Monday, 10 December 2012

Annie get your grease gun.It's the Bus Boot Camp.

I'm not one of your grease monkey VW enthusiasts. I'm not the sort who can strip down a bus and put it back together again without any more than a few bits left over. Actually I'm not the sort who can strip a bus full stop. And I am certainly not the sort who knows how to tune up a flat four engine, knows which order the pistons fire in (the what?) and I am definitely not one of those under-the-van owners who could tell you exactly where the thermostat is on a type 4 engine. At least I never used to be.
However, today I am one of those VW owners who can do just a little more than kick tyres and chat about interior conversions. I can tell you what a condenser does and I can happily (with the greatest authority) explain what checks you should do if you break down at the side of the road BEFORE you call your old friends with the yellow truck. I am a new man. And it's all because I attended a Bus Boot Camp at the workshop of The Type 2 Detectives this weekend.
Bus Boot Camp is like school for camper van lovers. Paul and Mark and their enthusiastic team will explain to you what five things are most likely to let you down. They will show you how to change your oil, how to set your timing and how to adjust your valve clearances. They will also explain why it's important, what will happen if you don't and why you should always put your shims back on your flywheel when you adjust it (see I told you). And girls, don't worry. T2D run boot camps for ladies too.
For someone who has always regretted not paying attention to my dad as he was was fixing up his cars when I was little, the day offered moments of great clarity and revelation. I am sure it was the same for others on the course. At times it was like light bulbs were going off in people's head as the team explained, very clearly, just what goes on inside that lump of metal at the back of your camper.
You'd think that anyone would be daft to reveal their 'trade secrets' wouldn't you? But no, the team from T2D were more than happy to get you off the motorway without paying a small fortune or having to make yet another cuppa for Bob the RAC man. The principle is simple: share the knowledge, share the love and make a bunch of new friends along the way. At the same time they also get to set themselves up as the experts (which they are) and the 'go to' people for spares, restorations and all manner of fixes.
The day lasted from 9 until 6 and included breakfast cooked by the brilliant Brian, a lovely lunch (cooked by Brian and I) and some delicious cake. We were given a copy of their Bus Camp Bible to take home and as much tea and coffee as we could manage. And we got to drool over a few gorgeous vehicles at the same time. For me it was a great day doing stuff I love: cooking and messing about with campers. My only regret is that I was too busy cooking to see how they dropped the engine. Never mind, I am going back on the 26th January and hope to catch it then!

Bus Boot Camps are continuing after the new year. See here for more details.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Pop a penny in the pot. You could make a dream come true.

December is childhood cancer awareness month. So I thought I'd write a little bit about CLIC Sargent, one of the country’s biggest childhood cancer charities.
CLIC Sargent are my charity. Recently they asked me to make a speech at a fundraising dinner held by Holborne Holiday Parks. I talked about my experiences camping, cooking and campervanning as well as my first-hand experiences of CLIC Sargent – because my family and I have first-hand experience of childhood cancer.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Murmurations: Swarms of roosting starlings at dusk.

I have noticed twitching activity on twitter in the last couple of days. A few people have posted pictures of swarms of starlings making beautiful shapes in the winter sky. Twitchers call it a murmuration. It's one of those most lovely of winter spectacles and is truly mesmerising.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Cooking. On the Roadii.

If you are one of those kind of campers who say that camping isn't camping without a camp fire then you'll love what I've been testing recently. It's a Roadii Grill and I was sent it by Simon Benton, the man who developed it with the help of his family over the last few years.

Simon, like me, loves to cook and camp and loves a camp fire but found, time and time again, that camp fires were banned from many of his favourite campsites because of the damage they cause to the earth. It's understandable. He also found that portable barbecues tended to fall apart pretty quickly and often weren't up to the job. So he set out to create a portable hearth that wouldn't rust out easily, would keep the fire away from the ground, would provide a good heat for cooking and could also double as a camp fire.

The result is the Roadii Grill. It makes perfect sense to me as old wheels are great for cooking on and also make good hearths (I used to make fires in them on the beach in Wales). The Roadii is robust, easy to assemble and really enjoyable to cook on, simply because it is so easy to adjust the height of the grill to get more or less heat, or to stoke the fire. That's the clever bit of design that makes the Roadii really practical. It is also powder coated so it should last a few winters of being left outside (if you were too lazy to take it in). The stainless steel grill won't rust at all. Another feature that I really like is the ability to hang a dutch oven from the tripod, cowboy style. This means that stews and casseroles are still firmly on the menu for a winter camping trip.

I love it and have really enjoyed cooking on it over the last few weeks. In fact I am off camping right now and shall be cooking on it tonight.

Monday, 8 October 2012

A day out with Dan

Dan Garnett is a celebrity in north Devon. Having graced the telly a few times, contributed to a number of food books and made himself available to food festivals and events over the last few years he’s become a face of all that’s great about the region. He’s a local treasure. He’s also a fishmonger. So, if I said than Dan is ‘Dan the fish Man’ would that ring any more bells? Perhaps.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Hamburger Song

This is a silly song. It's a cautionary tale about the perils of processed meat that I wrote it when I was at art college in the nineteen eighty somethings (not a great time for the processed meat industry). Over time the lyrics have been refined (?) but the message is essenitally the same: if you can, make them yourself (like the example shown above that I made)! My kids love it because they get to scream in the appropriate places. If anyone fancies singing it for themselves it goes to the same chord sequence as the Stray Cat Strut (remember that?) which is C, B#, A#, G (in the bar chord of E). The chorus goes C, G, C, G, C, G, F, G. Which is a lot of the same thing and not that difficult. At the very least you have to admire the rhyming of creuztfeldt-jacob disease with knees, Es and trees, even if the accusation might be on very shaky ground (lawyers take note).


I wish I was a hamburger all covered in cheese.
To be a Big Mac would be such a wheeze.
And when they put the bread on I'd give a little scream. (aaaaaah!)
I wish I was a hamburger I have a hamburger dream.


I wish you were a hamburger too,
Big Mac or Whopper, it's up to you.
Or even a cheese burger,
I really don't mind,
Just as long as I can take you home at tea time.




I wish I was a hamburger all covered in cheese.

Although to be a Big Mac might not be such a wheeze.
When you're made from a***holes and a load of old knees*,
Pumped full of steroids and quite a few Es*,
Grazing land stolen from Brazilian trees*,
Killing people with your creutzfeldt-jacob disease*,
Making all the children morbidy obeeze*,
And I'll say it again 'cos here's the reprise.

(Note: *this is unconfirmed)


When they put the bread on I'd give a little scream (aaaaaaaaah!)
I wish I was a hamburger I have a hamburger dream.


