- Cleaning the back of the van is an utterly futile activity. It will stay clean until it rains or it moves, whichever comes first. The only sane way to keep the back window window like is a a rubber scraper designed to take water off the shower cubical. If used on the wet window whenever you stop and it's damp you night have some rear view.
- However well you plan and prepare something will still go wrong. Admittedly I did know this but I really thought more planning and preparation might have reduced the problems more. Leaving slack in the planning is essential.
- I'm lazy (again not really news) if I have to move stuff to open a cupboard I probably won't. Make important things very very easy to get to. By the end of the trip I had this one pretty much mastered.
- Being lazy I skip too many meals and drinks. Dehydration doesn't help anything. Again I should know better but this trip has reminded me and I will try to get better at this honest.
- Have food in the van but show local when possible. I discovered that being able to choose something for dinner on the spur of the moment made me more likely to eat, but the security of knowing I didn't have to was great too.
- It's all about the people. Great people can make anything good. I don't think I would have made it through this trip without the help form the Isle of Wight ladies and their mechanic, but every group refueled and sent me on my way with new ideas and fresh energy.
- England (and Wales) are really beautiful. One of the advantages of having to drive slower in the van is you get to see more of the countryside, and it's worth looking at.
- I got to learn more about Welsh quilts and Durham quilts, and the chance to handle some. I really want to be able to make a quilt that feels like them, but I have to admit I haven't quite got to the point where I can be certain which is which. I guess this is another area I can look into more when I get a chance.
- Speed quilts work great with recycled fabrics and fancy Oakshott fabrics. One group tried both extremes and it worked. Even I get caught up by the obvious and it was great to be shaken out of that. The wool blanked does work as wadding, I would say pretty well although it does need very robust pressing. In the Oakshott fabrics the quilt looks elegant and really quite posh. I had also not considered adding hand quilting to these patterns but I think it's going to be amazing. I can't wait to see pictures. Please ladies, don't forget to send me some.
- Oakshott have a shop front. I guess I should have known that but I didn't. I also didn't know they were so friendly. They are on an estate not in a town centre but they will make you feel so welcome. I can't recommend them enough. Maybe it is something in the air as the Tesco just down the road from them had great staff too. I also didn't realise how closely they work with the weavers who make their fabrics. I like the fact that they know the weavers get paid properly and I love how much input Michael has in the design of the fabrics.
- I've got to ask more questions about parking. I do bring a lot to my talks (and a fair amount to classes). Getting to the venue can be a problem and I think it is only going to get worse. One lady, who was helping move my stuff said she wasn't risking her back carrying my bag. I replied I had to as that was what I was being paid for, but she got me thinking. As a long term solution that just won't work. I need to be able to park close to the venue to unload. I can carry my bags a fair way but there is a limit and actually I shouldn't be damaging my back and shoulders either. My shoulders are bruised and very sore today so hopefully this will be a lesson I take to heart.
- All campsites are not created equal. The best are amazing the others.... I think I should let Tet book more of my sites as even after checking the reviews I still got a bad one. Fortunately he moved me to a wonderful 5 star site which I will be visiting again.
- Filling the van with fuel every day is some what depressing but OK, the third time in one day is just too much.
- Whatever you take, you have too much of some things and not enough of others. I think this will mean in future I take what is convenient. Given I am going to get it wrong anyway I may as well make my life as easy as I can. On the other hand I will take requests, so if there is something I sell that you want (or indeed something bulky from Patchwork Corner) let me know and I will see if I can manage to help you out.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
I've never been to Ironbridge and there was no way I was going to miss out on a visit as I was in the area. However as you may have gathered things were conspiring against me. Each day I had a plan something changed. When I woke up early on Wednesday morning and saw sun, I knew I had one last chance and I was going to take it. The sun didn't last. The first part of the journey from Tewksbury was lovely then the fog appeared. Just what you want on unfamiliar roads (narrow windy roads) in an elderly motorhome with poor lights. Oh well, it's still better the the torrential rain. I also discovered that the sat nav doesn't entirely work in the area, but it got me close enough to follow the road signs, which are excellent. The first picture I took from the van in the carpark. This is actually as I was about to leave as when I arrived the fog was lower and the bridge was quite hard to see. I may be sad (OK I AM sad) but I was thrilled to see the bridge even covered in fog.
