Friday 7th March – Clumber Park – Doncaster – Lingfield – Salisbury – Doncaster
We had a typical ‘Moving On’ day restless night, it is something that neither of us can explain but it is becoming an irritating habit. Shazza had set the alarm for 8am as she wanted to make a brisk start. It wasn’t so much that we were in a hurry to leave but before we could get to Doncaster we had a pre-arranged appointment at ‘Batribike’. We knew that when we did eventually get to Shazza’s mums house that we had to sort out some clothing to take with us to the hotel, enough for a week. Our ‘spare’ clothing, or should I say the clothing that wouldn’t fit into our already full wardrobes, drawers and overhead lockers, were stored in large holdalls under the bed, however, we would need to utilise one to carry both our clothes which meant having to empty it first and then re-packing it again, not a task either of us were looking forward to. The thing we liked about our ‘nomadic’ lifestyle is the fact that we can travel to wherever we want, within reason of course, without having to pack and unpack suitcases like we used to do in our former lives when we went on ‘package’ holidays. At some of the Caravan Club training venues you had to utilise your own accommodation, however, the course we were attending we were being accommodated in a five-star hotel. Not that we are complaining about having a week of no emptying a Grey Waste Tank, Filling a Fresh Water Tank, Emptying the Toilet Cassette, Making your own bed, preparing and cooking your own food or washing and during the pots, No ! this was going to be ‘similar’ to a short luxury holiday, albeit we would be there to learn rather than sip cocktails and laze around a pool !!
We awoke bleary eyed and to the thumping of the rain on the roof, oh how we wished we were not ‘Moving On’ today and could just pull the duvet back over our shoulders and go back to sleep until the rain stopped. We sat in bed drinking our coffee and then in unison we both agreed that we needed to get up. I went to the facilities block for my shower and when I re-emerged the rain had stopped. Shazza had already got stuck into her ‘ready to roll’ tasks, she was certainly eager to get on the road so I got dressed and set about my own jobs. Because ‘Big Momma’ was going to be parked up for a little over a week, I fully drained down the tanks and after collecting Shazza’s bicycle from the site secure storage area and stowing it inside the van, ‘we’ were ready to go but was ‘Big Momma’ ? I turned the key in the ignition and she roared into life.
The sun was now shining and for the first time in many weeks the external temperature gauge showed a very pleasant 14 degrees(c). It wasn’t a long drive to ‘Batribike’, just a mere 22 miles, but we had to laugh when on a small ‘A’ road we came across an equally small ‘toll bridge’ and paid the sixty-pence to cross. Since we started ‘fulltiming’, and having spent just short of fourteen weeks travelling to and from Portugal, the only tolls that we have had to pay have been in the UK !! We arrived at ‘Batribike’ and duly delivered Shazza’s bicycle to ‘Austin’, the bicycle mechanic who had replaced the controller on my bike a few weeks earlier. We had parked in their ‘yard’ and whilst Austin was working on the bike we had a coffee and ate our sandwiches that Shazza had prepared earlier. We were not overly impressed when, after half an hour, Austin knocked on our door and with a very sheepish look announced that he didn’t have the correct replacement controller and that it would take six weeks to get one in stock. By way of consolation he had stripped down the faulty controller and got it working, so we loaded the bicycle onto the cycle carrier and headed for Doncaster.
