This is my original blog – all my blogs  since I started in 2009 - are here including those from The Ale Archive – all the beers I’ve sampled at home and on our travels since 2012.
 
Since 2012 most of our travel has involved a caravan. I now have a specific caravanning blog called (Get Your) Legs Down which not only documents all our trips but includes product reviews, site listings, storage locations, mobile service engineers and much more. It too is on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Laughter & leather

Or, the final part of ‘Say hello to Patsy’.

Saturday afternoon, and back in not so sunny Saltdean at the end of our first caravan trip. As usual, I’ll wind back and carry on from where I left off.

Thursday, and after the heat wave of Wednesday it was a little cooler. We were heading to Camden for a stroll around the shops, markets and canal prior to a show in the West end. I thought I’d wear black for a change and, wishing to blend in at our intended destination (that’s my excuse anyway) I opted for leather jeans, winkle pickers and a long black shirt. To others I probably looked a tit, but at least I wouldn’t be an out of place tit.

We took the number three bus as usual as far as Whitehall, then changed to the number twenty-four, which should have dropped us off in Camden High Street before continuing on to Hampstead Heath. However at Warren Street the bus came to a halt and were advised to alight. Unfortunately, none of us had any matches, or a lighter so we got off instead……

It was a short stroll to Camden High Street. We headed north, crossed the canal and had a look at the indoor market. Camden has a bit of a reputation as a place to pick up alternative clothing and the like - you can still buy winkle pickers, tartan bondage jeans and stuff like that. Now you know why I wanted to come. Mobile phone shops apart there are very few chain stores here. I was contemplating how nice it was not to see all the usual global high street names as we sat having a coffee. In Starbucks…..

We headed across the road to another market. I remembered this from when I visited years back when you could lose yourself amongst the racks of gothic leather, pvc and the like. Sadly most of this had gone.

With universal agreement that it was beer o’clock we went in to the Black Cap – one of London’s original gay pubs. The bar is upstairs and there was a lovely bar garden at the back.

Back on the bus then, in the general direction of Piccadilly, stopping at Wardour Street for a burger and surprisingly for all of us, a soft drink. The food was just average but the staff were VERY nice to look at.

On to the Criterion Theatre and ‘The 39 Steps’. it was very good, very funny and very cleverly adapted from the film for the stage. A highly entertaining couple of hours and I would certainly recommend it.

Very little to report on Friday. The weather was still good and I even relented and put on a short sleeved  t-shirt – I’ll leave you to guess the colour. Later Trev served up a lovely stew as our friends joined us for our first dinner party in Patsy. We adjourned to their van later on to catch the latest episode of Benidorm.

Saturday morning and time to go. Graham very kindly cooked us breakfast to set us up for the journey. All hitched up and ready to go we said our goodbyes. I drove the first bit this time, out through Crystal Palace, down past Streatham Common and on to the A23. Not having towed in traffic before it was a little hairy at times but we made it on to the M23 unscathed. Trev took over after Handcross hill  and  Patsy was soon home and back on the drive, our first trip complete.

Well, we both really enjoyed and are incredibly grateful to our friends Graham & Robert for all their help and advice, and for introducing us to caravanning. Keep an eye out for a longer trip that may be coming up soon.

Until then….

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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Beer, burgers & cucumber sarnies

Or, Say hello to Patsy part 2…..

Right, it’s Thursday morning and another fine day in Crystal palace, so lets get you caught up on what’s being happening.

Monday was, as I said a day of relaxing but also getting in to a routine. After breakfast I check the water, waste and loo for emptying or refilling as required. A quick go over with the carpets with the hand held Hoover and that’s the days chores completed – all in about 15 minutes. Not much else to report apart from some great weather, clear blue skies and just warm enough to sit out in the sun.

Tuesday, and our first trip in to ‘town’ i.e. central London. The boys had invited us to the Liberal Club in Whitehall Place for afternoon tea, so soon after one pm, suited and booted we gathered and left for the bus. It felt a little odd, strolling through a caravan park done up like dogs dinners whilst all around were in shorts and t-shirts. I have to report at this juncture that my suit was grey, not black, showing yet again just how colourful my wardrobe is….

We caught the number three bus just down the road, then, winding down past Gipsy Hill (how appropriate!), Dulwich, past Brockwell park and through Brixton. The bus crossed at Lambeth bridge and we got off at the end of Whitehall, the bus continuing on to Oxford Circus.

We thought about doing a play or a show whilst in London, and checked out a ticket agent just by the bus stop. We had selected a show and was just about to pay for them when their system went down. We waited and waited but eventually gave up.

