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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Meeting People…

I’m a tour guide in my everyday life, working in one of the Shakespeare Houses in Stratford Upon Avon. On average, we see around 300 people a day, and so I’m lucky enough to get to meet some really interesting people.

Last Friday (20th) I got chatting to Val and Duncan, a lovely couple who were passing through Stratford in their converted ambulance campervan! I got very excited when they started talking campervans, and even more excited when they told me that they live in rural France.

I told them that they are living my dream…and they told me they are living their dream too.

I must admit, I have a few reservations about my desire to roll around France in a campervan (and possibly settle there…), but after chatting with Val and Duncan I felt positively inspired! They had so much advice and encouragement for me, and I absolutely loved chatting with them. I’ve given them the address of this blog so they can have a read, and I’ve implored them to write one of their own so that I can read about their adventures.

Thanks to Val and Duncan for totally making my day!

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Random

 

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That Really Grinds My Gears – Part 3…

The first and second parts of this story were bad enough, you’d think, but before too long the tale of woe was to become a trilogy.

A few days after we arrived home, a letter dropped onto the doormat…

parkingcharge

This is actually the second letter they’d sent me but they amount to the same thing…

We were being charged £70 for ‘parking’ for 117 minutes when the limit was 90. That’s approximately £2.60 per minute.

At first I panicked and tried to call the *expletives* at ParkingEye (I knew it was an automated phone line, but as I said, I panicked) and then I fired off an online appeal without thinking to do a Google search on the best way to respond.

After checking the box that named me as driver and registered keeper I told them that we’d tried to leave after being in the car park for 45 minutes, but that the gear stick had snapped off, forcing us to park back up and call for assistance. I said that I hadn’t known there was a time limit on parking, but that even if I had, I probably would have been too stressed out to give it a second thought. I also told them that if I’d have been concious to the fact we were outstaying our welcome I would have thought the presence of an RAC van would have alerted them to the fact that we weren’t parked, but BROKEN DOWN and that surely their CCTV cameras could back this up. I pressed send, read the message that told me they would only reply in writing after AT LEAST ten working days, and (wrongly) assumed that they would honour my appeal.

I had not seen the original letter until a good few days after it had arrived as it had gotten shoved amongst other mail, so eventually I received a second, more threatening letter (pictured above). This one told me that if I hadn’t responded by August 15th (just 14 days after they sent out the first letter) then the charge would go up. It was incredibly intimidating but I decided not to react and waited for a reply to my appeal. It was a good week or so until I eventually got another letter which informed me that I had 14 days to produce an RAC reference number to prove I wasn’t a great big liar…

I was angry,

Okay, so I had told them I could get a reference number to support my appeal if they needed it, but why should I have to? They (or Aldi) were more than certain to have CCTV trained on the car park, and the RAC van would have been picked up by the registration recognition cameras on the way out, with me clearly in pursuit. Besides all that, how dare they impose another deadline on me when they are so free and easy with their own response time?

Once I’d had a search around online at some advice forums I realised that I hadn’t been hard enough in my initial approach…

  • I’d told them that I hadn’t known there was a parking limit, but I should have said I saw no signs about parking limits or charges and therefore had entered into no contract when I had parked.
  • I should have said that their charge of £70 for 40 extra minutes of parking was disproportionately high and failed to represent any loss that might have been incurred by the land owner.
  • I could also have pointed out to them that their parking charge notice was not a penalty charge notice and, as such, was unenforceable by law.
  • I should also not have admitted to being the driver. I couldn’t lie and say it wasn’t me, but they can only claim to have a contract with the driver and I had no legal obligation to tell them who was driving.

Lots of the forums advised ignoring the letters altogether because ParkingEye wouldn’t take it as far as court, but this was advice from early 2012. At this point PE were likely to reject any appeal (no matter how supportive the grounds were), yet those who ignored their demands completely were eventually left alone. In September 2012 a body called POPLA (Parking On Private Land Appeals) was set up to appeal against the unfair appeals, but you can’t get their support without first appealing to the Private Parking Company (PPC) who are charging you.

…And then in 2013 ParkingEye began issuing court claims to those who were following the advice of the forums. A member of the Parking Management Team from Aldi said that this was because people were, en masse, refusing to answer their mail. Presumably revenue was down and so they had to start backing up their threats.

Current advice in the forums is to appeal very clearly, stating lack of contract, excessive and unenforceable charges, and that no losses have been incurred by the land owner.

