Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Feet up for a day

Another long hop and we arrived at our planned destination, an Aire that we first used at the beginning of our trip to the UK almost 6 months ago north of the Pyrenees at Aire sur l'Adour. A car park style Aire right on the river's edge and we were fortunate to get a riverside spot, again I uncoupled and parked to Suzuki tight beside us.

Video to be added

After such long daily stints we decided a day off was in order before getting into Spain and our campsite destination at Huesca. At this time of year they only open at weekends and its 10€ a night all in which hopefully will give me decent wifi access to upload this blog. So we had a restful day and it was nice to meet a couple of Brits to chat to as well.

Caroline ventured into town and, for someone who knows very little French, managed to get her haircut exactly as wanted - well done!

New French hairdo!

The weather has been lovely here after the incredibly hot and sultry conditions when we arrived. Overnight storms freshened it all up again. There something very cosy about being snugged up in a motorhome when the rain is lashing and its crashing and banging outside.

Reversing an A-Frame.... Or not

Planning to travel up to 400kms a day we knew of a village Aire on the main route that was likely to have room so we headed for it. On arrival there was space but the layout was such that it was going to be best to reverse into a corner of the parking area.

A new experience reversing an a-frame other than in a straight line..... I had set the rig so there was the least angle to manouever possible but on a slippy gravel surface I couldn't get the cars front wheels to co-operate and rather than force to car against its will I just un-coupled again, parked the car, reversed the motorhome up to it and re-coupled ready for the next morning's departure. In practice this is quicker than 2 or 3 attempts at shunting backwards and forwards as could be the case with a conventional trailer.

Nicely tucked into a corner

We had a French motorhome for company and its occupants were apparently quite intrigued by the parking process - a-framing is not for shrinking violets . Nice countryside walking for the dog and a chateau to visit if you have the time. Services which are free were in the adjacent layby so we were able to set off full and empty for the next part of our journey. Always a good feeling to know you don't need any services for at least the next couple of days if needed.

Flat battery!

Our next target was south of Limoges in the Limousin and the Aire was only just off route in a small town with a pretty and very typical central square. Parking was at the side of a side road and could take around 6 motorhomes. At first we pulled in lengthways across the spaces as there was no one else there but then thought better of it and un-coupled and parked as designed with the Suzuki tucked in tight beside us.

Coupling and un-coupling has become a very quick and straightforward procedure and takes less than a couple of minutes. What I hadn't reckoned on however was that having used lights a lot on the journey due to the rubbish weather conditions the car's battery was too flat to start the engine. Luckily I carry a jump start unit so it was only a minor inconvenience and letting the car fast idle for half an hour or so recharged its battery to a reasonable level. Something to bear in mind in future though and I'll be asking TOWtal for their advice for preventing it happening in the future. I'm surprised that the installation does not include wiring to maintain the charge with power coming from the motorhome there is actually a fused red wire to the positive terminal of the car's battery and had thought that this was for the purpose.

Gassed and robbed - not!

We headed to an Aire that had been recommended to Club Motorhome that was new to us, also that it was a motorway Aire which we rarely use and don't generally advise the use of for well publicised security reasons.

Anyway, we hopped onto the toll motorway in order to gain access and were pleasantly surprised at the facilities provided. Free water, waste and EHU (albeit for the service point so long lead needed). The designated parking is along a layby like marked off area but with a little searching there is a very nice picnic area at the far end of the facility for caravans which security staff confirmed was fine for us to overnight.

The service area has all the amenities that you would expect including free wifi. The walkway to the parking area crosses some water containing the friendliest ducks and carp that you could imagine. Digger was quite taken with them.

A curious Digger!

Quite a few motorhomes came and went during the afternoon but only a caravan remained for night time company - and that was gone by the morning.... So we pretty well had the place to ourselves.

