Monday 7th July – Sunday 13th July
In weekly rota terms we started our Monday morning on our ‘long week’, although we would be off for a day and a half once we had finished our morning routines, after that our next day off wouldn’t be until Sunday !! Because of a change to our rota last week there was no ‘Shazza Adventure’, in fact there was no ‘Adventure’ full stop and this week was going to be the same, however, we were getting off site.
Some readers of this blog may have seen the film ‘Braveheart‘, yes the one with ‘Mel Gibson‘ wearing a skirt whilst riding a horse in the highlands of Scotland and screaming those immortal words “FREEDOM“, well I have heard that they don’t wear any underpants under their skirts and it can get breezy around the ‘Trossachs‘ !! But the reference to that does have a connection to my ramblings this week as ‘Big Momma’ was about to get off the blocks after almost eleven weeks (remember that although we started work on 3rd May we arrived almost a week early and did some sightseeing first), so as we drove away from the site I am sure it was ‘Big Momma’ I heard hailing those immortal words of ‘Freedom’ as we headed towards Inverness. The next connection to ‘Braveheart’ was the choice of our overnight location, ‘Culloden’ and although we would not be sleeping on the great battlefield itself we would be quite literally within a stones throw of it.
It must have been a novelty for Shazza, to at last not be the one to have to do the driving, she could now sit back and enjoy the spectacular scenery from the comfort of the co-pilots seat. No need for her to do any co-piloting stuff though as ‘Snoopy’ would guide us to our night halt. I wasn’t sure how ‘Big Momma’ would perform as she had not moved in nearly eleven weeks, I needn’t have worried though as she performed impeccably and the run out, all seventy-two miles of it, certainly ensured that the engine lubricants got a good ‘swish’ around. There was a brief stop en-route and although I was still confident that we could manage on our existing LPG, even though we had to use it occasionally now to heat the water for doing the washing up with the failure of the Truma electric element in the boiler, we found a place where we could top up. I was interested to see how much we had used in eleven weeks, the gauges on the tanks being worse than useless. The fuel station was one of those old style one’s owned by an individual and not one of the big suppliers. It was no more than a small old style brick-built building with a potholed gravel forecourt with three old-looking pumps. The LPG pump was set to one side and with easy access for ‘Big Momma’. I stepped out of the cab and saw an elderly sun-tanned chap walking towards me, as I removed the filler cap he took the pump and attached it and said “Fill her up”, I nodded my approval. We chatted whilst the gas was transferred from his pump to my cylinder and I established that his olive-brown tan was obtained recently on a holiday in Turkey, a destination he had been returning to year on year for more years than he cared to remember. He pushed as much LPG into ‘Big Momma’ as he could but she only took 11.28 Litres, not bad really, our average consumption being just one litre per week and now we certainly wouldn’t need any more until we top up again just before we board our ferry in mid-September.
‘Snoopy’ was as reliable as ever, delivering us to the front door of the ‘Culloden Moor’ Caravan Club Site. Noting the length of ‘Big Momma’ They had allocated us an extra-large pitch and we were soon parked up, hooked up and levelled. It was quite relaxing to actually be off our own site, even when off duty you are still in the working environment and so don’t really ‘switch off’ as we can see the front entry gates and cannot help but observe vehicles and people as they come and go but this particular evening we were just simply another ‘guest’. On this site there was no WiFi but I did have a very good mobile phone signal so was able to have a good long chat with my parents before lighting the BBQ and enjoying a beautifully warm sunny evening. During the early part of the evening, prior to the BBQ, we were paid a visit by ‘Linda’ who was the Assistant Warden on site. Although she had been at the Caravan Club Induction Training week at the same time as us, she had been on the first weeks course, which our course had overlapped, so we didn’t actually get to know each other at that event. We obviously ‘compared notes’ and we learnt that they were doing much the same as us and feeling just as ‘knackered’ as we were !!
