Having meaty meals

Handy meat-less tip

I make lots of quick and easy recipes in the van despite having a 4 ring hob and full oven. But I haven’t had a fridge for years and as I’m not that keen on meat I normally don’t buy it, but I do miss the taste and texture in food. 

A 'hand' of 5 Pepperamis
A ‘hand’ of 5 Pepperamis
A ‘hand’ of 5 Pepperamis

So what I do is I carry Pepperamis. They last years without being opened, they’re only about a £ for 5 in tesco, they have tons of flavour and you can get different flavours.
Chop one up into small pieces and they are perfect for soups and pasta and rice dishes where you might otherwise have used meat. 

A common one I often make is some brown wholegrain rice, a sweet pepper and a small onion finely diced, a pepperami finely diced, salt and pepper and maybe some ground ginger. Takes about 10 mins to cook and tastes absolutely gorgeous.

You could easily do without the sweet pepper meaning all of your ingredients are easily stored, will last a while and don’t need refrigerating., although sweet peppers if kept cool can last for weeks.

Any sausage of that cured type will do of course I prefer Pepperamis simply cos they’re cheap, well wrapped to last for ages and one of them does 2 meals.

Winterising your pipes easily and cheaply

Climaflex pipe insulation
Climaflex pipe insulation

So I came across this pipe insulation in B and Q. It’s less than a £ a metre, although if you’re lucky you may get 2 lengths for a £ in Poundland. 
It’s pre cut so splitting it down the length is easily done with a finger, then you simply undo the pipe retainers in your van, slip this on and redo the retainers, perhaps using bigger ones. 
For pipes that aren’t easily accessible such as mine behind the sink, I simply slid the insulation over the pipes at the tap, then slowly slid it down along the pipe even though it was out of sight.
I’ve never had a frozen pipe since. 

101 things to use baby wipes for

  1. Wiping your face 
  2. Wiping your hands 
  3. Washing other bodily bits 
  4. Cleaning oil off fingers
  5. Cleaning metal bodywork 
  6. Wiping counter tops
  7. Cleaning mirrors
  8. Cleaning dashboards 
  9. Getting the grease off steering wheels
  10. Wiping window rubbers
  11. Squeezing into dashboard air vents to clean 
  12. Getting grease off the outside of ovens
  13. Cooling localised burns
  14. Getting bugs off windscreens
  15. Cleaning shoes
  16. Getting dirt from pets fur
  17. Wiping up small food spills
  18. Cleaning toilets 
  19. Held by rubber bands to back brush for cleaning your back 
  20. Refreshing face wipe in the heat
  21. Cleaning computer screens
  22. Wiping food spills off clothes
  23. Swiftly picking up hairs from a smooth surface
  24. Cleaning mouse mats
  25. Cleaning anything neoprene
  26. Wiping plates etc that don’t need washing
  27. Wiping pans and anything else that doesn’t need proper washing
  28. Cleaning finger grease from keyboards
  29. Wiping the outside of cameras
  30. Wiping wellies down 
  31. Soothing hot feet
  32. Cleaning out ears
  33. Wiping greasy woodwork down
  34. Wiping fly screen mesh
  35. Cleaning blinds
  36. Folded up and used to stop things rattling
  37. Heated, make great wipes for greasy hands
  38. Cooled, make great wipes for sweaty faces
  39. Using as a white surrender flag in case aliens attack 
  40. Cleaning off excess glue from a repair 
  41. Wiping dirty tools 
  42. Cleaning long electric cables 
  43. Wiping dusty wing mirrors 
  44. Cleaning curry from a beard
  45. Cleaning bolognese from a beard
  46. Wiping stubborn coffee rings up
  47. Replacement for toilet paper
  48. Bunging up a sink when the plugs lost
  49. Getting price stickers off things
  50. Wiping the baby’s bum! 
  51. Helping you to grip tight jar lids
  52. Cleaning fly fluids after you splatted on on the wall
  53. Wiping leather seats 
  54. Cleaning washing rope 
  55. Cleaning ponchos 
  56. Cleaning the dog’s anal glands 
  57. Wiping spills off jars
  58. Taking make up off 
  59. Rubbing pet hairs up
  60. Clearing sand off feet and hands
  61. Wiping kids hands after ice cream
  62. Toilet paper when public loos have one
  63. Wiping public loo seats
  64. Cleaning sticky cafe tables
  65. Wiping salty fingers after McD’s
  66. Wrapping round very hot takeaway cups
  67. Wiping dust off solar panels 
  68. Tie round hose ends to control drips
  69. Used in a sink as a disposable flannel 
  70. Wiping CD’s
  71. Rubbing against clothes to get creases out
  72. Cleaning the leaves of house plants
  73. Getting rid of white deodorant marks from clothes 
  74. Cleaning stainless steel sinks
  75. Wiping your nose when you have a cold
  76. A quick clean after al fresco sex 

