Thursday, 22 December 2016

Hoovering the Garden


The world is insane. I am insane. If anyone had told me, a few years back, that I would spend a day driving around garden centres looking for a spare part so I could hoover my garden, then I’d have suggested locking them away in a room with all the sharp edges removed.

But yes, I am sad and shallow and I want to hoover my garden. There are leaves. Many leaves. And because I am idle I have a Flymo GardenVac, and the shredder thingy has snapped, (see photo) so I need to buy a new one. It is a standard consumable, just a bit of plastic wire, and they tend to snap and need to be replaced from time to time. I could buy one from Amazon but I could really do with it now and the mini-helicopter delivery system isn’t quite ready yet.


“We’ll have to go to a garden centre,” I said.


A reasonable thing to say. Garden centres have garden stuff, don’t they? Well, apparently not. Garden centres have nothing for gardens. They have Santa’s grottos and they have overpriced clothing and ornaments and wicker furniture and wooden plaques with motivational slogans. They have bad joke books and books with photos of the British coast from the air. They have kitchen equipment in jaunty bright colours that cost three times the price of the old kitchen equipment that used to come in perfectly acceptable stainless steel. They have bird boxes, and sacks of bird food that costs more than supermarket muesli (but probably tastes the same). Or I could buy a little basket with two jars of jam nestling in a bed of paper straw. Why? Why the hell do I need jam in a basket? What do I do with the basket afterwards? And what about the little red and white paper covers held over the vacuum-sealed lids with rubber bands: why do I need paper lids on the jam? Why? Do they make the jam taste better?

And before I’m done with my garden centre visit, as I’m striding with a purpose towards the exit, I could pause by the DVD rack and pick up a black and white WWII DVD or one about steam trains or Fred Dibnah, each carefully cropped to fit a square TV screen, to remind me about how good things used to be in the old days.


You remember the old days?


The days when you went to a garden centre to buy garden stuff!


Wednesday, 21 December 2016

A Trip Around Cardiff Bay

As a diversion from my usual caravan posts I'm admitting here and now that sometimes I go to the dark side and stay in hotels. I had the chance of free rail travel down to Cardiff and it is very hard to take a caravan on the train. So yes, I'm a traitor to the cause. But Cardiff is such a lovely city to visit that I'm sure we'll do it again, and maybe next time we will take the 'van. Mind you, in December it was very nice to have a warm room and someone to make the bed and bring clean towels each day.
I love the way the low sun hits this water feature in Roald Dahl Plans.
It has been a few years since we last visited Cardiff, and I hardly recognised the area around the station. New buildings have gone up all over the place. There are two huge indoor shopping centres, but the character hasn't changed at all. Linking the main streets there are still plenty of the narrow covered arcades full of fascinating and different shops.
Looking across to Mermaid Quay and all the eateries.
The highlight of our visit, though, was Cardiff Bay. It's about a mile to walk, but the train from Queen Street Station takes you there in under ten minutes. Head for the copper clad Millennium Theatre and the fabulous water feature in Roald Dahl Plass. Then there's a path to the left that goes right out to the barrage and over to Penarth. The sun was shining on the day we visited and it really is a fabulous walk, even in December.
Home of the Welsh Assembly, The Senedd.
The walk goes past the front of the Welsh Assembly building, The Senedd. We didn't go inside on this occasion, but we did on our last visit, and it's worth doing just that, if only to admire the fabulous ceiling of red cedar that mushrooms up from above the debating chamber and ripples in waves across the ceiling and outside to form the huge porch. There's a viewing gallery above the chamber, and the whole interior is a wide, light and airy space, where you can just sit and admire the whole thing. 

This is how to do public seating. A tribute to Roald Dahl.

Back on the walk there are plenty of reminders that Cardiff is proud of its association with Roald Dahl. Not only is the square in front of the theatre named after him, but the Norwegian Church where he was christened still stands (and is a good place for a coffee) and now and again you might come across other memorials, such as the crocodile and bench, part way around the bay walk. 
We are also reminded that Captain Robert Falcon Scott set sail on his ill fated exhibition to the South Pole from Cardiff - another link with the Norwegian Church - and there is a memorial to Captain Scott and his Terra Nova crew, part way around the bay.

And of course there's Doctor Who. All I will say here is that the Doctor Who Experience is fabulous. If you want to know more you should take a look at my scifi blog, here.
Yes, okay. Daleks. (I'm a SciFi writer, so of course I'm going to mention Doctor Who) Terry Nation, who created the Daleks, came from Cardiff, and the Doctor Who Experience, right on the Cardiff Bay walk, is a must see exhibit.

 A brilliant visit, but the caravan is calling once more. Let's get Christmas out of the way so we can get back on the road.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Two in a Box

Moreton-in-Marsh: Full of autumn colour
I sometimes think the caravan can be more fun in the winter than in summer. Back in the days of failed heating, zero insulation and ice cold, hand numbing tap water I might have argued the other way, but winter caravanning, now, is good. It is warmer and more cosy in the caravan that at home.

