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Showing posts from 2010

Rude trees make beautiful swimmers

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Once you've spotted your first rude tree you'll never take a walk in the woods in the same way again. Or is it just me? But never mind. It might be a little silly to search for naughtiness in nature but nature put it there in the first place. And it's not like you haven't noticed that kind of stuff before is it? However, I have found a new perspective. Turn the rude trees of the deep and dark woods upside down. Now look again. What do you see? I see elegant, long-limbed swimmers treading water under a leafy surface. I see mermaids. I see mermen. I see skinny dipping synchronised swimmers. Beautiful huh? I think so.

How is the band? Dunno. Gonna watch it later.

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I went to see a band this weekend. It's nothing special to do that, I know. But it was the first time in a while for me so it was a real pleasure. I loved the way the bass churned my stomach as I walked into the auditorium. I liked the way the beat made my trouser legs vibrate. I enjoyed hearing the hiss of the smoke machine and being able to turn around to see smiling faces behind me enjoying the music. I even quite liked the sweet and sickly smell of the excited teenage rocker standing next to me. It was all about the experience you see. And even the slightly rancid bodily whiff of a soap dodging music fan is a part of that. That's the point of seeing music live. So why then, so many iphones held in the air? Why do people spend entire concerts filming the concert? Do they watch it back when they get home? Do they upload it to youtube? What's the point? It's never going to be the same. Compared to being there it'll be awful. You'll never capture the true esse

Thank your lucky stars and give them a hug

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I love wind farms. I know a lot of people don't but I do. The reason is very simple. It's because they represent a faith in doing things in other ways. They represent smarter ways of making energy without making a big fat mess. They give me hope. And that's why I took this picture yesterday. It's of the new turbine at Morwenstow on the Cornwall/Devon Border. It's pretty isn't it? Now I know that lots of people object to wind turbines because they are noisy (allegedly), will make house prices plummet (really? So it's not the economic turmoil that's doing it then?), kill birds by the bucketload (have you seen how big the sky is recently? Birds aren't that stupid) and are an eyesore (compared to...?). Well, whatever. You may even be right. But there's something that everyone should consider before objecting to a wind farm. If you live in an area of unspoilt natural beauty then you should be grateful that they never found coal or diamonds or china

In praise of the silver darlings of the sea

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Yesterday was all about local specialities. I began the day with a breakfast of seaweed picked from the local beach. Laver, as it's known, is easy to spot but takes an age to cook - about 4 hours. For that reason it's not top of the list for camper van breakfasts. But it's a local North Devon delicacy so you can't live here without trying it at least once. I have bought it a few times from the local chippy, where they sell it deep fried in batter. I've never been particularly sold on it. Can't think why. So I thought I'd cook it in the traditional Welsh way rolled in oats and cooked in bacon fat. It was really very nice indeed. A bit like you would want a girder to taste if you had to eat girders. Full of iron. Next up, a trip to Clovelly, a small fishing village a few miles down the road. It's a very beautiful place that now relies on tourism rather than the sea. Despite this massive shift in the village's industrial fortune there are still some d

One false move and it's curtains, not parasols

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This weekend brought an amazing foraging find. Anyone who knows mushrooms will probably be able to tell that these were Parasol mushrooms. But I didn't. So I sweated and swotted and did some life-saving homework before taking them home for tea. I've been gathering mussels from the seashore for over 15 years now and I've never been ill once. I've been fishing for ten years and shrimping for 4. Still no stomach cramps. And since I started researching wild food for The Camper Van Cookbook I've been trying all kinds of natural finds. From seaweed to chickweed, winkles to wood sorrel. It's been a delicious (mostly) journey. But when it comes to fungi, I am a complete novice. And I always will be - because there is so much to learn and so many mistakes that can be made along the way. Mushrooms are a delight because they are so ephemeral but a few of the edible ones have look-a-likes that can kill you. So it's important to get it right if you decide to head out i

Something old, some kind of brew, something borrowed and something I grew

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I went scrumping this week. It was a load of fun and completely unexpected. What would you do if you found an apple tree laden with fruit that no one would pick? Exactly. I lifted my daughter Maggie on my shoulders so she could pick the lowest hanging fruit from the neglected old tree. The apples were so perfect it would have been a crime to let them become windfall. They were ripe, sweet and delicious. We took what we could reach and then vowed to return to get more. I felt like a schoolboy again, with grazed knees and short trousers, heart beating as I tasted the first freshly picked apples of my autumn. The scrumper in me loves this. A day out in the van and a walk that turns into an adventure. So the apple tree is the old part of this story. And the apples, shall we say, borrowed. But what about the rest? What about some kind of brew? In keeping with the apple theme we decided to try out this pork dish using Devon scrumpy. How apt. After browning and seasoning the pork we let it

Surf and turf. The law of secret places.

