Friday, 14 October 2011

Rockhill Reflections

Two weeks ago we finally wrenched ourselves away from Rockhill Farm. The best thing, in fact the only good thing, about breaking my leg was that Carl and Gaynor encouraged us to stay, at least until I was discharged by the hospital. In the weeks that we were there we hung out with the family and became neighbours, but in a really good, matey way; not in the chilly, curt way that I remember from my urban, pre-Airstream life. And since we had arrived there in late August to prepare for Rockhill Rendezvous, we had become pretty attached to the place and the family. But as we prolonged our goodbyes we consoled ourselves with the realisation that, in no time at all we will be back round the kitchen table planning the next Rendezvous.

We're actually not so far away. We have moved back to the bolthole in Worcestershire that we hunkered down in last winter. So, what we haven't got around to until now is reflecting on the UKAirstreamers' September Gathering, or Rockhill Rendezvous. Unless a blog entry is prefaced with something like, "Today we did this amazing thing" you can probably assume that we are usually recalling something from some weeks back. And there are all sorts of reasons for it this time.

I broke my leg four days before the start of the gathering. That meant that, apart from finishing off the two hundred meters of bunting with Gaynor, I simply had to stay out of the way in the lead up, during the event itself, during the clean up and during the post-gathering-blues period. Post-gathering-blues is something that Pete and I have observed ourselves sinking into after each of the UKAirstreamers gatherings so far. It's the kind of slump you get following on from being really focused on one thing and hoping that thing goes well, plus a little bit of "What now?" Anyway, the whole time Pete was too busy having to do everything I would normally do, on top of his own responsibilities, to be able to think about sitting down to blog.  So here are some photos taken by Pete, and some observations from someone who did a lot of the planning but didn't actually get to see how it all went (me).

We had decided to make it a long weekend event this year, from Thursday till Monday, and it was a popular idea. For some reason which has now slipped my mind, Keith and Jane who own a 1966 Overlander, had a surplus of cheese and wine that they offered to share with the Thursday crowd. So that got things off to a lovely, convivial start. My movements for the whole weekend were limited to manoeuvring myself on crutches between our trailer and the marquee, and that's where the cheese was, so I tucked in and received sympathy whilst getting used to having people bring me drinks. And as far as I can remember, that was it for Thursday; a gentle getting together with introductions and catching up. Pete, meanwhile, was up at the farm house watching the world's slowest printer meander it's way through the first twenty copies of the brochure.

Friday was when the majority arrived, and from our trailer window I could observe Pete, Carl and Gaynor and other willing helpers finishing off preparations. Meanwhile Andrew enthusiastically donned a UKAirstreamers high-viz waistcoat (donated by Paul and Jules at Makerelbus, who also printed our T-shirts and giveaway stickers, and were gutted they couldn't attend due to their replacement axle not turning up), welcomed arrivals and guided them to their pitches. Later, from my outpost in the farmhouse where I was finishing off printing the brochures, I caught a glimpse of a mini convoy arriving, which included Axel and Jack who had travelled all the way from the Netherlands specially.

On the Friday evening, with sponsorship from Airstream Europe, we laid on drinks and nibbles (including two rather fine local ales form the Ludlow Brewery). Tony and Elaine, Airstreamers and folk singers (and all round good sorts) provided us with lovely, gentle music whilst the rest of the crowd mingled, made introductions and got reacquainted.

Saturday was fairly busy, but with time for people to generally hang out and do their own thing. There were pampering sessions in Kerry's My Little Beauty salon-in-an-Airstream, and in the afternoon there was the Open House. We had tried this out at the Spring Gathering, and it seemed popular. Basically, it's a two hour period where your door is open to visitors to show off your Airstream. Unless you don't fancy it, in which case you just lock your door. Like everything else, it's optional. But I get the impression that the two hours can go by really quickly.

But it has to come to an end because in the late afternoon and into evening there's the Bring 'n' Barbie. You bring food to barbecue for yourself, and food to share. It's a lovely communal activity and it's always great to see people mucking in and sharing and helping each other to all the goodies on offer. Our live music sessions took place in the marquee, on the Airstream stage which was generously donated by Sam and Hazel at Vintage Airstreams. On Saturday night we were entertained with blues-roots-folk, by the very lively, and occasionally gravelly Babajack.

Sunday was an altogether chilled out sort of a day, apart from the energetic ones who played softball, or rounders, or a hybrid of the two. It was supposed to be Vintage and US versus new European, but I think the teams merged a little to make up numbers. But somehow it was decided that the Vintage team won, captained by Carl, who may have since had a special plinth made for the cup he was awarded. 

The second ever Unhitch and Stitch took place in the afternoon. Blankets were crocheted, a homemade bow was repaired, young girls were taught the basics of crochet, knitting techniques were exchanged, and tea was drunk, naturally.