With time to spare we decided to try another of the many ticket offices around Leicester Square. The ‘agent’ turned out to be nothing more than a tout in a booth with a few posters and a laptop. Notes were swiftly returned to wallets and we headed off to the Liberal Club for our date with Earl Grey.

The club is just what you would expect of an old gentlemen's club although women are welcome to of course. High ceilings, dark leather and wood and exquisite decoration. Casual lounges and more formal dining rooms are stunning but the highlight is the terrace overlooking the Embankment and the Thames – the London Eye is just opposite.

Tea was delightful, although we all chose the more robust English Breakfast over the delicate Earl Grey, Crustless dainty sandwiches, pastries and scones with jam and clotted cream provided superb calorie laden accompaniment.

We adjourned to the bar for a a couple of liveners, having a quick chat with another of the members who very kindly bought us all a drink and was fascinated to hear of our plans for touring Europe.

Soon it was time to head to Covent Garden to meet up with some more friends – Ash & Stu and we had a pleasant couple of hours with them – over a few beers of course.

All that beer and gassing had brought on the munchies so we headed over to Soho, to Ed’s – an American style diner where we devoured delicious burgers and chips.

Final port of call was Comptons,  a stalwart of the Soho ‘Scene’. They had somehow managed to run out of both real ales so the beer drinkers settled for Guinness. The security/ bouncer geezer made all our nights by asking for for I.d’s to provide were were old enough…

The journey home on the bus was a lot quicker, depositing us just a sort walk from the site entrance a little after 12:30am. It has been a really good day.

Wednesday – and the hottest day of the year so far. After the excesses of the previous evening nothing less than a full English breakfast would do – and Trev duly provided – the first cooked breakfast in Patsy. It was delicious. The gentle breeze which had been keeping the temperature below twenty had gone. After breakfast and the usual daily chores we had a great morning sunbathing and chinwagging.

In the afternoon we decided to go and have a look at the Olympic Park over in East London. I had lounged about in scruffs all morning but got changed  - back to black of course; jeans, shirt and boots – just the thing for a hot sunny day!

A bit of a journey this one – number three bus to Whitehall, change to the number eleven that goes past St Pauls. get off at Bank and get on the Dockland Light Railway to Stratford changing once at Canning Town.

It is impressive, no doubt about it although it’s difficult to get an overview from ground level. The work that has gone into improving the transport links are evident with a massive multi-modal transport hub that will be dealing with thousands of visitors in a few months time. It is looking good.

We returned early evening via a different route – back on the DLR to Shadwell then on the London Overground back to Crystal Palace. The steep climb up from the station necessitated a stop at a pub for a burger and a pint.

Right, back to today (Thursday). At the time of typing Chef Trev is preparing some bacon sarnies for lunch, then the four of us are heading in to town, to Camden, then later on Piccadilly for ‘The 39 Steps’

I have to say that although we may have been spoilt by some great weather, I could really get used to this!

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Monday, 26 March 2012

Say hello to Patsy!

Here we go again, the nonsense resumes! Only this time we’re not in a nice self-contained flat overlooking some pretty harbour or on a big glizty cruise ship easing in to some exotic port

No, this time we in Crystal Palace (that’s South London for those not from these shores). In a caravan. Yep, you read it right. In a caravan.

You may remember my last blog – from Mogan – where we had decided to go travelling. Well, that plan is slowly coming together.

After Christmas (and before we had even decided this) a good friend and experienced caravanner took us around to some dealers to see what was on offer, have a look at sizes and layouts and to see what we could get for our money.Nonsense! (12)

At last, just two weeks ago, we bought one. For those that know, or care, it’s a Coachman Pastiche 460/2. Built in 2004, but even at eight years old it’s in pretty good nick. Two berths (hence the/2) with most of the mod cons you’d need: Toilet, shower, washbasin, cooker, sink, fridge, heating and most important of all, a cocktail cabinet.

The fridge works on gas, battery or mains, the heating and hot water on gas or mains electric. Most sites provide electric hook up as part of your site fee but two propane cylinders in the front compartment are there if needed for heating and powering the cooker.

Anyway, back to the van later. Our ageing Nissan X-Trail, battered and bruised from years of doing those bloody parcels, although already fitted with a tow bar, didn’t have enough puff left in her to tow a van well. Someone wanted to buy it, so we sold it to them. My dear old crate that was the Mercedes CLK would have towed fine, but being automatic it would have needed an additional oil cooler fitted to the front, and being a supercharged petrol it would have needed a petrol tanker behind it.

So we’ve ended up with a an X-type diesel Jag estate. Anecdotal evidence gleaned from the ‘net suggested it would be good for towing – and so far, so good. And it’s black. Lovely.

