Oh what a tangled web we weave…

Tree covered in websThe bard said that. That’s what you’re all thinking isn’t it? But…he didn’t. For once it wasn’t Shakespear it was in fact Sir Walter Scott who said it. Anyway, this post isn’t about bards or poets it’s about caterpillars! I spotted this bush covered in what I thought at first were spider webs. On looking closer I could see tiny caterpillars, about an inch long and they were very active.

There were thousands of the little critters and I could not help thinking some bird was going to have a scrumptious breakfast for the next month or so.

Caterpillar harvesting?

I don’t know what they grow into, if indeed they grow into anything. It struck me that these tiny little creatures could produce such an enormous amount of web to cover a whole tree and the web was strong enough to not only hold their weight, but also resist the moving of the branches in the wind so that it didn’t tear. 

That’s a purely organic process too as the caterpillars produced that web from their own bodies and they’re only tiny so can’t eat that much. It got me to thinking how come we can’t copy that organic process to make things for ourselves? Caterpillars can only eat other insects or plant material so all we have to do is figure out how they turn that into web and replicate the process. 

Here’s some more photos of the industrious little creatures. 

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Vlaardingen, Netherlands

I left Keukenhof and randomly chose what some of us call aires, or stellplatz, or sostas. They’re dedicated parking areas for motorhomes all over the continent, Sometimes they have water and toilet emptying facilities, sometimes with electric, sometimes with absolutely nothing just a parking spot.

Some charge €2 and some charge up to €20, I never pay more than €5 because I mostly use them for water and emptying my toilet and I can fill my tanks pretty much anywhere, so a fiver is worth it to empty the toilet. Any more than that and I may as well pay for a full site.

The one I chose was only a few miles away and was a bare parking space in a town called Vlaardingen. It turned out to be a good choice as it’s a gorgeous little town with every amenity you could wish for. The parking spot was right next to the canal and there was some lovely boats on the water, many that people live in. It had a 48 hour limit on it which was fine and day 2 was 31 degrees!

Is this a giant! Or am I being Quixotic.

A windmill
The first windmill I’ve seen since I come to the Netherlands.

After work we went out for a good walk around and I spotted my very first windmill since coming to the Netherlands. I was a teeny bit excited and it was much bigger than I imagined them to be. It had been turned into a museum and was slap bang in the middle of a housing estate. 

One thing I’ve noticed about the Netherlands is that pretty much everywhere you go is clean. The Dutch clearly take pride in where they live and they look after their own homes and the areas around them. It’s very nice to see.

On my last night in Vlaardingen I heard a loud bang and looked outside to see a blazing car. The bang must have been one of the tyres exploding. It was very well ablaze and right next to another car and a building. 

Call the fire brigade!

I called the emergency services (113 in Europe) and was pleased to note they spoke English on request. They passed me through to the fire service who also spoke good English. A car on fire

Another tyre exploded before they arrived but it was dealt with within 2 minutes. Nice to see services in another country in action just to see how they compare. They were very swift and competent. 

Anyway that was the excitement over with and I’m leaving Vlaardingen tomorrow. It’s been a lovely visit but I’m moving off to Germany methinks.

This should be fun because there are many, many cities in Germany that disallow access to any vehicle below Euro 4. Mine’s Euro 3. I’m hoping there are plenty of Park and Rides around. 

Environmentally friendly

The Dutch fire service dealing with a burning carI am very much in support of controlling polluting vehicles but the simple act of banning them from cities and/or charging extra money to use them isn’t I think a great response. It’s a big swindle in fact if you ask me. 

Develop better engines and cleaner fuels if you want to move on.

Here’s a few photos from the town of Vlaardingen.

 

 

 

 

 

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A1 clutches part 2a

It’s been preying on my mind about A1 clutches. They can’t simply waste an entire day by saying “Come and get your van and take it away we don’t want to work on it.” Besides that I’ve got a 2 year warranty and I don’t want to feel crap about going in if I need to. 

So I rang them and spoke to the owner Rick. I went through everything briefly with him and he was good about it, but sort of standing up for his staff, as you’d expect. We agreed that on return to the UK we’d meet up and talk about how to  move forward. 

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Keukenhof…the disaster

Keukenhof gardens
Keukenhof gardens

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, Lisse, Netherlands

Well after all this time of looking forward to Keukenhof tulip gardens, I get here to find I’ve made a horrible mistake. 

The car park was easy enough to find but it was of course locked at 1am. So I found somewhere random to park for the night and set about cleaning lenses, charging batteries, formatting memory cards etc. I was all ready!

6:30am UK time (I live on UK time when abroad due to work) I was at the gates and got straight in, the first person in the car park. I had to wait for the gates opening but the sun was out by the time they did and it was a gorgeous day. I picked up a free map of the gardens and set off wandering. 

Red tulips at Keukenhof gardens
Red tulips at Keukenhof gardens

At first all I could find was numerous flowerbeds with colourful flowers in. Lovely to look at but not the fields of tulips I’d come for. I can’t remember the exact moment that it dawned on me that when Keukenhof told me that yes, the tulips were still blooming, they actually meant the gardens, NOT the fields where they are all grown. 

I found a viewpoint and saw all of the fields where the millions of tulips are grown…empty. Harvested. Dead til next year. I was totally dismayed. 

Moving on…

White flowers at Keukenhof
White flowers at Keukenhof

You have to get over things quickly though. It was some fun just watching the mostly Asian tourists taking their selfies with great enthusiasm: hiding behind displays and popping up with a wild grin to get ‘that shot’, or standing by a display and pointing to it to ensure viewers see the huge flowers, or even posing as if to hug the whole bed of flowers. Total but simple enthusiasm and they were all at it and it was nice to watch. It matters not what you get pleasure from, only that you get pleasure. 

Later I was to be seen running madly over the wooden stepping stones that allow you to cross the shallow lake. I was trying to see how fast I could go and not put a foot wrong or end up n the lake. Maybe the tourists might have looked at me and wondered why I wasn’t simply posing by the flower beds. 

I call it a disaster but really it wasn’t, it was just a misunderstanding by me and it’s not the end of the world. There’s always next year and the gardens were pretty even though that’s not my thing. little setbacks happen constantly when you’re travelling, especially to new places that are unfamiliar and I’m used to it to some degree so I mostly put it down to experience and enjoy what I did get anyway. 

Here’s a few more pictures I shot in the short time I was in Keukenhof:

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Ahh I’ve so long wanted to come to Amsterdam. I remember when I was young enough to think it was the capital of Holland and that Holland was a country. Now I know better of course but the excitement still hasn’t left me. 

 Amsterdam City CampI stayed at what could be called a campsite, Amsterdam City Camp, but really it’s just a decent parking ground for campers. Secure, and you can see from the photo just how secure the gates are, with water and toilet emptying facilities and something I’ve never seen before: the ability to pay per 24 hours.

Most sites allow you to arrive anywhere from 12 pm onwards and expect you to depart before 11 am the next day. However that means on arrival day and departure day you lose a large part of that day, which kind of goes against the grain of a holiday. With this one you pay at the electronic terminal, and you are allowed to stay for 24 hours from that time. It’s a smooth and seamless process and your ticket allows you entry and exit through the pedestrian gate, and exit form the site when you leave.

Amsterdam City CampThis without doubt is the way forward for campsites. It’s much better value, it doesn’t take any profit from the owner and it maximises the time you can enjoy your holiday. I mostly enjoy my days sight seeing and travel in the evenings as I’m less likely to be doing anything at that time so for me that method of charging is perfect.

You can see from the second photo just how large this space is. And when you come out it is about 5-10 minutes walk to a free ferry that takes about 10-15 minutes to dock at the amazing central station of Amsterdam. Bicycle parking

The ubiquitous bicycles are very apparent everywhere you go. There’s literally thousands of them parked on the streets, in storage racks, in bays, and sometimes just left right by the side of the road. Considering some of these bikes sell for about €2000 I’m surprised people don’t take more care. 

There are about 6 rows of these dual story cycle parks on the wharf at Amsterdam central station. These cycle parking stations appeared in several locations, thousands of cycles all safely stored. Some had clearly not been moved for years.

David's hatThe 2014 movie The Fault in our Stars was about a couple named Hazel and Gus who are both cancer sufferers. A scene from the movie has them sitting on this exact bench in Amsterdam which has since become a shrine for lovers from all over the world. In the picture the young man is holding a leather hat, you can read about this if you follow the link David’s hat

The canals are as beautiful as they always appear on TV and in photos. I was lucky in that the day I went was a scorcher of a day so I think I saw it at it’s best. you can find more photos in the album but they are only small size for the blog. 