We headed for the Cotswolds. I had a sci-fi convention to attend in Bristol and I need no further excuse.

But that was the end of October, early November. Today is 29th November, so why only talk about it now? Well, I’ve had a project. I’ve been preoccupied with NaNoWriMo.

What is NaNoWriMo?
It’s short for National Novel Writing Month and it comes around every November, and it is a kind of challenge, to write a fifty thousand word novel in the thirty days of November. It’s supported by websites and a buddy network and graphs. (I can't resist graphs. Graphs plus writing: sign me up.)
Well, I’ve never tried NaNoWriMo before. It’s been on the to-do list for years. Maybe this is the year to start. 

“I’m going to try NaNoWriMo,” I said. 
We were in the caravan at Moreton-in-Marsh. Outside was dark, nearly freezing and only five o’clock.
“What’s NaNoWriMo?” said Sarah.
I explained.
“You’re going to write a full novel in November? The whole thing?”
“No. Not a novel. Something else.”
“So…?”
“I can’t write the third Sphere of Influence novel because I need to edit the second book first. The story might change.”
“What are you going to write then?”
Two in a Box.”
And that’s how it started. I’d never intended Travelling in a Box to be a series, but then the book did come to an end in 2001, and I suppose a lot of stuff has happened since then: problems with the old caravan after it started to bend, arrested in Chamonix, losing part of the car in Belgium… and the whole family growing up and moving out thing. Yes, there’s at least one other book there.
So I pulled out the laptop and started, on that dark cold night in Moreton-in-Marsh, two thousand words a day, my target.

And here I am, at the end of November, the proud owner of a NaNoWriMo badge and fifty-thousand words of Two in a Box in the can. I’m not finished yet. I’m guessing another thirty thousand should nail it. But I imagine Two in a Box will be hitting Amazon early in the year. You heard about it here first. More news to follow in the blog.

Okay, so what of Bristol and the Cotswolds?

Loved it! Bristolcon was fabulous, as always. Nothing went wrong with our travel plans. Nothing fell off the car. Nothing broke in the caravan. Didn't need to hunt down any hospital A&Es... Lovely caravan sites, autumn colours were fabulous. Makes a rotten story when that happens, doesn't it? 

So I’ll just tell it in pictures:    
The village of Broadway
Broadway Tower



Saturday, 17 September 2016

Driving Lesson


I'm having to go around in my wife's car at the moment, for reasons I won't go into here.
Last night I came away from our Writers' meeting and found myself nose in to a parking space, in total darkness. It took me a couple of minutes to find the headlamps, but then came problem no. 2. Where is reverse? I know there's a little diagram on the gear stick, but it was dark, and of all the times I've driven my wife's car I've never had to do it in the dark, and I've never had to go backwards. I stirred away with the gearstick, grinding and mashing the gears, trying all the usual places, but I swear, reverse was just not on there. I'm not a mechanical simpleton. I've removed gearboxes and changed clutches in the front street. But this... Well I hope nobody was looking. They'd have seen the door open a crack. They'd have seen a leg sticking out and the car creeping backwards. I reversed out like driving a kid's pedal car. Oh the humiliation!
Yeah, I found where reverse was, this morning. It wasn't there last night, though. I swear.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Feast of Lanterns

Back home from the National Feast of Lanterns, the Camping and Caravanning Club's annual bash to celebrate the end of the camping season.
Had a brilliant weekend that finished with a rousing Last Night of the Proms Concert, delivered by the club band and the Malvern Male Voice Choir. A brilliant party atmosphere that was a fitting closer to to the weekend.

Before that, though, we had trade stands and live music and the part that is my own favourite, the Saturday night torchlight procession and the street scenes. This is were caravan form up in 'streets' and light up their units according to the theme of the weekend. This year the theme was The Movies, and as always there were some fantastic illuminated displays. Forget Blackpool lights, this is where the real action is. Remember this is all done with cardboard and fairy lights and loads of ingenuity. I've taken pictures of a couple of my favourites, but so many displays deserve mentions that it hardly seems fair to show just two.




This is the King Kong scene. It's hard to see it here but the best bit is the expression of surprise on the monkey's face.


I had to include this. First Encounters of the Third Kind. Atmospheric music, chasing lights, and the way the light cast a shadow of the aliens was just brilliant.




So next year the NFOL is off to Sussex and we plan to be there again. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The R(h)oss-on-Something Collection

We seem to have been doing a spot of Rhos bagging. Four in four months in fact. In May we visited Rhos-on-Sea, one of our favourite weekend getaways, with South Lancs DA. Then in June we spent a week at Rhosson Ganol, near St Davids for seaside holiday no.1.
Peace and quiet beside the River Wye.
In July we took seaside holiday No.2 in Weymouth, but broke the journey home with a stay at Ross-on-Wye, in the company of the friendly folk of East Worcestershire DA.


This was an insanely quiet spot. At night we lay in bed and listened to the sound of the fish jumping in the river.

