Monday, 3 November 2014

Call me old fashioned but...

I have been developing curmudgeonly ways. I guess it happens to us all at some point or another. Perhaps sooner for those who choose to pootle about in vintage style transport like many of us merrily do. Are the old ways better? I don’t necessarily think they are, but I do think that we can learn from what went before. And I think we could also sometimes do with a dose of the bleeding obvious too.

So, call me old fashioned but…
  1. Why are many of today’s cars so homogeneous and boring?
  2. Why should loose vegetables cost more than those encased in plastic packaging? Shouldn’t supermarkets be encouraging us to buy products with less packaging?
  3. Why should MPs get a pay rise when no one else is?
  4. Why do some people think it's okay to bag up dog poo but then leave it where it is? Surely, if you are too lazy to pick up it is better to actually leave it? Surely if you are too lazy to pick up you shouldn't have a dog?
  5. Why are shops allowed to sell packaging if there is no local facility to recycle it?
  6. Why is ‘the common good’ no longer a factor in decision making in business or politics?
  7. Why is the manufacturing industry allowed to make products out of plastics that are unrecyclable?
  8. Shopping as a pastime. Why?
  9. Why are shops and offices allowed to keep their window lights on overnight? Why don’t they use rechargeable solar lights?
  10. Why does it cost more to take the train than drive?
  11. Why is the health of our economy measured by how successful the high street is this month?
  12. Why don’t we eat more locally and seasonally?
  13. Why are we making machines to put humans out of work, and therefore, out of a livelihood, when there are so many of us?
  14. Why should water companies be allowed to make huge profits yet still pump out raw sewage every time it rains? That’s rewarding failure isn’t it?
  15. Leaf blowers. Why? What's wrong with a broom?
  16. Why don’t we reuse and refill glass bottles instead of smashing them, melting them down and remaking them every time?
  17. Why is there no levy on single use plastic bottles? If there was, then wouldn’t it create a new economy out of rubbish? Wouldn’t the needy or enterprising be able to gather them from those who are too idle to recycle them and support themselves, as they do in other countries?
  18. Why do we still have no levy on plastic bags in England?
  19. Why can’t I buy my groceries in grease proofed paper?
  20. Why so much plastic?
And finally, why so much whingeing and whining? Well I’m getting to that age when I am allowed to. I’m not bad tempered about it or angry, just unprepared to put up with it any longer without saying my piece. It’s my birthday next week. And I really don’t give a monkey’s.

Call me old fashioned but isn't that the way it should be?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

RIP Lauren Bacall. How we saw her very best side.

Lauren Bacall has died.

Now I might seem like an unlikely person to offer an obituary of one so famous, beautiful and gifted, and this blog might seem like an inappropriate place, but I am going to do it anyway. That's because I was lucky enough to meet and photograph her in Hollywood in the late nineties when I was working on a documentary about the late Jack Cardiff, Britain's first Technicolor cinematographer. My job was to arrange interviews with people who were relevant to Jack's illustrious career. Since Jack had been the cinematographer on Bogart's African Queen, and Lauren Bacall had been on set during the filming of it, we desperately wanted to talk to her. It was another life away.

I'm not joking when I say I chased her for six months. I phoned her agent in New York almost every day for the entire time I was working on the project to find out whether she'd take part, when she might be available and where we could interview her. It wasn't easy. She was elusive, unpredictable, difficult to pin down. Finally, Craig McCall (the film's director) and I set off for New York as we heard she might be there for us. She wasn't. But, the agent told me (by now we were almost friends) she was heading to Hollywood. I had set up some other interviews there (Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston if you must know - but those are another story) and had spent all our budget on it, so this was our last chance.

I made one last call to the agent on the day before we were due to leave. He was finally able to give me good news. Miss Bacall would meet us at the Bel Air Hotel in two hours. I had no crew or even a location to film in, so I had no choice but to scramble everyone I could, put on a borrowed suit and go off to the hotel to bullshit my way into one of their suites. Somehow it worked and I managed to get it all set up with minutes to spare. That was a life lesson in itself. Few things can faze me after that.