The reason for choosing this particular campsite was simple, it was the closest campsite to ‘Highland Campervans’ which was only a fifteen minute drive away. After a wonderful peaceful nights sleep we awoke to another warm and sunny morning. After a quick coffee we were soon off the blocks again, unplugged from the EHU and off to our 09:00am appointment. I got a little worried when I was met by one of their mechanics/engineers who, after turning off my LPG, asked me “Where the leak was coming from ?”. Once we had established that he had got me confused with another expected arrival he confirmed that he knew about the job on the boiler and had the ‘spare part’ ready to be installed. Being informed that it could take up to four hours, which interpreted into mechanics labour charges costs meant that it ‘would‘ take the full four hours at Forty-Eight Pounds an hour plus VAT !! we elected to catch the bus to the ‘Inverness Retail Industrial Park‘ with the understanding that they would contact us in the ‘unlikely‘ event that the work was completed earlier than anticipated. The bus journey was no more than a ten-minute ride and there were only a handful of shops which made us wonder how on earth we would fill four hours !! We were both feeling a little hungry so as their was a nice big TESCO Superstore we headed to that to locate their in-store cafeteria and indulge ourselves with a nice big ‘fat boys’ breakfast. Well it was a nice idea, we were both salivating at the prospect of Bacon, Sausage, Eggs, Mushrooms, Baked Beans, Hash Browns, Fried Bread and a nice strong hot mug of tea only to discover that the said cafeteria was closed for Refurbishment !! There was nothing for it, with the sound of the in-store intercom resonating in our ears, “Eric and Shazza have left the building“, we made our way to ‘Burger King‘ where we made do with “Breakfast in Bread‘ a side order of ‘Hash Browns‘ and a cardboard cup of ‘cappuccino‘ ! After that it was a stroll around the handful of stores, but then we came across ‘Maplins‘, yes I could certainly kill a bit of time in here but not too sure how much time I would have before Shazza got bored with looking at all this stuff in the ultimate man’s equivalent of ‘Aladdin’s Cave’. Well as it happens, I didn’t find anything that I particularly needed or even wanted but it was a different story with my Shazza ! First it was a newer and bigger ‘Inverter‘, we already had a 300 watt but that could only charge one device at a time off our on-board 12v supply, she saw a 600w and a 1200w which had two 3-pin plug adapters and a USB port !! fortunately for my wallet these could not be powered from a 12v socket. Then she saw ‘20 Litre Solar Shower Bags’, which she informed me would be ideal for our winter trip to Morocco. “Not only would it save heating the water from our valuable, and in Morocco, restricted LPG supply” she enthused, but, she continued, without barely taking a breath “It would also save our LPG supply as we could also use the shower bags to heat water for washing up“. Now this really was a logic that I had to agree with, so I did as was commanded and apparently ‘We‘, decided that ‘two‘ Solar Shower bags would be better than one ! Not content with that, and still disappointed with not being able to purchase a ‘super big inverter‘ she came upon a little device that was basically a charging unit for electronic devices such as iPhones, iPads, Kindles etc. etc. This little device, when fully charged itself, could provide sixty hours of power to charge other devices. So her reasoning was thus, when we are not connected to EHU we can use the Solar Panels to provide the power to our 12v inverter to re-charge one device, but could also use this little device to re-charge another two devices at the same time. When the little device required charging again that could be connected to the 12v inverter and re-charged using the solar panels. Again, I could not disagree with her logic and so it was that Shazza enjoyed her time in this ‘mens‘ Aladdin Cave and with a big smile on her face exited the store with three items that ‘We‘ didn’t know we needed !!
