Monday, October 25, 2010

Coventry camper

It was 4.30 am when I got up into a cold morning on Thursday last. You can never sleep properly when you have an alarm set for the middle of the night. On the road to the airport I passed a badger's bottom disappearing into the undergrowth, frightened a deer who scooted along the road in front of me, avoided a fox busy at its business. Red-eye flight full of sleeping businessmen. Arrival at Birmingham before I'm normally out of the bed and a train to Coventry to see the camper van. Jean, the joint seller of the van picked me up at the railway station. The sun was shining and it was bitterly cold.

Bob, Jean's 81 year old husband drove the van and me to a level spot for a proper viewing - their drive was very sloped. I had a thorough tour of its virtues and facilities (which took a lot longer than you might imagine). It was in beautiful condition and had the huge skylight we'd seen in photos of other vans of this type, but realised we hadn't asked if this one had. 

Plenty of room for the dogs. Outside storage locker for boots and outdoor chairs and other stuff you don't want cluttering up the inside. An astonishing variety of ingenious additions put in by Bob - extra shelves, magnet on the bathroom door, specially adapted clock (frame removed, hook installed on back). Here's Bob in the photo. And the clock.

I took it for a drive which I think made Bob very anxious. Jean never drove the van. Could a woman do such a thing without crashing or panicking or hitting reverse instead of first? However, he could hardly refuse as I'd come all the way from Ireland. Bob began by giving instructions on changing gear, but went quiet once we hit 50 mph. Possibly in terror.

So I bought it. Jean and I went to lunch to celebrate (Bob had had enough by this stage I think - the poor man was probably exhausted). They were the most delightful people. Then off to Nantwich via Birmingham New Street with a quick dash to TKMax, one of the biggest of their stores according to Jean. A single, very pleasing purchase and back to the train. Joe will have the job now of picking up the van - Tuesday next is Arrival Day. I'm planning trips already.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More camper van...

The camper van search continues. The van in Prestatyn was no good. Too rattley, the wood too plasticky. Too expensive for what it was.

So tomorrow I have to get up at quarter to five, drive to Shannon, take a plane to Birmingham, get on a train to Coventry, look at and hopefully buy the van I'm going to see - like the one in Chorley, a 2004 (or is it 2005) private sale. Then I get on a train to Crewe, stay the night with my parents and fly home with Ryanair from Liverpool on Friday. The plane tomorrow is Aer Lingus. I have a horrible feeling it's a wind-up yoke. I don't much like the small propeller planes. Don't much like flying. I'll be on the valerian and Stugeron again.

Better go to bed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple time of year

Written this time last year when at the same task of pressing apples.

It appeared in the Sunday Tribune in January.


At the first pressing of the crop
golden juice reflects October light.
Sunshine slants through half-leafed trees
heavy with apples.

A three-legged press sits squat on the table
beneath the fruited branches.
Apples fall as I release
the aromatic liquor.

A glass raised high contains the pink-tinged glow
of stained-glass window.
Sharp liquid, utterly apple, hits the palate,
summer and autumn in one.

The lifted barrel reveals spent fruit,
russet and ochre moulded
in a fat wheel of plump cheeks.
Bleeding the flesh has distilled the colours
of falling leaves.

            October 2009

Friday, October 15, 2010

Motorhome (aka camper van) odyssey

No time to blog while in Blighty. Camper vans and poems took over my days. The enjoyable little trip to Prestatyn had been changed for one to Halifax which was MILES away. The van there was better because it was a Peugeot not a Fiat. You'll have to take my word for this - research had been done. On Monday we'd just set out on the way to the M6. My mother was driving as far as the motorway intersection where I would take over when my phone rang.
'Have you set off yet?' said Joe.
'I've found another van.'
'No. I can't go to another one. Halifax and Chorley are too much already.'
'It's good news! There's one in Preston. It's identical to the one in Halifax. Preston is just up the road from Chorley.'

Oh joy. We didn't have to drive to Halifax.