Don't you wish you were a hamburger too?
Big Mac or Whopper? Up to you.
Of even a cheeseburger I really don't mind.
As long as I can take you home at tea time.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A crisis at the harvest festival

Last weekend I went over to Ireland to do a couple of demos at Waterford Harvest, one of the country's biggest street and food fairs. I even had time to make a quick appearance on Irish breakfast telly to talk about the festival on the Friday morning before my Friday night demo. All was good. The demo was fun - as it was outside the beer tent. Once the washing up was done I was escorted to Waterford's best bar, Geoff's, for a few pints. I spent the day on Saturday with Sally McKenna, who writes and publishes the Bridgestone Guide to Ireland. She took me kayaking to look for seaweed on a gorgeous loch not far from Skibereen. It was a wonderful day and I felt like a young apprentice in the presence of such great experience and knowledge.

However things started to worry me when I woke up on Sunday morning.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fantasy Campsite. In search of the perfect pitch.

La Bergerie. Small, friendly, level pitches, great location and very clean.

Do you ever dream of owning your own campsite? What would you do with it? After our trip this summer I have been having fantasies about owning and running a campsite (before you say it isn’t easy, I don’t think for a minute it would be). This has resulted in a game we call “fantasy campsite”. It’s a very simple game whereby we go through and list all the places we have stayed and add their best qualities to our list of wants and needs from a truly brilliant place to pitch up. It changes all the time and can sometimes depend upon the place we have been staying, whether good or bad.
Sometimes “fantasy campsite” sounds like whinging. But it isn’t. It’s about casting an eye over what we’ve seen, taking the best ideas, cutting out the worst elements and putting them all together to remake a campsite that’s just perfect. From that we can then work out where, of all the many places we’ve stayed over the years, is the one place we’d hanker after most. The thing is that, unlike other kinds of accommodation, we take our beds with us in the van so the bedroom never changes. It’s the surroundings that make all the difference.

First, the most basic of basics.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Aires de camping car. Are we missing something?

Contis Plage: free showers, washing up facilities, toilets and just 11 Euros per night.
I can’t help but think, having just returned from 64 nights in Europe in our van, that we are missing a trick here in the UK. Or, more specifically, local councils are missing out on an opportunity that would improve our lives (as campervanners and motorhomers) and bring them much needed revenue at the same time.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Surprises from the deep.

Just as I thought the excitement was over, our ferry trip back to the UK gave us one more final and incredible surprise. My friend Cath, who had arrived in Spain a few weeks earlier by the same route as we were due to take home (Bilbao – Portsmouth), had told us to look out for the guys from Orca, a leading whale and dolphin conservation charity. She explained how they have officers on all Biscay ferries and that they do talks for anyone interested in whale spotting whilst on board. On Cath’s crossing they had seen both whales and dolphins so she urged us to go along. She also told us how, excitable as she is, she had spotted a whale’s blow some way offshore and had so wanted anyone to share the experience that she had run in to the restaurant shouting “I have just seen a whale! Come and see!” to an uninterested breakfast queue. She ran back out again expecting hundreds to follow. None did.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Guggenheim. The final stop.

Bilbao. It was always going to be our last stop as our schedule was to see us leaving from Bilbao port on 4th September, to arrive in Portsmouth on the 5th. This would give us just enough time to drive to Bristol where we would drop the van and jump on a plane to Dublin for my sister in law’s wedding on the 6th. I have been to Bilbao before but had yet to visit the Guggenheim museum. It’s not for want of trying though.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Into the valley: swimming, hiking and camping at the Cirque de Gavarnie

Sometimes you can get a bit too much beach. I know it might seem like an odd concept but after our time in Galicia and a few days ‘a la plage’ back in the Basque Country with friends, we were ready to shake the sand out of our shoes and take to the hills. We unloaded all we could from the van – bikes, boards, wetsuits, swim togs and unnecessary baggage – and set off for the Haute Pyrenees. Without the extra weight to slow us down the van skipped along the motorway to the foot hills and purred up steep sided ravines, along giddying gorges and round tight hairpins until we arrived at the small village of Gavarnie.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Dazzling Malpica. St Ives in the sun.

After Finisterre we found ourselves heading north to meet up with some friends in Malpica. So far Galicia had been good to us, but here it showed a real generosity of spirit. The sun shone and the weather stayed beautiful, despite morning fog and more mosquitoes than we’d have liked. With no campsite in the middle of the town we had to stay at the Camping Sasargas a few kilometres inland.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Journey's end. Time to turn and head for home.

When we set out from home on the 30th June we had no itinerary other than a couple of things we wanted to do on our way though France and in to Spain. We knew that Galicia was a potential destination and that we wanted to try as much food as we could along the way, but no idea where our journey’s end would lie. The idea was that we’d go, find somewhere nice to hang out and then come home. It was a simple wish.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Trust your instincts. You know best.

We are now into week six of our trip. We have been in Spain for a couple of weeks so it’s time for a little update, this time on places to stay. Waking up somewhere beautiful and peaceful makes the best start to any day for me. It’s the reason we drive thousands of miles. But for some it can be a worry. Driving around looking for a spot to park can be a stressful experience, especially if you fear being moved on or harassed in the middle of the night. If you have no recommendations from people you trust then you’ll more than likely have to follow a guide at some point. We have a small ‘library’ of books in the van with Aires, campsites and surf spots throughout Spain, so wherever we go often requires a bit of cross referencing and page turning.
Sometimes it’s infuriating needing to rely on guide books and the times when we have gone ‘off piste’ have often offered us up the best places to stay. These are the places that are right for us, rather than for someone else. Guides and books are great but if you feel differently about camping than the person who wrote the book then you’ll always be disappointed.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fabada: a taste with memories.

Yesterday I enjoyed my first taste of authentic Asturian Fabada for almost 15 years. It’s a traditional mountain stew made with fava beans, pork, smoked ham, black pudding and chorizo sausage that is cooked slowly in a big pot. It is a little spicy, salty and delicious and it inspired the bean and chorizo stew that appears in The Camper Van Coast.
I ate my first Fabada on my first long trip to northern Spain in the late nineties, in a bar at Rodilles, not far from Gijon.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Chilling out on the road to Potes

We arrived in Spain on Monday, crossing the border at Hondaye. It’s just a few miles south of Labene Ocean, where we stayed for five days with old friends. It was a mighty wrench to prize ourselves away from the soporific routine of endless cuppas, surf sessions and nights drinking rose on the veranda, such was the hospitality of our hosts. With the van parked on the drive we had everything: five minutes’ walk to one of the heaviest breaks in Aquitaine, an ever whistling kettle, friends for the kids to play with and a hammock under the cork trees. It’s a good life they live, these friends of ours.
Even so, we packed up the van and headed south, stopping only for a lunch of chorizo and moules in Guethary, one of Europe’s more famous big wave spots.

Friday, 20 July 2012

May Poles. An overnight celebration.

I have seen a few of these poles recently. Appearing in people’s front gardens, they are always the same: pine branches decorated with blue flowers and with a garland hanging like a chandelier from near the top.  Curious as to the significance, I took the opportunity to ask a woman coming out of the house where this particular one was planted in Contis Plage, one of our recent stops.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Aires, spaces and overnight places.

