56. Getting much use out of your campervan these days?

After the sustained months of excitement and activity of my daughter’s wedding at the end of August I was thinking life might ease up a bit afterwards. No chance! The following week was the wedding of a friend of a friend and I’d promised the Sick Bay to transport the bridesmaids. My friend Andy was driving the bride and her father in his Bay, the one that has recently been transformed from the Ugly Duckling into Manchester’s most beautiful swan. (The van, not the bride!)

Look who’s caught the bride’s bouquet
The bride and her dad inside Andy’s van







Last weekend it was Busfest, the largest VW bus show in Europe and coming up, in successive weekends, the Sick Bay diary is –

Next weekend, second attempt at the Ilkley Triathlon, trying to beat last year’s times – I set the bar very low first time around but still not holding my breath for any improvement.

Then it’s Techenders – the self help group for wannabe mechanics held in a field in Leicestershire. If you own an old camper this is an essential survival guide.

Then… John and Sue – old college friends who live in London. We meet up twice a year somewhere like the Cotswolds to hack round a golf course, have a nice meal and a pint. John is a high Tory and I’m a Corbynista so usually plenty to talk about.

Following weekend – I went to two schools, one in Pudsey which I hated and one in Otley which I loved. The Otley one is holding a ‘Class of ’63 reunion’ in Harrogate and I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of people from 50 years ago. The school in Pudsey probably also holds reunions but I wouldn’t go and in any case I don’t get invited.

Weekend after that … My son has just landed a job at the oldest university in Holland, Groningen, and we have agreed to transport his stuff over in the Sick Bay. We are using the Hull – Rotterdam crossing and so Joy is already stocking up on sea sickness tablets.

After all that is over I need to start thinking about my ski trip to the French Alps. I have already bought ‘snow socks’ for the tyres and I’m going to get warm driving gloves and two hot water bottles. I’m told it can get cold in the Alps in winter.

Tomorrow the builders are coming to start an eight week extension on our house.

Busfest is held at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern and attracts 25,000 people in about 8,000 vans. This year it had a Zombie theme which I hoped would be ignored but it seemed very popular with the majority and I must admit there were some amazing creations. Joy hates fancy dress, even more than me, and I guess this was one of her considerations in deciding not to go this year. So I was alone, the first VW event I have been to on my tod. Didn’t even have Leo as he is on guard duty when I am away.

The zombie theme was very popular but not really my cup of tea

Like an idiot I agreed to play tennis on Friday morning and this delayed my start time so that I hit the M6 congestion at its peak and spent most of the journey either in first gear or stationary. It was dark by the time I arrived and I was put in the ‘general camping area’ – late arrivals are directed over to the outer limits about as far from the activities as it’s possible to be. Next year I will skip the tennis!

Taking a break from the mayhem on the motorway at Frankley services I spot these two beauties.

There are some great bands to see at Busfest but the beer is all £4-50 a pint for quite mediocre stuff. In Manchester you get real ales for half that so I just filled a plastic water bottle with some old Bison Grass and coke and set off to see what was on. The main attraction was a rather naff Michael Jackson tribute who just couldn’t get that moon walk thing right. On another stage they had a ska band – great act with a lame name, Skachasm.

To be honest I was still feeling grumpy after the awful journey and, given that I was going to miss the Manchester derby the following day, I was wondering why I had bothered to go. I had hoped to bump into somebody I knew but didn’t, the vodka just made me feel tired and I sloped off to bed.

With beer at £4-50 a pint I made up my own tipple for the night

Saturday dawned grey and wet but I had jobs to do. I had been asked to pick up some foam for a guy who lives in the North West and Andy had done a deal with an auto jumble trader where I was the mule. He had agreed to buy an oil bath for thirty quid plus an old wheel cover in part exchange. The foam transaction was straight forward but I couldn’t find Andy’s dealer who apparently hadn’t set up in the morning because it was raining. Eventually I tracked him down but he reneged on the deal saying that Andy’s wheel cover was too tatty. I asked to see the oil bath and it had a break in the arm going to the carb. He was pretty intransigent and eventually I walked away. Most VW traders are sunny characters driven by a love of old vans and buses but this guy was just a tosser. Andy will look elsewhere for his oil bath.

Andy’s oil bath is in the middle of this lot on the grass. And it stayed there.

My day and my mood improved considerably when I went over to the Vanwurks stand to see Nick and his team, the people who had kitted out the Sick Bay with our camping interior.  Since installing it over five years ago, Nick has become a friend and Joy and I are both firm advocates for his company as we have been more than satisfied with his gear and the care he took to fit it. He was there with his family and friends and invited me to join them that evening, so I was Billy No Mates no longer. One of his group was a German guy who had come over to the UK specifically to buy an interior from Vanwurks – so Dr Liam Fox can put that in his pipe and smoke it!