Chemical toilets

There’s a lot of confusion over chemical toilets. In their simplest form they are nothing more than a fancy plastic bowl that you do your business in and then empty when it’s full. My nanna used to have a big ceramic chamber pot under her bed. She’d empty it down the toilet each morning as she got out of bed but in essence that’s all a toilet is in a motorhome, but with a few modern modifications. And of course you don’t slide it under the bed. 

Flap opening lever on Thetford chemical toilet
Flap opening lever on Thetford chemical toilet

Firstly inside, this lever under the seating bowl needs to be pushed firmly to the right. This opens the flap which seals what would in a normal household toilet, be the S bend. It allows your stuff to go into the holding tank below, and afterwards when you slide to the left it seals the tank so that no spillages can occur and no foul smells can come out.

It’s best to leave the lid down when you open this because sometimes there’s a build up of gas inside the holding tank and over time this can cause enough pressure so that once you open the flap some of the contents can splash upwards with enough force to actually come clear of the toilet and end up on the floor, or even you. It makes a mess of the lid too. 

It doesn’t happen often but it’s worth thinking about because the earlier you get into good habits the more they will become so routine you’ll do them without thinking. 

Anyway, open the flap, lift the lid and seat and you should be able to look down into the cassette. Mines a C20 and holds about 15 litres. There are various chemicals you can buy, from older types with formaldehyde in that are harmful to the environment, to newer types which are formaldehyde free but may still be harmful to the environment to a lesser degree. There is an alternative which I’ll discuss later. 

 

Chemicals

Manual flush on a Thetford chemical toilet
Manual flush on a Thetford chemical toilet

The most popular and well known brands are Elsan which has an organic brand, Thetford’s Aqua Kem and Blue Diamond. In my experience there’s not one better than the other.

Chemicals tend to come in blue or green and pink. Pink is for the flush, blue and green is for the cassette. Follow the instructions on the bottle for how much chemical to use but typically you need to put 1 – 2 litres of fresh water in with it and ensure the water level is always covering the waste inside. In the photo to the right you can see the manual flush handle. Pull up slowly and push down slowly to pump the water for the flush. Many more modern vans have a small blue button and this is an electric flush. When adding water to the chemicals it’s easier and quicker to fill from a jug, and you can measure how much is going in.

In the photo below left you can see a small lockable flap above the cassette cabinet. This is where you fill the toilet flush. It’s about 10 litres capacity and you can add flush chemicals when you fill to make it smell nice. Some modern vans don’t have this, they take their flush from the main onboard water tank.

If you use toilet paper try to buy the cheap, flimsy stuff. It’s flimsier than expensive brands but not by much, but it breaks down much easier in chemical toilets, and less likelihood of it clogging the cassette up. I use a minimal amount as I prefer baby wipes which I buy by the box. Baby wipes are one of the most used and useful things you can keep in your van but if using them for the toilet dispose of them in a bag separately, don’t put them in the loo or let them get into the sewage system. Here’s a list of things I use them for.

Outside view of Thetford C20 chemical toilet cassette
Outside view of Thetford C20 chemical toilet cassette

The small light at the right tells you when the cassette is full and needs emptying. You’ll be able to tell anyway, don’t let the level of toilet content reach the flap or you risk spillage. I empty mine at the latest when it’s 1 inch from the level of the flap. 

Emptying the cassette is really straightforward. In the photo to left you see two yellow items: the bottom one is a retaining clip, you simply lift it with your hand as you pull the handle above it and pull forward and the cassette will slide free toward you. The cassette automatically seals itself when you slide it out. The yellow cap is on the end of the emptying tube which can swivel and you simply take that cap off and empty the cassette. Bear in mind if your cassette is 15 litres capacity, that’s over 15 kilos in weight!

