Things are good

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Somebody said to me yesterday (at our ‘lunch in suits’), that the grammar and spelling of the blog was rubbish. This is true. Actually, don’t confine comment to just the blog. My grammar and spelling is rubbish – end of. I’ve realised that I actually talk using words and grammar that actually don’t exist in the real world. The fact that, in the past, I have been writing papers for government Ministers to read should worry you. On the other hand, Shakespeare was renown for making up words and altering grammar, so perhaps I’m just ahead of my time.

It’s been a good couple of days. Doris (Too) is sorted, other than the windscreen wipers and the handbrake – we have to go back for those two things. They’ve sealed the windows, the fridge is sorted, and everything else is okay. We drove all the way to Godalming from Wellington and, as we expected, she behaved fabulously. And we managed to get her into Mary’s drive – which is great. She does block out Mrs Sun, but at least she’s off the road.

Yesterday – lunch at the Army and Navy for Rosemary’s birthday – was fab. It was a cold day, and C and I froze as we walked across Waterloo Bridge, but we managed to warm up at Costa’s in Waterstones on Trafalgar Square, before making a dash to Piccadilly. It was great to catch up with all our pals at the party, and the food and drink (thanks to Simon and Rosemary) was the best. We were so well fed and watered that we didn’t feel the cold on the way back to Waterloo. Hurrah.

We’re at Mary’s for a bit and today had Sunday lunch with two other friends of Mary’s – who have over the past couple of years, become very good friends of ours. Both oohed and ahhed at Doris, which was nice, even though she kept blocking out the light.

Other good news is that we are both feeling much better and both of us are running well again. I have some psycho/metaphysical thing going on with me and running. There is no doubt that there is a clear relationship between running and feeling good – for me. I’ve had this conversation with myself a million times before, but somehow I forget. Goodness knows what will happen to me when I ask my body to go for a run, and the answer is ‘no thanks’.

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And, even though my English is rubbish, I’m half way through the final-but-one read of FtF. C and I will go through the whole text one more time and, should the agents say ‘no’, it’ll be ready for publication in the next couple of weeks. I just need to design a front cover now. All the advice is for it to follow the UH theme. So, I’ve got that.

Anyhow, have a good week. Let’s hope the rain stays on the plain.

Sorting out the foibles

We’re now at Chelstons for two days to sort out Doris Too’s teething issues. The biggest two are two leaking windows and that the fridge won’t light on gas. There are a number of other issues, but these two definitely need to be sorted. I have to get a grip of all the electrics – there’s so much I don’t get. Hopefully by Friday we’ll be sorted.

Yesterday we went for a walk with Jen and her dogs – business continues to be v strong. She has many more clients than she can take on, which is testament to how she handles the work. Her social media presence is also v good, she’s always tweeting or posting on Facebook with photos and her clients love her for it. So well done Jen!

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My work is ongoing. It’s going to be interesting as it develops – or doesn’t. I need to be careful that I don’t expect the whole thing to take off in a matter of months. I also need to be careful that I don’t under-charge. There needs to be a balance between the amount of effort I’m putting in (quite a lot at the moment with all my clients) and the recompense. Whichever way you look at it, working for yourself and your own timelines takes some beating. I just need to ensure that it’s profitable…

Which nicely moves on to the book(s). My mate Peter has a friend high up in the book industry and it seems likely that he can get an agent to read Unsuspecting Hero and give me a proper once over, for me to see if it’s worth the effort. To be clear, writing both books was not without considerable effort, and as I (and others) are still editing away, the work doesn’t seem to stop. Again, I need Peter’s friend of a friend to give me an indication if I need to work harder, or just enjoy the ride. Whatever, I’d really hope to get FtF out in the next 6 weeks or so.

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C tells me she’s loving her new house. We’re both sat with Mrs Sun streaming through the huge Hymer windows, enjoying free Chelstons wifi in the comfort of our own home. We do need to give her a go abroad, or at least on a holiday of sorts. That should happen over Easter where we intend to pop up to Scotland and enjoy the views. It will be interesting to see how manhandling a 4.2 tonne monster round the Scottish coast preys on my nerves. So far it’s been a pleasure – but you never know.

Anyhow, have a great rest of week.