It was however cold. Very cold, so I decided not to spend too much time in the town. I did have to have a little wander around though so I had an excuse to cross the bridge a couple of times. I think February was the perfect time to visit. It may have been cold and foggy but there was just one tourist in town. Me! The river may look calm in the picture, but trust me it was moving at quite a pace.
I only had a couple of hours in the area so I knew I wasn't going to be able to see all the attractions in the gorge (I think there are 10 museums in the area) but I was determined to make it the Blists Hill Victorian town. Fortunately it was open as Thursday it was closed to have the roads resurfaced. For once a close call that was just in my favour. It did mean that the town was full of workmen and some areas were quite hard to access. When I bought my ticket I was told the foundry would be casting at 11, which gave me the framework for my visit. Please excuse the quality of the pictures. They are taken at low resolution on my mobile phone through a window into a dark room with bright spots. Not exactly ideal conditions.
The first one shows the metal being poured into the bucket that is then used to fill the moulds. The children watching were all amazed by the 'liquid fire'. It's a good description even when you know it is molten metal. It is so alive and magical, pictures do not do it justice. Next time I will have to try and get video but I'm not convinced that will really capture it either.
In the next picture you can see the long rows of moulds ready to be filled. Most of them make one item but a few do have two smaller pieces in. The ones smoking are already full. They are just sand that has been moulded into shape with a wooden base.
Two men carry the bucket of molten iron over to the moulds and pour. I would say it took about 20 minutes to fill every mould in the room.
I then went for a walk around the town. The dressmaker is just across the road from the foundry and I loved chatting to her about corsets and sewing machines. On the counter she has the cutest little chainstitch machine, just as well it wasn't for sale. A little further up the road is the chipped potato shop. I liked the friers more than the chips unfortunately. It turns out I like my potatoes cooked in oil not beef fat. Who would have thought it.
A little further on is the sweet shop. I really enjoyed being able to buy sweets by the quarter again. As previously noted, I am sad very very sad, and quite proud of it. With a bit of effort I managed to make my way right to the far end of the town, despite the workman's best efforts. The candle maker was fascinating, as was the chemist. I never managed to catch the baker with bread, but maybe next time. I did find it a little disturbing how many products they had that I had been looking for. It seems I can shop easier in a Victorian town than a modern one. I've often suspected I was in the wrong era.
After the walk I headed back to the foundry where they were unmoulding the castings. To do that they grab the mould by the wooden base and fling the sand and casting onto a heap of sand. Then you dig for your casting, with a hammer. Hitting the casting scatters the sand very quickly then you can retrieve the item. Most of them weren't as hot as the one in the picture, but of course that meant they didn't show as well in the photo. This one is a bell door stop. To separate items that are moulded in pairs the casting is dropped on the floor. I was surprised that it only ever seemed to break where they wanted it to. I guess it must sometimes go wrong, but not often enough to merit spending longer on separating the parts. Yes I did buy a few pieces while I was there. It's surprising how cheap they are.
Just after lunch I had to leave and head for my last booking on the tour in Ledbury. By this time the weather had cleared and it was a nice drive. Well except for the slightly creative route the sat nav came up with. It found me a bridge to cross, with a height limit, weight limit and width limit all of which I failed, and it really liked the idea a lot. I decided to drive in a different direction until it gave up on that idea. By failing to spot my hosts house I accidentally ended up in a craft gallery. Fortunately the lady looking after the gallery didn't see me as a potential customer or I would have come home with a sculpture of a horse that I really didn't need but really did want.
