June & July 2012

Time for a catch-up after what has been a hectic few months in the lives of T, K and The Rosabella.........

The House Move(s)

To pick up the story where we left off, T needed to vacate his cottage by the end of March so The Rosie was duly loaded up for half a dozen of the thirty five mile trips to K's house at Cleeton St Mary. It was chaos! Twenty years of stuff collected by two people all crammed in to a space meant for one and with no storage space.

We'd set our hearts on a cottage not far from T's old place at Bentlawnt and the plan was to rent it and also let the Cleeton house to offset the cost. The owner of the place we wanted was dragging his feet a little but we were prepared to wait - it meant that we were only paying for one house so we would have a bit to spare for the wedding, and we were coping with the mess at Cleeton. Even the journey to work was manageable as we were now based in offices about five minutes apart and could car-share.

One evening whilst dining with friends, one of them mentioned that the place next-door-but-one to them was on the market - we snuck up the road and had a look. It was a biggish place, not particularly attractive from the outside but a squint through the windows revealed a very interesting and unusual interior.

K was immediately interested, T a little more circumspect - it was completely different to what we'd had in mind. Nevertheless, we rang the agent on Monday morning and arranged a viewing that evening.

We were knocked out by what we saw - a beautiful place, designed and built by a Danish architect in the late 90s, made of cedar and looking like something from grand designs. The situation is fantastic with views down the Vale of Kerry and the whole plot is surrounded by trees, giving the feel of a house in a forest. It didn't take much thinking about - we made an offer on the Wednesday, met the owner on the Sunday and moved in the following Wednesday - 10 days from first sight to moving in!

Kim, our new landlady, is just lovely and we count ourselves very blessed to have found Cedarwood at just the right time.

Now starts the work to make Cleeton lettable, but what a lovely base we've have to start our married life from!!


Devon, Easter 2012

At last! The Rosabella was ready for our first proper trip for nearly a year!

Well, when we say 'proper', we mean a trip of more than one night and to somewhere other than a garage forecourt!

As K's last day at the Royal National College for the Blind approached we decided that we'd mark it by spending Easter at the same place we'd been on the two Easters before the ill-fated 2011 trip to France - Bolberry, near Hope Cove, one of the few campsites we were happy to use in the UK.

T added the Wednesday before Easter to his holidays in order to get the jobs he'd promised himself would be completed on The Rosabella and the plan was to pick up K from her leaving do on Wednesday evening, and head south.

Wednesday dawned with a howling breeze and snow in the air. K went off to Hereford and T snuggled down again waiting for the day to get a bit lighter and, hopefully, the weather to settle.

No such luck though so he ventured out into the increasingly heavy snow to start work - topbox to be drilled and fitted, canoes to be secured to the roofbars and bikes to be loaded on to a newly adapted bike carrier.

Rosie in the snow at Cleeton
After 45 minutes on the roof, messing about with all the fiddly nuts and bolts of the topbox doing what should have been a quarter of an hour's job, T retreated to the house to warm up. Ten minutes later, in full winter gear, he was back up on the roof fighting a losing battle with frozen straps and boats that were in imminent danger of becoming airborne and taking him with them.

After half an hour he gave up the struggle, lowered the kayaks back to the ground and beat a retreat again to The Old Schoolhouse. This time there was real pain as the blood returned to his frozen fingertips. Another look outside sealed the decision.

"Hello love. Look, I'm really struggling, the weather's ridiculous and I think we should stay put tonight and go tomorrow".

K realised from T's tone that he'd been suffering and readily agreed to another night at home - the gas fire in the van was a bit iffy as well so we couldn't even be sure of staying warm once we were on site.

T continued tinkering inside the van - the hot water system needed bleeding, a light had become detached and needed sorting and the wardrobe needed the clothes for the weekend to be loaded. Eventually he'd had enough and went and sat in front of the log burner until K came home.

It proved to be the right decision as the snow set in again, but next morning was a little warmer, and two pairs of hands made light-ish work of the remaining jobs on The Rosabella, although it was still midday by the time we left Cleeton.

An uneventful run down to Hope Cove, with ears cocked for any strange noises from the gearbox, and by evening we were esconced in the familiar surroundings of Bolberry and the added luxury of a hook up to power the electric radiator that we'd brought to cover for our dodgy heater.

T does his Cyclops impression
It was good to bed down for a good night's sleep in The Rosie and, although the weather was cold and showery for the weekend, at least it wasn't snowing. We had a good relaxing few days, talking and planning for the wedding, watching MotoGP on a very in-and-out mobile broadband, and introducing ourselves to the joys of off-road, night-time mountain biking - lots of squeals and giggles ensued (and that was just T!) but a great time was had despite the fact that the canoes stayed firmly in their place on the roof!

March 2012

Well, considering this is supposed to be a blog about our adventures in The Rosabella, we don't seem to be reporting on much adventuring but have a surfeit of gossip. Probably because with all the other stuff going on in our lives we don't seem to have a load of time for going away at the moment. Anyway, here goes with the last couple of months' stuff:

The Rosabella
The juddering from the gearbox, which K had tried to convince us was due to 'bedding in' became worse and, additionally, the steering seemed to have a big issue - it felt as if the wheels had minds of their own and would decide to plot their own course down the road at entirely random moments. T had a quick look and discovered a lot of play in the drive shaft, which may explain the juddering, and possibly the weird tracking of the wheels. Reverse was also still hugely difficult to engage and the column shift was very sloppy with a lot of free play.