In the evening there was an impromptu get together to finish up all the food. And on the Monday the field gradually emptied. I know I've missed out a lot, but that's because I missed so much. We had a much bigger proportion of vintage Airstreams than before. We equalled our Spring record for the number of Airstream motor homes seen together in the UK (5). We beat our previous year's record for the total number of Airstreams and totted up 38 (plus the Airstream stage makes 39). But most importantly, lots of people came to tell us what a lovely time they'd had, and that's what it's all about.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Rockhill Rendezvous Marquee Magic

Since you can never rely upon the British weather we took the bold move of purchasing a marquee for sheltering and entertaining in during Rockhill Rendezvous. Here are some photographs of the teamwork invloved in raising it over a period of three days.

Ready for the Airstreams!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Ready To Rock And Rendezvous

How many times have we said, "It sucks to be us."? Heavy with irony, of course. It's almost become a catch phrase, and a bit over-used since we arrived at Rockhill Farm to get into gear for the next UKAirstreamers Gathering. Henceforth to be known as Rockhill Rendezvous, only a few days away, and tweaked and plumped up to be just like last year's lovely weekend, but just that bit more special.

In precisely three days that view will start to be obscured by a "field of silver dreams", as one of our Airstreamers recently described it. With or without the aluminium beasts, what a beautiful place, and what a privilege to spend some time here. Carl, Gaynor and their boys make us feel right at home, and we all team together and do our bit to get the place ready for our Airstream chums, old and new.

We have a "new", bigger marquee so that bad weather won't be an issue. And we've got live folk and blues performances on Friday and Saturday evening. There are daytime events where Airstreamers can swap tips and help each other out, plus some fun and games on the Sunday for those who enjoy a bit of friendly, vintage-versus-new rivalry.

Most importantly though, we hope to simply provide a weekend of the coolest and friendliest camping, with a big camp fire to gather around and chat and laugh into the small hours.

If you are a UKAirstreamer and you haven't booked your ticket, what are you thinking? Click on this link if you've just realised you're going to miss out on something a bit special.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ghent stopover

OK, ok, I know. "Surely'" you are no doubt thinking by now, "they can't still be pootling along in a convoy, can they?"

Indeed we are not. We have found ourselves, post Gathering, in deepest, darkest North Netherlands. It's been a busy week-and-a-bit. We've been putting the finishing touches to the September Airstream Gathering (details very soon!) and there were all sorts of shenanigans going on on the UKAirstreamers Forum after Pete Ritchie of Vatco did a runner with people's money, leaving work undone and trailers in pieces. There was a good deal too much undignified mud-slinging from a small group of Forum members and I felt the need to roll my sleeves up and wade in to do some heavy moderating. It was, pretty much, a full-time job for a few days.

So now we're boondocking again. This time we're in the back yard of a wonderfully generous Dutch family, Axel, Annieta, Sven & Lyn. And luckily, Axel has superfast WiFi, so I've been spending most of the time on t'interweb.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," I hear you interject. "But what about the convoy and Ghent and Venlo and all that Airstreamy stuff? That's why we read this rubbish!"

Be gentle, dear readers - it's been a hard week. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

Where was I? Oh yes...

We spent three nights in Ghent, and I think we all needed it.

It's not that we'd driven far or for a long time, but the excitement and stress of the preceding few days left a lot of us feeling more than a little drained.

Luckily (for everyone else on the campsite), we had an area to ourselves. Which was nice.

Our first full day there brought good cycling weather, so a small, intrepid group of explorers set out to find the heart of the city. It's possibly worth pointing out that the campsite was a municipal affair, functional and clean but nothing award-winning. It's also worth pointing out that the site was on the edge of a huge recreational area, with sports facilities of every kind and even a lake with a man-made beach, all of which made it a pleasure to cycle through - once we had figured out which way we were going.

The trip into the city was mostly along a canal, making for easy cycling. It was our first introduction to the way the cyclist can be treated on the Continent, and it was royally. Cycle lanes are abundant and not just half-a-yard scrounged from the side of the road. They are usually wide and up on the pavement, but in addition to the pedestrian bit. Utterly joyful to ride on - once we had figured out which way we were going.

Ghent itself was an interesting city. Much of it has survived more wars than you can shake a musket at, and the typically Flemish buildings are everywhere.

Perhaps it's worth a quick lesson in how to pronounce the word "Ghent" like a local. You'll need a good helping of spit for this one - half a pint or so should be enough. Then, with the aforementioned bolus nicely positioned at the back of your throat, take a good run-up and try to say "Gent", "Kent," and "Hent" all at the same time and without choking. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Ghent is in the Flemish part of Belgium.

