91. The good news is, I am now officially an old man

Let’s be honest, driving an ancient VW from Northern Holland to the Alps in winter is going to open up plenty of scope for trials and tribulations, and I’ve had a few of those. The plan was to get up early on Monday at the Park and Ride in Groningen, drive to John’s flat in the city, pick up Joy and drop her at Schipol in time for her midday flight home. Then trundle on down to the French Alps for a week’s skiing in the abundant fresh new snow.

My first shock came when I woke up, climbed out the Sick Bay in the dark morning to go round the back to check the oil. (Obviously a euphemism.) I noticed that the engine lid was open and assumed that some scally must have nicked my battery or something. I had to wait until I was finished doing what I was doing before I could take a look. To my immense relief my torch showed everything was intact. Relief both that I would be in time for Joy who had a plane to catch, and to remember that, of course, there are no scallies in Groningen.

Being a member of the Late Bay Forum I often have cause to be thankful for the calm and tactful advice those guys give you when you get problems, particularly when you are a long way from home. My first issue was that I noticed my headlight beam came on whenever I tried to add my phone charger to the cigarette lighter when it was already powering the sat nav. In a panic I sent my query to TLB and back came the response – don’t worry, some ‘muppet’ must have wired the cig lighter to the full beam relay and the extra voltage is triggering the full beam. OK so I can’t charge my phone but at least I know what’s going on and the sat nav on its own is fine. Just have to charge my phone at a McDonalds.

The next issue was self inflicted. On the way to the airport Joy and I stopped for breakfast at a Haje service station that we really like. Unfortunately due to roadworks we had to leave the motorway to get there and then had a very pleasant but extremely slow lady serve our breakfast. Still, with time on our side we could afford to make smart aleck remarks about ‘Mrs Overall’ and have a smile. Getting back onto the motorway turned into a nightmare because of the convoluted roadworks and we went round the circuit three times before we stopped to ask and eventually we found it. By now it was two hours before Joy’s flight and the airport was an hour away according to the sat nav. Panic set in again. But we were lucky – no hold ups and Joy managed to scramble aboard her flight.

A leisurely drive to Amsterdam airport turned into a panic stricken dash. Joy declined to pose for the shot.

The next little challenge developed as I approached the Alps in atrocious weather. My windscreen wipers suddenly got very tired and seemed about to give up the ghost. I used a lot of RainX, which is magic stuff, and limped to the campsite, using the wipers only when I couldn’t see at all. I made a quick post to TLB – I’ve got to take the spindles off, spray them with WD 40 and ‘Bob’s your uncle’. I don’t think I’d ever leave home without the guys on TLB.

We obviously don’t use the Sick Bay cooker very much as I’ve never had to replace the big blue gas canister in all the time we’ve owned it. Just use it for morning coffees when on holiday. But it is vital on a winter trip as it boils the water for the absolutely essential Hot Water Bottles and the equally essential Cuppa Soups. The gas ran out during my first night, ( at an aireĀ  just north of Luxembourg), and I really struggled with a little camping stove that we carry as a spare.

This little contraption takes an age to boil enough water for hotties and cuppa soups and is also worryingly precarious.

Fortunately I managed to find a huge Intermarche the next morning where they sold the big canisters and, even more fortunately, I managed to suss out how to swap it over and get it to work. Felt very pleased with myself – all my own work and no need to trouble the guys at TLB! My second night, in a little hamlet just north of Bourg en Bresse was more comfortable with a fully operational cooker and I rocked up at the Camping Caravaneige today looking forward to the dinner they provide in the camp restaurant.

I spent the second night in a tiny hamlet by a playground somewhere north of Bourg en Bresse

The site is run by a couple, Phillippe and Stephanie. He is a bit of a misery but she is a delight – great fun and very,very French. She’s also a great cook. So I was gutted to learn that she has a broken arm, won’t be cooking any dinners and won’t be giving me the chance to practice my French like she did last year. Anyway I managed to overcome my disappointment sufficiently to ask Phillippe to give her my best wishes and I hope to see her again next year.

The good news is that Nick from TLB will be joining me in a couple of days in his (air cooled) Bay and there is plenty of snow. Also, get this, I qualify for an old guy’s reduction on my ski pass this year. Twenty euros reduction – there are some advantages to being an old git!

The Sick Bay is parked in exactly the same spot, in the same campsite, as a year ago. Come full circle in a year!


Just to remind myself of the lovely Stephanie with a photo taken this time last year. Phillippe doing his Jack Dee impression, as usual

So tomorrow I will hire some skis and check out the slopes. For dinner I’ll have to go find a pizza in the village and I’ll be sure to raise a glass to Stephanie’s rapid recovery.


About Basil John Mandy

A sixty odd year old born in Ladysmith, South Africa. Manchester United supporter and a great fan of the city in general. I worked for Kelloggs since 1982, apart from a year's sabbatical that I took to ride a bicycle to South Africa. I retired at the end of 2015 and have 2 grandsons, Lenny and Ellis. And now I've got a granddaughter as well - Dottie Joy!!


  1. Glad to hear that you made it safe and sound John.
    Sorry that Stephanie has a broken arm, was really looking forward to some of her Raviolis… please pass on get well wishes
    At the very last minute my younger brother George has decided to join us.. he is good company and it will be fun.
    See you sat PM.

    1. Great news about your brother joining us.Must admit I’m going a bit ‘The Shining’down here – very few other campers. Due to absence of Stephanie there is no restaurant/bar at the moment! Looking forward to seeing you both. Good luck with the journey. The snow is brilliant.

  2. In July this year I qualify for a discount at the movies, then I can watch movies about nutters dicing with danger in the Swiss Alps in “Sick Bay Days III” Staring Sylvester Stalone and Bas Mandy

    1. Hi Steve You and I have done much worse! Anyway who’s this Stalone character? Thanks a lot for reading. Cheers Bas

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