Monday 16th June – Sunday 22th June
Monday arrived and we awoke to beautiful sunshine, the cloak of invisibility had disappeared off our mountains and they too were swathed in sunshine and I just stood looking at them, with my second mug of coffee of the morning, just thinking to myself ‘What an office to work in’. The campsite had been full for several days and it was to be the same again today so with warm sunshine and a full site that meant just one thing, a small window of opportunity to get some pitches tidied up. Terry and Ennyd were on the ‘Bins & Toilets’ before commencing their day and a half off so they briefed us on the Emails that had come in from Head Office that would affect us and also advised us on the Contractors that were due to arrive at some point this week, Electrician to repair some faulty ‘Bollards’, the return of the Contractors to repair a leak they had caused from the pipe work in our Shower block loft, TV engineers to service the Digital TV boxes that feed the site and the return of our ‘Ride On’ grass mower that had been taken away for repair. Then it was on with our duties, Shazza would look after the office, the small shop and get on with some painting whilst I went out with ‘Freddie’ and the trailer laden with petrol mower, strimmer, hedge cutter and leaf blower. I concentrated on three ‘Pitches’ and half way through my mowing, strimming and hedge trimming one of our ‘guests’ came across to me with a cold glass of fresh orange juice saying that she thought I looked as if I needed a cool drink, how considerate was that. After a short break for lunch Shazza was quite happy to deal with the hoards of new arrivals and finish her painting and I was happy to be back out with the petrol mower and strimmer. Although with the noise of the equipment and wearing the ‘mandatory’ ear defenders any chat with the guests was minimal, only when I stopped to empty the mower grass basket into the trailer, but it was just nice being out in glorious sunshine and then looking at nice freshly cut grass which made the site look good. The time just flew by and with one last trip with the trailer to the grass dump it was then back to the compound to clean the equipment and get ready to retire to the comfort of ‘Big Momma’ and eat our tea. When you are out and about you don’t really feel tired but within a few minutes of sitting down you ‘come down’ with one hell of a ‘whoosh’. The only irritating bit is the ‘duty warden’ responsibilities because although we close the office at 6pm we still process arrivals up to 8pm and yes the late arrivals, drop-ins and backpackers always time it just as Shazza is serving up our evening meal. Our lives have changed in many ways since leaving our former careers and bricks ‘n’ mortar behind and neither of us have regretted the decision for one single moment, well up to now that is, who knows how we will feel in another six months, a year or in ten years. The experience has been one big adventure and there is one big change that has impacted on me and that is that I am so physically knackered at the end of each day that I am now generally in bed much earlier than I ever used to be.
So when Tuesday arrived it was good to be welcomed in to another new day with the sun already high in the sky and clear blue sky and not a midge in sight, it was certainly going to be a very hot day indeed. The Contractors, who we were expecting to arrive at 08:30am, hadn’t arrived so I left Shazza getting the office ready for another ‘fully booked’ day whilst I set about the morning routines out on site. I was half away around my ‘bin run’ when my beloved’s dulcet tones sounded across the airwaves informing me that our Contractors had finally arrived and I needed to return. She was lucky, another couple of minutes later and I would not have heard her with my ear defenders on and above the sound of ‘Freddie’s’ vintage engine. So this was to be the first of many interruptions to my ‘routine’ daily schedule. After sorting out the Contractors, opening the necessary places they needed access to and asking them the questions that Terry had wanted information about, I finished my bin run, much later than normal. During the bin run I had been ‘waved’ down by one of our guests who was having difficulty getting a picture on his TV. Now we do have numerous non-documented tasks in our ‘Wardens Portfolio’ and part-time TV repair man and engineer is just one of them, we are here to ensure not just that our guests have a ‘Safe and Clean’ environment and facilities to enjoy their holiday in but to also ensure that we cater for their every whim, if that means ensuring that they don’t miss out on the ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’ then so be it !! So after duly completing the important task of refuse disposal it was a trip to our guests pitch to take a look at our ‘guests’ TV reception difficulties. I suppose the two tasks did have certain similarities though, emptying bins and tuning in ‘Jeremy Kyle’ both involved dealing with ‘rubbish’ !! But being the good highly efficient Caravan Club Assistant Warden that I am, my ‘guests’ needs come first and without putting one dirty foot mark in his lovely clean caravan I provided simple step by step instructions from the entrance door on what he should do. Obviously being such a clear and efficient communicator played its part and soon our ‘guest’ was wearing a beaming smile which told me that he now had all the available on site transmissions on his little TV screen. Was it my superior understated TV engineering skills, well to be completely honest it was more the instruction to do a search and ‘Re-tune’ his TV that did the trick !! We often get these sort of side distractions but we just help out where we can, the one I like the best is my demonstration of specialist knowledge in the field of Electrical engineer, the ‘guest’ has no power from the EHU Bollard to their van, they assure me that it was all working on the last site they visited, they have checked the trip switch but still nothing. We arrive at said ‘guests’ van and they flick switches in order to prove to us that they have no mains power, assertively we cross to the offending EHU Bollard, establish which mains cable is the ‘guests’ and with one flick of the wrist the mains cable socket is turned a quarter turn to the right where it then ‘clicks’ into place and as if by magic our red-faced guest, who now feels an utter plonker, has full mains power to said van. Now to be fair, there are a lot of EHU Bollards on campsites where you do only have to insert the cable socket to activate the mains power, but there are also a great number where you have to turn them a quarter turn to the right so you would think that if you had no power you would return to the EHU Bollard and just try it first, wouldn’t you ? But then again, if that was to happen then we would not be able to show off our prowess as Electrical Engineers now would we. It also gives me an opportunity, when our guests express their gratitude, to recite my most favourite expression “There are no such things as Problems, only Solutions“, I think some of my former work colleagues who read this blog will have a smile on their face when they read that.
