Saturday, 23 June 2012

Dougal's Dog Blog

While at Alderstead at the end of February I popped down to East Grinstead to see the lovely people at the Caravan Club. While chatting we discussed the Club's new online social network, 'Club Together'. Later on, I introduced a few people to Dougal the dog who had been waiting patiently in the car.

A lightbulb popped up in the room. A fantastic idea spread around the room like a lightning strike. What about Dougal's Dog Blog, writing about the dog facilities at the sites that we visit? After all, one of the caravanning's principle attractions is the fact that dog owners can easily take the most important member of the family away with them simply and cheaply.

Excited and animated, Dougal's Dog Blog hit the internet that very night. It's proving to be a popular contribution to the Caravan Club's 'Club Together' network.

Three months after his arrival, my dog is becoming better known on the caravanning scene than me. Huh.


February brought the big caravan and motorhome show at Excel in London. Highlight was the Caravan Writer's Guild Dinner during a Thames Cruise; a wonderful reminder of what lovely people populate the caravan industry.

Stars of the show in my eyes were naturally the Series 2 Airstream 685 and the 534, but also Lunar's new lightweight Venus range of caravans, and Bailey's Orion Evo. Venus is ridiculously cute, and it's great to see some 'proper' lightweight caravans. Likewise it was interesting to see how Bailey managed to shave 100kg off the Orion by omitting services that only a few caravanners actually use. The silver exterior was great, and I understand why Bailey chose to remain with the established Orion interior. But I *do* wish that mainstream manufacturers would bring out something a little more colourful and contemporary, even if as a limited edition. Still no-one has filled the gap created in the touring caravan market after ABI's exit in 2001, although Adria's Action came close.

After Excel, it was a jaunt to one of my favourite sites, Alderstead Heath. Dougal the dog's arrival has added a new angle to my travels, and now I look at the dog-friendliness of sites along with everything else. I used to like Alderstead a lot. Now I absolutely love it. Fantastic walks for the dog, right from the site entrance. Brilliant.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Baptism of Snow - February 2012

Once Dougal had finished delighting the staff of the Ibis Gloucester, we went to collect the Airstream from its service at Airstream and Co's Southern Depot.

First port of call at one of my favourite cities in the UK, was Cambridge Cherry Hinton Caravan Club Site.  Why Cambridge? Simply because I really like it. My good friend Mr Perks lives there, so the plan was to spend an evening relaxing in a welcoming hostelry and possibly spend a day or two out and about getting some snaps. Which is exactly what we did!

Ah yes, the snow. It got cold. REALLY cold. But thankfully the Airstream remained toasty warm throughout.

Next stop, a regular haunt of mine, was Commons Wood Caravan Club Site at Welwyn Garden City. Still the snow fell.

This stay was supposed to dovetail into the Caravan Show at Excel in London. But the on-site campsite was cancelled. causing me my first 'doggy responsibility' reality check. Could I have camped on site at the show, I could have left Dougal in the Airstream for a couple of hours at a time and gone back frequently and seen him. But now I had to camp off-site, it meant that I had to stay near someone I could trust to take care of the dog while I spent all day at the show. Therefore we went down to Rye, East Sussex, where my very dear friend T could have Dougal while I went gallivanting off up to London. An added bonus was that Airstreamers D & J were on the same CL.

It's at this point I want to go off a little on a tangent about CLs and CSs. For the uninitiated, they are Certificated Locations (Caravan Club) or Certificated Sites (Camping & Caravan Club), basically the same thing but different acronyms for different clubs. They are informal, part-licenced sites for up to five caravans apiece.

Every other caravanner seems to be able to find the 'Perfect CL.' You know, where they are parked up in a delightful spot with a stunning view and the cheery rosy-cheeked farmer's wife lays on gifts of fresh eggs and home made jam, all for something ridiculous like 25 pence a night.

Me? I am the world's worst CL finder. If there is a rubbish CL in an area, it's pretty much guaranteed that I will find it. So, if you want to be up to your wheel arches in slurry next to an industrial estate on the land of the grumpiest grumpster in the county, come with me.

Or, as was the case this time, wedged in a yard between a tractor and a skip for the princely sum of £15 per night:

Not the best pitch I've ever had. Especially when Commons Wood was a tenner a night the previous week. Hey-ho, such is the price of dog ownership. But I did get to spend time with some lovely people, which of course is priceless.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dominoes and dog-friendly accommodation

Life would have been so much simpler had the Airstream been on hand while I moved out of my house. But it wasn't. It was in Gloucester. Despite the fact it was all serviced and ready for me to collect, I simply couldn't afford the three days it would have taken to go pick it up. As it was, I ended up with long days and little sleep the week I had to leave the house.

After a week or two holed up at the parents' surrounded by boxes of rubbish, at last it was time to take a couple of weeks out and start establishing my new life in the Airstream. Only start, as I had a three-week trip to the Hebrides planned in March, and having been blown off the beach at Baleshare the previous October and going four days without sleep, I was doing it in hotels and cottages this time.