Albeit that Shazza had recently conducted a ‘mega’ shop, which she informed me meant no more shopping, other than Fresh Milk and Fruit & Vegetables, until we left the site in September, she still could not resist having a walk around the large TESCO superstore. “We only need some Kitchen Rolls and perhaps a bit of fresh veg” she had said. When we finally left the store with Rucksacks and two extra carrier bags full of ‘stuff’, we did have our Kitchen Rolls but there was no evidence of any fresh veg anywhere within said receptacles !! Three hours had lapsed and after rolling around the pavement, screaming and crying and banging my fists on the ground in a child like tantrum she relented and we decided that as ‘Highland Campervans’ had not called us, we would call them and get an update. “The mechanic just finished working on your van half an hour ago and we were just about to ring you“, said the voice on the other end of the phone. Yeah right, I thought to myself, more like let’s give it another hour and then charge the full four hours and tell me what a ‘pig’ of a job it had been !! But then the words that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on their end, “Have you got a couple of minutes” the voice said. The voice then proceeded to tell me how it was that after removing the boiler the mechanic had discovered that ‘Truma‘ had sent the wrong part. “And it’s taken you two and a half hours to discover that” I said to the voice. After explaining how the mechanic had attempted to conduct a temporary repair, which I interpreted as more like attempting to justify how they were going to charge me three hours labour for ‘Not Fixing’ anything, cynical I know but ‘There We Are Then’ (Take the first letters of each word that are in Bold) !! The voice’s manner changed dramatically when I stated that when I returned to their office I wanted to see a record of what part ‘they‘ had ordered and the part number of what had been received as I would be sending ‘Truma’ a very strong ‘Snotogram‘ for incompetence, that had not only cost me a pointless One Hundred and Forty Four mile round trip and the cost of overnight accommodation but also the waste of a very valuable day and a half off. The ‘voice‘ wavered slightly and then stated “Of course we will not be charging you anything for the work conducted by our engineer today“. I cannot recall my exact response but it certainly wasn’t anything like “Oh ! thank you very much for such a generous gesture !!”
Neither of us were in a happy frame of mind when we first boarded the bus, all the joys of Shazza’s retail therapy disappeared in an instant. However, our faith in those who deliver customer service was restored, we were not sure just exactly where we needed to ask to get off the bus, we had boarded at a bus stop on the main road of the busy A96 and not in a village or outside a pub that we could give reference to, so we just showed the tickets we had been given on the outward journey. Knowing how much the fare would be I had already placed the correct amount in the ‘coin tray’. The driver looked at the tickets and then said “Put your money back in your pocket, as far as I am concerned I am looking at two ‘return’ tickets“. How nice was that !! Fortunately, that act of simple kindness also lightened our moods, we reflected on our couple of days, we had got a nice break away from our own campsite, we had given ‘Big Momma’ and ‘Snoopy’ a well deserved outing, we had topped up our LPG, had a nice evening BBQ in lovely sunshine and we had managed without the electric heating element for a few weeks, so a little longer wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience. We could sense the nervous apprehension on both the ‘voice‘ and his mechanics face when we entered the office, probably expecting a raging disgruntled customer, well disgruntled yes but raging, not my style. The ‘voice‘ showed me the part number he had ordered (although he didn’t actually show me the order form !) and then the order number on the packaging they had purportedly received. I think my face showed that I wasn’t totally convinced so the ‘voice‘ re-iterated that we would not be billed with anything for the ‘work‘ conducted by his mechanic. We arranged to return in two weeks time when the ‘voice’ assured me the correct part would be fitted. I hadn’t quite finished, I turned to the mechanic, whilst still having the ‘voice’ in full view so that there could be no silent prompting and stated to the mechanic that it had taken him two and a half hours to remove the boiler, attempt a temporary repair, albeit unsuccessfully, then re-fit the boiler so how long he estimated that it would take to complete the job when we brought it back in. He shuffled uneasily so I decided to help him out and suggested that as he now knew how to remove and re-fit the boiler, all he had to do was replace the broken element with the new one so he should be able to complete the work comfortably within two hours. I saw him glance a look at the ‘voice’ but then agreed that two hours would be plenty of time. We agreed the time for our re-visit and I stated that as it would only take two hours we would wait on the premises and utilise their ‘free’ WiFi.
So it was time to point ‘Big Momma’ homeward guided by ‘Snoopy’, although to be honest no Sat Nav is required, travel South along the Western Shore of Loch Ness then hang a ‘right’ at Invermoriston on the A87 all the way home. We didn’t need to be back on site at any particular time, we were not on duty again until the following day and we did toy with the idea of doing a night’s Wild Camping but elected not to. However, we found an opportunity to pull off the road to have a coffee, it was the place where we had seen a Motorhome wild camping on our return from the Inverness ‘Mega’ shopping trip a couple of weeks earlier.