If such an appeal were to be rejected (and it most likely would be) then the forums advise that you request a POPLA code from ParkingEye (or similar) so that you can take the appeal further. Most people agreed that PE would drop it at that point, being unlikely to want to pay the £37 fee that POPLA would charge them.

My problem would have been that as I broke down (which classes as mitigating circumstances) POPLA weren’t guaranteed to back my appeal, but that doesn’t matter so much…

Although ParkingEye would have had to back off if POPLA supported my appeal, I wouldn’t have to pay up if they didn’t. PE would have to take me to court to get any money out of me, and any judge in their right mind would have laughed them out of the room. How could I have moved off their land with this going on…

Something is clearly wrong here...

Something is clearly wrong here…

I wouldn’t have thought of looking online for advice on my own though…it was actually after few phone calls to Aldi that left me utterly furious when I decided to seek support.

After the second (well, third if you consider their second demand) letter from ParkingEye I called the RAC for a reference, and then I called Aldi customer services to complain about PE and make the supermarket aware of how threatening and pushy their PPC was being.

I made it very clear that I wasn’t trying to appeal the charge, but the operator still tried to get me to call back on a different number, as the Parking Management team were ‘who I should be talking to’. I got a bit miffed at her buck-passing attitude and told her again that I was calling to complain and that I had thought Customer Services would be concerned by my distress. At this point she stopped being snotty with me and agreed that I had every right to be frustrated. She also chose to tell me that she gets lots of people calling with my very complaint. Interesting. The rest of the conversation was fairly pleasant and cathartic, and I ended the call feeling confident that my complaint would be handled as such…a simple complaint about the aggressive attitude of a company that didn’t even have people you could call and speak to. Once again, I was wrong to assume.

I got a voice mail message from a girl called Laura a few days later and I called called her back expecting to get through to a CS operative, but no. Laura (who finishes work at 4.30pm, making it impossible to speak to her outside of my own work hours) is one of the delightful (read: rude and confrontational) members of the Aldi Parking Management team. Rather than talk about my complaint, she wanted to interrupt me, belittle me, and say things like ‘it is your responsibility as a driver to blah blah blah…’. As if this wasn’t bad enough, she shouted at me and called me ‘totally unfair’ for saying that I understood Aldi get numerous complaints about ParkingEye. I pointed out to her that it was one of her team that had fed me that particular piece of information, and that she could probably listen to a recording of the conversation if she wanted hard evidence.

I felt it prudent to tell Laura that it is rude to interrupt people, imply that they are stupid and then call them liars, and that she was doing very little to improve my opinion of Aldi as a company. I then took advantage of her kind silence to remind her that I had called to complain about the disgusting vultures that they employ to police their car parks, and to make her aware that I would prefer to speak to those vultures over her any day. I asked her to stop harassing me while I was at work and kindly never call me back again.

Laura is not a very nice person and I can only assume that she is on some kind of commission from the parking charges. She did nothing to try and help me and wasn’t in the least bit bothered that I was upset, seemingly more interested in intimidating me further.

It’s disgusting enough that Aldi should employ companies like ParkingEye, so imagine how I feel now I know they also employ people like Laura. Don’t even get me started on the fact they allow her to speak to the public.

So…what happened next?

Well, to cut a long (rambling) story short, a few days after I’d given Laura the sharp edge of my tongue (a week or so after I had placed my second appeal), I received an EMAIL from ParkingEye to tell me that the charge had been dismissed. I did an awful lot of shouting at Laura, so I can’t imagine she was feeling overly generous at the end of our conversation, but I do have to wonder if she didn’t have a hand in getting the charge dropped…

As I said already, when you appeal online, ParkingEye state very clearly that they will only respond in writing and that you shouldn’t expect to hear from them until at least ten working days have elapsed. If they had been responding to my second online appeal then surely it would have been by letter? I guess I will never know, but it is terribly tempting to respond to their email or call Laura back for another cosy chat. I just want to thank them for dropping their totally unenforceable charge, of which they would never have seen a penny…

If you happen to be stung with any kind of parking charge, please please please don’t pay it! These charges are completely ridiculous and can always be fought. No car parking space is worth £70 for 40 minutes! You could over park for HOURS and it would cost the land owner nothing. They have no right to charge you.