To complicate matters, it's not just me decluttering my life. A knock-on effect is that I'm helping my parents get rid of some stuff to, in order to make room for the little bit of stuff that I'll be keeping at theirs. It's a kind of domino effect.

They had boxes and boxes of vinyl records to get rid of. And fortunately I found them a good home with my good buddy Mat who was nothing short of delighted to receive them. But it meant I'd have to fill my car with records when going to get the Airstream, as Mat would meet me in Gloucester to collect them. So I could only take the bare minimum of stuff for my fortnight away in the Airstream. Which was completely empty and had nothing in it as I'd removed the stuff prior to the service to do the Dunster House Concordia project the previous November.


Have you any idea how much space a double duvet takes up in a car? Or a rat cage? Or a dog crate?

But it was lovely to see Mat, albeit briefly, and we had a nice evening in Gloucester.

Dougal the Dog is a new addition in my life, so now when I stay in hotels I need somewhere that is dog-friendly. But I also want somewhere affordable, clean, and comfortable.

Premier Inn? Forget it, they don't allow dogs. Travelodge? Well, they take dogs, but at a charge of £20. That can be more than the room.

So thank goodness for the Accor Group, better know by its hotel brands of Ibis, Novotel, and Mercure. Many of their hotels allow dogs, and the Ibis doesn't even make a charge.

Mat and I were both delighted with the Ibis Gloucester. Clean, smart, modern, comfortable, reasonably-priced, and wonderfully friendly staff. We were so impressed and comfortable their we even ended up eating in the hotel restaurant.

Natually it's a lot more spendy, and less convenient than staying in a caravan. Lots of trips to and fro the room unpacking and re-loading the car the next day. But when needs must, Ibis definitely gets the thumbs-up.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fulltiming - A slow start

With the door finally shut on my bricks-and-mortar existence, the move to becoming a full-timing Airstreamer was a slow, staggered one. In fact, it is still very much a work in progress.

I recently met up with a couple of dear fulltiming friends, J&C, who decided 15 years ago to sell-up and live out their retirement on the road. It's always a pleasure to spend time in the company of such lovely and like-minded folk.

More than once at the previous UKAirstreamers' Gathering had I heard the comment 'So you're settled into fulltiming now.' Funnily enough, that comment was repeated only by people who weren't actually doing it themselves. Those who were living in their Airstreams made no such well-intentioned comment.

There are some people who seem to be able to just be able to do things straight away. You know the kind, they make a plan then just go off and do it, while everything seems to fall magically into place. If they go off on a trip, they can pack their bags in five minutes and be out of the door.

I, I'm afraid, am not one of those people. Even a simple day trip seems to take hours of planning and preparation. 'Have I got my camera? Are the batteries charged? Oh no, it looks like I need to charge the battery. What about my phone? Oh yes, that needs plugging in too. Dog stuff? Ah yes, the poo bags, the kitchen roll and antiseptic wipes in case of accidents in inappropriate places, the water bowl, the travel towel, the lead… I must remember my train pass. And my wallet. And a water bottle. And a flask. And a bag of treats for the dog. Will we be out long enough I need to take the dog's dinner too? And some snacks for me in case there's no cafe on the way. Not forgetting of course the laptop or iPad. And the internet dongle. And the charger lead. Phone charger! Have I fed the rats…?' And so on, and so on.

Such activity can be surmised as the art of faffing. And my goodness, I can faff. I can faff for England. Some people are slick, but I faff.

When slick people start their full-timing lives, I envisage that they lock the doors of their homes, drop the keys at the estate agents, hitch up their Airstream. and off they drive into their new lives with barely a passing thought to their previous existence. How I wish I could be like that. But I'm not.

It turns out that J&C had two years (two years!) living in a static caravan getting themselves prepared and set-up for their life on the road. I didn't feel so bad about the fact that, three months into my new life, I still felt in a complete state of turmoil.

Not emotional turmoil I hasten to add. Almost four months down the line since giving up my house I'm still 100% content and confident that this is the right thing for me to do. But there is still quite a lot of STUFF to sort out. Stuff...that tedious, heavy, dragging anchor of material possessions that is slowly dwindling, but doesn't magically evaporate when you hit the road. Granted, I could just take three months out and deal with it. But what a waste of springtime. And a man needs to work of course. I still need food on my plate and diesel in the truck.

It was early February that I moved out of my house and into the Airstream. In just over three months I'd say that I'm well over half way there. But I reckon it will be February next year at the earliest that I'll be settled into it with something approaching the kind of slick minimalism for which I ache and yearn.

It's a slow process if you have a life to lead while you're doing it. It took 25 years to build up the amount of stuff that I need to deal with. To have it sorted in a little over 12 months is actually pretty good going when you look at it that way.