hopefully recharge quicker. Satisfied that all was good I joined the others and gorged on various pizzas washed down with an ale or three. It was a lovely evening and was nice to relax again after a somewhat stressful couple of hours. Since I’ve been on my own I’ve always worried about sorting things that go wrong, conscious that there’s only me to put them right these days, although having friends around to call on for advice is always great comfort and sometimes I wonder how I’d cope without them.

For the second part of this blog post I’m handing over the reins to Sandra who has wrote about her trip down south to join us for New Year. Here we go:

Tuesday 31st December20191231_185821

With much anticipation I left my home town very early New Year's Eve to travel once again to the Cambridge area to join Richard, family and friends to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The journey started well but a breakdown midway led to missed connections but I eventually arrived in good time for the evening get together. A spot of supplies shopping meant that we were well set for a lovely evening buffet, research samples, excellent companionship and a bottle of bubbly to toast the New Year ensured a perfect evening.

Wednesday 1st January

The next morning saw a reasonably steady getting up and a very welcome cooked breakfast in Alison's Caravan. At my previous visit to Cambridge over the summer, we had run out of time to go and visit Anglesey Abbey NT, just outside the city. Whilst it was overcast and not particularly warm, we wrapped up warm and set off for a visit.

The site was busy but not uncomfortably so and we were all pleased to see that the Winter Garden trail, including Lode Mill, (working waterwheel flour mill), came highly recommended. A nice level paved walkway made for a very pleasant stroll. Richard took some very beautiful photos of winter flora, as you will see here. Half way round we came upon the mill. It was good to see it working and flour was available to purchase. It was a shame that there were no refreshments available there, a hot drink would have been welcome.

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We moved onwards passing the waterway which fed the mill on our way to the house where we had booked a tour space. We realised that we had time for a coffee and shortbread biscuit in the café at the entrance centre. Fortunately, common sense had prevailed in the café and a drink only queue had been formed and was moving much quicker than earlier.

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We hit the jackpot on the way back as just outside the centre the golf buggy was about to depart. Given I use a walking stick, it was most welcome and meant a timely arrival back at the house to start the self-guided tour. It was a most interesting tour and the house, we all agreed, was homely not too big and full of personal touches, especially as it had originally been am Augustine abbey. We then made our way back to the site for a welcome warm up, snooze and time to get ready for our evening meal out.

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I had been asked to organise this and was very pleased to find the George IV Hotel/pub/restaurant in the nearby village of Baldock was actually serving food that night, (many other local places were not). The waiter had a very good sense of humour and regaled us with what was not available but in a way that had us all laughing with him. Fortunately, everyone was able to choose something they liked and enjoyed. Poppy behaved impeccably and got lots of fuss and the occasional sleight of hand treat, (okay confession time it was mainly me as I had a nice piece of steak). First prize for the biggest dessert was won hands down by Alison with her strawberry and cream choux bun! A thoroughly pleasant evening with much laughter and friendship.

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Thursday 2nd January

The following morning saw another steady getting up and about, ablutions completed, the sky clearing and sun starting to shine. Richard and I decided to walk into the village of Ashwell, about 10 minutes’ walk from the site.

20200102_102115The village site has obviously been occupied over many hundred, if not thousands of years. A mixture of very old, a little younger and right up to the present-day housing and buildings lined the main street. Several public houses all closed at the time, a baker, which handily sold take out coffees about completed the shopping available. 20200102_104257

I happened upon a peculiar out of place building, just off the main street. I had an inkling what it was, having seen several before. There followed much amusement when Richard read the descriptive plaque- it was the old-fashioned village lock up, (a one roomed cell really) used by the local police to lock up miscreants overnight prior to be taken to court, presumably in Cambridge the following day. Of course, Richard had to take his photo in front of this!

20200102_104536There were three other special places to mention. Firstly, on entering the village you passed a very English style cricket ground with pavilion, no matches today. Secondly, we visited the site of one of the Springs which feed into the River Rhee, which in turn feeds into the River Cam and Ouse and out to sea a particularly beautiful place and the water is constantly 52F year-round.20200102_103840

The final place was the rather large Parish Church, for the size of the village it did seem disproportionally so. Sadly, too it was obviously succumbing to weather erosion of the limestone. We were left wondering if it had been, at some time prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, an abbey. Unfortunately, there was no history information available to check. Richard was able to get a few nice sunshine photos, given it was the 2 January and mid-winter.

All too soon it was time to be heading back to site, a very good bowl of stew cum soup with dumplings and once again it was time for me to depart. A very pleasant few days, great company and an excellent start, we hope to 2020. Happy New Year!

After I dropped Sandra off at the station I headed back to the site and commenced a slow pack up ready for departure the following day. Andy suggested I join him for Poppy’s afternoon walk, the plan being a pint or two in one of the village pubs. The Three Tuns was the nearest and a glance at the website suggested they’d be open. We were disappointed however to find a note on the door advising closure due to maintenance. It would be open again later but we decided not to wait.

Dinner was again back in Andy & Jan’s ‘van working our way through more of the substantial left overs from New Years Eve.

Friday 3rd January

Time to go. I was first to depart as is usual having been up fairly early getting Patsy ready. We hugged and said our goodbyes, sad to go our separate ways but confident that it wouldn’t be too long until we met again.

The 132 mile journey home was trouble free, Rosie eventually managing nearly 28mpg on a breezy day and with a weighty right foot at times too. I must confess to feeling pretty glum as I pulled up at the storage yard; the end of a trip, saying goodbye, the return to work looming. There was something else too but as I prepared to manoeuvre Patsy back into her resting place the text came through that I had been waiting for. A friend had had to undergo an exploratory procedure that morning, a possible outcome of which was not good. The result though was an ‘all clear’ and buoyed by the news I finished getting Patsy sorted with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. It was the best possible news and a fitting end to a fantastic trip.