Monday 8th – Sunday 14th September
Sonia (Sharon’s mum), or MIL as I sometimes refer to her (Mother-in-Law), has got used to us descending on her in between trips and this time we would use her generous hospitality of ‘temporary lodgings’ for seven days before we commenced our ‘Winter Migration’. It was not going to be a week of leisure though as there were several things we needed to get done in readiness for our extended tour across the water.
The first task, as always, was to sort through the mail which she kept for us, normal mail as well as the ‘pre-trip’ parcels that we had ordered. After very nearly one year of fulltiming the bundles of Mail had reduced significantly but there was still the token amounts of ‘junk mail’ that had been re-directed from our old address, this would cease soon as our one-year subscription to the Royal Mail re-direction of Mail service was coming to an end. However, within the bundle there were two items of significance, the first being my Insurance renewal Documents for ‘Big Momma’ and that all important ‘Green Card’ for our trip to Morocco. The second was a ‘French’ guide book, ‘Les guides camping-cars, Guide Maroc des aires & campings’ that Shazza had ordered which listed loads of Campsites and Camperstops in Morocco. We already had a guidebook for Morocco which we had obtained from http://www.vicariousbooks.co.uk but this ‘French’ one was, in my opinion, better with its clearer mapping, but armed with two guidebooks and our ‘Marco Polo’ map of Morocco, how could we go wrong………?
I have always been a compulsive planner and ‘list’ maker although I think I am getting better as my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) behaviours in this respect are on the decline, I now rarely make lists (only the unwritten ones in my brain) and now I don’t actually dot every ‘i’ or cross every ‘t’, well not ‘every one’, just the odd few now and again !! I do however still keep to the principle of the seven P’s (Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) so with this in mind the next job was to get out my ‘laptop’, very rarely seen these days, to download new updated ‘mapping‘ for the Sat Nav and then ‘upload‘ it onto ‘Snoopy‘. I am glad that I invested in the ‘lifetime subscription‘ as these annual mapping updates don’t come cheap !! It does however take a considerable amount of time to both ‘download’ from the Snooper Website and then ‘upload’ it to ‘Snoopy’, around 3-4 hours. Mind you, the ‘Snooper Ventura S7000‘ is not just a basic Sat Nav and it doesn’t just contain the thousands of POI’s (Points of Interest), like the ‘other’ Sat Nav brand names, but also the complete listing of ‘Camperstop Europe‘ Aires, the complete listing from ‘BORD Atlas‘ and the 3,500 European ACSI Campsites, so it was worth the time and effort.
I had just disposed of all the unwanted ‘mail’ items and tidied away the laptop and all the associated power and inter-device cables when we had two visitors arrive. These were some of Shazza’s relatives who actually reside permanently in France. They were over in UK dropping their son off at a University in Edinburgh but were staying locally so decided to call in and say hello. I had never met Theresa or Kevin before, although I had spoken on the phone to Theresa on one occasion, anyway that passed another couple of hours. Later that evening we had another visitor, Shazza’s Aunty Margaret (One of Sonia’s sisters), I left the women chatting around the kitchen table whilst I went into the living room and watched the England v Switzerland European Qualifier football match, which for a nice change England won 2-0 !!
Day two was just as productive but also costly !! On our recent travels I had had a ‘minor’ altercation with an ‘immobile’ object, well actually I hadn’t, but my passenger door mirror had. It didn’t completely destroy the mirror and with a bit of ‘Duck’ tape it still managed to do its job but it wasn’t a good look. In the ‘altercation’ I had also lost the ‘Mirrorguard‘ cover so both the actual door mirror and the Mirrorguard needed replacing. I knew the mirror, being one of those large dual electrical types was going to cost me a fair bit to replace but the ‘Mirrorguard’ covers only came in pairs and they didn’t come cheap either. On top of that I was concerned about the vehicle battery as it was not holding its charge. For peace of mind I decided on getting a brand new battery whilst it was in the ‘workshop’ and then just to finish off, the ‘FIAT’ dealership were offering a full safety check on the vehicle, tyres, brakes, fluids and a fuel treatment so with Moroccan roads in mind I thought better safe than sorry.
As usual the garage wanted the vehicle by 08:30am so I got there in good time and Shazza followed in ‘Wuxly’ as we had decided to go straight into Doncaster to get the ‘Christmas’ shopping done !! Yes you read that correctly, only the 8th of September, the sun was still shining, it was 20(c) degrees and the leaves were still on the trees it wasn’t even slightly Autumnal and here we were going out and purchasing Christmas Cards & Gifts.
