It seems I didn’t write a massive amount last year. The root cause of that is most likely my occasionally questionable mental health but let’s not dwell on that. I’m going to try and remedy that (both the writing and the mental health) in 2018 and we’ll kick off with putting some flesh on the bones of 2017. It seems a fair amount happened – although this is by no means exhaustive – so strap yourselves in for a long one! I think I’m finally getting my head around the GoPro, so there are a few more videos in this post, the one in the Trabi is probably my favorite.

From reading back through the site, I think we left off our general musings having just replaced the floor in the bus. Matt was up from Kent in June to celebrate his birthday and we tried a new site – Masham Old Station. Admittedly the main reason we were in Masham was to sample the wares of their two breweries, but we were really impressed with this site. The facilities are great, the pitches are flat, a decent size and for once we weren’t struggling to peg the awning out with lakeland rocks under the grass! The owners seemed very pleasant – although there must be something wrong with their judgement as they thought we were hilarious! It’s not a site where you want to go around contravening the site rules though – I get the feeling you might be subjected to a stern talking to if you do! And obviously, we had an awful time at the breweries (Theakston is still the best).

Good evening Berlin!

Ah, Berlin. Without doubt my favorite city. Brad and I were back there in June to see Depeche Mode at Olympiastadion for the third time. It was my 10th DM gig and there’s just something special about seeing them in Berlin. It seems everyone you speak to is going to the gig including the chaps at Trabi Safari. We’d done one of their tours last time we were over there in 2013 but had driven in separate cars. This time we’d decided to share the driving, partly because it would be more fun to share the experience, but also because Brad needed the moral support to get the Trabi out of second gear this time around – something he’d failed to manage four years previously! With the GoPro on board, what could go wrong in a car made out of recycled cotton and resin?!

In retrospect, August was a pretty busy (if a little chilly) month, kicking off with a trip up to the National Trust site at Great Langdale in the Lakes with Ginger Mat and Frenchy. Mat is not what you would call a fan of camping so the hope was that we could persuade him to change his mind. I’m not sure that happened, but it was a fun weekend all the same. The three of us had been at Headingley the night before to expose Frenchy to her first game of cricket (much gallic shrugging) and the plan was to head to Langdale via the Windermere ferry (another first for me), with a stop for lunch at the Black Bull in Coniston (therefore no stout for Jonny!). Everything was going fine until we were about to get on the Windermere ferry. It seems there is some kind of short in the ignition circuit because when I went to switch Clarence on before we boarded, the horn went off. No starting of the motor, just the horn going off. Which was more than a little embarrassing! The great thing with old Volkswagens in these circumstances is that occasionally a bit of logic pays off. I wondered whether disconnecting the horn might solve the problem – and it did! Which reminds me I need to get that fixed ahead of MOT time. The ferry was an interesting experience, although I’m not sure I’d be in a massive rush to do it again. Mainly because I love the road from Ambleside to Coniston so much! After a cracking lunch at the Black Bull (god that shepherd’s pie was good), we pitched up over at Langdale. At least I could have stout whilst we did that! Aside from the hike up to Stickle Tarn, which is always worth the pain, the highlight of the weekend could well have been beating the French One at pétanque, following a comeback of epic proportions. I am never going to let her forget that! It was also great to see my old Vango Hurricane Alpha in action again, even if it did scare me a little that it was 25 years since I had first slept in it at that very same campsite!

A couple of weeks later Clarence and I were back down at Edale in the Peak District catching up with Darryl and Jo and the Pageant 7. One of these days we’ll go there and it won’t hammer it down with rain the whole weekend! Mr Cooper was his usual lighthearted self of course……… Comedy highlight of the weekend was listening to a very middle class dad trying to explain to his young daughter what the “no sheep til Buxton” graffiti on the toilet door meant!

Mid-life crisis? What mid-life crisis?

If some people are to be believed, my mid-life crisis began around 6 or 7 years ago. The truth is I’m just a bit odd. Anyway, I always wanted to get tattooed, but the pain was always the issue. That was primarily as a result of an interview I ready with the boxer Nigel Benn 20ish years ago. When asked about the enormous sun he’d had done on his back he added that he had planned to get it coloured in but the pain from the line work was so bad that he didn’t bother. And this was a man that got punched very hard in the face for a living! In addition to the pain thing I was acutely aware that a tattoo is permanent, so subject matter was super important. The other key thing in all this was to find the right person to take my tattoo cherry. So back in August, I hired myself a Ford Fiesta for a couple of days (it was really very good) and headed down to Brighton to put myself in the hands of Lou at Death’s Door Tattoos. Moderation being my middle name, I hadn’t just decided to get my first tattoo, but my first three tattoos! We kicked off with the Violator rose at the top of my left arm (I’ve been listening to that album for over 20 years so I’m hardly going to go off it, am I?) and the pain wasn’t actually that bad. The same couldn’t be said about the Heartskull I was having on my chest however. Whilst we’d been chatting away during the rose (Lou and her other half have a bus) – I went rather quiet during this one. Let’s just say I won’t be in a huge rush to have another tattoo on my chest! And not just because shaving your chest is weird (which it is). A quick break for lunch and then it was time for the Metallica ninja star on my right arm before heading back up north.

