Sunday, 18 October 2015

The illusion of freedom and the tyranny of teatime

Here's a little tease. It's the final words from my new book, The Camper Van Bible. I finished the manuscript and delivered it in September after five months of constant writing, photographing, cooking and camping. It'll be the final tome in my 'camper van' trilogy and it is to be published by publishing giant Bloomsbury. It is due out late next spring. I am currently doing edits so I thought I'd share with you my final word.... apologies in advance for the expletive at the end. But it's well placed and makes the point perfectly. Do you remember when you were a little kid and you had to go to bed when it was still light outside? Or when you had to go home to have your tea at a certain time? If you didn’t you were in trouble. I still feel that now, when the kids have to be up for school or meals have to be taken at sensible times. I feel it in the winter too, when teatime turns into telly time and telly time turns into bedtime. Suddenly a wet and windy week has gone by and nothing has been done except for a few episodes of Mock the Week and 40 hours of life draining graft. I feel I am wasting away. That’s life sometimes.Everything stops for tea. But it shouldn’t. Teatime is a tyranny that holds us back and keeps us from enjoying the best part of the day. We wind down, hit the sofa and before we know it a large part of the day has passed by without the merest hint of an adventure. Often it’s the weather that keeps us indoors, but more often it’s ourselves. In northern Europe, where the seasons dictate our movements, it’s tough to enjoy an evening paseo, a meal under the stars or a promenade before the light fades, for most of the year. We hunker down and wait for summer.There is an internet story about camper vans that does the rounds from time to time in which it says that camper van drivers enjoy the illusion of freedom. Whenever I get it sent to me, again, for the hundredth time, I read it and think yes, it’s true, but only to a certain extent. We don’t have any more political or social freedom in a camper than in any other vehicle. We are still subject to rules and regulations, the laws of the land and our own – or our religion’s – moral compasses. We live within limits.But. And it’s a very big but. The camper van – and camping and outdoorsyness in general – gets us off the sofa and out of the house when others are watching soaps and gritty northern dramas while their life slowly drains away. When you are camping, teatime isn’t the end of the day. It’s the start of the evening. You live with the light, away from the tyranny of teatime. So when we talk about freedom we talk about simple things that mean we get to live a little more, if living is not being confined by TV, tea and bedtime. The freedoms camping brings might be small but they are very real to an awful lot of people, me included.This kind of freedom is bursting out of the house or office when you have finished your work on a Friday night, it’s the end to ‘school night’ restrictions at the beginning of the holidays and it’s the opening of a door to adventures, however small they might be. It’s the longest day, the smell of summer, the brilliant feeling of being physical, being out of breath, being giddy with excitement, of playing, of having fun.Do you remember that?I’ll take your lifetime in front of the box and raise you with one glorious night under the stars, staring into a fire, telling stories and laughing while the kids squawk and scream in the stream, and we all go home feeling grubby and a little bit naughty like we skipped teatime and, honestly, we really don’t give a fuck.Make the most of it. You only get one shot.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Famous little van seeks loving home

This is a very tough post to write. We are selling Dave the camper. This is the same one I drove around the UK in my BBC TV show One Man and His Campervan in the summer of 2010.

Let me explain.

Dave came into our lives just before we shot the TV series. At the time I owned a Type 25 called Pootle but the BBC said that he wasn’t ‘cool’ enough for the show. They wanted me to drive a rental van. I said “absolutely no”. We had a standoff. Eventually I agreed to sell Pootle, buy a Bay and then rent the Bay to the BBC for the duration of the shoot. So we sold Pootle (we all cried) and bought Dave (who wasn’t called Dave at the time).

And then I set off on that great adventure.

Since then Dave has had a lot of love lavished on him and has been on a few trips with us. We went to France and Spain, Ireland and the Outer Hebrides and we loved every single minute of it. So has Dave. He has let us down only twice. Once when his clutch cable snapped during filming and once when the engine blew up on the way back from Camper Jam. We've had a few minor mishaps as well, as you do, but on the whole he's been solid and reliable. A real friend. And perhaps a little piece of camper van history too.