Note that you must ensure the flap in the toilet is tightly closed or the cassette will not come out. 

Pressure release valve on the Thetford C20
Pressure release valve on the Thetford C20

Once you get the cassette out, as you empty it you must hold down the small yellow button as shown on the right. This is an air valve and ensures the contents can come out without a problem. It’s best to turn the cassette upside down and give a small shake first as that helps solids and toilet paper to come through the emptying tube more easily. It might sound complicated but after a few times of doing it it will become second nature.  

 

Alternatives to chemicals

Chemicals can be expensive and for some time now I have used bio washing tablets in my toilet. I prefer Tesco jasmine ones simply because they smell lovely when you’re at your business. They work out much, much cheaper too, I use 1 tablet per fill in winter and 2 in summer and generally speaking I empty my toilet once every 10 days or so. The tablets smell great, they break down waste and they’re less harmful to the environment than some of the chemicals. They’re more easily available too and as I use laundrettes exclusively for my clothes washing I always have some in anyway. 

Many people favour the Aldi brand Almat. I’ve tried them and they work no better or worse than others but sometimes are cheaper. Tablets are of course much easier to store than great bottles of fluid and weigh a lot less. There’s some good advantages to using them.

Cleaning 

The interior area of the bathroom gets very dusty, partly because there’s a vent in all bathrooms and because it’s a road vehicle they’re susceptible to dust, so check under and around often for dust and grime. I use nothing more than a drop of fairy liquid in warm water, rinse and then polish with wax free Mr Sheen. The Mr Sheen discourages dust to stick and keeps it looking shiny and new for longer. Small water splashes are easier to clean too. 

My bathroom is also a shower so it’s designed to be waterproof so if I’m near a hose I often open the window and simply hose everywhere up to waist height to get rid of dust and dog hairs etc. It’s simple to sponge down afterwards then polish the plastic .

It’s best to keep the outside case of the cassette as clean as you can too. Again I use a small amount of Fairy liquid in warm water and rinse but I know some like to use anti-bacterial products. Just make sure what you use is not harmful to types of plastic. Once in a while it’s advisable to fill your cassette with hot water and some cleaner and let it soak to ensure it’s thoroughly cleaned.

Going totally chemical free 

You can go totally chemical free by fitting a SOG system. Put simply it’s a fan that operates when you open the flap and sucks air out of the cassette and through a carbon filter to the outside of the van. In theory there’s no smell escapes at all and you can use your toilet completely chemical free. 

You can find out all about SOG kits here and make your own mind up. 

Emptying your cassette toilets

There are many discussions online in groups and forums regarding the emptying of chemical toilets which usually get quite fraught. Some people think it’s OK to empty them even at a layby on a public road as long as they go into the bushes. It’s not acceptable at all, the stench is putrid and families sometimes stop at laybys with their kids to break up a journey. Can you imagine playing footie with your child and sliding into 15 litres of foul smelling human waste?

Others think emptying them into rivers is OK as the water dissipates the waste. But all you’re doing is adding waste and poisons to fresh water and if some solids and paper have not broken down these are added to the environment. It’s no good saying “Cows do it in fields!” We’re not cows with a plant diet and it’s just not acceptable or legal. Toilet waste is classed as black waste as it is hazardous. If you are going to bury it as some do it must e a minimum of 100 metres away from any public area or water course.
Grey waste, or the water from your tank connected to your sink and shower which is collected in a separate tank, is less harmful and can be sensibly drained in areas by thoughtful people.

Emptying into public toilets is also not a great idea. It’s extremely difficult to empty a toilet cassette without having splash and I for one don’t want to go into a public toilet and see stale, foul smelling waste splashed all over. Besides many public toilets, especially rural ones are now composted or use septic tanks and emptying such waste into them prevents them from working properly. 

A lot of campsites now allow you to use their facilities for a short period of time for a few £’s. This includes emptying your waste and it’s advisable to do this. Rinse the cassette several times after emptying to make sure as much waste as possible is gone and leave a litre or 2 of fresh water in there when you’re done. Join some motorhome groups and forums and there are any amount of people who will advise you where to go. If you can’t find a site that allows temporary access consider a cheap site for a night. You can shower, use laundry facilities, charge your batteries on electric, fill up with fresh water and chat with other people as well as emptying your toilet. 