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Help the Irish

Currently in a service area just south of Amsterdam having some lunch and got a knock on the door. A young boy asks if I can help his family then gets back in the car. I go out and the man driving says he is Irish and disabled and has just now been robbed of everything from his car. He is trying to get back home to Ireland and can I help him out in some way. He has no money to get home.

I checked the car which was indeed Irish registered but said he ought to contact the police and the embassy as he was the third Irishman to tell me that story in the last 2 days. That was a fib, but his response was epic as he glibly replied “I think someone must hate the Irish and I don’t know why we’re all great people. “

As I went to get back into my van he spotted the slightly dented door lock which from 10 feet away was a superhuman feat, and said “Oh looks like someone tried to steal your van?” In other words he was checking my locks out.

BEWARE of these kinds of scams!! A handful of kids in the back and a fake disabled badge should not elicit sympathy from these people. Have a reply ready that you’re comfortable with but don’t be tempted to be aggressive because it’s likely there are more of them around.

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France here I come

Finished work, I can see the ferry from here, I will be on it at 10pm to sail to France. I can’t wait!

I get so excited like a big kid lol then I get to French passport control and I start to smile a lot. Then I reach British passport control and I start to laugh. Then we board and I start to calm down because I feel like I’m coming home. There is clearly something wrong with me cos I don’t hate the UK, quite the contrary. But there’s just something about roaming the continent and exploring new places. 

Hopefully this visit I’ll get to do Amsterdam finally, and Auschwitz. That’s my two main things. I’d love to go back to Neuschwanstein too but it’s OK if I don’t manage it. The way I’ve worked it out I’ve got until about the end of June before I need to return, and that means I can make another 2 month trip toward the end of the year. 

Happy days. 

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PC World…worst store ever

Well there’s a leading title statement. However it’s true in my experience. And if you dislike rants stop reading now and go and watch Tele tubbies or something. 

The All-in-one Lenovo C20 computer bought from PCworld/CurrysI bought a computer from PC World / Currys back in mid February. It was always designed as a backup PC after the carry on I had in Venice a couple of years ago. It’s a Lenovo C20 which has a 19.5 inch screen, Pentium processor and only 4 gig of RAM despite running Windows 10. It was a relatively cheap machine at £350 but the thing I liked was that instead of the 6 amps that my monster machine uses, this one only uses about 3 amps. For the time I spend at work I don’t need the big one cos I am just in the work interface, so it will save me loads of power over time. 

The screen isn’t fantastic but the sound is very good and the machine is very light in weight, so all is well and I am chuffed to bits. Until that is the DVD stops working. 

Uh oh…

I’ve actually only used the DVD twice, to copy some DVD’s to the hard drive and now it’s stopped working. Windows doesn’t even recognise it at boot stage so something is terminal about the player. I’m going off to the continent soon so I take it back to PC World at Gateshead’s Team Valley who have a KnowHow desk, where all their tech types work. 

Except they don’t, because far from simply replacing the DVD it has to be sent off to someone who will do it. It won’t be back til Friday grr Never mind as long as I get it back on time that’s fine. Typical though…the backup fails lol

Anyway Friday comes and goes, so does Saturday, and I have an itinerary to keep so I rang them and said “I’m on my way to Cumbria, can the computer be rerouted?”

“Yes of course.” they say “It will arrive by Sunday at the latest.”

Excellent stuff so I set off to see my friend in Cumbria which I always do when I’m heading south. Sunday came and went and no PC. Monday came and went and no PC. I rang them and said “I have to be in Birmingham tomorrow because the van is booked into a garage. Can you re-route it a second time to the store I bought it from in Birmingham?”

“Yes of course.” they replied, “We’ll send you a text when it’s due to be delivered.”

No problem I thought. That’s what I get for thinking…

Know how…know nothing

So I get a text to say the computer has been delivered can I come and pick it up. I go there and it hasn’t been delivered at all. Many phone calls later it turns out it never did turn up at Cumbria, but was re-routed to Newark as that’s the main distribution centre. So someone ‘thought’ it should have been in Birmingham by now but it was probably en-route from Newark still. 

I go away and wait a while and get another text a couple of days later: come and pick your PC up. So I go again and again it isn’t there. Lots of telephone calls by staff and I was on my phone for a couple of hours and it turns out it was never at Newark, it had gone back to Durham distribution centre and was waiting to be delivered down top Birmingham. I was bemused. But apparently the texts are sent by a machine and the machine doesn’t know what’s going on. Or something. But then neither do the staff it seems because at this point neither the store, nor customer services, nor KnowHow know exactly where the computer is.

I was quite irritated and a manager had come down to help deal with it and he said to me “If you would stop jetting around the country and wait for it to catch up with you all this could be avoided.”

I was stunned and explained that I’d waited for it now 3 times and waited at least one day over the date I was given to pick it up in each place. so this could hardly be my fault. I asked then for a refund and he said he was not authorised to give one out, I had to contact customer services. I gave him a piece of my mind and stormed out angry that I was wasting so much time for the sake of a faulty DVD.

It turns out that he lied because refunds are always handled at store level I was told later by customer services.

Leave this store!

Never mind, KnowHow machine knows where it is because it texted me again 2 days later saying it was there, at the same store. So I returned and thankfully the manager wasn’t there (it turns out he wasn’t a manager anyway he was a deputy manager) and I spoke to another deputy manager who said the computer was not there. I started looking around for a video camera in case I was being pranked for Youtube. But no, he was serious.

One of the staff gets on the phone, he gets on the phone, I get on the phone. A half hour later no-one knows where the PC is. I say right, it’s time to re-route it yet again down to Folkstone, which is the nearest store to Dover, as I am catching a ferry in 2 days. 

“No it will be delivered tomorrow I am sure of it.” the deputy manager recites yet again. I am flustered with him and yet again show him all the texts I now have on my phone over the last 2 weeks saying that the computer had been delivered and was ready for pickup. 

“Why should this time be any different?” I asked. Also, I haven’t got time now anyway. I’m getting on a ferry in 2 days. We end up in a row and I call him an incompetent which he is because he refuses to call the store manager to authorise a refund and he is adamant that the delivery will be tomorrow when I’ve been told it will be delivered ‘tomorrow’ for over 2 weeks. He told me to leave the store hahha

I was so angry I faced him squarely and told him I’d leave when I was good and fucking ready to leave. My Ire was high, I was not in proper control, and I saw in his face that he had not a clue what to do so I left the store. 

Customer empowerment

I was so angry, at the fact it was only a damned DVD drive that failed, no-one knew what was going on, staff just weren’t helpful, and KnowHow is clearly atrociously badly organised. I decided to calm down and set off for Dover in the morning. I had no idea what my next step could be. As it happened I telephoned again later that evening and told the whole sorry tale for about the 5th time to another member of customer services who promised to call back. 

Indeed he did call back an hour later and said they had something called Customer Empowerment. It was a scheme devised to help out customers who had experienced service far below the level they should. So, I would be in Dover tomorrow, I could pop into the Folkestone store and pick up a brand new computer to take to the continent with me. It won’t be exactly the same machine as they don’t have any but it will be similar spec and similar money but even if it’s slightly more expensive they’ll let me have it. The manager there has been briefed so it should be a smooth transaction.

Oh and by the way we’re going to refund you £10 for your distress and the diesel you’ve spent driving around shops and the hours of calls you’ve made. I told them to stuff their paltry £10 right up as far as it will go because that’s just insulting, but I was pleased that finally we had a resolution. As if…

Folkestone

So, I pop into the Folkestone store and speak to the manager who knows absolutely nothing about it lol No surprise there really…

He telephones someone about it and gets the details because he said he’d only ever dealt with maybe 3 customer empowerments in his long career with PC World. Sure enough he does not have the Lenovo C20 in, but he does have a few other all-in-ones. The HP was mentioned as being a candidate when the customer service rep spoke to me yesterday. However I can’t have that one I was told as it’s £150 more than the one I’d had.

“What if I pay a little extra? Or maybe we go halfies on the difference?”

“No sorry, I can’t do that, we can’t give discount at store level, there’s so little markup on PC’s as it is.”

I looked at him a little stunned and said “What about customer empowerment???”

He simply stared at the desk and said all he could do was refund me the original purchase price and that despite customer empowerment the store retained authority to make their own decision about what to do. (The deputy manager of Birmingham WAS lying then!) He wasn’t going to budge on this, so I gave my card and got my money back. First thing in the morning I go away still without a backup computer, but not for the want of trying.

You might recall when I had trouble with PC World in Inverness, quite what possessed me to go back again I don’t know but  PC World and Currys are now anathema to me and I will not even look through their windows let alone buy from them.

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A1 clutches part 2

Well what a tale I’ve got for you today!