Settling into a routine

How are we settling into our new lifestyle: living in the Big White Fun Bus and me doing some work? It is definitely a change in process. We do have to work hard at planning where we’re going to stop and whether or not we need the black Focus. Currently we have both and are parked at our north Bristol CL. We had a couple of days decent weather – cold but clear – and then it has all returned to the normal rubbish: wind and rain.

Having the car has enabled me to pop down to Wells for a complete morning of work, which, for me, is developing quite nicely. I’m not saying that I’m overwhelmed with work; I’m still just working at two schools and presenting leadership at a Prep School event in April. What I think I’m saying is that I’m enjoying the work and feel that I might be making a difference to the four people that I am supporting. In terms of recompense, I’m not out of pocket, but currently we’ve made the tiniest of dents to saving for our chalet in the Alps!

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Annie and C

The car has also enabled us to pop back up to Peter and Karen’s to go to the cinema with then. Dad’s Army was the flick and we weren’t expecting much. But, surprisingly, it was great fun – illuminated further by Katherine Z-J who has retained all her sassiness. And today we’ve driven to Annie’s, C’s sister, for lunch and to pick up my suit – which I need for a birthday next weekend. We’re going to a military club in London – something that neither of us have done for a v long time. I’m not sure I’m into lunching in suits, but there are a really good bunch of old friends attending – something to look forward to.

Both Peter and Karen have pushed me hard to press on with the whole writing thing. I’ve got more comments on UH and, now that Annie W has finished FtF I’m also one-third of the way through the final edit. I’m still waiting for three agents to come back and say ‘sorry not for us’, and then it’ll be on Amazon for the 500 or so folk who bought or picked up a copy of UH. We’ll see.

Back down to Wells tomorrow evening for another session and mid-week we’re down to Chelstons for them to fix the things that need fixing with Doris Too. I’m going to continue to work on the books and I have a meeting on Tuesday at another school to discuss whether or not I can help out.

That’s all from this rainy Sunday. Have a great week.

Still moving…

It’s been a great couple of days in the Big White Fun Bus. First I can confirm that I can actually drive it places without bumping into other road users, hedges, small trees and sheep. I know this is encouraging fate to change my current clean driving experience, but my point is that having Doris Too may not be as restrictive as we thought it was going to be. And, according to the Fiat trip computer, I got 24mpg out of her over 300 miles – it’s not great, and I’m striving for more, but it’s better than 22 which is where we started.

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Our Cheshire retreat

She is great. We had Peter and Karen round for supper last night – a proper four courser – and she was v comfortable indeed. Peter, who knows a thing or two about these things, described her as a yacht. In terms of luxury (and compactness) I think that’s the best way to describe her. We are certainly enjoying the experience. Well done Doris Too!

We had a lovely couple of days in Cheshire on a super little CL near Cholmondeley. We both ran and enjoyed some cool sunshine (which enabled me to start to put the boot together and C to spend more time sorting out the inside), I cycled to a business meeting and was royally taken out to lunch, and then yesterday we drove back down to Gloucestershire to P&K’s. On the way we stopped at our favourite camping shop, Attwools, and bought some stuff! Of particular note I got an extending car washing brush, as seen and used by all Hymer owners when they need to wash down their expansive (and expensive) vans. So, got one of those – tick.

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Off back to Hortham Farm CL for just under a week today. It’s pricey at £14, but v close to Jen’s and, frankly, the only place open in N Bristol during the winter. It’s v close to both the M4 and M5, but seems rural enough so you sort of forgive the road noise. Back down to Wells on Saturday for a morning’s work, and hopefully to C’s sister Annie on Sunday for lunch and to pick up my suit – which, strangely, I need for a birthday party next weekend. Hurrah!

Have a great weekend.

Work and play

So. (Don’t you love the way everyone starts their conversations with ‘so’). It’s been an interesting couple of days. We had a lovely time at Hilary and Steven’s. The dogs were great, I managed to get from Hampshire to Wells and back to do a day’s work, we walked, went for a couple of drives and even managed an IKEA shop in Southampton – lunch included. Then it was back to Wells, parking in Nicky’s backyard. I popped back into Wells for another small bit of work, and yesterday we had Steve, Jan, Nicky and Richard round for ‘pre-dinner drinks’ prior to a lovely supper at Nicky’s. Thanks Nicky!

