Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Have you thanked your beach today?


A few weeks ago we spent an amazing weekend camper vanning in Cornwall. The sun shone and we had a lovely time. We had planned to head for Eden to show our kids a marvel of our world but instead we ended up at a tiny beach not far from Mevagissey. We made camp and cooked up home made lamb and mint burgers in the van (much to the envy of our neighbours) and then splashed out on a Cornish ice cream. Oh how we live! The beach was stunning but, like many other beaches on our coast, it had its fair share of rubbish. Some would have floated in from the sea, some left by holidaymakers, some lost by the fishing fleet. All of it damages the marine environment in some way or other. If it's plastic it will never go away. It'll just break down into smaller and smaller pieces.
On the way home we went to Gweek Seal Sanctuary near Helston. The kids loved it. Seeing the seals was a real thrill. Then they noticed this one. You can see the scar on its neck. We asked one of the keepers what had happened to it. Apparently this young seal was found in a very bad way with a fishing net around his neck. The net, discarded or lost, was still doing its work, long after being separated from its owner. It's called ghost fishing.
There's a point to be made here isn't there? It's quite simple I think. If you enjoyed a day out somewhere, anywhere, it wouldn't be too hard to take a piece of someone else's litter home with you. You could easily dispose of it or, better still recycle it. A bottle, a bag, an aluminium can, a piece of fishing net. Think of it as a small 'thank you' to the beach for giving you a nice day. To a seal like this one, it could mean a lot more than that.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Long hair. Bare feet. And a band called Reef.

Friday was supposed to be all about the future but somehow it ended up being all about the past. I was in London for a few Camper Van Cookbook meetings. I had the chance for a cup of tea and catch up with my editor, Elizabeth. A lovely day, discussing all kinds of things, most of which has yet to come.

Once all the businessy bits (if that's what you could call anything to do with The Camper van Cookbook) were over I schlepped off to Shepherd’s Bush to see a band whose music I haven’t listened to for a very long time. They split some time ago and, until this reunion tour, hadn’t played live in seven years. Having never seen them live I couldn’t believe my luck in nabbing two 'golden' tickets for the sell out gig.

There is something about Reef’s music that makes you want to kick off your shoes, grow your hair and disappear off for the summer. It’s got swagger and soul in equal measures. But it’s not about sticking your fingers up at the world. It’s not angry. The swagger comes from good times. It’s music that can make your day. There was a time - when I was working away on a long and difficult project - that I listened to Reef every morning. It woke me up and got me through. I have a lot to thank Reef for.

My relationship with Reef has always been good. So when they came out on stage yesterday I was transported back to the times when it rarely came off the stereo. Back to surf trips, barbecues, beach fires and home made camper conversions. Being barefoot all summer. You know the feeling?

I was taken back to Speke’s on sunny summer days, sitting in the channel at Marsland hooting another late drop, surfing the morning glass, camping out at Duckies under the stars, smacking the lip of a clean four foot wave, drinking in Welcombe, driving to the coast, travelling, making a legend out of breakfast.

It was always worth putting in the hours for. And things haven’t changed that much really, have they? Every moment I spend in my camper van these days is worth the effort too. OK, so some of us have got a little bigger and slower and have less hair than we used to. Perhaps a bit more responsibility too. But most of my friends can still pass off a decent cutback and still get to take their shoes off every so often. Do you? If you don't then you should ask yourself why. You could do worse than stick Reef on the stereo, fire up the van and cancel that appointment at the barber.

REEF: 10/10 for Jack and the boys.

AUDIENCE: 10/10 for the dads who think they can still rock.









Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Time is running out for the moules


Ever heard the saying that you should only eat mussels when there is an 'r' in the month? If you believe this then you should be jumping in the van and dashing to the coast next week with your foraging bucket and a tide table. With spring tides all week exposing the juiciest mussels at low water, there could be a moule fest. It'll be the last chance to nab a free feast before September.
But why? Depending on who you talk to, the reason behind avoiding seafood in summer is either about the spawning season or water temperature. One side says it's to do with the fact that bivalves reproduce in summer and don't taste so great, the other says that algal blooms in warm summer waters can make seafood toxic. For me, the jury's out on the latter because the sea temperature won't start to really warm up until late June or July (It is currently a very balmy 9 degrees centigrade in North Devon. Brrr.) and will stay warm-ish until October or November. Although I'm not disputing the fact that certain algae can render your seafood inedible.
There may not even be any truth in the idea that spawning spoils the tase of a mussel but it is widely accepted that Oysters aren't at their best when they are reproducing. I've never eaten foraged mussels in May, June, July or August so I couldn't say the same is true for my delicious little friends. But I do think that we should leave them be for a few months. We should allow them to get on with their thing. It's summer. Love is in the air. Let them make all the babies they want to. It means the population will stay healthy. And we can enjoy them again when September comes around.
So we'll be off to the beach next week. We'll be picking like mad things. And then we'll steam them in a little white wine and cream and wolf them down with a thick slice of crusty bread and creamy Devon butter. Yum! Wanna come?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Going anywhere nice this year?


