Sunday, June 9, 2013

Caravanning is a Stress Reducing Activity.....Or Not!

I, in keeping with a lot of other Caravanners I know, believe that the attraction of hitching up and leaving your workday woes behind is what owning a Caravan is all about. Clearly that is not always the case.

With the weather set to be sunny and hot all weekend we were expecting to be pretty full by tea-time, as proved the case. We also have a large(ish) population of seasonal tourers, many of whom are here without fail every weekend. It has become clear, that in some cases, the seasonal bunch feel that they should take precedence over the tourers when it comes to the use of toilets and showers or queuing to use the water tap. One or two of the seasonals also feel it their duty to point out any shortcomings they notice to me, no matter the time of day.

This all came to ahead on Friday evening with the Curious Case of the Yapping Dog! A recent addition to our seasonal clientele, a pleasant couple, who both work as Nurses, and who felt the need for a quiet bolthole that they could run to whenever they got the chance, appeared on Friday morning with their three small dogs in tow, one of whom, a 10 month old Westie, has clearly found his voice and was yapping at everything that he could see, hear, or pass him by. It was one of those things that you don't really notice during the day, but which as evening and night fell, became more and more intrusive. However it was clear that the couple were doing their best to destress it, and hopefully quieten it down.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin. We have a little group of seasonals, who, as described above, take exception to, well, pretty much everything. Towards late evening I looked out of the Caravan window, to see both groups of Caravanners in the middle of the access road, having a very heated exchange. Before I could say anything, Mrs SA was out of the awning, and in her best Sgt Major's voice told seasonal couple one, (busybodies), to get back in their own awning and I would come and speak to them, and told the Nurses to come down and speak to us. They both, unsurprisingly agreed.

It turns out that the busybody couple, having consumed a few too many, decided that they would let the Nurse couple know how they felt about yapping dogs, however the conversation had quickly degenerated into a "if you don't stop that effing dog from barking, I'll nail it to the effing floor"! This comment and the aggressive way it was delivered had reduced the lady of the Nursing couple to tears. It also meant that the male half of this relationship was talking about removing his van and negotiating a refund of his seasonal fee from the owner.

Having heard this tale, I then went to the other couple to get their version. Clearly annoyed by the barking, they felt it their duty to do something about it. Whilst I agreed with the sentiment, and in fact had been on the verge of talking to the dog owners myself, I explained that dealing with issues was my job, not theirs, and that saying what he did and in that manner was out of order. His wife agreed, but he was unrepentant and in no mood to offer an apology. Sad, because in my experience, the better person will always apologise when in the wrong. (The exception being John Wayne who, as Captain Nathan Brittles in the classic film "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", offered this "Never apologise mister, it's a sign of weakness", but as far as I'm concerned the Duke can do no wrong).

We managed to calm the Nursing couple down, who had already decided to go home because of the dog anyway, contenting themselves with writing to the owners to register their disapproval instead.

The next day, another seasonal caravanner explained to me that, he, the other half of the busybody couple, was full of remorse for his actions citing a very stressful week as the cause. But my point of course, is that's the reason they have a caravan in the first place, leave the stress at home, arrive on site, deploy the sun-loungers, break open the Boddingtons and sit back. Let me deal with the issues, which thankfully have been few and far between, and after all isn't that what they pay for!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bringing You Up to Date.....Caveat Emptor!

To bring you up to date...we spent the last couple of weeks in France thinking about what it was we wanted to do for the rest of the year, get a house or continue with the Caravan. Luckily for me we opted to continue in the Caravan for another year.