Now, however, we are heading off on a new adventure. I have a new book to write and some new stories to tell. I shall be cooking and camping and writing all about what makes a very fine camper van. To do this I need some new wheels to turn into a camper van. I am not sure what we’re getting yet as I need to do some more planning. But we’ve only got one garage and the cash we’ve invested in Dave, so it’s time to look for a new home for a lovely, red and white, quite famous little camper van.

Let me tell you about him.

Dave also featured in my second book, The Camper Van Coast. In fact, he is on the front and back covers. He’s also been in Coast Magazine, Devon Life, Cornwall Life, Camping Magazine, Camper Van Magazine, MMM Magazine and lots and lots of others. Did I tell you he was on telly too?
Dave is a 1979 Devon Moonraker full length pop top conversion.
Dave sleeps 4 in two double beds. The downstairs bed is full width.
Dave is not the original colour, which was white over cream. He is now white over sealing wax red, an official VW colour, but not of his year.
Dave has a 2.0 litre engine, a Vege recon from 2012, at 87000 miles.
Dave has 147000 on the clock in total.
Dave has a full width bed (Bluebird Customs), with 2 inertia reel seat belts and 1 lap belt. Vinyl covers from VW heritage.
Dave has had the bulkhead behind the passenger seat removed (like the Berlin Westfalia conversion) and a swivel seat base fitted in the passenger seat. This makes a massive difference and gives the interior about 2 ft of extra space. It works really well. It’s the best seat in the house.
Dave has a Propex heater, with travelling exhaust ports so it can be used while driving.
Dave’s interior was fitted by Individual Campers of Westward Ho! to my spec in 2013. It was made from birch faced ply to accommodate the original 2 ring cooker and the original fridge (which works, obvs). It has a shallow drainer for washing up, and a buddy box to accommodate a porta potti.
Dave had a bottom half respray in 2014, during which he had all new arches, a new passenger door, new door bottoms and freshly sandblasted and painted bumpers and wheels. He has been garaged ever since.
In June 2011 Dave had new roof hinges and new roof sections around the hinges.
In June 2015 Dave had the roof and interior carpet lining replaced, a new leisure battery, new rear mud flaps, a new accelerator pedal, a service, a brand new MOT and a new exhaust.

If you want to see Dave he will be at South West Classic VWs in South Molton in a few weeks. Call Ian on 01769 573 020.

If you want to see him before, leave me a message below. We are in Bude.

How much? Offers invited.

Good, loving homes only please!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Calling all campers. Let's get this show back on the road.

Hello! How are you all? Getting ready for the new season of camper van adventures, fun and frolics in the sun? I hope so. This winter seemed to go on forever. It didn't stop us from camping though. We've been testing motorhomes and camper vans for MMM Magazine for a new series of articles that comes out very soon. In November we camped on the Lizard Peninsula then, in February, we took a trip to the Isle of Purbeck. At Easter we headed for the Lakes and North Wales. It's been really interesting to sleep in and experience some other vehicles and has really opened up our eyes to how the other half live. Some of you really are enjoying a world of luxury previously unknown to Mrs D (trooper that she is).

She's a changed woman. And that could prove costly.

The experience has also been really useful for my next book project, which I have just started. It is provisionally entitled 'The Camper Van Bible' and, as the name suggests, will cover all things camper van - and things about all camper vans that we haven't already done with my first two books. We'll look at some of the more practical aspects of campers, what to think about if you're buying, where to camp if you're camping and - as you'd expect - a bunch of recipes for cooking up on the BBQ, your two ringed stove or over a camp fire.

Of course my old Type 2 will feature heavily, but we'll also look at other four wheeled camping options on the premise that 'it doesn't matter what you drive, it's getting out there that's important'.

Amen to that.

On that basis then I need to ask you for your help. I shall be looking for campers, micro campers, stealth campers, VWs and classics to photograph for the project. I don't care if it's a split or a T5, a Mazda Bongo or an old Bedford rascal, an eighties A Class or a Karmann Gypsy. I don't even care if it's shiny or ratted, lowered or ready for an off road adventure. If it's interesting, you can sleep in it, has got a story to tell and a place in the camper van story, then I want to know about it.

