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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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Barefoot – Looking Back…Right Back…

***FROM THE ARCHIVE OF DRAFTS***

Despite having Old Red for over a year (*ahem* almost three), I’m still a bit of a newbie when it comes to packing for outings. In some ways I am brilliantly organised, sometimes usually to the point of having way too much stuff, but I’m still learning what we need and what we don’t need, and our trip to Barefoot Festival was yet another education.

What Worked…

  • Our gazebo!…last year (*ahem*…YEARS AGO) for Beat-Herder I bought a gazebo on a whim. This gazebo was NOT waterproof. Pie and I discovered this when we saw torrents of rain pouring through it and onto all our neatly stored stuff. The new gazebo has a woven plastic roof so it was much better at keeping rain out (when it wasn’t falling diagonally that is).
  • Once again, Poundland was a brilliant source of camping supplies…we got some tiny waterproof picnic rugs (just big enough for two people to put their bottoms on, or for one person to stretch their legs out) that were really light and folded up very small so they fitted in my festival bag. The main tent didn’t have any flooring so they were really useful to keep our bums dry.
  • Also from Poundland…a pack of three rain ponchos for a quid. The hoods on them were rubbish but they were easier than a coat to put on for a brisk run to the toilet, and you don’t mind leaving them outside in the rain as much as your favourite mac (we tucked ours into the roof of the gazebo).
  • Big fleecy blankets from Primark…they not only made excellent blankets (as you might expect), but they also worked really well hung from the gazebo as sunshades. We kept them up with pieces of rope (from Poundland of course) and LOTS of gaffa tape. They made our camp feel like a very cosy little den.
  • Instruments!…we took Luke’s guitar, my ukulele and an ocarina, along with quite a few music books. We had many lovely hours sitting in the sunshine and singing our hearts out.
  • Cooking for ourselves…we had a meal plan (of sorts) for the weekend, and took a BBQ along with us. We factored in a few meals out so we got to try wood-fired pizza and an amazing french-toast croissant, but ultimately we spent very little on food and ate really well. Admittedly, the fact that Luke is a chef didn’t hurt either…

Next Time We Will…

  • Remember that it’s never too early to start packing…especially if it’s camping stuff and things you don’t use on a daily basis. On the other hand, there is definitely a point when it’s too late to pack, and that point is about half an hour after you planned to leave. Next time I will try not to blur this line again…
  • Stick to the list…the list is there for a reason. If you don’t give the list the respect it deserves and put it in a pile of paper on the coffee table you are bound to have to go home for pillows and coffee presses, and you’ll end up spending the entire weekend buying tea at £1.50 a cup and having to barter for tiny sachets of sugar…

And We Will Take…

  • MORE BEER!!…we didn’t bring enough so we ended up buying 6 pint bottles of cider from the beer tent on our last night. That set us back twenty-four quid. TWENTY FOUR QUID!
  • More tarpaulins and blankets to make rain/wind/sun shields for the gazebo…and more rope! We took a small bundle but nowhere near enough to make an adequate ‘den’. Our den kept falling apart.
  • Pegs!…both of the clothes and tent variety. These would also have been very useful in the construction of sun/rain shields.
  • More instruments…like drums and a tambourine and maracas. Guitars and ukuleles are ace, but it would have been nice if everyone (kids included) could have joined in an made some noise!

……………………………………………….

The majority of this post was written not long after Barefoot Festival, some time in the summer of 2013. Now it’s March 2015, I’m three months pregnant and I’m very aware that the next time we go to a festival we will probably have our little one in tow (unless, by some miracle, we manage to make it to a festival this summer…when I’m six months pregnant) so we’ll have a whole new set of things to take into consideration.

On one hand I’m very excited at the thought of the adventures and fun the three of us will have together.

On the other hand, I’m already wondering what essential stuff we’ll forget this time…

 

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Why I’m Not Writing a “Mommy” Blog…

Although I’ve been meaning to revive my blog for many MANY months, I’ve got to admit that being pregnant and wanting to record my experiences is the main reason behind my new-found motivation to write. For a while I toyed with the idea of starting again. New life, new blog, new domain name. After all, wouldn’t it make more sense to write about this part of my life (our lives) on a blog created solely for pregnancy and parenting?