We spent an hour or so wandering around, before the biological cry for lunch went up, then we wandered around for another half an hour or so, trying to find a supermarket where we could rustle up a picnic. We finally found a lovely big deli, posh enough to be at home in Selfridges and expensive enough to have been airlifted from Harrods. But we managed to find something in foreign to nibble on by the canal. Which was nice.

After lunch, we had a wander around more of the city, coming across some History, in the form of Gravensteen Castle..

Apparently, the castle was abandoned by it's aristocratic occupants some time in the 14th Century, and over the next few hundred years, lots of houses were built against its walls and in its courtyard. At the end of the 19th Century, just as it was about to fall down, the castle was bought by the city and the first thing they did was, interestingly, tear down the houses and restore the dungeons. A progressive housing policy if ever there was one.

The city is built on a small canal system and you are never far from a pretty view of unmistakably Flemish houses.

Another high point, which sadly we didn't have time to explore, is St. Baaf's Cathedral.

The Cathedral hosts one of the world's great art treasures, in the form of (deep breath) the early Netherlandish polyptych panel painting, "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" by the van Eyck brothers. Saint Baaf, by the way, is the patron saint of Ghent and, possibly, rough channel crossings.

Ghent has the largest pedestrianised area in Belgium. We saw little of that, since they've dug it up to build an underground car park. Still, there are plenty of open spaces, including the Vrijdagmarkt which hosts the rather splendid Bond Moyson, or Socialist House of the People, built at the end of the 19th Century in the Macaroni style. I really don't make this stuff up! Honest.

The guy on the plinth here is Jacob van Artevelde, the "Brewer of Ghent" (good title!). Back in the early 14th Century, he managed to mix politics and weaving to make Ghent one of the most prosperous cities of the time, by getting in with the English wool trade. Sadly, politics being what it is, his popularity took a nose-dive when he backed the wrong king and he was murdered by an angry mob in 1345 (the vote used to really count back then). He is pointing at England, the source of both the city's prosperity and the wrong king.

We spent three nights in Ghent. Having planned to visit Brugge on day two, it was inevitable that it would piss down, so instead we stayed in. I think the feeling was common across the camp, as by late afternoon, once the rains had subsided, many a snoozing Airstreamer could be seen in their chairs.

Friday morning came and everyone was up early to get ready to leave. The pitches were arranged like animal stalls, so hitching up was carried out with military precision.

Some of the group were, perhaps, more ready than others,

But we were all lined up and ready to hit the road on schedule.

Venlo, here we come!

To be continued...


Thursday, 16 June 2011

Euro Trip day one... Kent to Ghent

Up at 6am. I’m confident that I’ve seen 6am from the staying-up-all-night end many times more than I have from the getting-up-far-too-early end. I’m equally confident that I’d like to keep that ratio.

It was a rush to get ready. Luckily, we have volunteered ourselves as “caboose” in the convoy. Most people believe we have taken up the responsibility of shepherding the rest of the party, making sure nobody gets lost, picking up stragglers, fixing break-downs etc, etc. Actually, it just means we don’t have to be ready until after everyone else. Which is nice.

We all gathered in the adjacent field to have our pictures taken for Caravan Finder TV. Apparently, we’ll be appearing on a screen near you soon.

And then we were off.

First stop, a local motorway services to re-group after the journey through town.

And then back on the road to Dover.

Big ferry port, but not big enough to fit all of us into one lane.

We got well-and-truly split up getting on the ferry, but spirits were high as we waved bye bye to the White Cliffs.

And fed the wildlife.

Regrouping at the other end was tricksy. Luckily, we all managed to pick the correct exit lane and gathered together in a customs area before hitting the road.

This was my first time driving on the Continent, and since all I had to do was follow the Airstream in front of me, it wasn’t too much of a headache. And what a view I had!

We managed to pick up the tenth member at a pre-arranged Aire without any difficulty. The Aires we saw seemed to range from something like our motorway services, to little more than glorified lay-bys.

We took a couple of pit-stops (in the glorified lay-by type of Aire) along the way to give the dogs a pee-break. It also gave the humans a chance to stretch their legs and have a giggle.

And so, after only about 110 miles and a ferry crossing, we arrived in Ghent. That’s where it got tricky. Things like traffic lights and roundabouts seriously dented our ability to keep together and us tail-enders became right Charlies. Despite what people might say, we didn’t take a wrong turning, I just wanted to go back and have another crack at that roundabout. Honest. As an aside, another advantage of going at the back is that no-one can see if you make a pillock of yourself.

But we all arrived safely (eventually), and the evening was spent chilling and chatting into the night.

And so to bed.

Internet access is proving to be something of an issue, but I have plans, so hopefully I'll be able to keep you updated soon. Stay tuned...