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Tailgating…aka: Praise Be to VW Heritage…

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For as long as he has lived with us, Old Red’s tailgate struts (the bits that keep the boot hatch open) have been defunct and we have had to use brooms, planks, step-ladders and people to keep it open. This isn’t ideal as it makes access to the engine bay a little tricky, and also because the bike rack tends to drip cold water on whoever drew the “holding the boot open” short straw. So when I was asked to write a review for VW Heritage it really wasn’t difficult to think of a part that we needed.

Their website is organised by vehicle type, which makes finding parts for your bus or car a lot simpler…especially for people like me who don’t have as much experience with this kind of thing. There are also handy diagrams with a key so you can be doubly sure that you’re buying the right part. My lack of expertise made it hard for me to be certain of what I wanted (I mean, how can you search successfully for a tailgate strut if you think its real name is “boot propper-opener”?!) but all it took was a quick email to VW Heritage and I had all the help I needed.

There is also a ‘Live Chat’ feature on the website so, if you would rather open a speedy dialogue than draft an email, you have that option too.

Our parts – a pair of Meyle gas struts – arrived within days of ordering them.

It may have taken us six months to find a good day to get them fitted (I had overestimated just how much time I’d have to do van stuff once Velcro baby extraordinaire was here)…but get them fitted we did!

…finally…

So!

Removing the old struts…

This is obviously an excellent place to start.

Neither of us had much of an idea on how to do this job, so Luke had a look at the van while I had a look on Google. To say it’s an easy job would be a bit of an understatement, …he’d figured out what we needed to do (and started to do it) before the first page had even begun to load on my phone.

The struts are attached to the body of the van by a pin and a horseshoe clip (and two washers in the case of Old Red), and onto the tailgate by a ball joint with a pincer locking collar.

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…horseshoe clip and pin holding the strut to the body… (this is the cleaned clip and the new strut)

With the door propped up on a step-ladder (I don’t recommend using this method yourself as it wasn’t the safest…especially seeing as we kept walking into the ladder and dislodging it), we started by removing the struts from the body of the van.

To do this we used a flat screwdriver to push/slide/lever the horseshoe clip off the pin, freeing the end of the strut. Old Red’s clips had rusted into place but a few squirts of WD40 and some gentle taps with a hammer and screwdriver got them moving.

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The other end of the strut was even easier. You just slip your screwdriver into the back of the collar and lever it outwards to release the pincer hold around the ball stud so that you can pull it away.

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Et voila!…your strut is free.

…And on with the new…

Installing the new parts was just as simple.

Starting with the tailgate/ball joint end…you use your screwdriver to lever the collar open and hook the strut onto the ball stud.

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The collar locks securely around the ball, but we gave ours a good wiggle, just to be sure we’d done it correctly.

The other end slides back over the pin on the body…

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…and then you can replace the washers and clips (Luke cleaned ours before putting them back on) before standing back to admire your  handiwork.

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…done! Many thanks to Auntie Stephie for keeping her nephew happy while we worked…

It was such an easy job, and I just can’t explain how satisfying it is to not only have a working boot on our van (so satisfying that we opened and closed the boot many MANY times to test it out), but to actually have done it ourselves. Camping is going to be a whole new experience now, and doing work in the engine bay is going to be SO much easier…not to mention safer.

I’d like to offer a massive thank you to the guys at VW Heritage for their help in getting our first repair done. The struts are excellent quality and not only were they easy to fit, but they work superbly too. Our rear door is heavier than most (because of the huge, clunky bike rack) but it now opens and closes really smoothly, and (most importantly) it stays open without human intervention!

Now we’ve got one job off the to-do list, we’re keen to get on with more.

VW Heritage have a handy Wishlist function on their website that account holders can use to save items they want for future purchase (or in case a kind soul should want to buy you presents) so I’m going to use that to keep track of all the parts we need and want. With summer just a few weeks away we don’t have long to get Old Red back on the road, but I’m feeling really positive about our ability to get it done.

 

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The Struts Have Landed…

A while ago I was asked to write a parts review for VW Heritage, a company that stocks parts and accessories for all kinds of Volkswagen vehicles.

Old Red needs a LOT of work so it was hard to know what parts to ask for, but in the end Luke and I decided to get tailgate struts so we don’t have to rely on planks or the strength of our arms/backs to hold the door open.

They arrived yesterday morning!…

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I feel so honoured to be asked to do my first “proper” review. Luke and I will be removing the old struts and fitting the new ones ASAP…watch this space!