A few days ago we hit Contis Plage. It’s a small holiday town on the south west coast of France with a few bars, a fruit stall, a boulangerie for our daily croissants, a few surf shops, a great pizzeria and a couple of what we would call in England, ‘bucket and spade shops’. It took us about two weeks to get there from home, but we are not particularly counting. We've been taking things as they come.
But the reason for this post is to talk about where we have stayed so far. These include Cool Camping sites, aires de camping cars and local campsites.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The course of true love...

Thinking of buying a VW camper van? Read this first.

As I write I am sitting in the passenger seat of my little red and white VW camper van on a campsite in western France. The seat, a recent addition that revolves so I can face the rear of the van, is a first class place to sit and relax or write or look out of the side door. The site we are on is set high on a ridge, enclosed by pine forest and overlooking the Arcachon Basin. It is adjacent to the Dune Du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe. If I glance up from my screen I can see the ocean to my right whilst cicadas chirp away in the trees and paragliders float silently by on their wings of cloth. The kids are doing their homework and Joanne is preparing tea. From time to time other campers stroll by, smiling at our van. I guess they don’t see so many classic vans in France these days.

It’s a blissful scene, especially now that the children have been hard at work doing their homework for a few minutes. Tonight’s tea is in the cooler, if it’s not in the sea as I fully intend to cast my line once I have written this post. Those who know me well (I count my family among them) will know that whatever is in the cooler will turn out to be tea. There will be no last minute change of plan after my fishing trip.

It’s a good life, this campervanning lark, and I’ve had about the best of it recently. We’ve also had a few heart-stopping moments. It’s why this post is about to take a turn for the worse for those of you who fancy having a go and think it’s all hearts and flowers, sunburn and sausages.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Toes in the mud. Cockle picking on the Ile de Noirmoutier

We arrived on the island just a few days after landing at at Roscoff following a recommendation from ‘Cool Camping France’. The island, which is a little south of the mouth of the Loire, is beautiful, with lovely coastal scenery, dunes, salt flats and pine forest. The camp site - as recommended to us as being cool - is right next to the sea and is very nice. Not amazing, just very nice. We had a good spot under the pines about 50 yards from the sea so I shouldn’t complain, although camper vans aren’t allowed right next to the beach as they are trying to protect the dunes from erosion.

The first clue that this is a famous place for cockle picking was the shower block on the camp site, where there is an area reserved for cockle cleaning.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Coals to Newcastle? Chorizo to Spain!

Anyone who has ever seen one of my food demos will know that I like to bang on about a select few ingredients that fit perfectly with the campervan lifestyle. Firstly, I love to talk about and cook mackerel. That's becuse they are delicious, good for you, sustainable and all I can ever catch when I go fishing. Secondly, I talk about and cook mussels because they are the food that got me into foraging in the first place and are easy to cook. I have cooked them more than anything else in my cooking 'career' and have yet to kill anyone (to my knowledge) with them - so I remain bouyed by their 100% success rate so far.
The third ingredient I use a lot in the van - and at home - is chorizo. It's extremely versatile, can be cooked in all kinds of dishes (including those with mackerel and mussels) and is a camper van staple. That's because it can be stored for ages without spoiling. You can save it for those unfortunate food doldrums that strike from time to time when there's not much left and everyone is starving. The answer? Whip out your sausage from the back of the cupboard and all will be well. Some pasta, a tub of creme fraiche and a stick of chorizo is all you'll need for a tasty , if basic, tea when all else fails.
In case you didn't know, chorizo is a spicy Spanish that's made with pork and spiced with smoked paprika. It's simple stuff but I love it. Thanks to Chris at Paganum Produce we'll be taking some of his gorgeous smoked Yorkshire Chorizo with us on our travels to Spain this summer. I cooked with it on my UK tour during the filming of One Man and His Campervan and have used it plenty of times since as it's available online.
So we'll be taking coals to Newcastle, so what? I am sure it'll stand up to the competition.
We'll soon find out anyway.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The key to adventure: packing light

This is it. The key to adventure and the last bit of preparation I have to do before we hit the ferry to Roscoff on Saturday. It's something I always do before any trip in the van - sort out the spare key. It then goes round my neck until the moment we return. It's like my own personal insurance policy against loss, theft, silliness, drunkenness and carelessness. As long as this is around my neck we will be able to get home. In theory. I know, there are many other potential disasters that could befall us that are worse than losing the ignition key but it makes me feel good to have it there. So if we lose the main set of keys in the sand, leave them in a bar or get our pockets felt we'll always be able to fire up the old girl and hit the road again. We might not be able to open the doors, unlock the trailer or release our bikes but we shall drive.

It's not the only preparation we have done. I've imposed limits on baggage, numbers of socks per family member and agonised over what toys, books and equipment to bring. It runs in the family apparently. I have always quoted my grandfather as the king of packing but it seems he wasn't the only family member to impose dracoanian rules about what you can carry. As a young man he traveled the length and breadth of the country on his motorbike with nothing but the barest essentials. His limits were so strict that he would cut bars of soap in half to save weight. Then again that's nothing compared to my Dad. My mother told me yesterday that they went on holiday to Devon sometime in the early sixties in his 3 wheeler Morgan. Like my Grandfather he was always worried about carrying too much weight. In fact he was so concerned on that trip that he made my Mum go on the bus. From London. Nice one Dad.

I'm not that bad but I have considered it. For a moment. Actually I've been trying to keep up with the law when it comes to taking vehicles abroad. This year France imposed a law that all drivers must carry at least 2 disposable breathalysers in the car with them at all times. It's a great idea but it means another trip to Automate in Bideford to pick up more 'essentials'. Then there's the issue of rear mounted bike carriers in Spain. Thanks neighbours for putting the willies up me on that one. And not forgetting the beam benders, first aid kits, hi viz jackets and the EHIC. And so it goes on...

Thinking of heading off yourself this summer? You might need some of this:

  • 2 breathalyzers for France (from 1st July).
  • Warning triangle, two for Spain.
  • Hi-viz jackets for the driver. One for each person in the car for Spain (not mandatory).
  • Spare bulbs (recommended).
  • GB sticker (if you don't have GB plates).
  • First Aid Kit (not compulsory but advisable)
  • EHIC card and travel insurance (advisable).
  • Breakdown cover (up to you).
  • Beam benders (compulsory).
  • Wife and kids (not compulsory - if you prefer they can fly and meet you there)
Don't forget that we're still looking for suggestions as to where to head. We've had some really brilliant ones so far - Ile De Re, Les venises Verts and a nudist beach in Spain for starters. But we'd still like more. So, if you have been to the Atlantic coast of France or the north coast of Spain and have some brilliant recommendations, share them with us! We'll be blogging as we go.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Boring! The tedious side of getting ready for a trip.