‘Big Momma’ was parked again behind secure gates and after a welcome cup of coffee we set about the task of emptying one holdall of ‘spare’ clothing and re-packing it with what we thought we would need for our training week. It was a Friday and this meant that we ‘Sonia’, Shazza’s mum, not only had us as house guests but also Shazza’s two nephews, Max who is 2 years old and Liam who is 5 years old. They are cousins and always stay overnight with her on a Friday night, as you may well imagine with youngsters they are pretty boisterous. Once the re-packing of bags was completed we then settled down to sorting out our mail which Shazza’s mum keeps for us. We have managed to reduce the amount of ‘junk’ mail that we receive so we had just a small bundle to open and sort. The main items were from the HMRC and my pension providers, I had finally sorted out my tax and had already received my rather generous tax rebate in my previous months pension payments. We knew that Shazza would be due a rebate but didn’t anticipate receiving this until the end of the financial tax year so we were surprised when she received a rather large cheque from HMRC for ‘over paid’ tax for the previous tax year, 2012-13 !! It appeared that they had failed to give her the increase in personal tax allowance for the whole of that year which meant that in addition to this rebate she would get another one at the end of this financial tax year. Of course we were elated at this unexpected windfall but there was also a sense of irritation. Surely HMRC should have realised their mistake at the end of the last tax year (Apr 2013) and given a rebate of over paid tax then ? If she had not given up her job and forced HMRC to assess her tax then when would they have realised their error ?
We had a few other things to sort out, we decided that as we enjoyed ‘Wildcamping’ so much whilst on our recent trip to Spain and Portugal that we would do more whenever the opportunities allowed, however, for peace of mind we decided that the fitting of an additional external door security lock would be in order and again, for peace of mind, we would get Autotrail to investigate the water leak we had experienced from the roof and also take a look at our heating (Habitation and Water) as we had a minor issue with it. When we turn on the habitation heating (Gas or Electric) it also heats up the water at the same time which it shouldn’t do, not a big problem but it needs looking at. A quick call to Autotrail and they have booked us in for the investigations and necessary work to be conducted but not until the end of March. ‘Big Momma’ is due an Annual Service & MOT, whilst it was under warranty it had to be done by the dealer I purchased it from but now I can have the work conducted at any FIAT ‘Commercial’ dealership. Conveniently there is such a dealership literally just down the road from where Shazza’s mum lives. We drove to the place to check out the location and ease of access and I went in and spoke to them and managed to get it booked in the week after ‘Big Momma’ comes out from ‘Autotrail’. So, in a few hours we had got ourselves sorted once again and settled down to enjoy what was left of the evening. That was until I received a series of texts from my daughter, we had planned to visit her last month but the very wet weather (understatement !!) had managed to curtail those plans. We had felt a little guilty about not having seen her so we decided that after our training course, being in the South of the Country, we would try to get to see her. After a quick but meaningful conversation with Shazza, we agreed that after finishing the training course instead of returning North straight away we would travel the one hundred miles West, book a hotel for the night and meet up with my daughter Stacey and go and have a meal. We could not stay any longer as the following night we had to be back in Doncaster as we had been invited to one of Shazza’s relatives 60th Birthday Party. Who said this ‘retirement’ lark was a period of relaxation, a time to do what we wanted when we wanted, but we had to remember that we both still had children, albeit grown up, parents and relatives and with that there are certain ‘unwritten’ obligations and commitments.
Although our ‘Elf & Elfette’ training course didn’t start until midday on the Sunday, it would be a long four-hour drive from Doncaster to Lingfield in Sussex, so we had elected to book the Saturday night in the hotel rather than drive down the day of the course. But before we could leave I had to play ‘Power Rangers’ with my nephews, which involved a bit of sword fighting, they of course having proper ‘plastic’ swords whilst I had to make do with one they constructed out of ‘Lego’ bricks !! Then of course ‘Power Rangers’ can fly can’t they ! so ‘Uncle Eric’ had to pick them up, hold them (one at a time of course) and chase around the room like a lunatic to replicate them flying. Then of course the sword battles commenced, which of course involved the mandatory rolling around the floor and giving them tickles !! I was just glad that Shazza would be doing the driving today as I was already knackered !!
It was a long but uneventful drive, we made a short stop for lunch but after four hours we arrived at the rather grandly entitled ‘Lingfield Park’ Marriott Hotel and Country Club, and very impressive it looked. The hotel was part of the Lingfield Racecourse (Horse Racing) and our room overlooked part of the Racecourse and part of the Golf Course. The room was what you would expect from a hotel of this standard with a rather large double bed that according to Shazza “You could lead separate lives in it” !
