Monday, 13 May 2013

The Camper Van Coast: Don't take my word for it.



Did I say that I had another book out? Of course I did. It’s been bubbling away for about a year now. And it seems that, from those who have taken the time to review it, it’s been really well received.
So, forgive me whilst I do a bit of selling.

I loved writing The Camper Van Coast and I always felt it was a lovely book, thanks to the work of Saltyard Books. I’m sure you’ll like it too. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the reviewers on Amazon wrote:

“Just what you need to take on holiday, Full of useful tips and suggestions.”

“Highly recommend this book! Lovely recipes, invaluable tips, destination recommendations etc. Makes you want to instantly get behind the wheel and drive, drive, drive! So much fun to be had out there!”

“I liked this so much, we brought the other one too, great recipes and a good read, it makes you want to grab your camper keys and go to Cornwall with your surf board and some food for some fun and great eating.”

“A really nice book which has some great tips and recipes , written with a sense of humour that will appeal to most readers.”

“A great book which radiates fun, sun, food and freedom. Love the pictures and recipes - can't put it down!”

“This is a book I would love to have been able to write. It's got humour, decent recipes and above some great tips, suggestions and comments which make you want to get in the camper and go now. Or, in my case, go and buy one in the first place.”

“A wonderful book with inspiring camping recipes, inspiring photos and a lovely read. We bought this for a friend's birthday who has just bought a campervan and we were so inspired we want the book too.”

“From the same author as The Camper Van Cookbook, I expected a book with yummy looking recipes, stunning photography and some hints and tips. Oh, how I was not disappointed.”

“This book is a lovely sequel to "The Campervan Cookbook". We have been trying (and adapting) the recipes while on our travels and haven't had any culinary disasters, all plates have been thoroughly cleared by the other members of the family with cries of "More" from my three year old!”

“The photography is amazing, mouth watering dishes for us all to try. Martin has included info on how to live the camping life/in your van/in your chosen mode of wheels with your camping journeys.”

Thanks.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

It's murder on the camp site. Camping injuries and accidents.





I don’t think of myself as accident prone. I really don’t. So why then do things keep happening to me? I keep injuring myself. This last weekend I damaged myself on the nose whilst on a camping trip to check out a brand new site at TheMeadows Pentewan in Cornwall.

I was chopping wood to put on the fire. Admittedly it was late and I had enjoyed some cider earlier in the evening so perhaps it was the fault of the alcohol or even my fault for thinking that I was capable of chopping wood late at night. Anyway, the piece of wood I was chopping bounced into the air and hit me square on the nose very hard. It hurt. My teeth felt like they were about to fall out and my septum felt as if it had been crushed by an elephant, but at least the bridge of my larger-than-average hooter (noses run in our family) felt intact. No break, just a loss of dignity and some big LOLs from my twitter followers.

It got me thinking. Why is it that I am constantly coming home from camping trips, surf trips and adventures with cuts, bruises, scrapes, knocks and worrying pains? I am not a five year old boy. I am a fully grown man. I am also someone who likes to do things and be damned. Chop first, ask questions later. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. If I had bothered to write a risk assessment for chopping wood at eleven at night in a dark field having had a few ciders with a very sharp machete and an imperfect surface to chop upon I surely would have gone without my crackling fire. The evening would have been poorer without it.

Sometimes you just have to take a risk. That, to me, is camping. It’s not always safe, this going out business. And that’s why it’s brilliant. Because it makes us challenge ourselves. It makes us get out from under the cotton wool duvet, away from the comforts of home and into the ‘wild’, even if it’s nothing more than a campsite with all mod cons. The wild, however tame, as we all know, can still be a dangerous place. Especially when there are drunken axe wielding maniacs on the camp site.

So. Some common camping injuries (that have happened to me and my family but that I know may also have happened to some of you).

Head banging in a camper van:

During the making of One Man and His Campervan I banged my head just above my left eye on a cupboard and ended up in hospital to be patched up. My excuse for this was that I got up in the night to go to the loo and, on closing the slider, twatted my head on the corner of a cupboard that I didn’t have in my other van (the van was new and I was just getting used to its layout). No alcohol was consumed. Also, I cannot tell you how many times Joanne has banged her head on the top locker in the van. Happily, no serious injury occurred on any of those occasions. And don't tell me you've never done it.