This week I have been mystery shopping. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I have been doing yet more preparation for our trip to Europe in our trusty camper van (if it comes back from the garage in time). There has been so much to do, from packing up the house to sorting out what we are going to take and what kind of insurances we’ll need. Happily I got a great deal from the AA to cover us for breakdowns in Europe. I would call that an essential. The last time we went away to France in a camper we had a smashed windscreen on the motorway that delayed us for 2 days and meant we had to stay in a hotel whilst a new one was found. Our policy covered it.
Another of those boring essentials is travel insurance. We have EHIC (the old E111) cards but, as few people realise, they don’t provide the kind of medical cover we might need. An EHIC card will only cover us for the same level of free medical treatment that citizens of that country receive. So that means no repatriation, no special treatment, no free non-urgent treatment if you fall ill.
Let’s also face it, accidents do happen. Last year on a trip to the Outer Hebrides daughter number one, Maggie, fell off some monkey bars about five minutes after we had reached our final destination, Eoropie on the Isle of lewis, and suffered a green stick fracture to her arm. Off to hospital we went for a patch up. It was minor but it changed our holiday, as Maggie, whilst proud to have a plaster cast, soon realised that she couldn’t surf, swim, ride her bike or jump off stuff. I daresay it could have been worse. That's her above, making the most of it.
Hence my mystery shopping. I have been looking for travel insurance to compare with the policies offered by one of my clients, World First Travel Insurance. It might seem like a standard thing to do, but for us (and for lots of other people with medical ‘baggage’) it’s different. We have medical conditions to declare. My wife, Jo, was ill with Ulcerative Colitis a few years ago and still takes medication as a result of the condition. Maggie had leukaemia as a baby. Whilst she has been in remission for 8 years we still have to declare it because, if we didn’t and she got ill as a result of that, we’d find our cover would be useless. It’s the same for Jo. If we didn’t declare her condition, our cover would be invalid. It isn’t worth the risk.
That means that ‘normal’ policies, from companies like Columbus Direct, become expensive, whilst others won’t cover us at all. We went for Columbus’ top policy for four of us, for 70 days away, with all the knobs and whistles including delay, baggage, curtailment etc and it came to £190. I thought that was pretty reasonable. Then I declared the medical conditions and the cost jumped to £340. This is for conditions that are ‘cured’ so I can only imagine what kind of a hike the price would take if I was undergoing treatment for a condition like cancer or was over 70. The Post Office wouldn’t cover Ulcerative Colitis at all.
Time then, to look to the specialists, namely our old friends at World First Travel Insurance. I know them well but even so, wanted to benchmark their policy costs for our trip against others. First of all they accepted the medical conditions, then offered us a policy including £5 million medical cover, baggage cover and cancellation cover at £239 with all conditions covered. So that’s that then - the client comes good with a low cost answer. Phew.
Next job: packing
And don't forget.... We are still looking for brilliant suggestions for places to stay, eat and play. Our route is the Atlantic Coast, with our final destination somewhere in Galicia. Over to you. Answers on a postcard....

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Life on four wheels. Family on two.

I don't often get carried away with technical details about camper vans but today I am going to indulge myself. So if you were expecting whimsical wonderings about living the life in this post, apologies. This is about the stuff that camper van people get more than a little obsessed with - how to carry it all, not go even slower and yet still retain that groovy retro charm we all adore.....
So. I have been searching for a neat solution to the problem of carrying four bikes on the van for our trip to France and Spain. Most people know that the Fiamma T2 Bike racks will only carry 2 bikes. Now that the girls are able cyclists on almost grown up bikes, we need to find a way of carrying them so they don't have to travel inside the van (the bikes not the girls). The last trip we went on, to Ireland, was ridiculously overpacked and showed us how badly we need to sort out our living space. So we've been looking for a way to carry lots of things and not clog up the inside of the van. The answer of course is a trailer. I bought an old Westfalia trailer on ebay for £100 not so long ago but was loathe to muck about with it because I didn't want to mess with its 'integrity'. Yeah yeah. Even so, I needed a lockable space for camping gear and some way of carrying the bikes. The solution, if you are still awake, a pair of standard bike carriers from ebay (£10 each), a piece of ply, some hinges and a few nuts and bolts. There. Sorted.
The only thing of course is having to keep the speed down with the trailer on those French motorways. I don't think it'll be a problem.

Oh, by the way. We are still looking for brilliant suggestions for places to stay, eat and play. Our route is the Atlantic Coast. Over to you. Answers on a postcard....

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Beating the Jubilee jams, the camper van way.

Heading off this weekend? Of course you are. Well, here’s my quickly-adapted-for-the-Jubilee guide to surviving the summer traffic from my book, The Camper Van Coast. The bad news is that there will be jams, the good news is that, if you are in a camper, it may be just that little bit easier.

Here we go again. It’s the summer time, there’s some royal action going down and suddenly we’ve got a whole bunch of bank holidays all at once. Everyone is going to make a dash for it. Quick! Pack up the camper van and head for the coast!
I have lived in the Westcountry for many years now and have gone backwards and forwards to here, there and everywhere a few times now. For five years I commuted backwards and forwards to London in a camper van (and other faster vehicles) almost every week. So I am an old hand at traffic jams, especially Friday night ones, bank holiday ones and the keeping you from making last orders at the Bradworthy Inn ones. Fortunately though, in that time I got quite good at dodging them. That’s because I am impatient and would much rather be moving than not, even if I’m going off on some random track that’s not even pointing in the right direction.

Sometimes you can’t help but sit in a jam. Sometimes there is no way out. You’re just going to have to take it on the chin. Happily though, this is another one of those times when you’ll be jolly glad you’re in a camper and not in a car. Stick the kettle on and settle down in the back. Heck, why not invite the neighbours around for a brew? You might as well make use of the facilities available to you (although this will only work if you are well and truly stuck and NOT ACTUALLY MOVING). One thing to remember is that you must not, under any circumstances, let anyone know that you have a porta-potti in your van or everyone will want a go.

Surviving the Jubilee jams.

Put the kettle on. But only if you’re not moving. Did you pack milk? Or enough cups for everyone? You won’t forget it twice.

• Turn the ignition off. If you’ve stopped, turn it off. Yes, so there’s a risk it won’t start again but it’s better than boiling your engine isn’t it? You’ll save gas too.

Put the stereo on and kick back. There’s nothing you can do so go with it. No use getting all road-ragey and upset. It isn’t going to help.

• Make sure you have food and water on board. Well fed campers are happy campers. We all know that. Pack supplies.

• Tell bad jokes. A joke book that’s jam packed full of rubbish jokes can amuse children for unspeakably long times in traffic jams. Corny, but useful.

• DON’T use the hard shoulder. It might be tempting to pull over if the queue is moving very slowly and settle down for a bit. And don’t even think about nipping down the hard shoulder either. The rozzers don’t like that. It’s not worth the fine.

Avoiding the Jubilee jams.

Get up early, leave late. The trouble with traffic jams is that they nearly always happen at busy times. How inconvenient. I know. What are they thinking? But that’s the way we are. We are a mob. The simple solution of course is to stop thinking like the mob and drive at the most unsociable times. This means driving during the night or very early in the morning. So you have to get up early? So what?

