Archive | January, 2017

Wrong turn? A topical comment

31 Jan


Just had another enjoyable and memorable long weekend in London. Decided that the best route for us is definitely taking the M40 motorway between Birmingham and West London in order to get to South East London. Worst bit is the south circular but far better than M1, M25 anticlockwise ” over the top” to Dartford crossing.

Above is a stupid and visually confusing motorway sign which I could not resist including here. Somebody got paid to design this. I admit though that I can also be very stupid at times. On the way down, making excellent time, unhindered by traffic or other obstacle we were set to arrive in good time. Until, I lost focus leaving the Oxford services and went North (!) not South. A twenty mile detour incurred . Do not pass GO, do Not collect £200. What a plonker!


About half a day was spent in enjoyable fashion, practicing for the Bow Top caravan build. (see my other Blog, details at the top of home page.) We built a child’s playhouse similar to the one shown here. It arrived , missing the screw, nail and fittings pack. So , in order to get it ready for the big birthday. ( ” I am Big , grandad, not two!”), a trip to B&Q had to be made. Well made, it was a huge success with adults being invited in and kicked out in sequence, despite the 50 kg limit which I exceeded easily.


Then, on the morning of the big day, a call from my son had me driving the short distance to help swap his car battery. Stupid move made again, as I had forgotten to replace my decent tool set in the campervan prior to the trip. My smaller bits and bobs were not strong enough to remove the 12mm set pin holding the battery. Another trip to Screwfix to pick up a half inch drive hexagon socket sorted that problem and we were soon back in action with the little Aygo. Tried to get my son to commit to buying a replica of the 2017 WRC Toyota Yaris Rally Car. All I managed to achieve, was to get him to watch the Monte Carlo Rally on catch up , CH5.  see below for more petrolhead comment.


The birthday party went very well indeed. Diet forgotten for a moment and great fun was had. The return trip came around far too quickly and we were soon back home with daily chores to look forward too. Fuel consumption was very poor on this trip. A head wind on the way down and 70 mph cruising gave us a sub 40 mpg reading and we refilled the tank before getting home, which is unheard of previously. Just shows what a head wind can do.


The years flash by. It’s Burn’s Night again

25 Jan


Burn’s night always brings back happy memories of past celebrations. I once had a Scottish boss who generously , each year, threw a party for our team which had a strong representation from our Scottish colleagues. Wonderful !

It also reminds me of my many previous Scottish trips. For example to Loch Goil and on another occasion, a trip to Skye.Then there was Aviemore, Sterling, Dundee…………….


Robert Burns is linked with Haggis due to his poem about this famous delicacy.

see    recipes at

For our Scottish readers, please take this next picture as it is intended. A Joke.


Being  close to the Welsh borders and having very outspoken friends , many who style themselves on Piers Morgan (!!!!!!!!!)   It is usually the Welsh linked with Sheep related jokes . No offence I hope. I laugh at the fattest jokes and shortest jokes aimed at me………..

I shall certainly be eating Haggis myself today and boring my wife with badly pronounced renditions of Robert Burns. Especially after a couple of Smokey Black Grouse drams…..   Here’s one I made earlier:

scottish breakfast  Complete with broken yolk and scruffy plating up!

Today’s version may be totally different. I have a turnip and potatoes fresh in. A smaller plate would not hurt either……….

Cannot wait for our next trip to Scotland. Will we manage the NC500 this year?

lochgoilheadnuclear submarine HMS Triumph on the river Clydenc500-map

STOP PRESS !  Look what’s just appeared in my email:


With my mate Martin’s comment:”Some of us are STILL on dry January but I don’t grudge you English boys a wee dram of SMOKEY whatever your havin. Enjoy your Haggis and black puddin wae champit mash and a wee dod oh tumshie !!!!! CHEERS from the northern end oah I’m gaggin for a wee goldie branch…ahahahahahaha.”

How nice is that! Better have an extra glass of Whisky on Martin’s behalf. Perhaps one for Libby too  and ….


A wonderful fresh interest in Rallying

24 Jan


Three decades ago, what, in my opinion, was the pinnacle of World Rallying, Group B, came to an abrupt end. My long interest , nay , obsession, in Rallying began to wane. The cars became shadows of their former selves. The sound of monstrous, 500 + bhp engines, echoing around the forests  was lost.