Well, yes, probably…but after much deliberation, that’s not the tack I’ve chosen to take.

You see, the thing is that this is my blog. When I started it it was supposed to be a place where I could talk about my life and my adventures. Along the way, Luke became part of my life, and although the name of the blog didn’t change, he became part of it too.

Like my husband, my pregnancy and my baby aren’t separate to my life as the girl with the camper van…they are part of it. When I got pregnant I didn’t stop being me, and I didn’t lose the will to do the things I’ve planned to do. I’m not abandoning my life and the vision I had for it, I’m simply enriching it with a new member of my family.

So that is why I won’t be writing a Mommy blog. It’s not that I have anything against the women who do (or, indeed, the men who write Daddy blogs), I just don’t see my pregnancy or my choices in parenting as being in their own little bubble, standing out from my life. My life is ALL the things I do, either alone, with my husband, or with our baby, and I want this blog to reflect my life as a whole, not just one facet of it.

I don’t want to give up this blog now that I’m expecting, just like I don’t want to give up on getting Old Red back on the road…and I can’t wait to start blogging about our adventures with him as a family. This is the happiest and most excited I have been in a very long time 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2015 in Life, Pregnancy, Random

 

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Going Barefoot…

Friday, July 26th was the first day of Barefoot Festival, and the start of our first adventure of 2013…

Putting the postcode into Google...

Putting the postcode into Google…

Despite being REALLY well organised in the supplies department (we bought far too many ‘necessities’ that ended up coming home unused), we spent the Friday morning doing even MORE shopping and then tried to get the van packed quickly. Needless to say we left home a lot later than we meant to, and as we were on the way to the petrol station I remembered that I’d forgotten the cafetiere. Although this seemed like major catastrophe (no coffee?!?!) I wasn’t about to turn around just for that. It was only when I realised that we’d left our pillows at home too (kind of essential) that we turned around and went back.

…and when we got to Barefoot that we realised the teabags and sugar were still at home too, along with the moisturiser that my skin can’t live without. Whoops.

barefootmap

Our route from Redditch to Preswold Hall, Loughborough

Clear skies over the open road!

Clear skies over the open road!

We were aiming to get there at 2.30pm when the gates opened, and the journey was set to take 1hr 15mins (about two hours in Old Red) but we didn’t leave until about 1pm…and then the M42 turned into a bit of a carpark for a while. In the end we got there at around 4.30pm, collected our wristbands, and set out to find Sarah and her friends.

Luckily they hadn’t been there long and (unluckily for them) they had a LOT of heavy stuff to ferry from the car to campsite so they’d been busy just moving stuff. Having a van is brilliant full stop, but the fact that you have all your stuff with you and you don’t have to worry about setting any tents up (especially if it’s raining) is bloody amazing. If only we’d had the forethought to put all the stuff from their car into the van, then Luke wouldn’t have had to carry a full (over-sized) cool box half a mile up and down a hill…

We said “Hi!” to Sarah and her son Isaac, met Lucy and her boys, Oscar and Hector, and Emma and her son, Conner, and then we set about finding a camp spot and setting up our various tents, gazebos, windbreaks etc,

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Gaffa tape…universal fix-all

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Our camp in one of it's many incarnations...we ended up moving the windbreak and turning the gazebo into a tent with big blankets and LOTS of gaffa tape...

Our camp in one of it’s many incarnations…we ended up moving the windbreak and turning the gazebo into a tent with big blankets and LOTS of gaffa tape…

…and then the weekend really began! I started off with a (canned) Bellini as we set-up and quickly moved on to the cider…and I don’t really remember too much of our first evening! A lot of fun was had by all!

The boys (aged 2, 3 and 4) loved the van and wanted to spend a lot of time climbing in and out of it…

...and they all clamber in!...

…and they all clamber in!…

I noticed a few rivets sticking out of the sill where they were climbing in, and despite bashing them flat with a mallet, they still looked pretty dangerous to little legs…

Rivets of doom...

Rivets of doom…

…so I used the all-purpose fix-all to save the day…

Mended! Taa daaaa!

Mended! Taa daaaa!

Happy campers in the happy camper...