Craig, who had all but given up, was out shopping when the call came. When he returned I told him to get changed, get his shit together and get in the car in 5 minutes. We were off to interview Lauren Bacall. In one of the world's biggest ever understatements, he said "Oh. Cool." Always the chancer, Craig got on the phone to Kevin McCleary , the boom operator on the African Queen, when we were in the car on our way to the hotel - to see if he was available for an interview in the next hour. Seeing as we had a crew and a location all ready and waiting, right? I wasn't sure how I would bullshit my way out of that one. In for a penny and all that. We did it anyway. Craig doesn't make great films by being a shrinking violet, that's for sure.

We got the keys to the suite, set up our lights and cameras and were ready with seconds to spare. Then she arrived. I was terrified. This lady had such a reputation that I could barely look at her. She glowered at me for arranging a suite that had steps (her walking wasn't too good) and then she found the scribbled filming instructions from the agent that I had carelessly left on a side table.

"High angle, key light left side" she read, "What is this?"

"Oh it's nothing," I lied and took it from her.

I remembered that because it was a silly little thing. I felt embarrassed being found with instructions on how to shoot a Hollywood beauty. But actually, I needn't have worried. She was absolutely charming. She gave us all we wanted and talked warmly about Jack and her experience of him. She talked about The African Queen, Katharine Hepburn, Bogart and the whole process of making a Hollywood epic on safari in Africa. She made us fall in love with her all over again. Not as a screen siren, an actress, a famed beauty or a formidable personality. But, this time, as a person. A warm and funny human being.

The picture above is just one of a few I took that day and has never been seen before.

As you'll see it is as she would have wanted: High angle, key light left side.

It was, as we saw, her best side.

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff is available on AMAZON.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Campervan camping. The secret to a perfect pitch.

Roadford Lake campsite: a great spot that's just yards from the waterside.

I recently started writing up my list of favourite camp sites over on  This is because I get asked all the time about good places to stay. I love to be able to share my fave spots, but I guess it's easier for everyone if I list them, give out all the details and explain why I like them. It's not yet complete but it may be worth a quick look if you're thinking about a nice destination to head for.

Who makes the grade and why would I prefer one campsite to another? What makes a campsite camper van friendly for me? There are a number of things, but mostly it's about the location.... and the mode of transport... and everything else...

Why a campervan and not a tent?

When I first got into campers it was for purely practical reasons: I surfed throughout the year and didn't live near the beach so needed somewhere to sleep that wasn't expensive or impractical or freezing cold. I slept in tents, in cars and in other people's vans until I was able to afford a camper of my own (before then I had slept in my old Citroen 2CV and in a self converted Renault 5 van). We'd sleep wild, in car parks and on cliff tops because we wanted to be where the waves were in the morning. If you were up early you could catch the best of it. We saved a lot of money that way too. Not developing a taste for the comfort of a hotel room has saved me a lot of money over the years.
After you've slept under a leaking sunroof or  had a tent blown down in the night you soon realise that being in a tin box is preferable to not being in a tin box. And if it's car sized it can go anywhere. You can pitch up, pull out the bed and be right there in the morning. That's the important bit and that's the bit that guides me in my choice of campsites. I want to be there. And if the surf changes it's easy to pack up and ship out to the next beach. Life is simple.

When it gets complicated

Move forwards a little bit to having kids. While I once travelled with a surfboard, books, camera, wetsuit, food and clothes, I now travel with three other human beings and sometimes a dog. It gets busy in our little camper van. We have four of everything - bikes, wetsuits, boards... you name it. Organising ourselves is like a dance sometimes as we pack away tables, pull down the bed, pop the top, put boards underneath and stash everything else upstairs. Ok, dance might be optimistic. It's total chaos. In our last T25 you couldn't open the cutlery drawer if the buddy seat was down. That meant we would all have to get out and pack away the buddy seat if we'd forgotten to get enough forks out for tea. It was either that or take turns to eat.