 

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Why I Love Companion Care Vets…

Fletch and I have always had ruff (ha ha) experiences at the vets. He’s a very sociable dog (by sociable, I mean he wants to kiss all people and try to have sex with all other dogs) and so most of our vets trips have been bookmarked by stressful waiting room situations where he pulls and chokes and coughs up bubbly stuff, and I fight against him getting hotter and more embarrassed with each moment that passes.

When I eventually managed to sit down he would cry and try to get under the seats and shed fur like mad…it was very stressful for the both of us. It doesn’t help that most vet’s surgeries are filled with other stressed out animals. Their crying often seemed to make him even more on edge.

We’ve also had some vets be downright mean because of his breed and his talkative nature. I know he’s as soft as whippy ice cream (and SO affectionate), but they don’t, and some of them have said some VERY hurtful things.  So much so that they have had me leaving their practices in tears and refusing to go back.

Now we take Fletch to Companion Care in the Redditch branch of Pets at Home and we couldn’t be happier…

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Firstly, seeing as this is one of the only shops that I’ve taken Fletch into, he was already well used to going in to do fun things like choose toys, try on collars, and buy treats. He’s also met a lot of other dogs in there under non-stressful circumstances and he’s genuinely happy to walk in.

Even when we get up to the back of the shop (where Companion Care is located) he stays calm and interested, rather than pulling around manically…

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Their waiting room is split into two parts around the desk so if there are any stressed animals there we can keep him away from them. Sometimes there’s dogs and cats everywhere in there but because of the fact it’s in a massive pet shop we can always take him for a wander down an aisle if he’s getting worked up.

The vets themselves are fabulous. too. They all say hello to Fletch, pet him LOADS and offer him treats before trying to administer any care so he’s always comfortable and relaxed when the “unfun” things begin. He’s had to stay in for surgery on occasion and every time they’ve reassured us that he’s a lovely natured dog that they’re very happy to have. They’re so much more welcoming of him than the other vets we took him to in Redditch.

Finally, and this only occured to me the other day when we took him in for vaccinations on a Sunday…what other vet surgeries do you know that operate on weekends and bank holidays? Of course, there’s always out of hours and emergency vets, but it’s definitely reassuring to know that we can get hold of people we know and trust pretty much every day of the year.

…above all, it’s lovely that this old boy is happier, more relaxed, and very well cared for…

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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Animals, Life, Places, Reviews

 

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Safety First – Car Seats and Bases…

Unsurprisingly, hospitals won’t let you take your newborn home unless you have a legal car seat (the obvious exception to this rule is if you’re walking). As such, it’s pretty important to have a seat ready to go. I might have only just packed my hospital bag, but I’ve had our boy’s car seat waiting for him (still in the bag in case the cat tries to sit in it) since I was about 28 weeks pregnant.

Although we’re not buying a pushchair (more about that soon), we’d been offered a Quinny Buzz pushchair frame and so decided to get a Maxi Cosi baby seat to fit into it. After looking at the different choices, we went for the Cabriofix (in mosaic blue) because it had tested well and boasted a Side Protection System that the Pebble/Pebble Plus didn’t seem to have.

Maxi Cosi Cabriofix in Mosaic Blue

We got it from Mothercare Online on sale quite a while ago (we were out when it was delivered and the delivery driver just dropped it over the fence into our back garden which I wasn’t all that pleased about), and the price has since dropped to near the sale price. Still, it’s given us time to play with it and we’re really pleased with it.

Luke wanted to get one of the Isofix bases too, so I started looking into them and got pretty confused over which we should buy.

The EasyFix was the cheapest but was only suitable for the Cabriofix chair, so it’d need replacing in less than a year.

The next model up, the FamilyFix seemed good as, although it was £165, it also took the Maxi Cosi Pearl seat and so would last our little one until he is about four years old. That’s far better value for money but the Pearl is a forward-facing seat, and as such isn’t as safe as I’d like it to be…

Up until a couple of weeks ago (when buying the base to go with our seat became more urgent) I’d only seen the above two Isofix bases but then I discovered a new one…the 2Way Fix Base…

Maxi Cosi Two Way Fix Base

…which allows you to use a 2 Way Pearl seat. This seat can be used forward facing (from around 15 months) but is suitable for rear facing travel up to around four years old.