Back she went to the mechanic who had fitted the gearbox. A week later she was ready for collection again with a bill for a further £100-odd pounds for the replacement of circlips on the shaft and shims on the steering rack. The gear lever had also been reset and when T drove away The Rosie felt like a new vehicle - a pleasure to drive. Alleluia!! And it was a good job too because.........

The House Move
In early February T's landlady dropped the bombshell that she wanted to move back in to the cottage at Bentlawnt. It came completely out of the blue and after ten years T was pretty dischuffed (not wanting to share his home with the landlady!). Of course, renting a property privately means that there's always the risk of this happening. The fact that we'd also decided to get married (T and K, not T and the landlady!) also went in to the pot - we'd decided that there was no urgent need to change our living arrangements and that we would move in together when the right place presented itself - this new situation merely moved things on a little. Add to that K's house and altogether it wasn't a complete disaster. There were a couple of irritants about the way things were done but apart from that, well, we could cope.

We decided to use The Rosabella as a removal van and started shifting stuff the 35 miles south to her place. Have you ever seen the amount of junk a confirmed bachelor can accumulate over twenty years? And can you imagine trying to fit it all in to a house designed for one person who also has twenty years of singleton rubbish already filling every space? The Old School House now looks like a Dali-esque take on the Mad Hatter's tea party.

The Old School Room (K's house)

The view from T's terrace, Bentlawnt

We have decided to let K's house and find somewhere to rent for ourselves. We currently have a possible tenant, and we've seen a place we have both fallen in love with - back at Bentlawnt! So we're now faced with the prospect, if everything works out, of dragging all our stuff back to about half a mile from where T's stuff has just come!

T is having a grand time in semi-retirement, but K's job as a manager at the Royal National College for the Blind at Hereford wasn't really giving her what she needed. She applied for a job leading a project at Shrewsbury College, fluffed the interview and was promptly offered the post.

Again, Sod's Law. We'd often thought it would be convenient for her to work in Shrewsbury because of the amount of time she spent at T's cottage, 11 miles from the town. When she's finally landed something suitable we've had to move to her place at the other end of the county!

And of course there's the small matter of.........

The Wedding
With all of the other stuff going on, not to mention a celebration of a big birthday for K, an even bigger one for T, and a world tour of South Wales for the band, we've managed to make a little progress with plans for the society occasion of the year. The date has been set (July 19th), the banns read (or whatever they do at a Register Office), the reception booked (a garden party followed by a barbecue at The Old Mill, Clun - cue torrential rain throughout mid-July) and the cake designed. That's it then - sorted!

We've decided that we're definitely gong away for Easter in The Rosabella (exactly a year since our last big trip and the incident of the gearbox), so hopefully the next entry in this blog will be more travel and less hassle. Fingers crossed!

December 2011

Well, we finally had the Rosabella back on the drive after nearly eight months, having been supplied with a gearbox by Mike Chubb at No 1 Gear in Chard, Somerset (see the link). T went through her reminding himself of the jobs that needed doing while K surveyed cupboards to find out what had been left when we last saw the van in France. Bedding and cushions were removed for washing and airing and it wasn't long before we were back to normal.

T replaced the broken shower tap in the bathroom and the water pump immediately gave up the ghost, although it was a pleasant surprise to find a replacement for £25 instead of the £95 that he had been expecting.

We decided that, as last year, we would spend a couple of days in Snowdonia between Christmas and New Year, giving Rosie her first run out since April.

Christmas Day

........turned out to be more eventful than K had expected. T actually did it - he popped the question by presenting her with an antique sapphire and diamond ring on Christmas morning. K immediately burst into tears and cried for ten minutes before starting to plan the guest list!! Phone calls were made to family and close friends who all seemed pleased that T&K were finally closing the circle after seven years of getting to know each other.

It does of course mean complications for the relationships with Tim and Fiona - T will be his own son's father-in-law, K will be mother-in-law and stepmother rolled in to one and Tim and Fi will be stepbrother and sister as well as man and wife. Ah well, this is Shropshire!!

The ring. T is now minus an arm and a leg!
Tuesday 27th December, Cleeton - Capel Curig via Birmingham (150 miles)

The Rosabella was packed and we headed for the annual family gathering in Birmingham. Much hugging, congratulating and merry-making ensued, including the annual 'weigh-in' where male members of the family jump on the scales for the indignity of being awarded the title of "Porker of the Year", along with a little piggie trophy. Much to T's relief his 19 year old nephew turned up, beating T into a narrow second place again.

We left the party with good wishes ringing in our ears and set off for the hills. There seemed to be an issue with finding reverse gear which will need sorting, and also a curious 'drumming' noise when the engine is under load. After eight months off the road every hum, squeak or rattle registered on T's keen ears. K insisted that things were just 'bedding in' - T needed convincing. Nevertheless, The Rosabella whizzed along happily, much quieter than before and we started to relax into the familiar surroundings of the dark cab, music on the stereo and nattering.

