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.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Three down, three to go

Well, so much for the weekly blog! I did actually start a blog last weekend – but there wasn’t an awful lot to tell, so here it is – the new fortnightly (‘ish?) blog update.

So, we’ve had the first taste of winter down here on the south coast – as wintry as it is likely to get anyway. Hopefully. Temperatures began falling  the week before last although as a result we were blessed with some lovely sunshine and clear blue skies. Normally service was soon resumed though. Mild and wet – and pretty depressing. Monday may have officially been the ‘bluest’ day of the year but for me Friday had a pretty good stab at it.

Last weekend we woke to the first dusting of snow – although by the time we emerged to go and get my school minibus for Monday morning, the roads were clear which was a relief. Yes, it may look pretty but when you’re job involves driving – of any sort – it can be a right royal pain in the arse can’t it? Our minibuses handle well in the dry – remarkably well given their bulk, but put them on an icy road it’s pure guesswork which direction you’re going to go in. And as soon as more than a couple of flakes fall part of my bus route gets shut anyway thanks to a couple of hills. We don’t ‘do’ snow very well down here.

Well, I’m well over  half-way point in my quest for a dry month. It’s been easier than I thought although lime and soda is starting to lose it’s appeal. It’s interesting too how the price varies – I’ve paid as little as 45p for a pint or as much as 2 quid for what is essentially fizzy water with a dash of cordial . I’ve rediscovered my childhood love for cream soda too as a rather bizzarre alternative to a beer in the evenings when  in front of the telly.

The weekend weigh ins havent been  pleasing as I’d hoped. After the first weeks dramatic drop, last week I managed to a pound back on – and this week I’ve stayed the same.  Hopefully it’s only a blip as I ‘ve been taking my morning walks - at least a mile – when the weather has allowed. Of course regular visits to a gym would be the answer, but  no thanks. Been there and done that – a long while ago – and found it so bloody boring.

Last week, the eldest on my bus – who is in the final year of Sixth Form – found out that he has been offered a place at Churchill College, Cambridge after an interview in December. Yes, he has had the benefit of a private education – and a very good one if the league tables are anything to go by – but he has still had to work hard for it, so the very best of luck to him. Well done.

We finally got our Easter holidays planned and booked too. After Twittercamp in Cambridge we are heading up to Ripon in Yorkshire for a week, then down to Buxton in the Peak District for a week before finishing up in Surrey for the last few days. All new sites and places for us, so we’re very much looking forward to them.

Talking of caravanning, Patsy – that’s our caravan for the unititiated – is currently in dock for her annual service. She’s in the last year of her dealer warranty – otherwise I’d get a mobile guy to do it. Not only that but a section fo the floor looks like it’s becoming delaminated – and that’s a warranty job. What isnt is the wheel bearings which apparently need replacing. We’re not at all surprised – the caravan is nearly nine years old and has covered al awful lot of miles in the two years that we’ve had her.

Trev has worked late on the last couple of Wednesday nights so rather than rustle up something at home I called in to Andy’s Deli just up the road in Saltdean’s main shopping street. Andy used to work for the school in security and last October opened his own deli and restaurant. I like to call in when I can not just to support him but because he makes mighty fine pizza and the hot Mexicana is just yummy. Add in reasonably priced great tasting coffee (don’t forget I’m on the wagon!) and delicious ice cream and it’s always well worth a visit. There’s also sandwiches, baguettes and soup on the menu and a great range of cooked meats, cheeses, olives and the like. You’ll also find a huge range of chili based products – from sauces and powders to chocolate and seeds. Andy has done a cracking job and it’s well worth a visit – find him in Longridge Avenue, Saltdean – next door to the Co-Op.

Yesterday was the schools Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep Open Day. We were engaged as usual to help with parking at the Pre-Prep where Trev is now caretaker. With the palying field out of action due to the recent rain it could have been tricky, accomodating everyone’s cars with the very limited parking spaces that we have but in fact it was uncharacteristictly quiet and everything went smoothly. Next weekend is the Open Day for the Senior School - that is generally a lot busier and with building work due to start and a large area being closed off as a result it is likely to be more of a challenge.

Right that’s it for now. Check back in a week for the next enthralling update. Or fortnight. Maybe”"!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

One down, five to go.

Those who know what I do for a living – or indeed any parents – may deduce that I am talking about weeks, and the number there is before the next half-term break. It’s one of the consequences of working for a school – you tend to divide your life down in to terms and half-terms.