We'll be arranging a day or two in a photographic studio (a big one) later in the summer to get beautiful shots of as many interesting and varied campers as we can. And I hope that some of you will be able and willing to pop down (location TBC) so I can photograph your vehicle (and you).

I am very, very excited about the whole project and can't wait to get camping, cooking and clicking.

Let's get this show back on the road!

Leave me a comment below or email me at hello at


Friday, 24 April 2015

Hey pesto! Go wild in the woods today!

Have you noticed anything lately? When you go into the woods or drive along country lanes, are you getting that tell tale smell that spring is here? That's wild garlic and it grows in abundance in our shady dell and dingles, on north facing verges and along the side of shady country lanes. It arrives around March / April and will last until June in the shadiest spots. After that the leaves will begin to wilt and die back, only to grow again next year.

Wild garlic is entirely edible: the flowers make a lovely garnish and the roots are edible too. But we'd prefer not to dig it up, choosing instead to pick the leaves and cook with them.

Making wild garlic pesto is very easy on a camping trip. Use the end of a wooden spoon and a cup or mug . Chop the leaves then muddle them (by that I mean crush them) with the wrong end of the wooden spoon, adding a little olive oil as you go. Then add half a handful of chopped pine nuts, again muddling and adding olive oil as you go. Next grate a knob of Parmesan in there too and again add olive oil a little at a time until the consistency is of a rough paste. Next boil up some pasta, drain, mix the paste with the pasta, season, grate a load of Parmesan on top and serve up. Hey presto! Garlic pesto.

The full recipe is here:

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What a lotta bottles! Time to change with a new refill scheme.

How do you save 99 quid ? Fill this 100 times.

How do you like your water?

Bottled or straight from the tap? What about when you are camping? Do you buy large bottles or fill up from the camp site tap?

I know what I prefer, and it doesn't come with some fancy schmancy label, a whole bunch of hype or an advert with roller skating babies. It comes out of the tap and it costs just a couple of pence for a litre. It's also the best drinking water in the world. And no, that's not marketing spiel, it's true. In the UK our tap water is the best there is anywhere in the world and is tested every single day for quality. How often does your posh drinking water get tested once it leaves the bottling plant, travels hundreds of miles to get to you and then sits on the supermarket shelves for weeks?

Why would you spend a pound or more on bottled water when it's available so freely - and when it's so good? Because you don't like the taste of tap water? Get over yourself! I used to work for a director who would only have her tea made with Evian. Yes, quite. We used to pour tap water in an Evian bottle, show it to her and then make her tea. Did she ever notice? Of course she didn't.

Even if you worry about our water or have a hypersensitive palate then you could always buy a filter. They cost about a tenner, with cartridges about another tenner on top. That's equivalent to around 20 litres of 'posh' bottled water. Each cartridge lasts for a month or so. If you drink a litre of water a day that'll save you using 30 plastic bottles each month and are already saving £££.

Why does it matter anyway?

Did you know that the UK disposes of 10 million drinks bottles each and every day. It's a lot of bottles. Add to that fact the news that only around a third of single use plastic bottles get recycled. That means around 6.6 million plastic bottles are being thrown away every single day. Where do they end up? Mostly in landfill, which isn't ideal when you consider we are running out of oil. You'd think we would do all we can to conserve it wouldn't you? But no. The drinks industry wants us to use single use bottles because it's cheaper for them to produce, cheaper to transport and therefore makes them more money. Also, they are resisting a bottle deposit scheme to help tackle this awful, scandalous waste.

The bottles that don't go to landfill

What about the bottles that don't make it to the recycling plant or to landfill? It's pretty simple what happens to them. They lie by the roadside. They end up in rivers. They end up in the sea. They end up on the beach. And, if they don't end up on the beach then they stay out at sea, attract toxins and become toxic themselves, they pollute our oceans, break down into micro plastics, get eaten by wildlife and pollute our food chain. That's what. I have picked up thousands of bottles from beaches near where I live. And I am just one.