Don’t go with the flow. In many places Saturday will be changeover day for holiday cottages, apartments and caravans. That means that there will be one lot leaving in the morning and another lot arriving in the afternoon. So lots of traffic. Avoid it. You aren’t governed by the time your cottage will be ready anyway. Start your holiday on a Tuesday instead (although not much use on the Jubilee weekend I know).

Use your smartphone. They do have uses beyond tweeting and, er, tweeting. Go online and check out the situation on any number of websites that offer live traffic updates. Very useful, although not great if you’re already stuck. Also look at the website of your favourite roadside assistance provider.

Read the map and find alternatives. Maps are great. Get a good one (not one of those rubbish touring ones that only have the big roads) that has lots of details and you’ll soon realise that there are a world of possibilities out there. Go cross country, stop at a village pub, take your time. You might make the journey last twice the time but at least you’ll be moving.

Consider (for a moment) getting a sat nav. I have very little tolerance for sat nav. They are the instruments of the devil as far as I am concerned because they make us lazy and incapable of thinking for ourselves. And if they go wrong or read your location incorrectly they can leave you properly up the creek. Anyway, I am told you can take out subscriptions that will enable you to avoid traffic hotspots as they happen. Whatever.

Drive defensively. In slow moving traffic you can help the ebb and flow by driving defensively. This means that you keep a fair distance between you and the car in front and do your best to keep moving, even if all you’re doing is creeping. The gap allows you to keep moving, even if they have stopped. That way you, and all the traffic behind you, will keep crawling along and you won’t get into that awful stop-start-stop that buggers up your clutch and helps no-one. Doesn’t always work as other drivers may confuse your attempts at good sense as an opportunity and may nip into your space. That’s when it’s ok to get very, very cross.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The secret weapon of camper van cooking?

You know the stuff. It's smoked paprika, Spanish essential, used in everything from paella to chorizo and made by slowly grinding peppers that have been dried over oak fires. This tin was given to me by a chef friend. Knowing I was nervous about cooking in front of the camera for One Man and his Campervan in the spring of 2010, he pressed this little tin into my hand and said kindly "If you ever get stuck, use this." I accepted it willingly. It turned out to be good advice and I've never been without a tin in the van or at home since.
Smoked paprika is great for those times when you look in the cooler and scratch your head. Seem familiar? Those times when you stare at those chicken breasts that have to be used up, desperate for a little inspiration. When risotto has been done to death, the griddle needs a wash and the lemon and tarragon has gone, it's time to bring out the big gun. Bring out the hot smoked paprika, give it a rub, chuck it in a frying pan, over the coals or under the grill and bingo - excited taste buds!
In One Man and his Camper Van I made a simple rub with the contents of this very tin with sea salt and crushed black pepper to spice up a rack of rare breed pork ribs. It proved to be perfect, with just the right amount of smoke and flavour to add depth and spice to the sweet and juicy ribs. Cooked first in foil then charred slightly over an open fire, they were delicious. Sitting round a drfitwood fire in the dunes behind Lunan Bay, on the east coast of Scotland, on a fine June evening I toasted my friend and his ability to give me something without treating me like an idiot. That was a generous thing to do.
So there it is, giving away other people's trade secrets. My friend won't mind sharing. He likes to see people enjoy food as much as he does. And of course I don't mind sharing because if it wasn't for sharing, learning from friends, reading, talking to those who know and being curious, none of us would ever learn anything.

Still stuck for things to do with that chicken? "Three ways with chicken" on page 129 of The Camper Van Coast may give you a few more ideas...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sunny days are here again. Another favourite camping spot.

Well, the sun has well and truly got his hat on this afternoon and it looks like he'll keep it on for a few more glorious days yet. Twitter is awash with happy sunshine tweets and I'm feeling that prickly sun and salt feeling after a surf session down at the beach. Good times, with the promise of easy peasy burgers with tomato and chilli man jam later (page 118 of The Camper Van Coast) or perhaps even curried pork kebabs (page 123). It's a barbecue kind of a day.
It's at times like these that we long for the open road and a perfect destination to pitch up and cook up. This week we got back from a road trip in the van to Ireland. Whilst we stayed at the most idyllic spot at Caherdaniel, there were good times this side of the water too. We stopped off in St David's in Pembrokeshire to catch up with our friends at TYF, introduce the kids to coasteering and spend a couple of days before catching the ferry from Pembroke Dock. The weather wasn't as good as it is now but we still managed to have a great time. When I camp with the kids we tend to avoid the wilder places, simply becuase it's better to be on a camp site sometimes. So whilst the place we stayed has wild opportunities nearby (see pages 8 and 9 of The Camper Van Coast), we opted to stay on the site at Newgale. It's one of those old fashioned campsites with hand painted signs telling you not to do all kind of things and to avoid doing all kinds of other things. The loo block, which looks like a pebbledashed farm outbuilding is actually really nice inside and exceptionally clean.
The site is adjacent to Newgale beach, one of Pembrokeshire's surfing hot spots, and just about 10 minutes drive from the lovely city in miniature that is St David's. There is a strict no caravan policy which means the site still feels rustic and has none of the niceties of some campsites like electric hook up or hardstanding. You take your chances and park on the grass. If you want sea views then you might have to sleep on a slope as the field rises as it heads away from the beach. The pitches at the top of the field have excellent views. We voted to stay at sea level and, to be honest it was no real hardship getting up, crossing the road and ambling on to the beach to check the surf. The girls made good use of the slope anyway - by freewheeling down to the van.
There is a cosy cafe nearby and a pub right on the beach which does beer and crisps. Frankly, after the drive from London, when we got there, beer and crisps was enough for me. The best thing about this campsite has to be its location right on the very lovely Newgale beach. If it was anywhere else you might not like the bossy signs or the boggy ground or the basic facilities. As it is, the location is enough.
And so what if there's no noise after 11? With a few beers and a bag of crisps inside me I am happy stumbling quietly back to my pitch.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Pitch Perfect. A new place to stay.

Don't all jump at once, but I think I may have found a new favourite pitch. It's no secret but it's a way away for most of us. It's at a campsite called Wave Crest in Caherdaniel in County Kerry, Ireland and it is about as close to the sea as it's possible to get without pitching on the beach itself. A well aimed cast would see you plopping your spinner into the sea with ease from the pitch we chose. I love that. I also love the fact that the campsite, whilst not among the cheapest sites you'll ever visit, is laid out in such a way that every pitch feels private. This is down to the way it has been shaped from the hilly cliffside. Paths lead off to quiet corners where you can pitch your tent with nothing but a sea view. If the wind blows there are nooks and crannies where you can find shelter away from the Irish weather or send the children off to explore. You can even camp on your own little island. That's the one in the photograph below with the grassy causeway. Not too shabby huh? If you pitched up there you wouldn't even have to worry about being good at casting. You could let the brake off and dangle your tackle in the briny without taking more than a few steps from your door. I didn't catch anything at Wave Crest but you may be a little more lucky.
On the Ring of Kerry the water is as clear as you could ever hope for. As you stare into the depths you can see the seaweeds swaying in the currents and schools of small silver fish darting from one panic to the next. Where there is sand you see patches of azure, even on days when you'd expect a sea to match the mood of the sky. At the very sheltered O'Carrol's Cove nearby (below), the beach seems to belong more to the tropics than Ireland's temperate shores. One sunny day we ate lobster alfresco under a hot sun as our children splashed in the water (albeit with wetsuits on). Dreamy times indeed. O'Carrol's Cove claims to have Ireland's only beach bar but seeing as we could think of at least a couple more, we wondered where the logic came from. Even so, the food is great and the views of the cove from the terrace are stunning. All you need to do is make sure you face east or you'll get an eyeful of the mobile homes at the back of the strand. They won't spoil your fun but you can't help thinking that another well laid out campsite (or no site at all) would have been better. Then again, if it's deserted sand you want, a short cycle will take you to Derrynane Beach, my hands down, no contest, most favourite 'best beach in all the world'. It's wild and beautiful on any day but with a light easterly, some south west swell and a blue sky there is nowhere better.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Don't be an egghead. Some advice for Twitter virgins.