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There's an unwritten code among the foragers I know. And that's to respect someone else's patch. If someone takes you somewhere to show you something it's a priveledge that should never be abused. It's a trust thing. Why not? It's all about the effort you put in to find the goodies. Often it's more than the reward. But when you hit the jackpot it's all yours. As long as you've left enough for nature to continue to produce this wonderful harvest, fill your boots. Or your basket. It's like that with surfing. Secret places are few and far between these days and we treasure them. And if you get taken down the steep and winding path that leads to a secret break, it is your job to 'forget' everything you learned along the way. You can talk about it but you can't give directions. Trust is everything. If I tell you that I surfed this place (above) last week with just two others you might fancy taking a look along the coast somewhere north of

Welding, making and the simple things that make life great

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This post is devoted to hero worship. More specifically to my neighbour, Paul, who, with his bare hands, created the monster in the photo. For him, someone who mends engines, bashes out dents and resprays panels for a living, it was a walk in the park. It's second nature. Normally I wouldn't give this mechanical mindedness and dexterity a second thought (apart from when it comes to getting the van through the MOT) but when it got applied to something I really wanted to try for myself, Paul caught my interest and admiration. Paul lives in the house in which he was born. He has caught and eaten more lobster than anyone of us will ever taste in our lifetimes and was brought up next to the best shrimping beach on the North Devon Coast. He goes out at low tide and fetches it if he fancies it. Lovely stuff. So when Paul made his smoker I was astounded. We had been chatting about smoking fish in the pub and I was happily banging on about the once in a lifetime chance I had to visit

Oh September! How we love you.

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June is nice. We have great swells, lovely sunny days and a few fresh greens from the garden. This year I ate chickweek and sea beet, samphire and rocket. In July we also had some sunny days. Hot sunny days. I ate fresh garden spuds with home grown mint and butter. I love those. August was ok. The kids were off school and the roads were a bit busy. It rained a little. But you know. That’s ok. The fresh garden peas and lettuces were good this year. But we soon forgot all that. September crept upon us with clear starry skies, dewy mornings and late evening surf sessions. I don't know anyone who doesn't love September, especially among the surfers. The waves, which have whimpered for a couple of months, return with a bang as hurricane season kicks in on the other side of the Atlantic. Long range groundswells invade our beaches with tall, powerful waves. The sea temperatures are the best they will be all year. With a couple of months of warm days behind them, they will stay t

Car Trouble. Not Again?

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Oh goodness. I got a text today from the man who bought my van, Pootle. The news wasn't good. Having packed up on the motorway the next day after being sold, Pootle has been sitting in a garage in West London waiting for a full diagnosis. The text brought the bad news: a new engine at...wait for it...are you sitting down...a minimum of ....£3000.00. Cripes! Oh well. Whatever I decide to do next is up to me. But it got me thinking about car trouble. I've had such a lot of it that a blown up engine isn't really much to write home about now. And if you think it's a blase attitude, read on. My first car was a VW Beetle. Its windscreen wipers used to pop a circlip every so often which would stop them working. It meant getting out, finding where it had gone and popping it back on. One Christmas it popped and I couldn't find the clip. It was pissing with rain so I made my sister take the laces out of her shoes and tie them together. I then tied them to the wipers and pa

Dancing with Rick

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The Camper Van Cookbook got knocked of the top spot in the Amazon Food and Travel books chart again today. Since its release on 27th of May my camper vanning opus has been consistently at or near the top of the chart. When I first saw this ranking I was so surpirsed and excited that I checked it every day. Days went by. Weeks went by. The Camper Van Cookbook stayed at the top spot. And then one day a couple of weeks ago I looked and I'd been pipped. I was devastated. Bereft even. How could this happen? How could this disaster befall my numbers? It was an outrage. I noticed who had pipped me and I felt a bit silly. The leader of the pack was Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey. Then I got the whole thing into prespective. Rick is a legend. He's a giant among the chef's whites. He's a fish guru, a traveller, a chef. He's even got a town named after him. So why am I complaining? If you told me a year ago that my book (what book? have I written a book?) had held Ric

The summer of camper van love. And why I'll always choose a camper over canvas.