Anyway, it’s my plan to bring you a weekly’ish update on what’s happening while we ain’t away in the caravan. We do spend more time at home & work than away, although anyone reading my caravan blogs could be forgiven for thinking the opposite.

Work wise, it’s been ok so far, although the hardest bit has been prising my head from the pillow at silly o’clock, even though I’ve been lying awake waiting for the alarm to go off. Ring any bells?

Many will know that I drive a school minibus – and traffic this last week has been a little kinder than I anticipated, particularly given the weather. Having said that, I did get my first ever complaint after an alledged ‘incident’ Tuesday night. Apparently, according to the message left on the college answer service I overtook a line of traffic and cut in at the last minute. What actually happened was, I decided to utlise the empty outside lane of a dual carriage way, indicating, waiting for a gap, then merging when a space become available as the lanes merged. I wonder sometimes what some people think the second lane is for, decoration? Anyway if the caller thought I was speeding, he clearly hasn’t driven a new type Transit. The transport supervisor and manager wern’t concerned, and the caller didn’t even leave his number.

The overtime has been coming in, though is not as plentiful as last term, due mainly to a change in the sports that the kids do. Although given that our main sports field is waterlogged and currently unusable that may change. Extra work, generally is increasing year on year though. There are less teachers that are old enough to have the automatic ‘D1’ entitlement on the driving licence that enables us to drive  17 seat minibuses, and even less that actually want to take the test. All the better for us, and the extras make the job a viable alternative to something more traditionally ‘full’ time.

A tentative stepping on the scales this morning was a pleasant surprise – 13 stone & 4 pounds – down 6 pounds from this time last week, so I am well happy with that. I’ve been avoiding the snacks, and sticking to a bowl of soup for lunch, along with a mile or so walk first thing in the morning when the weather has allowed. Probably the greatest reduction in my calorific intake though has been down to the fact that i’m going ‘dry’ for a month. Not a drop of ale – or any other grog for that matter – has passed my lips since New Years Eve. That’s longest period of time that I’ve gone without a drink for many years. I’ve not been temepted, though we called in a pub last night for a bite to eat with a friend and Trev’s pint looked very inviting! By the time the month is out I shall be an expert on lime & soda!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

A dry outlook.

Blimey. It doesn’t seem five minutes since the end of term. Enjoying the support staff Christmas party, then heading off in Patsy, the three weeks have once again hurtled by and it all starts again tomorrow – Hilary term no less. Every alarm clock on every possible device has been set in readiness for the silly o’clock start although in all probability I’ll be awake well in advance of any of them.

The usual pile of post was on the doormat when we got back from our trip in the caravan – Christmas cards, magazines and a whole load of flyers that went straight to the recycling bin without passing Go. There was also a delightful communication from HMRC informing me that due to a change in my circumstances I will be required to fill in a tax return. Oh what fun! I wasn’t aware of my ‘circumstances’ changing – I’ve worked for the school for nearly three years – so will see if said tax return form actually turns up when the time comes or whether they’ve got their wires crossed.

I had, during our time away, given some thought to pausing my ‘research’ activities for a month and was planning to start  - or should that be stop - after this weekend. However it appears that I’ve climbed on the wagon early! Not a drop has passed my lips since around 11:45pm New Years Eve, so I might as well carry on now. At least the 1st Feb – when normal service resumes – will come around a little quicker! It’s a while since I’ve had more than a few days off the grog – at least 15 years at a guess – and it will be a challenge, but that’s all the more reason for doing it. It will be good for me both  physically and mentally. Having jumped on the scales this morning, at 13st 10Ib I’m now the heaviest I’ve ever been. Even my stretchy jeans are finding my backside and thighs increasingly difficult to accommodate!

So, 6 weeks until half-term – not that I’m counting. We’re booked in at Crystal Palace Caravan Club site for the week and are hoping to do a couple of shows, but being half-term, there are no bargains about. Will keep looking. So, until then hopefully there’ll be lots of overtime – not only driving but there are a couple of open days coming up too when our assistance will probably be needed.

Right, we’ve nearly devoured all the Christmas scoff. Only the last few chocolates and some cheese remain. What doesn’t get eaten tonight will go in the bin as diets start tomorrow. Wish us luck!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Getting to the point.