Ok. I'm going to give it to you straight. I am not an internet guru or marketing genius or even an SEO consultant. I'm not writing this to sell you some software or my tweeting service or some advice on how to market your online business in tough times or any of that. I'm not even selling cupcakes. But I am a heavy twitter user with quite a few followers and I'd like to pass on what I have learnt over the last few years of using it. And the reason why is that I think some of you (tsk) could use some well meaning advice on how to make more of it. In doing that I think we'd all get more out of it. So, think of this as a friendly word in your shell like. Of course, if you know all about the twitter you'll probably disagree with everything I say, which is fine. The views in this blog are my own. So there.

Firstly, don't be an egg head. I want to see who you are, what you do or what you are interested in. It makes you a person and therefore worth following or listening to. It's pretty easy to upload an avatar and it can make a big difference. Here's how. People, amazingly, will be more inclined to follow you back.

Don't be a stranger. Take your time and tell me a little about yourself by filling in your profile, for goodness' sake! Here's how. If you can't be bothered to fill in your profile them I can't be bothered to find out who you are or what you like or do. You have to give something of yourself if you want to make more of twitter. It will help people to align with you, share stories of interest to you and make friends with you. Even if it's 'Hello. I like camping.' it's better than saying nothing at all.

Say stuff that's in your own head. We all love a jolly good quote but most of the best things I've seen on Twitter are the bits and pieces of fun and nonsense that spill out of people's heads. Quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth and H from Steps leave me cold and don't tell me anything about you other than you are good at google. What's the point? If you feel sad, happy or cross (but not too cross), tell us in your own words, not with the lyrics of Jessie J, Bob Marley or Bewitched.

Don't do all your tweets at the same time. I sometimes do this I know, but it is annoying as it means that all your replies go out one after the other and clog up the timeline. So apologies for that. It bugs the hell out of me and probably bugs the hell out of you too. If you can, dip in and out during the day, but not so much that you get the sack. If you want to time your tweets by robot power to go out during the day, make them go out at different times.

Make an effort with each of your social media profiles. Twitter and facebook are different. So the way you update them should be different. Tweets that link to facebook are annoying.

Go easy on the selling. I will be the first to admit that I use twitter to sell my books and let people know what's going on with book signings, radio interviews and stuff. It is a very good marketing tool and I am selling myself. But if you use it for selling your business, products or services, try and use it for other types of conversations too. Sell, sell, sell is boring, boring, boring. A little while ago I unfollowed a well know author because every single one of his tweets was about how good he was, how well his books were selling and how people loved his work. His retweets were even worse. He wasn't interested in anything other than selling books to his followers. Surely they follow him for more than that? Don't people want to know what he's up to other than flogging downloads of his novel? Doesn't he want to have a conversation with the people who read his books? I know I do.

Get stuck in. Don't be shy about getting involved. Twitter is a brilliant way to chat to other people, share a few gags or post photos of cute cats with melons on their heads (although less of the cute cats please). So get involved. No one can see you or have a go at you for it (and if they do you can report them, block and unfollow them) and most people, on the whole, are pretty funny people.

It's a conversation. So listen and speak. Offer yourself and you will get lots back. One of the best tweeters I know is a lady who lives not far from me. She's mad about twitter and is on it all the time. She has nothing to sell but she tweets brilliantly about herself and her love of life and Cath Kidson. Every day there are sparks of brilliance from her feed that make so many of her followers rofl and pmrofl or whatever those laughing out loud acronyms are. You get out what you put in.

Don't expect a retweet. I get quite a few requests for retweets for all kinds of causes. I understand why, but I don't think it should be a given from anyone. If it's worth a retweet, it'll be retweeted, that is all.

Lastly, let's talk about content. There are some very clever bits and pieces of software that will pull content from all kinds of places and put them out on twitter in your name. Am I alone in despising them? I want to hear what you have to say, not what the computer thinks you'd like to say if you had the time or energy or could even be bothered. It's not you talking is it? Daily roundups of subjects loosely related to you and your likes and business tell me nothing. It's just a load of the noise bunched together in your name. Stop it, please!

Thanks for listening.

Friday, 20 April 2012

How much do we really need?

We've started putting things in boxes. It's all a part of the process of preparing for a trip. We need to sort out what goes in the van, what goes in the loft, what goes to the car boot and what gets recycled. Much loved old shoes, of course are destined for the loft. Their value is greater to us than the average carbooter.
Some of the lucky ones will make it to the van, although not many. I mean, how much do we really need?
In the early nineties I went backpacking for three months and took nothing more than a couple of pairs of shorts, a surfboard, a pair of sturdy walking boots, some flip flops, a few tees and some bits and pieces of camera gear. I also carried, for some reason known only to my stupid self, five volumes of Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'. They took up so much space and could have easily have been replaced but I "didn't want to be parted from them". What an idiot. It's a lesson I've learnt the hard way: take only that which you need - really need.
We're going through this painful yet liberating process (it's called the 'scourge' in our house) because we're heading off on the trip we've been promising ourselves since the kids were little and one of them was in hospital with leukaemia. It's been a long time coming but, after two books, a TV series and five and a half years of running my writing business (at the same time), we're tripping off on an extended summer holiday to catch up with friends, cook some dinners under the stars and come up with some new ideas. I can't wait to cast off the clutter and get back to simpler times.
Hence the scourge. We're lucky that we live in a place where we can rent out our house as a holiday home - and it'll provide us with a little income whilst we are away - so we need to depersonalise and reorganise. It seems like a lot of work for eight weeks in the van but it's what makes it possible. Besides, it's good to have a rethink every so often. Scourges focus the mind.
So, back to what we really need. The simple answer is that it's an awful lot more than it was before we had children. There's a lot of stuff to pack in. They have stuff they can't live without, like toys, games, notebooks and various electronica as well as clothes. And the Zebra. And Little Doggy. And Big Doggy.
Then there's the stuff we actually need to live. That's cooking pots, plates and cutlery. Then there's the stuff to keep us warm and comfortable. That's clothes, pac-a-macs, shoes, sleeping bags, pillows, camping chairs and levelling chocks. Then there's the solar shower, the porta-potti and the toothbrushes and the stuff we need to stop us from getting lost: books and maps.
Next it's time to think about the other bits and pieces. This is the fun stuff. The toys. There are wetsuits, snorkels, flippers, bikes, surfboards, belly boards and bike helmets. Lastly we have the stuff that's nice to have too. Nets, rods, smoker, barbecue. All in all it's an awful lot of stuff. There will barely be any room for us. Sometimes I ask myself if I have learnt anything along the way. But I can't go on a trip without a board, or maps or a sleeping bag, can I? And the kids can't sleep without a cuddly toy!
I am sure that we could have a perfectly good time without most of it, and as long as we are well fed, warm and dry, I don't think it matters. But we'll pack it in anyway. I will play the martyr and pack as little as I can. Of course, if previous trips are anything to go by, my wife and children will appear for tea every night dressed in something different that I never saw before on the trip, whilst I, like a fool, will be wearing the same old tee shirt and with nothing to sit on other than a big old pile of Vikram Seth's finest work.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Inspiration, a pair of wellingtons and some seaweed