But last night, by chance, as I was publishing the post below, about Classic Micro Fiat motorhomes, I came across the first round of the 2017 WRC ., the Monte Carlo Rally on Channel 5. Oh my word!  The Monte has always been amongst my favourite rounds. It kicks off the Rallying season, blasts away the Christmas holiday blues and gives the enthusiast something to look forward to. A couple of times, although I have never attended the Monte, I have been drawn on impulse to head for the beauty of the South of France. I have been by small motor car (Mazda 323… remember the Mazda 323 Rally Challenge Series?) and by motorcycle. I have even written short books about these experiences, some of which may surprise and even shock you. (Clue: did you see Apple Tree Yard at the weekend?)

Getting to the point, the cars for 2017 have changed a lot.

I believe , after seeing last night’s footage, it heralds a new era of truly exciting motorsport. Below I comment further and make some comparison with the old Group B. I hope you enjoy this little diversion.


Sebastien Ogier relaxes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2012 in Loutraki, Greece on May 24th, 2012 // Gepa Pictures/McKlein/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20120525-00104 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

Sebastien Ogier relaxes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2012

The FIA relaxed the rules for 2017, allowing lighter cars than previously, down 25 kg from 1230 kg plus more power, up from 320 bhp to around 380 bhp. This was mainly achieved by increasing the turbo restrictor diameter by just 3 mm on these 1600 cc engines.

ott-tanak  Ott Tanak.

Perhaps the most obvious changes are the visual appearance. Wider bodied with cooling ducts for brakes plus more aerodynamic aids to increase downforce. Many of the modifications appear to be taken almost directly from Formula 1 car experience. Rear wings have grown since 2016.Stunning ! Expect a lot more damage (?) to the underskirts particularly with the appalling surfaces they race on in the forests, especially once cut up by previous stage runners.

They are beginning to look a lot more like the old Group B cars.

audi-quattro-group-b Compare to this Audi Quattro. First time out it won by something like 8 to 9 minutes from it’s nearest rival.

One of my previously hotly tipped young drivers, finally found a confirmed drive with his old co-driver at M-Sport Ford. Yes, Elfyn Evans is back where he deserves. His team, lead by the familiar Malcolm Wilson ( who had driven Group B cars himself) also pulled a huge plus by employing Sebastion Ogier after VW pulled out after a very successful , 4 year dominance of the WRC. M-Sports also have the skillful Ott Tanak, driving for them.

2014 World Rally Championship / Round 06 /  Rally Italia Sardegna // Worldwide Copyright: McKlein

Elfyn Evans. I remember his dad, Gwyndaf Evans. Like father like son. Well done, lad.

see  Gwyndaf at the Manx rally


The Monte saw Ford take first place with Ogier in his Fiesta and third place with Tanak in his, despite engine issues causing a loss in power. With the very icy conditions, this did not have such a major impact on stage times as it would on dry tarmac, but what an achievement ! Sixth place went to Elfyn Evans. An incredible result first time out.That’s a Fiesta way above. Don’t mistake it for the Fiat  Fiesta micro motorhome in the post below. Not much chance of that.  But please have a look anyway.

Post-production : Astuce Productions

Citroen have wheeled out the new C3 and Toyota  have returned too. Post-production : Astuce Productions

Toyota, who years ago , got disqualified, in disgrace, for fitting illegal, larger diameter restrictors outside of the then reulations, returned to rallying, I am very pleased to say, with their Yaris. This is a very spectacular looking car in my opinion. Wow ! Jari-Matti Latvala took his to second place. Obviously more to come from Latvala and Toyota. I see a long fight ahead on the WRC stages this year. The Hyundai i20 of Thiery Neuville also looks to be a big contender.


Jari-Matti Latvala has had a few “offs” in the past see

I did some “fag packet” calculations and the new 2017 cars compare very well with the old Group B cars.

Group B cars had some 500 bhp vs 2017 WRC 380 bhp but weights were different. If my calcs are correct then the new 2017 cars carry just 8 lbs per horsepower whilst the Group B cars carried a little more porkiness being 9.77 lbs per horsepower.I know that is not a conventional way to compare power to weight ratio but you get the picture. We appear to be firmly back in “Group B” territory. Yeah !

No wonder 2017 looks to be a year to look forward to.