Happy campers in the happy camper…Conner, Isaac, Hector and Oscar.

And so…the weekend went a bit like this…

Entertainment…

I have to admit, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time down at the main arena, choosing to relax in our cosy little campsite, cook our own food, play music and sing and keep ourselves entertained. Sarah, Lucy, Emma and the boys went exploring a lot more than Luke and I did, although we did get to see some capoeira and a few of the bands (whose names I completely forgot) in a beautiful Indian wedding tent…

Inside the Main Tent

The programme included lots of folksy music, drumming, dancing, yoga…and we also heard quite a lot of ska and rock music travelling up the hill and the evenings set in. During the day there seemed to be mostly drumming going on, and occasionally I felt like I was on the set of Carry On Up The Jungle.

There was a big camp fire with a circle of straw bales set around it (at a reasonable distance) to sit and recline on, and ‘busk stops’ at points around the arena and campsite so festival-goers could show off their skills.

We did a bit of shopping at some of the stalls and got chatting to a lovely couple who sell all sorts of ornaments, clothes, candles, incense, handmade items, etc., and who spend every weekend of the summer at festivals. We picked up some top tips for solar powered leisure batteries from them, and advice on how to keep things cool without having to run the fridge (hide them under the van!).

We also splurged some of our emergency beer tokens and bought some festival souvenirs to decorate Old Red with.

The kids (and when I say kids, I really mean all of us) played with…

…body paints (just a few quid from New Look…don’t forget to pack extra baby wipes if you plan on bringing body paints out to a festival)…

Isaac is DARTH VADER!!!

Kids of all ages...

Ha ha ha haaaaa...

…moustaches (six for £1 from Poundland)…

Hola amigo!

Careful application is necessary...

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BEST photo EVER!

…bottle tops…

The boys spent aaaages throwing two bottle tops around the main tent then chasing them...I started it off by balancing them on Sarah's feet...

…and a tarpaulin that was being inflated by the wind…

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…and we had lots of fun playing music and singing…

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Concentration face...

Ha ha ha...

And we drank a little bit too…

Sarah and I...having a little giggle...

Sarah and I…having a little giggle…

…perhaps a little bit too much…

Beer zombies...

Beer zombies…

Food…

The Festival had an amazing array of food for such a small event. Sadly, we either forgot to take pictures of the stalls and food, or lost the business cards we picked up, so I’m going to have trouble crediting them properly at all…

I did manage to take pictures of one stall though…CHOCONANA!

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Choconana…chocolate (or yoghurt) coated frozen bananas, dipped in all sorts of amazing things. They also do other awesome food.

…and the food was so fabulous that when my phone battery died I almost cried over the fact I couldn’t photograph it. The stall owner was kind enough to take some photos and text them to me so that I could show the world the joy of…FRENCH TOAST CROISSANT WITH SYRUP, STRAWBERRIES, WHIPPED CREAM, CINNAMON SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE….

Me with my breakfast of JOY

Me with my breakfast of JOY

I cannot begin to describe how amazing this feast was. The croissant was delicious and crispy, and even though the syrup soaked in and made it really sticky and gooey, it didn’t make the croissant soggy at all…it made it divine. It would have been amazing on its own with just a dusting of the cinnamon sugar, but there was no way I was going to miss out on strawberries, cream and chocolate. The strawberries were hulled and chopped fresh in front of me, and the entire thing was yum yum yuuuuum. I may have to follow this stall around the country…

Later on in the day I decided to try one of their frozen bananas. I was sceptical at first because I thought they’d be rock hard and make my teeth hurt, but the promise that they had “the texture of ice cream” lured me in…

Frozen banana, covered in milk chocolate and dipped in oreo pieces...*drools*

Frozen banana, covered in milk chocolate and dipped in oreo crumbs…*drools*

It does have the texture of ice-cream, and it doesn’t taste like a big manky bruise (which is what cooked banana tastes of)…so it’s win all round really! And it has a lot less calories and fat than the same amount of ice-cream (if you try not to think too hard about the chocolate and cookie pieces, that is) so you can feel all virtuous about your dessert. They also have yoghurt to cover the bananas in, as well as fruit pieces to dip them in, so you can feel properly virtuous if you really want to. I didn’t want to.

