I wonder how many of my blog posts, over the last 8 years of blogging, have the same title or similar? Actually, I don’t think I’ll go count them.
It’s a poor reflection of how shocking I am at updating blogs, I suppose, so let’s gloss over that one!
It’s been so long since I blogged now that I can barely recall what has even happened over the past 3/4 months.
<heads over to Facebook to remind self of notable events>
<comes back realising life is relatively mundane, uneventful and dull really>
That’s unfair actually. We’ve done several trips away in the van since then.
We’ve been to the end-of-season Motorhome show, and went away in October to Mablethorpe to take Zac on his first trip to the beach.
(Note to self: pick a warmer month than October next time!)
The Motorhome show was a bit of a treat because we went both child- AND dog-free! Much as we love our dog (and our children, of course!), it was relaxing not to have to think about letting him out and walking him, especially as he sleeps pretty poorly in the van (much preferring, I think, the warmth of our bed/sleeping bag to the floor!)
It was a nice to have a wander in and out of vans without having to leave one of us outside with the dog too. Having said that, we did miss him, of course.
The other trip we did (and it was the last time we were away in the van) was Mablethorpe for a long weekend.
Fun? Actually, yes! (but cold!)
Not exactly a busy beach. There’s a dog (Zac!) over there on the right somewhere!
He loved having all that space to run around in and, although he was initially reluctant, he was soon bounding about in the shallow waters.
The boys (Nik and Eliot; Jake stayed home being a teenager) had some fun too. There was a large arcade on site as well as some novice activities such as target shooting and archery.
Being fairly experienced at Archery and shooting, they both only really partially enjoyed them due to the basic nature and inaccuracy of the equipment, but it was something to do.
Eliot also had a go at the climbing wall (although soon got bored, as he does!).
In all honesty, I think everyone (well, the men) in this house has decided that the only real pastime any of them enjoys (other than sleep (teenagers) and Xbox (all of them)) is airsoft.
Oh lordy, the airsoft.
It’s something Nik tried out as a way of keeping fit and, unfortunately, took the boys with him on his first trip.
Now, my house looks like this most Saturdays…
And the pay-off is that, on Sundays, my house is empty (just me an’ the dog) and my boys look like this…
They’re all loving it, and they’ve found several different places to play now, each with different game formats and site layouts. Barton on Humber seems to be a favourite although Lincoln, being closer, is visited equally often.
Now they’ve got all the kit, it’s cheaper for them to go as they don’t need to hire guns and vests etc, but they’re still having to pace themselves a bit as it’s a dear do to go every week when there’s 3 of you.
“Hang on a minute, ” I hear you say. “There are 4 in that photo!”
Well spotted. Nik is the one taking the photo and alongside Jake (left) and Eliot (right) are 2 other friends who have also become addicted thanks to my lot. There are even more of them now too. I think the Gainsborough tally is now up to 7!
They’ll have their own club at this rate.
So anyway, apart from airsoft and a few van trips, what else has been going on?
Well, big news (although, for us, old new now) is that Jake decided he wasn’t coping with college. Under normal circumstances, I think he’d have excelled academically, but unfortunately, he had difficulties handling both the travel and the environment and, in an effort to avoid the problems we had in school, we decided it would be better for him to leave college for the time being. He’s only 16, and it’s something he can most definitely re-visit in the future if health allows.
Additionally, he was laid off at work due to the winter period being quiet, so he’s been helping us at home/work until he finds himself another job.
Fortunately, we’ve been fairly busy so he’s helpful occasionally!
Unfortunately, by the time he’d found out he was losing his job, we were too late to apply to any Christmas posts (we ask about a LOT, everything was filled already) so he’s been applying for any suitable jobs he can find. Him and a thousand other people.
So far, no luck. One warehouse job he applied for had had 700 other applications already, and that was just online applications!
What hope does a 17 year old have?
Ah yes, Jake turned 17!
Not only is that terrifying because he’s getting older (I, of course, am not!), but also it is expensive as we insured him on our car as well as upgrading his motorbike now that he can ride a 125cc.
And how he loves that bike!
Even in mid December (when his birthday is) he went out on it. And several times since, including Christmas Day!