Sadly, a spectator struck on Stage 1 when a car slid off the track, died in hospital despite being helicoptered out. A dreadful thing to happen. Our hearts go out to friends and family. It is truly saddening.

Classic Fiat Motor Caravans. A decision made in the late 1970s

23 Jan


When my wife’s Uncle Jack died, being a bit of a hoarder, he left a file containing history of his motor caravan purchases. His first buy was selected from the copies of the brochures pictured here. His first purchase may have been a low roof model, later changing around 1983 for a Pandora


Knowing Jack very well, having spent three decades sitting with him chatting for a couple of hours before he ate his Sunday lunch we had prepared for him, he was a meticulous planner and deep thinker. He must have spent hours carefully going through the varying features and benefits of each of these models from Autohomes, Danbury and MCC of Hockliffe, Bedfordshire before purchasing his first venture into motor caravanning.

autohomes-pandoraautohomes-pandora-p2autohomes-pandora-p3autohomes-pandora-p4 Judging by the focus on the Pandora and if my memory serves me right, it was one of these that Jack and his wife settled on after their first trial purchase. They also studied the Fiat conversions from MCC:

fiat-motorhomes-p1jpgfiat-motorhomes-p2-farinafiat-motorhomes-p3-fiestafiat-motorhomes-p4Model names like the Farina and Fiesta with “Spacemaker” and “Lowline” roof systems. Anyone remember these? A low mileage 1983 900e model Pandora 4 berth sold recently on eBay for over £10,500. Jack’s records show that his choice of Pandora ranged from a pencilled in £6,650 to £6,991 so that’s an appreciating motor caravan if you can keep away the dreaded rustworm. Except for the fact that a pound today is probably only worth around a quarter of what it was then or even less. Jack’s research extended further into the Fiat base vehicle. The Fiat Citivan as it was known here in the UK.

It is worth clicking on and zooming in on the pictures. For example, the Citivan boasted of 34 bhp ! and “fully painted bodywork!”. Well, that’s a relief……… Compare that to my NV200 with 110ps and 6 sp box. The Pandora couldn’t have set the tarmac alight could it?

fioreno-p1citivan-p3citivan-p5fiat-citivan-p1fiat-citivan-p2The brochure covers the Fioreno, 127 based van plus the Citivan shown here. It started off with an 850 cc engine which grew into the 900 e version. The brochure from Fiat follows their 1970s standard, “British Racing Green ” cover. I have a matching version for the Mk I Fiat X19 that I was fortunate enough to buy soon after we married.

Jack and his wife journeyed far and wide in their little Fiat. Certainly Cornwall, many many times before they moved onto larger Fiat Ducato based van conversions. They had two versions of Citivan conversions, I believe and two Ducato based Autohomes branded motor caravans. Jack was delighted when I bought a Minnie Winnie and then an Autohomes Talbot Excalibur. I think he would have preferred to have seen us in a Fiat though.

Another trip to Bygone Times

22 Jan


This is the Leeds-Liverpool canal near Chorley. It’s not far from Bygone Times at The Green, Eccleston in Lancashire.


It’s a very large building. It used to be a mill, making Rayon at one point. I encountered an elderly chap coming towards me in one of the narrower walkways (no, he was not one of the famous Ghosts). We had a laugh about the loudspeaker announcement that “Thursday is Pensioner’s special offer day in the Cafe.” I mentioned Amanda Holden but he was more of a Joan Collins fan………….

He then looked me in the eye and made an announcement himself . ” I have never seen so much ……….. in one place before” he whispered, before sliding past me , swinging his walking sticks.

Admittedly, there is quite a stock of some rather mundane “car boot” type stuff on sale but that depends on your tastes. There is also considerable material to keep you browsing for hours. Like these evocative Lancashire clogs for example.


As a wet behind the ears newcomer,  I used to work with a bloke who had many interesting and often very  politically incorrect , terms of phrase. His openly spouted nicknames for the staff working with him were literally appalling ! Bigger than normal ears?:-   “Wingnut”.    A man named Eric:-  ” Irke” as in Irkesome, meaning irritating or grating. How to make friends and influence people!!!!  Believe me, he had much worse. Unprintable here!

He would set  me some ridiculous inane task and send me off on some wild mission, with a shouted “Rattle your clogs !” or  “get your clogs sparking !”