Doncaster doesn’t get a very good press, it was in the heart of the ‘Coal Mining’ industry so the town was surrounded by ‘Pit’ villages which have struggled to recover since the closure of most of the coal mines. However, the town has undergone a major re-generation, it has a fantastic indoor and outdoor market. When we tour France or Spain we always get ‘Wowed’ by their big markets yet Doncaster market equals any of those. They have a great indoor Fish & Meat market, then all the stalls with their wonderful smelling and brightly coloured fresh produce as well as all the other traditional stalls, clothing, hardware etc. Just a few minutes walk and you enter the ultra-modern three-storey ‘Frenchgate’ shopping mall with all the major large ‘Branded’ store names and ‘eateries’ and then you step out into the traditional ‘old town’ high street, Yes, Doncaster is a very nice town and if you don’t want the shopping then take a walk to the ‘Minster’ or take the ‘Riverside Walk’ or visit the Boating Lake Park and sit and take a coffee and slice of cake at the park cafe. I think I might even have ‘sold’ the place to myself a and would certainly consider buying a small two-bedroomed property around here when that time comes, but that is years away yet !!
We got all our Christmas cards from the same market stall we purchased them from last year as well as the festive gift envelopes and even a Wedding Card for my nephew whose wedding in the USA we will not be attending. Then it was off to Marks & Spencer to purchase clothes for Shazza’s two nephews for Christmas and before we knew it the Christmas shopping was all done. As it was nearly lunch time and we were still too early to collect ‘Big Momma’ we treated ourselves to one of our favourite ‘fast food outlet’ meals, ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. We don’t eat ‘Fast Food’ stuff very often so this really was a bit of a treat and very nice it was too. Just before returning to collect ‘Big Momma’ I needed a couple of small items from a motor accessory shop, I took my purchases to the checkout point to pay for them, it was a youngish lad on the cashpoint and he enquired as to whether I required a bag for my purchases. Before I could answer, Shazza who was stood next to me, enquired of the young lad “Do you have a small one” !! I could feel the glow from the young boys face as he blushed and I turned to Shazza and said “Thats a bit personal don’t you think” ? Then realising what she had said she glowed a deep shade of crimson, coughed and spluttered and replied hastily “I meant a small bag“. It was then time to go and collect the van and to face the bill. I have learnt over the years not to take things at face value by just paying the bill without confirming first that they had completed all the jobs. I checked that the new mirror was fitted correctly and that the electric operations worked, I confirmed that they had fitted the replacement battery and was happy when they asked me if I wanted to take the old one away with me as it wasn’t totally spent, I asked them to dispose of it. However, when I asked about the safety checks they stated that they had completed most of them but couldn’t check the underside as they couldn’t get the vehicle up on the ramp !! I told them that it was they who ‘sold’ this safety check deal to me, at an extra cost, and that I wasn’t happy about paying for something they hadn’t completed, they agreed and knocked off the total cost of this safety check. So, I now had ‘Big Momma’ looking in fine fettle again and returned to Sonia’s and parked the van in her drive behind secure gates.
But our productive day was not yet over, after a short coffee break we then finished packing all our ‘Elf & Elfette’ uniforms, freshly washed and ironed’, and our PPE equipment and clothing into our individual boxes, sealed them ready to go into the loft. There were several other ‘non-essential’ items we decided we didn’t need to take on our trip this time around and they too would be stored in Sonia’s loft. We recovered our laser printer from said loft and then printed off the updated list of ‘Aires’ in Portugal from the website http://www.campingcarportugal.com before replacing the printer and ‘All’ the additional stuff into the loft. We had just finished when we had more visitors, it was Shazza’s Aunty Linda (another one of Sonia’s sisters) and her Uncle Joe, both of whom I had met many times as they always make a point of coming over to see us when we are staying at Sonia’s and we see them at all the family events we are able to attend. It had been a busy day but we had achieved quite a lot although we were not finished yet !
We were both extremely tired at the end of each day and were never late in bed, but we slept really well and were awake and out of bed by 07:00am each morning. The morning of Day Three was no different but there was no early start, I had arranged to take ‘Big Momma’ to Autotrail to have the additional Security Lock fitted to the habitation door which should have been done before we went to Scotland but upon arrival on that occasion discovered that they had ordered the wrong part. I also needed to get a couple of little minor jobs done such as the replacement of two of the eight side marker lights which had stopped working whilst we were up in Scotland. I could have changed these myself had I have had the replacement side marker lights but I didn’t so I waited for Autotrail to do them for me, along with fitting a replacement bolt which attaches the waste water pipe to the chassis of the van, this had come adrift at some point on our journey to Scotland, it wasn’t vital but it kept the waste pipe from hanging too low with the risk of it grounding if we went over a raised bit of road or even the raised ramp when boarding the ferry !! I wasn’t due to deliver ‘Big Momma’ until 11:00am so there was no hurry to leave. In the meantime, Shazza was taking her Electric Bicycle in the opposite direction to ‘Batribike‘ to finally get the new controller fitted, the one that they too should have fitted before we left for Scotland but after arriving there on that occasion they also discovered that they hadn’t got the right part !! I had telephoned them in advance this time to ensure that on this occasion they did have the right part available, and waiting, so as not to have another wasted journey. Shazza was not due to arrive at Batribike until 1pm so I left before her.