It’s unfortunate that his birthday is in the winter really, because riding opportunities are few, but he goes when he can. I’m sure he’ll go more for leisure when it’s warmer and drier, but it gives him a form of transport if and when he needs it for work.
And, as he keeps reminding us, it’s MUCH cooler than a scooter!
So, we’re about updated I think.
We had a good (busy) Christmas and New Year. I’d (crazily) decided to host for my side of the family for Christmas dinner (something I usually actively avoid doing!) for once and we had the more extended side of my family (I don’t see them often as they don’t live in town) up for an afternoon between Christmas and New Year so I’ve done my hosting duties for the next decade, I reckon.
Actually, it wasn’t so bad.
But, no, I’m not doing it again this year.
Before I go, a cheer-you-up piccie of our groomed prettyboy!
Summer, huh?It was summer, right? Because right now it’s easy to forget we actually had one. Stupid autumnal weather and its precipitation!
But anyway, we did. I know we did because I have blue sky photos and memories of van trips away to prove it.
We’ve been away twice, in fact, since I last blogged.
Firstly, we did the Lincolnshire Steam and Vintage Rally which was a great few days away and our first trip without electric, and we managed just fine. In fact, if anything we are much heavier users of our fresh water than we are mains hook up electric. We managed easily on our 12v system (even on a less-than-sunny weekend where our solar wasn’t getting as much as it could) but we had to refill our water tank by Saturday evening. How we’re using 66 litres of fresh water, I’ve no idea, but for our subsequent trip away, we took bottled for tea/boiling (which was so much nicer than tap/site water) and used a large bottle of site water for the dog. We managed better over a longer period then, so perhaps we have it sussed now.
The Steam Rally was good. Typically British weather (and particularly windy) but everything worked and held up and we got pitched (in the Caravan Club area) alongside friends which definitely gave the weekend something extra.
Only a week or so after the steam rally, we had a longer, 4-day break at Kidderminster. Jake, again, decided to stay home (being 16, he’d rather not “camp”!) so it was just the 3 of us and the dog. Weather was rain, sun, rain, sun (same old, same old!) but we had a great few days.
The first day was particularly warm and sunny and we made the 4 mile walk into Kidderminster along the tow path of the canal.
We spent a good few hours in the town, with the dog who was absolutely no trouble whatsoever as we took turns to go into shops and he was good as gold while we ate lunch.
It was a good trip away, although we did find one van issue. Well, not a van issue but an issue we had at the site in particular: slope!
There’d been no mention of all sloping pitches in the booking details (and I’d already ruled out a different site because it DID mention it!) and we had real problems levelling. The fridge told us we were nowhere near level when it melted all our ice creams because it wasn’t working, and it took a good 45 minutes with 2 site staff and a lot of scaffold planks to get us somewhere near to level on day 2!
We know now though: pack levelling planks as the ramps we had (visible above) were definitely NOT up to the job!
Since coming back from Kidderminster, the van went on hold for a while as we sorted Jake out for starting college. We did a few trial bus runs to check timing and walking routes (which, through Lincoln at the moment, are both a nightmare as the major roadworks of COURSE were scheduled to start right as the schools/colleges start back!)
All went fine though and, on the whole, his start at college has gone well. He’s even been nominated Class Representative. As long as he doesn’t have to actually do anything, I’m sure he’ll be fine!
Oh, and speaking of college, we had exam results, of course. Jake needed 2 C grade passes (in Maths and English) for college and he exceeded these by getting a B in his English. Apparently though, college then made EVERYONE sit both a maths and English assessment anyway in case people had given false grades!
Beats me why they did that. Jake was more concerned that he’d only got a C in his English one though (although he did better than his GCSE result in his Maths!) but he’s fine. He’ll still be one of the brightest ones in the class, I have no doubt.
He’s eagerly awaiting being 17 in December so he can start using his 125cc motorcycle for college instead of the bus. He’s still working at Pyramid on the days he isn’t at college so he still has some income even during the school term which is currently funding a motorcycle jacket and then trousers and, after that, fuel and running costs to get him to and from college and work.
