Thursday, 24 March 2016

The adventure continues.... The Camper Van Bible, out June 2nd

I received four advance copies of my new book "The Camper Van Bible" this week. I have to say that I was astounded by it. It's thick, full, fun and brimming with interesting info about camper vans and motorhomes (although I would say that, wouldn't I?). Did you know, for example, how to tell one bedding or seating foam from another? Or what type of fridge works best? Or what size solar panels you need for the gadgets you have?

Even if you already knew that there's loads more stuff in it. And, like my previous books, it's written in a jaunty, happy go lucky style that will bring a smile to your face on a dull day and make you want to turn the key one more time and hit the road.

I asked lots of  camper van owning people to tell me what their camper van means to them, with some interesting and heartfelt results from Chris Packham, Barney Harwood and David Eccles, among many others. I thought that everyone would be similar but they aren't. Everyone has a different reason for loving their vans and motorhomes.

As usual there are a bunch of easy to cook recipes, although the food takes a bit more of a back seat for this book. Even so, the recipes are some of my faves, like my version of Coq Au Van, a Camper Van Korma (with home made pittas) and a devilishly delicious Seafood Chowder with no bake soda bread. And, of course there's the world's best Spag Bol. Why? because we all love Spag Bol and I have been perfecting it for over 30 years.

For those who like to drool over pictures there's some fine van porn too. In September last year we invited a bunch of van owners into a studio to shoot their vans. So there's Buzz Burrell's 54 Split (with a Westy Camping Box interior) and T5 Retro Tourer to drool over as well as the last surviving VW Hearse, The Camper Coffee Company's fabulous 1964 Split Screen container van and the cutest little Daihatsu Hijetta, along with a beautiful (pink) Danbury T2, a Bedford CF called Margot and a T5 Surf. And, of course, as usual there are a few pictures from my camper van adventures too.

One of the best things about writing the book was being able to head off to the beach for a cookout with friends and call it work. I consider myself really lucky that I can. It's a great thing to be able to spend an evening with people you like, cooking, slugging fine Cornish ales and watching the sun go down. I hope it inspires you to do the same. Life is good.

All in all it's a great little big book with lots of info and it's been a real pleasure to be able to put it together, gather information from some of the most knowledgeable people in the business and chat to some old and new friends about what makes them and their vans tick. In many ways it's a dream project.

So, I hope that when it comes out on June 2nd you'll take a look and will give me a big thumbs up for the love that's gone into it. As usual they will be for sale on my website (along with a bunch of other great camping books) as well as at all good bookshops and on the interweb at Amazon.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

20 Reasons why dating a surfer is a stinking pile of pish.

21. Almost forgot. Your children will be indoctrinated too.

Right then. Let’s get straight down to business. I have read a few silly things recently. One of them was an article with the headline  “20 Reasons Dating a Surfer is Like Winning the Lottery”. I posted it to facebook and got an immediate comment from Mrs D that perhaps there were some important details missing. She’s right. Dating a surfer in Hawaii might well be like winning the lottery if he’s loaded and gorgeous and you don’t have to work and he’s got his own personal make up artist and photographer to make him look ‘kewl’ every time he sits in the line up. However, boys and girls, we don’t live in Hawaii. We live in northern Europe.

And what follows, my friends, is the absolute fucking god’s honest truth.