I got to the garage and dropped the van off and me and Jack set off down that lovely canal again. Canals are fab places because there’s water which we’re all drawn to, straight walks away from traffic which most of us enjoy, and of course nature. Bizarrely as we walked a large heron decided to land on the opposite side to us and wait for fish. I know it was 15 feet away across the water but I never though for one minute they were bold enough to be that close to a dog. 

Grey heronJack was pretty stunned too, he simply stopped and stared at it for ages, maybe waiting for it to do something? Maybe wondering what it would taste like? He’s taken on a herring gull and a goose before so he’s not afraid of large birds, but it sat there nonchalant so we walked on.

I found the same cafe as last time and got a nice cuppa and sat outside with it in the sunshine. When the weather is nice it makes so much difference. We continued our walk and as I randomly walked streets I found my van parked in a garage! Not A1 clutches, a random MOT centre, tucked right away in the side. Just sitting there. I was shocked and wondered if it had been stolen?

I went in and asked about it and apparently the MOT centre is part of the same group as A1 clutches and they had taken the van over their to work on it as it had a free bay. Grr I wish garages would tell you when they do this. This was about 11:30 am and I’d dropped the van off at 8 am so I asked if it had been looked at yet and the guy said he thought so. 

Anyway I carried on and 15 minutes later received a phone call from Jaz who was the manager. He said they could not hear the clunking from the front wheel that I had mentioned, so could I come down and show them. I said if you can’t hear it driving then simply test the ball joint as I am convinced that’s what’s at fault. They said that’s not their way to test the ball joint with a lever. I was surprised as that’s how all garages test them because they’re simulating the joint being under load. But anyway he referred to the gas leak I’d mentioned and said the EGR valve was leaking. I replied it was a brand new EGR valve and I’d just had a new EGR tube fitted to the manifold too, but you can see that it’s not the EGR valve leaking, as the soot marks point upwards from below the EGR valve. When you rev the engine you can even see the soot blowing up from down the back of the engine. 

So I moved it on and asked if the rear box of the exhaust had been done. he explained not but that it would be better if I attended and as the guys were going on lunch from 1 pm til 2 pm, 2 pm would be a good time.  I pointed out that I’d dropped the van off at 8 am, so that would be 6 hours they’d had it by that time and nothing achieved, and I needed it back at 3 pm anyway for work.

At this point Jaz said “Mr Finnigan I resent you saying that we have done nothing to your van all day. Come and get your van. Pick it up and take it away we don’t want to work on it. You can get the work done elsewhere.” I was stunned! I was so stunned I simply said OK and hung up.

The truth is they had done nothing all day. They might have driven it forwards and backwards in what they apparently call a pendulum to recreate the noise I was hearing, but they’d not done the simple, definitive test that every single garage in the UK does, which is apply pressure to the ball joint to test for movement that indicates wear.
They may have decided that the gas leak was from the EGR valve, but if they had looked at the valve and revved the engine they would have instantly seen the soot that spurts up from below the valve, probably from a faulty manifold gasket, or a hole in the exhaust or something.

They may have done something, but it wasn’t much and it wasn’t right either. I did as asked and simply went and got the van and drove it away. An entire day completely wasted. I was too angry to say anything so I left it til another day.

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New clutch – yet again.

Yes clutches, we’re back to that old chestnut. I need a new clutch yet again.

There’s a ‘fluttering’ noise coming from the clutch when I am in neutral and stationary. It’s not every time and when I depress the clutch the noise goes away. So I asked in one of the forums I’m in for recommendations and A1 Clutches came up. I called them on the phone and they seemed fine so I booked in for a visit. 

We found Nemo.When I got there it turns out they have a tropical fish tank in reception. I know from Swingbridge autos who also have one that Jack is fascinated by fish tanks. Perhaps he just wants to eat them? Yeah I think that’s it…he just wants to eat them. He wants to eat everything. Including vomit. I think I may do a post one day about nothing other than the things Jack eats.

Anyway, here’s Jack Finding Nemo. or more accurately, trying to eat Nemo. Please,if you have kids don’t let them read! (Disclaimer: no Nemo’s were hurt in the Jack and Nemomaking of this post, I didn’t let Jack eat the fish.

A1 clutches are right next to a canal so I left the van and Jack and I had a lovely day walking along the canal. The sun was shining and there was a little breeze and we hadn’t had proper exercise for a few days so it was nice to look forward to a good walk. I even remembered my sun block!

 

A1 rang me and said the clutch was done but the clutch fork was very worn so they needed to replace that. The total cost would be about £450 so I said go ahead thinking that might explain why new clutches don’t seem to make much difference.

The job was done fairly quickly and I had the van back at about 1 pm. Interestingly they had added some advisories which I thought was a nice touch. They noted the gear selector was worn, (don’t even start me off about rip off Keldine Autos, or Ford Parts as he calls himself!) the handbrake was slightly high which I knew about and that’s something I’d fix myself later. 

Slight engine and gearbox leaks and the gearbox oil was low so they topped that up, well, both leaks go back to shoddy work done by Premier engines when the engine was rebuilt and the gearbox when that was rebuilt by Ford parts/Keldine autos. 

They also noted the exhaust was blowing and the rear box needed replacing again I was aware of that so that’s the next job. Crikey, it’s never ending! As I left I noted that the clutch juddered slightly as I let it out, and the bite was quite ferocious. Cross fingers it’s just cos it’s new and I have to get used to it. I’ve booked it in for same time next week to have that exhaust looked at and a couple of other things.

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Update: Call me lazy…

It’s been a very long time since my last post and as this is a sort of personal journal as well as a blog I thought it worth putting something up as a sort of quick update. 

I’ve not really been anywhere til the last few weeks, trying to get my van fixed which is proving to be impossible now. Another Peugeot dealer says 2 crank case seals need to be replaced for £1200 and also the turbo for about £900. I took it elsewhere and they fitted a new crankcase breather valve and the oil leak has stopped. £140 as opposed to £2100 at the dealer lol. 
I’ve also replace the mass air flow sensor and cleaned the EGR valve and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference at all. I also replaced all the glow plugs with brand new Bosch ones and put some refurbished injectors in, one of which failed so I had to take that back out again. More on that later. Premier engines in Glasgow refused to even answer my emails when I asked them about the leak. I’ve never in my life known such a poor company and Paul Eades is without doubt the most insulting and rude person I’ve ever spoken to. 

Anyway, I had a rear wheel bearing replaced and a ball joint and took it back to the people who fitted the new calipers last year as one was binding. That’s all sorted now and I also bought a new water sensor for the fuel filter as the wiring had been damaged by someone at some point, however nothing has made any difference at all: apart from the odd inexplicable occasion I get 22 mpg or thereabouts instead of the 29 I used to get. I cheered myself up by fitting new high security locks on the cab doors. 

One bit of cheery news from the last year was when I rang Safeguard to let them know my change of address. The guy I spoke to was ace and he not only changed that but was pedantic about checking details and it turns out I was due a £70 refund! Obviously this year’s premium will be cheaper too so that was a godsend. 
Another bit of cheer is that I have just come back from a few weeks in France and Belgium. I managed to get away! I broke down in Belgium but that’s another story lol but I came back as my son is expecting his 3rd child so obviously I want to see that baby. After which…I’m offsky again and I also have some exciting news about that which I’ll share later.

Some more news and some photos of France and Belgium to follow…

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My sad return

Sadly, it’s almost time to get the ferry back to England. 🙁

I’ve got some things to do including at work but the main thing is my 5th grandchild is due anytime soon! That’s the main reason I am returning so I’ve come to Autingues to get the dog sorted.

Auntingues
This is next to the car park for the vet in Autingues. Northern France is quite flat and sometimes featureless but that doesn’t stop it being pretty. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to see for miles.

Any time you return from an EU country you must have a registered vet administer a worm tablet. That’s it. And some charge €52 for that one thing! haha They sure know how to fleece tourists. You must wait between 1 and 5 days to return so it’s worth getting it done a couple of days before returning, as generally speaking the further you are away from the ports the less they charge. 

It’s always a bit of a wrench too coming back to the UK. Nothing against the UK I love the country, but it’s just the end of holiday mode. Life feels just so much more relaxed on the continent.

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow…’

I recall many years ago when I had a fairly responsible job I went to Thailand with my then girlfriend and we spent a month there just roaming around and enjoying exploring the place. Neither of us had been before and so everything left us wide eyed. 

When it came time to return home and go back to our jobs I was quite depressed for a while. I decided then and there to make much more of my spare time and my next job would not be full of responsibilities. I wanted a decent work life balance. 

For the rest of the time in that job I spent almost every weekend away and a while after coming back from Thailand we bought our fist camper to maximise our weekends away. We won it at 9 pm in an eBay auction for £1000 and set off at 10 pm to catch a train down to Cornwall to pick it up. We got there about 9 am the next morning absolutely shattered but we spent the next year flogging that old camper all over the UK.