On the first night we tried some wood-fired pizza from a brilliant little stall near the main tent. The pizzas were only about £5 each, were freshly prepared in front of us, and took about 10 minutes to cook. They were pretty darn huge too, and I only managed to eat about half of mine, but it went down well as a snack later. We got a business card but have lost it somewhere along the way, and no amount of googling can find the right company. If anyone reading this knows their name, please please please remind me!

Other catering stalls included the Mashed Tea Tent, where you could get tea (of all varieties), coffee, cakes and an assortment of ‘necessities’. The only things we needed were the teabags and sugar (shame on me), neither of which they sold as a rule (they sell brewed tea so selling teabags would be a bit silly really, almost like saying “here!…don’t buy our tea!…just go and make your own!…for cheaper!”), but they were kind enough to sell us a few packets of sugar so we could make coffee back at the van (with the retrieved cafetiere).

There was also a Thai food stall that did noodles and curries, a vegetarian stall that sold loads of different dishes, and a crepe van that did sweet and savoury pancakes. We didn’t get to try them all but it all looked (and smelled) wonderful, and all seemed to be very reasonably priced. The bar charges were a bit steep, and we were surprised to pay £24 for six pint bottles of Bulmers, but that’s the price you pay for under-stocking your cooler with beers! Next time we’ll bring more with us…

We did a lot of cooking for ourselves…Sarah, Lucy and Emma enjoying veggie/vegan repasts, while Luke and I shamelessly barbecued meat just yards away. We had chicken wings, home (van) made burgers and tonnes of awesome salads using the camping-friendly spray olive oil I’d found. We took along a massive basket of spices that also proved very useful for making really simple dishes really interesting and tasty. I actually can’t take credit for the cooking…Luke is (most definitely) the head chef, and I just do as I’m told (sometimes).

Having the fridge (and plenty of gas) made life really easy for us, and when we discovered that the ice box actually works we could freeze ice packs to keep the coolers cold too. By ‘keep the coolers cold’ I obviously mean ‘keep the beers cold’, but it amounts to the same thing…

The Round-up

This year at Barefoot was a ‘fallow’ year, with about 350 tickets sold. We spent £30 each to get in and £5 for ‘parking’ (which is actually ‘camping’ in our case). Next year the festival is back to full capacity with around 1000 tickets going on sale for £70 each if you’re quick enough to get an earlybird ticket. We’d love to go again in 2014 but I think we’re going to wait until the new year begins before splashing out on tickets and van passes.

Suffice to say, the vibe of the whole festival was lovely and relaxed, and we were highly entertained wherever we chose to hang out. Late at night/very early in the morning we even made it down to the camp-fire to relax with other festival-goers who hadn’t made it to bed yet. Every day was a great day and every evening was brilliant. It was a shame that it had to end so soon, but we made the absolute most of it while it lasted.

Okay, so we didn’t spend much time in the arena itself and may as well just have gone camping for the weekend, but then we wouldn’t have had the company of the other revellers. The atmosphere was great and everyone seemed to be having a brilliant time. Apart from the odd torrential downpour we had beautiful weather and (I, for one) enjoyed lots of alcohol fuelled naps in the sunshine.

Two thumbs up to Barefoot Festival!

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The End?

We had such an awesome time that we didn’t want to leave once it was over. Emma and Conner had left early on Sunday morning, and when it came time to say goodbye to Sarah, Lucy and the boys on Monday we chose not to head home, but to the beach instead…but that’s another few stories…

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Camping, Festivals, Food, Travel

 

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What’s in Old Red?…

I started amassing camping gear (etc,) before I’d even paid the balance off on Old Red, and as I was doing it I began to wonder where it was all going to go. As it turns out, the amount of storage in the T25 is AMAZING, and Red has even more than most because of his wickedace roof conversion. It might mean that we pay more on the ferry and can’t get into most car parks, but it does mean a whole extra ‘floor’ of space that you don’t get in ‘single storey’ or pop-top vans.