Then, this last weekend we returned to Rhos-on-Sea, to Dinarth Hall Farm. This time our hosts were the East and West Yorkshire British Caravanners' Club.

So there we have it: Four Rhos-on-somethings in four months. Weird huh?

Rhos-on-Sea is just over an hour from home and we've taken to visiting the site every time a DA is on hand to run a holiday meet. It has become almost a second home these days.
Dinarth Hall Farm, Rhos-on-Sea. Lovely!
We have a favourite walk from the site into Llandudno, right along the seafront and over the Little Orme. This time, though, we broke with tradition and tried something new. We headed inland and found a route over the hills between Rhos and Llandudno. It started poorly, with Sarah lacerating her leg on a sentient and evil bramble, and we then followed a path that led us through a cowpat-infested quagmire, hemmed in between an impassable wall and an electric fence. Later we found that the fence wasn't plugged in, and we could have easily taken a dry line up the field. We'll know next time.
But then we came out onto the hillside, called Nant-y-gamar and it was all worthwhile for the views across Llandudno over to the Great Orme.
The route up to Nant-y-gamar

It was another lovely spot for a picnic and we didn't even have to share our sandwiches with the seagulls, who were all busily patrolling the beach.

While we were in Ross without an 'h' (on Wye) I saw that the DA were selling second-hand books to raise money for the air ambulance. I thought it would be nice to donate one of my own copies of Travelling in a Box. It seemed a good way to get the book out to caravanners and help a good cause at the same. The books seemed to go down well with the stewards; they were most enthusiastic.
So then, here in Rhos with an 'h' I noticed the BCC were also selling books, and also for the air ambulance (this time the Yorkshire version) and so again I gave them a couple of signed TIAB books. Again, the stewards were delighted, and said they would like to auction the books at their fund raiser in Ripon. Sounds brilliant. EWYBCC don't have a website so here's a plug for their five-day meet from 13th October at Ripon Racecourse (I hope I've remembered the date correctly). Lots of events. Lots of fun. Lots of money for a worthwhile charity. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Real Summer in Weymouth

This week we’re staying on a holiday site at the rugby club in Weymouth, stewarded by Mike and Sue of Dorset DA. We’ve been here before and it is a terrific location within easy walking distance of the beach, the park and nature reserve, and a good supermarket that has a cafe with WiFi and very welcome air conditioning. Because it is hot! It is the sort of hot you’d pay lots of money for, and travel a thousand miles to find, and we have it all here in lovely Dorset. To think, a couple of days before we left home I was moaning about the British summer and debating switching on the central heating. A few hours and a couple of hundred miles and like caravanning on the Med. How jammy is that?

I mentioned “easy walk”. Well, I have a thing about about easy walks. On our first day we set off into Weymouth, paddled along the coast, through Weymouth town and beyond, because I wanted to see Sandsfoot Castle. I hadn’t seen Sandsfoot Castle before. We walked on and on, ignoring the most excellent live band that were playing on the harbour front. Ignoring the 80F sun that hammered down onto our heads.
“It’s just a bit further,” I said, again and again.
Weymouth Harbour. Could just as easily be the Med.
We found Sandsfoot Castle. We staggered into the nearest shade and slugged down drinks from the cafe. Did we go and look at the castle? Or the beautiful gardens? Not a chance. We’d staggered over six miles and we faced another six miles to get back. Too knackered to even photograph the castle, we set off on the return trek under the relentless sun. I think the castle looked good. It’s hard to tell when you’re delirious with heat stroke.
Hours later, back at the caravan, we made a pact. We decided it might be a good idea if we tried something new and unprecidented this week – if we tried doing what people usually do on holiday. Relaxing.

Bennett's Water Gardens. Just like Giverny but without the crowds.

So we’ve been to Bennett’s Water Gardens (in the car) and strolled around the cool, shady pools, rested on benches, watched the dragonflies and admired the water lilies. We had another day in Swanage, where we strolled along the prom, walked on the pier and had tea in tea shops. There, you see, we can be sensible. We’ve never been to Swanage before. It’s lovely. Sandy beach, warm sea. Interesting seaside shops.
We even managed to resist stopping off at Corfe Castle on the way through. Last time we clambered up to Corfe Castle the temperature was, like this day, up in the mid 80’s, so we thought, yeah, been there, done that. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Corfe Castle, but we’ll wait for cooler weather, I think. I don’t want to spend the rest of our week in A&E.
A Leopard 1 tank in action at the Tank Museum, Bovington

If you are visiting this part of the world a must-see attraction is the tank museum at Bovington. Check the web site first to make sure there are live action displays on the day you visit, because they are brilliant - lots of smoke and explosions and engine noises you can feel right inside your chest. But even away from the action, there is a huge amount to see, and we both found the Trench Experience exhibit to be eye opening, informative and very moving.
Only a few days left and lots more to see. This is our third visit to Weymouth and it won’t be our last.




This holiday is going well. They don’t always. Travelling in a Box is now available not only as a paperback and on Kindle, but also on iBooks and Kobo.