We had a blast and I sold it back on eBay a year later for £1000 and we splurged on a brand new coach built motorhome the following month. That’s the one I still use and I can’t imagine life without it now. 

Oh well, bye Continent, I’ll be back! (Said in my best Arnie voice!)

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Caen, France

I came to Caen once before, some years ago and kinda drove straight through it. I was headed to Mont St Michel and sometimes when I get something in my head I am 100% focussed. Well, not so much now but I used to be. So this time I decided to stop in Caen and check out the war memorial.

Caen British Memorial Garden
Separate plaques at the Caen British Memorial Garden commemorate each of the battalions, units and corps that fought during the battle to free France.

I vaguely knew Caen figured heavily in the war and I found the memorial very easily. Luckily there was an aire there too so I had no problem parking for the night. 

The museum is spread over a massive area and has huge fields and woods around it so there was lots of walking for me and Jack. I did of course enter the museum but I was still waiting for my pay to go into the bank and could not afford the €30 odd it was going to cost. I explored the grounds instead. 

The British memorial was only completed in 2004 although it was considered to have been started in 1988 when the then Israeli president planted a single tree there. 

Caen British Memorial Garden
The Caen British Memorial Garden commemorates his Majesty’s forces but also the merchant navy and civilians who contributed.

It’s quite sobering visiting any of the war graves or memorials of which there are many in northern France. The mood is always sombre but that’s the knowledge of what went on that makes you feel that way.

“Lest We Forget…”

One man created the whole war. One man. It’s very frightening to think that so many people can be led by one single maniac to carry out atrocious acts on their fellow humans. 

They say “Lest we forget” but it’s not really a case of forgetting. It’s a case of being drawn in irrespective of the horrific memories of what went on for those years.

Caen British Memorial Garden
This garden was designed and built on behalf of the British Friends of Normandy with the help of the city of Caen.

I sometimes think they glorify war and ennoble the dead in order to encourage more to be prepared to fight when the day comes that those in charge want to take something for their own.

Our leaders have not stopped going to war ever since and probably never will do.

It’s about power, resources and greed and you can’t cure politicians and business leaders of that. 

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Mont St Michel, France

I made it down to Mont St Michel. Bit of a hike but I’ve been wanting to return ever since I first visited in 2009. The place is amazing. It’s an island and has an abbey on top, with houses in the middle and at the bottom almost at sea level, accommodation for workers. 

A lot has changed at Mont St Michel since I was last here. For a start the enormous car park has gone completely. I recall dozens upon dozens of motorhomes there the last time, but it’s all been left to go to the sea now.

Mont St Michel and bridge
Over €200 million has been spent de silting the area around Mont St Michel.

Apparently the maintenance was too expensive so they let it go and built a brand new set of car parks slightly north of the old one, with a bridge connecting the island with the mainland. Free buses go from the car park to the island if you want them or you can walk.

Parking for cars starts at €6.30 for 2 hours but longer than that and you must pay the 24 hour rate which is  €12. Everyone of course will pay the €12 because who wants to park for only 2 hours? It takes a half hour to walk there and back anyway.

For campers you can have a look at the car parks for 30 minutes for free. I have no idea what that plan is about, because 30 minutes is only long enough to get to the mount from the car park. I suspect they allow you that time to convince yourself you want to pay the daily fee which is €17.20. That’s a hell of a money making racket isn’t it?

Oddly there is a horse drawn carriage which is a slightly different way of getting from the car parks to the mount and that costs only €5.30 one way, which isn’t bad value at all. 

Dam over the Couesnon river
Erected to control the river and the silting of the area around the Mont. It incorporates seating as it is a perfect viewpoint for Mont St Michel.

Payback?

There’s a dam further up the river which is all part of the de silting plan which apparently cost over €200 million to put into place. Clearly the French Govt want to get that money back very quickly so they fleece tourists to achieve that. 

You must be aware that once on the mount itself it is very expensive. So your entire stay could cost you an arm and a leg. My advice is visit but start very early on the morning and see as much of the mount as you can. Take your own food so you don’t spend a ransom on the restaurants and leave after nightfall when it’s all lit up and looks beautiful. 

I didn’t go on the mount this time, I was there really to take some photos which is what I did and then I left.

As always. here’s a handful of those pictures.

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Never rue Rouen

Quai Cavelier de la Salle
A small pleasure boat goes against the tide up the river Seine at Rouen.

On the way down to Mont St Michel I had to stop off in Rouen. Rouen is another city that I love and in 2009 when I had my satellite internet I spent a month here. It’s changed a lot especially the Quai de Sever where I parked, which has been developed now as an urban park space.

For now I parked at the other end of the long quai down at Quai Cavelier de la Salle. There were a couple of other vans here and it was peaceful so it seemed a good place to stop.

I walked along though to the Quai St Sever where I’d spent time in 2009 and was amazed at how nice it was. They’ve put gardens there and large wood recliners. Sports areas and small kids parks. Fitness installations and complicated walkways which are great for dog walkers like me. 

There were tons of people around even in the evening and after dark there were still a few people sitting and chatting on the benches and enjoying the evening by the river. It’s clearly very popular.

It really is a fantastic urban space and a huge change to the immense concrete apron where the circus used to come. 

River view
Over the bridge and beyond the initial buildings Rouen is a quaint and pretty town with an old quarter that vies with any others.

I walked to the end and found an aire that I hadn’t known existed. A formal space designed for motorhomes to park. it’s at the other end of the quai at Quai d’Elbeuf. I noted there was a car parts place newly opened there called simply Pieces d’Auto Rouen which means Rouen auto parts. Handy to know. 

It’s nowhere near as pretty at the aire as you’re on the edge of the industrial area and there’s no view to speak of however it’s free and safe, and less than 10 minutes walk into town across the Pont Pierre Corneille bridge. 

In 2009 I remember the sirens were a particular irritation to the point they distracted me daily. I guessed that fire service vehicles must use a siren even if they are not on an emergency. I don’t know if that’s true or not but it’s the only explanation I can think of for the constant use of them. I noted this visit that the sirens were still a  feature and I’ve not noticed this in any other French city.

They were not as often as before, but still frequent, maybe every half hour. I was on the phone to a friend for a long period and even they remarked as to how often sirens were going as when they went over the bridge above me they were really loud.

I still love Rouen. I think like Amiens every time I come to France I will visit. 

My first attempt at posting a panorama shot…

Quai St Sever and Rouen cathedral
Another view of the huge changes made to Quai St Sever. This was once nothing more than a large concrete apron for about 2 miles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why speak any other language if you have French?

Update: after my experiences in Belgium I decided to get some new bolts for the injectors, a new collar for the EGR valve and some screw extractors. I set off to find them and the very handy Pieces D’Auto Rouen that I mentioned was first on my list. Sadly they had nothing I needed apart from some brake cleaner, which is excellent for cleaning EGR valves and anything else sooty and oily.

Interestingly as I was using my poor French on yet another non-English speaker the manager of the store came in and spoke very good English. We chatted and I mentioned how my lack of decent French was hampering my search for parts and I was learning as I went. He laughed and commented that in France they had this thing called ‘chauvin’. (Related to chauvinistic?) It meant basically if you have French you do not need another language!

I remembered a couple of years ago a big survey undertaken by holiday companies such as hotels airlines etc and they looked for which nationality was the best and worst for trying the languages of the countries they visit. Britons were among the top people for trying believe it or not, and French were the very worst by far! 

A quick google found a Peugeot dealer in town so I went over and lo and behold they had everything. At home you can’t get a bloody screw without them saying come back in 3 days. In fact when I bought a new dew sensor for my fuel filter from a dealer in Barrow it was weeks before it finally came in.

Anyway, the chap in the parts dept  of SCA Normandie (who could speak no English at all) was excellent and got me some new injector clamp bolts, new injector seals, new injector protectors and new collars for the EGR valve. All very reasonably priced too. I had to have 4 of everything and the final bill was about €60 which is ace considering the dam collars are about €15 euros each.

Next step, find some screw extractors. I literally drove all round Rouen for a whole day looking for some. Each place I went to I was trying my French out and I learned new words as I went. Each place sent me somewhere else and I had to understand what they were saying which was not easy. 

However eventually I found Demay Lesieur which sold me a set for €21. A lot to pay but excellent piece of mind that if the same thing happened again I had the tools and parts to fix it quickly. Interestingly, when I got back to the UK I was in a market and found an almost identical set of extractors for £2.50. I bought some as they had slightly different sizes and for that price you may as well. 

The whole experience of breaking down, being recovered, going to the garage, and finding spare parts and tools made me determined to learn more French, and most nights now the last thing I do before bed is use the Duolingo app on my phone and do a little practice. 

Here’s a few shots although I didn’t take many this time. Click on a photo to enlarge it, click on any one to go back to normal.