The soles of these clogs were nailed on and these made distinctive noise as you walked. You could probably actually make them spark on flinty stone surfaces? I never wore these by the way. It’s just that they reminded me of those comments ringing in my wingnuts.

A light bulb idea from a dull, misty day in the hills of Salop.

18 Jan


We have been doing the usual days out to Antiques shops in Congleton, Wrexham, Oswestry and latterly, Church Stretton in Salop (now Shropshire officially)

On the way to Church Stretton we passed , as usual, over the slow moving River Severn at Shrewsbury. We often comment how nice it would be to be floating down the river towards Upton on Severn and the Red Lion Pub caravan site where we have stayed a few times.

Despite the very atmospheric , rolling mist coming off the Shropshire Hills, it did occur to me that this would be a real possibility. My brother recently bought a top end, inflatable canoe for use in France. He’s not far from the Tarn Gorge , for example. Perfect for canoe or kayak. Canoes can be hired from Pool Quay near Welshpool and the Severn offers around 130 miles of navigable route. One chap, Kevin Brady recently SWAM  220 miles of the Severn.


Quite an achievement ! To say the least. With the correct logistics, you could canoe a stretch each day and meet back up with the campervan at pre-arranged campsites near the River.


Motorised river traffic gets busy as you get further downstream and tidal near Gloucester. Best avoid the Severn Bore in a touring canoe with weak upper body strength!

Before we had the kids, I used to kayak on the local canal , around Stone , Trentham and Stafford but never braved any white water. Fair weather biker, fair weather canoeing.(Not entirely true. I did 1000s of very wet miles on one motorbike trip to France alone. Amazon book coming shortly but that’s another story)

Once, in France, whilst walking along the River Garonne near our camped up Trigano Tribute, we came across a chap struggling to put a canoe back on top of his car. In French, he asked me to help and for a short while we chatted in French. I thought that he had a strange accent. Lot et Garonne dialect , methinks. Then, in English, he said “are you English?”. ” Yes” says I.    ” So am I !”  says he.  Allo Allo !

The campsite there had a rather worrying “Emergency Flood Escape Route” away from the massive Garonne. Gulp ! I’m putting myself off already.


Desperate to get away for an active break

15 Jan


It’s that time of year. Post Christmas days when it hardly gets light. Dull, damp and dismal. Now into my third week of cold viruses. I think that I have had two in sequence. I wish they would sequence “dance off” to “Strictly”

Remember Jasper Carrot’s song, “When I get my moped back on the road I’m going to ride, ride, ride” ? Well, when I cast off these little weird bits of cellular misery, I am definitely heading off with caravan in tow to somewhere pleasant where good pub food abounds and decent walking is to be had. Likely to be Cornwall or possibly North Wales. Where would you go for your first camping break? Here’s 2 enticing pics:


A nice place to eat. Not sure where it is. It just looks …… nice!


The UKcampsite website, as always, has some great suggestions and reviews  see

but I recently came across this website with campsites listed within on mile of a beach


Like thousands of others , we are currently also trying to cut down and lose weight. I have to look good in my little page boy outfit for that forthcoming wedding. Don’t want to look like a “Cranky” ! Hence, decent length walks during the day to pay for a sensible pub meal or caravan home cooked meal at night. A decent DVD., feet up, heating on and get ready for the next day’s walking. Oh yeah !

Practice what you preach

9 Jan


Braving the last of man flu symptoms, we took our Puss cat for his MOT test today. He was very nervous in his pet carrier and I slowly drove out of the village. The kids were all pouring out of school and the pavement heaving with eager young people, keen to get home to their broadband, game machines and so on.

So, bearing in mind my recent punishment for loss of focus (speeding in a 30 mph limit) I was using 3rd gear and keeping within the urban speed limit.

A very irate mum, driving a huge and expensive looking 4 x 4 came up behind me, blissfully unaware of the hordes of kids marching home through the rain. Flashing her  headlights made no difference and I stuck to 30mph. As we passed the secondary school, she swung off to the right, cutting the corner and screached to a halt to pick up her own kids!





Perhaps she would drive more carefully if we put up more Ducks Crossing signs in addition to the one we already have. Kids? What do they matter…………………

A rare trip overseas

8 Jan


Wherever else we go this year, this one’s a cert. Cape Cod , Massatchusetts  just south of Boston, on the eastern coast of the USA for my son’s wedding to a very pretty American lady!