A unique scheme to save bottles

Where I live, in Bude, a new scheme is about to begin that aims to reduce the number of bottles going to landfill and the ocean. It is also a fundraising scheme for a fantastic local amenity, the Bude Sea Pool. The idea is very simple: you buy a reusable canteen from the Sea Pool, then you go and fill it up at cafes and restaurants in the town that display the refill sticker. No hassle, no questioning why you aren't buying anything, nothing. Just a smile, a free refill and lovely cool, clear, Cornish tap. Love it. We need more of this.

For more about the Sea Pool, CLICK HERE.

Friday, 10 April 2015

It's murder on the camp site (part 2)


Ok. So I have been testing motorhomes recently for MMM Magazine. I will freely admit it. I have lived a little of the luxurious life while my old VW sits in the garage. I have enjoyed hot running water, fixed beds, indoor loos, blown air heating that works, space to put stuff, blinds, extractors and retractable steps.


It's a different world I can tell you. And it's not without its pleasures. For once I didn't have to order everyone out to get a knife from the cutlery drawer or fight over the captain's seat. We had cold wine and warm toes and space to swing a cat.

But of course, everything comes at a price. Even in a luxury motorhome (in this case a very tidy 2015 Marquis 155) you still have to go outside and do manly stuff on the campsite. You have to fill up tanks and empty tanks and swill out the porta potti and plug stuff in. It's not all glam glam glam.

Anyway, here is the price I paid for forgetting that it can be murder on the campsite. As I was filling up the water tank the campsite tap came off in my hand. Rather too easily I might say. Whether my fault or not, the water poured out and onto the field in an unstoppable torrent. The sensible camper would have gone to fetch the farmer or looked around for a stop cock to stem the flow. But no. I did what the unsensible camper would do, and that's to try and force the tap back on before anyone noticed. As you can see it failed, miserably.

And the very fact that my kids were able to pick up a phone, tap in the unlock code, switch it to video mode and capture these very wonderful moments of campsite fuckwittery tells you that I tried for far too long.

It's murder on the campsite.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

That’s not a camper van! And other rubbish vehicles to sleep in.

Our last T25 before we bought the Bay. Happy campers.

Some vehicles make good campers. Some vehicles make bad campers. That’s life.

The VW transporter is one of those that has lent itself perfectly to living, eating and sleeping in for many years. Its first three incarnations with the rear engine provided a ready-made sleeping platform and plenty of living space. It was a design that offered campers a huge amount of versatility. You only have to look at the range of conversions – From Westfalia to Devon, Autosleeper and beyond – to see that.

The problem with classic VWs – and newer models for that matter – is that they aren’t cheap. So many of us have had to ‘make do’ with other, 'less desirable', vehicles in their quest for campervan nirvana. I’m one of those too. Before I got the red and white T2 I had a series of 3 T25s. Two of them were aircooled and the other was a water cooled petrol model. This was the time when they were deeply unfashionable, came in a range of pink and brown velour interiors and were generally considered to be the runt of the VW litter by purists. Could you get a wave off a split? Could you hell. How things have changed. Needless to say we loved all 3 with all our hearts.

My first T25, a lovely Devon Moonraker with full length pop top, zig unit and all the bits and pieces, cost me £3000 and had just 30K on the clock. It seems unbelievable now but at the time it was a pretty penny. I could have gone for something cheaper like a transit but somehow it wasn’t on the radar. Transits were for rock bands and sex pests. Anyway, my price range in the early days would have got me such a shed that no self respecting rock band or sex pest would have been seen dead in it.

Instead, when I was a poor student and then a penniless Soho runner, I slept in a series of massively inappropriate cars that weren’t campers at all. I had to make sharper compromises than driving a T25. Before the days of velour and zig units, porta potties and pop tops, there were other vehicles.  And let me tell you they weren’t nearly as salubrious as the five star luxury of a 1980 Devon Moonraker.

Not a happy camper! 4 weeks in a Bedford Midi and a surfing accident at Mundaka.

