18. topsy gets arrested - nearly! (from oct 07)

I forgot to mention that Topsy got pulled over by the police the other week, late one night coming back from Newcastle, at about 11 in the evening, the three girls had been to a McFly concert for Barbara's birthday, and I'd already driven round for ten mins without me headlights off. The poor tired over excited girls were wrapped up in sleeping bags and blankets, shivering and I was wrapped in my coat equally shivering!

Uneventful journey back to almost Aycliffe (better than the way there following me mate who drove very quickly, had Topsy on two wheels on a roundabout, I'll not do that again!), when I thought the lights had gone to green so I turned right into Aycliffe, ahh nearly home... then the flashing blue lights appeared behind me, so I pulled to the left to let them pass, but they stayed behind me, eek!. Slowed to a stop and wound me window down, the conversation went as follows...
policeman - You've just done what I've done twice
me - what did I do twice
policeman - no, i did it twice you did it once
me - oh, what've I done once?
policeman - ran a red light
me - no no no, it was green! (starting to look panicked now!)
policeman - no it was red
me - (speechless)
policeman - it was green for straight on red for turning right (which I had)
me - (cue a couple of tears) oh no, what's gonna happen, I've only just passed my test, I thought it was green, I'm sorry (now in flood of tears)
policeman - (smiling) well, what's gonna happen now is you're gonna drive home carefully and not make that mistake again!
me - thank you orrifacer!

I then set off and reached 40 mph before I realised it was a 30 zone, oops, but he just overtook me and wagged his finger, so thanks to Aycliiffe police, as ever friendly and forgiving! And ever since then I always get a little wave when he passes, ahh.


17. not a lot happened ....

So, it's been a while since the last update, but since then Topsy has had her first blast down the A1 and back, roughly about 350 miles without a hitch, and we had a great time in Corby visiting me brother...
Topsy also taken the girls on a couple of road trips - up to near Alston with Belle's best mate who's also into rocks, and we found lead ore, fossil's and fluorite, and all the girls got very wet and muddy. We were joined up in the hills by my mum and dad in their sporty car, and Rog n Rob on the bikes, Topsy took the longest to get home, but we did stops off in Hamsterly Forrest...
Topsy then took us to the forbidden corner - with Barbara's best mate, and again Topsy performed marvelously and didn't break down once! Good old Topsy! OH, and the forbidden corner is well worth the money, I'd recommend it to everyone!
Topsy then took Belle and two of her mates through Hamsterly Forrest, up Weardale, to see the fossilised tree at Stanhope, then over the hills towards teesdale where we stopped for hot chocolate (it was very very cold on the moors!).
Also, Topsy has had her first crash (notice that Topsy had her first crash, as though it was nothing to do with me - who was driving), she reversed into a, well, I'm not saying what she reversed into, but we thought it was only cosmetic damage, a bit of paint sheared off hear and there and everything elss was ok ...
... and it was, until the bumper fell off on the way to darlington, only on one side though and I managed to bodge it for the return journey with cable ties, clever little me!
So, no pictures of Topsy at the moment, not whist she's looking slightly poorly! And also no new-old mini, I've put that project on hold till Topsy is better!
Anyway, it's all systems go over the next couple of weeks, so a merry christmas and happy new year from Topsy, and all of us!!!!
And here's looking forward to many many more adventures in 2008....


16. witch Belle

Well, Topsy has new new flowers on - I like them but Barbs and Belle aint too impressed, though they did pose for the rather frightening photo of Belle dressed up for the Halloween disco (I'll not make any jokes about Barbara not needing make-up to look scary!)


15. she didn't start ...

Pulled up outside my friends house, no parking spaces so I did a bit of reversing back up the road to the nearest one. Now, I knew the engine doesn't play properly when it's cold, so I wasn't too surprised when she stalled, but I was quite shocked when she then wouldn't start. I was nearly in a parking bay, but still well in the chuffing road, and she would not respond. Not even turn over. No roaring into life. Not even a groan. Nothing. Nowt. Absolutely fluff all...
Well, there was a small 'click', but that wasn't settling me in anyway ...
... a truly nauseating horrifying beast of a situation I didn't want to be in though - all the worst case scenarios were running through me mind ...
... me first actual proper breakdown of a mechanical nature (instead of mental!). With a 32 year old vehicle you knew it had to happen sometime. But the Irish luck was smiling tonight, Topsy might be in a state of exhaustion, but I was 30 seconds from me mates front door, which is definitely what you need in a crisis.
A reassuring phone call to a drunken Rog later, and with the help of my friends and their fantastic youngest daughter Tanisha (aged 9), the car was pushed off the road (must remember so sit in it next time to put handbrake on!) and the amazing RAC were on their way (oh how smugly thankful I am that I joined that marvelous institution).
One welcome cup of tea and some calming time with me mates later, The RAC Man, a terrific Glaswegian, had mastered Topsy's quirkiness of not liking the key all the way in the ignition, and he'd checked the battery was charged, then he really scared me by jacking me van up, which caused a lot of panic on my behalf. He found the starter motor, wriggled the connections a bit, climbed out and just effortlessly started my pride and joy into life again ...
Oh the elating relief...
The RAC MAN then showed me where me starter motor is and the bits to check if it happens again between now and me getting them properly fixed, and gave me loads of great advice on those little jobs that need doing and what tools I need to do them, so here's another
And even though she broke down (and I know it wasn't a serious one!), I love me van even more - and each setback gains me more experience and knowledge in how these machines work and how you fix 'em, and the fun factor goes up even more ... I even secretly enjoy the almost panic attacks when something does go wrong, I'm not bored by life anymore! So cheers to everyone who's been enthused enough to help me in any way!
And for Mandy, Tony, Tanisha (and clan),
Thanks for the tea, the advice, the use of the phone, for calming me down, for the company, and for not chucking me out even though it was very late! I'm glad I've got mates as cool as you...


14. independant driver

Well, Topsy has some more flowers on - but no pictures yet as next week there will be some more!

The first week of driving by myself has been great, very scary, but good fun. Belle has even been dropped off at school without being embarrassed, but Babz hasn't asked for a lift to her school yet....
I've driven up Weardale again, with Rog and Frank, and it's fantastic now Roger can get drunk, he's far less grumpy about the whole Topsy experience...
And me and me mates can go out anywhere for a cup of coffee, and have a much better view than the one from the local cafe.
I've checked my tyre pressures, and got a new spare wheel
A word of warning to my friends though - I don't think I'm going to stop being obsessed by Topsy, so if I drone on too much about vw's, just tell me to shut the fluff up!!
Anyway, more pictures next week, if I can fit it in between all the driving!


13. third driving test

So, I've actually finally blooming well done it - the driving test was passed with 3 minor faults, and now the red L plates are off and the green L plates are on!

And a message for the best driving instructor in the world ...

Thank You, Bob!!

... couldn't have done it without you, you've made me and the girls, and Rog very happy...


12. New gas pedal

And yes, it's another DIY spectacular success for Topsy, the new accelerator pedal is on, and it works! It's always good when something newly fitted looks as though it should work, and actually does - maybe as time goes on with this project I'll get more confident in the technology and my ability?!
So, jobs I've done so far
Two cab door weather shield/seals installed
Most of the exterior light seals replaced
The sliding door lock removed, parts replaced, rebuilt
The gas stove installed (only till the new cupboards go in, then it'll have to be re-installed)
One sun visor recovered
Brakes replaced by garage
Seat belts installed by garage
Gas pedal
Various other bits of tinkering, like a spare set of keys!

Hmmmm, it's not much, at this rate she won't be completed by spring (mind you, I don't think Topsy will ever be finished - there's always another little job to do!)


11. Sliding door now works!

I'm well chuffed with myself as today I finally fixed my sliding door! It now opens, stays open, closes and locks, and then unlocks for the whole process to begin again. Thanks to Richie from the NEVW club for the advice (again!) and to Volksheaven for finding the part I needed even though I wasn't too sure what sort of door lock it was!

Anyway, another DIY success for Topsy!


10. camper cramp

So, the roof is up, or the top is popped, the kettle is on, there's inches of clearance space above my head, yet still I hunch up as though the roof is down. And so does everyone else in the van! I'm naming this curse 'camper cramp', and it really hurts the back all that crouching for no reason a whatsoever ...

Oh, we finally got the drivers door seal on, it only took hours of work, I even messed around with body-filler stuff! Noise level in cab is vastly reduced (I can hear the kids now but don't tell them!), as is the draught, but it'll be harder for Mr R.A.C man to break in next time I lock the keys in!


9. wensleydale

click on the picture if you want to suffer the full 127 photies of our adventures in the land of real cheese



This post is to thank the marvellous R.A.C guy - unfortunately I forgot to ask his name - who came to my rescue this bank holiday Sunday and got into my van so I could get my keys out, yes, like the stupid idiotic numpty fool I am, I'd locked the chuffing keys in Topsy... Oh it was bad - I was enjoying the sunshine doing bits n bobs to Topsy, I went in the house for a cuppa, and with the worst sudden nauseating feeling I've ever experienced, I realised the van was secure and I couldn't get back in it... I'm sure anyone who has done this will understand the sickening sensation as all options a thought of then discounted, I couldn't even bring meself to tell the next door neighbours what had happened, I just didn't think I'd be able to take any of the usual advice people give in dire situations like this! SO, after about half hour silent panic, I started texting folk that might be able to help (thanks to everyone who got back in touch - it was nice to know I wasn't alone!), and then it occurred to me that even though it might cost a bit, the R.A.C might be able to help, I mean, why else would I pay 70 odd quid a year?! Well, it seams the R.A.C could help, and it didn't cost a penny as apparently 70 odd quid a year covers the cost of a lovely guy spending a bank holiday Sunday rescuing me from the brink of despair! With bizarre magical equipment, from things that inflate and should be in a doctors surgery, to the more usual piece of wire (you know where you are with a piece of wire, though there was no half tennis ball) this lovely guy, with some help (or hindrance) from Dave next door (I'm afraid I did shout at Dave once or twice to move away from the van and let the brilliant professional do his job), eventually got the window down and magically opened the door... Oh what a chuffing relief that was! On Tuesday I think I'll get some new keys cut, emergency keys, and I'll also be telling everyone I know to join the R.A.C - even if they don't have a car, the reassurance it gives me when we're travelling has been worth the membership fee, but locksmith skills on a bank holiday Sunday are the icing on the biscuit! Anyway, the panic is now over, the nausea is subsiding, and the keys are not in Topsy but firmly in my pocket, and although the R.A.C man was exceedingly helpful, I hope to never require his breaking and entering skills again!! So, if you're reading this, Mr nice R.A.C man, 'Thank you very much', from one extremely grateful fool, but I'm glad I wasn't the camper with a 'goosed' engine (yet!)....


7. oh dear ...

OH dear oh dear indeed, I know I said I wouldn't, and maybe I shouldn't, but I just couldn't resist adding my own, erm, touch to Topsy ... so, with some help from Babz, Belle and Rebecca from next door, and thanks to a nice seller on ebay she's now got the remarkably easy to apply (almost idiot proof) hippy seventies daisy decals [I know it's a cliche van], sorry, but she also has the authentic real natural rabbit skulls that we found in Weardale - there's even a baby one, awww..

However, I like her like this ...

I think she looks great ...

A van of character ...

We've made her our own! ...


6. Northumberland

WELL, we've had our 2nd one night holiday in Topsy - two holidays in less than a week - oh the decadence of being a camper owner!! This time up the A1 towards Northumberland, Rog drove on the A1 motorway bit as I'm still on the provisional licence thingy, but I managed to drive the rest of the way - and it was pretty darn scary - with the wind hitting the side of the van she was wobbling around all over the place, I found myself not only checking the road ahead but checking the hedges ahead to watch for any gaps so I'd be prepared for the 200mph gusts (I may just be exaggerating slightly there) as I fought with the steering wheel - the trick seems to be just to go that few mph slower and she handles well...

SO, we eventually made it to Beadnell in Northumberland and found a great campsite right next to the beautiful coast, but yet again we were camped right next to a light, but not our fault this time as we parked where we were told to (and it wasn't bright enough to keep me awake after the bracing salty air!). After our first very successful boiling of the kettle with the newly installed gas bottle and two ring hob we went down to the beach to play in the waves whilst Roger went for a well earned pint (or two), and although the skies were cloudy it was warm enough for us to get soaked. Then it was back to Topsy for tea - a lovely meal of beans n sausages on bread, only mine was full of peppercorns as the top fell off the grinder - much to the amusement of all but me .... then off to the beach again in warmer clothes, where Bill n Babz were delight to discover the tide had gone out even further and we could now walk on rocks that we couldn't even see earlier, and we scrambled over rock pools and treacherous seaweed covered stones where we found tiny crabs in limpet shells, but we never came across any of Bill's 'sea enemies' ... 15 minutes walk later and just before sunset we found ourselves on a very beautiful beach with huge huge huge sand dunes that kids just can't resist scaling up then running down - and I couldn't either! We made it back to the van before the light went completely and after an hour or more of showering, teeth brushing, another drink, one more trip to the toilets, oh, just one more drink, loads of fuss getting beds comfy, the girls were finally ready to settle down for the night - phew!

THE next morning was rainy and cold - I was up first and had a walk down the beach and then to the shop for bacon, eggs, spade, bucket and fishing net, I forgot the milk though so that meant another trip down the beach, this time with the girls for company, and we made sandcastle in the rain next to the lapping waves of the north sea, now that's what I call a proper holiday! We all enjoyed a hearty breakfast and cups of tea/coffee/hot chocolate then we packed the van up and set off, but stopped very quickly when we spotted some long-horned northumbrian cattle, where we all did our best moo impression...then on the move again for Alnwick, hoping to see the castle where 'arry Potter was filmed, but we got side tracked by the gardens, and as you have to pay for the castle and garden separately we didn't do both, it did seem a bit off a rip off, but the gardens were actually well worth a visit - and perhaps we'll try the castle next time?! The girls and Roger loved the Poison Garden where they have various nasty toxic plants, Bill was very surprised to discover that rhubarb as actually dangerous! There are also many many water features for kids to get very wet in, which Bill did after Babz pushed her in them! Oh, and there is the biggest tree house we've ever seen, mildly disappointing as it set up to make money from the cafe in there, but it is impressive with it's rope swing bridges... Back to the van for a cup of tea (I can't stress how absolutley fantastic a feeling it is to make a cup of fresh hot tea in Topsy) then back down the A1, with a two hour traffic jam near Newcastle crawling along in 1st gear through torrential rain, even when we cleared the traffic and reached to A1m Rog was driving at 35mph, think I'll start checking the weather forecasts!! And there'll be another adventure soon - but who knows where as there never is a plan - and more things to put on the list for next time, like a proper awning instead of a tiny tent! ...

Topsy now has new front indicator seals, and a new passenger cab door seal, others to follow shortly!


5. first overnighter

AT last we have had our first adventure in Topsy up in woolly Weardale, with a slightly delayed departure due to her brakes - but thankfully this problem was swiftly rectified by the highly recommended Norm the mechanic at Gregg Little's, and he also put the new seat belts in so I can drive Topsy with the kids safely in the back - which is great as you can barely hear the constant questions from them when you're up front with the window open - ah peace!

THE first scheduled stop (not counting the brief halt in Stanhope for Rog to have a five min breather from supervising me driving, and where I did me seventeen point turn in the road!) was Killhope Mine which is one the the best museums of it's type - the kids got to search for their own minerals, and go down the mine kitted out in wellies and hard hat, and play with old-fashioned toys, and see a great collection of minerals and spar boxes, oh and lots lots more - and there was no interactive computers in sight! Killhope is great for a day trip from anywhere in the north east for adults and kids and is highly recommended by us all! (Belle and Babz found loads of bonnie crystals and Belle is now engaged in making her own spar box).

WE then drove back down the valley in Westgate where there is a great quiet basic campsite right next to the Weir of the Wear, with toilet and showers for Barbara and a five minute walk to the pub for Rog! One vw bus for the girls to sleep in - one tent for me n Rog (I will get around to putting the hammocks in!). After sunset we had the pleasure of watching very fast bats chase midges (of which several bit us - midges that is, not bats!) over the river Wear, and fish jumping out the water, and also one large trout (well nearly a foot and a half long) wriggle expertly over the weir. There was an owl somewhere near by, but even Roger's impression of an owl call didn't entice it into view!! And we saw the stars - lots and lots and lots of stars, it's great without light pollution - if only we hadn't camped up in front of the street light!!

BREAKFAST was a luxurious affair - we drove over the moors towards Teesdale, and stopped by a little river to eat strawberries and other goodies in the open air surrounded by nobody, the kids tried to build a damn, Rog went off for a little walk to a quarry, and I relaxed in the sunshine laid next to me bus .... a very nice time was had by all!

AND now we're back from the weir on the Wear where we were at (say that quickly after a few pints!) and I think we're all agreed that Topsy is the best thing we've ever had - excellent for the girls as a changing room after falling in river accidents, and great at just trundling steady away up and down the hills - though I have had her up to 60 mph, I much prefer cruising round at a modest 35-45! Also, we went all that way to see nature at its best, only to find a sparrowhawk in me own back garden! Next week a new adventure, but we don't know where as there is no plan! Well, there's a plan to write a list of things we might need, like insect repellent - we were hopelessly unprepared as always!

ps - I'd like to say thanks to the chaps at Homeplan DIY (Greenwell Road, Newton Aycliffe, DL5 4DH 01325 312037) who even at this early stage of my slow Topsy interior project have been an invaluable source of knowledge, materials, tools and very good advice, especially when it comes to camping stoves and gas bottles, connecting the right two things together!! So, THANK YOU, from the camper van girl... who can now enjoy a cup of tea anywhere!


4. first drive!!

EEK! Yesterday I drove me Topsy for the first time - a very brave Roger sat in with me, and we crawled along in first gear for a few minutes ... finding second gear turned out to be not quite as easy as I thought, and finding 3rd was just as traumatic ... but 4th was ok, I think I'd started to get the hang of it by then!

SO, after a quick detour to drop off a friend I set off towards Keith Bingham's vw emporium in Thornaby, in a 32 year old vwehicle, with my L plates on, so apologies to anyone who was stuck behind me! By now I'd got the hang of going up through the gears, but going down through the gears was proving to be different gravy entirely, 4th to 3rd is fine, and 2nd to 1st is fine, but as yet I can't for the life of me get it from 3rd to 2nd, so at every junction I was having to come to a complete stop from 3rd and then going up from 1st! But all the folk on the roads seemed to have patience, and most folk smiled and waited for me to sort me little self out whenever I stalled it (which was a few times!) and didn't seem to mind too much that I wasn't going particularly quickly on some of the back roads ... Roger did get a bit concerned a few times, but as I said, a near crash or nearly going off the road doesn't count!! However, she's not been on two wheels on any corners yet so I've yet to push her to the limits of her capabilities! (hopefully I'll never have her on two wheels - that's more Roger's style!)

ANYWAY, I loved driving Topsy, it's quite strange being such a new driver who's learned in a nice friendly modern car to driving the idiosyncratic quirky Topsy, but the feeling is great, the steering is good, the view is fantastic, in fact it's just as hard but even better than I thought it would be - me little dream was a good one and I'm so pleased I've got her, but I will be going somewhere quiet to practise that gear thing, I'm sure I'll get the hang of it eventually ....

(The vw emporium was excellent, and thanks must be said to the guy who owns it, Keith, he talked me through exactly how to put seat belts in, and he managed to find me the two hammock bunks I need for the pop top roof, so this week I'll start drilling me van !!)


3. Topsy makes friends!

SO, yesterday evening Billie and I were loading the van up with spare quilts an pillows that we'd been saving for months when Boris (another North East VW Club member) pulls up to say hi, which was nice...
.... and a while later I heard the unmistakable sound of a vw, and was very surprised to see another great looking van pulling up outside - Boris had brought Gareth, and he and his lovely sweedish import were nose to nose with Topsy! It was strange to see two fantastic looking vehicles in this quiet suburban street!
Also yesterday we took Topsy to meet the local vw mechanic, Norm, and took her to the Cobblers pub (a fine and dandy establishment which comes highly recommended by me - well, I know folk that work there!)
SO, not much work done on Topsy yet (none), but next week the door seals should come (me first diy van job!), and we may have got the seatbelts by then and could possibly have a clearer idea on what we'll eventually do with the inside... But we're still brimming with enthusiasm (but thankfully the purple fur idea has been dropped, phew) (and if you click on the picture and look at it close up - you'll see I wasn't lying about selling the kids shoes!!)


2. more pictures

SOME more pictures of Topsy - We've been sitting in her for an hour drinking a cup of tea, putting the roof up, taking it down, pulling the bed out, pushing it back, looking in cupboars and trying to decide what exactly we should do with the inside - I think for now the best plan is to get the extra seatbelt fitted and then think for a few weeks and not rush into to anything too drastic!

1. We've got her!

Well, yesterday we brought my new baby home - Topsy the 1975 vw camper... First though I must thank Duane (Topsy's previous owner), and Richie of the North East VW Club, cheers guys! And also thanks to Paul for driving us through and driving the kids home :-)
IT was the most money I've ever spent in my life so I felt a wee bit dizzy after handing the cash over and signing the documents, it took me a good couple of hours to get over that one! There's only one seatbelt in the back so unfortunately my daughters can't join us on any adventures yet!! Though we should have another one fitted shortly ... Roger stalled it a couple of times on the way home :-( but it seemed to drive fine when he got the 'hang of it'. I failed my driving test this week, but the L plates will be going on her sometime today, or tomorrow, and I'll have a little tootle around the industrial estate away from proper traffic!.
BUT this morning the dizzyness is gone - there was no regrets as I woke up to look out the window at the lean green travelling machine (nor did I have any regrets the previous twenty times that I looked out of the window to check on Topsy, but I'm sure that I'll only check 19 times tonight!)...
SO, that's all the news for now, but there will be developments over the next few weeks!!
From Zoe, Barbara and Belinda