Catching a few fishing injuries:

During our tour of France and Spain last summer I caught myself in the face with a fish hook whilst showing my daughter how to cast. The line had snagged and it popped back at me and embedded its barb just below my left ear. It had to be removed in hospital and I had to beg a Spanish fisherman to take me there. To his credit he waited for me and took me back to the camp site. Luckily I had my EHIC card, which got me free treatment. It was the only thing I caught that trip.

Taking bad drugs:

No. It isn’t what you might think. I developed an anaphylactic reaction to strong anti inflammatory drugs I had been prescribed for a bad back. This was genuinely frightening and my lips and tongue swelled up. I took anti-histamine drugs but still ended up with a catheter in my arm in A&E. However, it’s not without its benefits: walking in to A&E saying ‘I have taken some drugs and my tongue is swelling up’ is still the fastest way of getting seen I know of. (Other than having a suspected heart attack of course).

Buzzing bites and stings:

I have forgotten the number of times camping trips with my family have been ruined by bites from insects. One of my earliest memories of camping is of my mum going to A&E in Devon with a lump on her arm the size of a tennis ball. She had been bitten by a horse fly. I’m not immune to the odd bite but I’m not going to make a song and dance about it like my dear old mum did. I think she would have preferred to stay in a hotel.

In Spain this year I got stung by a weever in the water whilst surfing. It hurt but it was nothing weeing on it wouldn’t cure. Mind you, it’s harder than you might think to pee on the bottom of your own foot. Also, on a trip to shoot some food for The Camper Van Cookbook my kids got stung by some furry caterpillars they were befriending. They cried a lot - but they also learned that not all fluffy things are as cute as they look.

Broken bones, broken arses:

For once, the top prize for camping holiday incidents belongs not to me but to my lovely daughter Maggie, who fell off a climbing frame and broke her arm within an hour of arriving at Eoropie on the isle of Lewis in 2011. Thats' her above, still laughing. It had taken us a week to get there. All I can say is that the A&E department in Stornoway is lovely.

On another note, I broke my ankle skateboarding when I was in my 20s. The doctor who treated me said he had seen an eight year old in earlier that day with exactly the same injury. Jo also claimed she broke her arse when she fell over on her new roller skates (that I bought her for her 40th) about 10 yards after putting them on. They remain otherwise unworn. Ever happened to you? No? Are you kidding me? EVERYONE has hurt their arse on rollerskates!

Surfing injuries and catastrophes:

Statistically speaking surfing is a safe sport, compared to say, rugby or football. But somehow I keep getting unstuck. I have broken my nose, had X-rays for suspected broken ribs, dislocated and broken my big toe, damaged the cartilage in my knee and cut my head open. I’ve also had countless cuts and scratches from hitting rocks and boards. But it still doesn’t put me off.

Most recently I had an extended 9 day stay in hospital waiting for an angiogram after losing my board surfing and having a long and difficult swim to shore. When I got home I had bad chest pains. As it turns out it wasn’t a heart attack, as first suspected, but more likely a virus, possibly picked up from the sea. Again, it won’t put me off surfing.

That’s the point. You can’t let these things stop you. I’m not saying that we should be reckless and do stuff like tomb stoning into shallow water off massive rocks or surfing in conditions that are way beyond our ability, but accidents do happen when you do stuff. However, if you stay at home you'll be missing out on all those brilliant experiences that camping - and life - can bring.

Sometimes you have to take it on the chin. Or the nose.

And I know I’m not alone. Come on! Confess your camping injuries.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Buying a camper this summer? Some things to think about....



OK. So you’ve set your heart on getting a camper. That’s brilliant and we look forward to welcoming you to the club. But first you’ll need to work out what kind of camper will suit you and your family. I get asked quite a lot about this kind of thing so I thought I’d scribble down what I know. I hope it helps, but if I’ve missed anything, feel free to comment below…
The basic truth is that VW campers (and most other campers made out of standard sized vans) are small. They fit in a normal car parking space and aren’t even that wide. So the fact that they are campers is basically down to clever use of space. Conversion companies do great jobs of fitting it all in.
All conversions are different. So when buying a van it’s really important to think very carefully about what will work for you. I know this. Now that I am on to my fourth VW camper I know a little about what works for me.  What was perfect when I was young free and single would not be perfect for me now. There are other factors to consider other than storing my surfboards and wet wetsuits. So here’s a little summary to help you decide.
Don't forget that you can always home convert or get someone to convert a van for you. My friends at Individual Campers rebuilt mine using the original fridge and cooker.