For more advice, go to…

http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/

or…

http://www.legalbeagles.info/forums/

and start your own thread about your own parking charge problem. Both sites give excellent advice and can show you where to look to compose the best appeal.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Random

 

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Biting Off More Than We Can Chew…

I’m sure you’ve heard of Groupon? I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again…I love Groupon…

I love it so much that I often torment myself with the idea of spa days, three course meals and cheap courses…and sometimes I splurge and buy far too many things at once. They usually have a good few months to use them before they expire, but I tend to be a bit precious with them, hanging on to them for as long as possible. This often results in me getting stressed and madly trying to reserve tables with only a few days left on my vouchers…

…like I’ve been doing today…

I have two vouchers for meals that are both expiring next week, so we’re preparing ourselves for a few days of feasting…

On Sunday, we’ve got a three course lunch planned at Salford Hall Hotel in Salford Priors. I’ve been looking at the menu and making myself very hungry indeed…

menu

…and on Monday night we’re going to stuff ourselves with steak and half a lobster at the Beeches Bar & Grill in Hampton in Arden…

What Groupon thinks our dinner will look like...

What Groupon thinks our dinner will look like…

I’m very excited…

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Days Out, Food, Plans

 

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That Really Grinds My Gears – Part 2…

So, as I said a few posts back, we suffered a broken gearstick over the Barefoot Weekened, but we were lucky enough to be saved by a resourceful RAC man and two kind mechanics. Sadly, there was going to be more to this tale…

Luke dozed all the way home from Kings Lynn, but when we got home he complained that he could smell fuel. I’d been able to smell it all the way back but had assumed it was oil from the funnel we’d used to fill up. My sense of smell isn’t the greatest and I honestly hadn’t given it a second thought.

Remembering the RAC man’s attempt to earth our battery (clipping onto the fuel pipe instead of the bodywork), we opened the boot hatch expecting to find a leak.

We found six.

All three of the woven fuel lines were leaking at both ends. Wonderful. Thank you Mr RAC man,

Luke searched around online and found that we could buy metres and metres of the right tubing for not a lot of money, so we’re not too put out, but we don’t really know what we’re doing to replace it. Luckily, a friend’s step-dad has the same model van and does all his own repairs, so we have enlisted him to teach us what to do. All we need to do now is find a free weekend to get Old Red back in working condition again. It’s put paid to our travels out for a while…

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Van Maintenance

 

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Our First Seaside Adventure…

Once we had overcome the trauma of a broken gear stick, Luke, Old Red and I were off to Kings Lynn (or there abouts) to seek out the sea. That was all the plan we had. We were back on the road again and we weren’t being towed home! Hurrah!

Aaaand, we're back on the road!

Aaaand, we’re back on the road!

When we arrived in the town centre we were met with a load of depressing buildings and roads and not much else. We gave up on winging it and asked Google maps to find us a site by a beach. We had looked at a map when trying to decide which way to head, but I had (unfortunately) failed to notice how in-land Kings Lynn (the town) is…

kingslynnmap

Whoops!

Once again, we set our sights on the sea and headed for Diglea Caravan and Campsite in Snettisham. When we got there we found that it wasn’t exactly beach-adjacent (it was a good ten minutes walk) and that the reception had closed hours ago. We could still check in (at the amusingly named ‘Beavers Munchbox’) but the debit card machine was locked away in reception and we had no cash. Great. So we got back in the van and began our quest for a cashpoint. We found one in a garage a few miles along the road, and on the way we also spotted signs for other beachside campsites. It was just our luck to find one ‘randomly’, like we’d wanted to, after we’d half-booked into one that Google had found. We were tempted to pretend that we’d never given up on finding a site by chance and follow a brown sign, but n the end we drove back along the road and completed our check-in with the nice people at Diglea. It really is a lovely, friendly site…we highly recommend it if you’re in the Kings Lynn area and need a spot to camp for the night.

We settled for a pitch without electric hook-ups (they’re not much use when you’ve left your power cable at home), paid £18 for the night, and set off towards the Touring/Camping field (where we could barbecue our dinner) and the promise of free hot showers!

The facilities at Diglea are great and they give you a very comprehensive little map of the site so that you don’t get lost searching for toilets/water/fire fighting equipment.

digleamap

Map (not to scale) of Diglea…

The massive wash rooms were really clean and inviting, and the showers were lovely and hot. Unfortunately for me, they were those stupid push-button affairs, and I seemed to have picked a lazy one. It wanted reminding that I needed water once every ten seconds, which *almost* annoyed me, but by this point I felt so stressed and grubby that I could forget the button and imagine it was a luxury power shower.