Winkle pickers. I just love ‘em. From the plain smooth lines worn with slim cut suits in the 60’s to the zipped and buckled re-incarnations worn by goths in the 80’s and the less bunion crushing versions you see today. It was when I was at the local technical college in the late 80’s that I first encountered them. There were just a couple of goth boys there, and their style was quite different – one favouring the black shirts and long black cardigans  in the style of The Cure’s Robert Smith – and the other, tight glossy PVC jeans and a long black leather coat. Yes, that got my attention too, but they both wore winklepickers. Punctuating skin tight jeans be they denim or PVC they looked just great to me. I had to have some.WP_20151204_14_04_58_Pro (2)

02My first pair, which I still have today, was ordered from some company advertising in the back pages of either Melody Maker or New Musical Express. No slick websites in those days but I was only about 18 years old and that's longer ago than I care to remember. As you can see, two straps and buckles and a with a high Cuban heel and they were never comfortable although I did and do love the look of them, particularly with a pair of bootstrsps. Comfortable they ain't - I would assume that the heavier you are the more it hurts - gawd knows how women do it - but then I've never been a lightweight. Not since I discovered beer anyway.

My second pair were a lot more comfortable. Flat heels for a start helped and with a zip up the front and four buckles, these came from Mr Shoes opposite the Market Square in Cambridge. It may have been that the Goth craze was dying by then - in little old Cambridge anyway - but having scoured all the shoes shops in town they were the only pair I could find. I remember the cost too - £46.50,  so not cheap back in the late eighties.

I wore these a lot - even at work in an office supplies company I worked for. They survived the move down south in 2005 but I cant recall wearing them after that and they ended up in the Sally Army bin soon after. I wish I’d kept them.

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WP_20141229_003The next pair came along somewhere around 1998-1999. A time A recently acquired computer sat on the kitchen table of my mobile home. You know, that horrible beige coloured thing tinged with nicotine. Anyway, taking a break from searching for porn I came across a company called Underground Shoes that manufactured and sold the sort of footwear that - at the time - wasn't at all popular. As I recall a shade under fifty quid - not particularly cheap back then, but they've stood the test of time, as I still have them today, 17 years or so later having been worn fairly regularly throughout. Re-heeled numerous times, they're coming to the end of their life now so its fortunate that their duties are now shared. Elasticated gussets ensure they can be worn with all but the tightest of jeans and their smooth lines are a prefect match for a black suit worn on the odd cruise or other more formal occasions.WP_20151226_10_07_39_Pro

WP_20151226_10_06_58_ProI've bought the odd pair of vaguely pointed boots over the years, that certainly couldn't be classified as winkle pickers and most have gone by the wayside, however, a particular pair from Next of all places have retained their place in my shoe (well, boot) cupboard since I bought them in the late 2000's. Comfortable and with a slightly wider opening they are easy to slip on and kick off, although said opening  precludes the option of really skinny jeans. They get worn most with my regular leather trousers – they are almost the same ‘blackness’, and for a while they accompanied my tighter lace-up ones too.

WP_20150320_055It was nearly eight years before I  acquired my next pair. I’d came across The Gothic Shoe Company and browsed their online catalogue many times, then in January 2015 they ran a competition – and I won!. The prize was any pair from their range, and while I was sorely tempted to go  for something outrageous I ended up choosing a pair of  buckle zip and ankle boots, and although I’d always liked the look of the black leather or suede and chrome zips and buckles of the goth boots of the 80’s I went for the all black option – black leather, black zips and black buckles. They look – and feel great and whilst I’ve worn them mostly (and like them best) with my lace up leathers they work well with regular denim jeans and a recently acquired pair of skin tight faux leather jeans too.

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And last, but not least – at the time of typing anyway. My latest pair. I mentioned above The Gothic Shoe Co. Well, early in the year they started producing some of their boots and shoes in what they called ‘old school’ style. Sharper points, lower profile soles and flatter heels reminiscent of the boots of the 80’s. Of course I was interested, but it wasn’t until December this year that I finally bought a pair. Lace up, and brogue style, they will provide and alternative to and  eventually replace my Underground Shoes pair, when a I’m wanting a more formal look.

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Brogue style Winkle Picker Boots

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Got to wear my latest boots the other night – the ‘Old School’ style brogue lace –ups from The Gothic Shoe Co.

Paired them with my tightest jeans – Extreme Super Skinny Coated – from ASOS, together with a black roll neck and a long line grandad shirt.

Winter Wanderings Part 4 – More from Kent

After staying fairly local on Monday, Tuesday saw us travelling a little further afield and west to the charming little city of Canterbury as we eschewed Rosie’s comfort and instead threw ourselves on the mercy of Stagecoach and it’s ancient fleet of buses. It took about 40 minutes or so and the main advantage was that the bus stop was almost opposite the site enterance. A day ticket covered the whole of Kent, so it was as good as value as you made it.

