Our house is full of old ornaments, mirrors, furniture etc that could be described by some as quirky, charming and off beat and by others as tat. This is because Joy is never happier than when she is poking around flea markets, charity shops and car boot sales. Especially foreign ones. Understandably, one of her favourite TV programmes is ‘French Collection’, which is aimed unashamedly at people just like Joy.
The show centres on a small group of ordinary people who are sent to street markets in France and asked to haggle for any item that they think they can ‘upcycle’ and resell to punters in posh places like Camden or Chester. Whoever makes the biggest profit is that week’s winner.
Stuff like this has never really been my cup of tea and I was happy to let Joy watch her programme in peace. Until a couple of weeks ago when they were in Avignon and I happened to watch the bit where the competitors were perusing the stalls and buying odd things like tailors’ dummies, stuffed animals, old trunks. Once you do that you just have to watch what they do to the items to ‘improve’ them and then you’ve got to see how they get on when they try to flog them. Now I’m hooked on the show. It is fascinating to see which items turn out to be junk and which turn out to be treasure. And the catty voice over commentary is hilarious.
So when the presenter, an avuncular Essex wide boy who dishes out advice and wit to the contestants in equal measure, said that Avignon was the best market in France Joy and I turned to each other almost in unison and said, ‘Let’s go there.’
Our next trip in the Sick Bay is another visit to Groningen, Holland where our son lives and we have tickets for the Hull – Rotterdam ferry next week. A quick call to P and O and we extended our trip by one week. ( The best part of being retired is having the freedom to act on your impulses. Nearly two years after retiring I still find this thrilling.)
The market in Avignon is every Saturday and we will be leaving Groningen for Avignon the previous Sunday -so we’ve got a few days when we will be in the heart of Europe, we’re in the Sick Bay and we can go wherever we want. I have always fancied visiting the VW museum in Wolfsburg, just over the border in northern Germany. That’s also close to Hannover, the home of our friends Dirk and Dagmar who we first met in Cap d’Agde when I spotted their stunning Westfalia Bay in our campsite. So a couple of days with them and then a slow trundle through Luxembourg and down the Rhone- Soane valley to Avignon. We’ve got a Road Trip!
Before we could get too excited there was a bit of humdrum to deal with. The MOT for the Sick Bay expires the day after we are due to set off. For most people an MOT renewal is a fairly straightforward, if irksome, annual routine. If you own a 45 year old vehicle that has been round the clock more times than you’ll ever know, your date with the MOT man is a jittery mixture of hope and nerves. A bit like when you were eighteen and about to sit your ‘A’ levels.
Ever since I got the Sick Bay I have gone to Stefan at MAC VW for the MOT. That’s because Stef understands these old vehicles and if his rather picky mate fails it, Stef will sort it out, normally there and then. This time the problem was a bit of rust around the seat belt anchors which needed welding and a front headlight needed a new bulb. A hundred quid sorted it and I’ve got my MOT. The trip is on.
It was good to see Stefan yesterday as I now regard him as an old friend whose expertise and enthusiasm has kept the Sick Bay on the road over many years. Sometimes he gets a bit downhearted and yesterday he was wondering why, at the age of forty four, he was still a one man band in a rented garage, working all hours with little to show for it. He said that right now he should be in the office with me, having a cup of tea, while his mechanics were working on my van. I had to say that as he is the best air cooled man in Manchester he could afford to raise his prices ten per cent and take it easy. It’s in my interests that Stef stays in business and so I would not have a problem with paying a bit more for his services. In fact he is planning to move from being a VW generalist and will focus on the Subaru Conversion market. A niche market but definitely a growing one. And a very lucrative one. This time next year he’ll be a millionaire.
Any visit to MAC VW is like going into Aladdin’s Cave if you’re a veedubber. Yesterday he showed me an historic split window Beetle which he owns and which he is about to transform into the star attraction at next year’s Volksworld Show. Apart from a lot of TLC it’s getting a Subaru turbo, an automatic five speed gearbox with a unique MAC VW conversion and 18 inch gold alloys. I decided to keep an eye on progress and will take a pic every time I’m in the garage. As they tend to say at this show – ‘It’s gonna be awesome dude.’
So a weekend trip to see John and Carolina in the beautiful Dutch city of Groningen has morphed into a road trip involving six different countries and nearly two thousand miles – just because we fell in love with a TV programme – and, of course, we’ve got a campervan. Watch this space . . .