Next morning we pressed on. I had decided that with the car in tow it was not ideal for going here there and everywhere looking for likely Aires so we would shorten the time of our journey and stick to stopovers that would likely accommodate us without too much hassle. We hopped back off the toll road and were a bit shocked to have to pay 18€ for the privilege - there's no such thing as a free stopover on a toll road!

UK visit ends.

Checking the Eurotunnel website we found a reasonable crossing on a Saturday afternoon at £150 (motorhome + trailer) and by the time we went back to book it the price had risen to £159 - hey ho.

En route to Folkestone we made a couple of visits to friends and family which gave us the chance, at long last, to meet our newest grandson - now nearly 3 months old and bringing the number of grandchildren up to 6!

Me and our newest grandson

For this visit we used a pub stopover that we've used for the last couple of years. We were made welcome as always and made use of our usual parking space which is tucked nicely in the corner of their car park.

Video to be added

After a lovely afternoon, evening and peaceful night we were happy to be heading for the shuttle. Arriving early for our slot we were given the option to take the next crossing, a much higher price band but at no additional cost - result!

Our plans were to overnight at Cite Europe which is just next to the shuttle terminal in Calais but on arrival it was packed. Its very much a car park and can only accommodate motorhomes by taking 2 spaces. At 11 metres(ish) we needed more room so headed off to an Aire at Equihen Plage.

Plenty of room at Equihen Plage

We've stayed here many times and it gave Digger an opportunity to let off some steam on the beach. But really must remember to ignore TomTom with her ridiculous instructions to follow roads little better than rutted farm tracks to get there, luckily we only had to inch past one blinkin great tractor this time....

The following morning we woke to the knock at the door for the required 5€ we got off to a fairly good start for our trip south. Our plan was to meander on an Aires hunting mission over maybe a couple of weeks before getting back to our Spanish home.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Campsite Wardens - so was it worth it?

Well, we've finished for the summer, the last 6 weeks at our second location. We feel that having seen it through to the end we probably won't be doing it again!

The campsite for our last 6 weeks was quite large and run by the owners who work full time at it. One other warden couple covered maintenance, odd jobs, pitching arrivals, reception, shop etc. - our duties solely revolved around cleaning.

In itself cleaning showers and toilets isnt too bad BUT, sadly some folks' behaviour and treatment of the facilities can be beyond belief - we were warned back in Cornwall days that there were certain 'horrors' that we could face... And we have!

Some of the work was made harder and less pleasant because of things like poor drainage and ageing equipment and facilities - meaning that a plunger and a practiced technique was required most days and often more than once a day.

You get a little hardened to it but the unreasonable gross behaviour nearly caused us to quit at one stage.

Financially the work produced what we wanted. This type of job rarely pays much more than minimum wage but with enough hours most of the earnings were banked because of the free living aspect with electricity, water and pitch all included. This particular job paid a set 33 hours per person per week over 5 and a half days (meaning 6 early starts a week) rather than the previous campsite which was by the hour worked and with 2 full days off.

As far as living in the van is concerned we've managed pretty well, a little more cluttered than we are usually when touring but we sort of got used to it. A lot of space was taken up by having all electric appliances - toaster, coffee maker, hotplate, frying pan and kettle to make use of the free electricity all have to go somewhere.

Our van is 6.5 mtrs and has enough space for the 2 of us + dog but I probably wouldn't recommend doing this sort of job in anything smaller.

So with the season, for us, at an end we can concentrate on getting the motorhome serviced and MOTd, annual dentist and health checkups completed and then we can head south again - Aires hunting and with some R&R enroute to Spain

No more alarm clock controlled mornings! :D

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Campsite Wardens - Not finished yet!

Well, no-one can accuse us of sitting on our laurels! ;)

After quitting the job in Cornwall we were a bit down, but mainly because of sitting back and reflecting over the recent events. Although we were bucked up a bit by comments by friends and fellow members of Club Motorhome and also offers to park up on their drives should we need somewhere - Huge thanks to all! Caroline got back onto the internet and looked at a couple of campsite job finder type websites and found a likely looking position in Norfolk of all places, so ideal for seeing the family before we do eventually head of into Europe again.