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Lily fitted out with the ACME anti-heat device…

We woke up this morning with me popping back to Bristol to meet a potential buyer for Doris (she’s parked outside Jen’s at the moment). I explained to the man that, I as making an hour and a half’s detour to meet him on a cold Sunday morning, I hope he was interested in the van. He turned up in a swanky Merc with his missus, took one look at poor old Doris and said ‘she’s too small’. Well if he had bothered to look at the advert he would have seen….grrrrr.

Anyhow, Doris Too continues to both impress and agitate – teething problems. Last night we ran out of gas, which was a surprise. So today we had to move – and we headed up north to Cheshire and arrived at a lovely CL a day before we had booked. The journey was uneventful – I drove Doris through the centre of Bristol, and we even managed to return better than 23 mpg en route! Hurrah! She is okay to drive and easier with C in the passenger seat pointing out low-flying cows. Even the LHD seems completely workable.

We think we now have the electrics sorted. Our blow heater is 1500W and with the internal fuses set at 10 Amps, it uses 60% of the available power. Put the kettle on and have a guess what? It blows. It didn’t used to Doris, but I suppose it’s better that we have the thing tripping at the right time rather than burning something out.

The gas turns out to be a priming issue. We have the latest Gaslow bottles which have an accident switch – which means you can travel with the bottles switched on. It turns out that we have probably used a whole gas bottle in a week – the heating has been on all of the time, even overnight. The second bottle wasn’t primed, so we (that is me) assumed it was empty. Anyhow, after some internet faffing we have sorted it out and now have the whole gas thing sorted.

But the fridge doesn’t seem to want to light on gas. I am a self confessed expert on gas fridges, and it’s too dark to look at it now. So that’s a job for tomorrow. And the satellite set up seems to work sometimes, and sometimes not. Channel 5 is v problematic, which I don’t get. The problem is we’ve been doing stuff, so I’ve not had chance to give it my best efforts. I’m going to have a go at that now. She’s into Cheslstons at the end of the week – so it will all get sorted.

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Doris Too in her latest spot

A free day tomorrow. Some exercise would be a good thing. And with the weather calm but cold, we have a number of issues we need to sort – the garage is still a mess. Meeting with a friend of a friend on the whole leadership thing on Tuesday (hence why we’re in Cheshire), and then back down to Bristol for the end of the week. It’s all go!

Driving the Big White Fun Bus

Phew.  I knew I had to drive Doris Too from Bristol to Wells to park up for a week in our friend Nicky’s back yard.  The route has two pinch points – a narrow hill on the A37 passing through a small village where I didn’t want to meet an artic; second the v narrow farm road by Nicky’s where I didn’t want to meet a tractor.  Have a guess what?  Remembering that she’s 7.45m long (fifteen centimetres longer than I was told) and 2.25m wide both of those things happened.  And, hurrah!  I made it past the artic by a whisker.  And backed up round a corner to let a tractor the size of Manhattan get through.  Thank goodness for reversing cameras.

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Doris Too continues to be a revelation – almost Mary Poppins’ bag like in her cavenousness.  How we ever stayed married in Doris will forever remain a mystery.  We’ve also booked into the v helpful Chelston Motorhomes next week where they’re going to sort all of the current foibles.

However we have left her at Nicky’s and driven to Hampshire to house sit for Hilary and Steven – pals we met on our tour last year – whilst they jetset off to Marrakesh for the week.  We have Humphrey (cockapoo), Lilley (spaniel) and Rollo (idle cat) with us and yesterday I drove all the way back to Wells to continue with my leadership support.  I picked up a little bit more work there and, separately, a speaking engagement in April.  It’s all good, in that the work is really rewarding and fun, it gives me a focus whilst we are in the UK, and it will earn us a crumb – which will all help.

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Housesitting, which is something we did think of doing professionally has so far been good.  We are fine with pets – but probably not horses or livestock – and it really slows you down.  Being responsible for someone else’s property makes you focus, but also, because you have to sit still, it does allow you the opportunity to relax.  I’ve been working on my leadership paper and started a final run through of FtF.  More of that for me tomorrow and on Friday.