They grow up too fast!
We are tentatively back to school with Eliot too, currently doing a bit of a maths recap with a view to slowly starting to look at GCSE programs. Hopefully, he’ll also take at least Maths and English GCSE/IGCSE to keep his college options open, but he has no clue really what he wants to do yet. He’s only 13, he’s got ages to decide anyway. Meantime he can learn life things and continue his passion for all things Japanese. We are learning some of the language and El regularly practises his sushi-making.
And obviously, he gets to learn geography as we travel in our van!
We’ve modded the van a little bit since our last trip actually. The kitchen cupboard was a pain, with the left door opening into the aisle and making it impossible really to reach over or around it to take anything out from inside. So, I requested a bi-fold option.
It’s SOOOO much better and I can’t wait to trial it this weekend when we’re away at the Motorhome Show (child-free AND dog-free!!)
We also added a much-needed bathroom cabinet to the wetroom
And, although I don’t have a photo – shocking, I know – Nik fitted an external switch for the new water heater so we don’t need to reach under the seat to switch on the mains/240v supply for it. It’d have been in the original design except the original heater was gas only so we never planned to have a 240v supply needing a switch.
We’ve got another short break planned in mid October too. We’re taking the dog to the beach for his first “sand and sea” experience. In the two years we’ve had him, we’ve not taken him to the coast at all and now we can do easily, so we’ve booked 3 nights away. We contemplated going actually during half term but a) Eliot said he’d prefer to go when kids are at school and b) £60!
3 nights mid October was £30
3 nights two weeks later, during half term, £90!
We can spend that extra money on stuff to do, so it was an easy decision really. It’ll be fun.
Apart from that, nothing much else planned. I’d like to fit in another trip away this year, but I think we’ll wait and see how the van fares in the cooler weather in October first (although, if it’s anything like previous years, it’ll be nicer and milder than now!)
We’ll do a few winter trips anyway because that’s why we made the van: to use it all year round. It’s just hunting down those good sites that are walking distance to other places, rather than needing a car to get anywhere off-site, especially out of season.
We’d really love to do a longer trip, further away. Maybe a week or so. But that would mean partially closing the business for that period (and ensuring that the 16yo got himself to college from home alone) so it’s unlikely to happen.
We joked about closing down for November and driving down to Valencia for the final race of the MotoGP season. That WOULD be awesome, but it’s not too likely to happen. It’s quiet season, admittedly, but still a scary idea!
The weather forecast was good, and LOOK what arrived 2 days before we left!
I know, right?
That pesky 5th sofa cushion finally turned up and made our seating area complete!
After carting numerous crates of “stuff” out to fill the ‘van on Friday morning, Jake got home from work after lunch (because, yes, he came too!) and we arrived at Tattershall around 2pm.
Less than 30 minutes later, and we were all set up, awning, chairs ‘n’ all.
We had a great weekend. We BBQ-ed twice (we’d planned to) and ate out at the resort restaurant on the Saturday evening. Nice food, if pricey, but that’s to be expected on a site like that, I think.
We weathered some rain on Friday night without incident. The awning held up fine, nothing broke down and we even trialled out the air con unit on the Saturday night because it was so hot overnight (even with the ‘van door half open)
Zac behaved impeccably the entire weekend. He wasn’t stressed out about being tethered (sometimes between van and awning, sometimes between awning and outdoors depending on what we were doing) and he was good as gold around the site on his lead.
We had no idea how he’d be either on site or amongst the crowds (and, BOY, it was busy!) but we needn’t have worried. He was the best behaved a little doggie can be. Bless him.
The one thing that was noted as a problem was how uncomfortable the rear bunk mattresses are. They’re cheap sprung jobbies from eBay and they really are sloppy and horrid. Eliot found it so bad that he actually slept the second night on the floor of the van with the dog (who slept under the extended section of the sofa bed)
So this week I ordered some 6ft x 2ft sheets of medium density foam to replace the awful mattresses. The top one needs cutting down a few inches and perhaps across the corners to accommodate the angles at the outer side (the bottom bunk didn’t need these trimming, we just squashed it in, so it might not need it up top either) and then both will be wrapped in stockinette to protect the foam before the mattress protectors are put back on.
