25 years and counting…

Discussions with the Memsahib regarding our 25th wedding anniversary. We have booked a room at The Castle Inn, Castle Combe, Wiltshire , where we stayed for our wedding night. We were cash-strapped in those days so it was only for the one night.

Anyway, some months back I booked the room and local to home accommodation for Sparky for a couple of nights. Now we have no idea what to do on our anniversary day in Wiltshire. The internet has no ideas apart from walking the village in which we will be staying, or a round of golf.

We are thinking of using our “pack of cards” exploratory method* to see what we find.

Meanwhile, searching for another occasion I found a wonderful dog-friendly hotel, but at a rather exorbitant cost. Maybe we’ll book it for our 50th anniversary in 2044?

*The “pack of cards” exploration method. Take a pack of cards. Deal them one at a time. A number card is the first turn, a picture card is the second turn. Red is left, black is right. Joker means go home (if you can find your way home!).

Sometimes we find interesting and fascinating places that would have remained undiscovered. Sometimes we go round in circles. Sometimes we end up on a dead-end cart track or in the middle of desolate woodland. But that’s what makes it fun.

A Friend Indeed!

Today I wish to pay tribute to a true gentleman.

Let me start the story from the beginning.  I own a large Japanese-made 4×4 vehicle.  It is 14 years old and beginning to show signs of age.  Back in August it was due for its MOT test (an annual roadworthiness check required in Britain).  This involved replacing a couple of suspension components.

The car has been serviced from new mainly by the dealership from which it was bought, but they closed their local-ish branch about 20 miles away, so the nearest dealer’s workshop is now around 60 miles away, so this involved two round trips of about 120 miles each.  Anyway, on the return trip I noticed the steering wheel was no longer aligned with the direction of travel.

I contacted the dealer who advised that if I took the car to a local garage they would pay for the work.   I had already decided that a combination of the distance and their poor attitude to customer service meant that I would not be going there again.  I booked the car in at our local friendly garage, but their premises were on fire on my appointed day!

A new booking was arranged for a couple of weeks later and sure enough, the tracking needed adjustment, both front and rear.  But the rear adjusters were rusted solid and had to be cut out.  Then it was discovered that one of the suspension arms is fractured.  There is no replacement part in the UK.  There is no replacement part in Europe.  It has to be ordered from Japan with a 5-week lead time.

Thus we are without the car for about 6 weeks.  Normally this would not be an issue because we have a second car, except that in the meantime we are booked to take the caravan away for a week’s “holiday” at an equestrian event. My wife’s car cannot tow.  We spent an evening researching alternatives:  towing companies, 4×4 hire, campervan hire, etc.

I quickly decided against paying about £800 to hire a Land Rover for 90 miles driving and 5 days sitting in a field.  Towing companies were not available, and most campervans/motorhomes were either not available, similarly expensive, or would not allow the dog.

My good lady spread the story amongst her Facebook friends and almost immediately we had a reply saying: “You shall go to the ball”.  This came from a chap who I would not call a close friend, but who I have known for several years.  He is a fellow re-enactor, not in my group, not even in the same army!  He is one of the most hard-working chaps at our events; always on the go and usually smiling.

Although in full time work and not (as far as I know) living in our area, he has volunteered to collect our caravan and tow it to the site midweek, returning the following Monday morning to take it home again.  This will involve two round trips of a minimum about 150 miles each, and he will do it for the cost of the fuel.  When we were refused permission to deliver the caravan earlier than the official campsite opening time, he just said “I can work around that.”

This man is our White Knight.  He has saved our holiday.  Some of my readers may recognise him from the description, but I will not name him publicly.

And it is just as well that earlier this year I cancelled my plans to take the car for a camping trip to Arnhem for a week in September!

Arnhem 75th Anniversary.

I am making plans to travel to Arnhem next September for the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.

My current plan is to camp near Arnhem on a “one man and his dog” basis, from 16th to 23rd September 2019, attending whatever commemorations we can get to and visiting the sites and museums.

But I wonder if any of my blog followers have a similar interest, and would be prepared to share a car and a tent (or even a caravan if finances allow) for a week on a shared cost basis with a curmudgeonly old git and an over-friendly dog.

If interested, please send an e-mail to greywhiskers@me.com with the title Arnhem75, and we can discuss options.

A weekend caravanning

We have just spent 5 days at the Blenheim Palace Horse Trials event.

This is Chrissy’s annual “chill-out”, away from work, watching horses and spending money on horsey stuff.

We take the caravan and pay an arm and a leg for “mains” electricity – the one time in the year when we do not have to monitor the battery and gas levels.

I do all the cooking and general housekeeping, including water supply, waste water and other effluent disposal.

The caravan toilet flushing system packed up on day 2, deciding to spread the required water across the washroom floor rather than into the toilet bowl, so we went back to “manual bucket flush” methodology for the weekend and used on-site facilities instead when practicable.

The weather was as usual.  Whatever you decide to wear in the morning is wrong by lunchtime when you are about 3 miles from “home”.

Our campsite organisers set a 1,000,000 steps challenge in aid of the event charity: “Dogs for Good”.  The charity representatives apparently did not know this.  25 campers took part and managed 1,003,500 steps as at 9:00 this morning.  

My personal total equated to around 22 miles walking about over the 4 days of the event, and I had one afternoon asleep!  Sparky, even if on a lead most of the time, probably did 25-30 miles.  He is exhausted, but happy to be home.

