Monday, 16 May 2011

Why do we do it? Because life's too short.

Yesterday (15th May) was a very special day. It was my youngest daughter's 7th birthday. We celebrated with a visit to Eden and, once again, thanked our lucky stars for the life we have been given. It would have been special anyway, even if it wasn't for the promise that Joanne and I made to ourselves at around the time Charlie was born.

Charlie popped out in Bristol. It was just as her big sister Maggie was finishing treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia. I won't go into that side of things too much other than to say it was a genuinely terrifying time for all of us. Jo left in an ambulance threee months pregnant and didn't make it home until Charlie was a month old.

I carried on working in Devon, commuting most evenings to do my share of the hospital night shift whilst Jo moved in to CLIC House in Cotham to get some rest. As the time got nearer to Charlie's due date we all moved in to the home from home provided for us by CLIC. Eventually, thanks to the miracles that the team at Bristol Children's Hospital were able to perform on Maggie, we all came home. All four of us.

And what of the promise that Jo and I made to ourselves? Thankfully it came true. We promised ourselves that if Maggie got better we would buy another camper (we hadn't had one for a few years as we were living by the sea) and take time out to enjoy the life we had missed out on. We'd get ourselves a T25 and go to see our friends in France. We'd spend time in ireland. We'd be free. We'd celebrate life.

Just a few months later we set off for Ireland on an adventure in our new van to see Joanne's family and tour the West Coast. Charlie slept on the front seat in a moses basket whilst Maggie slept upstairs. Funnily enough it was the only time we ever gave up. The weather was so bad that we checked into a hotel for a couple of nights in Dingle. I didn't mind at all and I know Jo was grateful for a proper bed. We were grateful just to be there in the first place. Wet and windy it may have been, but it was a wonderful time for us as a family.

So there you have it. That's why we do it. Because life is too short, even though we made it through. We're lucky. Not everyone on Maggie's ward did.

Whenever people ask me about how I got into camper vans I say that it's all about the surf. It isn't wrong. I first started travelling and hanging out in campers when I was in my late teens. But the real reason I love them so much is that the promise of camper van adventures offered us hope when we really needed it.

So it's a very happy birthday to Charlie. And a very happy seven years in remission for Maggie. And a big thank you to all our camper vans.

And that's why we do it.



Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Another great big camper van adventure

Whilst there might not be any more TV to film at the moment it doesn't mean that the adventures have to stop. There's work (ahem) to be done. And that work has taken me around a few hairpin bends and coast roads recently. The purpose of the latest trip was to experience and photograph a few things I think we should all have a go at before it's too late. It's all for a new book, The Camper Van at The Coast (working title), which will come out next year. As a follow up to The CamperVan Cookbook, this book will contain almost 100 delicious recipes from the camper van kitchen, a few ideas for campervan living throughout the year, my guide to the very best stuff at the coast and a bunch of really amazing campsites that are 'within a decent cast's distance from the sea'. It's not a bad way to judge a campsite is it? And it's one good reason to get in the van and go see for yourself. The one we photographed was, as expected, unbelievable.
In 10 days the van and I (in the company of Nico Chapman an up and coming photographer)covered 1600 miles around Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland to visit a few beaches, lighthouses, RNLI stations and to drive some of the best coast roads. I drove from home in Devon to the most north westerly corner of Europe and back again. And it was absolutely brilliant. I paid nothing for accommodation and wild camped everywhere at some incredibly beautiful spots. No hassle. One night in Ireland a guy came by with a bag of home cut turf for our fire. How about that?

No matter how hard we pushed it, the van never failed to start, never complained and even made it round the horror that is the scenic drive around Farr Head on the Causeway Coast (it said no caravans or coaches but not campervans). If you have the clutch for it, go. The only problem we had was a broken hinge on the roof but it needed replacing anyway.

The best thing about the trip was that I had a chance to see and do some of the things I'd wanted to do for a long long time. It was mostly simple things, like jumping off stupidly high walls into clear blue pools, driving roads that make you gasp in breathless excitement that you made it there at all or cooking the world's best ever sausage sarnie overlooking a delightful beach. That's the kind of stuff I like. And it's all made possible by the humble camper. You drive, eat, sleep, play.

There's an awful lot more to the UK and Ireland than you might think. Did you know, for example, that the UK has one of the world's best driving roads? Or that there is only one lighthouse in the UK that's licenced for weddings? How about one of the world's most beautiful beaches? It's true, although I have a better one for you, with clearer water, better wildlife and a great pub. And it's not that far away.

Along the way we went to Ireland's newest VW festival where we met with the Eireball crew. They drive their campers around Ireland every summer to raise money for charity. They have raised over fifty thousand Euros so far. And they have fun along the way. One of them told me she was so intrigued by the convoy one year that she got in her car and followed it. The next year she bought a van and joined up. She said she had found her family. I love that. I can understand it.

So I'm a lucky man all over again. To set off in search of good things and call it work is a very nice position to be in. And it's all been made possible by my friend the humble camper van.