So! Contained within these burgundy walls you can find these things (I’ve put ‘essentials’ in bold…you may not class some of these things as essential, but I do!)…

  • a kettle
  • two saucepans
  • frying pan
  • three sharp kitchen knives (in plastic covers)
  • folding chopping board (the folding part isn’t essential, but it does make pouring food into small pans a little easier)
  • cutlery
  • two pairs of scissors (one big, one small)
  • spatula
  • slotted spoon
  • wooden spoon
  • kitchen tongs
  • 6 melaware plates (2 large, 2 medium, 2 small)
  • 4 melaware bowls
  • 2 melaware mugs
  • 2 melaware cups and saucers
  • melaware milk jug, sugar bowls and teaspoons
  • thermal teapot (best thing EVER)
  • caffetiere (probably not essential to most people, but it is to me…and I’ll be adding a stove-top espresso maker in the coming months)
  • plastic spoon rest
  • large salad bowl
  • litre jug
  • can/bottle opener
  • washing up brush and sponge
  • dish soap
  • tea towels
  • baby wipes
  • kitchen wipes (I forgot these on my first trip and ended up with a grease-spattered, tea-stained kitchen from hell. You can also use them to give the floor a quick scrub)
  • microfibre cloths
  • cork ‘trivets’
  • dust pan and brush (to sweep the van out every so often…I didn’t think this was essential until I actually took one away with me and discovered how satisfying it was to keep Red spic and span. I love stepping into him when all the surfaces are clean and the floor isn’t covered in bits of forest or field)
  • bucket BBQ (also not strictly an essential but very nice to have and it doesn’t take up a lot of room really. I have a yellow one, but now I’ve looked at that link I really want one in lime green)
  • bags of BBQ coal (they don’t fit well in the bucket but they’re easy to light)
  • BBQ tools (‘borrowed’ from my parents)
  • 2 folding tri-pod style camp stools (poundland wonders)
  • a plastic-backed picnic rug
  • collapsible water carrier (also from poundland…I anticipate leaks at some point)
  • road maps
  • rope
  • bungee cords
  • electric hook-up cable (and EU adapter, just in case I find myself randomly on the continent…well, I can dream can’t I?)
  • a ground sheet (which is actually just a big sheet of blue plastic…but still makes a good waterproof floor outside the side-door)
  • spare tent pegs (poundland!)
  • rubber mallet (poundland!)
  • tea lights (and jam jar holders)
  • citronella candles
  • sun cream
  • long-reach lighter (for stove and jam jars)
  • solar-powered fairy lights
  • wind up torch
  • head torch (useful for finding and using the loo in the dark!)
  • 12v USB adapter (for charging phones and MP3 players…just don’t forget the leads for each device)
  • big burgundy bucket (useful for all kinds of things like keeping beer cold, doing laundry, measuring rainfall…it’s keeping my oil funnel from covering everything in oil at the moment!)
  • a black plastic jerry can (just in case)
  • a socket set
  • tyre weld
  • spare bulbs
  • spare fuses
  • engine oil
  • oil funnel (seriously…getting oil into your sump without one of these is NOT a fun job…I had to fashion a funnel out of tin foil on my first outing!)
  • warning triangle
  • hi-vis vest (for France)
  • breathalysers (also for France)
  • fire extinguisher
  • first aid kit
  • two red fleece throws
  • lots of cushions
  • plastic bags (to use as rubbish bags)
  • cling film and foil
  • assorted random Tupperware
  • a tea tray
  • teabags (Ceylon)
  • micro-ground coffee (in case I forget the fresh stuff)
  • hundreds of packets of brown sugar
  • olive oil spray
  • cans of beans and tomatoes and fruit
  • a few cans of rum, ginger and lime (I bought too many for my first trip…they’re now my emergency ‘setting up camp’ drinkies)
  • toilet rolls
  • breakdown cover documents
  • British wildlife book (for bird and mushroom spotting)
  • notepad (to record our wonderful adventures!)
  • pens (always bic biros) and pencils
  • ribbons and string (to make and fix and prettify things)
  • a big straw hat
  • CDs
  • Books
  • a pack of cards
  • a couple of towels
  • a duvet (Primark…4.5tog and only about £4…possibly the warmest, lightest duvet I have ever encountered)
  • some sheets
  • two pillows
  • a couple of Ikea stacker boxes…one has all the dinnerware in and the other holds all the smaller camping accessories, toilet rolls and odds & sods.