Overall, a pleasant weekend, but visitor numbers were well down on previous years, possible because so many “top name” riders were in America at the World Equestrian Games.  Many retailers were in dire straits due to lack of passing trade.

And I do wish that the concurrent attractions of the Royal Berks Show and “Colours” wargame show, both in Newbury, about 30 miles south of Blenheim Palace, would revert to their original dates so that I could enjoy them too.

The best laid plans – A trip “oop north”

On the Sunday and Monday of the English public holiday weekend (25th-27th August) the English Civil War Society mounted a battle display at Hylton Castle, Sunderland.
Since the camp site was available from Thursday 23rd to Wednesday 29th we decided to make it a holiday and see the sights. After all, the weather was wonderful and it is an area we have not previously explored.
And so we planned to set off from Hampshire early on Thursday 23rd and make a leisurely progress northwards, returning in the same way on Wednesday 29th.

Wednesday 22nd
Alas, Chrissy’s first day of holiday, planned for packing and preparation of the caravan, was annulled due to a subordinate’s illness, requiring her to go to the office to run the monthly payroll. Naturally, being in the office meant that she made herself available for every other work assignment and packing did not happen as planned.

Thursday 23rd
We packed the caravan and started off around two hours later than planned. All went well until we stopped for what passes for a meal at a motorway service area near Nottingham. Returning to the car we found one tyre flat.
We used the HGV facilities to pump it up and stopped at every second or third petrol station over the next 150 miles to check the tyre, which held up.
Arriving about three hours later than planned, we found that the campsite water supply had not yet been provided. An empty bowser was parked around 500m from the camp site. Plans were in hand to get it filled. The contract with the council was for a mains supply with three taps, but it was clearly lost in translation.
Our friends had saved us some “Spag-Bol” for dinner, after which we fought the caravan awning in the high westerly wind until it was erected. Then we returned to the water point for our supply, connected the barrels to the caravan and fell into bed, exhausted.

Friday 24th
As expected, the car tyre was flat again. We summoned the AA via their mobile phone app. About an hour later the mechanic called to say he was 200 yards away and needed talking into our temporary campsite. The app showed he was around 20 miles away at the time!
After we described the problem, he re-inflated the tyre and sent us off to Kwik-Fit tyre services around 15 minutes away. They found two small cuts in the tyre, either side of a previous repair. The tyre had to be scrapped. Unfortunately Kwik-Fit could only source a replacement about a week later and at a cost of around £200.
They sent us across the road where another garage was able to source a tyre immediately and fit it within 90 minutes at little over half the cost.
So with half the day wasted we did some shopping and returned to camp.

Saturday 25th
We made a trip north across the Tyne to a couple of camping shops in a vain attempt to source better and/or additional camping equipment, after which we stopped off for fish and chips (and a sausage for the dog) at the seaside.
Returning to camp we were told that our horses had arrived at the battle site four miles away.
Four of us drove to the site to find this was a false alarm, but also that an inadequate area had been fenced off for the horses, and we had to re-arrange and extend the 6ft x 6ft metal fence panels, before setting up an electric fence to keep the horses from different stables separated.
No water supply had been provided for the horses, so alternative arrangements were put in place involving ferrying 25 litre containers from the nearest tap around 500m away. This continued throughout the weekend.

Sunday 26th
Our caravan battery was registering low voltage, so I fired up the petrol generator (brought “just in case”) to top it up.
I played and supervised a few wargames played with my game designed to keep the kids amused, but which has grabbed the attention of some of the adults in our group. I lost at three of the four games I played.

The re-enactment battle started at 2:30 pm, and despite the driving rain proved to be a cracker from the cavalry point of view. The enemy cavalry, some of whom were drawn from a Scottish display team “Riders of the Storm”, were highly interactive and a good time was had by all. Our sponsors, Sunderland town council, were delighted.
After the battle, returning to camp we found that our caravan was without power, the newly charged battery now registering 0v. I installed the spare battery and all seemed well – so far.
In the evening a ceilidh band played at the beer tent until late.

Monday 27th
Off with the dead battery to Halfords, where we bought a solar panel charger for the caravan, and eventually had the dead battery checked, only to find it was registering a full charge.
Back to camp to get into C17th clothes for a cavalry drill and skill at arms display, for which I was providing the commentary. Not only did I have little clue about the planned display sequence but parts of it were carried out behind, from my commentator’s viewpoint, a large bush. It all went reasonably well, considering.
The afternoon battle was even better than Sunday’s version. Our biggest problem was crowd management. Thousands turned up and overflowed the designated viewing area.
Returning to camp some of our number had to depart for home almost immediately. Others prepared for an early departure on Tuesday, and then we sat and chatted around the camp fire.

Tuesday 28th
We awoke to reports of several thefts around the campsite. Our group’s gas range, a mountain bike, the beer pumps from the beer tent, and several other items had been taken. The police were called.
All except us from our group packed and left during the morning. We prepared to spend the afternoon at Beamish museum. Then we found that due to mis-communication most of the facilities had been or were being removed from site, and so with this and the security issues (our caravan now standing alone near the far edge of the field) we decided to go home.
So our leisurely drive home on Wednesday turned into an 8 hour slog home on Tuesday, arriving home around 10:30 pm. We transferred the food from the fridge and collapsed into bed.

Wednesday 29th
A day spent unloading, cleaning and preparing the caravan for our next trip to Blenheim Palace Horse Trials in a couple of weeks, where we will have real 240v electricity instead of gas and batteries.

We never really got to see the sights, but despite wind and rain and our technical issues we had a good break with good friends. Roll on next summer.