After settling in to the room we decided to drive the short distance back into the small town to look around and it didn’t take that long, when I said it was a ‘small‘ town I really wasn’t joking ! We ate out at a very nice country-style pub/restaurant only before returning to the hotel.
Sunday arrived, as we were not due to ‘sign in’ for the training until lunchtime we enjoyed a bit of a lay in before taking a late breakfast. We made our way to the assigned room and as people started to arrive we looked for familiar faces from our Interview/Assessment Centre day. On that day we were split into small groups of three couples, we had been put with Julie & Glen and Ian & Sue and who should walk through the door but those same people !! At least we now had some ‘friends’ to make polite conversation with. What we didn’t know at that time was that we would be split into groups again but this time we were not to be with our ‘other halves’ ! The first afternoon comprised of a couple of welcome introductions from Senior Executives followed by the issuing, trying on and, where necessary, exchanging of uniform and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment). I am quite impressed, not only at the quantity of uniform and PPE provided but also the quality, this is not ‘cheap’ kit. In fact, throughout the whole of the Training Week it became quite apparent that the Caravan Club value ‘All’ their staff, full and part-time. The provision of clothing and equipment is just one aspect but it doesn’t stop there, working conditions, environment, continuous training and support, and even Pension and Life Insurance arrangements, I can understand why there are lots of applications for jobs with them and I do really feel privileged to have been successfully selected to work for them.
It was quite a full agenda throughout the week with 08:30 starts and days finishing at 17:45 !! It certainly was a shock to the system after our recent lives of leisure, getting up as and when we wanted and really difficult decisions to make like what to have for lunch, what sort of cake I wanted Sharon to bake and do we watch TV or play ‘Candy Crush’ on the iPad !
The location of the Training Course was quite advantageous as one of my former work colleagues lives just twenty-minutes away. We arranged to get together one evening for a few drinks at a local pub and caught up on all the gossip, and of course spent a fair bit of time recounting some of the highlights from our foreign adventure. The JD & Coke’s went down so well that I slept really well that night and couldn’t face the ‘full fat boys’ breakfast the following morning !! The course also provided a chance to make new ‘friends’, who we may manage to meet up with again later in our ‘Elf & Elfette’ wanderings. We got to know Julie & Glen and Ian & Sue a lot better and will definitely be keeping in touch with them and a few other very nice couples, all of us starting out as ‘Newbies’ together.
The week comprised of lots of training, some classroom based with written tests at the end, some of the theory being backed up with practical elements but it was all extremely relevant to our new roles and a great deal of emphasis on Health & Safety and First Aid, whole days being allocated to these two particular subjects alone. But ‘my’ best part of the course was the LANTRA training, that was the practical part, getting down and dirty with the larger pieces of machinery and equipment, not the small home gardening stuff from B&Q, no these were the industrial ride on mowers, petrol push mowers, hedge trimmers, grass trimmers, leaf blowers, tractor and trailer driving and reversing !! Yee hah ! and of course at the end of such a fantastic ‘hands on’ day the mandatory written test at the end !!
Up to now I haven’t mentioned the catering throughout the course, there was loads of food, even though we had taken breakfast in the hotel restaurant as soon as we arrived at the mornings first location we were greeted with jugs of coffee and tea and a selection of sweet and sticky pastries, the same at the mid-morning break. Lunch was taken in the ‘Grandstand Restaurant’, I will let you work out for yourselves why it was called that !! Fortunately lunch was only two courses, a main and a dessert followed by more sweet and sticky mid-afternoon pastries and then the evening meal !! I’m not sure about ‘feeding our minds’ but all that good work from ‘Shazza’s Expeditions’ over a period of three months went out the window in less than one week !!