Lots of vans get bought and sold at Busfest. Look closely at the price tag on this one – yes it really is £75,000

I also called in to Fellowspeed from whom I bought the Subaru conversion kit which Stefan used to convert my engine from a 1600 Type 1 to the present Legacy 2 Litre. Given that I am going to the Alps this winter, what spares would they suggest I take? Nothing really, although I will take a spare fan belt and throttle cable. They also said I should put in a speed sensor. When Stefan first fitted it this worked fine but was too noisy. I tried it without and that was fine except that every now and then the engine will conk out. No problem if you are moving and can ‘jump start’ it immediately. However they told me they have developed a new, quiet, speed sensor and I have decided to order one.

Sunday was warm and sunny but I wanted to miss the M6 traumas so decided to leave early. I got back in less than three hours, about half the time it took me to get there – and probably half the fuel.

Just a reflection on the notion of going to an event, or any other trip, on your own. I think it is very easy to underestimate how being alone can impair your enjoyment, particularly if things go a bit wrong. I met a guy who was planning a solo trip in his Bay right around the Baltic. He’s a very level headed and resourceful person who has a lot of other interests – he is an accomplished photographer, for instance. I was looking forward to keeping abreast of his trip through a blog that he was setting up. By the time he got half way across Germany he decided to go home as he was getting increasingly lonely and home sick. So he went home, picked up his wife and dog, and spent the next few weeks touring East Anglia where he had a fantastic time. OK that’s on a different level from a weekend at Busfest on your own but the same principle applies. Much as I enjoyed the Saturday night with Nick and his mates, I don’t think I will do another event on my own. Either I do a better job of selling it to Joy or I stay at home where, if things go wrong, I’ve at least got someone to moan to.

Lots of T4 and T5’s knocking about – too many really, but some are quite imaginatively kitted out.
‘Uncle Doom’ spent the day pottering about with his mobile piano. Good fun – if you like that kind of thing…
Boys and their toys – Syncros doing daft things in a field
As usual loads of bands – tributes to Michael J and to Queen. Both naff, and the one hit wonders who did ‘Spirit in the Sky’. These were the best of the bunch – Devious

55. What has my daughter’s perfect day got to do with old Volkswagens?

Adele got married a couple of days ago. The months of planning, organising, cajoling, stressing and running around finally came together in a day that was so perfect and so happy that I wondered how on earth I was ever going to relate it all to a blog about old camper vans. Luckily for me […]

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53. What’s so great about France in a campervan – and what’s not

So we’re back from our latest jaunt through France, we’ve unpacked, the Sick Bay’s tucked up in the garage and I’m getting used to sleeping in a bed again. Our last few holidays have been along familiar lines – ambling through France, a few days here, a few days there. (Chuck Berry’s ‘No Particular Place […]


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What is it about cycling as a sport that you can thoroughly enjoy the event without the slightest interest in the outcome or appreciation of the skills involved or even understanding of the scoring process? Could you enjoy a football match unless you knew that the objective was to score a goal? And that the […]


41. Can you get a camper over Hardknott Pass?

At the beginning of the Hardknott Pass there is a sign saying it is ‘suitable for cars and light vehicles only’ ‘Unsuitable for all vehicles in winter conditions’. Apparently it is the ‘most outrageous road in Britain’ and Trip Advisor says just don’t go there in a car. I had set the sat nav for […]

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39 Buying a VW camper? Read this first – three mistakes to avoid.

I lay claim to being the person most qualified to give advice to anyone about to buy an old VW camper. This is because I committed most of the cardinal errors in the process of buying mine, yet was lucky enough to end up with a half decent bus. As a result I have come to […]

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38. What the hell is so great about Manchester?

There is a scene in ‘The Inbetweeners’ where four teenage boys on their first holiday abroad are trying to make progress with a group of local girls. The dopey lad is asked where he lives and the sharp one hisses, ‘Tell ’em we’re from Manchester.’ The first one doesn’t quite get it and tells them […]

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36. Am I too old for my campervan? Are old bays for old boys?

I am 63 years old, I have just retired and so finally I have got the freedom to wander the world in the Sick Bay. Our trips don’t have to be subject to the two week holiday strait jacket back in the day when I was a corporate wage slave. (To be honest I always […]


33. Now that I’ve retired I don’t know how I ever found time to go to work

I used to hear this from recent retirees all the time but I usually took it with a pinch of salt – nobody wants to admit they have got time on their hands and don’t know how to fill it. That is until I retired from Kelloggs a month ago. Now I honestly wonder how […]