The sun was shining. It was a glorious day. There wasn't too much traffic on the motorway. The directions to the motorhome place in Preston, our first port of call, seemed straightforward - I'd phoned them and got directions - although turning off towards Blackpool on the M55 caused rather too many comments about not being able to see the tower yet, Blackpool having one that looks vaguely (very vaguely) like the one in Paris. To be fair you can, apparently, see it from Preston. It is, after all, 158 m and it was modelled on the Eiffel Tower.

The van in Preston was rather splendid. It was the newer of the two we were going to see. I took it for a test drive and loved it - easy to handle, quiet engine, good on duel carriageway and winding lane. Inside, there were so many storage places you'd never be able to find anything. A very natty feature was the hanging locker that could be opened both from the body of the van and the bathroom. Somewhere to put your clothes while you take a shower. The layout was like the last van (which suited us perfectly in most ways) but it was all a bit bigger, and there would be space for the dogs between the beds even when you pulled out the yoke that allowed them to be wide enough to sleep on. We wouldn't have to hoik the heavy seat backs into the front as we'd done before.

All going well. We had lunch then headed for Chorley. I should have known not to trust Google Map directions. I've been caught out before. They were complete crap. Nevertheless, several phone calls later, and after a small detour to the caravan section of the company, we arrived. The older (and slightly smaller) van was lovely, though I think I was somewhat seduced by the warm upholstery and the big skylight. But when I asked to take it for a test drive, the sales woman said she wouldn't be able to bring me out as she was on her own (we discovered the sales people were all at a big motorhome show in Birmingham). Except she wasn't on her own (so why say it?), and the young fella in the office said he'd bring me out. But then she spotted that the MOT (NCT equivalent) had just run out. So all I could do was drive round the tiny car park in first gear. What use is that?

So we made an offer on the Preston van. The sales man came back to us with their offer. No we said. Well, when I say we I mean Joe, me being complete shite at making a deal. So the man from Preston came back saying he'd accept our offer but had to convince his boss.

Then Joe had an email. The price of the Prestatyn van had been reduced. Joe looked at the website again and noticed it wasn't a Fiat but a Peugeot. The website was wrong.

Then Preston man came back saying yes! The offer was accepted! But Prestatyn Van has a towbar which would cost 500 quid, they don't do a DIY version and it has to be fitted in the UK.

The upshot is that Joe's going to Prestatyn.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Motorhome obsession (and a couple of roses)

Summer is pretending to be back. It's balmy outside and the roses are blooming again. I just picked these two beauties from the garden. It's also clearly autumn as the haggard is full of fallen apples, and there are more rosy beauties coming down every minute on this blustery day. There are ten carrier bags of apples in various stages of being frozen and unfrozen ready for pressing to make juice. I should have been doing it today but there were tomatoes to deal with - soup - and a general sort out.

There was an article in the Guardian last Saturday about decluttering and that's what I've been doing with clothes, although not in quite the extreme way that Oliver Burkeman describes. The extreme bit came in earlier in the week when we got back from our trip to the Royal Canal. On Sunday afternoon we had to clean and empty the van ready for someone to view it on Monday. It was unbelievable the amount of stuff we had stowed away in there. It shows how well designed these modern motorhomes are. Lockers everywhere and stuff everywhere.

We'd had three serious phone calls and two people waiting to see it. Joe was lecturing down at UL on Monday so he arranged to meet the first caller there with the van.
'You'd better take the registration stuff,' I said. 'He might turn up with the money.'
'Don't be silly,' said Joe.
At lunchtime the phone rang.
'Can you bring the documents,' said Joe. 'He turned up with a credit union cheque and some cash. He's giving us what we asked for the van.'
I didn't, of course, say I told you so.

