Friday, 30 October 2009

As far west as we have so far been...

Following our little trip-ette east we returned to Cambridge on Friday to house sit for some friends (and a very fine class of travellers youth hostel it was too!) to find good news - we have sold some things!

The green car was picked up on Saturday by one lucky blog reader who was first to reply with both the requisite pass phrases.  It has apparently been christened Katy (by his wife) and he has already discovered that with the roof down, you don't get too wet if you go fast enough... ;)  We wish them all many miles of happy soft top motoring :)


thanks to the wonderful medium that is ebay (we are liking it a lot more this time round than last time!) we have sold:
  • the white car to a bloke from chelmsford - cash in hand on Monday woohoo!
  • the driveaway awning which came with the van to someone in Dorset (so we are going to drop it off en route) and
  • a spare le creuset pot we had kicking around unused in the house to someone in Leicestershire

Compared with the misery that was our last auction attempt it goes to show that it does indeed pay to pick your auction end time with care - sunday evenings are apparently best and from our recent experiences we can't contradict this.

 We've also returned to find the added bonus of:
  • a refund of some council tax, 
  • a refund of part of the exorbitant fee charged by the Woolwich for allowing us to rent our house out, 
  • a refund of the TV license hopefully on the way, and
  • various other small bits and pieces coming back from things like cancelled insurance 
so we have a few weeks' more money to keep us going and so far, we have even come in under budget - well for the three weeks we have actually been counting anyway... :)

We have also had a somewhat unexpected bonus of a refund from the Bank of England for my birthday money which Will shredded two years ago.... (we only sent it off a couple of weeks ago, it hasn't been with them all this time!)

This is not a recommended savings plan or nor indeed was it an appreciated "birthday gift jigsaw" but he did spend 4 hours searching through the other cross cut christmas shredding for the remains of the two notes (£10 & £20) and then sticking them back together (with help from Paul, Cathy and I) and actually did a pretty good job so I am very pleased that they rewarded his effort :)

So now that we are unhampered by the trappings of material belongings (or at least those that are not already in the van, in the garage or in other people's houses) and have finished all the major jobs on the van (it is still spotty but all primer now at least and some of it is actually ready to be made blue!!) there is nothing holding us back and we are underway!

Fittingly the first step of our trip west is to our friends in St Albans - the same ones we visited on the first weekend we had Jules.  Although Jules still doesn't like starting in the mornings, particularly sundays - but then mind you neither do I so no hard feelings there! - we are no longer dropping oil, cruising at a maximum top speed of 40 mph or suffocating from petrol and exhaust fumes - so much progress in 4 months!

We will be here for a few days then owards to dorset and beyond!

Oh and in other news, the Cafe has been completely transformed with a $100k cafe coin makeover into a pick palace of prettiness and I am hoping to have a lava lamp to make my life complete before we go and the cafe has to fall into administration and I make my staff redundant...  yes, this is still very sad.

and yes, the sharp eyed amongst you will notice that Will too is a cafe magnate these days - it is so addictive... *grin*

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Journey to the edge of the earth...

...  well the eastern most point of mainland Britain anyway.

so having spent a further few days in Cambridge doing jobs (for us and other people), falling out with my parents (well everyone can have too much of a good thing...) and getting moved on by the police (by someone else's extremely petty neighbour - we have since found out they are a parking pedant, not just anti-gypsy...) we decided that Cambridge had had enough of us so it was time for a trip.  And with a general westwards plan for the near future, the obvious option seemed to be to head east.

Thus it was that on a rainy Wednesday morning we set out on an expedition to the east to find the eastern most point of mainland Britain - which happens to be in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

Having been to Suffolk before and recently, we decided to go via the north norfolk coast and so it was that we found ourselves in Wells-next-the-Sea which was very nice - if a bit wet.

After a spot of lunch and a nice cup of tea, we set out on a walk up the channel to the actual beach about half a mile away.  The beach was everything I expected it to be, based on my childhood family holidays to british beaches - cold, wet and largely deserted :)  But we enjoyed it nonetheless, as I have been brought up to do!

After Wells, we went to Sheringham for a walk on the prom - which was equally nice but equally wet - so in the gathering gloom we decided to head for camp.  Having done a bit of pre-trip research on, we had picked a farm near Holt - mainly based on cost (ie cheap) and were happy to find it as described - complete with free range chickens and "back to basics" concrete & breeze block barn toilet block.

It may surprise you to know that this was our first actual night "away" in Jules - ie not on someone's driveway - and we quickly discovered that one of the many advantages of van over tent is that there is no set up time so you can get right on with the important things - beer, burgers and fire

As expected from my FB cafe experience, flame-grilled cheese burgers were ready in minutes and dinner was served - all good in our little home on wheels so far...