The first car I spent any amount of time in was a Ford Fiesta van, as owned by my friend Spout. He slept in the back and I slept across the front seats, mostly in the car park of the Sun Inn at Llanengan near Abersoch. The sun roof leaked so most mornings I’d wake up with a hangover and a pool of rainwater on my sleeping bag. Not to mention the handbrake up my backside and a crick in my neck. It’s a wonder I could surf at all. At the end of every cold and wet Welsh weekend I’d head back to a freezing cold student house in Fallowfied. It was miserable but brilliant fun all the same. One morning we woke in the usual discomfort to find that a mini had parked up overnight next to us. When the occupants finally got out there were four of them. The fiesta never felt quite so bad again after that.

Four in a Beetle. Bit of a squeeze. Pic: Guy Hearn

Another vehicle I had the misfortune to sleep in was a VW Beetle. My first car was a 1976 1300 Beetle. I did go camping in it but I never actually slept in it. However, I did have a friend who also had a Beetle, which he converted into the smallest camper van in the world. He removed the back seat and passenger seat to create a sleeping platform. Where the passenger seat was he built a buddy box with a cooker in it so he could feed himself. To do this he’d sit in the back. Come bed time he’d re arrange a few pieces of custom foam to make a triangular bed, which enabled him to stretch out. He seemed to like it. It was pretty good but it really wasn’t much of a camper van. If you were trying to sell it today you might call it a “surf pod”. Add a little bit of cedar cladding and you could stretch it to an “eco surf pod” and charge twice the price. It was fine for one but no good for two. Unless you were very good friends.

Needless to say he soon graduated to a tin top Type 2. We went on a surfing road trip to Croyde in it and I don’t think I have ever been so cold in a vehicle. You actually felt warmer outside.

Great camping trip. Rubbish car. Awful mess.

The next car I had was a Citroen 2CV. I have enjoyed a love hate relationship with these awful jalopies over many years that began when my Dad bought one for me and my sister to learn to drive in. I passed my test in it, which was a pivotal moment in my life. But it soon went downhill from there.

Here are some highlights of my career with 2CVs:

·         I got mine up (above) to 90mph on the M5. Its offical top speed was 72. We overtook everyone and blew the engine.
·         Once, in Newquay I caught a glimpse of good surf through the houses. I jammed the car into reverse to get a better look and the gearbox exploded.
·         I borrowed my sister’s 2CV Dolly when she was away in Hong Kong (without asking). It caught fire on the M5 and burnt to a crisp. I wasn’t insured. We have never spoken about cars since.
·         I used the rear seat of a 2CV as a sofa for many years until I could afford a proper one.
·         If you pull out the choke on a 2CV it will drive on its own. With the roof down you could sit on the roll bar and steer with your feet. This was my party trick.
·         You can get 8 people in a 2CV on a night out in Manchester. This is confirmed.
·         My 2CV broke in two. None of the doors fitted but it took ages to get a proper diagnosis.

Let me also tell you that 2CVs make really awful campervans. The seats don’t recline so there’s no chance of getting a good night’s kip in them. Even with the back seats removed it’s really difficult to get enough leg room to lie flat or even to get just a flat surface. There is a well in the boot for the spare tyre. And I should know. In my late teens I spent a summer in Devon and Cornwall sleeping in it. God it was awful. On the plus side it was great over rough roads and cost virtually nothing to run.  So for a skint student it was perfect, kind of. But it really wasn’t a camper van. Generally you were better off with a tent. But that’s another world of pain.
Hippie in a Renault 5 'Camper van'

My next car was a relative step up from the 2CV. A Renault 5 Extra van. Or, as my friend Pete called it, a sandwich van. I converted this van with some bits of ply and foam and built myself a half decent camper that could sleep 2 comfortably and fold away to a bench seat. It also went more than 60 mph, didn’t catch fire and had a proper heater. I think it also had a stereo that you could hear. Luxury!!! I took that van all over France and down to the coast on countless occasions. And, amazingly, no disasters.

But, eventually it had to go. I sold it to a florist and bought my first T25.

And I never looked back.

T25 number 2, a beautiful water cooled effort.