By the time I had dealt with all of the ‘tasks’, re-visited the Contractors who were now getting ready to depart, it was time for me to take over in the office whilst Shazza went off to clean the Showers & Toilets. When one couple is on their day off then the remaining couple on duty have to undertake these tasks on their own, pretty hard work at the best of times with two people but with just one person and with no additional time to complete the task I knew she would be ready for a break when she had finished. I don’t know how we came to the agreement but when Shazza and I are on duty on Terry & Ennyds days off then I do the bin run and cleaning of the Laundry facility building and she does the Toilet/Shower block. I tend to stay and look after the office and eat my lunch in between serving the customers whilst Shazza has some catch up time in ‘Big Momma’ and can enjoy her lunch in a bit of peace, although quite often she uses this time to do some preparation for the evening meal. During the lunch period our ‘ride on’ mower was delivered back to us in full working order so I decided that when Shazza returned I would take it out and get some more experience using it. Terry had given me some familiarisation on it and let me use it for half an hour or so, that was several weeks ago, then it went ‘sick’ so this would be a good chance to spend an afternoon on it. The petrol mower is great for small areas of grass but, in the absence of the ‘ride on’, we had had to use it to try to keep all the grass areas down to a reasonable height, we had been starting to lose this battle but now could put that right. Because of the height of the grass in some areas, compounded with it still being pretty wet, it was hard going at first as the large tube that sucks up the grass, and passes it through to the rear grass carrier, was constantly clogging and when it does this it just drops the clumps of grass onto the ground. However, once I moved on to some shorter areas I got to grips with the cutting technique and was quite pleased with what I had managed to achieve in three hours, mind you, the sun was scorching and I was pretty well dehydrated, in my excitement at getting out on the mower I had forgotten to take my bottle of fruit juice and once I had got into my stride I didn’t want to stop so by the time I had finished my arms were looking a little bit sunburnt, I would suffer later !!
We were once again full on the site and Shazza had to disappoint quite a few Caravanners and Motorhomers, some had rung up on the off-chance of getting a place for the night whilst others, who had been out touring the local area, pulled in hoping for a ‘pitch’ for the night but had to turn around and try to find alternative accommodation. We even had ‘guests’ already on site who decided last-minute that they would like to extend their stay and were extremely surprised when Shazza told them that they couldn’t !! Even the ‘tent’ field was full, that had a truly International feel about it, in addition to the Scots and English there were lots from France, Netherlands and Germany. You may imagine that campers ‘under canvas’ would be from the lower range of the age scale but not so, I for one was quite amazed at just how many more ‘senior aged’ tenters we had on site. They were all lovely people, so friendly and of course with it being the period of the ‘World Cup’ many utilised the communal building we have which contains a TV. However, these were not a rowdy bunch, probably because after a day of walking in the mountains they didn’t have sufficient energy to be rowdy ! Once again our day came to a close, we closed the office and after printing off the next days ‘pre-booked’ arrivals sheet, which reflected that we would be full again, we were pleased to retire into the comfort of ‘Big Momma’, I felt another early night beckoning.