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Amiens, France

Ahh Amiens I’ve missed you! I haven’t been here since 2009 and I do love the place. This was where I saw my first Lumiere when my friend was visiting. 

Amiens cathedral.
As part of their Lumiere season the Cathedral of Our Lady in Amiens was treated to a spectacular light show which included lighting the cathedral’s gothic facade with the original colours it was painted in when first built.

Some people say it’s nice to come home but I don’t feel that way about where I was born or brought up, I feel that way about places I have a connection to. I definitely have a connection to Amiens. As I said I saw my first Lumiere here. The cathedral in Amiens when originally built was painted in bright colours. The Lumiere was intended simply to recreate those colours and show how the façade would have looked when originally built.

They made a show of it of course with some music as well and it was an amazing spectacle. It was all the more exciting as we had not expected it. We were simply sitting in the public square enjoying the balmy night and were in fact ready to go back to the van when the Lumiere started.

There’s an excellent Saturday market in Amiens too and I recall standing in front of a stall packed with lettuces of all different varieties. Of course I love salad so this was a treat for me and I was eyeing them all up and I asked what one variety was called and he replied “Salade.” I pointed to another and he said again “Salade.” So I pointed to an odd looking one and said “Salade?” and he nodded lol

A woman was standing by me and she turned out to be British as she explained that you simply point to which ones you want, even the French don’t learn the names of all the varieties. I felt a little foolish but laughed anyway. Later, the one I picked went into a salad and it was the most delicious lettuce. Mmmm.

Parklife

Parc St Pierre, Amiens
The main park in Amiens. It’s got a lake, running track, sports areas, wildlife and of course lots of well tended grass.

Jack of course loves the park next to the city, the Parc St Pierre. I recall trying to teach him to swim here when he was young but he wasn’t having it. He’d rather spend his time chasing ducks and anything else he thinks he can kill. 

It’s a huge sprawling park and even late at night I feel safe walking through it despite the odd lurkers here and there.

I recall once coming back through at about 1 am with all my photo gear and there was a large group of youngsters sitting on the steps chatting and laughing as youngsters do. As I approached they made a way for me through the middle of them and two of them said ‘Bon nuit Monsieur’, which I thought was pretty dam charming. 

I spent a few days here and in that short time I felt utterly relaxed and recharged. Sometimes being in a favourite place for a short time is all you need to recentre yourself. 

There’s a surprising amount to see in Amiens but it’s also a lovely city to relax in and even in the centre of the city prices aren’t inflated as they are some places. I highly recommend a visit and here’s some more photos to whet your appetite. 

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Bruges, Belgium

The Belfry
The Belfry is so tall it’s difficult to be anywhere in the city and not see it. It’s great though that the majority of buildings are in keeping with the style.

I first visited Bruges in 2004 after meeting a Belgian in Austria who recommended we visit. We were glad we took his advice because it’s a beautiful city like many in Belgium. I love the old traditional cities which have not succumbed to mind numbingly boring modern developers and retain some charm and interest and character. 

This time I arrived on the night of 9th of March and decided that although it was after 10pm I’d walk into town before bed. Jack needed some exercise anyway. We found there was some kind of festival going on as everyone was in fancy dress, some throwing fireworks and all of the pubs were loud and busy. 

The mood was boisterous but fun and friendly and walking Jack through the city centre was as safe as playing with him on the beach. he loved it as he got loads of attention from admiring passers by and of course that’s what Jack lives for. Well…that and killing things *sigh*

You can only have the menu!

After an hour of enjoying the mood and the city I decided to break with my normal diet and get kebab meat and chips, known most everywhere as meat ‘n chips. I spotted a kebab shop not far away so tied Jack up and went in. 

Bruges is Flemish Belgium, so I asked for “Viande et frites s’il vous plait.” He looked at me and pointed to the six photos above the griddle which showed the delicious kebabs they sold. I waved to suggest dismissal and repeated, “Non, seulement viande et frites s’il vous plait.” He again gesticulated at the photos so I asked if he spoke English and he shrugged as if to say either “No.” or “I can’t be bothered to.”

Man walking
I loved this scene because you have the old and traditional kind of building which directly abuts a modern building which has no character. The modern building looks incongruous.

We went on like this for five minutes with me thinking of various ways I could get through to him but it was increasingly apparent that he simply did not want to and was not going to veer from the 6 menus he had on the display. So finally I chose one that was a simple donner kebab: meat, salad and pitta. 

I pointed to it and said “Menu cinq s’il vous plait.” He appeared really pleased and pointed to it and burbled something unintelligible. I said “Oui, mais pas de salade et pas de pitta mais avec frites…s’il vous plait?” which of course effectively got me meat n chips lol

He looked quite angry and waved at me shouting something that kind of looked like no but felt more like piss off! I wondered if it was my poor French but it has worked before…

I was a bit confused because if you sell something and have to take a part of it off and bin it but it has been paid for, what’s the problem? Anyway I decided it was time to leave so I went back to the van and made myself some savoury rice from scratch which was just as tasty as meat n chips and way healthier. Baise tu! Mr Kebab man. 

Socialisation 

So I spent the next day in Bruges and right from early morning the sun was shining brightly. As I got into town I noticed how clean the streets were especially after last nights shenanigans. It reminded me of Italy when we spent New Year in the Piazza del Popolo. There was about 50,000 people out celebrating and fireworks abounded. 

When midnight struck apparently it was customary to share a bottle of cheap champagne with the person next to you, then throw the empty bottle into the square. The mess was amazing and we were careful when we left as there was very little path without glass on. However the council were coming in with cleaning crews even as we left for the tube and the next day the square was clean as a whistle. 

Market square
When there is no market on this square is full of tourist groups, horse carriages plying for fares and noisy lorries which are allowed to drive through the square.

Bruges also was clean although in the main squares there were still council vehicles and staff finishing off the clean up. 

In the market square is a tall war memorial. I’d noticed some young boys trying to throw water bottles up to the top level of it. They weren’t intent on harm and I didn’t feel they were deliberately disrespectful, it felt like they were simply messing around without thinking what they were doing. However I decided if they had not stopped by the time I finished my coffee I would speak to them.

As I sat there a council worked drove round with his motorised street cleaner and stopped next to the large group who were very likely some sort of school group tour. He clearly had some quiet words with them and they behaved straight away. The whole thing was even tempered and over with quickly but I was astonished. In the UK no council worker would dream of doing the same thing, and if they had it’s likely that some irate parent would react angrily and aggressively because their little darling had been spoken to. 

There is a process called socialisation where the young are taught how to grow and develop but that seems to be disappearing in some places. It was very pleasing and gratifying to see such a simple but positive interaction between adult and children in public. 

I had an amazing day in Bruges and I am sure that won’t be the last visit I have. In fact I may go back next spring! As always here’s some photos from my visit. Click on any image to enlarge it and click on any image to exit the image browser.

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Belgian Breakdown

Image of damaged engineSo, this happened. 

Diesel injectors are complicated things that squirt fuel into your cylinders. They are under immense pressure and so are held in place by a large, solid metal clamp which is bolted onto the engine block. When you change an injector, or take it out to clean it as I did you must take off the large bolt and clamp and then pull the injector from it’s seat. The bolts that hold the clamp down must be in very tightly due to the pressures involved, otherwise the injector would simply shoot out of the hole and punch right through the bonnet.

They can be responsible for poor fuel consumption and as I am plagued by that I have been refurbishing an old set of injectors. So I was parked in a layby in Belgium swapping the injectors for the replacement set but when I was taking this one off, the bolt head snapped clean off. Oops. You can see the threaded part of the bolt still in place arrowed in the picture.

With no way of holding the injector in place the engine simply won’t work. To get the bolt out I need a screw / bolt extractor and I haven’t got any. I could try drilling the bolt and hammering a small flat screwdriver into the hole, but if it doesn’t work I could damage the engine irreparably. 

Luckily I have breakdown cover for Europe so I rang them and after establishing where I was they said they’d send someone. I was on the computer and kept looking out of the rear window for the breakdown truck and the guy in the car behind kept smiling. I think he thought I was looking at him. I glanced around and it was obvious that this was like some layby’s in the UK, a place for men to meet other men. I tried glancing without him noticing that I was but he did anyway and he probably thought I was simply being coy!

Anyway the truck arrived and the although the guy spoke barely no English this is Flemish Belgium so everyone speaks French so we managed to get by, resorting to using Google translate on our smart phones when we got stuck. The guy from the car behind came out and started stroking Jack as the recovery man was getting my camper onto his truck. He tried to speak to me a couple of times and it was slightly embarrassing because his intent was obvious and yet given the circumstances he was not prepared to give up.