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(This blog post first appeared on Pitchup.com a couple of weeks ago. ) It’s been a summer of camper van love for me. I drove 2500 miles around the UK for The Camper Van Cook in my 1979 VW Camper Van. Despite long filming days and rain, I’ve never been happier. My parents did their best to put me off camping by taking me on wet trips to Wales when I was little. Then the Sea Scouts had their go. I got that grubby end of weekend feeling down pat during summer camps. But nothing could deter me from seeking out canvas, big skies and flour and water on sticks as I hit my teens. And when I discovered surfing my fate was sealed. I didn’t live by the coast so the only thing to do was pack up and ship out. Camping was the way to go. I loved every moment. Even the night our tent was flattened in a gale or the day the money ran out and my last meal – a boiled egg – fell in the sand. I remained undeterred. I couldn’t get enough of the freedom and the excitement, the waking up next to the beach, t

Goodbye Poots. Thanks for the ride.

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It was an emotional weekend for all of us. We said goodbye to our third VW T25 Camper Van, Pootle. This lovely white 2.0 litre air cooled Devon conversion from 1981 has seen us through some great times, a lot of miles and some wonderful meals. He's a little bit famous too, having appeared in The Mail on Sunday, The Independent, Coast Magazine and Devon life (more than once). Get him! And let's not forget that without Pootle The Camper Van Cookbook would still be on the driveway, waiting for the off. But as is often the way, the time had come to send him off to pastures new. We shall miss him. Don't panic though! He hasn't gone to the great camper van camp site in the sky. No! His number won't be up for a long time yet. With 95K on the clock there's life in the old block yet. 30 years is nothing for a Dub like Poots. He's gone to live with Blair, Liz and 6 month old Joseph. They have promised him a whole new lease of life - because they intend to use him fo

Less is more. More or less.

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I just got back from my 5 week tour of the UK in my camper van for BBC2. I went to some great places and saw some brill stuff. I took the van to a few hellish roads, tasted the UK's finest ingredients and stayed in some amazing places. I met a lot of very good people too. I'd like to be able to tell you more but that would be giving it away. And what a final epsiode it ended up being! You'll have to watch it to find out what happened at the end of the 2500 mile tour. Let's just say that nothing, and I mean nothing, should keep a camper van man from his home made beef burger with camper van chutney. You know the rules. Anyway, the last 5 weeks or so have been spent living with one pair of shorts (for hot days), one pair of jeans (for cold days), one pair of flip flops (for hot days whilst not driving), one pair of walking boots (for hiking up big hills), sneakers (cold days and driving), a few tees (alternate days) and my trusty biker's Barbour jacket (are you lis

Holy Island. Holy Shit.

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Today I am taking a break at home after two weeks of filming for The Camper Van Cook, my BBC2 TV series. I've been all over the place: Devon, Hampshire, Norfolk, Yorshire and Northumberland. It's been pretty good. I've eaten some wonderful food including lobster, crab and samphire, Britain's best cheese, wild mushrooms, chickweed and an exotic bird. And I've seen some beautiful places. The Dales, with its 'rustic' campsite rates among the best I have ever stayed at. Not because of the facilitites but because of the view. Simply amazing. I have met some wonderful people too. The forager taught me more in a day of foraging than I could ever have learned on my own in a year. Andy the fisherman showed me the best way to cook a crab. He was right too. I met the folks at Wiveton Hall. Crazy English through and through. I ate Yorshire Chorizo. Really? Damn right. And I met Richard and Sean, the lobster fishermen, who let me 'help' them as they hauled in a

Cooking is not cooking

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Sometimes you just want to boil a kettle and have done with it, don't you? It's something that the Pot Noodle generation will understand. But it doesn't have to be that way. Couscous, lime and a bit of very fresh fish will do it for me. And some freshly picked salad greens. With a few herbs. Nice. No hassle, no fuss, no cooking. Just tasty stuff.

Holiday stew. A day off from the adventure.

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My friend Paul told me about 'holiday stew' recently. I'd never heard of it and Paul couldn't quite believe it. He thought everyone had holiday stew on holiday. Apparently not. To be honest I felt a little left out because the sound of it suggested something wonderful. It has the ring of fabulousness about it, doesn't it? One imagines something so special you'd only ever have it once a year. So what of this seventies delicacy I've never heard of? Well, the clue is in the name. Holidays are all about taking time off. So whilst Dad and the kids got to spend a little time away from work and school, Mum (remember it was the seventies) got to take a little time out too. Why should she make tea in a tiny caravan kitchen when everyone else was larking around in the rain? Quite. So what Mum did was to take a tin of peas, a tin of potatoes, a tin of carrots and a tin of meat and mix them up with the secret ingredient, an OXO cube. And that was holiday stew. Crikey.

That's what it's all about isn't it?

