Friday, 10 December 2010
Monday, 29 November 2010
Friday, 26 November 2010
Monday, 22 November 2010
Monday, 11 October 2010
- Does it match the time of year?
- Does it match the habitat?
- Does the physical description match exactly? This includes the gills, the ring, the way they grow or open, if they change when bruised, the diameter, the height. And any other physical features.
- Does it match all descriptions in at least two field guides?
- Is there anything that looks similar but is potentially harmful?
Monday, 4 October 2010
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 simmer away in a whole bottle of organic cider. Then we added the something I grew. That's easy. Fennel and thyme.
I am glad to say that the result was a fragrant and fruity mix with melt in your mouth pork and a lovely light sauce. I could have used more fennel or even spiced the pork up with fennel seeds but it was a good first effort. Served with a mustard and horseradish mash, it was the perfect dish for a Sunday night in September.
Admittedly I cooked it on the hob. But, with a little patience I could have cooked it over the fire while I went scrumping for more! Can you see it? Ruddy cheeks and bobble hats, starry skies and smiles. And bowls of hot apple, fennel and pork stew.
Monday, 27 September 2010
Anyway, I phoned Fred to say that the mushies were there. 'Go for it' he said, 'I can't get away and the cows won't milk themselves.' Fair enough then. Rules is rules and we weren't about to break any. So we went back the next day and had ourselves a mini feast.
Monday, 13 September 2010
Monday, 6 September 2010
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Monday, 23 August 2010
Friday, 13 August 2010
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, the surfing all day and partying around the camp fire all night. But then the winter came around – and with it the best waves of the year – so I had to seek proper shelter. The front seat of a Ford Fiesta with a leaky sunroof wasn’t good enough. The solution was a camper van – a VW camper van more to the point.
There’s good reason that generations of surfers have chosen the VW as their transport of choice. Not only can you go anywhere but you can pack up and move on at a moment’s notice. No guy ropes to pull, no wet tent to fold up in a gale. So you get all the benefits of the great out doors, but without the hassle.
The camper van will also extend the camping season far beyond the summer and the acceptable comfort levels of normal people. This is because no wind or rain or snow can put you off. When the wind howls and the tents start flapping you can just shut the door, pull out the bed, put on the heating (some campers even have gas powered heating with thermostats) and take a nap until it’s all over. Or you could set up the dining table and have a game of cards. In your vest and undies. With the light on. I know! You show me someone who played strip poker in a tent in a winter thunder storm without showing a few goosebumps and I’ll hike up the Cairngorms in just my smalls. I rest my case.
Then there’s bed time. Ok so you’ll have to do a bit of a dance to get the bed out, but once you’re horizontal you’ll feel the benefits straight away. You are off the ground and the penetrating cold of the earth can’t get to your kidneys in the night. You might even need to open a window to keep cool. And you’ve got six inches of foam between you and the nearest hard object. Come the morning’s early light you’ll still be able to peer outside and stretch and scratch along with the best of them – because you’re right there, sharing the moment - but with the benefit of a good night’s sleep.
When it comes to cooking you can’t beat a camper. You’re basically working with the same gas powered cooker as the well tooled-up canvas camper but with the benefit of chairs, worktops, a sink, fridge and, if you’re lucky, running water. Why wouldn’t you want that? When I was writing the Camper Van Cookbook I managed to cook up a chilli for 8 on a slope in a force 9 gale at a very wet and muddy festival. It wasn’t easy as the pot kept slipping off the flame, but I did it, whilst everyone else was knee deep in mud queuing up at the falafel stall.
Some people might say that camper vanning isn’t proper camping. So what is it? It’s not glamping. Maybe it should be mobile glamping? I guess you might call it that. It also explains why I’d choose it over glamping any day. My friends at Berridon Farm in North Devon have a fantastic set up with amazing tents, brilliant facilities and lovely, lovely views (I recommend in case you hadn’t noticed) with cute animals and a little shop. If you want glamping, this is it. But you can’t move if the weather turns or you fancy stepping out somewhere different every morning. In a camper van you can.
Then there’s the driving. People stop and wave. People smile when you go past. There’s a sense of community. VW campers wave at each other on the road. You’d never get that in your late saloon with a top box full of wet tent would you? Camper vans make the whole experience fun. And if you break down you don’t have to sit it out in the rain. You can pop the kettle on and enjoy a roadside brew. Even a holiday disaster turns into an adventure in a camper. You get to live the life from the moment you leave until the minute you get home again.