We made good time and before too long we were pulling up outside the Bryn Tyrch (previously mentioned - see the link) for a quick drink before finding our layby near Pen-Y-Gwryd. The ale went down well and we spent a pleasant hour in front of a blazing fire, chatting to another climber and to the owner of the pub. She invited us to stay on their carpark, an offer which we accepted for the following night after booking a table for dinner.

Five minutes up the road and we found our spot, hoping it would be more peaceful than last year (the stolen motorbike incident is mentioned elsewhere in this blog). It wasn't long before the heater was blasting out, supper was on the table (leftovers of duck, turkey, cheese and pickles), the music was playing and we were back in the place we love, the three of us surrounded by mountains.

It was a rough night. Gale force winds, hailstones rattling on Rosie's shell and the sound of running water increasing in volume as the night progressed. We were warm though, and slept reasonably well on the first night for eight months in our lovely, comfy mobile bedroom.

K makes full use of the 'van blanket' Xmas prezzie
from her soon-to-be mother-in-law
The Rosabella beneath glowering skies
in an extremely wet and windy layby

Wednesday 28th December 

We awoke to a view of the mountains that was very different to last year's thick snow and ice.  The vista today was one of tweed - shades of green, red and brown. A quick squint out of the window revealed why we'd been serenaded by running water all night - we'd parked next to a culvert carrying water under the road and out on to the hill and had our own private waterfall about four feet away.

We'd decided that before we did anything else today we would head down to Betws-y-Coed to try and find T some new walking trousers in the sales at one of the gear shops. After breakfast we drove the four miles back to the town which was already busy with people intent on getting some fresh air after the Christmas excesses.

We found a new favourite shop where a very helpful salesman helped T to understand the differences between various products that all looked the same, resulting in trousers that were a perfect fit and just what he'd wanted (he said!). He also bought a pair of Thinsulate padders for use in the van, to keep his toes nice and snug, although K could never understand how he managed to feel warm all the time anyway, regardless of the temperature around him.

We had gorgeous hot choc and Welsh Cakes in one of the tearooms before heading back up the A5 to the Ogwen Valley, togged ourselves up and went for an amble up Cwm Tryfan. It was very slimey underfoot and the wind was still blowing hard. T didn't fancy going much further uphill than the end of the cwm so we ate our sammos and soup and headed back down via the main track, reaching the lane at the bottom just as it was getting dark, but not before K had been lifted off her feet by a particularly fierce gust.

K, in the shadow of Tryfan

Back in The Rosie and divested of our wet, muddy gear we headed off to the layby near Llyn Ogwen where we read, drank tea and watched the progress of a couple of headtorches making their way down the hill from the Llyn Bochlwyd area. It was a wild evening and we hoped they would get down OK.

The van was rocking pretty hard now so we decided to find a more sheltered spot. We thought we may as well take up the offer of Rachel at the Bryn Tyrch to camp on their carpark so we headed back to Capel Curig and esconsed ourselves there, in the lee of a little cottage. Despite this windbreak the gusts were still hitting us pretty hard as we picked up our books again and read to the strains of our new Caro Emerald CD (she's very good if you like jazz/pop-type music).

We managed to get on line and found a whole load of messages of congratulations and good wishes on both Facebook and the Motorhome Fun forum. It was with a lovely warm feeling that we changed for dinner and headed out into the wind and rain for a quick dash across the road to the pub. The food was fantastic and we spent the evening nattering about love, marriage, relationships and mountains. The lads on the next table had spotted the van and were keen to know about it. They regaled us with stories about their adventures of the day and we were also joined by our companion from the prevous evening for good, relaxed chat and banter. We headed for the bar for nightcaps and another brief chat with Rachel, who seemed to be having difficulty tearing herself away from the place. The drinks went down well and we headed back over the road to The Rosabella, full, warm and sleepy.

Thursday 29th December, Capel Curig - Anglesey - Rhos-on-Sea(57miles)

Another very disturbed night due to the high winds and driving rain drumming on The Rosabella's roof and sides. We were warm and cosy but we didn't get much sleep so we decided, with no sign of the bad weather letting up, to abandon our plan for a walk up Moel Siabod. We thought we would cut our losses and visit Norma and Alan in Rhos-on-Sea and take up their offer of a bed for the night. We stayed in bed late, wandered over the road for a coffee in the pub. We talked about the day and thought that we could visit the coast for lunch. T suggested we go via Anglesey so we set off with K at the helm, had a fairly scary, cautious crossing of the Menai Bridge, commenting on the daftness of the canoeists in The Swillies (the rip tide that runs through the Menai Straits between Bangor and Anglesey), visited the 'retail opportunity' at the old railway station in Llanfairpwllgwyn.............gogogoch and finally rocked up on the shore of Red Wharf Bay (K had been looking for signs to Red Dwarf Bay!) for soup and the last of the Christms leftovers.

The weather was abating a little and we went for a short walk on the foreshore, spotted some whimbrels (we think - we're not sure that curlews have that white flash on their back).

It took us about half an hour to drive to Rhos for a lovely evening of Chinese takeaway, champagne to celebrate our news, a roaring fire, laughter and nattering and then a quiet, stationary bed for the sleep of the - almost - innocent.