It was probably about 10.30pm by the time we pulled the table down out of the roof and sat down to eat. I had a few sips of beer and closed my eyes for a minute, and when I opened them the sun was shining again. A cup of tea was the first order of the day but the milk had gone bad overnight, so we decided to drive to the nearby shop and have breakfast on the beach.

At the bottom of a long winding road we found the beach car park. It was £5 to park for the day, but the attendant was kind enough to let us have an hour on there for just a pound. After racing up the dunes to get a view of the sea we found a lovely pebbly beach and stood and breathed it all in for a while…

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It was pretty windy…

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…so we took full advantage of our new kite and, after tea and two MASSIVE bacon sandwiches, we spent a good while trying to pull some stunts (which resulted in a LOT of kite smackdowns)…

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Luke…

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Luke…

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Luke again…

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Me…

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Me again!

Eventually we got bored of putting the kite back together after each nose-dive into the pebbles. We said a last goodbye to the horizon and climbed back over the dunes the the van. It was Tuesday and it was time to admit that the weekend had ended…and time to head home…

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Back on the long (an traffic-jammy) road home…

The sky over Norfolk...

The sky over Norfolk…

More sky...

More sky…

Yet more beautiful sky...

Yet more beautiful sky…

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Camping, Days Out, Places, Travel

 

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That Really Grinds My Gears…

We left Barefoot on Monday, July 29th, heading for the sea with another day of holiday ahead of us. As I said before, we hadn’t wanted the festival to end, and so we’d set off for the east coast with Kings Lynn and the seaside in our sights.

We didn’t have a campsite booked (or even planned) and we weren’t even sure of where we were going, and so when we spotted a sign for a farm shop we turned off the beaten track and onto a country road. The fabled ‘shop’ was a van on the side of the road that sold a few rotten looking vegetables, so we kept on going to civilisation and eventually found ourselves pulling into an Aldi store in Wisbech.

We pulled into the car park with no problem and headed inside to buy all the essentials that we needed for the night and morning ahead (bacon, sausuages, a kite and a diabolo…as you do) and prepared to get back on the road.

…and that’s when we hit our first problem…

I’ve moaned about my clunky 5-speed gearbox and difficult gear-stick before. I always have trouble getting it into first and reverse is almost impossible…but this time it was a million times worse. Instead of plain old refusing the slide up into reverse, the stick was kind of twisting and bending in a very worrying manner. It felt like it was broken. After pulling up the collar and giving it some closer inspection, we found out that is WAS indeed broken…

The weld that connected the stick to the linkage was not only very badly done, but was also cracking and letting the stick turn around on it’s thread. Oh dear,…

Rather than try and force it into reverse and break it completely, Luke pushed us out of the space and I got the van into first, planning on limping it to a nearby garage.

…and that’s when we hit our second problem…

Just as we were pulling away the gear stick went SPLAT on the floor of the van and we were stuck in first. Oh deary dear…

20130729_182826

And so, at 5.15pm, just 15 minutes before most garages close, over 100 miles from home, we pulled into another parking space and began ringing around to find someone who could help us…to no avail. Eventually we called the RAC thinking that our adventure was over before it had begun.

The RAC man arrived incredibly quickly, and was a lot more helpful than we’d imagined he’d be. He told us that he couldn’t tow us (they’d done their usual trick and sent an entirely unsuitable response vehicle out), but he was more than willing to get us into second gear and limp us along to a garage. Not only that, but he knew a garage nearby that might still be open, which was on the same estate as his mate’s welding company. Result. If the garage was closed then we’d have to camp there overnight and his friend would be more than happy to weld us back together in the morning.

It was a great plan, until he realised how difficult it was going to be to get the van into second gear, and so he asked me to start the engine to see if that made it easier…

…and that’s when we hit our third problem…

Old Red wouldn’t start.

Nothing.

The hazard lights wouldn’t even come on anymore. The battery was dead, maybe from the fridge being set to 12V throughout the journey, or the fact we didn’t have an earthing strap attached to the bodywork. The helpful RAC man started us up by connecting jump leads to the battery and the bodywork…

…and that’s when we hit our FOURTH problem…

He didn’t connect the bulldog clip to just the bodywork. No. He connected it to the bodywork via one of our fuel pipes. It was only when Luke asked why there was diesel spilling everywhere that he even noticed he’d done it. Needless to say, I was not overly impressed with him at this point and time was marching on.

