Sunday 19th – Sunday 26th January 2014
Well I can certainly say that it is certainly a lot colder here in the UK than it was over the water, even wearing Fleece Lined Coats, Scarves and Gloves, the cold just permeated right through the layers and got right into our bones, we are both hoping that we re-acclimatise quickly, Brrrrrrrr !!! We were staying with Sonia (Sharon’s Mum) for a week, primarily because we needed to exchange ‘Big Momma’s’ six wheels for ‘Wuxly’s’ four wheels. ‘Wuxly’ is our car which we store at Sharon’s mums when we are ‘on the road’ in the van, but we needed the car to attend our Caravan Club ‘Interview & Assessment Centre’ a little later in the week, but more about that later.
Because we are ‘full timers’ we need a UK ‘contact’ address so we also use Sharon’s mums house for this and we have made arrangements through the ‘Royal Mail’ to have our private mail ‘re-directed’ to her address. Our first task was to sort through the mountain of Mail awaiting us of which around Eighty per cent was ‘junk’ and we soon filled Sonia’s paper recycling bin !!
We were aware before we departed the UK that there would be a new ‘Sat Nav’ mapping update released, but this was not going to happen until after we had departed, fortunately we had purchased a ‘lifetime subscription’ to mapping updates so my next ‘priority’ task was to update ‘Snoopy’. Because ‘Snoopy’ is a bit more than a ‘Sat Nav’ and has a load of other pre-programmed software, updates can take well over a couple of hours to complete and needs an uninterrupted link to the website as well as the Sat Nav unit being connected to a mains supply, this is not something that could be done from within ‘Big Momma’ whilst ‘on the road’. However, the good thing about the update is that once it is up and running you can just leave it to do its own thing, thank goodness.
I am sure that by now, the regular followers of my blog will be aware that we had already put a lot of planning into our ‘fulltiming’ lifestyle before we actually ‘hit the road’, so, after all that effort, did we get the planning right ? We knew that this first real extended trip would be a bit of a ‘learning mission’ and either through good fortune, luck or brilliant preparation there are only a ‘few’ refinements that need to be Implemented. So what are these refinements ?
We both had iPhones and iPads and knew before we departed that their was all sorts of technology available to enable access to the Internet, from expensive permanent satellite dishes installed on the roof, an array of Internet Booster Ariel systems, dongles etc. However, we were not reliant on the Internet in that we were not trying to earn an income whilst on the road where Internet access was essential. But our early research also revealed that their were lots of Motorhome ‘Aires’ that provided ‘WiFi’ services as well as lots of Cafés, Bars, Restaurants, Libraries and even Tourist Information Offices and some towns and cities had ‘Open’ WiFi zones. We decided that rather than purchase expensive technology that we may not need that we would see how we got on first. Our trip answered that question, the WiFi provided on the Aires was not always the best, weak signals caused me a lot of frustration, the signal would keep dropping out making connection difficult or worse, cutting off whilst in the process of transferring my blog photographs and it made Skype calls very intermittent. Using services from Cafés and other external ‘establishments’ was variable, the biggest downside to that being that you have to go to ‘them’ to use their services, which is not always convenient. So it was time to speak to someone ‘in the know’ about what I wanted and after speaking to ‘Adam’ at http://www.motorhomewifi.co.uk and discussing my requirements I ordered an IBoost ‘Directional’ WiFi booster.
The next refinement was actually more of an ‘Essential’. We had thoroughly enjoyed all our Wildcamping experiences and the only thing that cut them short was the requirement to find somewhere to empty the toilet cassette, if only we had taken a ‘spare’ cassette !! So the next job on my ‘To Do List’ was to buy one, after a bit of ‘surfing’ on the net I ordered a ‘Refresh’ kit !! which includes not only the cassette holding tank but also a new toilet seat and some cleaning fluids. I only really needed the ‘cassette’ but to purchase this on its own was going to cost £25 more than buying the full ‘Refresh’ kit !! However, this now presented me with another issue, where will we store the ‘spare’ cassette ? Again this trip had provided us with the answer, we had not had to use the ‘Portable’ generator once, the Solar panels had provided all our energy needs when EHU was not available. Not only does the generator take up valuable space but it also takes up some extremely valuable weight allowance ! We also carry a container of spare fuel and a crate that contains ‘Oil, Funnel, tools etc’, so by ‘ditching’ the ‘genny’ and its associated accessories, we will make quite a bit of space, more than what is actually required to store the spare cassette, now there’s a bonus ! I should just add that we are not actually getting rid of the generator, just storing it, as we may find that on future travels we may need it, we will face that ‘space’ dilemma when it arrives !!