This had been our ‘long week’ on the two-week working rota, when we awoke the following morning we knew that we only had to work until 1pm and then we would start our period of one and a half days off and we were ready for it. When I stepped out of ‘Big Momma’ I was quite surprised to find the mountain directly behind us completely obliterated by a thick wall of mist, the mountain to the side was only visible to half of its height, however, it was warm and the sun, albeit just a haze was trying to break through, it should be another fine day albeit just a little late in getting started. It was a pretty straightforward morning, Shazza opened up the office whilst I opened the compound and conducted my daily ‘pre-use’ check on Freddie. Shazza would monitor the departures and do the ‘Admin’ bits whilst I conducted the ‘bin run’ and cleaned the Laundry facilities building. Terry and Ennyd would then be back on duty and after a mid-morning cuppa and ‘handover’ Shazza and I would set about the cleaning of the Toilet/Shower blocks. At 1pm we finished and returned to ‘Big Momma’ and our much awaited day and a half off. We had nothing much planned for our half day, Shazza, as always prepared us a sandwich lunch and then put our uniforms into the washer. With the weather now becoming much warmer it was time to do a clothing change around. We needed to get out some more appropriate ‘summer’ clothing from our bags under the bed, however, with limited space in our wardrobes and storage lockers we would need to decide what clothing to put back into the bags. When we first arrived we had rolled out the awning and attached the ‘wind blocker’ but had to take it down a few short days later due to the adverse weather, in particular the rather strong gusty winds. Now though, the weather had changed and the winds were nothing to be concerned about so although we hadn’t pre-planned to re-erect our extended outside living space today, I took the decision to get on with it for as well as providing some additional space it also provided a little more privacy. Our compound was located right next door to the office and when new arrivals came onto site they would park right outside our compound area, also, when our ‘guests’ exited the site on their mountain walks or when exercising their four-legged companions they would quite often stop for a chat if they saw us sat outside. This was nice and you know already just how much I can natter away with the best of them, however, after a long and tiring day there are times when you just want to sit and enjoy some peace and quiet. Having the awning and ‘wind blocker’ erected this gave us the opportunity to sit outside without being disturbed. That evening we decided that as we had not eaten out for a while that we would treat ourselves and indulge in a meal at our local ‘Jacobite’ restaurant, as usual it was pretty good and we returned to Big Momma’ feeling pretty well stuffed !! So it was that our first half day off just came and went, but at least we felt that we were just that little bit more comfortable with our extended living area.
For our full day off we would be travelling from the West Coast of Scotland, sixty-three miles across to Inverness on the East Coast of Scotland, this would be our one and only trek across to the East and as Inverness was a sizeable town, with all the major retailers, it would certainly feel a bit like coming out of the wilderness into civilisation again but we were doing it for one very good reason. Regular readers of these ‘War & Peace’ ramblings may recall that before we arrived here eight weeks ago, we were on the ‘Bunree‘ campsite just South of Fort William. We had been led to believe that when we got to ‘Morvich’ that the nearest major supermarket for grocery shopping would be at Inverness, therefore we had done a ‘Major’ shop at the supermarkets in Fort William to ensure that we had sufficient provisions to see us through until we got the opportunity to shop again. Those provisions have lasted us for two months and although there are two relatively large Co-op supermarkets much closer than Inverness they do not offer the vast range of fresh meat products as do the likes of ASDA, TESCO or Morrissons. Shazza, our provisions quartermaster, had been making a new shopping list in readiness for another ‘Marathon’ shop which should last us until we depart at the beginning of September. Neither of us has been to Inverness before so we decided to make a full day of it and combine the shopping trip with some sightseeing, and to also take full advantage of filling ‘Wuxly’ up with much cheaper petrol. It was a grey and overcast start to the day, albeit warm, and after a morning coffee we commenced the very scenic journey. We expected the traffic to be busier once we had joined the main A82 North but it was still quiet. This road runs, in the main, parallel to the Western shoreline of Loch Ness right up to Inverness where it narrows and becomes the ‘River Ness‘. We were told to expect a delay as they were doing work on the rocky outcrops that overhang onto the main road, however, good fortune smiled upon us and the traffic lights were on green as we approached the area were the workmen were roped high above us and so proceeded without delay.
Although our primary destination was the new and very large ‘out of town’ ASDA Superstore we first wanted to sample the delights of Inverness town. We were not tourist ‘shoppers’ but it felt good to be back into some sort of civilisation so we parked the car in a large multi-storey car park not far from the town centre. We have been impressed with the number of ‘free’ car parks provided in Scotland but knew that once in a large town that we would be expected to pay a charge, even so at £1.50 for four hours it was still great value the only question was whether I should put this expenditure down against the Personal Expenditure or against the Groceries Budget, well let’s face it we were there for shopping after all so it seemed reasonable to me but Shazza protested, as I thought she might, I briefly wondered who would win this decision but deep down I already knew the outcome and it wouldn’t be in my favour !!