Mark greeted me in his normal friendly and smiling manner and gave me a mischievous wink when he confirmed that he too on this occasion had the ‘correct’ part ready to be installed. At the risk of repeating myself, the service that I get from Mark and his team is always first class, even though they had made the mistake with the part on the last occasion, they had completed some ‘other’ minor tasks for me whilst I was there but for which they made no charge by way of compensation for their error. Mark had told me that he would get the work done whilst I waited and although it took just over two hours he charged me only for one hour’s labour and the cost of the security lock, he made no charge for the ‘other’ parts or the labour, so once again I sing the praises of Mark, his team and Autotrail in general, for genuine First Class customer service.
When I returned to Sonia’s, Shazza had already beaten me back and was already enjoying a coffee. Big Momma was once again tucked away in Sonia’s drive behind secure locked gates, the next time she would move would be when we commence our Migration South !! Not that I had finished with her, I now had to do some re-shuffling within the internal storage lockers so that the things that I needed regular access to whilst ‘on the road’ were easy to lay my hands on, the external storage lockers and my ‘shed’ also needed tidying and then I needed to give this lady a thorough ‘waxing’, roof, sides, rear and front cab then a bit of attention to the other stuff like the ‘Alloy Wheels’ and the Chrome exhaust pipe, she has to be looking good for when we start the next adventure and why I had allocated a full three days to give her my undivided attention. Before I could do that though we had one more day trip to do……..
The days were passing so quickly and Day four arrived, we travelled to Leeds, just over an hours drive, to see my parents. This would be the last visit, until next year when we returned from our ‘nomadic winter wanderings’ so we took the opportunity of personally delivering our Christmas Card to them. After a nice cuppa and a catch-up on the wider family gossip we went out for lunch, with the exception of my father who said that he was not feeling too well and didn’t feel up to going out. We took my mum to her favourite ‘Fish & Chip’ restaurant, ‘Murgatroyds’ and over lunch heard all about her itinerary whilst over in the USA for my nephew ‘Jake’s wedding. My sister Julie, her husband ‘Dave’ and my three nephews would be meeting her off the plane and then, in addition to the wedding ceremony and reception, taking her on a tour around some other places. As my sister put it, she can tick off some of her ‘must do’s’ on her ‘Bucket List‘.
Big Momma now sorted and the last of the commitments and visits up in this neck of the woods, well for me at least, Shazza still had ‘the rounds’ to do, it was now time to get down to getting the van looking good again, inside and out !! This was not just a mere wash and wax job, although that was on the agenda, no this ‘deep clean’ would involve cleaning the engine compartment, the foot wells, all the rubber seals, the vinyl, all the windows, the alloy wheels and then anything else that I came across in the process. After that I was going to turn my attention on the electric bicycles, I had noticed some rust appearing so this needed ‘nipping in the bud’ and then finally I needed to sort out my ‘external’ storage lockers. I had three days to complete all of these tasks !!
The weather had been glorious for the last five days, long sunny days, for the UK I guess this could be classed as a ‘Heat Wave’ and it was forecast to stay over the weekend, please BBC ‘work of fiction’ get it right for once when the forecast is for good weather. I have been keeping a check on the weather across in Northern Spain as well as down on the Algarve, currently they are both staying in the high twenties but as we cross the ‘Bay of Biscay’ it looks as though we could be welcomed by a drop of the wet stuff, however, that forecast was also provided by the BBC work of fiction report so who knows what will actually greet us when we dock in Santander on Saturday evening.
Friday (Day Five) arrived, Shazza was booked for a girlie day out with her ‘rellies’ which gave me the best part of the day to make a start on the ‘Deep Clean’, I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before I started to wish I hadn’t bothered, it’s when it comes to waxing and polishing ‘Big Momma’ that I realise just how long and tall she is, but I knew that when I eventually finished that she would be sparkling and all the effort would have been worth it. After eight hours, non-stop, not even a break for lunch, I had washed, dried, applied wax and buffed three sides of the van, cleaned the engine compartment, cleaned both cab door sills, rubber seals and vinyl and that was enough for one day. Of course, it didn’t end there, Sonia’s back drive was littered with all my cleaning materials, bucket, sponge, a variety of cleaning cloths, ladders and half of the contents of ‘Big Mommas’ garage which I needed to get out to get at the cleaning stuff and it all needed putting away !!
Friday night at Sonia’s house is ‘Grandchildren’ night, it’s when Sharon’s two nephews come to have a sleepover and with Liam (aged 6) and Max (aged 3), who are two very active and vocal young boys, it is anything but a quiet night in !!