I telephoned the site and had a chat with the owner who sounded very positive and he subsequently emailed some details of the job to us. I returned our CV and said that we would be interested should they wish to interview us.

Nothing more happened for a day and we thought that was it - but no worries, we'd just go and see the folks and forget about work for the time being.

As we were packing to leave the site our mobile rang and it was the Norfolk site owner saying that he was pleased to offer us the job and gave us a start date and an invitation to visit beforehand to look around and iron out any queries that we may have.

In a much more buoyant mood we continued to ready ourselves for the off and said our goodbyes to the other (nice) staff. We were actually quite pleased that apparently the other wardens were now less than impressed that they would be working all the shifts, 7 days a week until there was some time for the management to find replacements for us - shame (shouldn't gloat really but hey-ho). We were also told that we would be very welcome should we wish to return next year.....

Anyway, we have called in to see some friends who are campsite wardens in Stratford on Avon for a couple of days en-route to Norfolk and are enjoying a bit of R&R in the sunshine. B)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Campsite Wardens - We Quit!

A long, tedious and thoroughly boring story about matters so petty you wouldn't believe led us to the point of saying 'Enough!' on Friday - so I won't go into minor details.

We're very fortunate to be doing this work by choice rather than necessity otherwise such an outcome would have left us in the lurch. We've actually enjoyed the job as previously posted and haven't minded helping out with whatever jobs were necessary to make the campsite work properly. The problem has been in the form of one of the other workers who is known to be a moaner and somewhat of a difficult character. Unfortunately we have had to share our duties with this person and have been regularly undermined in our efforts.

This culminated in an official (friendly) meeting to get the matter sorted over a cup of coffee and biscuits, at which the other party (and husband) walked out in a huff refusing to discuss any issues. Management were appalled apparently but not prepared to make any further efforts to resolve the issues.

Anyway, rather than continue to work in an unpleasant atmosphere which basically casted a cloud over this otherwise lovely environment we decided to be the ones to quit as the others were more senior and solidly installed in the warden's lodge and obviously weren't affected by their own behaviour - I guess we gave the management an easy way out.

We've been offered the opportunity to stay on 'camped' as long as we like but we've felt a couple of days is long enough and we're moving on tomorrow - a burden lifted!

Last day on site

Has it put us off being campsite wardens? - No

We have generally enjoyed the work, the surroundings and actually the campers too. More than once we've been thanked for everything we've done. Its been fascinating to watch visitors come and go, those that you would hardly know were there and others that you just know are going to be labour intensive from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave.

Would we do it again? - Certainly

We have sent our CV out again so we'll see what happens. We're a little older and wiser now so may ask a few more probing questions to avoid a repeat situation. But if nothing transpires we will just continue our family visits then head south again into Europe a little earlier than we had planned once the van's annual service and MOT is out of the way.

Ready to hitch up and we're off

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Campsite Wardens - So what does the work entail?

I imagine a warden's role may vary between different sites and the facilities they offer.

In our case this holiday park is quite spread out (36 acres) and caters for lots of tourers with a choice of grass and hardstanding pitches. There are also static holiday homes and a few luxury lodges. There is a shop/cafe and an outdoor swimming pool. The site has quite a few awards to its credit so its very important to keep standards high.

Our own roles centre on cleaning and maintenance of the facilities and the regular shift hours concentrate on the toilet and shower blocks which are in 2 separate areas of the site plus a motorhome service point, chemical disposal points, laundry room and kitchen.

There are 4 shifts in a day with one of them being the main cleaning session. First shift is an early walk around checking that all is tidy from the night before, anything that needs putting right is done so. Late morning is the main cleanup when the whole facilities are worked through in systematic order. Late afternoon sees another walk around tidying anything as necessary and the late shift is a mini cleanup depending on how it all looks.