Why Crystal Palace. Well, it’s not far from home – only fifty or so miles away, but more importantly, aforementioned friend Graham and his partner Robert were coming up for a couple of weeks, so we would have the benefit of their experience, advice and assistance. Not only that, but for less than twenty quid a night, we are a bus ride away from central London. Afternoon Tea and a show or two are already on the cards.

Nonsense!So , what’s it like. Well, there’s lots to learn. When we went to pick the van up, the dealer gave us a complete run down and walk through of the vans facilities and features. This was invaluable. Then it came to towing it home. Trev had towed before years ago, But I never had so he done the first bit, taking us across from the dealers at Southwater and on to the M23 and down. He pulled in to a lay-by and we swapped over. I was a little nervous, but everything went fine. Make sure your mirrors are well set up, be aware of the extra width and length  and take it easy. We got home with the van intact.

The next challenge was to get the van on the drive. We had measured up and knew it would fit, but it was going be tight. However, the van, like many, is fitted with a ‘mover’ which is, basically a motor attached to each wheel and operated by remote control. Within ten minutes the van was on the drive. Easy!

The dealers had supplied a battery and gas bottle and had, very kindly thrown in a mains cable, an aquaroll (for fresh water) and a waste hog (as the name suggests, for waste water). We set up the water, waste and mains just as we would be doing on site.  Nonsense! (1)

I decided that the loo needed testing. Now, generally the loo, whilst capable of dealing with everything is really only used for those nocturnal visits. More substantial er, loads are dealt with in the toilet and shower blocks on site. Anyway, having opened the flies and assumed the position I was overwhelmed by a fit of giggles, brought on partially by the realisation that the bathroom blind was open and my actions could be seen by all and sundry – well with powerful binoculars anyway. It came out alright in the end though…

The van was duly ‘christened’ that night – no not like that – but with neighbours and friends joining us for drinkypoos. There was eight of us in there at one point. It was then that the van was officially named – as the title of this blog suggests – to Patsy.

In the following days various trips to shops ensued to procure accessories and essentials for the van'. The aforementioned cocktail cabinet had only two bottle holders so four more were ordered.Our friends advice on what to take and how to pack was invaluable. As Sunday approached, the more personal items went in. There is a substantial wardrobe so I was able to pack clothes in the full range of colours for which I am so renowned (?) So there are white shirts in there to complement the black ties, black jumpers, black cardies, black jeans and black shoes and boots…

Nonsense! (11)At last Sunday was here and we were ready for our first trip. With Trev at the controls the van came off the drive even easier than it went on. With final checks completed we were on our way.

Then we stopped.

But only to wait for Graham & Robert who we met down the road. They soon appeared and shortly after 10am we were away. I drove the first bit and whilst still a little cautious was soon in to the swing of things. The car was performing well, pulling the van up Handcross hill easily at 55 with plenty of horses to spare. We pulled in to a lay-by near Coulsden and swapped over. Trev handled the traffic well and we were soon pulling into the site. We had arrived on our first trip!Nonsense! (4)

Checking in was straightforward and you are given a pitch number. They had done some juggling and put us together. We followed the boys down through the site, and waited as they pulled on. Then once the way was clear we done the same. A concern of many when towing is when having to reverse. But with the mover you don’t need to worry. It eased gently into place in no time at all.

With the steadies down and chocks and handbrake on, we could get set up. Trev started sorting the inside of the van while I worked on the outside. Electric plugged in, gas on, aquaroll filled and positioned and waste hog in place. The loo was charged with the chemicals and water. Then the kettle went on for a much needed cuppa.

Nonsense! (5)An awning was included with the van although it had not been advertised as such so neither us or the dealer had any idea what it was like. Well, despite having no instructions it went up sort of ok. It was not a full length awning but a smaller ‘porch’. It was a bit flimsy and, having decided that we would look for something bigger and more substantial for longer trips, we took it down again.

The first supper, cooked by chef Trev was delicious – bangers, beans and spuds. We then joined the boys for an evening stroll through Crystal Palace park, marvelling at the massive iconic TV transmitter. Beer was obviously on the agenda and we stopped at a couple of boozers to sample their wares – purely for research purposes obviously!

Back at the site, the boys joined us in our van for a couple of night caps and cheese and biscuits. Then it was time for our first nights sleep in the van. Nonsense! (7)

Well, it was fine. We both slept reasonably well, the rather to frequent visits to the loo thanks to all the beer earlier notwithstanding. I’d left the heater on low and it was plenty warm enough. We’d survived the first night!

As I finish this it is now Monday night. We planned and successfully executed a really relaxing day. The weather is delightful and we even sat outside for a while.

So far, so good!