Friday 30th December, Rhos-on Sea - Cleeton (122 miles)

A long, lazy breakfast and we were headed for home, with a stop in Shrewsbury to top up on supplies and buy some fettling bits for The Rosabella. We are gradually rebuilding our confidence in the van although there are a couple of things to sort out with the gearbox.

All in all, a good few days and the start of a new phase in our lives together.

October 2011

Well here we are, October and still van-less, although we're a bit closer - T is heading down to the south-west next week to sort out a gearbox.

In the meantime.........

THE Wedding

Tim and Fiona's wedding went ahead in September with narry a dry eye in the house. It was a bit alternative - the bride wore black, with red velvet Doc Martins, and the groom arrived at the church in a beautiful old VW Combi.

T & K both scrubbed up well and K's hat was definitely the most elegant on display.

The happy couple (Tim and Fi that is) had a lovely holiday on the Gower, enjoying the unseasonably fine weather and came back hale, hearty and tanned with Tim about to start in a new job.

K&T polish up nicely
Tim, Fi, K & T


We'd booked our customary October trip to France for the week after the wedding. We'd decided to give the Eelfest in Perpignan a miss this year in favour of heading directly to St Trop and regaining all the energy we'd used in the fun of the wedding.

The flight from Liverpool to Toulon (£8 each, including everything!) was due to leave on Monday at 06.40, check in by 06.10, and for once we were on time and not rushing. We were 20 minutes from the airport at 05.00. We drove down the sliproad on to the M56 and met stationary traffic, extending about 500 yards in front of us - not a massive jam and we were in plenty of time. Five and a half hours later we were still there. A tanker had managed to dump 5000 litres of diesel on the carriageway and it was obviously beyond the authorities' wit to figure out a way of filtering traffic through.

Total deflation and disappointment. We were so looking forward to this break and really needed it. T went online while we were in the queue, found a flight from Stansted on Wednesday and rearranged parking and car hire arrangements while our friend Jac sorted out National Express transport to Stansted.

Needless to say, we were very dischuffed as we headed back home.

We stayed in Birmingham on Tuesday night ready for an early start at the bus depot on Wednesday morning. There ensued a truly terrifying journey at the hands of a driver who had obviously had a very bad night. He was surly and rude to passengers, we heard him argueing with a colleague, he drove with no regard for any of his passengers, depositing a woman with a child in her arms on the floor as he reversed out of a stop in Milton Keynes at speed.

Now T has no aversion to driving or being driven quickly but on this occasion it proved too much. He called the bus company on his mobile and made a complaint during the journey and then again when we returned home. NE came up with a fulsome apology and a promise of discipline for the driver. It has put us off using them in future.

Ryanair did their stuff and got us to Toulon on time and then we hit the next problem. Eurocar seemed to have changed the rules about guarantee cards for their hire cars and, for some reason, ours was unacceptable. We tried all sorts of ruses and wheezes, all to no avail, the upshot being that the travel jinx struck us again with no transport to get to Grimaud, or for travel during our fortnight away.
K embraces alternative transport!

A rapid re-think resulted in us sitting on a bus headed for Hyeres and then another to Gassin, the Geant hypermarket about four miles from our holiday home, Dunrunnin (great value at €2 for a forty mile trip we thought).

We decided to do our shopping and get a taxi for the last bit. Hah! Fat chance! Would you believe there are no taxis after 20.00 in the St Tropez area? No, neither did we but it didn't change the fact that we couldn't get one.

The choice was we either nick the shopping trolley and push it home, four miles along unlit roads, already knackered and at the end of our collective tether, or, errmm, think of something else. A stop for breath, count to about a thousand and K suggested calling our friends in UK to get them to phone neighbours at Dunrunnin to see if they would pick us up. Thank goodness, half an hour later we were esconced at Dunrunnin with a very large glass of red and not much conversation.

T chews a wasp!
From there on in, once T had come round to the idea that cycling everywhere would be fun (after our first trip down to St Trop and a ride back in the teeth of a mistral his verdict was along the lines of "well if that's cycling you can stick it up your lycra nappy"), things settled down to our usual laid back routine with lots of sunshine, good food and, above all else, sleep.

K in her Baywatch cozzie 

Just in case it gets lost......
We weren't exactly looking forward to getting home but we did have the prospect of seeing the kids, sorting out The Rosabella, and T starting the life of Riley with his three day a week semi-retirement about to kick in with Wednesday becoming the new Friday!

June - July 2011

Well, here we are again, another summer without a van.

The Rosabella eventually arrived home towards the end of May. She was delivered to our normal fixer in Ludlow and they took the gearbox off with no delay and initial response was that it was unrepairable and we would have to get another one.

However, it seemed that despite their best efforts to track one down they just couldn't find one. There were a couple of false alarms - one was delivered which had the wrong ratios (we weren't sure why the innards couldn't be changed) and another turned up which had originally been built for a left-hand drive vehicle (like the Rosie) but had been welded up with a modification for right-hand drive, and Aris (who runs the garage) was reluctant to start pulling welded bits apart.

He tried again to get a repair - the box was sent off to an engineer in Wolverhampton, but again, the response was that it couldn't be done.