We share these shifts so only do two of these shifts each day except when the other couple are on their days off when we do the lot.

When on the late shift our duties finish at around 10.30/11pm with a walk around the entire site checking that all bbqs and any fires are put out and that there's no excess noise.

With a small team (2 warden couples, groundsman, maintenance man and a housekeeper together with a couple of weekend cleaners) there's often extra work to be done to cover other's duties due to days off, sickness or sheer volume of visitors. In our first 2 weeks we have been litter picking, pressure washing, grass strimming, lodge cleaning, helping with some machinery, moving a diesel tank and more.... It's possible that we may have to provide cover occasionally in the office and shop. All extra work outside our normal duties is added to our timesheets as we are paid hourly and any such work is entirely optional (although I couldn't imagine leaving anyone in a muddle if they needed help!).

There is often an electric buggy available to move around the site with but so far we have mostly walked between the facilities. Out of curiosity I did use the GPS tracker on my phone the other day when doing a late shift and we clocked up one and a half miles!

So, all in all we should keep fit as a bonus too :).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Newbies to A-Frames...

We have tried a few setups that would give us some transport when we are parked in one place for a while.

Cycles, then a scooter and rack (which was great) but we then acquired our lovely dog and the scooter became rarely used. I wasn't keen to be towing a trailer around with us although I have no problem with towing having had quite a bit of previous experience with lots of different trailers but the storage of it would always be an issue for us whether based at home or visiting friends and family as we do in our motorhome. We also use Aires for most of our European travelling and parking space could sometimes be an issue for motorhome, car and trailer.

The most practical solution for our usage was to use an A-frame. It means that we have a car to use for exploring and other general use - the car can also provide extra useful storage space when travelling as a bonus!

We (I) came up with the bright idea of all this when we were in Spain before returning to the UK for the summer. We had already committed to a start date for our job as campsite wardens and the ferry was booked for a couple of days beforehand so time was a bit tight for actually getting a car and the A-frame.

Firstly, I sourced the car I wanted over the internet - sadly it was in Gateshead and we were going to be working in Cornwall! A deal was done over the phone to buy it (I know, I know, but you have to take the odd chance here and there!) and the dealer agreed to deliver it to a location that I would advise later.
Car bought, a 2003 Suzuki Jimny which I had read was a good car to tow (post 2004 models are not however). It is a perfect size for the two of us and Digger, plus as a very light 'proper' 4x4 its great for getting off the beaten track when required.

I then started to research a supplier for the A-frame itself. After much reading about possible regulation changes looming from 2014 I contacted several suppliers via email to enquire about costings and suitability etc. Surprisingly, not all of the companies even answered and others either said the car was too old for them to adapt or, another wanted to sell an A-frame + car package and wasn't interested otherwise!

The company that was the most helpful was www.Towtal.co.uk. They offered 2 options, a traditional overrun braked A-frame which apparently should still comply with the regs as long as bought and fitted prior to the changes, and a newer electrically operated setup that is the best on the market (their words). Just under £1000 for the overrun and around £1500 for the superior RVi2 package.

Towtal needed the car for a day to make all the fittings prior to it being towed away and they kindly agreed to take delivery of my Suzuki the day before I could get to collect the finished item. A call was then made to the car dealer in Gateshead and arrangements made to have the car delivered on a specific day to Towtals's premises in Stoke-on-Trent. A plan had come together!

The due day arrived and we pulled into Towtal's yard and there sat our new (to us) car with its A-frame brackets poking out through its front bumper - the work had been done! The car wasn't quite as tidy as I had hoped (not really unexpected though) but nothing that a little TLC won't put right. We were given a smooth demonstration of how the apparatus assembled and worked and how to alter the electronic setup as required and that was it, we were now A-framers!