The point is that packing up takes forever nowadays - even though it's still a lot quicker than a tent. And not everyone likes getting up at the crack of sparrow's to check the surf like I do. So it's either wake up with everyone else and miss my favourite part of the day or sneak out at first light and get on my bike to check the surf (or to do whatever it is that I like doing). So it's important to be there, where it's happening. Even if it's walking, sight seeing, cycling, whatever, packing away our camper can be so painful - even though we are very good at it - that we'd rather spend time finding a good site than compromise and stay somewhere that is nice but in the wrong place. Location is everything. Even if it's being near enough to walk in to town and restaurants, having a good walk on the doorstep or just being close to a cycle route. You'll notice that's the thread that binds all the sites I post on my campsite list - proximity. Unless of course the site has all we need - like the site at Roadford Lake pictured above.

A benchmark that is long gone

When I used to surf in North Wales we stayed on a cliff edge right by the beach. You could throw a stone into the water at high tide from your tent. The farmer charged us a few quid and let us use a ramshackle outhouse and water tap. It was basic, no frills camping with nothing to spoil the view. Sadly you can't stay there any more. That site has been my benchmark ever since. I don't really care about luxuries if they aren't there, which is why I enjoyed camping on some aires in France and Spain. I like being self sufficient.

However, with family comes responsibility and different needs. The kids need to be safe, warm, well fed and with something to do and that guides us now. So sites need a few more facilities than I might be content with. We need showers, space, rivers, trees to climb. And they need to be clean. If I am going to shower then I don't want to feel dirtier when I come out than when I went in. That's basic. But some sites don't seem to be able to manage this.

When a motorhome starts to look good

I'll get slated for this by the campervan purists but there is a lot to be said for having the space that a motorhome can give you. Just because I think like that doesn't mean I want to park up, plug in and watch satellite TV all day. No. Sometimes I'd like to be able to get stuff done without dancing (fighting) with the other occupants! In many motorhomes and some larger coach built van based campers you can sit around the table without having to all get out to fetch another fork. You can also sit around the table while someone has a shower, another one has a kip in the back and another one cooks lunch. If it's legal, a Britstop or an aire you don't even need to check in to a campsite. If it's in the right place you have everything there. And you can drive off without having to pack up the rock and roll bed, fish out the seat belts and do all that other tedious packing up stuff that you have to do when you have four of everything and a dog.

Anything else?

Yes. I don't like sleeping, cooking, sitting or playing Muppets Top Trumps on a slope. Yes I have chocks but they can only level my van up so far. So a campsite needs to be, you know, almost level. Then there are rules and signs. I know campsite owners have a tough time with people misbehaving and taking the mickey but it gets my back up when I see signs everywhere instructing me NOT to do things. Don't leave light on. Rucksacks off before entering. No ball games. You can make rules and still be friendly. It's about attitude I suppose, which is why I am rarely a fan of a big corporate campsite that lacks soul. I like good customer service and have no time for surly people. Mind you, some sites get it right and still manage to be huge.

Finally, I don't like extras. £1 for a shower. Bring your own loo roll. Ice box £1.This sort of thing just makes me feel like I am being constantly fleeced. You know the feeling? In 2012 we stayed at a campsite in France that cost us €65 per night and we still had to pay to cool our ice packs and bring our own loo roll. Sorry but at that price I'd actually like my own personal hygiene assistant to wait outside the thunderbox with the loo roll. And it must be quilted.

Be positive...

Ok. I have issues. But let's finish on a positive. I am lucky to have visited a lot of great sites. I have also been to a few duff ones. So when I find a site that's friendly, fun, relatively flat, good value, free from petty notes and rules, and in a fantastic location I want to share it. And those are the rules.

Go HERE to check out my campervan friendly campsites.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

PERFECT PITCHES : New campervan-friendly campsite reviews


How are you? If you've found this blog post then you're probably thinking about food, camping and campervans. Right? Good. Then I hope that you won't mind one more click to see my latest idea, a series of reviews of the campsites I have visited over the years. Goodness knows I have been to a few.

I am not one for holding back about this kind of thing so you can expect genuine reviews with a little of the practical stuff and lots of first hand experience. I will also include things to do locally (that I can recommend) surf in the area (if appropriate) and what's good to eat (if I found anything). Basically, if I love it it's in.