…and I’m sure there must be something I’ve forgotten amongst all that lot…

It’s a veritable tardis!  Not only is there a cupboard for food/kitchen equipment, but there’s a huge amount of storage space under the bench seat and above the drivers cab, there’s a big cupboard (with hanging space!) at the back of the van, there’s a little drawer (dubbed the very useful drawer) sandwiched between the grill and the fridge, and there’s storage underneath the top bunk…aaaaand, you can pack all of your bedding up in the top bunk (or ‘upstairs’, as I like to call it) along with anything else that you want to be able to get to quickly (coats, hats, scarves, your overnight bag)…

The thing that surprised me the most was that you can cram so much stuff into each of the little cubby holes. In the space above the driver’s cab I’ve managed to stuff a 4 man tent, a wind break, a gazebo, two folding chairs, a folding table and general oddments like my handbag and hats and cushions.

The space under the bench seat is home to all the dinnerware, cutlery, BBQ, small camping accessories (rope, pegs, bungees etc.), the BBQ (tools and coals), toilet rolls, electric cable and spare shoes…and I can fit quite a bit of alcohol in too!

To be honest, I didn’t realise exactly how much stuff is hiding away in the Old Boy until I tried to compile this list. It may seem like a lot of it is non-essential, but the way I see it, if it’s all in there then I can head off on an adventure any time I want (once I’ve renewed my tax and gotten that oil thing sorted, of course) and all I’ll need to worry about is clothes and toiletries.

I love my two-storey travelling tent 🙂

 

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Collapsible Camping Accessories…

I use Iwantoneofthose quite a lot for gifts/inspiration, and while doing a spot of Christmas shopping this afternoon I found these in their ‘Camping Gadgets’…

Collapsible Cooking Pot (click to see product in new tab)

They’re made of stainless steel and silicone, they hold 3.8 litres, an they fold down to about 55mm high. They’re not cheap (£39.99), but at the moment I have two small saucepans and am already struggling for space. I plan to do a LOT more cooking in the wild next year so one of these pots is definitely going onto my email to Santa this year!

As well as the cooking pot, you can also get…

Collapsible Washing Up Bowl (click to see product in new tab)

A washing up bowl for £24.99 that would be useful for all sorts of things besides washing up…I mean, it’s got a 7.5 litre capacity so you could probably make the mother of all vodka jellies in that thing.

Red has a little double sink, complete with tap and water pump, but neither of the sinks are very deep and it’s much more pleasant to wash up outside. This silicone bowl looks like it might be a bit sturdier to use than the foldable fabric kind, but it is a lot more expensive.

They also sell…

Collapsible Kettle (click to see product in new tab)

I’ve got a little whistling kettle that holds about the same amount of water as this collapsible kettle, and although it doesn’t take up a lot of room in the cupboards, the handle does make it difficult to get out of the cupboard (especially when the back seat is in bed-mode and the cupboard door doesn’t open fully) and it does have a habit of getting in the way when I’m trying to fish out saucepans or the chopping board. Again, this is another expensive product, and at £29.99 it’s three times what I paid for my kettle. I would be interested to see how sturdy it is, and if it folds as you’re trying to pour from it.

The last collapsible wonder from IWOOT is…

Collapsible Pet Bowl (click to see product in new tab)

For £12.99 you get a 1.6 litre pet bowl that folds down to 4cm high, and I’m fairly certain that it’d be lighter than the big ceramic bowls Fletch drinks out of at the moment. I’ve got a foldable fabric bowl for him that I take walking, but it’s quite small and he doesn’t really seem to like it. It’s also rather hard to clean and you can’t ever seem to rinse it out well enough. I’ll definitely be getting a couple of these ready for when I’m brave enough to take Fletch out in the van!

All in all, these four products come to over £100 if you want to buy the lot (and I do…) and there’s other products in the range that IWOOT don’t stock at the moment, like a collapsible bucket (VERY useful…I’m always moving my bucket around the van and cursing it when it leaves muddy rings) and funnel (also very useful), but there are other sites you can find these products on. For the most part, the cooking pot, kettle and bowls are very similar prices to IWOOT, but I’ve found a seller on Amazon who has the washing up bowl, kettle, bucket and a coffee filter contraption for a very reasonable price…

Collapsible Camp Set from The Friendly Lifestyle Store (click to see product in new tab)

Considering the kettle and washing up bowl come to around £55 together, this set is amazing value. I may not bother emailing Santa…I might just buy myself an early Christmas present before they’re all sold out!