Two Way Fix Base is suitable up to 4 years

The base was more expensive than the others at £190 from Mothercare, and we had to order it in-store and wait for it to arrive which meant two trips to Solihull but it’s more than worth it for its longevity and safety (note: we could have ordered it in-store and had it delivered but we didn’t want a repeat of the seat delivery).

When we went to order/pay for it, one of the sales assistants brought their store model out to make sure it fitted in both my and mom’s cars (as mom will be driving us home from the hospital). It went really easily into mom’s car (Peugeot 306) but was a right faff to get into mine (Golf Mk4) as my seats are so fat and padded. It took a while, but with the little plastic guides (they come with the base), some seat squashing (we needed several hands for this), and lots of good humour, we eventually got it clicked in. We haven’t installed it in a car or tried the seat on it yet, but I’m confident that it’ll be more secure than the seatbelt fixing (especially with my overly padded seats).

I can’t be sure but I don’t think that Mothercare stocked the Two Way base when I was first looking at them back in June. I’m very glad that I got confused, gave up, and didn’t just buy a FamilyFix at the same time as I was getting the seat. I’d have been really upset to find out that there was a better option for us later on.

I’m also very thankful that my Great Aunt and her daughter (my godmother) gifted us the money to buy the base at our recent not-a-baby-shower. Our little boy is very lucky to be so loved and so spoilt by his family…and he’s not even here yet!

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Baby, Parenting, Pregnancy, Reviews

 

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Effective Birth Preparation CD…

Yesterday I finally got round to opening my Effective Birth Preparation CD from Natal Hypnotherapy (which I got as part of the workshop we did over the weekend).

Lucy had told us that it had a few extras inside but I wasn’t expecting to find so many useful resources when I opened it…

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Firstly there’s a ‘Mini Guide to Effective Birth Preparation’ booklet which gives you information under headings like:

  • What contributes to making childbirth painful?
  • How does being relaxed make a difference?
  • How can hypnosis help with birth?
  • Optimal Conditions for a calm, gentle birth
  • Role of the birth partner

…there’s a lot more, but this should give you an idea of the sorts of things it covers. It’s only 20 pages long and is very quick to read, which is great because Luke will be able to read it without having to make it through the whole Effective Birth Preparation “text book”. I know he’s been on the course but it’ll be a great refresher.

Also contained inside the CD case is a sticker (for the front of your pregnancy notes) to let the midwives know that you’re using Natal Hypnotherapy to prepare for birth, as well as a 4-sided data sheet to keep with your notes for the midwives to read. It’s to the point, tells the uninitiated about the finer points of Natal Hypnotherapy. It also makes them aware that, as I’m using relaxation techniques, I may seem calmer than they expect and be further along than they might assume.

Adding to that, there’s a handy card to stick on the door of your labour room to let people know that there’s a “Natal Hypnotherapy birth in progress” and that they should refer to the Midwives Data for more information about it.

Finally, there is this useful fold-out-slot-together resource that can sit somewhere in the labour room for the birthing mother, birth partner and midwives to refer to during the labour…

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I was thoroughly impressed…and that’s before I’d even put the CD in my machine!

On the CD itself there are three tracks. The first is a simple, short introduction from Maggie Howell. She advises that you and your birth partner read the booklet and listen to the CD in a waking state (e.g. sat together at the kitchen table) so that you can take it in properly. That way you can talk about the parts of it that resonate with you and that you want to focus on or utilise during the birth. She also suggests that you pick a physical trigger for relaxation (I like Luke’s hands on my shoulders) and that your birth partner use this touch on you while you’re listening to the CD to prepare for birth, and that it can later be used during labour to quickly put you into the same relaxed, hypnotic state.

I was keen to get started and Luke was busy decorating the hallway so I chose to ignore these suggestion for the time being. I skipped to track 2 (the birth preparation hypnosis session) and settled back on the bed, propped up on a pile of pillows to relax for the next 38 minutes.

I chose not to lie on my side as this is the position I sleep in at the moment, and the position I’d done all the weekend hypnosis sessions in. I snore quite badly at the moment and it’s far FAR worse on my back, hence why I’d avoided it in front of strangers…as it was, I wish I’d avoided it for my solitary session too…

Firstly, I felt like I couldn’t relax my neck properly and so I spent good few minutes feeling slightly uncomfortable and a bit distracted. Thankfully, it didn’t last long and I soon drifted away from my normal concious state – but that’s when the snoring started. I wasn’t asleep…well, I don’t think I was anyway. I was mostly aware of the snoring – I just went with it and felt like I was doing it a) because of the position I was lying in, and b) because I was SO relaxed.