Eliot was so much happier with this so that’s good. More space for the dog on the floor for the next trip then, hopefully!
Speaking of next trips, Jake isn’t coming with us now so there’s just 3 of us and the dog for the Lincoln Steam and Vintage Rally next weekend (an experiment in non-EHU trip which will test the 12v system and the solar charge more thoroughly) and then we’re away, again as 3 plus dog, for the bank holiday weekend at Wolverley Club Site. No idea what it’ll be like but reviews are good and it’s supposed to be great for dogs too, so we’ll see.
Jake, meanwhile, will be having wild parties (AKA sleeping in and playing Xbox all day).
Or, he’ll be tinkering with his new toy.
He’s not old enough to drive it on the road yet (not under December when he turns 17) but it needs work anyway right now (it was bought damaged to repair) and maybe that’ll give him something to do.
Or maybe it’ll just be sleep and the Xbox. (more likely!)
A few other things we noted while on our first trip:
we need more rock pegs. We had just enough for the awning but not enough that we could have used the windbreak. Halfords had some decent ones reduced in price, of which we’d picked up a couple of packs before we went away, so we’ll see if they have any left.
We ran out of water after 36 hours! An entire 66 litre tank! Probably because we weren’t policing it at all and we refilled water bottles and bowls and washed up from it regularly. We are going to purchase a large (10-15 litre) water bottle with pourer so we can decant from that for the dog’s bowl and, if required, use it to refill the underslung tank if we run out again.
We need a splashguard of some sort between the sink and the beds. The water pressure is good and it did tend to splash up a little when turned up high. We’ve made a cover for the hob from the waterproof shower wall 3mm ply (to give more work space) which doubles as the splashguard for now.
We have a slightly creaky sofa area. One specific half of one sofa. Typically the part my head and shoulders is on when I’m rolling from side to side at night so it’s annoying. For EVERYONE! Will find out what’s causing that and fix it.
The seat velcro wasn’t quite positioned correctly and made pulling the bed out a bit tricky (although not impossible) so that needs relocating. Also, the smaller, infill cushion could do with some on it as it moved a bit when I got in and out of bed!
More dog towels required! We took 2 large bath sheets for Zac which was just about OK for the tim we were there and the weather we had (scorchio!) but if it’d stayed wet overnight and still been so in the morning on Saturday, we’d have found ourselves lacking. Might need to pack 4 for bad weather!
I think that’s it!
Nothing major and certainly nothing that can’t be sorted out.
Yes, you do see right. This is the second post in a week!
Now you’ve got over the shock…
We have a new water heater. Yay!
And with a new water heater, comes a new flue/exhaust.
The swap-over was fairly simple. Once the old flue and heater were off (removing the sealing silicon was probably the trickiest bit!), the new heater fitted in place without much trouble. We just needed to move the supporting platform back slightly as the new insulation jacket was a slightly different shape, but it’s all in and working hunky dory!
One thing we did have a minor problem with was the new control panel. You can’t use the Carver Cascade control panel with the new design Henry water heater so we had to fit the new Henry controls. That meant routing a new cable through the van (behind wall panels etc!) because the plugs are all different! (Apparently, you COULD use the old cable, removing the plugs off it and using the wires individually, but we had no intention of attempting that and do not recommend it.)
The trickiest part of routing the new cable was getting the old one to feed through the narrow feed hole in the metal chassis part of the van. The duct itself is quite spacious but the access hole is small and difficult to get to and, as we were using the old cable to pull through the new, the feed was tight. Very tight, but we managed it.
Also, we couldn’t quite accommodate the new control panel properly where the old one had been on the control fascia. Now, we COULD have re-done the whole fascia… but decided just to mount it sideways instead.
I mean, really, who cares anyway?!
(Note to self/husband: must make sure additional screws are put into light switches and new, un-mucky, labels are made up!)
Much of what we’ve been doing on the van has been finishing touches now. Labelling, storing, kitting out and preparing for our first trip away over the summer.
Let’s just talk a bit about this bathroom mirror!