After being plied with coffee, dinner, a private quilt show and a dog (a very very handsome dog) we headed for the venue for the talk. Typically after saying how important parking was at a venue, the whole county had decided to park in the area, but after a bit of shuffling back and forth (with all the really heavy stuff) a space did free up close to the venue which made reloading a lot easier. Setting up was a giggle, largely due to the number of friendly faces in the audience. Lots of the ladies from Leominster had made good on their promise and come for the talk, and were keen to help wherever they could. I don't know if I was on form or if it was just the perfect audience for me, but the talk seemed to go down very well with a lot of laughs and groans in all the right places. I think I need to take this group with me to lead the other audiences. On the other hand perhaps they should worry that they share my sense of humour. I should also say they make them tough here, my helper made it though the talk without flagging and trust me, some of the last quilts in the talk are heavy.
Packing up was almost as much fun as setting up, and before I knew it the van was loaded and I was on my way. I had decided to aim to get to Oxford services as it's a long drive to start at 10pm especially after a week on the road. I got lucky though, I followed a lorry for most of the way to Oxford which I find a great help when they are going about the speed I want to. They show me what the road is doing ahead of me and they are someone else on the road. It seems to convince my brain that this is a normal and reasonable thing to be doing whatever the time of night. I did stop at Oxford but after a snack and a drink decided I was fine to head on. By 2am I was home, and bribing my cats. I assure them that I only go away to bring them food so I figure it is a good idea to come back with treats. They seem to agree.
Since then I have taught two regular classes and caught up on some sleep. I've discovered I sleep very well in the van but not so much in strange buildings, be they hotels or houses, so I was due some catch up. To be honest I could still use some more sleep, but there are quilts waiting and a class tomorrow, so it will be a few days before I am quite back to normal. That said, I can't wait to go back :) There really is no pleasing some people is there :)
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
During the day yesterday we worked on Speed 4. As you can see the ladies made great progress. I should be able to put up some more pictures soon. Even those who thought they would keep up and those having bad days achieved a lot. We also did a lot of laughing. It's just as well i have this evening off to rest my voice. As well as the enthusiastic quilting the refreshments were great. Apparently this was the last time the group would be meeting in this venue but I am quite sure their new venue will be great. I can't imagine that group having meetings without good food.
Overnight I was with one of the members and I was spoilt rotten. I was a bit worried about it. I really like spending time in my van as it means I can relax and recharge, but I guess bribary and corruption works as well on me as anyone. Roast dinner, with pigs in blankets, a cat and a selection of quilts was quite a bribe. More than that it was inspiring. I haven't been this excited about an idea in about a year. I hope some of you will join me in the South of France in September to hear all about it.
Today was my talk for Cibi quilters and lunch with them, see what I mean about the refreshments ;) They had chosen my art quilts talk. That took a bit of thinking about as I don't get to do it that often. It was nice to have the change, and it means I get to talk about different quilts. The group were a great audience and very enthusiastic about everything, I really hope I will get to come back here sometime.
Loading up, was made very quick and easy by many hands who did things exactly as I asked, thank you. Leaving me lots of time to go and play. It had been suggested that I could go to Abbergaveny market, but as I said there was a lot of rain. Or I could visit Doughtys who were having a sale. Both were trumped by Oakshot. I hadn't realised they were in the area but after seeing a lady use their fabrics for speed 4 I had to visit their shop. Yes my cunning plan does involve their fabrics. I am so pleased I chose to go to them. I was greeted with a cup of tea, jasmine tea no less and a box of biscuits. As you can see there are also lovey displays of their fabrics and kits. All of which I would guess are on their website. I not only got the fabrics I was looking for but also some interesting wadding. It's a bamboo but not like any I've seen before. I can't wait to try it. I also have an interfacing to play with, I'll let you know how I get on. After a tour of the warehouse I headed to my hotel. It's the same one I stayed at on the 11th. So I thought I would be having pizza again. However there isn't Pizza Hut here. I did wonder if I was just being daft but no. They are renweing the services here. Wimpy and Pizza Hut have gone and will be replaced by McDonalds and the Hot Food Co. In the meantime you have to eat at the only remaining food place. They wouldn't have been my first choice but the food was very good. I wonder if being the only option means a higher turnover and thus better food. Whatever it was good. Now I think it's time for a quick bath and then some writing.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Of course I had to do a little bit of shopping but with most of the traders only taking cash it kept me restrained. A couple of fabrics with silver on and some kimono fabrics from Susan Briscoe. She did have some full bolts which I would haved loved for making clothes, but I managed to resist this time.