I’d taken the week off work for the trip to Brighton and it was only a few days after that that Clarence and I were heading back down south for Lizzie’s christening near Cambridge. Having spent the Friday night at my old buddy Oli’s in Soham, the following day we tootled across to IWM Duxford before pitching up for the night at a site just outside of Melbourn. Duxford is awesome, with the highlights being a wander through a Concorde and watching an old Spitfire flying across the summer skies. The site we stayed at was actually in an orchard behind a garden centre! My only issue with it was the lack of hot water in the washing up area, but other than that it was great, with decent size pitches and for very little money.

Clarence had seen a fair bit of use over the summer so it was only right that I took the bug up to the Lakes a few weeks later for a 4 night stay at the Black Bull in Coniston. We certainly had a better run up there than the folks, but that’s another story. I’m fairly confident that the soundtrack in the bug was significantly better than whatever they were listening to! It was great to get the chance to meet Ian Bradley, the brains behind the Coniston Brewing Company. He’s a super bloke and he seemed to take a shine to the bug. I can’t wait to get back there in February to celebrate my birthday with the two Matts. January has been booze free thus far, so I am going to be very thirsty by the time we get up there!

Like August, October was a busy month. Not only was there the trip to Coniston, Darryl and Jo popped up to Leeds and then there was the NFL. I don’t remember much of the latter half of the first game I went to with Oli, but at the end of the month I was back at the Woodley Waldorf visiting the Paynes for another trip to Twickenham. But first, there was the matter of a run out in our old pal Carlos to enjoy. The video speaks a thousand words about what it’s like living with a seriously low Volkswagen! He might have taken a whack on the undercarriage (not a euphemism) but at least I managed to emotionally blackmail Brad into giving him a wash and a buff.

We managed to get the bus through its MOT with the old steering box again, but I don’t think we’ll be so lucky this year. So back in November I took advantage of VW Heritage’s Black Friday deal and ordered myself a new box with a healthy 24% off. Sadly it was, and still is at the time of writing, out of stock so Clarence is still waiting for play free steering. LHD steering boxes for early bays are like hen’s teeth so we had to go for a later box and the lads at the Herbie Hospital will need to do a slight amount of fabrication work to get that to fit. Ideally that needs to happen before the beginning of March. Talking of bits and pieces getting fixed, throughout this year I’ve had to buy a new headlamp for the bug (the other one fell out on a roundabout!) and I’ve added some LED lighting in Clarence. I’m rather pleased how that turned out. I think the only other bits we’ve done are to rewire the front speakers on the bug and the rears on the bus. That was a job I really should have done when I had everything out to relay the floor, but hey, you know how it is.

That brings us into December. I couldn’t face walking to the dentist through Briggate on a Saturday two weeks before Christmas so decided I’d take the bug. The lovely Dr Katie worked her magic and whilst I couldn’t feel half of the front of my face I figured it would be a nice quick run home. Sadly I was wrong. It was freezing that day and I guessed that the reason that the battery was flat was because it had been out in sub zero temperatures for almost two hours. It was an old battery after all, and the bug had started immediately once the recovery dude had attached a battery pack to it. So I bought myself a lovely new Bosch battery to replace it – the same as the one I stuck in the bus last year in fact. Now you might think that that would be the end of it – I certainly did. As we know though, things are never straightforward with an old Volkswagen! Jim was up for New Year and the forecast was good for New Year’s Eve so we thought it would be fun to have a run out together – the first time we’d been in convoy for best part of twenty years. And we had a smashing time! At least we did until we stopped to get him some fuel at a petrol station not too far from his mum and dad’s when, you guessed it, Betty wouldn’t start because her battery was flat! After a call to the main man Ron, we had some jump leads in hand and were soon back up an running. The irony of having to get a jump start from a car that’s been in the garage for the last twenty years was not lost on me………

So early in the New Year the bug was back at the Herbie Hospital. It turns out that the problem was caused by the generator light having popped out of the back of the speedo. As that’s part of the charging circuit itself, it meant that the circuit was broken and therefore there was no charging foing on. Nor would the light come on to indicate there was no charge. So as it was a nice cheap fix she was treated to a well overdue service and a few days later we did a good 130 mile round trip up to Filey for the afternoon. It’s been a while since I’ve been up to the coast and it was a perfect day for it. Good for the soul, as they say.

And talking of things being good for the soul it’s only two weeks until we head back to the Lakes on my birthday, which also happens to be the anniversary of picking Clarence up. We’ll be doing part of that same journey in reverse as I think it might be slightly faster to take the motorway rather than the scenic route. Great beer, great company, and a spot of rambling – I cannot wait!

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