 

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France Pt.5 – Looking Back…

When I bought Old Red, the idea was to be more adventurous, spontaneous and to see a bit of the world. My trip to France embodied the spirit I’d bought the van in, especially when you consider that I’d only put a deposit down on him when I committed to driving him over there.

…well…I never said that I was going to be sensible now, did I?

It was stressful to organise, and there were testing times before and during the trip, but it was a wonderful adventure, and it’s certainly given me the confidence and the desire to do it again!

One lesson I have taken from the trip, though, is that I will definitely be more organised in the future…

  1. I will have all my documents and necessities ready in plenty of time
  2. I won’t commit to a long journey without being completely sure that Old Red is as ready for the trip as I am…
  3. The journey might be spontaneous but I will make sure that I’ve got everything I need before I leave, rather than having to hit camping stores on the way to the port (hoping and praying that they have what I need in stock…)

I’m not sure if I’ve said already, but I have romantic notions of taking three (six?…twelve??)  months off work and heading out to explore the wilds of Europe. I adore Brittany, and there’s a lot that I’d love to go back to see…and then there’s the further reaches of Southern France, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe…

…I just don’t know how I’d go about financing a trip like that…

I’ve got a vague notion that I could live off my (rather meagre) savings and sod the consequences, but I don’t think that’s the most reliable of ideas. My next foray onto the continent will most likely be another short ‘holiday’ like the last, but it will be without oil issues (at least when I set out…I don’t want to speak too soon for the entire trip) and as soon as humanly possible.

But back to the point…

Redditch – Portsmouth – Ouistreham – Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier – La Fontenelle – Calais

We Travelled…

810 miles over land in Old Red

140 miles over seas in two ferries

countless kilometres in cars belonging to various cousins

We spent…

£383 on our outbound Brittany Ferry (for a 3mx5m van with a bike rack, two adults and an inside cabin)

£54 on the return P&O Ferry for a flexi fare (which cost more, but meant we could catch later ferries)

£120 (or thereabouts) on fuel…but I could have used less if I’d have stuck to 50mph

£30 (38€) on tolls from Caen to Calais…but this isn’t quite representative of the exact fee because we missed some pay points and we were over-charged at one point

£44 (54.60€) on one night at Huttopia Versailles (10€ of which was a ‘fee’)

£80 (89.84€) on two nights at Camping International de Maisons-Laffitte

£13 (15€ for two adults and 9€ for two 18-25 year olds) at Chateau de Fougères

£8 (10€) each at the creperie for a lavish crepe and a soft drink (this was Rhi and Gen’s treat to us…I’m only including it for price reference)

£20 (25€) for two meals, two soft drinks and a tip at the restaurant in Calais

£35 on oil (buying it in France proved to be VERY expensive)

…all of which equates to £779 between us…and quite a bit more on groceries, some souvenirs, and some bottles of tequila and boxes of chocolates from the return ferry.

Things I’d do Differently – Campsites…

I may have been a bit rubbish at getting ready for this trip (including (but not limited to) not having the right documents, not having the right equipment, not booking my return ferry til the day before we left, and not printing off our travel vouchers til the morning we left), but I did manage to find and book two campsites near Versailles and Paris so that Steph and I could explore, but with the security of a pre-booked spot and somewhere safe to sleep. I wish I hadn’t bothered now…firstly because we ended up wasting over £120, but secondly because we really didn’t need to

While we were driving round the narrow (and beautiful) streets of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier looking for the camp/reception site, we found a lovely little municipal campsite that overlooked a small body of water and had really reasonable prices. It also had electric hook-ups, toilets and shower facilities.

I didn’t know that municipal campsites existed before we found one (which should show you how much research I’d done) but I’ve since done some googling and found that these sites are plentiful around France. Next time I’d be happy to head onto the continent without pre-booking, and search out somewhere random and beautiful (and quiet) to stay for a night or two until I move onto the next place.