Now I am finishing the day as I started it. Snug in bed in my van. I really love it. I've had a very nice evening sewing and watching Mobey Dick. I wasn't that taken with the film but it wasn't taxing so worked well to sew to. I also played with the oven some more. I managed to make a very hot cottage pie with an unbrowned top but figured out how to heat a tinned pudding in it. I think I need to spend more time in here cooking. Next stop Cibi quilters, see you in the morning folks.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
After a busy morning lunch appeared as if by magic. Another group member brought homemade soup, bread and cheese. I'm not sure what sort of soup it was other than very very good. That was followed by chocolate brownie. Oh and there were homemade biscuits for the coffe breaks too. Desoite the best efforts of the catering to distract everyone a lot of work got done too. The pictures are from the afternoon tea break. It wasn't planned but the group had good radar for a boiling kettle. I promise there was a full class and they all left with well progressed quilt tops. I hope they might share some pictures when they finish them.
After the workshop I went in search of my campsite. It's funny but an hours drive in unfamiliar teritory seems a lot longer than the same time journey that you know. i guess it must be a matter of concentration or something. Still with the great views and good weather (sorry IOW) it was lovely. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said of the site. It's the most I've ever paid for 30 minutes parking. On the other hand I am now on a wonderful site. My only problem is I can't believe the whole of this pitch is mine. It's even cheaper than the one I had booked. I feel welcomed and safe. Dinner was good, although I need more practice with the oven and I can now relax with a drink some sewing and a dvd or two. Fantastic. Tomorrow Ironbridge. From talking to todays students I don't think I will have time to get the Quiltfest as well. If you are going have a great time.
Friday, February 11, 2011
With the van still playing up in a strange place all I wanted was to park up and take a break, easier said than done, but I did find a park and ride near Cowes. Great, there must be a chip shop there... yes but not an open one. I did eventually find one and they were really good, but by then I was very wet. Still food and tea make everything look better and exploring seemed like a good plan again. Unfortunately each place I though might be open in the winter was down a road with a 6'6" width limit. Hmm, time to give up and head to a quilter. Who is also down a restricted road. I decided I had to go anyway and actually it wasn't a problem. I can only assume the intention is to discourage motorhomes and caravans as locals know which roads they can use.
We spent a very nice afternoon drinking tea in front of a wood burning stove. Muh better than walking about in the rain. We were joined for dinner by another member of the group which turned out to be very lucky. At the venue we discover that it had another carpark I didn't fit in although I was lucky enough to park very close to the front door also pretty lucky. I realised after I got set up that I had forgotten to change, maybe I was a bit distracted by the van which was getting worse each time I drove it. The audience were great and really filled the hall, but in the back of my mine was the fact that I had a lot more miles to do and no way to do it.
We made it home safely and after a night cap headed to bed. For all it's faults I do love the van. I could sit and relax with my radio and work on my rug while I tried to come up with a plan. Lovely. The plan was to try the local mechanic as recommended by last nights dinner guest. Of course with an older slightly obscure vehicle I wasn't expecting much, but anything was worth a go. The van was delivered to the mechanic and me to the hall by my very capable host so by the time I started the workshop I was organised and relaxed.
The workshop was a lot of fun, hopefully for the group as well as me. I can't say everything went smoothly but I think all the issues were dealt with. Fortunately the gruop had a good sense of humour and aren't easly detered from enjoying their quilting. Everyone made good progress with their tulips and hopefully I will be ab;e to share some pictures soon. In the afternoon I got an update on the van. The mechanic was happy that there was no serious fault and indeed on the way to him I had noticed the burning smell seemed to have reduced. Still after the problems I might not have trusted that result but for the fact he happened to be a Bedford CF expert! What are the odds? See I said that dinner guest was lucky. She was also kind enough to deliver me back to my van after the class.
