Monday, 30 June 2014

Camper Love. A book review.

From time to time I get sent stuff. It's nice, being sent stuff. I understand how it works: if I get sent stuff I am duty bound to tweet or blog about it. It's what's expected and I really don't mind. I also get lots of requests to blog about unrelated brands or products on here. I nearly always turn them down because I believe in being honest about the things I like and I refuse to blog about stuff that I think you will find pointless and, basically, rubbish. So you know, when you look at this blog, that you're getting an authentic opinion. It's not paid for and that's important.

What I am trying to build up to here is a review of a book I was sent recently. The PR department of the publisher called and asked if I'd review it. Seeing as it is a book about VW campers I said I would be happy to take a look and write a little something about it. I never said I'd lie about it though.

So here's the low down. The way I see it.

The book is called called Camper Love and it's been published by Summersdale. That's it in the picture above. The author is Jamie Tinney.

If you like looking at pictures of campervans, you'll love this book. It is chock full of great shots that'll make you drool with envy. There are splits and bays and Westys and paint jobs and beautiful landscapes and lovely details of accessories. It's camper porn for campervan dreamers. Campers by the beach, campers in the country, campers looking way cool.

If you are inspired by quotes from famous people then you'll love this book too. What better match than some wise words from a famous figure in history with a picture of a campervan?

The book has been well produced, has a jolly cover and feels luxurious. It's nicely designed and the layout is easy on the eye, like a scrapbook of all the things that make you smile.

You will smile when you see this book, I promise. At face value it's cute and pretty. But that's about as far as it goes. I smiled at first when I opened it too, because I like camper van pictures. But then I looked a little deeper and found, well, not much at all. Putting quotes from famous people together with nice pictures feels just like Instaquote to me. I don't get it. Quoting other people - even if they are well famous - doesn't make you wise or cool or better in any way, despite a new context. It just makes you a borrower.

I actually enjoy making up quotes and posting them on social media. For shits and giggles - because nobody really buys that nonsense, do they? My favourite was "If life gives you nothing but arse, make arse biscuits." I got a few likes for that one. Anyway, this kind of cynical putting of pretty pictures with 'meaningful' quotes is just a little bit trite. It's throwaway. I want more from my dub books. I want substance. I want to learn something. I want to see some real soul. Camper vans have it in spades, but not always.

There are a few moments in this book when it almost gets going. This is where we get given a snippet about a van here, a nugget of interesting information there. Flashes of what could have been. It's a tease. For example, on one spread there is a caption that says '1958 panel van used in the 1980 film Getting Wasted, directed by Paul Frizler' along with a quote from American interior designer Albert Hadley. I don't care a jot for what Hadley had to say but I want to know more about this bus. Why was it in the film? What part did it play? What's the full story? Where is the bus now? What's so special about it? Who owns it? Give me something to really think about. There could be something good in these real camper stories. So tell me some tales! Like Dave Eccles would, or like those Jane Field Lewis crafts so lovingly in her 'My cool...' series. But no. Instead I get fobbed off with some motivational bollocks borrowed from someone I don't care about. Frankly, it leaves me cold. But then maybe this isn't meant for people like me.

Looking at the photo credits I notice some of the pictures come from friends of mine. I recognise some of the vans. It's nice to see them - they look great! But then I also notice that many of the images come from Shutterstock or Istock. These are image libraries where you pay to use someone else's pictures. It tells me all I need to know.

So that's about it really. I got sent the book and have given it an honest appraisal.  As I said I would. I think the book will sell well because it's got campers in it. The publishers will be happy. The people who like camper porn will be happy.

But if they want to tell some proper camper stories they know where to find me. I'm looking for a project.

Note to publisher: sorry about that, but you sent the book to me.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Great British Adventures. Yours for the taking.

I've been having fun. So far this year I've been lucky enough to go on a few great camping trips. And it's all been in the name of work. I've been writing a new series for MMM Magazine called 'Great British Adventures' in which I've been sharing ideas for great adventures around the country. Each of the episodes features three different adventures with advice on how to do it for yourself, what to expect and places to park up the camper or motorhome when you are there. The series covers the whole of Britain, so we've been making strategic forays to various parts of the country to spend a few days doing the adventures, taking pictures and staying over. Doing this research hasn't exactly been tough and I have enjoyed every moment of it.

We've seen things and done things that we'd never normally do and it's been really liberating. I've explored underground tunnels in Exeter, surfed the Severn Bore (that was amazing), sailed a dinghy, ridden horses along the beach at Woolacombe, learnt how to ride a Waverider surf machine and searched for fossils on the Jurassic Coast.

As a surfer I usually get my kicks in the sea, so having the chance to try other 'disciplines' has been great. It's easy to become narrow minded about these things - as if nothing else is good enough for you other than 'your' sport. But the more I have done the more I have opened up to other ideas. Even mountain climbing, for goodness' sake.

It hasn't all been easy for all of us. At Easter we headed north to Yorkshire and Northumberland to revisit Malhamdale, go caving in the peaks and wild swim at Janet's Foss. That was all great and we had a wild time. But when it came to cycling the last 27 miles of the Coast to Coast cycle route from Parkhead to Newcastle, it was tough for the girls, especially Charlie. The route is mostly downhill on the old railway bed, which is fine if you're on a big wheeled bike. If you're not, like Charlie, you have to pedal a lot more. But she managed it and I am so proud of her for that. Once we arrived at the Millenium Bridge in Newcastle it seemed worth while, even if Maggie and Charlie were exhausted.

Happily they were back on form in time to climb Snowdon at half term and fling themselves off Europe's longest zip wire at Bethesda the day after. That was truly amazing. The zip line is a mile or so long and has been recorded at 120 mph. It's an impressive ride and a teeny bit scary.

Between times I camped on Lundy Island to snorkel with the seals and spent a couple of blissful days exploring this remote island off the Devon coast. It was magical, if the cliffs were a little dizzying. The picture above is of Lundy Bay, near Polzeath, where I went in March to record footage for my belly boarding segment. It's a great walk and a lovely beach. If you come to Cornwall, make sure you see it!

Inspired to do some traveling yourself? I hope so. Here are some of the best moments.

Music is from my old friends The Adventure Babies.

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...