  1. There is a stinking pile of pish in the bathroom. It’s not him after a night out at Caesar’s in Bideford. It’s the wetsuit, your rival for his affections. He pisses in it, even though he says he doesn’t. And it stinks up your bathroom, shower, hallway, car. Everything. It’s a stinking pile of pish and he puts it on.
  2. There is a headless man in the bathroom every time you go to the loo in the middle of the night. It’s that stinking pile of pish again, only this time it is on a hanger hanging from the shower cubicle and it scares the shit out of you every time you go into the bathroom.
  3.  You will never see the Greek Islands. If you don’t know that by now you are seriously deluded.  Ok, you might just score a weekend of snorkelling, but only when all the other holidays – sorry, surf trips - have been had. This will never happen btw.
  4. If you do ever get to Greece he will annoy the shit out of you. Why? Because beaches without waves are boring and he’s bored and there’s nothing to do why the fuck are we here? Christ already, didn’t you realise that when you booked that weekend snorkelling trip to Lesbos? He only came because the name sounded interesting. Get over it.
  5. You will get wetsuits. Yes, you will get wetsuits. You might not get a pair of Uggs for your birthday (which you really wanted) but you will never be short of a wetsuit. That way he feels less guilty about buying his. And you’ll get to share his dream… (really sorry Joanne)
  6. You will have no money. This is either because you move to the coast where there is no work or because it’s all spent on travel and weekends at the coast. When you do get money it will go on wetsuits for you.
  7. You will have a shit car that is full of shit. You will share your vehicle with beach litter (‘saving the planet’ he calls it), wax on the headrests (from stashing boards wax side down), sand, stinking piles of pish, leashes, decomposing shorts, scratched sunnies and an old tape of the Hoodoo Gurus that he can’t bear to throw away.
  8. If you ever get enough money to buy a car that isn’t shit, you will get a 4x4. Because it’ll be great for ragging down to Spekes. You lot know who you are. In 3 months it’ll be dirty and full of shit just like the last one and you’ll have no money anyway.
  9. He will become an environmentalist. Oh for fuck’s sake. Yep. You’ll get a garden full of shit from the beach and will have to attend lots of beach cleans. You will never have a romantic stroll on the beach again because he’ll be looking for sodding Lego all the time (or is it just me?).
  10. You will have to learn to ignore rashes that look like love bites. They are from wetsuits rubbing, not any other kind of rubbing. Who would want a stinking pile of pish like him in their lives anyway? More fool you. He ain’t having an affair with anybody but the ocean.
  11. You will get woken at dawn. But it’s not what you think. He’s pissing about loading up the shitty car with his boards and can’t be quiet about it. It’s almost like he wants a medal for being such a warrior. All you want to do is go back to sleep. And by 7.30 that night - when you're all awake - he’ll be asleep on the sofa.
  12. He’s a flipping misery unless it’s going off. Then you won’t see him. This is one positive aspect of the whole situation I suppose:  he’s fucked off again to go surfing. Then again, if it’s not that it’s that he’s fucked off again ‘cos there’s no surf.
  13. Movie night is crap. You’ll have to learn to love Big Wednesday. “I swear, and don’t know who it was if it wasn’t me, but I never pissed in your steam iron.” It’s the height of culture donchaknow. Get to know the quotes or you won’t have any idea what he’s on about. “I hear you’re having a party Jack.”
  14. You’ll see a lot of shitty waves and inside of lots of tubes (which is more than he will). You’ll watch endless tubes from a GoPro in Namibia or from George Greenough in the 70s. He’ll dream of the simple life. You’ll dream of some other life. From time to time you’ll be made to watch his awesome GoPro footage of him on his log doing his merry dance on a wave that looks about 2 feet tall. I swear Garret’s Mrs says the same about his Nazare footage. Go Pro footage makes it all look like slop. Sorry Garret.
  15. He’ll think nothing of buying a new board, even when there’s no cash. Fact. Boards are friends for life. And you really don’t need to go into the garage to count them. There’s no point. Like an alcoholic with stashes of vodka in the waste bin, there are boards you don’t even know about.
  16. You will only have to go with him once or twice. You’ll soon find out that going surfing with him, unless it’s a beautiful sunny summer’s day is a bit cack. It’ll be cold and raining and if you go off for a walk with the keys you’ll find him shivering and furious waiting for you to return so he can get out of his pissy wetsuit. It’s the sure fire way to get uninvited. Believe me, you’re better off doing your own thing. He'll get over it.
  17. If you were shagging someone else he’d probably never notice - unless it was one of his surfing mates. But only when they go missing from the lineup. He’s so flipping blinkered he’ll miss everything – even if it was hiding under the bed.
  18. If you want news, don’t rely on him to tell you. They sit out the back yabbering for hours on end. But they never find out anything useful about the lives of their surfing buddies. So if you want to know stuff about the girlfriend, mum’s illness, the kids, school, work etc., don’t ask him what’s going on when he gets home from a surf. All they do is talk crap about wetsuits, crowds and far flung trips.
  19. He’s hot in a wetsuit…but when it comes off…yew. Wetsuit tans. Pasty white with brown hands and a sunburned face. Spindly legs. White bod. I dunno. Cosmo would make you believe it’s hot…whatevs.
  20. You’re off to A and E again. Get used to those calls from the hospital. Only it’s never anything as cool as being bitten by a shark or being beaten up for not being local. No. It’s broken toes falling over on the beach. It’s a broken nose from going over the falls. It’s reef rash. It’s staph infections from surfing Pipe (the other Pipe). The shits. The works. But never anything interesting.

And that, my dear friends is the truth. You knew it would be this way didn’t you? Yep.

P.S. Despite the shits, the wetsuits and the pish in the bathroom, it’s actually a good, decent life chasing waves.  It’s a good reason for getting up in the morning and a good reason for loving the ocean, the earth and all of nature. I make no apologies for the fun we’ve had.

You had fun, didn’t you? 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The new ride. A Transit in a posh frock.

We finally took possession of our new ride last week. It’s been an interesting time searching for a camper that’s just right for us – and it coincided perfectly with the work I have been doing for ‘The Camper Van Bible’, my new book. So a lot of the questions we asked ourselves about 'what is right for us' will be in there if you're ever facing the difficult decision to buy a camper.

This is about our thought process but there's a lot more to it than what I have written here (it IS in the book)...