 

So – have a great rest of week.  And hopefully the weather will behave itself.  That, I know, is unlikely.

So what’s it like then?

So what’s it like then? Well, it’s like living in a two-bed, top quality studio apartment on wheels. Hymer are the granddaddies of motorhoming and have learnt a thing or two over the centuries, and all of it is on display here. The quality is a notch above Dethleffs – if you could think that possible, probably because at 4.2t they’ve been able to make everything a bit stronger. It feels like it will last forever.

By chance we seem to have taken a punt on buying a van that dealt with Doris’ pinch points and somehow overcome them. We needed a separate shower: tick – bigger than expected and one you can use without any prep. We wanted a larger lounge: tick – the photo of Jen and James having supper with us shows how big the front end is. We will sit six easily, and for two of us it’s positively Victorian eating, with me at one end of the table and C at the other. It has a proper fridge and freezer and, where Doris’ lounge was often dark, Doris Too has a lightness made by big windows, a window in the habitation door and wide sides.

The kitchen is corner shaped and has so much more working space. I have been able to wash up without needed to put dishes on the floor. That’s a novelty.

She has kept all of Doris’ strong points. A massive bed over a much bigger garage (with a bed that moves up and down if you’re prepare to put your shoulder into it – that’s another story). And she has the German quality – we did look at Autotrails which are renown UK-made long-termers, stretching to 8.5m (Doris Too is a mere 7.3m), but their quality can be suspect. Plus, like Doris, she has a sat TV (self seeking) and solar panel.

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To cap it all she has a bank of batteries that would fire up a nuclear power station. Plus a 2,300w inverter which means, when off grid, we could use 240v appliances if we want. This is all good for us as we do wild camp for extended periods. And the rear wheels are fitted with air suspension which we can inflate as we need to. Hurrah!

And the downsides are?

She is pretty much unmarked, outside and in. But the electrical system worries me. It’s all been professionally fitted by VanBitz, but on 240v it doesn’t seem possible to run much more than 2kw before the inside RCD trips, which is annoying. This should be fixable. A couple of bulbs have gone and, surprisingly, both side windows in the lounge and kitchen, leak a touch, pooling water in one corner. Again, assuming no water damage, this is all fixable. Thankfully we have a year’s warranty with Chelstons, so all of these things will be sorted. Oh, and there are at least three switches that I don’t know what they operate. Such is electrical complexity of the van.

Of course, what about driving? She’s fitted with the top-of-the-range Fiat 3.0, 6 speed, with the ultra low Fiat/Alko motorhome chassis and gets to 70 quicker than our Focus. I’m going to be lucky to return 25mpg, but will give it a good go, and she has cruise, climate control and blah at the front end – all mod cons. But what’s she like driving? Big. And left hand drive. I have yet to drive her down any tight roads – that’s for tomorrow when we take her to Wells – but I’m going to have to be careful. The overhang is longer than Doris’, so will take some getting used to, and at 6 inches wider – whilst that allows me to lie flat out in the bed (tick) – we going to have to avoid bushes and other vehicles without breathing in. So, the jury’s out.

What else? C has remained poorly with a chest infection and, thankfully with Doris Too, she’s been able to lounge about without getting unnecessarily hemmed in. My first day at work was great fun, and I may have picked up some more in the margins. I have been working on a 6-page summary of educational leadership which I’m loving – I’ll try and get it published somewhere. The weather has been just rubbish, so much so I’ve not been able to sort our Doris Too’s huge garage yet – that’s today’s plan.

Last night we popped into Wales (£6.60 can you believe it?) and had supper with v long term friends of C’s, Julie and Steve. It was great to meet (for me) new people and, as has always been the case with this itinerant lifestyle, hopefully we should be able to maintain a contact we’ve not been able to for 30 years.

Tomorrow we heading down to Wells to leave Doris – I’m going to have to call her Doris – at our mate’s Nicky’s back yard whilst we head off to Hampshire to house sit for Hilary and Stephen, a wonderful couple we met travelling last year. I have to be back in Wells on Tuesday for more work, and we’re going to spend next weekend in Wells. More work the following week in Cheshire, and who knows what after that.

Hoping for some good weather – please. Have a great week.