Van brakes repaired

Image of a car garage
Swingbridge garage

Got the van into the garage for 7 am and set off to walk around Newcastle on Tyne. It was quite cold to start with but later on the sun came out and it was red hot all afternoon.
They called me about 1 pm to collect the van which cost me £291.66 for new disks, new pads, new shoes, new fluid and the handbrake cable serviced.  I went to pick the bike and my other stuff up and by the time I got to my friend’s about 12 miles away the brakes were stinking, squealing and fading. I was gutted and after I got my stuff took it straight back.

They jacked it up and cleaned it all off but were adamant there was no problem, it was just the brakes bedding in. They did seem miles better after I left later so let’s hope they’re all sorted now.

Part of the problem is these motorhomes are standard commercial vans with a camper conversion and instead of running at full weight occasionally, they do constantly. So the brakes will get hot but still shouldn’t fade.


The brakes were not fixed at all. They might have replaced the shoes and pads and the disks but that’s about all they did. The fluid clearly hasn’t been bled through, just topped up because the brakes are no different. Also he gave me a cock and bull story about the handbrake cable but that hasn’t been touched at all. 

I returned here some months later intending to complain but in the end I booked it in and simply said there was a problem with the brakes. He came out later and said “Bloody hell who did your brakes they’re set up all wrong!”
I looked him square in the eye and said “They were done here.”

So we had some argy bargy and eventually they agreed to sort it all out and charge me half the bill. 

That’s what they did, and afterwards I checked the brakes and the two tiny boots from the end rear cables were not in place, and the pivot hole had not been drilled out to make it swivel easier as he said he’d do. 

Load of old cobblers this lot are so I won’t be back to them. 

Computer out of repair

I rang PC Specialist today and they said there was an option in the BIOS to disable the screen and this had been checked. I have never been into this BIOS so I don’t understand how that could possibly have happened. Anyway they have it on stress test and I can pick it up tomorrow.
Except I have booked the van in tomorrow at Gateshead for 7 am to get all the brakes replaced! It’s their company policy to not let machines go out without a thorough stress test but I persuaded them to let me have it and finally I picked it up about 15:30 and headed up north.

The first thing I did when I got parked was go into the BIOS, and work out what keystrokes I’d need to enable the screen in case that problem occurred again. I’ve never heard of a switch like that and have not a clue how it could have been changed. However it’s all done now so let’s hope it behaves.

Computer in for repair.

I docked at 11 am on Monday UK time and rang work and they agreed I could book the week in as holidays, and let them know if I got sorted before the end of the week.

I then set straight off to Wakefield where PC Specialist are based. I rang them on the way and explained and was pleased to hear they’re open til 20:30 now so there was no rush. I got there for about 2 pm anyway and handed the computer in. They said if it needed a new screen it could take 2 weeks, so I set off for Oldham where there is an Argos and a PC World. I had to get a backup computer.

I saw some lovely Lenovo all-in-one’s and checked their power usage and they would work in the van and the price was very favourable in comparison to the one I got from PC Specialist. However for various reasons I decided to wait on getting a back up. I found a nice place to park up for the night with stunning views and I couldn’t help but feel glad it was cool again instead of the 37 degrees in Italy. 🙂

Computer breakdown and the race to Calais.

If you’ve read from the start you’ll know that right back in Autumn 2013 when I was readying the van for Europe and I had 2 tyres stolen that from that point there were non-stop problems that had to be overcome. It cost me over £3000 in the end for everything that needed to be done and to sort stuff out.

Since coming to Italy the brakes failed in the Alps, Jack got stuck down a pipe, I had my wallet stolen with my bank card and driving licence, and now…my computer has broken, so I can’t work.
I said if anything else went wrong I’d return to the UK as too much was happening and I was not only fed up with problems but was worried if something serious happened. However with a broken computer I’ve really got no choice because I’m due in work in about 10 hours and as I don’t speak Italian there’s only so much a local computer repair place can do. (Also the awful problems I’m having at work have come to a head. 🙁 )As mine’s under warranty anyway I decided to return to the UK immediately.

There were some slightly scary bits coming back as the brakes were awful but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I paid the toll to the Brenner pass which was only €24 for the 301 km trip, then the €8.60 toll through the Brenner pass. After that I turned off TomTom and made my own way on toll free roads so instead of the €110 I spent on the way in it was only €32.60.
I need a vet to sort Jack out before I can return so I diverted once in Germany to find one that I’d found on my phone but it was shut. I checked another two in Luxembourg but one was a private vet with no access to drugs and the other was closed and I tried a final one in Belgium that was also closed.
I’d been to one in Arques before near Calais, but they would not be open til Monday morning. I probably spent a small fortune ringing a friend to help me out as I’m no longer on Three network’s “Feel at home” package since leaving Italy. However my friend Ellie came up trumps and found me a vet in Ardres, about a half hour from the ferry terminal. I telephoned him and he (Maurice) said he’d be there at 9 am. Phew!
What’s this going to cost me calling a vet out at 9 am on a Sunday morning!

Image of a vet's premises
Ardres vet

I got to Ardres late Saturday night after leaving Venice about 10:30pm Friday night, and calling in at Germany Luxembourg and Belgium on the way! There was a group of kids in the town centre, typical pre-teens and teens bored on a weekend and looking for something to do. So they were all happy to try and help out. A few knew the odd English word and a few understood my bad French and eventually we worked out that there was no vet in Ardres, yes I was from England and yes I knew the Queen and no I had never met Sting! Hmmm. Did I believe them? Not!
So I set off driving around town and it only took about 10 minutes to find the vets. I was elated as it was directly across the road from a free car park. Result! I parked up and got some much needed sleep.