The next morning the sun shone and was fortunately still shining by late morning when we finally decided it was time to get on with the day.  After a camping first of banana fritters for breakfast we set off for Cromer for the traditional beach town past times of cycling on the prom, walking on the pier and icecream - yummy.

Moving on down the coast we took advantage of the other great plus point of van over tent - you take your kettle with you - and stopped in a small cliff top carpark over a WWII fortified beach front in the sunshine - bliss.

The rest of the day, whilst sunny and passed pleasantly by pottering along through odd villages clinging to the back of the natural cliff sea defences of the east Norfolk coast, was not so successful.  Dismissing the option of returning to a campsite we have been to before, and know to be cheap(ish) with good facilities, as "cheating", Will decided that the only way his life would be complete would be to stop in a campsite on a cliff top over looking the sea.  We had no idea where such a nirvana might be found, having not looked anywhere other than north norfolk for campsites but encouraged by the prevalence of campsites in that part of the world, we decided to press on south towards our eventual goal of Lowestoft, confident that such a place would exist and happy in the knowledge that the closer we got to Lowestoft that evening, the less early we would have to get up the following day before having to head home.

Unfortunately our confidence was misplaced as, despite a plethora of brown signs with promising sounding names such as Long Beach, Beach Farm and Broadlands Beach, the reality was a series of static caravan holiday parks in towns or large villages with tourist trap neon lighted arcades where the touring pitches, if any, were the three car parking spaces between the entrance and the toilet block with an electric socket next to them - on the plus side we could have walked through the hedge to McD's....  hmmm maybe not.

Eventually, following a tip-off from an occupant of one such static palace, we ended up at Heathlands Beach, just south of Lowestoft.  As with elsewhere, the "beach" part of the name turned out to be a bit misleading (but we could at least hear the sea in this one!) and with individual service points at each pitch including electric hook up, a tap and a TV point (!!!), we suspected it would be somewhat more expensive than the previous night, but it was at least a proper pitch, in a camping field with space for the BBQ so we set out to make the best of it with burgers (well they were nice ones on 2for1 in Sainsbury's - we usually have a broader menu selection!), fire and wine and jolly nice it was too.
The sun was still shining the following morning so although our fears about the facilities=cost equation proved to be founded, with more banana fritters for breakfast, life was still pretty good as we headed out for our easterly goal.

Unlike the most southerly point of britain (the Lizard) which is marked with a fab tea shop, clinging on to the cliff side with *the* best cream teas (or at least that was the case 6 years ago) or the most south-westerly point (Land's End), which is a spectactular cliff top vista (provided you avoid the tacky amusement arcade), the most easterly point in Britain is found by following some very discrete signs through a tatty industrial estate full of second hand car lots with a gas works on one side and a fish procesing plant on the other - not quite the dream.

Once you're there though, there is a big pavement compass effort which tells you you're there and how far away much nicer places are - most of which are on our route!

But one thing is certain, from here, the only way is west....

Friday, 16 October 2009

another day, another driveway...

Thanks to Austin's help and tools, Will did indeed manage to fix the alternator last week (for the grand total of £3.60's worth of bits out of someone's scrap bin rather than the £120+ a new alternator would have cost!) and all just in time for dinner (well almost) so we have been back on the road for a week - hurrah! 

unfortunately though we've not actually gone very far...  having successfully completed all the jobs which require heavy tools and returned them to our garage, it is car trouble of a different kind which is now holding us back, namely the fact that we still have two cars to sell before we can go...

both are advertised on pistonheads and autotrader and we have even put a new MOT on the green one (passed first time of course! although it still needs tax) but as yet no interest  :(

so we are stuck in Cambridge and the cars are temporarily lodging on my various relative's driveways - surely someone wants a lovely well looked after car to either jaunt about in the sunshine with or sensibly tow heavy things with and all in all generally make their life nicer and nicer - I will leave it to you to deduce which car is best at which activity :)

Special buy-it-now discounts to blog readers, just quote the reference: "Ireallywanttoensureyouactuallyleavebybuyingalovelycarfromyou" in your email. 
Family get a further discount by quoting ref:

But whilst we are stuck on my parents' driveway, Will is making the most of the time with a new project - central locking and a car alarm!  It even comes with a proper boy racer key fob!

Previous wiring related projects did not go so well.  Due to the unique way in which our van is wired, all the wires from the coil are black, labelled in black on a black background with a little black light which lights up black to let you know you have connected the right one (ok, so I am exagerating here but they are all black wires) and as such, having "fixed" the reversing lights, there was a point at which (obviously when we were trying to head home in the dark), the van would only start when in reverse...