And that’s why I’d risk the breakdowns and the maintenance costs over putting up a tent every time. Ok so you can’t hike in and hike out like you can with a one man tent and you can’t light a wood burner like you can in a glamping situation, but you can do pretty much everything else – but better.
I love my camper. And I’m not alone. This summer I’ve seen more camper vans on the road than ever before. Everyone, it seems, is getting the camper van vibe. More and more camper van hire companies are springing up every week and – from what I can gather – they are all busy busy busy. Long may it remain.
This the summer of VW camper van love.
Monday, 9 August 2010
Thursday, 29 July 2010
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Friday, 11 June 2010
Sunday, 30 May 2010
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Thank heaven for small mercies.
Who's your friend, Ted?
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
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 egg lady's house and pump a few gallons of moving juice into the old girl before putting the foot down and driving. Can't wait to get there and get the dinner on.
The tin opener, in case you were wondering, will be in the cutlery drawer. At home.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
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 happened to it. Apparently this young seal was found in a very bad way with a fishing net around his neck. The net, discarded or lost, was still doing its work, long after being separated from its owner. It's called ghost fishing.
There's a point to be made here isn't there? It's quite simple I think. If you enjoyed a day out somewhere, anywhere, it wouldn't be too hard to take a piece of someone else's litter home with you. You could easily dispose of it or, better still recycle it. A bottle, a bag, an aluminium can, a piece of fishing net. Think of it as a small 'thank you' to the beach for giving you a nice day. To a seal like this one, it could mean a lot more than that.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
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 comes from good times. It’s music that can make your day. There was a time - when I was working away on a long and difficult project - that I listened to Reef every morning. It woke me up and got me through. I have a lot to thank Reef for.
My relationship with Reef has always been good. So when they came out on stage yesterday I was transported back to the times when it rarely came off the stereo. Back to surf trips, barbecues, beach fires and home made camper conversions. Being barefoot all summer. You know the feeling?
I was taken back to Speke’s on sunny summer days, sitting in the channel at Marsland hooting another late drop, surfing the morning glass, camping out at Duckies under the stars, smacking the lip of a clean four foot wave, drinking in Welcombe, driving to the coast, travelling, making a legend out of breakfast.
It was always worth putting in the hours for. And things haven’t changed that much really, have they? Every moment I spend in my camper van these days is worth the effort too. OK, so some of us have got a little bigger and slower and have less hair than we used to. Perhaps a bit more responsibility too. But most of my friends can still pass off a decent cutback and still get to take their shoes off every so often. Do you? If you don't then you should ask yourself why. You could do worse than stick Reef on the stereo, fire up the van and cancel that appointment at the barber.
REEF: 10/10 for Jack and the boys.
AUDIENCE: 10/10 for the dads who think they can still rock.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Monday, 19 April 2010
Sunday, 18 April 2010
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 bear, the plough and a few of the other well known constellations. Beyond that though, I was lost. If only I knew more.
It would be amazing to be able to look up at the sky and read it like a book. It’d be brilliant to know that you only have to raise your eyes to the heavens to read stories or work out where you are. I think it’d be pretty humbling too: to be faced by the vastness of the universe every night. Just like they did before they had telly or the internet. You’d feel tiny wouldn’t you? It’d make a nice change from feeling like your dream could come true if only Simon Cowell could see you dance.
So why not? Next time you’re camper vanning and find yourself in the middle of nowhere with half a bottle of wine inside you, lie on your back and stare up at the night sky. Turn your back on planes, light pollution, torches, telly, cars, sat nav and the internet for a while and be inspired by something wonderful.
Someday, when they switch off the electricity, the planes can’t fly anymore and books and maps are banned, you might even be able to find your way home. And you don’t even need a subscription to see it.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
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 along if we don't have to. But we do. And we love it.
Because you can't go fast. That's why. Because you couldn't hurry if you tried. And that means you can stop and admire the view along the way, which was lovely. So it didn't matter that we arrived after dark. Cornwall was there when we woke up in the morning.
CAMPSITE: Camping at the Golden Lion Inn, Stithians, Cornwall.
RATING: 7/10 Excellent pub, lovely lake, nice quiet campsite.