Eventually,with help from the Motorhome Fun forum - a really helpful site - T tracked down a supplier in Devon who said he had a suitable box, confirmed by Aris who called him. The cost was going to be £490, with an additional £150 payable depending on the state of the box being exchanged. Excellent!! A way forward at last.

And then disaster. On a trip to Birmingham the clutch on T's Alfa gave up the ghost. It had been misbehaving for a while and after an evening of wedding planning with the family (of which more later), it just stopped working.

The car was relayed back to Aris's place and next morning we had the bad news - £850 worth of repairs to be done. Bite the bullet - in T & K's world we can't do without the cars so it had to be done and The Rosabella would have to wait, and that's where we are right now, in the middle of July, waiting for funds to build up again.

In the meantime.........


Gertie is a Citroen-based Romahome owned by T's friend, neighbour and landlady, Jackie.

We had told Jackie before we went to France that amongst our plans for the spring and summer was a performance by the band at Fishguard Folk Festival which would entail us being away for the late May bank holiday. We'd arranged a house with a big drive so that we (the band) could all be together. With the demise of The Rosabella Jackie very kindly offered us the loan of Gertie for the weekend.

It was great - we'd never even seen inside a Romahome before and we liked it a lot. The bed, when made up, is huge, and very comfortable and the rest of the facilities were great for a weekend away, although we didn't do any cooking as meals were provided as part of the deal at the festival.

Our latest album!
Rapsquillion went down very well. We were support to the main act on Saturday night and we also ran a very well attended harmony workshop on Sunday as well as singing all afternoon in one of the pubs in the town. We sold out of our new CD and all in all we had a lovely time, enhanced by the fact that we were able to sleep so well in Gertie.
We were also able to use Gertie on a second weekend in Pwllheli where we had a little gig in the sailing club over the weekend of some championship or other. Again, we were very comfy, slept well (enhanced by the mojitos K produced on Saturday evening) and were very grateful for the loan of the Citroen.

 The Wedding Of The Year

A few years ago we realised that T's son and K's daughter were really hitting it off and it wasn't long before they were sharing a home in Ludlow. In 2009 he popped the question and at the beginning of 2011 they announced that the wedding would be going ahead on September 24th. People seem fascinated by the fact that they are together, as if they've grown up as brother and sister. We do try to explain that they were grown ups when they met. The funniest thing for us is that we are now going to be related by marriage.

Since then it has been all systems go, with K becoming more and more excited as the great day approaches. The outfit has been purchased and we've even had a summit conference with T's ex-wife to talk through the details. Needless to say, camper vans may well play a part in proceedings. Watch this space!

Tim and Fiona


After a couple of years of 'will they, won't they', T's employer has finally decided that he can change his working hours to part time. This is great news and added to by the fact that he can also claim his pension straight away on a scheme called 'flexible retirement'.

This means that the lump sum will be coughed up as soon as the rearranged hours start, and the monthly payments will go some way to mitigating the loss of income suffered as a result of going down to three days a week.

It also means that we'll have a bit of time to develop the private business a little - it will all help.

The biggest thing, of course, is that T will now be able to prepare The Rosabella for weekends away without running round like a mad man on Friday nights - providing he wins the argument about which days he's going to be working!!

France, April 22nd - May 2nd 2011

Thursday, 21st April 2011, Bentlawnt - Dover (250 m)

We had decided that, unlike past escapades, we would leave home in good time, have a nice relaxed drive to Dover, find our usual layby and be ready, fresh as daisies, for the 6.00am ferry and a nice long day in France.

That was until T decided that there were still last minute jobs to do and that we had to call at his mum's in Birmingham because she'd made barra bridd.

The Rosabella purred along the motorway system - well, kind of purred - maybe more of a clatter similar to the noise of the cement machine in "How To Murder Your Wife...." (remember the gerloppitta gerloppitta machine?).

She'd had an oil and filter change before we left, and Harold had also topped up the gearbox oil as the box was a bit whiney. That particular noise had vanished completely and not a beat was missed as we trundled our way to the south coast, this time getting further than Corley services because we'd treble-checked that we had our passports!

We beat all our previous records for arriving late and eventuall got our heads down at 3.00am with the alarms set for 4.30. We reckon that whatever time we plan to leave home there is a vortex around Beltlawnt that speeds up time so that we are ALWAYS late!!

Friday 22nd April, Dunkirque

A lovely crossing (our first with Norfolk Line). Comfy, spacious and worth the extra 40 minutes or so over the Calais crossing.

We still weren't sure where we were heading but decided we would go to Cassel and decide from there. We turned off the motorway after about 10 minutes, at the Wormhault exit, and about half a mile up the hill was a set of traffic lights and a diversion around some roadworks.

T was struggling with what seemed like a very 'puddingy' gear lever. We'd been in fourth gear to get up the hill and as he tried to go down through the box the lever refused to work. We were at the front of the queue at the lights and while they were on red he shoved and pushed, all to no avail. He switched off the engine and tried to engage a gear - still nothing. Uh-oh! Feels like a problem.

On with the hazard lights and a wave to the following traffic to come around us (there was a filter lane which gave a bit of space). T peered under the bonnet but the linkage seemed OK. He wiggled the linkage to no effect.