I am now in a hotel near my next booking. The van has been fine and I am now looking forward to the rest of the trip. I think what will stay with me from the Isle of Wight are the people. Everyone I dealt with from supermarket staff to the port to the quilters were exceptionally friendly and helpful. The place (and the councils) were so unwelcoming, but because of the people I am looking forward to a return trip. Thank you all, and please do send me pictures of your finished work.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Monday, February 07, 2011
I don't like vehicles doing odd things so I really wanted to know why I had no air in the tyre and ideally I wanted to get a new tyre back on to the van, I don't know how old the spare is and I didn't fancy doing much driving on it. There was a 15 minute wait to be seen but my regular type place quickly found the problem, a puncture. They had been fairly certain the tyre would have been damaged by being driven on while flat (I tended to agree) but after checking it carefully it appears I got away with it. It was less the 1/4 mile, slowly and very carefully so I didn't bump the wheel or rub the tyre. They have repaired the puncture and the tyre is back in place. All in all a half hour trip took 3 hours. Ouch. On the other hand I would rather it happened here than out on a trip.
I did manage to get some quilting done today, and my machine seems to be settling down a bit now after it's major surgery. It feels very strange, and sounds even weirder but it's good to be back quilting. Hopefully tomorrow will go more smoothly, but I'm not holding my breath.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
For a stand alone booking I generally know which service stations are on the route and I can work out quite easily how long I need to allow to be there on time. I get up load the van and head off, hopefully with a stop for food somewhere. Simple, well I thought that could be tricky until I tried multi booking trips. We seem to have spent a lot of time the last couple of the weeks working on getting the van up to spec. When we bought it we knew we needed to look at it's electrics but so far I hadn't been staying it in long enough to worry. It turned out to have a couple of problems and no circuit to charge the battery while driving. It has all that now and an inverter. I also knew I needed to clean the onboard water tanks. I didn't know that the winter had broken the filter and thus meant I couldn't get water from the tank to the tap. I couldn't be sure if it was the pump or just the filter so I ordered both and I now have a spare pump when it does give up. We have also found some rugs for the van, a warm floor is much nicer than the laminate in the winter.
What I hadn't really given much thought to was the gas supply. I'd bought a new bottle so I had plenty, of Butane which freezes in the winter. Yes now we've dealt with it, it's clearly a problem but somehow I hadn't really registered how serious it was. Made a lot trickier by having a very small locker for the cylinders to fit in. To say it's tight would be an understatement, but it's in and it works.
Other than sorting out the van I also needed make some travel arrangements. Flights take a lot of messing about these days to find the best deal, especially if you need to take luggage. The sites on the other hand don't want you to check around and helpfully make you start again if you aren't quick enough completing the booking. I think I took about 5 attempts after I had chosen which one I was going to go for! The ferry was much easier, although I did manage to get it wrong, the company were great about sorting everything out for me.
Next comes showers. Yes really. I want to be clean and fresh for all my bookings, and washing is great to a point. I find I really need a proper shower or bath regularly too. Whilst I am familiar with service stations food, toilets and parking I'm not so well versed in shower facilities. Fortunately it looks like next weeks trip works out very well. There are longer stops I need to make that will handily bring me to showers, but it took research to work that one out.
Finally I wanted to find something fun to do on my day off, and that was probably the easiest part. I have a list of places in the UK I would like to visit and as my work takes me to the right areas I will go and see them. This trip I should get to visit Ironbridge. I know it is rather touristy but heck, on my day off that's what I am right? If everything goes to plan (yeah right) I should also get a chance to do some sewing and writing. I'm rather looking forward to that. I just wish the planning all did itself magically. Before anyone asks, yes the cats will be fine. I am going on my own so they will still have one of their humans. I am quite sure they will still be very cross with the reduced service though.