As it was, despite (mostly) being aware of both the snoring and the fact that I was listening to the CD, I don’t really remember a whole lot of what was said. There were points where I would be aware of what Maggie was saying, but then I’d lose it again. I can remember having the vague feeling that I was falling in and out of sleep HOWEVER…the CD ends with the words “…4…and…5…eyes open…and…wide awake”, and with those words I found myself stretching (the instruction just after the count of 3 that I don’t remember) and coming awake/aware.

I did feel as if I’d been sleeping, but just like the real life sessions we’d done with Lucy, the closing words of the hypnosis HAD brought me round to “conciousness” and so I can only assume that I must have had some degree of awareness to what was going on during the hypnosis session itself. It does say in the mini guide (and Lucy pointed this out in her sessions) that doesn’t matter if you do drop off to sleep, as your subconscious will still pick up on the words, AND you are quite obviously becoming very relaxed.

Afterwards I was SO relaxed that I curled up on my side and actually did go to sleep. Luke came to wake me about half an hour later and he had to talk to me and stroke my face for a minute or two before I came round. I was definitely asleep that time!

The last track is a 15 minute “Relaxation Session” that I also haven’t listened to yet. I guess I should have put it on just before I curled up and rolled over but I was so relaxed I didn’t even bother acknowledging that my laptop existed, let alone make the effort switch to the next track. I foolishly forgot to queue the tracks up before I started.

It was only my first time of using the CD and I haven’t had chance to listen to it “awake” yet, but I am already feeling even more at ease than I was after the weekend workshop. I was looking around on the internet a while later and came across this video, which normally would have had me feeling a mild twinge of panic…but I relaxed and breathed as I watched it and I felt completely fine.

I’m really looking forward to getting the time to sit and listen to it with Luke and talk more about the things we both want to happen during labour and after our baby’s birth. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Life, Pregnancy, Reviews

 

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The Joy of Poundland…

Refering back to my previous post, you need a lot of things to make your camping trip an easy one, and although most of those things are relatively small and cheap, when you add it all up you can spend an inordinate amount on gear when you start out.

I knew that Poundland stocked things like cutlery, kitchenware and a few bits of camping gear, so I figured that it’d be a good place to start when buying all my stuff. In the end, I was very glad that I did because I got a lot of things that I didn’t expect to find and saved myself quite a bit of money.

The best find by far was a collapsible water carrier. It’s not all that sturdy and the tap isn’t as leak-proof as it could be, but it cost a pound (as you would expect from Poundland) and considering that a similar one from ebay would cost about £5 I could afford to buy two in case one splits unexpectedly.

As well as that I bought:

  • a rope
  • tent pegs (£5 from Millets or Blacks)
  • a rubber mallet (around £4 with p&p from Amazon)
  • a wind up torch
  • two tripod-style folding stools
  • some jam jar lanterns to hold tea lights
  • citronella candles
  • salad bowl
  • 4 forks
  • 4 knives
  • 4 teaspoons
  • 4 dessert spoons
  • dust pan and brush set
  • kitchen wipes
  • baby wipes
  • batteries
  • lighters

So, including the water carrier, I spent £22 on stuff that could have cost me around £45-£55 if I’d have bought it all elsewhere…and there’s so much more they sell that I didn’t buy.

They have ground-sheets but they’re only 1×2 metres big. On their own they have some practical uses (they would be very useful for lining the floor of the van/covering the bench seat if it was really muddy, or as a narrow place to take your boots off outside the van/tent) but I think you’d need to patch a few of them together to cover a decent area of ground, and if you’re going to do that then you may as well buy a bigger, slightly more expensive groundsheet and not have to worry about your patchwork floor coming to pieces or leaking at the seams.

Their plastic-backed picnic rugs are also quite small but would be useful for kneeling at the BBQ or as a portable dry seat for a single bum (or two that didn’t mind squishing together)…or you could buy a few and sew them together if you wanted to save some money. Large plastic-backed picnic rugs can be pretty expensive, but I got a decent sized one from a petrol station for about £8 on a half price offer. I bought a similar one a few years ago but that sadly drowned in beer and mud at a festival last year (it would have been salvageable  but I packed it into a plastic bag and forgot about it for a few weeks. It wasn’t pretty…). It was incredibly useful before I ruined it, so I’m very glad I could replace it without spending over £15 or having to sew a whole bunch of rugs from Poundland together!