We did pursue a number of options with regard to housing, but having been "gazzumped" on more than one occasion for the properties we liked, we gave this up as a bad job, and decided to pursue another year as wardens.  This meant a round of job-hunting, CV writing and submission, email traffic etc, and we found ourselves short-listed for a number of places around the country. We hooked up the van and moved around the sites which piqued our interest - and one thing became clear quickly - people want their "pint of blood" from you, for very little reward. After a short time of this, we decided to give Ken a ring at the site we stayed at for awhile last year, knowing that he had readvertised for this year, and offered our services for this season, which, luckily for us he accepted without hesitation. My theory being that the job isn't particularly busy giving me time for Golf and other projects, but also giving me a season's experience for the CV, so here we are - again.

Which brings me to the title - "Caveat Emptor". Shortly after arriving, we were told to expect the arrival of a Caravan, who's owner had purchased a "Seasonal" pitch. On the fateful day, the van was due to arrive about 5pm, but by 6pm there was no sign, so I popped out for our usual Friday Fish and Chips, and on returning, found the Seasonal Occupants had arrived, van in tow.

In my abscence the van's owner and my "boss", had unhooked and pushed the van onto the pitch. They were in the process of lowering the corner steadies, but the chap didn't possess a suitable tool for the job, so I grabbed my drill, with spanner in order to help out. That's where the problems started. The van was of the type that are slightly longer and wider than the norm - those that would normally be towed by a commercial vehicle


A van of the same make, this one is in better condition though!

I'd taken a look underneath before lowering one of the corner steadies, to find it hanging on by one bolt, and in fact had been towed from where the couple purchased it, to our site, dragging along the ground. Cables and pipes had been cut as well, and rerouted in a fairly haphazard fashion and it was a bit of a mess. Their was extensive damage around the van, which appeared to have been repaired with filler, but very badly. The door, located on the offside was badly fitted with a gap at the top. Inside was worse with holes in the roof where at some stage aerials must have poked through then been removed. 

I'm no electrician but we could find no sign of an RCD or circuit breaker box in the van, just a connection for the mains cable, then numerous extensions of the type that you buy from B&Q from £2.99, all joined together using gaffer tape. It was at this point that I suggested it probably wasn't something that should be on the site, and my boss reluctantly agreed.  We then asked the chap who bought it what was going on..and he recounted this.

His mother is quite elderly, but had a little bit of money, not much, but they wanted to have a way of affording breaks by the coast. So he paid for a seasonal pitch with us for the season, (£1200). He then went on the internet, and saw a cheap van for sale, (around £1500), and decided to go and buy it. I can't name and shame here, but it was from a place which stores Caravan's near Warrington. When the family got there the Mother didn't like the look of it, and chose this one instead. They paid £1800 for it without any kind of inspection, and the chap himself admitted, he knew nothing about Caravans - clearly! Not only that he towed the van to our site, probably about 50 miles or so, using a normal family saloon car. I felt so sorry for the family, they'd clearly paid out what amounted to their life savings to pay for this, and it had back-fired on them, he was nearly in tears. We suggested that he contact the site where he bought it from, tell them to come and get it, and return his money, (with not much hope of either happening to be fair).

Turns out we were right, they told him it was "sold as seen".

A few days later Steve the owner of our local Caravan Sales and Spares shop, came to have a look at it, and agreed with everything we'd pointed out. It was worth around £300 scrap, and he towed it away from the site for us. The chap got this money back, plus the seasonal fee he'd paid, and we suggested to him two things, buy from a reputable dealer, and take someone with him who knows what they are doing. 

So there you go, "Caveat Emptor"!



Friday, January 18, 2013

Club or Not to Club?

I've just renewed my Caravan Insurance, courtesy of the Caravan Club and that got me thinking, do I need to continue my membership of the club? What do I actually get for my money?

Access to Caravan Club sites, yes, but through 2011 I think that I only used a CC site once, they tend to be a little expensive for those of us looking for a site over a longer period. I did use CL sites on more than one occasion, finding the quieter, 5 van sites more to our liking, but I was only asked if I was a CC member once. I don't use the forum on the CC website, I prefer the one on the Practical Caravan site, using it quite often to answer a question I might have, and finding the folks on there friendly and helpful.