"Do we need to call the breakdown insurance?" K asked.

"It looks that way. This is a good start - we've only been on French soil for about 15 minutes!"

K had called the breakdown insurance people a couple of weeks ago to confirm the change of vehicle. The paperwork hadn't arrived and she'd called again a couple of days before we left to ensure that the details were on record - she was, of course, assured that everything was OK.

"Hello, Swinton Insurance, breakdown help line - can I have your registration number please?......I'm sorry, we don't seem to have that number in the system. Can we have a credit card number please in case we have to charge you for the recovery - because of the Bank Holiday we're not going to be able to check until next Tuesday."


An hour later a recovery truck pulled up and T jumped out thankfully.

"Do you speak English please?"

"Only a leetle"

"OK. Le boite de vitesse est casse, je crois"

"Oh, right, your gearing box does not work"

"Yes, that's right"

"Have you called anyone?"

"Well, yes, that's why you're here isn't it?"

"No, I'm here because you are blocking the road"

"Oh sorry, yes, there's someone on the way"

"Are you sure"

"Yes thanks"

"Well if you're sure......."

"I am thanks"

T returned to the cab, muttering darkly about French pirates. He rang the breakdown service to find out what had happened to our recovery. Nicolas, on the French desk, told him that they were trying to pinpoint our position. T gave him the Lat/Long from the satnav. "Ah, zat ees 'elpful - someone weel be weeth you in fifteen minyootes"

Half an hour later a big truck turned up. The driver waggled the gear linkage and started preparing his low loader to take The Rosabella. She was winched aboard and we leapt into the cab of the wrecker.

"Stop!" yelled T. "Nous avons oublie the...erm...thing. Le trois thing". The driver stood on the brakes in panic while T jumped from the cab and ran over the road, through the now released traffic, to retrieve the warning triangle.

No more than 5 minutes later we were at the garage and The Rosie was being rolled off on to the forecourt. We sat in the sun and watched three mechanics in turn waggle the gear lever. They disappeared into the garage. Three minutes later K's phone rang. It was the breakdown insurance people.

"The garage have phoned. They've examined your vehicle and there is a problem with the gearbox."

"Yes, we know, that's why we telephoned you."

The Rosabella does something bad. In France....

"Ah, yes of course. Anyway, they've examined it and it requires a new gearbox. They estimate it will cost 1200 Euros."

"Yes but they've only waggled the gearlever."

"Well, that's what they are telling us is the problem."

"OK, the cover says that if a repair can't be carried out in the time available, the vehicle and occupants will be repatriated, so can we go for that option please, because they're not going to find a gearbox or get the job done by the end of our break, and I can get it done for a fraction of that price at home."

"No, I'm sorry. If its possible to do a repair in France, that's what has to be done."

"Its not going to be possible"

"Well, the garage needs to tell us that, and they're going to try to find a gearbox"

"How are they going to do that? Its a bank holiday weekend here as well."

"Well I'm sorry, you'll have to wait until Tuesday."

Sharp exhalation of breath followed by a 'give me strength' roll of the eyes.

"Ok, the policy allows us a hire car and hotel so we'd better get that sorted out"

"Erm...no....sorry. Its a car OR a hotel, not both"

"That's not what it says in my policy document"

"But I'm afraid that's the way it is"

Sounds of suppressed, astounded rage.

"So if we have a car, where are we supposed to stay?"

"The garage have said you can stay on their forecourt in your motorhome."

It was all shaping up nicely. If you like that kind of thing.

"OK, can you sort a car out please?"

Half an hour later, "We've arranged a car for you with Avis in Dunkirque centre, but you do need to pick it up by 4pm as they're closing for the Bank Holiday"

it was half past three.

"You'll have to get a taxi - keep the receipt and we'll reimburse you. And you can keep the car until Tuesday"

The garage administrator called a taxi for us. We were eight miles from dunkirque and he turned up at 3.45. He did manage to get us there but we were terror stricken by the time we arrived.

The next bit of good news was that we couldn't have an additional driver, even though we offered to pay. This meant that K would be doing all the driving whilst T was consigned to the death seat.

We headed in to Dunkirque - what a charming place! We found a nice bar, a great greengrocers and a fab charcuterie. We bought enough food for a celebration meal (well, at least we had a nice cosy Rosabella to stay in, the sun was shining and the coffee was better than on the M6).

Back to the garage and a brief franglais conversation about camping on the forecourt. No problem, and would we like mains electricity, and just help yourself to water from that tap over there, and there's a loo and a shower just there. Obviously, if the mad English people choose to spend their vacances in a garage, they need to be made comfy in case they go berserk.

Our home for a week.
The mechanics had all drifted off by about 7.30, most with a wave to the strange people up the corner, and we were able to take stock of our surroundings. It was quiet, the little ZA was 8 miles out of the town, there were a couple of empty carparks and lots of trees, with blackbirds and thrushes singing their bedtime songs. All in all, it could have been a lot worse.