This new wiring project however involves a myriad of wires, in all the colours of the rainbow and more besides, and wiring diagrams which might as well be in code...

but progress is being made and not only do the front door locks now work at the push of a button (manual door locks are just *so* 1970's), the indicator lights flash when it does it and a little blue LED flashes to warn people off - it is so bright there is a danger people will think the police have already arrived!

The next step is the immobiliser, after which I think there are some sensors and the sounder to go - I am merely supervising from the living room, making tea and popping out to hold things or feed in solder when required ....

This is not to say that I have not been usefully occupied as I have been extremely busy setting up a wildly successful and highly regarded facebook cafe...  we *so* need to leave whilst I still have vestiges of a life and some remnants of my credibilty intact...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The kindness of friends and bl**dy annoyingness of strangers

So, since leaving our house two weeks ago, we have been on a short tour of houses and driveways belonging to friends and family and Cambridge and Kent.

Due to the hurried nature of our departure from Balsham and our inability to get on with things whilst there with access to the garage, we left with a list of 30-odd things to do on the van and half the contents of the garage in the back, including the lathe, grinder and welder - all standard camping kit... ;)

Fortunately we are lucky enough to have very accommodating friends with good driveways and a willingness to "donate" food and electricity to the cause so Will set to using all his power tools in somewhat unconventional places....

... and produced a very fine bike rack! which is possibly somewhat over spec'd as it can carry his weight, let alone the bikes!  At least it is so awkward to get off no one will steal it :)

In between fixing sports cars and various other jobs for other people, he has also:
  • fixed the handbrake so it actually stops the van from rolling down hills when parked, 
  • fixed the clutch so it is now possible to change gear, even when the van is warm
  • wired and plumbed the fridge, 
  • changed the light switch so we have three choices of ambient LED lighting, 
  • fitted more shelves and other storage solutions in various cupboards - and has told me now that there is actually space for more shoes!

In the face of this industriousness, I have fixed press studs on curtains, passed spanners and made tea...

Whilst our friends and family have been good to us however, other people have been less good and we have now been let down by no fewer than two potential MGF buyers through ebay and the poor car is now languishing (temporarily) on my brother's driveway, unloved and out of tax and MOT.  The citroen is also, as yet, unsold.  Poor cars and even poorer us :(

Come on, surely someone wants a mechanically sound, regularly serviced, HGF-proof, shiney, if somewhat scraped and dented, sports car to thrash round a track somewhere???

Unfortunately, it has also proved to be fortunate that the citroen is still with us as Jules is poorly sick again :(  I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't like going anywhere without Will as, once again, it got sick whilst I was driving it alone, approaching the Cambridge/Essex border (from the other direction this time!) and with lorries bearing down on me (battery charge light came on whilst northbound from stansted on the M11).

After some telephone directed unplugging of electrical items by me - head first in both the cupboard under the sink and the engine bay - I got it home (well to someone's home) but not all good :(

The problem has so far been traced to a faulty alternator (specifically at this stage worn brushes) and fortunately, we have once again been accommodated by family and friends with drive space, battery chargers and diagnostic internets.  Will currently has the alternator in pieces on someone else's workbench and is using their lathe (bought by them after seeing Will's recently and not, so far actually used by them in anger - well at least he now knows he set it up correctly *grin*) to fix it. 

I am watching daytime telly and stealing internet - well I started on van paintwork but it is raining and Will has more qualified help whilst on this particular driveway - thank you Austin!

And at least we are having these problems now, not in the middle of nowhere in spain, and we have managed our first cup of tea, overlooking a sunny seaside so the dream is still alive....  tune in next time to see if we actually get back on the road!

Moving on up, moving on out

Long overdue update on progress but I have been not working for a whole month now and have been so busy I don't know how I ever had time to have a job... ;)

We have also been out of our house for two weeks so someone else is paying the mortgage - first rent check received and everything! -  which is all good!

The whole clean up/distribution of belongings to friends and family went well - somewhat helped by having a handy van to transport things in...

But the task somewhat expanded to fill the time available so we were chased out of the house on one day by the carpet cleaners, so everything that lived on the floor ended up on the lawn...

...and the next day by the house cleaners so everything else ended up on the lawn.


But we were very luck with the weather and eventually it was all packed away in the garage in suitable water proof boxes surrounded by mouse poison - I have a whole lucky dip box of shoes to look forward to when we come back! -  and the midget was tucked away hibernating under the bed.

Best of all our fridge finally arrived - after a month of waiting and a change of supplier - and it fits perfectly in the gap!  just some plumbing (gas) and wiring and good to go!