We were not overly impressed with Inverness, it lacked a certain appeal. However, for historians or lovers of Architecture, this place may well have ticked several boxes but for us, although it had all of the High Street ‘branded’ names, it was just another town. It did however have one important resident retailer that Shazza decided to visit, ‘Marks & Spencer’s’, not for the clothing but for the food hall. I have to admit that although produce from this retailer can be a little more expensive we do tend to find that the quality of their produce is better and as we all know you generally get what you pay for. However, Shazza’s ‘few bits and pieces‘ turned into the first half of today’s mega shop and we needed to return to the car to Unladen ourselves of the bagfuls of shopping and to give my wallet a chance to recover from the impromptu mugging it had unexpectedly suffered !! Before proceeding to the next phase of Shazza’s favourite pastime of ‘let me see how fast I can make our food budget disappear‘ we decided to find somewhere to grab a spot of lunch. Although we had had some good dining experiences recently, on our trip up to our campsite we had dined in several ‘eateries’ and not been that impressed, we had initially decided to just grab a burger or a bag of chips and then eat when we returned to ‘Big Momma’. However, with no obvious signs, or familiar smells of a ‘Fish & Chip’ establishment and with a neat soft shoe shuffle away from the ‘MacDonald’s’ we eventually came across Zizzi’s, an Italian Restaurant, with its large glass windows overlooking the River, a modern internal decor and one of those large open ‘Cooking Stations’, where the chefs every move is under constant scrutiny from the starving hoards seated within, this looked nice so we decided to take a chance. We were greeted by a friendly young waiter who seated us at a table looking directly out onto the River, just a pity that there were contractors installing improvements to the riverside ‘Flood Defences’ which distracted from what would otherwise have been a very pleasant view. We ordered a couple of drinks whilst we perused the appetising menu and then selected a ‘Sharing Platter’ with a side order of ‘Battered Calamari Rings‘.
The lunch was wonderful, exceptionally tasty and very filling, and at the risk of sounding like an egocentric food critic, for once a chef that knows how to cook ‘Calamari’. Normally it is served up ‘over cooked’ and therefore it can be extremely chewy like trying to eat an everlasting elastic band ! But this I must say was beautiful, soft and tender and extremely tasty. So with our faith in ‘eating establishments’ restored, well on this occasion at least, it was time to go for the main event and with the earlier ‘Marks & Spencer’ shop being but a mere limbering up exercise for Shazza she focused her attention on the carnivores aisles. As the fresh meat counters were emptied at a rapid speed into our large trolley, I am sure that I heard it groan as it started to buckle under the weight ! I must have inadvertently raised my eyebrows just at a point when Shazza had averted her gaze from the shelves of goodies towards me, which provoked the response “Well we are shopping for two months“, before I could protest my innocence she had already disappeared like a whirlwind down another aisle leaving me in her wake to attempt to get all four trolley wheels to move in the same direction at the same time in a vain attempt to catch her up. It felt rather like being on a Rugby pitch, but instead of an odd-shaped ball being hurled across the heads of fellow shoppers towards me to grasp firmly and ‘touch down’ in the trolley, a bag of sugar, bags of flour, box of eggs………….Ooops, missed that one, “Cleaner to Aisle 32” bellowed across the tannoy whilst me and old ‘wobbly wheels’ made a quick exit to Aisle 33 !! We should have brought the ‘defibrillator’ from the campsite with us, not for me I hasten to add, but once we had offloaded the mountain of supplies onto the ‘extra wide’ conveyor belt at the ‘extra wide’ checkout till my Wallet was going into cardiac arrest !! I grabbed the microphone from the assistant and in a panicked voice over the store internal intercom summoned the ‘Crash Team‘.
I was mightily relieved at getting all the shopping packed into ‘Wuxly’ and when I say ‘packed’ I mean ‘Packed’ !!! Then it was time to head home and although feeling quite exhausted the scenery, as I gazed out of the car window, was as I have come to expect in this part of the world, absolutely stunning and this time Loch Ness could be viewed from the passenger window on my side of the car.
We turned off the A82 and headed East towards the Kyle of Lochalsh, although we may have left Loch Ness behind the scenery all the way home was still just as magnificent.