We’d been to Canterbury before – around three years ago in our first year of caravanning – and in the old Patsy – which you can read about HERE. This trip was less about sightseeing and more about shopping. Trev was after a new pair of shoes and although I hadn’t anything particular in mind, was looking forward to ambling around some shops. What I like about Canterbury’s shopping options is that the usual chain store suspects are clustered up near the bus station, then as you move away, independent shops begin to dominate. WP_20151229_11_59_39_Pro

Well, our search for a pair of shoes for the Portly Partner had so far proved fruitless, so we paused and recharged on coffee and tea cakes. On emerging, there was a shop which, not surprisingly caught my attention:

Of course, I had to have a look, and emerged a little while later with a new pair of jeans. Did I need them? Well, er, no but they were very tasty. You needn’t ask the colour – or the material. Obviously.

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Our wanderings continued for a while longer, but when we got back on the bus Trev was still empty handed. Unperturbed, we stayed on the bus which went back past the site, through Ramsgate and Broastairs before stopping at Westwood Cross – a shopping centre and retail park sitting inland a little on the main road between Ramsgate and Margate. It was fairly busy and I could only wonder what impact this had had on the aforementioned town centres. We’ve seen this a lot on our travels – do councils not think of the consequences on struggling town centres when they give permission for things like this? Of course merely by visiting it, we were in effect supporting it, but we  came away emptyhanded, making the most of our day tickets to utilise the regular ‘Thanet Loop’ bus service to get back to our site.

Wednesday brought with it a return of the high winds and with overcast skies it was pretty grim, though by no means cold. We emerged quite late to grab a few snaps up by the boating pool – it was empty of course and looked a little desolate but the cafe was doing a steady trade thanks to dog walkers and the grey army with grandkids in tow. Out on the cliffs you could see Ramsgate’s ferry terminal lying sadly idle. Regular services – mainly freight, but they allowed cars – to Ostend ceased in 2013, but prior to that Sally Line ran a regular passenger and car service to Dunkirk for many years, and I went on it with my Mum & Dad a number of times when we stayed in Cliftonville.

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We paused for photo’s in the town’s marina – and whilst there may be evidence of some hard times around the town, there was none here judging by some of the vessels. The towns’ frontage made for a nice back drop.

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The Maritime museum sits by the marina and a sign reminds us that we are in one of the most easterly parts of the UK. There was once a line indicating Ramsgate Mean Time (RMT) and it was officially recognised by Greenwich:

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Whilst Greenwich Mean Time was adopted in 1841, the firework displays marking the start of the new millenium were set off 5 minutes and 41 seconds earlier than the rest of the country.

The evening saw us heading west again to Faversham – which as ale-heads will know – is home to Britains oldest brewer – Shepherd Neame. That was not the reason for going though. Alison – one of Twittercamp’s regulars - had invited us around for grog and grub. We had a great evening getting to meet at last, her other half, Dallas as well as catching up again with her son Adam and partner Jamie, also keen caravanners.

With the high winds and rain due to return on Saturday we decided to come home a day early. Patsy may be heavy but but she’s as vulnerable to high winds as any other caravan and there was just no point in putting ourselves – or others – at risk by towing when we didn’t need to. We started packing up – well – a bit – but generally had a lazy day, popping out only for something to eat late afternoon.

Our New Year’s Eve was quiet – in front of the telly with the remainder of our last mini-cask of ale – so not really all that different to many other nights in the van to be honest. Given that we were travelling the next day even the fizz stayed in the fridge.

Well, the rain came earlier than expected on the Friday, but not until we’d made the two and a half hour drive back from Ramsgate to Patsy’s storage site. There was even time to give her a much needed wash.

So, another trip concluded. The weather was largely dry – and very mild – a bonus for this time of the year when you always take a chance. The Broughton Hall Farm site in Suffolk was lovely, even in the winter, the Caravan Club site in Cambridge was as immaculate as ever, and  Nethercourt Touring Park in Ramsgate offered excellent value in a great location for exploring the area

What’s next? Well, obviously it’s back to school for us in our respective jobs, but half-term beckons in February when we are booked in to Crystal Palace in South London for a week.

March see’s the first of two planned Twittercamp UK meets – in our old home town of Cambridge – for a long weekend before we head up north again for the rest of the school’s Easter holidays.

So, until the next time – wherever you are – get them legs down!

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