There seemed to be quite a lot to remember but I was confident that it would all make sense with practice. Aprehensively we set off towards our destination for the summer - Cornwall. I think we pulled into services about 3 times to check all was well with the 'toad' - nothing to worry about as all was fine. We had a pre-arranged meeting in Somerset so overnighted at one of our pub stopovers which gave us the opportunity to uncouple and use our car for the first time.

Next morning I coupled up again checking, double checking and triple checking all the steps and I don't know how many more times I checked the steering lock was off, as was the handbrake and that the car was in neutral!

Everything worked exactly as it should and we carried on down to Cornwall. The car is now independant from the motorhome and won't need to go back on the A-frame until our return to Spain at the end of the season.

One week in......

Well, we've completed our first whole week of work!

Our normal weekly hours are around 16-20 but with all the extra preparations to areas on the site we've clocked up 80 between us - and we're pretty shattered!

Our new rotas have been issued now, so from now on we will will be working to a shift pattern shared with the other warden couple. There are 4 shifts in a day - each couple working 2 of them except for when a couple has their 2 days off a week when the other couple covers all 4.

We don't do our own shifts until later this afternoon so we have most of the day to ourselves and the weather is lovely!

The remodelled swimming pool opened yesterday, just in time for the mass influx of holiday makers and very popular its proving too :)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Busy, busy, busy

Our first work tasks have been to help get the seasonal parts of the site into top condition for the start of the main holiday period which starts this May bank holiday weekend. Preparations have included lots of extra cleaning of toilet, shower and kitchen facilities.

Today we've moved up a gear incorporating grass strimming and pool accessory cleaning - at this point we are well on schedule for the mass influx of campers at the weekend.

Cleaned, mown and strimmed

Recreation area - the quiet before the storm!

caromac cleaning the sun loungers

Well, we're ready! Smile

But its not just all work as we've had lots of free time to explore the local beaches and to find our local pub which is about a mile away - and a very nice (dog friendly) pub it is too The Barley Sheaf in Gorran Churchtown

So, three days in and it seems like we have been here for ages. The management and staff are very friendly and pretty laid back too considering the build up to the busy period.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Campsite Wardens

A slight change of direction for my blog....

This summer caromac and I have become..... campsite wardens!

We normally spend a lot of each year touring in our motorhome and a lot of the year is spent in Spain but there's always an annual trip to the UK for MOT and service etc (and to visit family and friends of course) which avoids the hottest times when in southern areas. Well this year we decided to spend the whole of the summer in the UK and thought we would try incorporating our motorhome interests into this plan.

I thought I would blog about our experience because we have found out by friends' reactions to our plans, that a lot of people seem to think it would be an ideal occupation for them too but not many actually progress to doing it - so I'll tell it how it is, to offer encouragement (or discouragement) to others .

A couple of months ago Caromac drafted a suitable CV for us as a couple and emailed it to all the campsite job vacancies that we could find - we ignored the ones that offered just a free pitch in return for work, we intended to actually earn a living while doing this!

We had a very encouraging response and shortlisted a couple of opportunities and, following a telephone interview we were offered jobs at a lovely campsite/holiday park in Cornwall. A start date was agreed and we arrived a few days in advance to settle in and get our bearings. We have been allocated a fully serviced hardstanding and we actually have a sea view across the park, so we're delighted!

With no previous campsite warden experience we are quite happy to be considered newbies and the other couple who share the wardens duties with us have been explaining and showing us the ropes as this is their 3rd year here.

Today was our first working day and we were shown our cleaning duties which form the mainstay of our jobs. With the site being so nice and the facilities modern the cleaning doesn't look like its going to be too difficult. Normal routines will involve around 16-20 hours of work each per week but there will always be other jobs available which are optional. There are 2 consecutive days off each week and we both have the same days so there should be plenty of free time to enjoy the facilities and explore the area. We're fortunate to have an all-year-round dog friendly beach within 10 minutes walk too.

So here we are, getting paid for work and living in a beautiful part of the countryside in our motorhome.

To be continued.....