What do you call yours? Is your van a Rusty or a Humphrey or a Hector or a Hattie? Or are you just a 'don't be silly it's only a van' kind of a camper van owner? Some people are you know. They either never get around to naming their vans or just don't think that vehicles should have names. I'm all for names myself but I do think that the name you choose should mean something. You shouldn't be able to call your van something that either doesn't fit or has no relevance. And just because it sounds cute and your van is cute doesn't wash. If it's yellow you can call it Buttercup. Or if it's painted like a cow. But that's it. My van, Pootle, was so named because he pootles along. There's nothing flash about him and he hasn't overtaken anything for a few years, so Pootle is perfect. It's a Sunday driving kind of a name, with a pom-pom-pom-diddly-om-pom-pom thrown in for good measure.


I used to have a theory that all camper van owners should call their vans after the first place they broke down. The logic was that it would stop you going anywhere crap in that delightful honeymoon period between ecstatic parting of the cash and ringing the AA. And that would improve your life no end. Instead of driving along wondering what that rattle was, you'd spend more time taking the van to places with cool sounding names - just in case.


Camper vans weren't put on this earth to take you to Tescos. Camper vans weren't built to go to Leatherhead. They were made for exploring exciting places with exotic names. So if you've had the misfortune of going to Ipswich or Pizza Hut and have conked out in the car park, that's your own tough luck. You'll be stuck with it forever.


So much better to part with the cash and head somewhere great. Get out the map and drive to a place that sounds absolutely wonderful. It might just be. And don't break down before you get there. Plan your route. Make sure you don't pass through East Grinsted on the way to the ferry.


Sunday, 18 April 2010

Clear skies, starry nights and Simon Cowell


I went out last night. Yes thanks, it was ok. But I did end up in the middle of nowhere, walking between two isolated North Devon hamlets in the wee hours. Admittedly I was buzzing a bit from the boozing, but it was still a great time to be alive. The night was clean, clear and cool. Without a torch, street lights or night vision capabilities I had to walk along the white lines in the middle of the road to keep myself from stumbling into hedges or disappearing into ditches. It’s really dark out there. Surprisingly, it isn’t totally black. Far from it. As my eyes got used to the light conditions, I saw more stars than I think have ever seen before. I was astonished. The night sky is an amazing place. I don’t know if the closing of our airspace had anything to do with it, whether I just don’t look up enough or if I was feeling a little wide eyed and wonderful, but there was so much to see. I was mesmerised. I saw my own star sign, Scorpio, perhaps for the first time. I could see the bear, the plough and a few of the other well known constellations. Beyond that though, I was lost. If only I knew more.
It would be amazing to be able to look up at the sky and read it like a book. It’d be brilliant to know that you only have to raise your eyes to the heavens to read stories or work out where you are. I think it’d be pretty humbling too: to be faced by the vastness of the universe every night. Just like they did before they had telly or the internet. You’d feel tiny wouldn’t you? It’d make a nice change from feeling like your dream could come true if only Simon Cowell could see you dance.
So why not? Next time you’re camper vanning and find yourself in the middle of nowhere with half a bottle of wine inside you, lie on your back and stare up at the night sky. Turn your back on planes, light pollution, torches, telly, cars, sat nav and the internet for a while and be inspired by something wonderful.
Someday, when they switch off the electricity, the planes can’t fly anymore and books and maps are banned, you might even be able to find your way home. And you don’t even need a subscription to see it.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Where have you been camping? The Eighties?



Do you ever get the feeling that you're stuck in a time warp? I do. It even affects the way I take photos. But then, when the results are this good, who cares? This weekend my family and I took our beloved camper, Pootle, for the first camping trip of the season. As soon as the sun came out we packed him up with food, duvets and wine and spluttered off for Stithians Lake in Cornwall.

If we'd bought a modern camper we'd have been there before the sun set but, seeing as Pootle is a 1981 VW T25 with a top speed of about 65-ish, we got there with just enough light to throw up a tent, plug in the electric and cook some easy camper van nosh. (In case you were wondering it was the pasta with artichokes, olives and mozarella. D-lish.)

So why do we do it? Why drive a classic VW? Why bother with no mod cons? We don't have to. We don't have to stand at the side of the road waiting for the AA. We don't have to wait nervously for the MOT. We don't have to pootle along if we don't have to. But we do. And we love it.

Because you can't go fast. That's why. Because you couldn't hurry if you tried. And that means you can stop and admire the view along the way, which was lovely. So it didn't matter that we arrived after dark. Cornwall was there when we woke up in the morning.

CAMPSITE: Camping at the Golden Lion Inn, Stithians, Cornwall.
RATING: 7/10 Excellent pub, lovely lake, nice quiet campsite.