We had dinner and sorted the bed out. It had been a long, stressful couple of days and we were both worn out. We turned in and slept the sleep of the exhausted and innocent. Until about midnight when a recovery truck turned up with a broken car on the back. There was much crashing, banging and engine revving as the boys put the vehicle into the compound at the back of the garage. This was to become a regular occurence over the next few days and we got used to the disturbance, thanking our lucky stars that we weren't stuck without a car, accommodation or someone to give us a cuddle.

Saturday 23rd April

Do you know that feeling when you wake up, the sun's shining, you're in the Rosie, you're on your hols in France and everything is lovely - until, a nanosecond later, you remember? Well, that's exactly how it was when T's eyes opened on Saturday morning and he really had to have a word with himself whilst making the cuppa. Things could be worse!

We sat in bed and did yesterday's crossword while we came to. It was a beautiful day, too good for lolling around worrying about what was going to happen and how much it was going to cost. We were optimistic - if they couldn't sort the van we'd just go home and take it to our trusted mechanic. No problem. Meanwhile, we weren't at work, we were in France, there was apparently a nice beach (we'd seen pictures of it - covered in tanks and being strafed by the Luftwaffe!), and we were saving an arm and a leg on diesel!

T made brekkie, K tidied up and we decided to be sun worshippers. Up the road, a coupe of wrong turnings, a stop for cheese and wine and then a whole day in the unseasonably warm weather (28 according to the thermometer - pretty good for April). A few hours of sleeping, reading and generally slobbing and we were both feeling a lot better, and planning how to spend our time until next Tuesday.

A big pasta-y thing for supper, an early night and good sleep, broken only momentarily by the boys bringing in a couple of cars.

The beach, somewhat quieter than.....

..........in 1940

Sunday 24th April

Much the same as Saturday except enlivened by the addition of Joseph to our garage-bound life.

T went into the workshop to fill the water carrier, which we were using to keep our tank topped up. There was a gentleman, probably in his seventies, having a very agitated conversation with one of the mechanics. He was wearing an England baseball cap and as T went past he remarked on it.

"Yes" said the old man in heavily accented English.

"I live in England. My car's clutch broke in the night and they won't fix it unless I pay up front! They don't trust me! They don't know who I am! Not going to Brussels are you, by any chance?"

T apologised that we weren't going anywhere but suggested that he came and had a cup of tea with us.

"Oh, thank God. Some civilised people at last!"

T helped him into the Rosie where he introduced himself. "My name is Joseph and I'm Belgian - NOT FRENCH! My brother was the High Commissioner to (somewhere), my wife is related to (some English Duke or other) and my cousin is a cardinal who should really have been Pope if it wasn't for that German, Ratzinger! And that mechanic doesn't trust me to pay up for fixing my car! C'est une outrage!!"

He went on to explain that he lived in Whitstable and was on his way to visit family in Bruxelles. He said that he could have cried when we offered him a cuppa and that in return we could accompany him to Bruxelles and stay in his five-bedroom family house - all we would need to bring were our toothbrushes. If not, then the least he could do was, next time we were crossing the channel to let him know because as a shareholder he could get us through the Tunnel for a fiver.

He told us his life story, about his mother being a reknowned communist activist in Belgium, his issues with catholicism, his dealings with corrupt politicians. He was very engaging and interesting and we were happy to sit and listen. Eventually he said that he was going to have to call a taxi because if he could get to the station he could get a train to Bruxelles. We, of course, wouldn't hear of it. We were going to Dunkirque anyway and it would be no problem to drop him off at la gare.

The stories continued as we drove in to the town centre and when we reached the station Joseph gave us, once again his thanks, gave us his number in case there was any way he could reciprocate our help, and the last we saw of him he was nattering to a couple of backpackers on the steps of the station, no doubt regaling them with stories of European dynasties to whom he was related.

We continued to the beach and had another lazy day, again formulating plans for the various possible outcomes of The Rosabella's bad behaviour.

Tuesday 25th - Friday 28th April

As the week went on it became more and more obvious that our options were decreasing whilst our blood pressure was rising as a result of the insurance company's continual attempts to not spend any of our premium money. There were some highlights:
    Well - if we must....!
    Our loo. We had always been a bit squeamish about using the loo on The Rosabella. Yes, we know its silly but we'd never had a toilet on the original Rosie, we'd never needed one and the thought of what is essentially a bucket of....well....you know what sloshing around at the back of the van had never really appealed to us. Nor had the thought of emptying it which K had decided that, because his dad was a plumber, was by default T's job. However, when we'd been sitting at the front of the traffic jam, T, overcome with excitement, anxiety and coffee had announced that he was 'going to have to go'.On the garage forecourt, K, with the option of to-ing and fro-ing from the mechanics' 'facilities', had decided to follow suit. Now, after a few days we were completely happy to use, on a limited basis you understand, our little bathroom. T had had to find the instructions to figure out how to empty it and done so with rubber gloves, apron and waders at the ready, finding out in the process what most other motor homers already know, that it was a more or less painless process.
  • Decathlon. What a fantastic shop! There's one on the outskirts of Dunkirque, it sells all manner of outdoor sports things at reasonable prices AND it has a free, easy-access wi-fi hotspot AND it had a spotless loo, perfect for the operations that didn't come into the 'limited basis' referred to above. Mind you, we do now have more walking socks than you can shake a stick at.
  • Paris. K had never been to Paris and T's half a dozen or so trips had all been in winter so we decided to take full advantage of the hire car for a day trip to the City of Light. It was a couple of hundred miles, we arrived at midday and did the whole bit - Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysee, lunch in les Tuilleries, Pont Neuf to St Germain, Notre Dame (where in an attempt to get out of the way of a rapidly advancing Cardinal, T ducked under a barrier to find himself seated amongst the dignitaries at an Easter service), the Opera House and then dinner in Montmartre. Home to our forecourt, dusty, footsore and tired.