How many are there of you?

This is a vital question. If there are just two of you then you’re laughing – pretty much anything will do. All you need is one bed, and whether that’s full width or not will be decided by how you feel about storage versus sleeping space. More of that later.
If there are more of you you’ll have to think about the numbers of seatbelts and the number of bed spaces available. Some vans have pop tops with hammock style bunks which will sleep children comfortably but are awful for adults (trust me I know), whilst others will have proper beds in their pop tops. These will be better for kids as they grow.
Toddlers, of course, can always sleep in hammocks that sling across the front seats. But for how long? Tiny tots have a nasty habit of growing up and won’t stay there forever.
If you are a family of more than four then sleeping is going to be even more of an issue. Pup tents are useful, as are awnings, but will always mean you’ll need to be on a site to sleep over. Laybys, wild spots, aires and Britstops might be off limits if you need to build to kip. The only ways around would be to sleep two in the top and one in a front seat hammock or go for a Viking roof conversion (available only on type 2 campers I believe) that sleeps up to four in the elevating roof. 

Seating and safety

It’s no good being able to sleep your extended family of fourteen if you can’t actually go anywhere. So seating for big families is as big an issue as sleeping. The law says you have to wear seatbelts IF THEY ARE FITTED, so if you see a van that has six seats and no seatbelts in the back you could feasibly allow your mates to sit in the back. But really? Would you? I wouldn’t.
Also, consider that there are often rear facing seats in campers. Unless fitted with seat belts by a manufacturer  the chances are that they will not be ‘travelling seats’. That means don’t use them. The basic rule? For goodness’ sake don’t be an idiot. Get a van that has enough seat belts for you all to travel safely. If it hasn’t, check that you can retro-fit them. Something to think about might be a day van that you can sleep in. You’ll get proper seats but much less storage space.

What about dinner?

Something else to think about is "what happens if it rains?" And it surely will. So put the van into the dining position when you look at it and see if you'll all fit in. Now think about how that's going to feel after a couple of days away. Can you open the cupboards? Can you get to the cutlery drawer? Will you end up killing each other? You decide what's important.

Lap belts versus 3-point belts

Vans that have three quarter width beds (and cupboards down one side) do not, in general, have two three point seat belts in the back because access to the anchoring points is difficult. Many of them will have one three point and one lap belt.  Lap belts are okay if you are using a car seat with built-in five point harness for toddlers and babies but I don’t like the idea of my kids using them. That’s the main reason why we removed our old ¾ width bed and cupboards and replaced them with a full width bed – so we could have two proper seat belts in the back (see the picture above). The downside is much less storage space.

Pop tops, tin tops and high tops

Do you like to stand up when you cook? Then you might need a pop top, even if you don’t need the upstairs bed space. Some vans have mini pop tops just for that reason. However, the thing about pop tops is that they have to be popped, whereas a high top is always there and can therefore be used for storage when it’s not being used for a bed. It means less moving things about at bed time. The only downside with a high top is that it might not fit in your garage. If you live in a high crime area or near the sea (where the risk of rust is so much greater) it’s a consideration. As for the tin tops, it’s fine if you don’t mind cooking sitting down or have no kids.

Bikes and boards and stuff

Here are some other things to think about

·         A Fiamma bike rack for a Type 2 (Bay) will only take 2 bikes, whereas the equivalent for a T25 will take 4.
·         Pop tops often mean you can’t have roof racks.
·         Buddy boxes are good for storing porta pottis in case you thought about going wild camping.
·         Swivel captain seats make more of your space. Found often in T25s but not so often in T2s, although the Berlin Westfalia conversion has them as standard (I think it’s that one). It is possible to get them fitted to the passenger side of a T2 if you take out the bulkhead.
·         If you intend to camp in winter a propex heater will keep you warm. But you’ll need to make sure it runs off propane as it will work in cold conditions when butane will not.

That’s all for now. More soon….

Good luck and, as always, happy camping!

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