If I was a woman and had to put up with that shit daily I’d buy a bloody big baseball bat…

Anyway we finally got on our way and Mr Breakdown texted almost the entire 40 minute journey grr. I tutted a couple of times as he was veering toward the side of the road but he seemed totally unperturbed. I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

We finally arrived safely at a garage and he handed me over to the mechanic who spoke even less English. I am not sure if he was putting it on cos he seemed not to even understand “OK!” However with sign language and my little French we got the van parked in a bay on the street outside the garage, as of course I’d be sleeping in it that night. I felt more settled as the AA had rung me twice to check progress and when I mentioned his lack of English and my poor French they said if I got stuck they’d liaise with the mechanic for me. 

Parked outside the garage in BelgiumSo, here I am outside the garage after a good nights sleep. Notice anything? Yeah…my van is 10 and a half feet tall and the garage doors are about 7 feet tall. So there’s no way he can fit me inside, and it’s raining outside, so…

And yes I was right, it was 2 days before he finally got round to repairing the van. I phoned the AA again to let them know what was happening and he had told them they did not know where I was. They did however know I was sleeping in the van so I think they were simply avoiding doing the work in the rain outside.

He came out anyway and I had googled the words I needed and explained what I wanted doing. Pointing at the bolt I said “Percer” to mean drill it. Then “Extrait” for extract, then “Remplacer” for replace. He nodded and went off (presumably to get a new bolt) and was back and had the job completed within an hour! Merde! I was secretly chuffed cos although it took them ages to attend to me, the job was done quickly and the bill was high for what they did, but within reason.

Anyway I was just chuffed to be fixed so I paid the €112 bill (Daylight robbery!) and took off. 

So, I’m driving down the motorway after leaving the garage and after spotting sign for a rest area I decide to pull in for a cuppa. Guess what? Yeah, the exact same one I’d been taken from a few nights ago by the breakdown truck. Given that you join the highway about a mile before it, and leave the highway about 3 miles after it to get to the garage, how come it took 40 minutes to get there last night? Well I did a bit of Sherlock thinking and came up with this:

I was a foreigner and stuck. He was an independent breakdown operator. He texted almost throughout the journey. He brought me to a garage that could not fit me in. It took 2 days to get round to fixing my van. For what was actually done to my van the price was steep.

I think he was texting the whole journey because he was trying to ‘sell’ my breakdown to a garage. He must have been driving around the streets waiting for a good price before settling on the one he took me to. Conspiracy theory? Or truth? Who knows. Anyway, I’m off to France now to find some screw extractors and some new parts cos if this ever happens again I can do the job easily myself.

Oh and no…the guy in the car behind me wasn’t there when I returned! lol

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The Louvre annexe at Lens, France

The Louvre
The main courtyard, Cour Napoleon is where the glass pyramid designed by I.M. Pei serves as entrance to the largest museum in the world. It was originally built as a castle, then as a royal palace but the museum has slowly taken over most of the old palace now.

Most people know that each time I go to France I must also visit the Louvre. The biggest museum in the world is also the one for me that is full of stuff I like. Each time I go I try to spend the entire day, which is very easy if I’m on my own. It’s one of my top destinations in the world. 

They have art from all around the world and most tends to be traditional art, some of it ancient. There’s not many unmade beds with dirty sheets here. 

The place is grand, and humbling, and beautiful, and stacked with the most amazing and beautiful objects. One of my favourite pieces of art ever is there and it’s a sculpture by Italian sculptor Canova. It’s called Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. 

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
This statue of Cupid reviving the woman he loves is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

The story goes, Cupid’s (or Eros as some call him) mother Venus had asked Psyche to bring back a flask from the Underworld. She made Psyche promise not to open the flask. However Psyche could not contain her curiosity and eventually opened the flask and after smelling the awful fumes fell into a death like sleep. 
Cupid saw her lying there motionless and approached, touching her with the tip of an arrow to check if she was still alive. 

Cupid feel deeply in love with the most beautiful Psyche on first glance and took her into his arms to kiss…and thus revive her. The council of the Gods later granted permission for Cupid to marry Psyche and this made her immortal, and created her the God of the Soul. 

There’s much more to the story than this and several versions but this one seems to be the most popular. I’ve got literally dozens of photos of this one piece and I think it’s the most expressive sculpture I’ve ever seen. 

Anyhow, the Louvre opened an annexe at Lens in 2013 and I kept saying next time I get back there I wish to visit. So this is my first port of call! 

Louvre annexe at Lens, France
Louvre annexe at Lens, France

It’s nothing like I imagined. It has pieces which all come exclusively from the period know as antiquity. I didn’t know antiquity was a period, I thought it was anything that was ancient!

When you first enter the place is bright and airy with lots of room to move around. A member of staff approached me and quickly shifted to perfect English to welcome me and ask if he could help. The entrance was free but I paid €3 for an audio guide which did in fact enhance my enjoyment of the visit. 

There’s not just artefacts but displays, videos playing and occasionally presentations on a variety of themes and topics. There’s an awful lot going on. 

However when you reach the main hall it seems as if there is not very much to see. The spacing between pieces is very large and clearly they’ve done that to ensure people can get to see pieces and walk around them without it being a crush. 

This photo gives a good idea of the sense of space there and it also felt to me like the exhibits were placed so as to make you feel they were much more accessible

Plenty of space at the Louvre
Plenty of space at the Louvre

than otherwise. You could walk around things and view them from every angle and touch them if you dared…!

Kidding, no touching. 

The sense of space and the lightness made me feel at first there was not much to see but despite this I spent an entire morning there and could easily have spent the whole day if my interests were wider. 

A definite thumbs up from me for the Louvre at Lens and no doubt I shall be visiting again. Here’s a few more pictures from there, all taken on my phone. 

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Gearbox update

I went back to Keldine and asked for the owner so I could complain about what has happened with my gearbox. I find out that the owner of Keldine autos is Trevor, who also owns Ford parts and supervised the refurbishment of my gearbox. 

After explaining that I was very unhappy that my claims weren’t being taken seriously and it was obvious to anyone that gear changes weren’t smooth he agreed finally to give it another test drive and we drove around the estate for 2 minutes, and it was very evident that gear changes were not smooth, I could feel them through my feet as we drove. I looked at him when he put it into 3rd gear and it almost crunched and he looked back and simply said “It is perfect. You can’t get any better.” When we both felt the crunch and we both knew that it was far from perfect, I realised he is not ever going to admit that it isn’t right.

I think the fact that he isn’t even taking a look at it either, or offering to for more money speaks volumes. 
I’ve driven this van for 13 years almost and I know for a fact there is still a fault with the gearbox so I asked him to write me a letter stating that in his opinion the gearbox was perfect and the job was done properly. He stated that he would not do that as it was a waste of his time. 

Clearly there is no value at all going back there ever, they are flatly refusing to admit anything is wrong, so now I must find someone independent who can look at the gearbox, and give me their opinion.

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Gearbox checkup

After several phone calls where I was promised a call back and none of them materialized, I decided to call down to Ford Parts anyway. I met Trevor who apparently supervised the refurbishment of my gearbox.

I explained that I wasn’t happy and that it felt very much like the synchromesh was failing. I was experiencing the same problems I had in Southampton. He said he’d have a little drive so we both went out. As soon as he came to a junction and geared down I said “You must have felt that grate into gear slightly?”

He looked at me as if he had no idea what I was talking about, but then said “That noise is from the gearstick block, not the box.” He believes the gearbox is perfectly fine even though we both heard it ‘clunk’ into gear. It’s clear they are not going to admit anything is wrong so my next task is to get a second opinion and maybe even a third.

By the way here are some photos that show the disgusting oily state my van was left in when I picked it up. The mat had to be thrown away because it was so oily.

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Engine rebuild

I found a company in Paisley called Premier Engines. They pick the block up, rebuild it and send it back for £1284. That finally happened last week and on Friday I received an email to say they had tested the block and there were no further problems so it will take between 5 and 10 working days to rebuild.
When it gets back it needs new timing belt and a few other bits and pieces and the MOT will be due, so the spending isn’t finished yet. The final bill is probably going to be about £2500 however I ought to have at the end of that a van with a totally refurbished engine and gearbox so, fingers crossed nothing else goes wrong.

Whatever anyone else says, I will never own another Peugeot in my life, I’m put off them forever and not just the lack of reliability, but the sheer extortionate cost of parts.