I have already ridden a half hour’s bike trip alongside the Cape Cod canal using YouTube, my exercise bike and my laptop. I  am looking forward to the real thing! It should be a wonderful and memorable event. I love seafood, which abounds in Cape Cod. The wedding itself will be an introduction to American culture. With family from Irish and Italian stock, it’s going to be fun. We cannot wait.

After the wedding, the plan is now to possibly travel North to Canada, my deceased Father’s homeland, to Nova Scotia. My son in law is keen to hire an RV each to enjoy the peninsula and Islands of this lovely scenic region.


My daughter did a fabulous job of 2016’s trip to Scotland and I am hoping that she will again rise to the task and organise 2017’s special trip overseas. An RV will cost around $1000 per week plus fuel etc. What a way to see the best that Nova Scotia has to offer. One of my former Teachers once said that it was the most beautiful place that he had ever seen. It cannot have changed much in all that time can it?

rv-rentaljpg  We were lucky enough to own a 24 ft Minnie Winnie when the kids were small and we ran our own business. Back then these monsters were cheap. 4, yes , 4 US Dollars to one pound sterling ! Have not seen that in a while !These big coachbuilts are easy to drive with light controls and automatic gearbox. very smooth, quiet and surprisingly swift. The V8 engine on ours sounded like a jet engine whirring away deep beneath the front seats. I must have posted before about only achieving 7 mpg though, in very windy, wintery conditions near Locherbie one November’s night whilst RAC Rally watching? Usually it would manage about 14 mpg. Not a big issue when paying North American fuel prices.

I would not be doing my Blog justice if we did not go ahead with this, now, would I?

Yogi Bear

“What’s in the Pic-a-Nic Basket ? Boo Boo”

Whose been a naughty boy then?

6 Jan

speed-detection   Today, I attended a “Speed Awareness Course” run by Staffordshire County Council.

Some time ago, I was driving along a local road, near the edge of town, which I drive almost daily. I always use my Sat Nav sited close to my face to watch my speed, monitor the speed limit (keep it all updated dude……) and check my speed as judged by the satellites. (Usually more accurate than your speedo, I am told.) My speedo seems to read around 2 mph slow at 70 mph.

I honestly, normally adhere rigidly to all speed limits. I am retired and usually don’t have to rush around and would hate to run a child over or hurt anyone. So , I stick to the speed limit. However, I lost focus on the way home from carrying out some house maintenance and was thinking about the next phases of the job (replacing an external staircase to a flat). I did not even see the Speed Camera, NO ! Get it right! The Safety Camera Van until it had picked up my speed at 37 mph. It’s a fair cop gov’., I’ll come quietly!

T’is only the 3 rd speeding offence in over 44 years of driving. On each of the previous two occasions, I had 3 points which were added and then removed from my licence after the prescribed 5 year (?) period.

westport-lake-visitor-centre So, today, still suffering from the final symptoms of a winter cold, I made my way, with plenty of time in hand to Westport Lake Visitor Centre in the Potteries. It’s well worth a look.

westport-lake-landscape    Instead of a £100 fine plus 3 points on my licence for doing 37 mph in a 30 mph limit, I decided to pay an £80 “fee” and attend the Speed Awareness Course offered in it’s place.

There were 20 people attending. One chap turned up beyond the lateness cutoff point and was sent away. Possibly with 3 points and option removed?

The course was punctually run and run well! For me and from the feedback I heard from the others, it was wortbwhile and a good alternative. Four hours of discussion and interesting, amusingly given and non-reprimanding, educational info. If this happens to you, I would urge you to consider the option seriously.

Has the course worked for me?  Yes. I am going to use 3 rd gear in 30 mph zones. I am going to use just my Sat Nav to moniitor the local speed limit and my speed and try to eliminate loss of focus and distraction.I have to stop flicking from the main speedo and the Sat Nav. Quiet, soothing mood music may help  me stay calmer too !

I have also returned “Stewie”, my radar detector, to his place on my dashboard. Honest, officer, it’s not actually in use……………..

To illustrate “Stewie’s” purpose:          A friend asks if my neighbours are honest. “They certainly are” I reply. “Then why the shotgun leaning against your log store?” asks the friend. ” That’s to keep ’em honest!”   says I.