I hunted for ages for a decent mirror to fit in the bathroom. I didn’t want a glass one, just in case we had a problem with it falling and breaking, so I wanted an acrylic one, but finding a wall-mount acrylic mirror that we could fully fix to the wall (as opposed to just hanging) took some research and eBay searching.
The first one I found was no good. It had a plastic frame that we struggled to fit to the wall, and as we couldn’t really use a wooden frame in a wetroom, I eventually plumped for a plain acrylic sheet, paid a little extra for rounded corners and pre-drilled holes with screws and mirror caps.
The only problem is, the wall of the van isn’t entirely flat. This means that the mirror has a slight curve in it.
Think Hall of Mirrors.
Fortunately, the curve is inwards so it gives a rather flattering “skinnify” effect rather than a “fattify” effect, so I’m good with that.
Maybe I’ll fit one in the house too!
It’s all trimming and stocking up of the van now really. I’ve started adding in food and supplies for our trip away soon, and the next job is to drain down the water and waste water tanks so they’ve been flushed out. The fresh water tank particularly needs a flush through as the water it is currently running has been sat in the tank a while. We’ll drain it down and then part-fill it and drain it again (thank goodness we’re not on a water meter!)
Being nearly done in the van means that we have done stuff other than van lately too.
El is quite obsessed with Japan so he’d been nagging to go here since I let slip of its existence. The weather was good on Tuesday so we went. We had a great morning and a lovely lunch of Japanese Rice Salad, freshly cooked to order by Buddha Maitreya.
Along with the outdoor gardens, which were beautiful, there is also what is thought to be the world’s largest indoor crystal garden.
This was only half of it, but photos absolutely do NOT do this place justice. It was breathtaking, and both Eliot and I “wow-ed” when we walked in.
Eliot loved the whole place, and it’s probably only a matter of time before he asks to go again. At £11 though (£7 adults, £4 children) it isn’t cheap and you need to ensure you’re going to “get” it before going, I think. I was a bit worried that it’d be anticlimactic for Eliot, but I was happy to be proved wrong and so didn’t mind paying the extra £6 a head for the rice salad (which was lovely also!)
Next time though, the £2 fresh scones and a pot of tea, I think. For the budget’s sake!
Right, I’d better get back to work now! Nik and Jake are off doing a job dismantling a spray bay in town so I’m womanning the fort today.
I’d better stop blogging procrastinating and get some work done!
But before I go, I’ll just leave this here: a little something Nik made to go in place of the Fiat badges on the van.
It’s been far too long and every weekend that passes means so much more gets done on the van that the job of updating the blog becomes more and more of a mammoth task.
Enough excuses now though, I must update before I decide I hate blogging forever more!
It’s been a busy 3 weeks or so.
We’ve had a fair bit of weekend time spent on the van and some evenings while the weather has been reasonable.
And we’ve got LOTS done!
The bathroom/wet room is FINISHED!
The bathroom also now has a door! (and, actually, an internal shower curtain) Always nice to have a door on your bathroom, eh?
The back of the van, beneath the beds, has been lined, painted along the sill, and a drawer put in for access in the van
We fitted cab divider curtains for privacy and a bit more light cut-out during the evenings and nighttime.
We sorted out the table, fitting a siting hole in the floor and giving the table top and pole somewhere to store in the wardrobe.
And wait…what’s that? Are those SEAT CUSHIONS, you ask??
Why yes, yes they are!
Well, 4 out of 5 (long story, probably can’t explain without getting annoyed about it again!), but we have the important ones we need to make the main sofa and the bed!
Curtains have now been shortened too. More sewing for me. Not something I’m too fond of doing, but needs must.
Let me take a van-break for a moment to change the subject briefly (thank GOODness, you all say!)
Eliot turned 13 last week so we had a meal out to celebrate. El is currently obsessed (OBSESSED!!) with Japan and he’d asked if we could eat at the Japanese Steakhouse at Damon’s in Lincoln so, knowing nothing about what to expect, we braved it.
Well, it was fantastic! It was as much a show as a meal and, although expensive, we’d go again for a special occasion. Great food and great staff (just make sure you allow £25 a head!)
Anyway, back to the van!