Before too long the pipe was trimmed and reconnected, we were in second gear, and we were following silly Mr RAC man out of the car park and along the four miles of road to the garage. At 10 miles an hour. It was 6.20pm by this point and I was already looking at nearby hotels and trying to work out if we could afford to sleep somewhere that had a toilet, rather than in a car park. There was no way we were going to get to the seaside that night…

And then we pulled up here…

Cannot recommend these dudes enough

Cannot recommend these dudes enough

Michael Motors, Unit 1, 62 Weasenham Road, Wisbech PE13 2RU…if you are ever in Wisbech and in need of the help of a mechanic, these are the guys to turn to! Admittedly, the first guy Luke spoke to said ‘tomorrow’ in a very gruff voice, but his colleague very helpfully pointed out that they were there, and we were there, and they might as well do it right then so that we could get on our way and not have to camp on their forecourt overnight. 

And into the garage we went…

Back in a garage...again...

Back in a garage…again…

One earthing strap, a bit of expert welding, and £50 later, and we were ready to roll again. I was beside myself with joy (and, honestly, disbelief) and thanked Michael and Thomas for their kind help. Luke tried to give them extra money for a drink but they refused on the grounds that if they drank they wouldn’t be around to do late-night fixes. They’d be at the pub.

I called them angels but they refused that too and said that they like to help wherever they can. Michael told me that he’d once leant his car to a woman for three days because she’d broken down with her kids in the car and he didn’t have time to fix it for her then and there. Once again, I told them they were angels.

Back in one piece again!...for the time being

Back in one piece again!…for the time being

…and so our mini seaside adventure began…

 

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Red Battery Condition Light of DOOM…

I may or may not have said before, but Old Red, brilliant as he may be, doesn’t have a leisure battery. I’d done a lot of reading online and had kind of expected that I would need one, seeing as it’s not usually a good idea to drain and charge your vehicle’s starter battery with any regularity. Sadly, I had fallen so in love with the big burgundy beast that I hadn’t even asked if he had one (foolish!), so I was in for a bit of a shock when I went to pick him up from the garage….but it seemed to be ok! The guys at the shop assured me that they (nor their customers) had suffered battery trouble while out in Old Red, and that I shouldn’t have any problems.

…and they were right! Sort of…

Red has a battery condition metre fixed into his wall, which allows you to operate the lights and water pump, whilst keeping an eye on how quickly the power is draining. In all the adventures I’ve had with Red so far, the light has stayed green, no matter how much music I’ve listened to, or phones I’ve charged. It was only after 7 months sat on the driveway, having the lights turned on and off periodically, that the light changed to red.

I was hoping that the runs to and from the garage, and the 60 mile trip to Loughborough would have charged the battery back up enough to keep us going for the whole weekend, but it seems that I hoped in vain. We played music from the moment we began setting up camp, charged both of our phones, had the lights on after dark, and generally revelled in electricity. The red light of doom was on before the first night was out, proving either that we hadn’t charged the battery enough or that it has dramatically dropped condition since last year…I don’t know which, but I hope it’s not the latter.

One thing to note is that when we pulled the phone charger out of the socket the light went back to green again. I’m guessing that this means the light came on to let us know the drain was too much? Later on, when we were a little less sober and were only using the lights, we took to switching the power to the van off and back on every time the light went red. This ‘cured’ the problem for a short while each time, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a way to extend battery power.

I didn’t think we had the room for a leisure battery (I hear they’re rather large), but as I said in my last post, we were lucky enough to meet a couple at Barefoot Festival who gave us some great advice on powering our van.

They had a leisure battery built into a wooden box, with all the points properly wired in and up to an 80w solar panel that they fixed onto the roof of their van. They stowed it all in the van when necessary, but when they were camped up they set it all up and ran not only their phone chargers and music system, but also powered a load of LED lights for their festival stall.

Hopefully we’ll get the chance to give Red a really really good run before the year is out so that we can test how well the battery recharges. If it turns out that it is in bad condition and won’t hold a charge, then at least we know there are options out there for a more reliable source of power. It’s going to cost us around £100 for a decent solar panel (hopefully they’ll be even cheaper by the time we get round to it) and a quick google search tells me that a battery will be around £60-100. All we (Luke) will need to do is build a box for it and wire the whole shebang up.

Simple…

 
 

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