There were, I guess, around twenty-eight couples on our training course and the one disappointment for us, and six other couples, was that upon arrival at the venue we had not yet been allocated a site or contract for this coming season. It looked as if we were going to be put into the ‘pool’ of equipped and trained assistant wardens, we would have to wait until a vacancy arose. That vacancy could be in one week, one month or not at all this season, although we were assured that the latter possibility was extremely unlikely. We didn’t want to sit around in the UK waiting for a phone call that may or may not happen so we set about making our plans for an unexpected but very welcome surprise summer tour of Europe which would then lead to wherever we decide to over winter. Given that ‘Big Momma’ was booked in for her Annual Service & MOT at the beginning of April, we could be across the channel before Easter, and so it was that we commenced making tentative plans for another ‘European Adventure’. It didn’t take long for us to both agree on a travel schedule, we would work our way down through France, cross into Italy and make our way to the Eastern Coast where we could board one of those ‘Camp on Deck’ ferries and head for Greece. I had read about these in one of the many blogs and it sounded fun. You basically travel and sleep in your Motorhome on one of the decks. EHU cables are provided and although you can choose to use the on-board ship facilities you can also choose to cook in your own vehicle if you prefer. We would then tour Greece before returning again to Italy later in the Autumn, then down to Sicily for the winter and then a slow meander back to the UK where we would by then have been allocated a contract for our first site at the start of the season in March. We actually got so excited by the prospect if such an adventure that we started to hope that we wouldn’t get a contract for this season !! But like all best laid plans, right at the end of the course, and I mean right at the end, the bit where the Director wishes us all well in our new roles and waves us a tearful goodbye, there was a last-minute announcement by our HR lady, “The seven couples who haven’t been allocated a site please come and see me” she commanded, finishing the sentence with, “Some of you will be disappointed”. Well no matter really, we had got our Plan ‘A’ firmly fixed in our minds and we would just tell her that we would not be hanging around in the UK so keep us in the ‘Pool’ until next season !! Which would have been the case if we were one of the couples who were to be ‘disappointed’, we weren’t, we were offered a contract on the West Coast of Scotland from May to September. We were actually quite pleased as we had wanted to start work for the club this season, we were not too bothered about which area of the UK but to get a short contract meant that we could ensure that ‘Big Momma’ was all Serviced/MOT’d and taxed before we got to our site. Finishing early in September also meant that we could get across the channel on this years winter tour, a few weeks earlier than last years trip. Getting ‘on the books’ so to speak this year would also mean that next year we would get a full seasons contract and so return mid-March, which meant that unlike this years short three-month trip we would have nearly 6 months this time !! We could do the ‘Camping on-Board’ Greece/Sicily trip another time, after all we have years to do the travelling with so many choices of where to go ahead of us, there is no rush. We reverted to another ‘Winter’ plan that we had previously talked about, this year we would now over-winter in Morocco.
Our other friends, Julie & Glen were also allocated a site, in Cornwall and Ian & Sue had already been allocated a site in Wales so we were all pretty pleased with ourselves. Although the Training Course formally finished on Thursday evening we were still accommodated in the hotel until Friday morning so on the last evening we had a bit of a get together to celebrate in the hotel bar. I should also say that we met and made friends with lots of others throughout the course and I dare say that we will meet each other again at some point, perhaps in our five or six months off at the end of the season on a Spanish, Portuguese or Moroccan beach !!
We had not managed to get to see my daughter earlier in the month so, having the car and not ‘Big Momma’, we booked in to a ‘Premier Inn’ at Salisbury and met up with her. We went to a very nice ‘Italian’ restaurant in Salisbury where we caught up with each other’s news, we had not seen each other since August last year so it was nice to have this time.
We returned to Doncaster on Saturday as we had a family 60th birthday party to attend that night. It was good to see ‘Big Momma’ still safe and sound but after having been stood unused for eight days there was a still nagging doubt in my mind on whether she would start after the recent problems. I opened her up, inserted the ignition key, gave it a turn and………………. She started first time, that’s my girl !!