As well as the things I’ve mentioned, you can also buy:

  • plastic and enamel tableware
  • emergency shelters
  • spare guy ropes
  • lanterns
  • storage containers
  • kitchen and BBQ utensils
  • disposable BBQs
  • table cloths
  • pegs
  • food
  • books
  • CDs
  • stationery
  • art supplies

…and loads of other things that you could probably invent a use for while you’re camping.

After you’ve done some window shopping online and gauged the prices of the stuff you need, it’s definitely the best place to start the real-life shopping, and it’s a fraction of the price of most ‘proper’ camping shops. Some of the stuff may only survive a few uses (I don’t have much faith in the tripod stools) but in some situations, like festivals, you may only want to take cheap things that you won’t miss if they get lost, broken, or irretrievably covered in mud.

 

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Emporium Tea Room…

To kick of my ‘random reviews’ I thought I’d write about one of my favourite tea rooms in Stratford-upon-Avon.

If you’ve ever been to the beautiful S on A you’ll know that there’s a MASSIVE choice of tea rooms and coffee shops and that most of them are overpriced and not really worth the money you’re paying for them. I’m lazy (I think I may have mentioned this already…) and so end up eating out at lunchtimes in lieu of taking the time to actually make my lunch. This is disastrous for my bank account, but it means I’m quite a good authority on where to get a decent pot of tea and a bite to eat in the town.

The Emporium Tea Room in the Ely Street Antique’s Centre is perhaps the best tea room in the entire town. That’s probably why I find myself there sometimes two or three times a week…

When you first go in you’re met by chequerboard tablecloths (I love chequerboard)  and the tables are already set up with beautiful mismatched china cup and saucer sets, just waiting for you to fill them up with one of the speciality teas. If you happen to take sugar (I don’t) then you get to take it from a china sugar bowl using a cute little teaspoon, rather than having to litter your table with empty sugar packets.

Your tea arrives in one of their random teapots, ranging from the standard flowery numbers, to giant acorns and little theatres that are painted with scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. I absolutely love the teapots and always look forward to seeing which one I’m going to get. I get absurdly excited when it’s one I haven’t had before.

I also love that you get a sugary cookie on a teeny tiny plate to enjoy with your tea.

I pretty much always order tea, and it’s always fantastic. On the odd occasion that I’ve ordered coffee it has been freshly brewed for me and has tasted awesome.

Sardines on toast! And a most excellent teapot (my favourite one) and check out the acorn milk jug!

The menu includes sandwiches, salads, things on toast (of which, sardines is my favourite), a fabulous ploughman’s platter that comes served on a HUGE chopping board, and a selection of cakes and scones. There’s also a specials board that offers home-made soups (delicious)  and things like sardines or melted goats cheese on toast (delicious delicious). The prices are reasonable for Stratford, food is all fantastic, and the portions are incredibly generous.

I usually order sandwiches, which come with a huge freshly cut salad, crisps and home-made coleslaw. I’m obsessed with coleslaws and I’d go as far as to say that theirs is the best I’ve tasted! Their home-made soups are awesome too and not only do you get a big bowlful, but you get freshly baked rolls (hot from the oven) and little pats of real butter. Bliss.

Their carrot and coriander soup is delicious!

I don’t get long for lunch so I never have time to taste the cakes, but I have it on very good authority from my Mom and my workmates (all life-long connoisseurs of baked goods) that the lemon meringue pie and the cream teas at the Emporium are as good as the savouries.

It’s not just the food that’s great though; the staff are also really friendly and helpful. Normally they run table service, so you go in, choose a table and decide what you want, and then they come to you to take your order. Similarly, when you’re done they bring the bill over to you and you pay (with cash) at your table. They know that I only get 30 minutes for lunch though, so they let me save time by ordering and paying at the counter, which I’m really grateful for! They really are kind and accommodating.

The antique’s centre itself is also well worth a look around and I’ve found loads of quirky gifts and hidden treasures in there. There’s a little vintage clothing shop hidden away at the the back too and when I’m not in the tea room I can often be found hanging out in there, spending my money on beautiful old things.

If you’re going into Stratford-upon-Avon and you’ve never been to Emporium Tea Room before then you really should add it to your itinerary. Even if you don’t want to stretch to lunch, it’s worth it for the tea and china alone!

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Days Out, Food, Random, Reviews

 

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