I've also looked at the Camping and Caravanning Club, not realising, until this year, that there was a distinction until we spent a weekend near Dunbar and were exploring other potential sites to stay. We looked at a C&CC site, where we were informed that the prohibitive site charge was because we were not members, but could join on the spot if we cared to. I asked at the time what the distinction was, and was informed that at one time both clubs were one and the same. The C&CC see themselves as the friendly club, and also one that is equally welcoming to people with tents.

Both club memberships come with a monthly magazine, but, again, I prefer Practical Caravan magazine. Membership in both run at about £40 per year - I've even thought that there might be an advantage in joining both. However I'm no nearer answering my own question, hmmmm, need to do some thinking and a little more investigation, before making a decision.

I know you've had snow at home, and as usual the UK news reports seem to suggest it is only one step away from Armageddon. Here in France we were quite lucky, but yesterday saw a flurry that disappeared as quickly as it came, however 5 to 6 inches fell over night, with no sign of stopping. The forecast is suggesting that temperatures are set to fall to around minus 12 tonight.  The French don't seem the slightest bit concerned and it isn't even figuring in the news. I've just heard the snow plough outside, and that is despite the fact we live on a really narrow lane, there is a lesson in there somewhere.




Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Joy of a Right-Hand Drive Car in France..Part One

We're in France for the winter, but I've told you that already of course, sorry for being boring.

Now, just in case you were wondering, they drive on the wrong side of the road here! How on earth did we, the British, let that happen? After all much of France was under English rule during the Middle-Ages, and when the French took exception to that we had to teach them the error of their ways at Agincourt. Wellingon did it again throughout the Peninsular campaign, fighting the last battle just outside Toulouse, (which is apt, more in a moment), and when they still didn't get the message, he did it again at Waterloo. So I think, I'll start  my own online petition, "Those individuals defeated in battle by the British, should drive on the left". Look out for the link shortly.

All this has a point though. Mrs SA needed to return her son to school and our nearest airport is Toulouse, (seamless link). So yesterday morning, saw us pulling into a frighteningly efficient multistory car-park at the airport. I'd done my homework, the car-parks are designated P1, P2 etc. P1 being the most expensive with the shortest stay time allowed, rising as we go. Not rocket science. I'd opted for P2, noting that it would just take the Landrover with about 10cms to spare, as proved the case. When you enter the car-park the lights were dim, but brightened as the car drove through. Lit green arrows on the ceiling above, directed you to the nearest available space. Any space that was occupied had a red light showing above it, with green lights above the vacant one's, making parking as simple as it possibly could be.

The terminal was equally efficient, but slightly bereft of coffee facilities on the cheap side of security. Clearly the French don't want people to wait around. So having waved Mrs SA off I skipped gaily back to the waiting car, (does anybody do that anymore), with the prospect of 3 days on my own lounging in front of the fire watching porn old black and white films and eating chocolate.

I started the car and headed for the barrier, and that's where the trouble began. The barriers were no different to those you might experience at Edinburgh Airport, so as I approached I stopped slightly short in order to leave room for me to walk around the front of my car to insert the ticket. This initially failed because my car wasn't far enough forward, so back into it I went to pull it forward to receive the not unexpected message, "s'il vous plaît insérer votre billet". Back around to the ticket machine, insert my validated ticket, (4 euros for 45 minutes, not too bad), the barrier rose. Back around to the drivers side and as I went to climb in the barrier closed. Climb back out, but a blank screen at the barrier meant that the machine assumed that I had left. Reversing the car and driving forward again brought the machine to life, and round to it I trekked again. This time when I went to enter my ticket I was greeted with, "s'il vous plaît valider votre billet", those cunning French, they never trust anyone, obviously I was trying to get two vehicles through the barrier for the price of one!

No choice for it, I would have to press the green button for assistance. Now, I'm not a betting man, but what odds would you offer me that they hadn't been watching my antics on CCTV, laughing at the stupid "rosbif". If I end up on Youtube, there'll be trouble.

