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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Sundays away from Home

I'm seriously worried. Ruth hasn't realised there will be no bacon. Nor has she seen the implications of there being no pub for me to go to while she watches television on Sunday night.

The Lounge on Wheels

Or is it a 'living room' or a 'parlour' on wheels. Or will we be the 'loungers' on wheels?

I was actually appalled at the idea of owning a campervan/mobilehome and travelling around in it. I thought of them as extremely 'naff'. No other word would do. I still feel there is a curious dissonance about taking a typically English 'lounge' with you on your travels. Perhaps it is what the Roma aspire to but it doesn't attract me - I rather fancy an Arabian pavilion for myself . . .

I have not only accepted the idea of the campervan but see its practicality and its economy - at least I hope it will prove economic to live in and to run.

However a degree at least, of comfort is necessary however you travel and wherever you go. A comfortable mattress for sleeping, chairs that don't give you backache, screens that exclude insects and mosquitos, an interior that gives the illusion of space and provides a minimum of privacy. You can't get your personal taste in upholstery but the pattern and colour will bring your mood down if they are ugly.

We do have skylights/ventilators in the van and mosquito mesh on the door. The fixed bed we hope will be more comfortable than one assembled from cushions. We haven't yet bought any chairs -

Anyway we are still asking and hoping that friends who follow us on line can offer us their world-wise experience.

We want to be green - enviromental and eco-friendly -

we want to have fun -

and as I am supposed to have some aesthetic values, I don't want my credibility destroyed and any illusions about me and my good taste smashed. Mind you they may be my illusions!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Sundays at home

What are we doing?

Sundays will not be the same in the Campervan! No heavy wodge of newspapers delivered to the front door by an invisible person before we get up. No litter of magazine sections to be recycled when we finally admit we cant read them all! NO CROSSWORD! NO CODEWORDS!

How can we survive? What will we do? How will we pass the time between bacon and eggs and the pub?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008


Ruth thinks my posts are too long. I disagree.

Boring Belgium?

Campervans of the sort we fancied at the price we can afford are few in number. Only three came anywhere near our requirements. This is not the case with Belgian beer!

Not too big. Not too small. Just right?

It is not easy to photograph the Campervan on the sales floor when it is jammed against another vehicle. These cramped photos may give you some idea of it. We decided on the fixed (integral bed) and hoped for pilots seats but did not get one for the driver. We also wanted maximum storage - well as good as it gets at any rate and a low profile van. We suppose it goes. It has already done quite a big mileage and has been equipped with an extra water tank and solar panels so may be designed better for free parking.

The Goldilocks Guide to Motorhome Purchase

If the first motorhome we tried was Too Small, too uninsulated and too not-provided-with-heating, the second one the hire company lent to was a complete contrast. For a start it had six wheels (7 if you count the one you steer with and 8 if you count the spare) and was exceeding long. This meant that when you were driving along the road and looked in the rear-view mirrors you couldn’t actually view the rear because owing to the curvature of the Earth, it was below the stern horizon. I began to suspect that it was also in a different time zone but this might have been an exaggeration. What is undeniably true is that, profiting from the fact that our night in it was spent at Fakenham Racecourse in Norfolk, we took the opportunity to drive it around the course. On the second lap at the third fence we nearly overhauled the back of the van but it gave us the slip and we never saw it again until we were packing up and unplugging the mains power supply at the end of our stay. Despite the copious blasts of hot air from the heating (oh, joy!) we decided that the van was Too Big. Would we find one that was Just Right?

I had been looking at continental websites since late October, but by late December I decided that there were more urgent things to do and I had better restrict my ogling to the websites of motorhome sellers. This revealed that the type of van we were looking for, that is roomy but compact, with a fixed bed and left-hand drive would be easier to obtain on the continent. It also seemed that the best prices were to be found in Germany, which has the largest selection of models (like the websites I had been looking at in October) and the most competitive market.

We started planning a weekend trip to Bremen. Before we had arranged it, however, I looked at some Belgian sites and found an apparently suitable van in Ostend. If you think that the opening of the high speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel means that you can effortlessly book through train tickets from say, Bedford to, for example, Ostend – both of which are linked to the tunnel by unbroken lines of rails - then think again. The best part of an evening and afternoon battling with the rigidities of the websites and then with the phone operators of TheTrainline and Continental Railways proved that, thanks to the online timetables of Belgian National Railways, I knew more about the available routes than did the operators. Not only that, but the train fare was going to add up to 5 times the cost of taking the car through the Tunnel. We went by car. In the event this was just as well since, a few days before going, we were told that our selected van was no longer considered “perfect enough” for sale. I found two other Belgian dealers within driving distance of the Tunnel and so, the next weekend, we visited all three and made our selection. Our choice fell on a Fiat Ducato-based Laika Ecovip 1R which met all our criteria. However, thanks to the suddenly discovered flaws in Bungler Brown’s Butterfingers Budgetary Policy the fall in the value of the £ has put the price and the wind up. We’ve only paid 10% deposit though, and all may be better when we take possession in April. The really good bit was the time spent strolling around Bruges, the dinner on the Saturday night in Bruges market place and the Sunday lunch in Calais. I also found a bar with 400 beers and we tested Geneva gin flavoured with chocolate. I don’t find Belgium at all boring.