It had been a long day but it wasn’t over yet, once we had unloaded ‘Wuxly’ we then had to take the mountains of meat from their shop packaging and divide them all into meal size ‘portions’ into freezer bags and then get it all into the freezer as quickly as possible. We had also replenished the ‘wine’ and ‘beer’ stock and with a vast array of tinned goods which also needed stowing, the evening became night and we eventually settled down in front of the TV with a ‘snack’ supper to watch England thrash Uruguay and go on to qualify as one of the last sixteen teams in the World Cup finals. Why oh why can England not read the script, but to be fair, they always fail to deliver which is probably why they are footballers and not working for the Royal Mail !! We were both utterly exhausted after our long day and we collapsed into bed without even waiting to hear all of the usual ‘doom and gloom’ on the BBC News.
I thought that I was dreaming when I was awoken at nearly 2am by a knocking on the van. I waited for a moment but then jumped as a loud knocking was heard on one of the front lounge side windows of ‘Big Momma’, whoever or whatever it was, was inside our compound !! I got up and slid down the small window on the habitation door and called out “Hello, who is it ?” In the deepest and most manliest voice I could muster. A voice came back identifying themselves by name and ‘pitch’ number. I asked them to wait whilst I put some clothes on. When I ventured out our ‘guest’ had left our compound and was leaning on our compound fence, wheezing as if he was having breathing difficulties. I recognised the ‘guest’ instantly, an elderly man who was one of our repeat long-term occupants. After the obvious exchange of information I established that his medical problem had nothing to do with his breathing, thank goodness as I didn’t want him croaking it whilst leaning over my fence, no his ailment was of a different nature, which I shall not go into detail about here, however, I established that he was feeling rather unwell and he stated that he required an ambulance. Now although we were not on duty and he should really have pressed the bell on the office door which would have elicited a response from Terry & Ennyd, the duty wardens, we were now up and awake and so dealt with the situation. The Emergency services were contacted and albeit that the nearest hospital is on the Isle of Skye the ambulance arrived within ten minutes. Our ‘poorly guest’ had made his way back to his pitch, I was still a bit concerned about his shortness of breath so whilst Shazza waited to direct the ambulance to where he was I went to wait with him just in case he took a turn for the worse. Whilst with him my former Police skills came back in to action and I asked him questions that I thought that may be useful for when the medical professionals arrived, full name, UK address, his age, when he had last eaten or had something to drink, any pre-existing medical conditions or current medication he was taking and a few details about his current ailment. Just as I had finished making the notes the ambulance pulled up outside his pitch, I handed them the notes I had made and then left them to deal with ‘their’ patient. I remember thinking that if he was to take a turn for the worse now, at least the right people were on hand to do something about it !! Shortly afterwards the ambulance departed with our guest on board and conveyed him to the hospital. He was discharged the following morning with no more than a hospital discharge letter to give to his own GP when he returned home. But at least he was okay that’s what counts and it was another experience for us to deal with and with it, the following morning, the inevitable report to be dispatched to our Head Office. I feel sure that over the coming years we will have a few more ‘medical Emergencies’ to contend with.
It took ages for us to get back to sleep, well gone 4am but surprisingly when I awoke later that morning ready for work I didn’t feel tired, although the same could not be said for Shazza who was a little ‘Miss Grumpy’!! It was Friday, the day that marked the end of our seventh week, we just got on with the routine day-to-day tasks of maintaining the campsite. We have been continually fully booked now on most days, that does tend to somewhat limit our groundwork tasks out on site but there were still areas that we could work on which wouldn’t inconvenience our guest too much, apart from the screaming noise of the grass strimmer and petrol mower that is !! The days and weeks are certainly passing at a great rate of knots but so too are the nights !! I am glad that I re-erected the awning and wind blocker, not just for the privacy but the extra outdoor sheltered space it provides which is really advantageous and it certainly does what it says and blocks the wind. It is pleasant to sit outside now when there is a stiff breeze blowing however it isn’t ‘midge’ proof but coming to that neither is the van, as soon as you open the door the little lighters are in !! The fly screens on the windows and Heki sky lights are no match either, they still find the smallest of gaps to gain access. What I can say from first hand experience is that the ‘Avon Skin So Soft‘ spray lotion really does work as do the ‘Stamford’ Citronella Incense Sticks. I work most of the time outdoors and put the lotion on my arms and face and don’t have any problems, the only problem with the incense sticks is that when I am walking around the site with them sticking out of my pockets people keep throwing buckets of water on me when they see the smoke thinking that I am on fire !! Okay !! I know, it’s like a joke just not funny !!!!
So, we are now rapidly approaching the half way point, the site remains busy and there is always something to be getting on with so the days are flying by. Just by way if concluding this latest blog post, we had a young German couple arrive in their ‘vehicle’, my forum colleagues who are fans of ‘conversions’ will love the photographs of this converted German Fire Truck, still wearing some of its original livery………………..