I've found a nice enough pub in Alton, Hampshire, to sit down and write this, while the rest of the family has gone to the cinema. There are plenty of pubs in this town, but this one - The George - seems to be the only one other than the 'Spoons (the intimidatingly huge, and amusingly-named Ivy House) that serves any beers suited to my discerning palate. This pub came with a recommendation from the man in the outdoor shop, which was also excellent, while I bought myself the most Dad pair of shorts I have ever owned, or probably ever will.
We've been in The Downs a few nights waiting for our new overcab window to arrive from Germany, and after tomorrow I hope to be able to write a glowing review of the work carried out by a motorhome repairs business not far from here. Why have we come so far from where it happened to get it done? He is literally the only man who appeared to want the job. The part itself, a piece of plastic about three foot wide and two foot tall, is costing about a grand.
This blog, like the travels that are its subject, is not turning out much like I had expected. It doesn't seem to be realistic to drive to a town, see what we think of it, and report back to you, because so many aspects of so many towns are so much like their counterparts elsewhere. And also because what we are looking for in each town is rarely the stuff of excellent subject matter. I could probably sum up most of the journey so far by telling you that there are an awful lot more branches of Waitrose in the South and East of England than a quarter-century of living in London had led me to believe.
So instead, I shall attempt a new approach, where here, and occasionally hereafter, I shall tell you about the best of something and the worst of something else that we have experienced so far.
Southwold was our first. Here the 'Under the Pier Show' (which was on, not under) amused the boys for a while, despite mocking the authentic seaside amusement arcade experience with some arty pretensions and wry social commentary on the gentrification ship that sailed into this bay to stay some years ago.
Next was Cromer's beautiful Alpha Papa denouement location, followed by Eastbourne's grand home to a Whack-a-Penguin game (bizarrely named 'Punku Tricks') and a Zoltar machine that had totally lost its shit.
A hairy but semi-aquatic friend of Blues Night then kindly donated a Paddle Around The Pier (Brighton, I think?) sticker to cover an unsightly burn-blemish in the van. So we didn't even bother to visit the world's longest at Southend when in neighbouring Leigh, as we decided there had been quite enough pier pressure.
My favourite was the fit-for-purpose cold war construction at Deal that was absolutely heaving with fishermen on a hot and sunny afternoon, but the next day cut a brutalist line through pure turquoise sky and sea in a fine and mist-like rain, in such a way as to make me feel as if I were briefly visiting another planet. Admittedly I was off my tits on Sinutab at the time, but I think even the straightest square would've sensed something otherworldly. If they had been there too.
I think it is fair to say that we are not even considering making our new home in any of the counties that dissolve into Greater London along one edge. We've spent more time in these counties than others so far, perhaps to eliminate them from our enquiries, or maybe for fear of nosebleeds if we stray too far from the mother's milk of polluted London air. Essex is one of those counties, no more and no less.
Okay, so it has an old-fashioned reputation for badly-behaved, even vaguely menacing younger people with unsubtle tastes and educational shortcomings, but I've rarely seen examples of these people myself. This is probably because I have spent more times in Essex's beautiful open spaces and rolling countryside, unaffected by the sights, sounds and smells of those who have given their county a bad name. Until last Thursday night.
A good old friend of Blues Night, himself a smart and sophisticated product of Essex (as is his partner) recommended Two Tree Island, way out in the raging waters of the Thames Estuary, for our overnight stay.
On our arrival, wind and rain was hammering at the walls and roof of the van, and our very brief excursion out into the long grey wetness revealed only a few other vehicles, whose occupants were presumably either quietly dogging or contemplating suicide. This remained the case until about eleven that evening, when the rain let up enough to encourage several carloads of people born around the turn of the century to blast music out while running about shouting, driving their cars around in circles, hitting their horns to the beat, and generally having a lovely time without any apparent concern for the feelings or sleep patterns of the family in the motorhome about fifty feet away. This was the only vaguely menacing aspect of their behaviour - their total disregard for what we, in this lone Other Vehicle, would make of it.
Nevertheless, I had still decided to leave after about half an hour of twitching the curtain between cab and bed, as the shenanigans was impossible to ignore, and I was a little concerned that it might get worse, or one of these kids would get bored and decide to let our tyres down or something. I mean, I've seen friends of mine do that sort of thing. About 25 years ago.
Then, all of a sudden, they left. I couldn't decide whether to be relieved or disappointed, as I had my clothes back on and the keys in my hand ready to go. I'd also sent a text to my Local Friend describing the situation on his much-loved nature reserve and he had already suggested we park up outside his house instead. So I drove off, relieved to not be making a spectacle of myself (or my family's van at least) while doing so, and almost pleased to have to pull in before crossing the bridge back to the mainland, assuming this was one of the groups of lads coming back for more. But it wasn't - it was the cops, and it had obviously been the sight of them passing Leigh-on-Sea railway station that led to a local lad calling his mate down on the island and all these asbomobiles driving off without delay.
The last vehicle to cross the water was a motorhome with two children travelling (illegally) asleep in the overcab bed, a woman in the banquette-bed admonishing the driver for being such a wimp, and a driver whose nerves were frayed down to their last threads, despite being well over the legal limit after a large bottle of an Imperial Stout. Thankfully the police didn't bother stopping this vehicle either, and its occupants were able to get an excellent night's sleep just a mile up the cliff from Two Tree Island. The lesson here was that residential streets are much more comfortable and inconspicuous places to park up for some stealth camping. You don't want to be on your own, away from modern civilisation, because you won't be for very long.