The reason for doing this is that I get asked a lot about camp sites and spots to camp. I think a lot of people share my love for a good campsite, whatever that means to them. It's often hard to know what's going to be right for you - unless you've got an impartial review from someone you trust to go on. I like them rural and quiet, with good surf on the doorstep but that's just me. I've been to a lot of brilliant sites without too.

So, you know, trust me, I'm a camper.

Anyway, it's a work in progress - and I shall be adding to the list often - so please keep checking back. It's over at

And, in case you were wondering who that is above, that's Josh, The Guyrope Gourmet at a campsite we both visited in Yorkshire. Great pitches with incredible views of Malham Cove, although I must confess that we didn't get much cooking done that weekend. There is a fantastic pub nearby. Review coming soon.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Make me smile. How? Answers on a postcard please.

WIN copies of The Camper Van Cookbook and The Camper Van Coast.

Postcards from last year's comp...
I love a postcard. And I love a good, old fashioned postcard competition. So, following last year's post card competition in which I gave away a few copies of the DVD of "One man and His Campervan", I thought I should do another one for this year.

But what for prizes? Well, I have a bunch of books here that I'd be happy to put up as prizes as well as some of the original publisher's samples of my books (these are called BLADS) and some 'I can cook' aprons. So it's a little package of camper van goodies.

What do you have to do to win?

It's easy. Send me a postcard from your travels. That's it. I shall give prizes for those that make me smile the most. It could be cheeky, funny, inspiring, far away, VW camper related or just something that looks lovely. Or it could be a joke or a silly message or a picture you have drawn. You could even send me one to say you've just done a #2minutebeachclean. That would be smashing! Just make me smile. That's all I ask.

I shall choose the winners at the end of August so you've got all summer.

And while you are at it!

Why not send one to your mum or your best friend or someone in your street while you are at it? It'll make them smile too. We don't send enough postcards these days.

Send your postcard to:

23 Victoria Road
EX23 8RJ

(and your mum)

Monday, 30 June 2014

Camper Love. A book review.

From time to time I get sent stuff. It's nice, being sent stuff. I understand how it works: if I get sent stuff I am duty bound to tweet or blog about it. It's what's expected and I really don't mind. I also get lots of requests to blog about unrelated brands or products on here. I nearly always turn them down because I believe in being honest about the things I like and I refuse to blog about stuff that I think you will find pointless and, basically, rubbish. So you know, when you look at this blog, that you're getting an authentic opinion. It's not paid for and that's important.

What I am trying to build up to here is a review of a book I was sent recently. The PR department of the publisher called and asked if I'd review it. Seeing as it is a book about VW campers I said I would be happy to take a look and write a little something about it. I never said I'd lie about it though.

So here's the low down. The way I see it.

The book is called called Camper Love and it's been published by Summersdale. That's it in the picture above. The author is Jamie Tinney.

If you like looking at pictures of campervans, you'll love this book. It is chock full of great shots that'll make you drool with envy. There are splits and bays and Westys and paint jobs and beautiful landscapes and lovely details of accessories. It's camper porn for campervan dreamers. Campers by the beach, campers in the country, campers looking way cool.

If you are inspired by quotes from famous people then you'll love this book too. What better match than some wise words from a famous figure in history with a picture of a campervan?

The book has been well produced, has a jolly cover and feels luxurious. It's nicely designed and the layout is easy on the eye, like a scrapbook of all the things that make you smile.

You will smile when you see this book, I promise. At face value it's cute and pretty. But that's about as far as it goes. I smiled at first when I opened it too, because I like camper van pictures. But then I looked a little deeper and found, well, not much at all. Putting quotes from famous people together with nice pictures feels just like Instaquote to me. I don't get it. Quoting other people - even if they are well famous - doesn't make you wise or cool or better in any way, despite a new context. It just makes you a borrower.

I actually enjoy making up quotes and posting them on social media. For shits and giggles - because nobody really buys that nonsense, do they? My favourite was "If life gives you nothing but arse, make arse biscuits." I got a few likes for that one. Anyway, this kind of cynical putting of pretty pictures with 'meaningful' quotes is just a little bit trite. It's throwaway. I want more from my dub books. I want substance. I want to learn something. I want to see some real soul. Camper vans have it in spades, but not always.