Things I’d do Differently – Speed…

I get bored easily and so I tend to drive fast just to get places quicker. I try my hardest to be slow in Old Red because I know that if he’s going at 60mph he drinks fuel almost twice as fast as he does at 50mph. Unfortunately, it wasn’t jut boredom, but necessity that pushed me to drive ‘fast’ in France…

In a bid to save a few euros, I’d decided to avoid toll roads on our drive up to Calais. As we were driving along the D613 to Lisieux and the km signs counted down I began to realise just how long it would take us to avoid the tolls. There was no way we were going to get to Calais in time and so we had to hit the autoroute and pay the tolls…and then I had to put my foot down to make up for the time we’d lost.

Once we were back in England I’d been awake for 15 hours, driving for 8 of those, on a ferry for one, and I had another 5 hours of driving ahead of me. I. Just. Wanted. To. Get. Home. So…I put my foot down. Again.

It’s annoying to think I could have saved myself some money and a fuel stop if only I’d have been more organised and more economical in my driving. Driving everywhere at (what feels like) a snail’s pace will be the order of the future.

Things I’d do Differently – Shopping…

I systematically turned down every opportunity to buy alcohol when the buying was good. By the time I finally committed to buying something, I was stuck with household brands and an insignificant discount.

did manage to pick up two 25cl bottles of kirsch (1.21€ each!), and Lesley was kind enough to give us some fizz to bring home, but I wish I’d have come back with a case or two of decent wine. When I go back I’ll make sure I plan my shopping a little better and not rely on finding a supermarché next-door to the port.

Things I’d do Differently – Return Journey…

I couldn’t book a return ferry from Caen (possibly something to do with the olympics), and financially it made more sense to pay for the fuel to drive up to Calais and catch a cheap ferry from there. Originally we were going to detour past Paris, which added 100 miles onto the 300 mile journey from La Fontenelle to Calais, but in the end we did the whole journey (minus the detour) in one day.

When we were going to ‘explore’, the journey didn’t seem so bad, but when we tried to do it in one go it was a bit of an ordeal. To be honest, what with the extra miles (and all the walking we’d have done), the stop in Paris might not have given us any respite at all.

Also, the ferry home was horrible and a very stark contrast to the plush Brittany Ferries ferry that we’d caught from Portsmouth…consequently…….

Things I’d do Again – Brittany Ferries…

Although the outbound journey cost seven times more than the return one, the cost was well worth landing in the area of France that we intended to visit (especially considering that we landed on the morning of the wedding). It also made more sense to pay the extra £60 for a cabin and get a good night’s rest before our drive in the morning. It might have been cheaper to make the short crossing and then drive down to Brittany, but (aside from the fact that it didn’t fit into my holiday from work) if we’d have wanted to break the journey up we’d have to factor in campsites and ‘tourist stuff’ money along the way.

If I was travelling to (or through) the north of France then I’d take advantage of the cheaper fare and shorter crossing, but if my next trip is back to Brittany (and I think it probably will be) then I’ll probably get another night ferry over to Caen, or St. Malo, or similar. With a little planning and a bit more notice, I could make the same crossing for much less money (by travelling on different days, during the day, not paying for a cabin, etc.), but I do kind of like the luxury of a cabin and the chance to sleep away an otherwise boring crossing, so I’d probably shell out for a cabin on future trips too.

And so…

France. Was. Brilliant.

I was incredibly badly organised and terribly scared, but nothing went (too badly) wrong, we had (pretty much) everything we needed and we had (a whole lot of) fun (and wine). We got to spend three wonderful days with our cousins, sharing laughter, eating good food and speaking disjointed franglais. The wedding was beautiful and it was and honour to be there as Lesley and Paskal got married.

It was my first time being ‘the responsible one’ on holiday..

…my first time taking a vehicle on a ferry…

…my first time driving in France…

…the first time I’d slept alone in my van (technically, sleeping ‘wild’ on the side of the road)…

…the first time I got to sleep on the rock and roll bed (it’s not as comfortable as the roof bed, but it’s far easier to get into!)…

…and it was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go back!!

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Camping, Lists, Travel

 

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