An interesting side story comes from when I tried to pay Premier engines so they start the repair.
I logged into internet banking and filled in the online forms to pay them using bank to bank transfer. However Nationwide stopped me saying as it was a new payee that hadn’t been paid before I had to have my electronic card reader to get the code from. The reader is in the van so I rang them to explain and they said telephone banking was automated so it too would need the card reader. I said well no problem, can you please do it. They said no they don’t have the ability.
After a short and frustrated discussion I asked for a supervisor who confirmed, without the card reader I could not make any payment. premier engines does not take card payments over the phone due to high levels of fraud, so as this occurred Friday morning I would have to wait another 3 days before I could pay them by going into a branch and get the job started.
The principle that I cannot spend my money how and when I wish to because the bank controls when and how I have access is to me a huge problem and not fair or right. I understand their need to be secure but they have a responsibility to establish security that does not result in people not being able to spend their money.

So I’ve raised a formal complaint with Nationwide because this is the 3rd time I have been stopped from spending my money by their practices and it simply isn’t acceptable.

I logged onto Santander as I had enough in that backup account to pay the garage so I did that. Their security sent me a one time code to my phone, I typed that into the online payment form and hey presto, the bill was paid! Thank God for Santander! Oddly when I went back to Nationwide to transfer funds to the Santander account to replace what I’d just spent, that transaction was also blocked despite Santander being a named payee! In frustration again I used the app on my phone and that allowed me to pay Santander immediately! No consistency or sense in how this all works so I am going to continue to make a formal complaint about the bank to the ombudsman in the hope that if enough other people also complain, the bank may eventually change it’s practices.

In the meanwhile I am staying with my friend in the lakes while all this is going on. By the time I get my van back I’ll have been staying with her for 3 weeks, so massive thanks to her and I shall have to find a way of making it up to her for being such a fabulous friend.

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Engine woes

When you live in your van full time what’s the worst that can happen? Gearbox fails? Engine fails? You break a leg? Well of the top ones I just had the second…the engine seized.
I’d just finished work at midnight and went to drive to a new place for the morning. I felt the engine struggle and I assumed it was in limp mode. However I only just made it into a layby and it cut out and was clearly seized.
I had been noticing lately that the meter on the binnacle reported only 2 bars of six for the oil, but when I’d tried the dipstick it was full, so assuming an oil pump fault I checked the dipstick again to find…completely empty! A quick look revealed a loose oil filter Grr! Luckily I had oil so I topped it to full again and went to bed intending to try the engine in the morning after it had had plenty of time to cool down and the new oil to get in. As I was very anxious I got no sleep that night contemplating what it could be, what it could cost me and what this might mean to my lifestyle. I didn’t even have internet or phone connection in the layby so I lay in bed worrying all night.

Come the morning I tried the engine and it started fine, so I was HUGELY relieved as you can imagine. I set off to another layby which I knew was close by and where I knew I could get a signal, just in case the engine wasn’t quite right. Very lucky that I made that decision because about halfway to the layby, some 500 yards I could feel the engine struggling. I managed to reach the layby and coasted in with the engine off. The oil was definitely full although the meter on the binnacle said empty, but no oil light was on, so I assumed now there was a fault such as a broken oil pump.

The recovery guy came and they took me to Chris Ritchies in Barrow who the next day confirmed the engine was damaged and needed to be replaced.

FUCK!!!

Now, anyone who reads my blog regularly will probably wonder how it is that one person can have so much bad luck over a long period of time. Well, so do I! I do try to think positively and say some people contract a disease and lose limbs, some people get cancer and are given a few months to live, some suffer appalling injuries in attacks and…well you get the picture. It doesn’t fix my engine, and it doesn’t make me happy, but it does make a difference to the stress to think that there must be thousands of people just in the UK alone who would love to swap their serious problems for mine.
After a scour of the internet I finally found a company called Premier Engines in Paisley, Scotland. They’re going to arrange to get the engine from Chris Ritchies and rebuild it and it will cost around £1140. To strip the engine and put it back when it’s refurbished Chris will charge me about £750, and it needs new oil and timing belt before it’s replaced so there’s another couple of hundred quid. So it’s going to be £2000 or more all told to get it back to working condition.

Fucking bummer eh? But like I said, someone just lost a leg in a motorcycle accident so putting things into perspective it’s not that bad.

As a sort of add on story, I found an organisation called the Federation of Engine Manufacturers. It’s obviously a trade organisation so I checked the site out and tried many of the garages that were listed there. There was one that did marine engines, one that was VW/Audi specific, one for Caterpillar equipment etc etc. The only garage I found that did engines of the sort I’d need I contacted and when he rang me I was chattering on and mentioned refurbished engine. He immediately said don’t touch one with a bargepole and was quite insistent about that. I asked why and how a refurbished engine was different to a manufactured one and he flustered a bit and asked me to check on his website where it was all explained. He continued to ask if I wanted him to quote me for an engine and I said yes but I wanted to know what I was being quoted for, ie: what is remanufactured compared to refurbished. He was still unable to tell me so I left it and checked out his site, which had absolutely nothing at all about refurbished on it!

Meanwhile he sent me an email saying he could not find me a remanufactured engine, here’s a snip from the email:

“The reason you cannot compare reman to refurb/recon is because there is no definition of reman/refurb which is why we do not sell them.”

Of course I emailed back saying if there is no definition, how do you know you don’t sell them! Anyway I went back to the FER site to use their forum and found that of all the questions that had been asked over the years, I could not find a single one that had been answered! Also the site looked like something from the 90’s. So the Federation of Engine Remanufacturers is in my opinion a faded organisation that does not appear to have any clout or standards at all, hardly any members and no participation in their forum so I am left to find my own garage.

 

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Furey-ous

I met up with an old friend this evening at a Toby carvery. It was lovely connecting with her and we had a right giggle over old times. Just prior to her arriving there was a couple in  the car park who had a dog that came up to sniff my dog. They had coffee mugs in their hands and had obviously come out of a blue van nearby. When we came out later on in the evening they were still there, having a cuppa sitting in the grass. It looked like they were staying the night so being a local and knowing some much better places to park, when my friend left I went over to them to let them know.

We got chatting and as it happens they were actually booked into the adjoining hotel so they had no need of safe parking places. But as we chatted it turns out that he was Martin Furey! Now any fan of the Fureys, The Chieftains or the High Kings -all Irish folk bands- will know that he is the son of Finbar Furey, himself one of the 4 Furey brothers in the eponymous group The Fureys, and Martin being of the 4 members of the High Kings. We were chatting and chilling and it was all relaxed so I didn’t bother asking for his autograph, although I did ask to take his photo for this blog which he declined, and I respected his decision to do that. Still, it was a pleasure connecting with such a talented musician and a nice man. If you’ve no knowledge of these musicians or this music check out his website here.

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Gearbox update

So finally I book the van in to Keldine autos at Gateshead for the gearbox to be sorted. I picked them totally randomly cos tbh I’ve been to that many garages and been told that many things that now I just want it sorted. They telephoned me to give me the news I half expected…it needs a complete overhaul. Well, it couldn’t just need selector rods could it lol So I gave the go ahead and went into a hotel for a week.

When I got it back it was absolutely filthy.  IMG_20160729_170618031_HDR IMG_20160729_170639510 IMG_20160729_170719450 IMG_20160729_170734647 IMG_20160729_170755982 IMG_20160729_170829668_HDR IMG_20160729_174553769_HDR Greasy oily handprints all over the paintwork outside, and all over the steering wheel and door handles. You can see on the babywipe how much muck came off after just wiping the steering wheel once: it took 4 goes to get it clean. The footwell was disgusting and the mat if you can see in the picture is covered in grease or oil from the boots. I had to throw that out as no way was it coming clean.
I have no clue what the sand/grit stuff is in the footwell, but it had to be swept out and washed thoroughly. Maybe they put that down to soak the oil up?

Also the liner in the wheel arch was left unsecured. There’s a plastic clip that holds it to the front of the wheel arch and another different type fits the rear of the wheel arch. Along with some clips that I already wanted for the bonnet liner they cost me £42. The van wasn’t even repaired at Keldines, they had taken it to a place called Ford Parts. It’s a completely different company.

But at least the gearbox is fine now yes? No. Well, it’s debatable.

I took the van back and one of the lads at Ford Parts drove it and said it was fine. That worried me because the gears were still clunky to get and sometimes I had to really push the gearstick to get it into gear. After a couple of chats they finally said that the gear cables were old and worn, and since the entire gearbox had been refurbished it must be those cables at fault. £300 per cable to buy and about £200 to replace meaning an £800 job. What a fucking joke.
I mean they may well be correct about the cables causing the problems I don’t know, but I found some on ebay which claim to be genuine Peugeot parts for £116 the pair so I’ve bought some and will take it back to Ford parts to have them fitted.

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The Old Keswickian

Seems like I rattled the cage of the owner of the Old Keswickian. Alan Simpson who claims to be the owner disputes how much I paid for my fish and chips. That’s very odd. I know how much I was charged, I wonder where the discrepancy occurs?
Anyway, he points out the price and then continues to  say I was probably ‘non compos mentis’ when I visited and therefore dialogue is futile, and he hopes I will never come back.  A few emails followed, all quite insulting, I see now why the Old Keswickian is the way it is. Well, with an attitude like that matey if I was coming back, I won’t be now.