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Feet in the sand, chugging chips on Crooklets Beach and watching the sun go down. Mrs Campervan living asked me to take her somewhere special for our 9th wedding anniversary. So I did. Of course next year we'll go somewhere even better. Like Summerleaze. I might even buy her some onion rings. If she's lucky. Oh yes, we know how to live alright.

Thanking our lucky stars. One amazing journey.

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Today, of all days, is very special indeed. Today is the day when my dreams come true. My book, The Camper van Cookbook, hits the shelves of bookshops all around the UK. In many ways I still can't belive that the book I had inside me could be made into a real book. But there it is, with pages and pictures and a cover and an index. And look, there's a box of them in the corner! It's been an amazing year. Last May I began talking about bringing this book to life with my publisher. But I still refused to belive it could happen. Then I raced around the UK in my van taking pictures, coming up with ideas, making it happen. And it has. We camped in Mart's garden. We sheltered behind Dave and Sam's house in a storm. We chugged Bolly at Solfest. We talked campers at Dubs on The beach. We blagged a good spot at Dart Valley Park. We kipped in a holding site in Blackpool. We ate corn chowder in a storm on the seafront in Maryport. We cooked a chilli for a contest in Bude. We

Going overboard for a few fresh greens

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The produce in our fish crate garden is really starting to come on now that the weather's changed. We've got rocket and lettuce already, are on the verge of gathering our first spuds, and not far off frying up the pak choi. It's very satisfying. Not only because we love our garden greens but also because fish crates make such good beds. All ours have been picked up from the beach near to where we live. They come from all over the place. We even have one from Dunmore East, the place where Jo and I tied the knot. It's in southern Ireland. Others are from Scotland, Cornwall, Norway. All over. It was Dave and Sam who first turned us on to the idea of collecting these lost receptacles for planting. Not only does it take them out of the marine environment but it also stops them from going to landfill. So instead of going to a hole in the ground or decaying into hundreds of bits of toxic plastic that will continue to float around the planet, they find another use. And if tha

Drying, not waving

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Poor old Ted. It's a hard life being you isn't it? First you get ravaged by the Bob the dog and left for dead in the garden. Next the kids don't care enough about you to miss you at all during the three difficult days that you were missing, then you get shoved unceremoniously in the washing machine with all the other smalls. And then you get left out to dry. Literally. Mind you, you're looking clean. And I am sure that it's better than being the Duchess of York right now. Thank heaven for small mercies. Who's your friend, Ted?

Are you ready for the summer?

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How are things round your way? Down here in Bidefornia things are brightening up. It's still a little chilly at night but not enough to stop us from taking off in the van as soon as the sun pokes its head out from behind the Friday afternoon cloud. And that means being ready to go. At a moment's notice. Prepared for anything. So into the van they go. The snorkels and the masks, wetsuits, towels, sleeping bags and pillows all find their own little cubby holes where they will wait patiently for the signal from the house: "Fire up the van. The forecast is looking good and the road is clear. Let's go!" The salt and pepper shakers, the family pack of pasta and the cornflakes will all be lurking at the back of some cupboard or other. And the tins of tuna, tomatoes and artichokes that I packed a while ago will still be waiting for their hour in the sun (pan). I'll find them when we get there. Last thing to do is pack the cooler with a few perishables, swing by the

Ouch! That soup tastes great...

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It's not easy doing the chopping with gardening gloves on. But it is worth it. And, amazingly, the kids even tried the results, a rustic nettle soup, camper van style. The only thing that was lacking, we felt, was a dash of cream. Never mind, when the main ingredient of our new favourite soup grows in every hedgerow you could ever look in, it's not going to be a problem finding it again. As soups go, it wasn't half bad either, especially once we'd added some smoked bacon lardons. And yes, the family tried it. And said they liked it. So the whole experience was a success: getting Maggie and Charlie to try something alien and new, eating fresh, seasonal and local food (measure it in food feet, not miles) and trying out new techniques. The way we made it was as important as the ingredients. We wanted to stay true to camper van cooking principles and make a really great soup without using a blender. As it turns out it wasn't so hard. We fried an onion, a clove of gar

Have you thanked your beach today?

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A few weeks ago we spent an amazing weekend camper vanning in Cornwall. The sun shone and we had a lovely time. We had planned to head for Eden to show our kids a marvel of our world but instead we ended up at a tiny beach not far from Mevagissey. We made camp and cooked up home made lamb and mint burgers in the van (much to the envy of our neighbours) and then splashed out on a Cornish ice cream. Oh how we live! The beach was stunning but, like many other beaches on our coast, it had its fair share of rubbish. Some would have floated in from the sea, some left by holidaymakers, some lost by the fishing fleet. All of it damages the marine environment in some way or other. If it's plastic it will never go away. It'll just break down into smaller and smaller pieces. On the way home we went to Gweek Seal Sanctuary near Helston. The kids loved it. Seeing the seals was a real thrill. Then they noticed this one. You can see the scar on its neck. We asked one of the keepers what had

Long hair. Bare feet. And a band called Reef.