My French is definitely not up to solving this, so I uttered the phrase I hate most, "Excusez-
moi monsieur, mais parlez-vous anglais". It's an admission of failure - Mrs SA starts virtually 
every conversation with "je suis anglais" - come on, that's a qualification, not an excuse!
Of course the attendant on the other end could speak English. Can you imagine a
Frenchman landing at Glasgow International and expecting "Wee Tam" the NCP chap on
the tannoy to be able to speak French - actually, if you were english you'd struggle to be 
understood. I explained the problem, and he asked me to move my car. 
He panicked slightly when I reversed, because the barrier behind had dropped into place. 
I was then instructed to insert my ticket, but I explained that this was not possible, as I had 
been through this once already. And there in lies the rub - the French are a suspicious lot 
and clearly I was trying to get a free pass. There was a degree of confusion on both our 
parts as he asked me for the number on the ticket - but which one? Eventually I read out 
the write one then answered some questions - what time did I arrive? How much did I pay
etc and eventually he let me out. I managed to shout a "Merci Monsieur" through the 
passenger window before making my escape. 

Less than 40 minutes later I faced the same problem again as I transited the A68 
Autoroute, a section of which is "à péage". Although this time, once I had inserted
my debit card and the barrier had risen, allowed me enough time to get back in my
vehicle and continue my journey, and at just under 2 euros for 68 kms of trouble 
free motorway driving is worth every penny.

I wonder how my Caravan is getting on, in all that rain and snow?

"bonne route"

Friday, December 21, 2012

Where Have all the Chillies Gone......

We love Spice - the hotter the better. If Mrs SA had her way Chilli would be in the cornflakes, it tends to find its way into everything else. And yet here we are in Midi-Pyenee and their is a distinct lack of any spice whatsoever.

Having holidayed in Brittany earlier in the year, we had noticed then that there was a lack of spiced foods in the "Supermarché" - fair enough that they don't have a stock of "Patak's" Tikka Masala Sauce, but come on, we couldn't even buy Curry Powder.

When we planned this current outing we thought ahead, and stocked the car up with sauces and condiments etc, but we neglected the humble chilli. I'm sure we talked about it, but this is the South of France and we thought the influence of North Africa etc would be more prevalent here than in say, Berwick-Upon-Tweed. The local store in the village, "Super U", (size of a largish Spar), is well stocked with seasonal vegetables, most clearly local, but some from Spain, which isn't that far away, but devoid of anything resembling a chilli in either fresh, dried or powder form!

I think a phone call to the Avatar may be on the cards and an urgent Mail Order parcel despatched - assuming such a pungent order will make it through Customs, mind you the dog, did, so there's hope.

Another thing, much is made about the strength of the Euro against the Pound, Which at the moment works in our favour, roughly 1.22 euros to the pound. But we have been shocked by how expensive things are. Mrs SA didn't bring a set of scales, having been told that everything was in the house and apparently the lack of one has been something of a disaster, so off to the Supermarché we go. Suffice to say we haven't bought one - even the basic one that would be about £4 in Tesco retails here for about 22 euro! You can't walk into a store here and browse rows of electrical products at your leisure, they're just not available.

I've had a business idea as well - take a van back to the UK, fill it with tins of Quality Street that we last saw retailing in Asda at £4.99 and sell them here in France for twice that, call it 10 euros for cash - we've seen the self same tins on the market shelves here for 22 euros!


à bientôt






Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bridie the Superdog!

Our constant companion, well mine really, is Bridie, our four and a half year old Black Labrador, which Mrs SA got me for my 50th Birthday. In the last few months she has taken to living in a Caravan, travelled the length and breadth of the UK. Been assaulted by a vet with the largest needle I've ever seen. Been subjected to the noise and stress of a four hour ferry crossing, followed by a two day drive through France to reach our current destination.