A few days ago I got a call from a friend. We talked about a whole bunch of things but ended up on the subject of seaweed. As you do. I mentioned a recipe that I have which uses carrageen moss - a seaweed which grows in abundance on our local beach - to which he blurted out “panna cotta!”
After the call ended I thought about it. Then I pulled on my wellies and went for a walk.
Carrageen Moss has long been used for puddings, particularly in Ireland. It contains a natural thickening agent which can be extracted from the seaweed by boiling it in water from fresh. I use fresh (rather than dried) carrageen for making the Irish Moss cocktail that appears in The Camper Van Coast, so I’m reasonably at home with it. Even so, using it can be a little unpredictable. There have been times when my Irish Moss cocktail has set - which it isn’t supposed to do -and turned almost blancmange like. Oops. But still tasty.
Somehow I’ve never done the obvious and used this type of seaweed for making puddings. Probably something to do with my Irish wife claiming that carrageen pudding is ‘grim’. So, rather than making it the starting point in my education, I dived straight in and recreated a potent local drink I had once on a fabulous trip to Barbados. Mind you, it’s very good.
Anyway, the mere mention of panna cotta got me buzzing. Be-wellied and inspired, I went to the beach and picked some.
Making my seaweed panna cotta was very simple. You could even make it in a camper van – as long as the fridge is working. Boil a handful of carrageen moss for about 10 minutes in enough water to cover it. Strain it and keep the thick liquid. Then bring a mixture of 300 ml of double cream, about 150 ml of milk and two tablespoons of caster sugar to a simmer, along with the seeds of one vanilla pod. At this point you can add a little more sugar if it isn’t sweet enough. Then add about 200 mls of the seaweed jelly (you can see why it can be a bit hit and miss here, right?). Bring to a simmer again and then tip into ramekins. Leave to cool long enough to set. Then dive in. Whilst I’m no food photographer - and only have a sorry arsenal of ‘props’ at my disposal -I did my best to do justice to what turned out to be an absolutely delicious, creamy desert. Does it look as good as I claim it did? The only way to find out is to try it for yourself.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Our beach. The way we want it.

I have good news for you, especially if you are among those who took pictures of Nivea bottles on the beach recently and sent them to Nivea. I had an email from Nivea this morning stating that they would be making 'a lump sum donation to the Marine Conservation Society' as well as continuing to monitor how their bottles are washing ashore. It was agreed that the job of picking up each and every one of their bottles from the shores of the UK would be impossible, which is why they have agreed to the donation (on my suggestion). This is a good outcome and whilst it doesn't actually remove the bottles from the shore, it will help to fund work that The Marine Conservation Society does to keep our beaches clean. In case you didn't know, the MCS monitor the amount of litter on our beaches as well as clear it up. They use the data about the rubbish they pick up to fight for legislation to safeguard the future cleanliness of our beaches. So this donation - however big or small it will be - will go some way to help keep our beaches clean. In addition to this, Nivea have also said that they will take direct action if the situation demands it. We hope it doesn't.
I also hope that this will serve as an example to other companies that they MUST act to reduce their impact on the marine environment, espcially when it comes to cleaning up spills from container ships, rather than simply rely on their insurance companies to cover their losses. If their name is on the product then they must do all they can to make sure it never gets to where it will cause harm.

It is also important that you know that what you do makes a difference. Your camera phone and 3G connection is vital in all of this because, without it, companies like Nivea simply sit in their landlocked offices oblivious to the mess that's washing up. But the evidence - pictures from Jersey, Westward Ho! Constantine, Bude and beyond - is irrefutable. It adds weight to the message that "your stuff is out there and we think you should help us clean it up."

Nivea have said they will. Now it's time to make sure everyone else does too.

So thank you for helping to keep our beaches the way we want them.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Devil be gone. It's pancake day!

It's Shrove Tuesday today. AKA pancake day, the last day before Lent. This is your chance to indulge before it’s all over for 40 days and 40 nights. You feast then you fast and have a little think whilst you do it - at least that's the idea.
But what about tossing? What's that all about? Well, as well as being the traditional time for penitence and reflection, for going to church to confess your sins, Shrove Tuesday is also a time for using up all your rich and fatty foods (eggs, milk, sugar). And that can only mean one thing: pancakes! The tossing part of the story tells of a lady from Olney in Buckinghamshire who lost track of time whilst cooking her pancakes in 1445, heard the church bells and dashed out of her house with her frying pan still in her hand, running all the way to the service. And so a tradition was created. It also explains why men wishing to take part in pancake races are usually asked to don an apron and headscarf. It’s a housewife thing.
Shrove Tuesday has other curious traditions besides tossing pancakes. In many places, villages played massive inter-community football matches to celebrate ‘fat Tuesday’. A few, like at Haxley, continue today. Shrove Tuesday is also known all over the world as Mardi Gras, the last day of carnival season.

Closer to home, at Clovelly in Devon, there is a little known ritual that would have died out if it were not for the persistence of the people who live there. Clovelly is a village that is owned wholly by an estate. Most of the houses in the village are rented by local people which means that the village - unlike so many which have been blighted by unnaturally high second home ownership - still has a beating heart. That, I would argue, is a rare and precious thing.
The ritual is called Lansherd and it involves all the children of the village racing through the cobbled streets trailing tin cans on lengths of string. The noise is meant to drive the devil out of the houses, down the steep cobbled streets and into the sea. Apparently it was a big deal at one time, with biscuit tins, kettles and cans – and even an old tin bath – being used to scare the devil himself out and away where he can do no harm. Basically it's a noisy procession through the streets that finishes when the children get to the harbour and throw their cans into the sea (don’t worry, they get them in the morning).
Lansherd is a lovely thing to see, and it’s even better to know, as the kids rattle off down the narrow car-free streets, that one of our weird and wonderful British seaside traditions is being kept alive.
Sounds fun? Meet me by the fountain at five fifteen and I’ll show you. Bring string and an old tin bath.
After that, of course, it's home in time for tea. Or, more specifically, pancakes.