Remind me to tell you about transit plates.

The right campervan for us?

We are hoping that any friends who know about campervans or trips around Europe will offer us loads of sound advice either by contacting us or 'commenting' - please - do!

The first campervan decided for us what we don't want. It was too small. Putting the bed away each day is too much trouble. We do need the option of heating even if we are following the spring and summer through northern Europe and we must have a functioning water and loo system.
We found out that the campervan sites are well-equipped and bearable and that hanging spongebags are essential for the shower blocks. I was anxious about travelling in a monster of a vehicle and the next van turned out to be big!

The wrong campervan for us?

Our weekend in the Peaks was lovely. The company, walks and pubs enjoyable. The Chinese kite bought in Shanghai flew well and goes with us on our trip. The small van however, was not suitable. It had been rented to us at that price in November without any heating system! Our two duvets did keep us warm in bed, (one a Chinese silk duvet) but the campervan windows ran with condensation. Ironic as the water pump failed. Our breath steamed as we folded up the bed and squeezed past each other. We decided another night was not sensible and we drove back to swop it for one properly equipped.

The right Campervan for us?

At last John has writen a post!
This is supposed to be an 'even-handed' blog demonstrative of how we intend our campervan life to be shared. I was waiting my 'turn'. Now at last and rather late, I can tell you how, last year, we decided to 'try out' Campervan life.
We had a weekend planned in the Peak District with John's office colleagues. Campervan hire is surprisingly very expensive. It would have been much cheaper to drive to the pub and take a room but the trial had to be caried out. We found with some difficulty a van for hire within 50 miles of home, collected the vehicle and set off. It was a lovely autumn weekend - cold and clear - the Peaks are beautiful - there are many pubs in Castleton and the beer is good - as for the campervan - welll here is the picture and the story will be continued!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

John Speaks!

I thought that, after Ruth has womanfully created this blog and made the first entries, it was time for me to put my oar in. I'll never be able to do this clandestinely, however, as I have to keep asking her what our access codes, passwords etc. are since ISP's, banks, credit card companies, Old Persons' Railpass providers and every man, woman and his/her dog insist that you have your own, individual, unique Personal Identification Number which you have to keep deadly secret and not reveal to anybody on pain of your soul being separated from your body and used for psychic torture. Furthermore, you will be denied any Euro, Dollar or any kind of currency, status, self-respect, family members, nationality or finger nails for eternity. So you think up a way of writing your own, individual, unique name that you have been known by since the second you were squeezed unknowingly from the womb and are told that somebody else has already got that name, so could you add half a dozen digits to it so that you won't be confused with somebody else with the same individual, unique and personal name that they might get you mixed up with. Well, speaking for myself, I've never actually come across anyone with the same 10 letters in their name in the same order as mine with whom I've been confused and I suppose I must have been around a lot longer than the children who come up with these stupid rules, so how likely is it to happen now? However, in that extremely unlikely (e.g. it's never happened to me) eventuality, they then ask that you invent a Password that you will remember which is not obvious. So you come up with something you think you might remember if you're not rushed (and this is after 3/4 of an hour of frustration and obfuscation at the keyboard trying to find your way round their bloody website) they tell you that "Oh, dear, no!", your own, individual, unique and personal Password won't do because it's got too many/not enough, some/no capital letters, too many/not enough digits, symbols, spaces American/European grammar. So eventually you finish up with your own, individual, unique and personal Password that has been mostly chosen by them and not you. You can't write it down of course, because they don't allow that and they can't tell you what it is if you ask. What they can do of course is to insult you by sneering "Forgotten your Password, you miserable piece of dingo do's?" and offer to send you another password which is entirely chosen at random by them to whatever interloper happens to be sitting at your computer, intending to relieve you of whatever identity you might have left.

But it doesn't end there! You try to open up another potentially planet-destroying account with a supplier of, say, theatre tickets, and they tell you that the identifier you have selected is already being used by somebody else. OH, NO IT ISN'T, IT'S ME. THAT'S MY NAME! As far as I can remember - which I obviously can't - I've now got 7 names and 5 passwords so that gives me 34 opportunities to get the combinations wrong, typing errors excepted. Obviously I can't try all 35 combinations out, because at the third failed attempt they'll pull the plug on my identity support and I'll have to open a new account and apologise to the 63 suppliers, friends, professional bodies etc. whose direct debits have thereby been cancelled and start all over again. Meanwhile Experian have sent out an APB, pillorying me as a BAD MAN.

Sorry. This was meant to be about buying mobile homes in Belgium. Another time perhaps. Cheery-pip!