There are a few moments in this book when it almost gets going. This is where we get given a snippet about a van here, a nugget of interesting information there. Flashes of what could have been. It's a tease. For example, on one spread there is a caption that says '1958 panel van used in the 1980 film Getting Wasted, directed by Paul Frizler' along with a quote from American interior designer Albert Hadley. I don't care a jot for what Hadley had to say but I want to know more about this bus. Why was it in the film? What part did it play? What's the full story? Where is the bus now? What's so special about it? Who owns it? Give me something to really think about. There could be something good in these real camper stories. So tell me some tales! Like Dave Eccles would, or like those Jane Field Lewis crafts so lovingly in her 'My cool...' series. But no. Instead I get fobbed off with some motivational bollocks borrowed from someone I don't care about. Frankly, it leaves me cold. But then maybe this isn't meant for people like me.

Looking at the photo credits I notice some of the pictures come from friends of mine. I recognise some of the vans. It's nice to see them - they look great! But then I also notice that many of the images come from Shutterstock or Istock. These are image libraries where you pay to use someone else's pictures. It tells me all I need to know.

So that's about it really. I got sent the book and have given it an honest appraisal.  As I said I would. I think the book will sell well because it's got campers in it. The publishers will be happy. The people who like camper porn will be happy.

But if they want to tell some proper camper stories they know where to find me. I'm looking for a project.

Note to publisher: sorry about that, but you sent the book to me.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Great British Adventures. Yours for the taking.

I've been having fun. So far this year I've been lucky enough to go on a few great camping trips. And it's all been in the name of work. I've been writing a new series for MMM Magazine called 'Great British Adventures' in which I've been sharing ideas for great adventures around the country. Each of the episodes features three different adventures with advice on how to do it for yourself, what to expect and places to park up the camper or motorhome when you are there. The series covers the whole of Britain, so we've been making strategic forays to various parts of the country to spend a few days doing the adventures, taking pictures and staying over. Doing this research hasn't exactly been tough and I have enjoyed every moment of it.

We've seen things and done things that we'd never normally do and it's been really liberating. I've explored underground tunnels in Exeter, surfed the Severn Bore (that was amazing), sailed a dinghy, ridden horses along the beach at Woolacombe, learnt how to ride a Waverider surf machine and searched for fossils on the Jurassic Coast.

As a surfer I usually get my kicks in the sea, so having the chance to try other 'disciplines' has been great. It's easy to become narrow minded about these things - as if nothing else is good enough for you other than 'your' sport. But the more I have done the more I have opened up to other ideas. Even mountain climbing, for goodness' sake.

It hasn't all been easy for all of us. At Easter we headed north to Yorkshire and Northumberland to revisit Malhamdale, go caving in the peaks and wild swim at Janet's Foss. That was all great and we had a wild time. But when it came to cycling the last 27 miles of the Coast to Coast cycle route from Parkhead to Newcastle, it was tough for the girls, especially Charlie. The route is mostly downhill on the old railway bed, which is fine if you're on a big wheeled bike. If you're not, like Charlie, you have to pedal a lot more. But she managed it and I am so proud of her for that. Once we arrived at the Millenium Bridge in Newcastle it seemed worth while, even if Maggie and Charlie were exhausted.

Happily they were back on form in time to climb Snowdon at half term and fling themselves off Europe's longest zip wire at Bethesda the day after. That was truly amazing. The zip line is a mile or so long and has been recorded at 120 mph. It's an impressive ride and a teeny bit scary.

Between times I camped on Lundy Island to snorkel with the seals and spent a couple of blissful days exploring this remote island off the Devon coast. It was magical, if the cliffs were a little dizzying. The picture above is of Lundy Bay, near Polzeath, where I went in March to record footage for my belly boarding segment. It's a great walk and a lovely beach. If you come to Cornwall, make sure you see it!

Inspired to do some traveling yourself? I hope so. Here are some of the best moments.

Music is from my old friends The Adventure Babies.