My new home is a white VW camper van called Priscilla. The good ship Alvracht was an interesting place to live for a while, but I realised I’m just too old and too set in my ways to be sharing accommodation with four other people and a big hairy dog.
Since my little red sports car was stolen before Christmas, I’ve been very happily car-less, a smug cyclist relishing the fact that not only is a bicycle completely eco-friendly and a good form of exercise, but it’s also the quickest way to get around the traffic-choked streets of London.
But it was reaching the point where being on two wheels had its limitations. A few recent purchases on eBay were too large to be carried on a bike, and if my master plan to buy a boat and do it up myself comes to fruition, I’m going to need to carry pieces of timber, deck furniture, kitchen sinks, etc. Not easy on a bicycle.
I’ve recently been making a few longer journeys, to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth in Wales, over to the Green Shop near Stroud, up to Yorkshire to see my parents – and the train fares were starting to mount up.
I’m booked to do my basic Yachtmaster course at the Bisham Abbey Sailing School near Marlow next week, and local B&B’s were prohibitively expensive.
Given all the above, when a friend mentioned he’d just bought a camper van, I realised this would be the answer to all my needs. This flash of inspiration occurred last Wednesday. On Thursday it still seemed like a good idea, so I started looking on eBay, but it seemed a bit risky buying a vehicle sight unseen. I looked on the Gumtree website and found a van for sale in Fulham. I went to look at it – tons of living space, but a real rustbucket, and very dodgy brakes. And SO heavy to steer – I’d have developed muscles Popeye would be proud of.
On Friday I was due to leave for Surrey to go to a mini-festival organised by Will, one of the members of my Peruvian expedition. I’d been planning to get the train there, but when I saw on the invite that as well as tent and sleeping bag, I needed to take food, I decided that acquiring a van had become a matter of urgency. And this seemed like the perfect occasion to christen my van, as the festival is named after the house where Will lives – a Tudor house called Vann (http://www.gardenvisit.com/g/van2.htm).
I bought a copy of Loot, and buried amongst the many adverts I found my dream machine – a 1986 VW camper which had been converted to run on LPG, (Liquefied Petroleum Gas – good info at http://buypower.vauxhall.co.uk/dualfuel/), a very low-emission fuel. In the space of an hour, appointment to view, banker’s draft and insurance had been organised. On the way over to Battersea I dropped in at a VW dealer in Sands End to conduct some preliminary research. Their secondhand vans were all left hand drive, and at least twice the price of the one I was going to see. Got to Battersea, saw the van, loved it, bought it.
She performed like a star over the weekend, despite a few teething problems (after getting a flat tyre, I now know how to change the wheel, and have also learned the hard way that the fridge has to be plugged into the leisure battery in the back rather than the cigarette lighter in front, or else when you stall at a busy junction, you can’t restart the van, and you have to wait while some very kind people whizz back to their house nearby to fetch some jump leads). I’ve also learned how to use an LPG pump – it’s a bit different because you’re pumping a gas rather than a liquid, so you have to clamp the nozzle firmly to the inlet.
Not only is LPG eco-friendly, it’s also blissfully cheap – at around 39p per litre, it’s about half the price of petrol. So I’m assured I’ll be getting the price equivalent of 45 miles to the gallon – not bad for a big heavy camper van.
Priscilla is a quirky old thing – up to about 50mph, her speedometer needle swings up and down wildly, but once she reaches warp speed it steadies. And she doesn’t like idling – it makes her stall. She’s much happier when she’s going at full velocity – in her case, about 65mph. I think she and I are going to get on very well – we have a lot in common – right down to our bodywork, which in both cases looks more or less presentable but has definitely seen better days!