A camper-van came to my rescue.

My story started with my little Yorkshire Terrier, ‘Captain Tim’, a name given to him by members of the sailing fraternity since he accompanied me on many a sea voyage. It was the consensus of opinion that he, Tim, was the true skipper on board. I had Captain Tim for seventeen years and I assure you when it was time to put him down, it was like asking me to kill my only child.

That year I was also recovering from a broken leg, having dropped a motorcycle on top of it, and I lost one more sister to cancer, this was not a good time for me. Irene and I lived next door to one another, we were in and out of each other’s homes all the time and I would drive her around for shopping and the likes so that was a big shock. We would go to meetings and conferences together and many a time she would get me out of myself when I was a bit depressed and did not wish to go out.

When I lost Irene, I needed a new outlet, something to get me out of the house and doing something, the van provided that, it is no exaggeration to say that the van became my saviour.

The van, project was started in spring 2016. it started with the purchased of an old (1999), LDV van. Sometime in the past, it had the chassis extended at the rear and a van body attached, converting it to carry a car for autocross. Although a bit Heath Roberson, it was in very good mechanical conditions, since as race transport it would have to be reliable, but came with a good few battle scars, along with a duff exhaust and dodgy wiring, “If it is cheap, then it had to be good”.

The initial idea was to put the bare minimum in the rear and take off, just get away for a while, rambling, with a dry bed at night. The first couple of trips never further than 50 miles just to see how things went. I loved those trips so much, I decided to make it a bit more comfortable and more usable. After getting it through an MOT, renewing the road tax and insurance. This was followed by a lot of skip raking culminating in the finished product you now see.

The van was lined with insulation, and then further lined with a quarter inch plywood, sorry I still think in old money. I did not wish the Swiss sauna look so stuck carpet and coloured cloth over the plywood sheets, as a bonus this acted as further insulation and too my mind looks brilliant. A false ceiling was installed, so I did not have the problem with trying to fit plywood around the tight curvature of the roof to sides and as a bonus left a void for running the cables. The knackered, roll-up rear door was replaced with a double glazed house door, from a skip in Anstruther, changing the old lock, since it did not come with a key, was a challenge, but the internet came to my rescue. Double glazed windows from a skip in St Andrews. There was already a water tank, pump fitted under the floor so just a good clean and a stainless steel sink, from the same skip in St Andrews, replaced the plastic basin and water jerry can. For those times that I might be caught out with all the public loos locked for the night a ‘new to me’, ‘made in Italy’ porta-potty, not too many people can boast that they have an Italian designed toilet in their van. The cooker and grill and oven combo replaced my primus stove. The van’s deep cycle battery was wired up to two solar panels total output 300W and in turn, wired through a 240volt inverter and household consumer box. All cable runs, plugs and sockets were household types, readily available, and found in most renovation job skips. All light are LED with LED downlighters in the ceiling.

I found on the first trips that the bed was too low, getting in and out was an effort, ‘old aged does not come alone’. So I used an old single wardrobe on its back, doors removed and in their place a 6 X 4-foot sheet of 1 inch thick Stirling board. Ikea supplied the base and mattress, bought second hand and is much more comfortable than my bed at home. There is lots of storage below, you might say a wardrobe full, this had been divided into two equal halves, mostly to strengthen the wardrobe, one side holds all my bedding. There was accommodation over the cab if required but I use that for storage too.

I also found that getting towels and clothes dry when caught out in the rain was difficult so bought a small wood burning stove on e-bay. Although tiny it keeps me snug and warm, and only needs to be on for an hour or so to have the place cosy and dry as a bone, I gather pine and fir cones when out walking and a handful was all that was required to have the wee stove glowing cherry red.

The body of the van being fibreglass I had to separate the stove pipe from the fibreglass roof. This was achieved with a balanced flue, salvaged from an industrial heating system. The balanced flue is unobtrusive and works well even on very windy days. That said I did suffer a blowback once when setting a fire on a very stormy day, blowing out the fire and filled the van with smoke and setting the fire alarm to scream its head off, the van smelt like a fire-damaged carpet store for some time after that incident. The secret I learned was to get the stove pipe heated up as quickly as possible and that is where the pine/fir cones come into their own, ever ready to induce to flame.

The outside of the van body was rubbed down, filled, where necessary sanded down and given an undercoat and coat of semi-gloss paint, (years of owning old wooden boats teaches you a lot about paint and vanish). All this was done with a roller and turned out surprisingly well, not at all a Swan Vesta finish. It did look rather plain, well it was a large flat area, so I added some graphic design to break it up, maybe not to everyone’s taste.

I was lucky to find a boatyard willing to allow me to park it out the back and use their electricity and some tools that I did not have, such as a table saw. I did pay storage for the privilege but well worth it for knowing it is safe and secure and will not be vandalised. So now I move onto phase two, taking it on tour.

Before I did I bought a 20” LED TV/DVD player, that would work from 12V or 240 Volts, for those times when you just want to curl up in the bunk and watch Casablanca, one more time, or engross myself in a good book with audio wallpaper in the background and the wee stove doing its stuff as the kettle sings along with Eva Cassidy; yes life is sometimes just that good.

“Tell me Rick, why did you come to Casablanca?” – “I came here for my health, to take the waters” – “But there is no water in Casablanca, it’s a desert” – “Then I must have been misinformed”, yes the old ones are still the best.

Tomorrow – my shakedown trip.

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