So here we are vanless. Our evenings have been spent on the internet. We also went to a motorhome place at Birdhill on the way to Limerick - handy for Joe - and had a good look around. We very nearly put a deposit on a Laika. A lovely van that pushed all the right buttons. But then we caught hold of ourselves. We'll save that one for retirement time when we want to go abroad. For now we need something a bit bigger and a bit newer than the Autosleeper Executive we had. Something in which we won't have to construct the beds before we get into them. Something with an outside locker for tables and chairs and wet stuff.

More research.

And there it is. The perfect choice - we hope. An Autocruise Stargazer. But you don't find them in Ireland. It was looking like an import from England job like we did with the last yoke. As it happens I'm off to Blighty on Sunday to visit the parents. I hope they don't mind a couple of little jaunts out, one to Chorley (up the M6 from Nantwich) and one to Prestatyn (on the North Wales coast). The Prestatyn van has a Fiat chassis and cab and is the newer of the two. The Chorley one is built on a Peugeot Boxer like we had on the last van.
The Chorley van

I'm a bit nervous about this. Both vans are from dealers so hopefully they won't be trying to sell us something with a crap engine. But will I get the blame if I buy one and it all goes wrong?

Fingers crossed on all counts.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Poetry and the Royal Canal

Camper van

My updates are behind. We were away this weekend, so no internet access since last week. Joe had been away visiting his mother, so it was up to me to pack up the van for the jaunt to Galway and then to the opening of the Royal Canal. All this being away on Joe's part was not good as he'd put the van up for sale on Monday. Just to see, he said. We thought we might upgrade to a van that didn't require you to shift seat backs and make up the beds every night - we have ideas of going abroad. So the phone had been ringing with people wanting to view the van and no Joe. No point me showing it - I'd sell it to them for 10 shillings.

Off we went to Galway with Joe and van packed and me feeling nervous about the poetry reading I was about to do and trying not to think about the fact that the Over the Edge Writer of the Year comp results were to be announced afterwards. I'd been shortlisted but wished I didn't have to be there. The reading was ok I think. I didn't stumble or trip up anyway, and it was lovely to have the opportunity to read ten poems to such an audience - very supportive and keen to listen. After the readings and before the open mic competition judge James Martyn was called up to give the results. And, well, I won the poetry section with a poem called 'Pandora's Well'. Astonished and delighted.

The old mill at Clondra

Needless to say my head wasn't great the next morning, but off we went to Clondra in Co Longford. This is a tiny village surrounded by water - three rivers and the Royal Canal. It's fifty years since boats could pass from the Royal Canal onto the Shannon. The canal was closed in 1961 when the railways and roads took commercial traffic off the waterways. Low bridges and culverts were built making it impossible for boats to navigate its length, but at least it was never filled in. In 1974 the Royal Canal Amenity Group was formed to try to restore the canal. Their job is finally done.

Richmond Harbour during the opening
We weren't in Richmond Harbour for the official opening and the speeches. Instead we were crewing for a friend on her old Dutch barge - she was on her own with a baby. It was very windy but gorgeously sunny and I got to take the helm while she did child duties. I've never steered a boat of that size before - the barge is huge. 60 odd feet. Just fits into the canal locks. It has a tiller too, as it's a sailing barge. The wind and current were pushing it sideways so you had to lean all your weight on the tiller to keep us travelling in a straight line. Fabulous trip. Well, until we got to the two locks leading into Richmond Harbour and the entrance to the Royal Canal. Guess who was left holding the baby? Though she is a complete dote and extremely well-behaved. Adorable actually.

I was on a lucky streak. That night there was a jazz band in the Richmond Inn in celebration of the occasion. They were excellent. All dressed up in boaters and so on. Two of them were, I'm sure, in their seventies. There was a raffle too and we came second - the last time I got a raffle prize I think I was about eight. The second prize was better than the first - an €80 voucher for the Purple Onion restaurant in Tarmonbarry just down the road. We'd looked in there once before and decided it was a bit pricey. We had dinner there on Saturday night - it's a pub and art gallery. Great food, great ambience, great service. And not at all coloured by the fact that we only had to pay €11.