The next morning I awoke in a panic. I checked the clock and it was 40 minutes past 9! I quickly rang Maurice and he said yes he was there waiting for me. I grabbed Jack and his passport and we ran across the car park to the vet’s but…it was all locked up and spiders webs all over the door that clearly had not been used for some time.
I banged on the door and rang the bell but no answer. An old lady was trying to tell me in French that it was closed and I tried to tell her in French that I had just this second spoken to Maurice and he was supposed to be there.
I rang Maurice back. “Yes he said, I’m in!” I said “Ou etes vous?” Le vets est ferme!” He then gave the phone to someone else who eventually managed to say “Stay there he will come for you.”
I stayed there and literally 3 minutes later here was Maurice. They had moved premises over a year and  a half ago hahah so much for the internet! And so much for not trusting the kids either!

Image of a business park with a veterinary surgery on it
New vet

And what a swanky place it was! Absolutely pristine and clearly purpose built. Maurice was very relaxed and took my word for Jack’s weight, gave me the tablets to give to him and then totted it up on the computer. I gulped as I got my debit card out and he said…”€64.76 please.”
I get him out of bed on a Sunday morning, make him wait 3/4 of an hour, then he has to come and find me, and that’s all he charges me? I was astonished to say the least and more than happy to hand it over. At least one thing has gone right for me! Now I can ring the ferry people and see what they say.


I rang DFDS and explained my situation and they were very understanding however as I was booked to leave in about 6 weeks time and I wanted to reschedule for that same day, I would need to leave from Dunkirk and there was a massive surcharge of £74. I expected a surcharge but not that much, but hey, I need to sail that day so what the heck, I paid it without argument and was booked for 12 that day. I just had time to fill up with cheap diesel and get to the port.
I did that and when I arrived at Dunkirk I was ‘told off’ for not checking in at least 1 hour before sailing. I simply apologised and said nothing else and as I looked at him stamping stuff and tapping his computer I knew somehow he was not going to let me on the ferry. It was that feeling I got when Jack fell off the harbour wall and into the sea at San Giuliarno. I knew it was going to happen. Sure enough he turned to me after a few moments and said “You cannot sail today. 24 hours must pass from the time your dog sees the vet to the time you sail.


He was of course dead right. I’d totally forgotten but that’s the law and I knew it. So I asked in a meek tone “What shall I do?” He advised going into DFDS’s office and seeing what they could do then looked away. He had nothing more for me.

I found their offices and spoke to a lovely French girl who was very efficient and officious and said this was the law I must know that. I said yes but I had forgotten, was it possible to change my ticket yet again?
After some though and tapping at her computer, then chatting to her supervisor she returned and said “I would love to come to England with you and stay in your van with you for a few weeks.” However it got lost in translation and I think she meant they could change my ticket and this time it would be free of charge. I Nodded and she got on with it and once I had the new ticket in my hand I said “Wait…I paid £74 as I was sailing the same day. I ought to have remembered the law, but so ought your ticket agent have known it and not sold me the ticket. I should get a portion of that sum refunded?”
She thought about this and finally agreed and suggested I telephone customer services.

Back at the van I telephoned customer services. I got a lovely lady who understood everything easily and finally suggested I write in to head office so they could sort it out. She went off to find the address but I knew if I had to write in I would get nowhere. So I asked her in my nicest voice if she could find a supervisor to speak to but unfortunately he was on the phone. I suggested she pass my number on to him so he could call me when he was finished and she took it and said he would call back but I wasn’t sure he would. They never do.
Anyway, less than 10 minutes later he called back. I explained everything all over again, and he said at the end I will simply refund your entire £74 that you paid this morning!
I said “No I am more than happy to pay a re-scheduling fee, take £10 or £10 or whatever it is.” but he was certain, “I understand the problems and my staff should not have sold you that ticket therefore I will refund the whole amount to your card.”
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

DFDS have been my preferred ferry company since they took over Norfolk line and now I will not hear a word against them.

So, I drove into Loon Plage which was pretty but empty. I drove around the countryside which was pretty but had nowhere to stop. Drove back to the ferry car park and took Jack for a walk along the waste land. I had about 20 hours to wait.

What the heck, what an adventure.

The Drain monster is exposed…it’s a Coypu!

I know what the drain monster is!

We went to the park this morning as usual and although as we approached we hear the usual thud/splash as they presumably jumped off the pipes and into them, when we got to the drain we could see them!

The one in the west pipe has all of it’s tail out, and the one in the south pipe, top right of the video, you can just see it’s grizzly, grey old snout which moves slightly at one point.


Some time ago I recall an article in a local news service which described how a Durham man had come across a giant, mutant rat and killed it. The article explored what may have led to this genetic mutation to make a rat grow to 40 pounds and almost 4 feet long. It looked very much like the giant water rats that we saw as kids and were always fearful of as we swam in the river.  However you know what kids’ memories can be like…

A Coypu showing off it's orange incisors

Anyway. they’re not rats, and they’re not that giant really, I think they’re Coypus. I’m also willing to bet that this is what bit Jack the other week. The wounds he had were much larger than the rat bites he’d had in the past, and I’ve never seen a rat take a dog on. Even when cornered a rat may bite in passing as it tries to escape but it won’t stand and bite a dog twice.
That’s what happened to Jack so I assume he met one of these down the first tunnel and it was protecting it’s own home. Note the snout and compare it with the one in the video.

A small Coypu

If you look at this one too you can see the tail. Compare it with the tail of the one in the video. You can see why they are thought of as giant rats, but apparently they can make great pets if born in captivity and tamed!

Anyway, mystery over. The drain monster is in fact…A Coypu.