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Friday was supposed to be all about the future but somehow it ended up being all about the past. I was in London for a few Camper Van Cookbook meetings. I had the chance for a cup of tea and catch up with my editor, Elizabeth. A lovely day, discussing all kinds of things, most of which has yet to come. Once all the businessy bits (if that's what you could call anything to do with The Camper van Cookbook) were over I schlepped off to Shepherd’s Bush to see a band whose music I haven’t listened to for a very long time. They split some time ago and, until this reunion tour, hadn’t played live in seven years. Having never seen them live I couldn’t believe my luck in nabbing two 'golden' tickets for the sell out gig. There is something about Reef’s music that makes you want to kick off your shoes, grow your hair and disappear off for the summer. It’s got swagger and soul in equal measures. But it’s not about sticking your fingers up at the world. It’s not angry. The swagger come

Time is running out for the moules

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Ever heard the saying that you should only eat mussels when there is an 'r' in the month? If you believe this then you should be jumping in the van and dashing to the coast next week with your foraging bucket and a tide table. With spring tides all week exposing the juiciest mussels at low water, there could be a moule fest. It'll be the last chance to nab a free feast before September. But why? Depending on who you talk to, the reason behind avoiding seafood in summer is either about the spawning season or water temperature. One side says it's to do with the fact that bivalves reproduce in summer and don't taste so great, the other says that algal blooms in warm summer waters can make seafood toxic. For me, the jury's out on the latter because the sea temperature won't start to really warm up until late June or July (It is currently a very balmy 9 degrees centigrade in North Devon. Brrr.) and will stay warm-ish until October or November. Although I'm n

Going anywhere nice this year?

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What do you call yours? Is your van a Rusty or a Humphrey or a Hector or a Hattie? Or are you just a 'don't be silly it's only a van' kind of a camper van owner? Some people are you know. They either never get around to naming their vans or just don't think that vehicles should have names. I'm all for names myself but I do think that the name you choose should mean something. You shouldn't be able to call your van something that either doesn't fit or has no relevance. And just because it sounds cute and your van is cute doesn't wash. If it's yellow you can call it Buttercup. Or if it's painted like a cow. But that's it. My van, Pootle, was so named because he pootles along. There's nothing flash about him and he hasn't overtaken anything for a few years, so Pootle is perfect. It's a Sunday driving kind of a name, with a pom-pom-pom-diddly-om-pom-pom thrown in for good measure. I used to have a theory that all camper van own

Clear skies, starry nights and Simon Cowell

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I went out last night. Yes thanks, it was ok. But I did end up in the middle of nowhere, walking between two isolated North Devon hamlets in the wee hours. Admittedly I was buzzing a bit from the boozing, but it was still a great time to be alive. The night was clean, clear and cool. Without a torch, street lights or night vision capabilities I had to walk along the white lines in the middle of the road to keep myself from stumbling into hedges or disappearing into ditches. It’s really dark out there. Surprisingly, it isn’t totally black. Far from it. As my eyes got used to the light conditions, I saw more stars than I think have ever seen before. I was astonished. The night sky is an amazing place. I don’t know if the closing of our airspace had anything to do with it, whether I just don’t look up enough or if I was feeling a little wide eyed and wonderful, but there was so much to see. I was mesmerised. I saw my own star sign, Scorpio, perhaps for the first time. I could see the bea

Where have you been camping? The Eighties?

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Do you ever get the feeling that you're stuck in a time warp? I do. It even affects the way I take photos. But then, when the results are this good, who cares? This weekend my family and I took our beloved camper, Pootle, for the first camping trip of the season. As soon as the sun came out we packed him up with food, duvets and wine and spluttered off for Stithians Lake in Cornwall. If we'd bought a modern camper we'd have been there before the sun set but, seeing as Pootle is a 1981 VW T25 with a top speed of about 65-ish, we got there with just enough light to throw up a tent, plug in the electric and cook some easy camper van nosh. (In case you were wondering it was the pasta with artichokes, olives and mozarella. D-lish.) So why do we do it? Why drive a classic VW? Why bother with no mod cons? We don't have to. We don't have to stand at the side of the road waiting for the AA. We don't have to wait nervously for the MOT. We don't have to pootle alon