The Caravan and Motorhome Club have small and friendly Certified Locations which may be cheaper. The Camping and Caravanning Club has a similar scheme too. When abroad there are a huge amount of dedicated motorhome areas which allow an overnight stay, emptying of black waste and filling with fresh water mostly for free or just a couple of euros. Again, a good group will help you out with endless knowledge. 

Remember human waste is foul smelling and poisonous, dispose of carefully, thoughtfully, properly, and legally.

First World Problems

My pan...over-simmering
My pan…over-simmering

I was sat here thinking about lunch and I decided to make a lentil and rice dish, sort of similar to Jollof but with my own take on it all. 
So I set it all away, got it boiling and then turned it down as low as the gas can go to simmer.
And therein lies my brow-furrowing problem. The simmer on my gas oven is too high! 
I can’t seem to make it simmer less. It bubbles away like mad and the last 10 minutes of anything I simmer are spent stirring it madly in order to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Also of course there’s an excess of steam released into the van which can only mean more condensation.

I could maybe weld a 1 inch thick plate to the bottom of the pan but…as soon as it reaches max temp surely it’s still going to over simmer?
Maybe if I set up a strong fan so that it blows cold air over the pan as it’s cooking?
I could even cook on a small camp stove although that’s going to be no fun.
Maybe I could just eat cold food forever and stop cooking.
Any suggestions gratefully received!

Estaires, France

Aire at Estaires
Aire at Estaires

Despite the grave warnings of the German Peugeot dealer, I managed to get down to France with no drama at all and decided to spend a short time here to make the most of this visit as best I could.

I found this little aire in Estaires and immediately liked it partly because it was behind the town square beside a few houses and was one of the community type aires. These have been built and are maintained by the local mayor and business users to encourage motorhomers to visit the town. There’s 4 free spaces for motorhomes with fresh water and toilet dump which cost 2€.

There’s a huge network of them all over Europe as I’ve mentioned before and if you have a camper and don’t need the full services of a campsite they’re an ideal way to explore small villages all over the continent. Except the UK…the UK doesn’t really have many and the few that exist are way overpriced. 

The other side of the aire was a Boulodrome. This is a place where people go to play ball games, mainly petanque. It’s very much similar to our green bowls in the way that it’s played except the balls are a heavy steel and they play them on any service they can get, no matter how rough.

The sound of a couple of dozen people all enjoying a communal game of petanque in the summer sunshine is a joy, mostly because it sounds like

People playing petanque at the local Boulodrome
People playing petanque at the local Boulodrome

many people getting together to have a fun and simple game which brings people of all types from the community together. Some call it a load of balls of course but then I suppose that’s exactly what it is! I love the idea of it and even took a photo one day of them playing. It looked to be mostly the same people each day who played and many started about 10 am and played often up til 6 pm. 

Some locations of aires are of course better than others. I was once in one that was surrounded by walls on 3 sides and a view of a garage on the way in and out. It was not at all pleasant for the view, however the town was pleasant and nice and the parking was free with free waste dump and fresh water. 

Some of the council car parks in the UK which allow people to park overnight charge up to £15, just for parking, no water or anything. However unlike in continental Europe they charge for the daytime too so if that’s maybe £5-8  you must add that onto your £15 for overnighting. Often the cost can exceed what you’d pay for a small and simple campsite. Sadly greedy British councils just can’t see that this drives people away rather than attracting them to a town to visit.

I went into a fruit and veg shop that I found near here and the owner was having a wine tasting party. She spoke great English so asked if I would like to drop my sprouts and partake of a glass of something nice. I did have a small one and it was actually quite tasty and I hope she thought the wine was the reason I spent €20 in her shop, and not the fact that her prices were extravagant. 

Closer to the aire I also found a bread shop and partook most days of a small bloom type loaf. It was the most delicious bread and certainly perked up my soup and she also sold meringues which were so delicious and quite cheap too. But the nicest thing I bought was from a permanently installed chip van in the town square. The burger was real meat and absolutely delicious, and the chips were properly cooked, not the frozen and microwaved rubbish you get at most places. It was only €3.40 for them and it was probably the tastiest burger I’ve had abroad. OK so I rarely ever get them abroad but it felt right to say it anyway 🙂

There was what was laughingly called a riverside walk mentioned in the app I used but when I got there it was more like a disused canal offshoot filled with rubbish and half dried up lol I did take Jack for a jaunt along it, all 200 metres of it haha and he did enjoy barking at some coots which were sitting on the brackish water watching him. So he enjoyed it for a short while anyway.