From 'The Camper Van Coast: Cooking, Eating, Living the Life'. Due to be published on April 12th 2012.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A message in a bottle.

This is a picture of a Nivea bottle I found on my local beach a few weeks ago. I found a few of them at the same time so decided to get in touch with Nivea to find out what it's all about. They asked me to send them some samples so I went looking for more. I found them at Speke's Mill Mouth, Welcombe Beach and Peppercombe Beach in North Devon and at Constantine in North Cornwall.

Niva tell me that they lost a container from a ship in the Atlantic about a year ago but they don't know how many of these were lost. Well I can safely say it was at least 50 because that's how many I've found. I suspect it's a lot more. It could be thousands, or hundreds of thousands.

Nivea have been really good about communicating with me and I applaud them that. They also say that they have been in touch with Cornwall CC and the National Trust about cleaning up the beaches I mentioned to them. They said "if this escalates to larger numbers, that require an organized clean up operation, we are happy to work with local people to deal with the problem." My response to this was that it's easy to do this if there is a spill, but many pieces over a wider area makes it harder to sort out.

Again to their credit, Nivea responded with this: "The council have been told that we are prepared to pay if they need to send out a team of rangers to clean up NIVEA products." And then they added: "This is a very unusual case that we have not experienced before. This highlights the importance of your help to monitor this."

So I say, let's find their lost products for them. And perhaps remove them from the marine environment at the same time. If we let them remain there they will only do harm.

Will you help me?

Please, please. please. If you go to the beach this weekend and see one of these, take a picture with your phone (or gather them up and take a picture if there are many) and email it to the customer services people at Nivea on stating where and when you found the items.Tweet it to me at @campervanliving too, if you have the time. That way we will be able to understand the impact that just one container of someone's products can have on our beaches.

Finally, a word about Nivea. They have been really good to respond and have admitted their responsibility so this is not a witch hunt. If we can prove to Nivea that their spill is significant enough to warrant paying for clean ups then maybe others will follow suit and help us to keep our beaches the way we like them.



I'm not a pheasant plucker...

...which is why I simply cut the breasts from the brace of pheasants I was presented with this week. They were given to me by my friend Neil who is one of the beaters for the Clovelly shoot. Very grateful I was too, as the pheasant shooting season came to an end on 1st February. Gifts like this are one of the benefits of living in the country. Just not if you are squeamish.
These are the birds that didn't get away. They are the unlucky ones, pan fried with a red wine, orange and ginger sauce (simply chuck it in after you've taken the breasts out and let it simmer whilst the breasts rest a while), served with fried portobello mushrooms (pan fried first with thyme in the same pan to save washing up) and a few heads of young broccoli. Took about 15 minutes, needed just two pans (one if you forego the greens) and tasted delicious. Something for the van perhaps? Keep your eyes peeled when you are out and about next on those country lanes. You know, just in case you couldn't swerve quickly enough. Nobody wants to see a perfectly good pheasant going to waste.

Also, note the Westcountry garnish: a bit of orange and some green stuff. That's flash round these parts.

Monday, 30 January 2012

All I need is...

One of the nicest things about planning trips in the camper van is working out what you need to take. It can be very liberating, especially when you are in the mood for making life simple. What do you need? Ok, what do you really need? Lay it all out and then throw half of it away. Then you'll be ready. Despite my best efforts our home is filled with so much clutter that forgetting it all for a few weeks is a joy. What do we need all this stuff for? Do we really need two coats and twenty pairs of shoes? Not really. Casting them aside can feel like the beginning of that simple kind of freedom I long for.

Do you long for it too?

What would you never travel without? What would be the one thing you'd always pack first? What would be at the top of your list, come what may? The kindle? iphone? Macbook? A decent evening heel? For me it's the humble Swiss Army knife. That's it above. I've had it for years and years and I adore it, even if I don't use it that often. If I misplace it, even for a moment, I feel uncomfortable. Yes, so the blade isn't as keen as my cooking knives, the pliers aren't as strong as those in my toolkit and the toothpick is little more than wishful thinking, but at least it's there if I need it.

If the screws in my sun glasses get loose I can tighten them up. If I get a thorn in my finger I can get it out. If my eyesight lets me down I can look at it more closely with the magnifying glass. If the can needs opening I can eat. If the bottle needs uncorking I'm your man. If the wood needs whittling I can whittle that too. I could even make you a walking stick if you got tired on a ramble. Heck, if a horse had a stone in its hoof I could probably deal with that too. If it were to happen, which it rarely does. But you just never know, do you?

My Swiss Army knife adds comfort to my journeys, like the kids' blankies or the favourite fountain pen or that tatty old notebook you rarely write in (and isn't nearly as useful). They are the familiar, the friends you can't leave home without. You take them because you know they will be there for you, should you ever need them.

So there it is, the start of my summer holiday plans for 2012 laid out for all to see. Tweezers and all. It's the best start that any plan could have.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Camper Van Coast: Cooking, eating, living the life.

Well, here it is at last! This is the cover of The Camper Van Coast, spread out on my coffee table so that I can finally see it in all its glossy glory. I think it looks like summer.

The Camper Van Coast is the follow up to my first book, The Camper Van Cookbook. It's been almost a year in the making and has taken me to the four corners of the UK to see and do some of the very best things on these lovely little islands of ours. Inside there are more great recipes for cooking on the road, for baking before you take or keeping the kids involved. There are also lots of other ideas for places to go and things to do to get the most out of any visit to the great British seaside. There are notes on the camper van year, festivals to attend, lighthouses to visit, my favourite beaches, how to put up a deckchair and even some bits and pieces about seasonal ingredients that you can find or forage at the seaside. I might even reveal some of the secrets of making seaside rock or where to watch surfers catching monstrous waves.

All our trips away last spring and summer - including a wild goose chase to find the UK's most remote chip shop in the Outer Hebrides and a 1500 mile round trip to cruise the incredible Causeway Coastal drive - seem like a world away now, looking at the gorgeous blue skies of Widemouth Bay and Northam Burrows (where the cover shots were taken) on this murky January morning. But of course, time flies and the days between now (when the book is being printed, bound and sent back to us) and the release date of April 12th will pass by in a flutter.

I am excited enough by the book but even more so as we're running a competition on the cover to win a Cornish campervan adventure or the equivalent value in Just Kampers vouchers for those who already have campervans. It'll be free to enter and anyone can have a go but you might have to flick through a few of the pages to find the answer to the question! So if you've longed for a cruise in your very own van but have yet to own one, this is your chance to find out what the hype is all about. If you win you'll get to spend a week in Cornwall with one of O'Connor's beautiful VW Campers. Cooking, eating and living the life. The way it should be.

What do you call yours? #mycampervaniscalled LOVE!

A few weeks ago I (with the help of my friends at the Caravan and Motorhome Club) asked the good people of Twitter and Instagram to...