So, was that it ? well no not quite ! Another thing that we learnt on the trip was that our newly purchased ten metre hose pipe, on a handy reel, in a nice waterproof bag with a zip, which we used to fill the ‘Fresh’ water tank was not of the ‘non-kink’ variety. and, on a few occasions, even though it was ten metres in length, it wasn’t quite long enough to reach from the water source to the water filler !! On one such occasion, whilst on an ‘Aire’ at Silves, our neighbours and new-found ‘Dutch’ friends, Anneke and Kees helped us out. ‘Kees’ had two lengths of hose (non-kink) with a ‘male to male’ connector to join them if required, and on this occasion they were required, by us !! So, I decided to invest in a similar system but I thought that two ten metre hoses was a little excessive so decided upon one ten-metre hose and one five-metre hose that would provide, when joined, just short of fifty feet, so along with our other purchases we also added the ‘non-kink’ hose pipes to our ever-growing on-line shopping basket, along with another space-saving piece of equipment, a ten litre watering can that has replaced a 20ltr water container. Now all I needed was for them to arrive before we ‘hit the road’ again !!
This week ‘off the road’ is not just about spending money to make our ‘fulltiming’ life easier, no, we are back in this country, freezing, for one very good reason, our long-term future, ‘Life after Fulltiming’, whenever that may be ! Before we even handed in our respective ‘notices’ at work, or put the house on the market, or sold a single ‘stick’ of furniture we made applications to the ‘Caravan Club’ for jobs as ‘Assistant Wardens’. Our applications had been accepted but we had to wait to be invited to Interview and an Assessment Centre. We were notified that the Assessment Centre/Interviews that we had been invited to attend would be held in January !! The one day ‘event’ was held at a rather ‘plush’ hotel just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, not really a place to park ‘Big Momma’, so we had pre-booked rooms at a rather less ‘plush’ establishment.
The jobs, if we were successful would involve working a six-day week for 7-8 months then we would be off for the next 4-5 months and could do our ‘travelling’, there was also the flexibility to change ‘summer’ contracts to ‘winter’ contracts, on occasions, to permit some summer touring. It was certainly a ‘full on’ day with role play exercises, group discussions, practical exercises, a written prioritisation exercise and an hour-long Interview !! Anyone thinking that this was just an attendance day was soon in for a reality check, on an earlier Assessment, the day before ours, out of 20 couples only five were selected !! Shazza and I felt that we had worked well together in both our ‘couples’ and the ‘group’ activities and we felt that our ‘individual’ tasks had also gone well, however, there was no indication given by any of the seventeen ‘Assessors’ who had us continuously under scrutiny !!
Our Interview was the last thing on our particular days activities and we believed that we had done quite well until they mentioned after only half-an-hour that our interview had finished !! We had watched the HR Manager scribbling down notes as we answered the Regional Managers questions, some directed to us as individuals, others as more general questions to the both of us. Towards the end the Regional Manager had confirmed the size of ‘Big Momma’, this was important as ‘Assistant Wardens’ get allocated their own pitch in a fenced compound. We also confirmed that we had no outstanding obligations, medical conditions or personal commitments that would hinder us commencing employment. But, we were slightly worried that our Interview had only taken half the time that it was scheduled to take !!
We were sat in the main reception area, prior to the final wash-up and farewell brief, when the Regional Manager, who had interviewed us, came and sat with us and we engaged in ‘general’ conversation about the days activities. He had mentioned something to which I commented “it depends on whether finishing an interview half an hour early was a good thing or a bad thing” to which he smiled and replied “It’s a good thing”. Internally we both sighed with relief !! At the ‘wash-up’ we were informed that it could take up to a fortnight before we are informed whether we have, or have not, been successful !!
At the end of what felt a very long day we returned to our comfortable, but no so plush hotel. We had anticipated a long day so had pre-booked a second nights accommodation. We were quite fortunate that our hotel was quite literally across the road from a retail shopping centre and several ‘eateries’. On our first night we had visited a ‘Fish & Chip’ restaurant, and very nice they were too. We had eaten quite a bit of fish whilst in Portugal but no-one can do ‘Fish ‘n’ Chips’ like the British !! We had been provided with a very decent lunch during our Assessment day so we didn’t require a full meal during the evening and so we decided to frequent the local ‘Pizza Hut’, I knew we shouldn’t have ordered a ‘shared platter’ starter as well as a mega stuffed crust ‘meat feast’ pizza so was thankful that I hadn’t decided to visit the ‘Salad Bar’ as well, well there is only so much one can eat and you have to start with the ‘good stuff’ don’t you ?