All in all it’s a nice little town with a nice feel to it and a nice little aire to stay in for free. What more could you ask for?

Where I stayed: Estaires, Pas-de-Calais [62], Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, 59940, N50.643544, W002.718517

Germany, an update.

Nothing much has been happening here, but then everything has! 

I spent some time up north with family and friends and it was a wonderful time. I think I value them more as I don’t see them every day and it’s bitter-sweet to leave. I popped in on my way south to see my friend in Ulverston as usual so I put the van into the garage there for it’s MOT so it won’t expire while away.
They had to replace the support strut that the radiator rests on due to corrosion and a tyre that had a split in and I’m unhappy about that, as it’s not long since I got new front tyres, and as there was 3 good ones left I asked the fitters to put the 2 best ones on the rear. Grrr. 

Never mind the bill was £350 and the work all done although they now say the rocker cover gasket is not needing replacing so they didn’t do that. Everything else…apparently…is fine. Although it quickly became apparent that the engine was still using oil so clearly everything isn’t fine. *sigh* Also in my humble opinion, the rocker cover does indeed need replacing.

It was suggested in a Facebook group that my cylinder head gasket may be to blame. So I’ve checked online numerous times in loads of places and I have not one single, solitary symptom of a blown head gasket. So off I popped across the channel to head for that Norway trip that I’ve long wanted to do. 

A few days later I pulled in to a layby near Munster. The engine was rough, it was using oil still and when I got out the stench of hot rubber was strong. I checked the brand new rear tyre to find it was really hot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, I think it’s just cheap rubbish. I wish I’d asked them to put Michelin Agilis on as they are excellent on the front.
Anyway I struggled but finally found a garage to look at the van in Munster. They were called Lowen Centrum.

Dirty oil streaks left on my door
Dirty oil streaks left on my door

After several hours their diagnosis was…blown cylinder head gasket. €2000 to replace it please! I was pretty stunned not just at the diagnosis but at the price! I said I’d best head back to the UK to get the work done there and he warned me the van might travel 100 or 1000 kms but then would surely fail and I would be in trouble. When I returned to the van I found it covered in greasy handprints both outside by the door, on the door, on the bumper, and the steering wheel was also filthy with dirty oil.. Yeah Peugeot main dealers charge more because of their higher standards eh? Well even 2 weeks later I can’t get these cleaned off!

I spent the next week trying to find another garage. I contacted 6 in total by email including the English text but also a German translation done in Google translate, and only one contacted me back. I took it along and he did not even put it on the ramp. He said it sounds fine and he could see no smoke when I revved it and feel no air or other sign that the cylinder head gasket was gone. He found a perished vacuum tube which he replaced for free but I gave him a few Euros as a thank you and he said the turbo might have a problem which would explain the oil usage, but he wasn’t sure. I left there none the wiser and wondered at this fabled German efficiency which tbh I have seen no indication of whatsoever. 

So, here I sit, near Fussen, wondering what the hell to do now. If I go on I risk catastrophic engine failure. If I manage to get back to the UK I risk yet more garages who have no clue what’s wrong or how to fix it, and waste my time on  a fruitless exercise. 
Oh the joys of motorhoming! 

 

Update: 

17th September and the other day I was coming down the motorway and realised that plumes of black smoke were coming out of the exhaust. I stopped as soon as I could and took the vacuum pipe off the EGR valve which disabled the valve from working. As far as I know if it’s disabled it’s permanently closed and that cured the black smoke almost instantly. A few good revs at 3500 rpm and clouds of black smoke for a few seconds, then it drives nice and clean again. 

Now, black smoke is a sure sign of unburned fuel. The injectors have just been professional refurbished and the fuel return pipes all replaced, those are things that might cause black smoke. I know what the EGR valve is for and what it does and how it works, yet I can’t find a rational explanation as to how disabling it would prevent black smoke, and yet it does. 
So, I’ve given up totally on garages because not only are my brakes sticking, and they’ve now been supposedly overhauled 3 times, but there’s still excessive oil being used and black smoke coming out if I enable the EGR valve and no clarity of why in the year I’ve been visiting different garages including Peugeot dealers and independents. 

I am now going to teach myself diesel mechanics, and try to find the solution myself.