With the arrival of the main seat cushions (again, let’s not mention that missing one, eh?), we were able to get the additional seatbelt in the rear sorted. It’s not actually illegal to carry rear passengers in a camper without seatbelts (CRAZY!), but we wanted to fit one for our (well, Eliot’s!) security and peace of mind. We’re not adding it to the logbook or anything so it doesn’t need inspecting, but we wanted, for ourselves, to make sure it was properly fitted so some careful planning was required.
Firstly, we worked out where we wanted to fit it and to what!
That meant the removal of the front bench seat for some welding!
We really are pretty much onto finishing touches now, and Nik hadn’t been happy with the decals on the van for a while. They were put on months ago, just to make it not look like a “white van” and they’re just started to look a bit dull.
So we fired up the sticker plotted and printed off miles (well, ok, maybe not miles exactly) of red pinstripe and some silver and black extra pieces, and Nik diligently applied to the entire design.
And we are so, so close to finishing that look!!!
My shopping list now consists of things like “tea towel holders” and “washing up liquid”. If that doesn’t say “we’re nearly done”, I don’t know what does!
Our last major decision and purchase has been an awning.
Oh lordy, what a minefield that has been.
Obviously, we considered the Fiamma/Truma wind-out awnings but they’re extortionately expensive and don’t really provide what we need from an awning without investing in sides and a front to make a room.
Really, we wanted some extra living space so we decided (while wandering around the showroom at Brownhills in Newark on a 3m drive-away awning. It was 3m x 3m so we figured plenty big enough for our van.
Got the C channel/awning rail fitted to the van and test fitted it, only to find that, while the tent part of the awning might be 3m, the “tunnel” part that fits to the van was only not much over 2m and didn’t cover the sliding door. This meant it was impossible to open the door without snagging it on the awning and, inevitably in time, causing damage.
Brownhills customer service, it has to be noted, was EXCELLENT and they took the awning back for full refund (even though we’d got rid of the main awning box – dur!) but they couldn’t recommend an awning that would work for us.
We ruled out any drive-aways (which we didn’t need anyway) because they pretty much all have a too-narrow tunnel fixing for a sliding door (unless the awning itself was eye-wateringly expensive – like £800+!!), and started looking at a porch-like awnings. After emailing Outdoor Revolution themselves and asking them, they confirmed that their 3m wide canopy awnings would be 3m wide at the van also so I began hunting for one in our price range.
It came down to the Tech Canopy 300
or the Techlite Pro XL, which we decided on due to being able to enclose it if need be (ie it the Great British weather decides to rain, we can keep the van open and the awning closed, rather than shutting ourselves in the van which is, let’s face it, “cosy”!
The awning arrived today and we LOVE LOVE LOVE it!
It only just covers the sliding door, but cover it it does and it’s perfectly workable, a MUCH better quality awning (in our opinion) than the previous, drive-away one we had tried, and I can’t wait to be able to use it when we go away.
I have to say that, having been in communication quite considerably with Brownhills, who deal in motorhomes, including vans, that clearly there’s a huge gap in the market for this type of awning that will fit on a sliding door. Most awnings (except the huge/expensive ones) won’t, and this one (and presumably the canopy also as it has the same dimensions) DOES and it doesn’t break the bank (ours even less so because it had nearly 40% off for having been tried on a van previously!)
It’s not fully pegged out here, but you can see that it fully covers the sliding door, offering protection against the elements. Good news for anyone who has a LWB, high roof Fiat Ducato, Citroen Relay or Peugeot Boxer!!
Gosh, I think we may actually be caught up on van shenanigans. Phewy!
In other news, Jake is working hard at the minute trying to save up enough wages for a 125cc motorcycle (he fancies a YZF R125) that he can use for college and work when he turns 17 in December. He’s so super-excited about having a proper bike. These next 5 months really won’t pass nearly quick enough for him, I’m sure.
Zac turned 2 a week or so ago. TWO! It’s hard to imagine life without him, for sure. He brings joy to us every hour of every day (even at 6.50am when I got up this morning!)
I think that pretty much covers everything though. Next post might actually be a FINISHED van!