Thursday morning saw us head back up North to Doncaster, the days were flying by so fast and there were still things to do, but something that we had overlooked in all the excitement was the need to get ‘Wuxly’ booked in for its annual service and MOT !! It was an uneventful drive back to Sonia’s house and I was pleased to see that all of my on-line purchases had arrived, although that signalled that I would now have to make time to go out into the cold and empty ‘Big Momma’s’ garage, re-organise and re-pack, a job for tomorrow I think. Shazza being the ‘Head Chef’ was in charge of provisions, she had used the opportunity of being parked up for a week to clean out the fridge freezer and sort the inside of the van and now was ready to enjoy one of her favourite pastimes, visiting the local Supermarkets in order to purchase said provisions. ‘Wuxly’ came with a 5 year warranty and just coming up to its fourth birthday so we needed to locate a local dealer, not a difficult task these days, a quick search on the Internet and hey presto a dealership very close by but we could not get the car booked in for another two weeks. That does curtail our travelling plans somewhat so we shall stay pretty local, then return to Sonia’s to collect the car to get it sorted and then once again re-commence our travels. Of course, we now have to wait to see if we have been successful with the ‘Assistant Wardens’ jobs, the week-long induction course at the beginning of March is being held in the South East, it is a residential course so there may be no parking for ‘Big Momma’ so it may again be a matter of leaving ‘Big Momma’ at Sonia’s and travelling down by car !!
My next job was to play with my new toy, namely the WiFi iBoost system !! I normally do not have a lot of patience to sit and read instructions but this was ‘technology’ so best I follow the step-by-step instructions !! It was so simple to set up, and I mean simple, if I could do it anyone can ! All sorted, I set it up using my iPad first and then checked it was all working with Shazza’s, now I can’t wait to try it out in the ‘wild’.
We only had three days left before we ‘hit the road’ again and there still seemed so much to do, we were effectively living out of two places, our clothes and ‘other stuff’ were in ‘Big Momma’ but we were living and sleeping in the house so we were not as ‘organised’ as we would be if we were just in the van. We only really had one full day to do the bulk of the jobs as on Saturday we were driving to Leeds to see my Mum and Dad, Sunday we were taking Sonia out for Sunday Lunch, then calling in to a ‘camping accessory’ shop to purchase some essential ‘chemical fluids’ for the van and a few other bits and pieces, then we were visiting ‘Joe and Linda’, Shazza’s Uncle and Aunt who had just returned from a nice winter sun holiday in Mexico, so we didn’t have too much time !!
Friday morning arrived a little too quick for my liking and it was still bloody cold !! so whilst Shazza and Sonia went off to patrol the supermarket aisles, with a reminder from me that we only have so much space in the van !! I set about emptying ‘Big Momma’s’ garage. Isn’t it amazing how a simple straightforward task turns into a number of different jobs. I was putting all my ‘essential’ cleaning stuff into one crate, instead of part of it being in my wash bucket, which was broken, some divided into two of those nice zipped carry cases you get with certain car polish products (Auto Glym) and other bits and pieces dotted around here and there, when I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t cleaned my headlights. The ‘beam benders’ required for travelling in Europe worked well but they always leave a hardened glue on the headlights when they are removed. I have tried several of the ‘recommended’ methods of cleaning this horrible stuff off, but by far the best is warm water, a thumb nail in a cloth and then a bit of wax polish !! So, just a small diversion from the primary task, unfortunately, and I don’t know about anyone else, but when I am doing tasks alone, my mind does tend to wander and mine was jumping to more diversionary little tasks that needed to be done, filling up the windscreen washer bottle, sorting out my ‘odds and ends’ trays where I keep fuses, snap on electrical connectors, spare hose connectors etc. then, after removing the portable generator and it’s associated ‘accessories’ crate, I thought it may be a good idea to just check that the ‘genny’ did actually work as I had not used it. Eventually, after a few breaks to make coffee and have a cigarette break or three, the garage was finally re-packed including the ‘essential’ spare cassette, watering can and new non-kink hoses !! Once back in the warm I thought it might be a god idea to research a few potential ‘Open All Year’ campsites and CL’s to stay at when we leave the comfort of the ‘Bricks & Mortar’ in a couple of days time !!
Saturday arrived and we travelled up to Leeds to visit my parents. My dad had invested in an iPad and was one of the many loyal blog followers whilst we were away on our ‘Retirement Trip’, so much so that if I had not made a new post within a week he would call me on my mobile to see if everything was alright !! It was good to see them both again and they treated us to lunch at their favourite ‘Fish & Chips’ restaurant.
So, our final day in Central Heating arrived and it was time to start moving things back from house to ‘Big Momma’, put some ‘extra stuff’ into Sonia’s loft ! and get all our ‘technology’ backed-up and charged up, accounts brought up to date, oh yes ! we are now on a fixed income and have to keep to our allocated budgets, unlike our trip to Spain & Portugal, the UK isn’t as Motorhome Friendly, never mind the climatic conditions they also do not have the network of ‘Aires’ like the rest of Europe so there will not be the same opportunities for ‘Wildcamping’ or using ‘Free’ parking !!
So, a new adventure commences……………………………..