Saturday morning arrived, a little earlier than I anticipated, I could already hear the voices of two very awake youngsters, I looked at the clock and saw that it was only 06:50am but there was no way that I would be able to roll over and go back to sleep, unlike Shazza who was still in dreamland ! So, after making myself a good hot strong coffee I went to greet my two early risers. It was an early start in more than one way, washed and dressed then back outside to finish the ‘Deep Clean’ on the van. Of course I had two ‘little’ helpers, well for a while at least, after they had helped me unload the cleaning crates from ‘Big Mommas’ garage and remove and fold up the ‘Silverscreen’ it was more interesting to go off and play pirates, I can’t say that I blamed them, it wouldn’t have taken too much to have persuaded me to go and join them !! I got on with the tasks and was quite pleased when at 4pm I was finally securing ‘Big Momma’, I had also cleaned and oiled both our electric bicycles and loaded them on to the rear cycle rack.
Over the last few days we had seen most of Shazza’s family, Chris & Katie (Shazza’s Brother and Sister-in-Law and Max’s parents), Tony & Maria (Another one of Shazza’s brothers and Sister-in-Law and Liam’s parents) and she had gone to visit her other brother and Sister-in-Law, Jason & Suzanne, whilst I was cleaning the van. I had seen my parents and now all that was left was to call in and see the kids but that was on next weeks travel itinerary. We have one day left here in Doncaster and with finishing cleaning the van earlier than anticipated this means an unexpected ‘day off’. It seems odd talking about having a day off when we are one week into a long six month holiday !!
Now that I had finished it was Shazza’s turn, she had already completed the cleaning of the internal lockers and cupboards before we departed Scotland and had also already washed down and leather polished the upholstery, so now it was the cleaning of the Shower, Sink & Toilet and then the floors. As well as visiting ‘relies’ over the past week and taking her bicycle to Batribike, she had also been partaking of one of her favourite pastimes, visiting local supermarkets, which of course was to purchase a few supplies for the ‘road trip’. On last years adventure into Europe she had the forethought to check prices and also to see what wasn’t available and would need to be purchased from UK. So she has been picking up bits ‘n’ pieces as she went !!
Our final day staying at Sonia’s arrived and again I was awake and out of bed at 07:00am, Shazza was still buried under the Duvet sound asleep. I think I have that ESP thingy, you know, when you can foresee what is going to happen before it does, either that or pure good fortune. The weather, as previously stated, has been lovely, to the extent that I have been out and cleaning ‘Big Momma’ in shorts and tee-shirt and being able to get on so well I had finished a day earlier than anticipated. Well it was a good job that I had, the weather had changed and although it was dry, the morning had started cold, grey and very overcast. Fortunately my final bits and pieces were of the ‘Administrative’ kind so whilst Shazza kept popping back and forth to the van, placing things in storage lockers and packing them so that they wouldn’t rattle, re-filling the van fridge and freezer with items that had been temporarily stored in Sonia’s domestic appliances whilst also preparing our last proper ‘English’ traditional Sunday roast dinner, I kept nice and warm in the sitting room !! Shazza had also started to get organised for our ‘Moroccan’ adventure by downloading and completing documentation we needed to get the vehicle into the country. We would be doing what a lot of other travellers to Morocco do and that is to call in to see ‘Carlos‘ in Spain. Carlos provides a service whereby he provides and completes all the necessary documentation that you need so that when you exit the ferry in ‘Tangier‘ you have everything the ‘officials’ require. The document that Shazza has downloaded and completed should make this process even easier but I still have my reservations about how straightforward it will really be as I have read many blogs that tell a quite different story !! I am still a little uneasy at the thought of travelling in Morocco but hey this is supposed to be an adventure after all !!
As we now had a start date for our new season with the Caravan Club in 2015 we could start looking at travel dates back to the UK. There were things that would be needed to be done before we headed North to our new site, Shazza would need to visit the Doctors again and ‘Wuxly’ would need its Annual Service & MOT. So we looked at return ferries and decided that to make the most of our time across the water it would be better to sail back from Spain rather than travel up through France, that decided, Shazza went onto the website and booked a return crossing for the first week in March. It may seem strange that we are planning our return before we have even departed these shores but the seasonal jobs as Assistant Wardens dictate our movements and this, for the time being, is the path we have chosen to take. There are several options as our contracts will soon be more flexible, we could opt to travel in the summer and take a ‘Winter’ contract or perhaps take a ‘year out’ or even not to work at all. At the moment though we are just taking one year at a time and we will see where this adventure takes us.
Our busy week in Doncaster was rounded off by being invited for Sunday tea at Tom & Margaret’s, along with Joe and Linda, and then we spent our last night under Bricks & Mortar at Sonia’s. In the morning we would once again move back into Big Momma and hit the road to commence ‘Our Migration South‘.