Cassel windmill

Wednesday was murky and we decided to go to Cassel for a mooch. Still no news from Swinton despite calling them and being told they would get back to us. One of the garage boys had told us that a gearbox was 'introuvable' but that the insurance people were very reticent about paying for repatriation. We decided that we would be a bit more proactive and called Tim in Perpignan.
 We asked him if he would have a word with Fabrice, the fellow who had looked after the old Rosie in St Laurent, to see if there was a gearbox anywhere around. We had a message to say that Fabrice was going to call the garage in Dunkirque to see if there was anything he could do.

On the way back to Dunkirque we visited Belgium - for about three minutes. Travellers or what!

When we got back to the van K called Swinton again. Again, we were told that the mechanics were still trying to sort us out but that repatriation was now an 'option'. Then we were told it was only an option because if the cost of bringing the van home outweighed its value, then they wouldn't do it.

This was the point at which the normally kind, understanding, tolerant T lost his temper, took the phone from K and demanded to know exactly what we'd been paying our premium for, for all these years. They'd  kept us waiting for recovery, they'd decided we couldn't come home at the start of this episode despite him advising them that the repair would not be effected, they'd decided we couldn't have accommodation and a hotel, just one or the other and they'd not kept us informed to the point that we'd had to spend a fortune on phone calls to them. And now they were going to try to wriggle out of getting the van home. And how exactly were they planning to put a value on a 1989 Tabbert in excellent condition when they hadn't even got the name Tabbert on their database when we'd set up the cover?

There was a silence at the other end of the line.

"Of course sir, I understand how you must be feeling......."

Another barrel from T along the lines of "so you're stuck on a garage forecourt are you," etc, etc, etc.

"OK sir, I take your point"

Round 3 from T about how they may well be taking something much more effective than a point if they didn't get something sorted..

"Yes sir, I promise I'll call you in thirty minutes and let you know what's happening"

Which is why, from that point on, we received phone calls approximately once an hour with updates as to what they were doing - its a wonder they didn't let us know when they were going to the loo, or phone us to wish us night-night and godbless!

On Thursday we went for a mooch around Dunkirque and visited the great little museum housed in the former headquarters of the Allied forces. It really brought it home to us how, in those dark days of 1940, it was such a touch-and-go situation for the future of Europe.

Walking back to the car our now-regular phone call informed us that The Rosabella had been valued at £1000, and as the recovery cost was £980 it was 'touch and go'. T responded that it was obvious that they'd valued Rosie as a Ducato panel van - they confirmed that that's what they had done. T told them that they would have to do better than that and that the insurance value was much, much higher than that. They asked for details of the insurance company, which we gave them, but again it was down to T to point out to them that next day was a bank holiday in the UK (a wedding apparently) so they wouldn't be able to check it out and that our ferry was booked for the Monday. Then the bombshell...!

"Oh, you and your partner can go back to the UK as foot passengers - you could have done that last weekend............."

T almost ate the 'phone. We'd been sitting on a garage forecourt when we could have been at home sorting things out!

"Yes sir, just book yourself on to a ferry - it will have to be from Calais because Norfolk Line don't take foot passengers - and send us the bill. We'll arrange for you to drop off the French hire car at Calais and we'll have a car waiting for you to pick up in Dover. Oh yes, you could have done that earlier and we would have paid for you to go back to France and collect the vehicle if it had been fixed....."

We decided w would save the row for later, when The Rosabella was safely home. And, after all, revenge is a dish best served......... so on.

Straight back to our Decathlon hotspot and a booking for the Saturday morning ferry. Back on to the insurance company and suddenly everything is running smoothly (the only hiccup - well, apoplectic attack! - was when T was told it would take anything from two weeks to a month before The Rosie would be trucked home) - cars sorted, everything!

Friday, another day on the beach and a listen-in to the wedding. The French commentators were very excited, which is more than could be said for T, although with our kids' big day approaching (T's son is marrying K's daughter - keep it in the family we say!), K was in a very gooey mood.

We stocked up on wine (20 bottles of Villageoise) and found various safe places in The Rosie to stash it and spent the evening tidying up, putting things away ready for Rosie's piggy-back ride home, emptying various tanks (T's job!) and packing whatever we could in to rucksacks and our little wheeley case.

We still weren't clear about whether they would actually bring The Rosabella home and T was wondering what the response would be when we said that we needed to recover clothes, kitchen equipment, bedding, bathroom stuff and so on.

Saturday 30th April

A quick drive to Calais, dump the car, an uneventful crossing and there was the guy waiting with the one-way hire car.

We arrived back at Bentlawnt mid-afternoon, feeling bereft when we saw the space on the drive where The Rosabella should be, wondering what would be the next hassle in this saga.