All of this achieved with barely a murmur, just the odd raised eyebrow and occasional big yawn and stretch. her only comment being, "wake me when we get there, wherever that may be, and if you could remember to let me out now and again, to do what a lady needs to do, that would be good".

Now that we are safely lodged in the cottage, both she and I have taken to walking the local tracks and paths, something we have both enjoyed, particularly as the rain is holding off and the sun is shining, (although it is a bit brass monkeys at the moment).


Bridie is good at scaring up animal life when we're out walking, Badgers, Deer, Pheasants, Squirrels etc, all of whom she has given a damn good talking too, but never actually managed to catch. However out here in France - nothing, not even a squirrel. I'm assuming that if all the "Caution Hunting" signs that are around, the locals have killed everything.

So plenty of adventures to come, at least we both hope so - we'll report back later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Time moves On....

It's been well over two months since our last blog, and a lot has happened in the intervening period. To start with the middle of October saw us acting as temporary wardens, (again),  for Greendales Caravan Park. We were well on the way to getting rid of the house, having spent some weeks either selling stuff on eBay or driving endlessly backwards and forwards to the tip. Where does it all come from! Once the Avatar look alike was ensconced in his house, that was also our opportunity to pile a whole host of precious artefacts that Mrs SA can't bear to be parted from in after him, much to his annoyance. I've also relished the opportunity to go around his house turning the lights on, and leaving them on - see how he likes it! By the time we arrived at Greendales we were looking forward to the rest!

The two weeks on the site went by in a flash, albeit in a very quiet way. Most of the seasonal owners were starting to pack up, and apart from a few passing Motor-homes no real touring traffic to speak of.

In the meantime Mrs SA had been plotting! I don't know whether the thought of a whole winter in the van was putting her off, but clearly she had been trawling the internet for alternatives. And as if by magic, how did we fancy three months in the South of France! Well Midi-Pyrenees, an area I've been to before when I was in the Army - the thing is, my memory of the area is that it rains - all the time!

Lots of discussion then ensued. Between me and Mrs SA, and the owners of the property she was interested in - and perhaps it won't be as bad as that. Certainly the temperatures on average seem warmer than the UK. They do get snow, but the Landrover will cope with that, so in the end, it seemed like an adventure too good to pass up. So December to the end of February will see us living the french life in "The Old School" Banroques, Entraygues-sur-Truyère, slightly North of Toulouse. Then the other shoe drops - on the way through France, we're going to look at another Cottage that just happens to be available for a long-term let. On top of this, close to where we are going, a couple are looking for seasonal wardens for next year, our cup runneth over!

Before all that though, it was time to move the van around the country, in order to visit family and friends.  The only downside was having to drive in some of the worst rain I've ever seen. Family in Wiltshire meant we were staying at Brokerswood, near Trowbridge and at one point we very nearly didn't make it off as rising water levels on the surrounding roads were about to make things impassable. We then moved to Northampton to stay with friends, at the same time as the nearby Billings Aquadrome Caravan Park was being evacuated after it was inundated with rising water.

At the end of this period, our drive back to the Borders became emotional - the final two hour drive from Ripon to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, took almost 4 and a half hours, as rising water levels caused the A1 to close at Catterick.

The strange things is that interspersed between this has been some lovely Autumn sunshine. The photo below was taken at Chain Bridge Caravan Park earlier in the month, and I challenge anyone to find a better view.


So, as the end of the week approaches, we need to get organised for another stage in our life we weren't expecting. Deciding what stays in the van whilst it is stored and what comes with us in the car, as always it's going to be tight. Passport for Big Black Dog, ferry bookings, overnight accommodation bookings etc. On top of this we have sworn to learn French and I have downloaded umpteen, (well 156), learn French by Podcast lessons onto my iPod, which are already the source of endless arguments in the car, but it passes the time.

Vive La France!

PS, now where are the heating controls in this house - I'm feeling slightly chilly whilst I write!