Buying a camper van isn’t like buying a car. There are lots of extra considerations to take into account such as the type of roof to go for, the type of kitchen and the number of people you need to sleep. And that’s once you have decided what kind of a van you’re going to fit it all in.
One of the chapters in ‘The Camper Van bible’ deals with exactly the issues I faced when selling our old Type 2 and moving on to our new van, which, incidentally, is a VW T5 California Beach. This is the California without the kitchen and cupboards, although it has camping electrics and two doubles. It is the 140 BHP Bluemotion version with an automatic gearbox, 7 seats and mostly all of the knobs and whistles. That's it above.

Motorhome or campervan

Brilliant for travelling, but no daily driver

This year we’ve been fortunate enough to try out a series of motorhomes and van derived campers for a series of articles for Motorhome and Motorcaravan Monthly. We loved the space of the coach built motorhomes but decided they just aren’t right for us after I had to do a 3 point turn in a Cornish lane on a dark and foggy night on the Lizard Peninsula. Mind you, when we took a 4 berth motorhome to the lakes in February we were very glad of the heating and the space. Of all of them I liked the Peugeot Boxer derived Auto-sleeper Warwick Duo the best, but still wouldn’t want to drive it every day.

Daily driver or show piece

Our T2 was a beautiful van. It still is and we miss it terribly. But, living by the sea meant we had to garage it most of the time. So it became an extra, almost a trailer queen, being driven only on sunny days. I had a golf for every day. But two sets of tax and MOT and insurance are too much to wear. So whatever we went for had to be my daily drive. That meant a Boxer, Sprinter or Crafter – or even a coach built - would be out of the question.

Old or new

The Danbury T5 Surf in the studio

We’ve had 3 T25s and one T2 so we’ve been there and done that with the old vans. This time, since we were looking for a daily driver, it would have to be able to rattle up the A30 to the station (in the middle of winter) as much as it would to the South West of France and Northern Spain. We’ve also got ambitions to go to Norway and to go further than ever before, so we need heat, reliability, comfort and a bit of grunt. An old camper just wouldn’t cut it, gorgeous as they are.

Long or short wheelbase

One of the first issues we had to work out was all about space. We lived in our T2 for 10 weeks over the summer of 2013 so we found out all about the need for space. Four people who surf, cycle, swim, snorkel, eat and sleep need a fair bit of space, even though they operate a strict wash-one-wear-one policy at all times (with the exception of the women among us). Our T2 had no roof rack and the bike rack only takes 2 bikes so we had to travel with all that inside the van. Never again!
We pondered the need for a long wheel base van for the extra space it would give us. The only issue was the fact that the rear bench seat (rock and roll bed) on a long wheelbase van is right at the back. That means you need long arms to eat at the table and that the kids would be miles away when we travelled – unless we had a sliding seat system.

Rock and roll safety

The rock and roll bed is vital to the van. It’s a serious consideration because it’s all about the safety of my nearest and dearest. We wanted something that would be ‘crash tested’ and wouldn’t come flying out of the back of the van at us if we were in an accident. There are lots of great makes out there, including Ribb Altair beds, Bebb beds, Bedrock beds and those on sliding rails like the Reimo Variotech beds or those installed by VW in the Cally. In the end it was a toss up between a Reimo Variotech on rails so we could have the kids closer to us or a Cally, which does the same thing.

Everything and the kitchen sink

The Slidepod in a Kombi
A major decision in the buying process is what to have for your camping equipment. Our T2 had a full width bed with a kitchen pod at the front end so we didn’t feel the need to go back to a full kitchen with wardrobes etc. The size of the bed was more important than the size of the kitchen. I went to Danbury to take pictures for ‘The Camper Van Bible’, which gave me a chance to nose around their ‘Surf’ model. This has a 3 seat bench seat and a narrow kitchen and is a great van.

Then we discovered Slidepods, an option which gave us a good amount of versatility because it means you can turn a standard van into a camper without having to have a full time kitchen. It would also be useful for demos too as it’s outside of the van rather than inside. And it’s removable. We took pictures of the Slidepod for ‘The Camper Van Bible’ and it looks great. We’ll be ordering one in the new year.

Finally… the van arrives.

As someone who has driven old and silly vehicles for all of my life (apart from the Golfs) it’s a revelation having something so modern. Not only do I feel like a grown up (and therefore a fraud) but I also feel like I don’t deserve it, like it’s for someone else. I like the heated seats and the heating and the fact that you can clear the windscreen. I like the fact that it feels safe, that I can hear the stereo and that I can go over 50 miles per hour.
And ok, so it’s not got the charm or the style and no one waves or bats an eyelid when we drive past. And we know we’re going to arrive when we set off. And we’ll be able to go far without taking a week to get up to 55. And we’ll be able to carry our surfboards on the roof and all our bikes on the back.
And OK, so the T5 has been described as a ‘Transit in a frock’.
But so what? The most important thing is that we’re going to be camping more than ever. 

I could get used to that.

"The Camper Van Bible" is due out next spring.

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: