Monday, 26 September 2016

From the Cut to the Castle

Throughout the weekend at Vdubs in the Valley, Gaz made utterances about trading for a third weekend in a row in deepest Gloucestershire.  Baking hot and barely coping with demand, my back suffering from too many nights on a camp bed and too many hours on my feet, I chose to ignore these utterances, preferring to reserve judgment on this one. 

Come Monday morning, the situation had changed somewhat.  Not only had Gaz committed to doing the show – at Berkeley Castle – but we were also now sponsoring the event by producing the official show sticker.

I disappeared upstairs to unpack our weekend travel case and was taken aback.  It literally smelled of hay.  In fact, it also contained copious amounts of hay, stuck to socks and just about everything else!  Living out of a suitcase on the Vdub scene ain’t all glamour let me tell you!  My back had now properly seized up and I was wearing a groove in the rug pacing up and down every 15 minutes, trying in vain to loosen up.  As the show was a one-day event, it was decided that Gaz would go it alone.  For my part, determined to fix my ailing spine, I ordered a used copy of “The Permanent Pain Cure” by Ming Chew, as recommended by a friend.

The early part of the week was therefore spent designing said show sticker and working on some faithful replica stickers of a now obsolete mountain bike, Mountain Cycle’s San Andreas – a favour for a friend, who is generously gifting them to a true San Andreas enthusiast for his 50th birthday.

The Workshop
Wednesday was a day reserved for fixing up the Golf.  An oil leak and squeaking suspension were driving us insane.  This was long overdue.

In need of some exercise, we decided to drive up together and hot foot it back along the canal or “cut” as it’s known in this part of the world.

Always time to photograph a cool ride

With our weekends spent largely in rural surroundings, it made a refreshing change to re-visit the local heritage we take for granted and so I thought I would share a little of our surroundings with you.

Heading towards the Red House Glass Cone and Glass Quarter along newly gravelled towpath

The 15-minute drive to the repair workshop took us up a road you could legitimately call “Exhaust Alley,” a featureless urban B road flanked by boxy new builds and post war housing estates.  The route back however, took in interesting and varied terrain.

Picturesque former public house, now private residence, stone's throw from Exhaust Alley
We walked along canal towpaths running adjacent-to-but-a-comfortable-distance-from Exhaust Alley....

Boat Yard

...through the once world renowned glass quarter, famed for its cameo glass and cut crystal...

One of 4 remaining cones beside Stourbridge 16 lock flight, the Red House Glass Cone Museum offers up glass blowing demonstrations and exploration of its underground tunnels.  There were once over 20 glassworks in this area.

Work in progess.  Former Glassworks currently being converted into apartments.

A narrow boat passing through a lock

through fields overlooking Millionaires’ Row, 

This is part of one street, just a few minutes from our home with the highest concentration of millionaires outside of London.  Spot the swimming pool.  NB.  Nothing like our house.

culminating in woodland we are lucky to have direct access to from our back garden, although for how much longer is uncertain, as the attached Estate property – an equestrian facility - is now on the market for a cool £1.9m....

The Gate House to the Estate

and rumours are flying that our precious woods have been sold separately.  We’ll see…

Our Woods

The remainder of the week was a blur of deliveries, promo and labelling of stock. (I am loving our fully quilted, herringbone weave newsboy caps).   


The obligatory show weather warning for Saturday night persuaded Gaz to delay set up until early Sunday morning and true to his word, I heard the front door shut at 6.00 am.

Gaz making his presence felt at Berkeley Castle

Gaz, left to his own devices, is nothing if not industrious, as regular customers Simon Flack and the lilac-locked Celia, will testify.  Short of an extra pair of hands, he thought nothing of asking them to organise shout-outs over the loud speaker to alert visitors to our stand, which they did, without complaint and were on hand to provide moral support throughout the day.  Cheers guys!

Simon and Celia, unofficial Voodoo Street hustlers ;-)

 By 7pm he was back in the fold and updating me on the amazing 86 year-old stunt driver Dick Sheppard, a Berkeley local and Italian Job stunt driver.  Dick, who has also worked on “Thunderball” and “Diamonds are Forever,” has crashed over 1,000 cars and aside from a hip replacement, seems to have miraculously avoided arthritis. 

Year 2 Berkeley Selfie with Dick Sheppard

So, as I type on this rainy Monday afternoon, the postman has just delivered my book, hopefully containing the secret to achieving a spine as flexible as Dick’s!  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Power of Three

Vdubs in the Valley:  The Trilogy.  A title like that kind of builds expectations doesn’t it?  Well, despite an earlier weather warning, the usual last minute stress and sheer exhaustion that accompanies back-to-back shows, “The Trilogy” delivered in ways some of it’s more corporate competitors failed to.

Take the site for example.  Thirty-four acres of level camping in rolling English countryside made for some stunning sunset photographs on both Friday and Saturday night. 

I managed to have the luxury of a night off on Friday and still failed to pack the right clothes.  With the sun kicking out record-breaking temperatures, I opted to dress entirely in black all day on Saturday, which only served as a magnet to the heat.  (Whatever Gaz and Hayley’s super power is as far as influencing the weather’s concerned, I’d love to know, but next year, I’ll be sure to book any staycations when they do!)  I also hit the ground running.  I can only apologise for the lack of photographs and general chitchat on offer from us this year.  We were flat out!
Photo credit:  Richard Harper

Vdubs show tees and stickers were flying.  A particularly tasty burrito was raised to my lips and placed back down again so many times, I gave up on it and as Gaz will testify, I can turn when deprived of my food!  Even Dr Jones stayed sulking in the van for much of the day, as neither of us had time to help him to his rightful place on his Lancaster Bomber toilet seat.

With BruteBox as our neighbours for the weekend, music was abundant (and a fair few cheeky Amarettos from the bike bar).

Usually it’s me who splashes the cash at shows, indulging my love of vintage, but with our regular neighbours Kinky Melon otherwise engaged, this time around Gaz kitted the P6 out with new plates.  What do you think?  He also mooched off to view a scooter and very nearly bought a klaxon.

No identity crisis for the Rover P6!

We also had an early Christmas present from Brutebox – a life ring bearing our name and now piled on top of the Rover.  Trust me, with the rain we’ve experienced at some of this year’s shows, a life ring has the potential to be a very handy piece of kit.

Gaz and Hayley Aulton and their crew (too many to mention – you know who you are!) pulled off a blinder of a festival, with visitors travelling from as far afield as Scotland.  There were no toilet issues – always a blessing, quality catering, including Little Retro Kitchen and the Bayked Potato Bus), a chilled out daytime musical line-up and some vaguely familiar and very animated dancing ladies kicking up a storm in their twilight years (thanks for the turban hat Charlie!)

There are no words.
Our downtime was spent chilling with friends, shooting the breeze over a few drinks and harvesting firewood with the generous assistance of Baz’s chopper!

Sunsets, sunrises (OK I didn’t witness the latter), sales and stupendous memories – that was 2016’s Vdubs in the Valley.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Going with the Flo at Malvern

It took two trips to Malvern to fully set up for this year's Busfest thanks, in part, to our rat bike (a large, ungainly, American Schwinn Stingray, the size of a motorbike and weighing about the same as an African Elephant), which made its debut appearance on our stand. 

The Rat Bike

Our neighbour's van - including 2.1 litre race engine
Lucky to have survived our run in with the Busfest bosses last year (ironically over our “Busfest Survivor” tees and stickers), we were under scrutiny this time around, but still wanted to deliver some kind of show souvenir, as is now expected of us.  We fielded umpteen requests for this year’s show tee, instead offering up a Malvern Zombie Camping Permit sticker in keeping with 2016's zombie apocalypse theme.  Coupled with a Union Jack tax disc holder, these tax disc replacements for campers amongst the living dead, seemed to go down a storm!

Camping Permit Sticker 
Arriving at 6 pm on Friday, I was relegated to the visitors’ car park.  While Gaz and Caleb enjoyed a trip around the showground in our mates Lisa and Anthony’s (Coolflo) splitty, I unloaded the car, making god knows how many trips on foot, back and forth to our stand.
Splitty Shenanigans

Bags and bedding safely in our van, we were asked to move our vehicles outside so that the organisers could lock up for the evening.  By this time, we were all ready to kick back and relax – the calm before the storm.  I was ready for a beverage and soon found myself holding a can of warm Mojito cocktail in a car park at the rear of an aircraft-hangar-size cowshed.  Living the dream.

Our friends were camping for the weekend and so we met for a quick mooch around site and a visit to the fairground, which was all we could muster on Friday night before hitting the sack. 

We treated ourselves to this 1960s ice box
That said, Friday night was one of the worst night’s sleep I’ve had.  Anticipating cool autumn nights and scarred by our Camper Jam experience when we both failed to take any bedding, this time I was over-prepared.  Let me tell you, sleeping in a onesie inside a sleeping bag beneath a Tog 300(!) duvet with a security light shining directly into your eyes, does not make for quality sleep.  So you can forgive me for thinking that I was still dreaming when I found myself lying down in the back of a van in motion, with the theme tune from Lawrence of Arabia filling my ears.  

It was Saturday morning and Gaz was moving the van into the trading area.  The music, I discovered, was emanating from the stand of a couple who had penned a book about their 1970s campervan road trip around the Middle East. Very surreal.  In no time at all, the buzz of Busfest visitors forced me into action and I emerged, bleary eyed, ready(ish) for action.

The T4, possibly with me still asleep inside!
A very rainy Saturday passed in a blur of coffee and conversation with fellow traders and customers who had travelled far and wide.  For once we didn’t have to worry about staying dry and we’ll admit to feeling something akin to smugness for much of the day. 

We met familiar faces in our little corner of Busfest, including the talented Anna of iSea Surfwear, an independent brand designed and screen printed by the lady herself.  I love her eco friendly ethos, offering recycling incentives.

iSea Surfwear - handcrafted, screen printed surfwear, made in Wales
The guys from Brutebox showed up at the stand, bringing beer and cider, Bob the dog and new canine addition, the very handsome Dexter, with his newly engraved Voodoo Street key chain/collar charm.

Bob and Dexter
Baz and Issy (Brutebox)

Gaz rocked a bandana in his back pocket and I wore one of our extended tees over leggings.  Newsflash:  They also make super cool and comfortable tunics/dresses ladies!

Busfest Threads

By Saturday evening, we were all more than a little jaded and not wanting to pay through the nose for festival food, opted to order takeaway pizzas.  Who knew Dominos delivered to the gates of the Three Counties Showground?

Fed and watered and entertained by the variety of zombies lumbering around, we decided to catch at least a couple of tracks from Doctor and the Medics.  

Three tracks in and they still hadn’t performed “Spirit in the Sky”.  We had been leered and lunged at by the zombies hired by the organisers to patrol the mosh pit and were frankly running on empty. Just as I had a great photo set up of the Doctor in his red flares, hair flowing behind him, a zombie in the foreground, my phone gave out.  Stepping out of the zombie zone into the chilled night air, we were promptly “decontaminated” with a generous squirt of water directly to the face, before heading to the comfort of the van.

Sunday passed by with healthy sales and sunshine.  I was allowed to go wandering for a time to take photos and fund Caleb’s growing skateboard collection.  

Malvern in sunshine

Sk8ter Boi(s)

His crew were out in force and they had huge fun skating and making vlogs, one of which showed off superior editing skills to my own and may even make it to our much neglected YouTube channel. 

The return home was complicated as ever.  I headed off early in our VW Golf, which exactly one year ago only just made it through the gates of Busfest before the clutch gave out, but is still going on its original clutch (repaired by Gaz), having clocked up over 240,000 miles.


Gaz however, had to dismantle the rat biked in order to shoehorn everything into the van and so eventually rolled up at 9 pm on Sunday evening.  Still, I got to check out some customer photos on social media. Here's @miss_tommyguns (Instagram moniker) in her new favourite black Urban Army Cap and Matthew Pinker wearing his new burgundy Trucker Cap and matching Voodoo Street Logo Tee.  There are certainly worse ways to spend a weekend!

Mr Pinker
 As I type (Tuesday 13th), it's reportedly the hottest September day since 1911.  Don't know about that, but there is the mother of all thunder storms raging outside and the lights are flickering. So time to sign off and take cover.

Next up, it’s VDubs in the Valley and we’re praying for an Indian Summer!  See you there!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Run to the Hills

After a summer of thrills and spills, this week marked the come down.  A new school year, Monday blues, a frenzied and sustained house cleaning session, the filling of endless charity shop bags (again - where does it all come from?!), stock taking, admin and late night random cat rescue operations.  It was ugly. 

Relief came via a friend’s phone call, although even this was only temporary, as he happened to ask about plans for the weekend.  Only Busfest, the biggest international VW show on the calendar! 

Photo credit:  Simon Holloway
Obviously it’s been on the cards for months now, but I realised I had failed to rise to my own challenge, namely how to best display a batch of logo scarves we produced earlier this year.

Logo Cotton Squares - - £7.00
The design and quality are bang on, it’s just finding a way of presenting them at shows and festivals without making them look....well, flaccid.  I have all but given up hope of designing the perfect scarf prop, but our mate Vicky reminded me of a book I had gifted to someone, “50 Ways To Wear a Scarf.”  So now, I have set myself a new and totally unrealistic challenge – a demonstration of various ways to creatively don a 45 x 45 cm square of cotton.  Spoiler alert:  I won’t make it to 50.

First up – The Messy Bun!

Our recent visit to Camper Calling saw me hijack regular customer Gemma Nisbet when I noticed her wearing one of our scarves tied around her up do.  I felt unable to go in for the real close up.  No one wants that.  Ever.  Especially on a Sunday morning after one hell of a Saturday night!  Therefore, I have replicated the look for your viewing pleasure and vow to you that I will attempt to photograph a number of alternative looks during the coming weeks, for men, women, animals and vegetables.

So, as I mentioned, we’re running to the hills this weekend – Malvern to be precise.  We’re stocked to our tired and bloodshot eyeballs with fresh supplies.  Our urban army caps have proved such a hit, we’ve rolled out our understated label-only formula to some herringbone weave flat caps.
Vintage Style Flat Cap - £9.99

In terms of stickers, we’re embracing the Busfest zombie theme. Our new Zombie Camping Permit stickers will be available (alongside previous zombie inspired designs) with a cool little Union Jack tax disc holder for you to stick to your windscreens!  Plus we now have stickers for pretty much any type of VW bus.  Come and find us in A06!

I’m also strangely excited to see Dr and the Medics...although I doubt I'll manage to pull off a repeat performance of ABC’s Camper Calling set and secure a song dedication from the lead singer.

So, hopefully we'll see some of you at Busfest.  It’s not every day you get to sign off a blog this way, but catch you soon, assuming my grey matter hasn’t been sucked out through a straw by the living dead!