However as I said:
The Old Keswickian; fish was fine, chips were dry, hard and tasteless, the cartons they use are so small food falls off, pay extra for a plastic fork, expensive.
the Kingfisher charged me a fair price, food was delicious, served in an appropriately sized carton and I was given a fork for free. What’s not to like?

You can see where I’ll be eating from now on.

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Leaving the EU

I think it’s incredibly sad that during the whole campaign for the referendum of whether we should stay in the EU or not, we were bombarded with propaganda from both sides which blurred the real issues and helped no-one make their decision. No government or professional has any idea what is going to happen should we stay or leave, so how do you expect us to make our minds up when we don’t even have decent information?
That fact alone makes me think that they don’t actually care whether we stay in the EU or leave.
Personally I don’t think it will have much impact: the plutocracy who rule us for the enlargement of their private funds and power will still rule us and whether the people are richer or poorer the wealthy will remain wealthy and in power.

I also was saddened by the peoples’ response to the whole thing. Leaving became synonymous with racism for some obscure reason, and it also became clear that the wealthiest voted stay while the poorest voted leave. I’m not sure what they says but it was telling how disrespectful and rude people were of each other. We supposedly fought world wars to protect our right to freedom and democracy for what? To be called moronic because we vote to leave? To be labelled stupid because we chose to remain? I’ve never felt so sad about the state of the UK as I do right now.

We are out: we voted to leave the EU and instead of everyone saying “We all want the same thing let’s stick together and achieve it” many asked for a second referendum! So much for democracy.
I don’t know what will happen but I do know that we are in the 10th year of recession, and after years of austerity our deficit has increased not decreased, so at least Cameron has resigned which is a fabulous thing, and I think to myself with the state of the country, can we possibly be any worse off out of the EU? We certainly have done nothing but get worse and worse as a member of it so maybe it is time to try something new?

We’re a very divided nation, and a very antagonistic one, and the Govt and media is largely to blame for that, so I hope the next few years helps to try and heal that.

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Fish and chip drop

For as many years as I can recall I have been going to the Old Keswickian in Keswick for a lovely bit of cod and chips. There’s nowt like taking your food away and sitting on a bench in the sunshine to eat it while you watch the world go by. In Keswick there is a definite lack of seagulls to spoil the experience too.

However I’ve noticed for some time now the Old Keswickian’s chips are large and dry and tasteless. I asked the lad serving one day if they had changed the potatoes they use and he looked at me as if I was stupid and shook his head. Now on their website they say the following:
“our potatoes are the finest quality, primarily Lincolnshire, Maris Pipers and Markies, selected by our local merchant for their correct sugar content and dry matter percentage, so you get a superior chip…other than 100% vegetable oil (non hydrogenated) and flour, nothing else goes into our fish and chips…no additives…no colours…no preservatives…nothing!! Can other food outlets claim that”.
All I can say is, even frozen ones from elsewhere can taste better.

Something else I’d noticed but not really bothered about is the tiny carton they place them in. It’s very small and once they put the fish on top of the chips, the chips fall out and as happened yesterday, I dropped half my fish trying to eat it. The carton is not even the size of the fish and because the fish is balanced on the chips it’s very difficult to eat it. Especially if you use those silly wooden forks. Those silly wooden forks have been around for so long: I recall trying to use them as a child and they’re OK if all you have is chips, but they’re useless for eating fish with. You can pay 10p for a plastic fork which is much better, but if you paid £7 almost for fish and chips can’t they let you have a plastic one free?

So instead of enjoying my food in the sunshine, I dropped half of the fish on the floor trying to use the wooden fork to eat it, and the chips were so distasteful that I threw half of those away. Now, that cost me £6.95. Almost £7 is not a number to be sniffed at. It’s not a small amount that you’d not be bothered about if you lost, but given that I lost half my meal (partly by accident and partly by choice of course) that means I paid £3.50 for something I didn’t enjoy. I did enjoy the fish, so half of my £3.50 was pleasant, but half of that fell onto the floor because it was balanced precariously on a pile of chips in a tiny carton. So that’s £1.75 well spent out of almost £7. not good value.

So, I’ve contacted the Old Keswickian detailing my concerns and will update with their response. In the meanwhile, I’ll be scouring Keswick for the best fish and chips.

*Update: I have 2 backup sims that I use in an old phone so that I don’t have to give out my real number. I gave one of those sim numbers in the form I used to contact Old Keswickian on their website. An hour later I started getting nuisance calls…what an odd coincidence.

*More Update: Went into Keswick and had haddock and chips from the Kingfisher fish and chip shop on main street. Greta service from helpful staff, beautiful fish, lovely chips, in a proper size carton! and he gave me a plastic fork for nothing. £5.50 for all that. Old Keswickian is old hat now, I won’t be visiting there ever again. (The nuisance calls stopped after a while)

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Gaslow filler

So, I got my Gaslow system about 7 years ago, and only got round now to fitting the filler kit!
The filler kit is the bit that allows you to fill the tanks using a service station hose. The filling point has always been jammed in the bottle cupboard attached to a metal bracket to make it easier to fill. However when you buy a Gaslow system they do come with a proper kit so you can fit the filler to the body, making it much easier to fill.
This will be easier too I am a little tired of messing around as I’ve always had to do, it’ll be much more fun now that it’s fitted properly.
One thing that surprised me is that when I drilled the hole out of the skirt to take the filler, I found the skirt to be made of 1 millimetre thick aluminium, 5 milli plywood and a core of polystyrene!
A slice of my camper wallThe entire van is made of this, although there are solid struts here and there for strength and shape, this is essentially what the box I live in is made of.
I guess they do it for lightness, and insulation although I’m not convinced polystyrene is the best insulator going. It’s slightly worrying when you think that it would be relatively easy to break into most campers and caravans simply by using a hooked Stanley knife and cutting a hole in the wall.
Anyway I got the filler point fitted neatly and this is what it looks like in place. Sorry for the state of the van it hasn’t been washed in 2 weeks. Gaslow filler point

I could have chosen white which would have matched nicely, but there’s a lot of black trim and the water filler port is black so although white might have matched better, it would have looked odd with the other things being black. And yes, it’s about time I washed the van!

So, why Gaslow? Well when I got the van I had 2x 6 kg propane bottles in it and when each is empty you take them to a Calor stockist and swap them for full ones. Currently I think a full 6 kg bottle is about £21 from Calor. However it’s difficult to judge when the bottle is empty, also they may be almost empty just as you’re going off on a trip, so you find you very often swap them out when they still have gas in so £21 for a fill, but you’re filling more frequently than necessary.
Now 6 kg is about 14 litres of gas but the Gaslow bottles only take about 12 litres. It’s a safety thing. Currently LPG or autogas can be had for about 49p a litre of you shop around, 70p a litre on motorways. Even if you pay 70p a litre and fill them up, that’s 2x 12 litres at 70p which is £16.80. So I save more than half the cost of swapping 2 Calor bottles. Not only that but you can fill the Gaslow bottles at any time, even if they’re not empty you can top them up, so no wasted gas as there is with Calor.

Unsurprisingly Calor won’t let you fill at their stations, because they don’t want their profiteering to be hurt so they claim Gaslow bottles are unsafe. They’re not of course, they fit every standard going but the truth is Calor want to take your eyes out because they are making so much money out of bottled gas and they hate the fact they’re losing out to the likes of Gaslow and the other companies who supply these bottles.
LPG is all over Europe too and I’ve used it successfully in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium although you need adapters for the taps over there. Now I am going to celebrate my handiwork with a chicken casserole that’s been bubbling for hours, a JD to wash it down with and a movie. Life’s good.

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No gear, no idea. Gearbox woes

Gearbox. *sigh* The very word is becoming anathema to me now. Today the 7th garage to have a look at the van said it was not the selector rods and gear linkages, but the gearbox itself at fault. I’m kinda starting to believe them now. So I’ve booked in for next week for an 8th garage to have a look, but with the view to actually begin a repair or replacement.

Oddly the problems were getting slightly better in recent days but when I came back from Sunderland to Gateshead I lost first gear, then it got stuck in second, then when I parked in the camper place for some parts I wanted it would not go into reverse properly, then when I came out I got 1st but it got stuck in first and would not come out!

What a journey haha

If the garage on Tuesday takes the gearbox out and finds it is the gearbox at fault I think I’m going to bite the bullet and ask them to replace it, and all the selector rods and cables, and the clutch, then at least I know it’s all done for a good while.

I am continually being told “but you got 135,000 miles on one gearbox that’s amazing!” See, I don’t think it is. But what do I know.

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