The coffee stop was quite beneficial as we realised that we had a mobile phone signal, so in the process of both enjoying our Coffee and the surrounding landscapes we managed to pre-book ‘Big Momma’ into ‘FIAT commercial‘ in Doncaster to have some ‘minor’ safety checks conducted prior to departing on our ‘Winter’ trip. We have also pre-booked into ‘Auto Trail’ to get the new additional habitation security lock fitted and finally we arranged an appointment with ‘Batribike‘ to get the faulty electronic controller fitted to Shazza’s electric bicycle. So all in all a very productive coffee break !! After coffee and phone calls we pulled off from our very idyllic location, next stop the ‘Cleunie Inn’ for our evening meal. We had heard good reports of the food here so thought we may give it a go. It was a pleasant enough place but inside it was just a bar with menus on the tables. Mind you, the shelf behind the bar had literally hundreds of bottles of Whisky and on another night perhaps I may have given one or three of them a try………….!! Both Shazza and I settled on ‘Balmoral‘ Chicken which was Chicken breast stuffed with Haggis and wrapped in thick bacon served with mashed potatoes and a delicious Whisky sauce and of course the mandatory portion of vegetables !! Before it arrived we were looking at the ‘desserts’ menu and although I am not usually a ‘pudding’ person there were some tempting choices. However, it was not to be, even for Shazza, as we both struggled to eat all of our main course, it was absolutely delicious !! We paid the very modest bill and then we waddled, carrying our stomachs, to ‘Big Momma’ and back to where, temporarily, we call home.
Wednesday saw us back at work, it was our ‘long week’, our next time off would be a half day on Sunday !! Not a lot to report on the work front, we had all worked pretty hard over the last couple of weeks and had now virtually caught up with most of the ground work. The ground work is never completely finished, with such large areas of grass around the site along with hedges there is always somewhere that needs tidying. We did progress with our ‘Sites Training Programme’ as Terry showed us how to remove, de-scale and then disinfect the shower heads, a job that requires doing every three months. He also showed us how to conduct ‘Water’ checks around the site. To prevent ‘Legionella’ the ‘Hot’ water temperature has to be constantly maintained at or above 52 degrees(c) and the ‘Cold’ water temperature constantly maintained at or below 20 degrees(c). It is a little more technical than I have made it sound but I won’t bore you with the intricate details, suffice to say, there are a lot of both ‘Hot’ and ‘Cold’ outlets on the site, these checks have to be conducted monthly, Terry had conducted them up until now but we would do this months checks as well as next months, another two ‘ticks’ in the box. Although, in reality, it could take up to three years to complete the ‘Training Programme’ which, when completed, will provide us with an ‘NVQ’ in Tourism & Leisure. You also now need to have completed this formal Training Scheme before you can become a ‘Warden’ responsible for your own site !! Terry and Ennyd are on a mission to get us through as much of this in our first season as possible. Unfortunately, there are some things that we will not be able to achieve whilst we are here because we are on a ‘short’ contract, so as we didn’t start until May we were not here to do the site pre-opening tasks. As we will leave in September we will also not be able to do the site ‘closure’ tasks. There are a couple of other things that we do not have on this site which we need to do as part of the ‘Sites Training Programme’ so it will take us at least two years !!
As I have said in previous posts, Shazza and I do not get to work side by side with Terry and Ennyd except for Friday afternoons when we are all in. At the end of the working day Terry suggested we sit in the ‘compound’ and relax with a few ‘cold ones’ which led to an impromptu BBQ and a great way to end Week 10, time is fast running away……………………
With just Eight weeks left on our first short season as ‘Assistant Wardens’, Week 11 started somewhat grey and wet, but as they say in show business, ‘The Show Must Go On’ so it was another ‘Bright Orange Rainproof Jacket’ sort of day. It did dry out briefly and this gave Shazza and I an opportunity to finally finish the trimming of the last of the site hedges before moving on to those ‘water checks’. The thing that we can guarantee, when the weather takes a turn for the worse, is that during the early evening we will get the ‘drop-ins’ turning up looking for a pitch for the night, we were not disappointed !!