Kiri and


It never rains…

August 23rd, 2013 (by Steve)

I’m not sure whether the title should be a reference to the wonderful weather we’ve had since leaving our jobs, or a reference to all of the things that keep on going wrong with Bertha as we try to fix her up (it pours)! At least one helps the other be more manageable.

Bertha has passed her MOT! Get in! Harry, the friendly mechanic, only had to replace the rear brake assemblies and fit new batteries and she sailed through her MOT. We have to thank Sean for helping us choose a van that is so good mechanically… which segways nicely into the work we’ve been doing on her since we got her back on Monday.

The main job is still the damp issue in the rear corner, requiring us to rip out gently remove the rotten battens and plywood to replace it with sound stuff. We planned to do this on Thursday (because we had good friends staying with us at the beginning of the week) – starting by taking out the rear window so we could get access to the rotten wood. Which night did it rain? Wednesday… continuing into Thursday morning… not really the weather for removing windows. We had to therefore shuffle things around a bit and do that today. We ripped out carefully extracted the window, then Kiri announced that she was “ready to demolish”.


At close of play today we have successfully removed (and replaced, including re-sealing with sikaflex (not bathroom sealant, which we suspect may be partially to blame for our damp issues)) the rear window. We’ve also removed many, many rotten bits of wood that might have happened to be structural and replaced them with fresh, treated timber and we’ve removed all of the plywood that we’re going to remove.

Now onto the things that seem to be going wrong. When we got the van back, I was keen to fix the freeze split in the water heater, so got out my soldering iron, did my stuff, then put some plumber’s putty on it just to make sure. However, when I reinstalled it and turned on the water, the water pump wasn’t working. Sad times.


A quick check of the leisure battery showed that there was a “burnt bit on a white plastic thingy” (sorry for the technical language), which didn’t seem to be healthy. We then undid the zig unit (no idea what “zig” means, but it’s the electrical control unit), found a loose black wire in there, re-wired it to a random other black wire, which made the lights on the front of the zig unit work (where they hadn’t before), but made the lights randomly turn off when you turned another light on… before quickly unwiring it did absolutely nothing and thought we would leave it to someone who knows about electrics. A quick phone call to the heroic Harry confirmed that the inline fuse holder (white plastic burnt thingy) had been like that before the new leisure battery was installed. So, I went to unscrew the fuse holder, managed to smash the glass and destroy the 15amp fuse, which then stopped any of the electrics from working from the leisure battery… meaning that the wpbt (white plastic burnt thingy) was probably a legacy problem. In any case, we have another one on order, as well as a multimeter so we can try to properly diagnose things.

The other minor distraction involved a gas canister. Mum, don’t panic – we’re fine and we’re going to get the gas checked out by a professional before we use it. We’re replacing our gas system with Gaslow – refillable LPG tanks, so to prepare for that I removed the old Calor gas tank from the gas locker. This revealed the flue and duct from the gas heater. That was vaguely disconnected and bodged together with gaffer tape. Another thing to add to the to-do list.

As least curtains and re-upholstery shouldn’t be too complicated…


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And now for something completely different

August 15th, 2013 (by Steve)

Doing web design, whilst chasing cows out of your front garden… you don’t see that happening in London! Living in the countryside whilst we do the last few things before our trip is taking a little bit of adjusting to, but it’s great!

It’s now been just over a week since we left London and we had hoped to have made good progress with Bertha, our four-wheeled friend, by this stage. However, the last time we checked up on her, she looked like this (well, her rear axle did):


Bertha is in safe hands though, with a friendly mechanic, undergoing a service before her MOT. The signs are all fairly positive, as the only things which require attention are a minor issue with the rear brakes and a leisure battery which is leaking vaguely explosive hydrogen. Thank goodness we hadn’t got round to testing the gas yet! So with these things being fixed (delayed a little by a wait for parts), we’ve been focussing on the non-van-related things to do for our trip, interspersed with a few other lovely activities.

The main thing that we’ve been focussing on is this site; specifically the KIST 2EU section. We’ve added an FAQs page (please ask us more questions to go on it!) and we’re slowly working through the creation of our country guides. They’re not going to rival Lonely Planet, but they should at least hold all of the pertinent information that we’ll need in one place. There’s still work to be done on an infographics page; something that has to be done considering my background in data analysis and Kiri’s graphic design skills. We also still need to work out exactly how we’re going to display a map of our route as we go along – we’ll write a separate blog post shortly about our testing of a GPS device.

There have also been a few purchases that we’ve been making; the most significant of which is fabric for re-upholstering the seats in the living area and making new curtains. After a lot of research (including visiting this website which has a great quote of “We offer a discount to OAPs on a Wednesday”), we decided that we’ll use cotton dust sheets as the main fabric (£10.99 for a 12′ by 9′ sheet!), then sew patches of interesting material onto them to brighten it all up. I also spent a couple of hours servicing and setting up our folding bikes so the chain doesn’t fall off when you change gear!


With all of this busyness, our Lightbulb Head work has taken a bit of a back seat, however it was great to see Pig and Porter in action at the Ashburnham Flower show and taste their wares. Seriously, with beer and food that tasty, which sells itself, they don’t really need the website for marketing, but we’re spending a bit of time working with them whilst we’re in the area.


We have also attempted to do a countryside time lapse video to rival the one we did in London before we left (Oval crossroads). On our first day here, Norman the local farmer was mowing a field, so we set up a camera expectantly… It turns out that there’s a slower pace of life outside London (plenty of tea breaks in the mowing!), so the resulting time lapse doesn’t particularly work on its own. We’ll combine it into another bit of film work at some stage though.

As for the “lovely activities”, these have included a barbecue followed by watching shooting stars, a visit to play pirate golf in Hastings and attending the local MI (men’s institute) meeting. We could get used to village life!

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Water, water everywhere

May 30th, 2013 (by Steve)

As we wrote the blog post a couple of days ago, we had been aware that there had been a little bit of rain overnight. OK, that’s maybe an understatement – there had been torrential downpours and we had been mere inches away from it striking the roof of Bertha as we slept over the cab. We had noted that the carpet in the middle of Bertha was a little damp in the morning, but it wasn’t until later that we noted the drips coming from the edge of one of the skylights. Great. Oh, and the damp in the top rear corner was even damper, and when we took off the rear window blind we found yet more rotten timber and some useless bathroom sealant that had probably worn away years ago. Time to set our master craftsman brother-in-law to work with a tarpaulin to try to keep the rear corner dry!

The rain was incessant, so we focussed on finishing the floor; cutting the polystyrene sheets to size and fitting the top layer of plywood. I’ll admit that I (Steve) had a little bit of a meltdown (to rival those of our nearly 3 year old neice!) with regards to the finish of the floor. I wanted it to be perfect, but trying to marry up old and new wood has left the new floor slightly bowed and I should have put an extra batten across, but it’s a vast improvement on what was there previously!


We also took time to check out our Paloma boiler which had been leaking water when we turned on the fresh water pump, so we unscrewed it, took it off the wall and found that our predictions were correct. There was a classic freeze split in the copper pipe. At least that should be fixable some other time with some solder and plumber’s putty.


By this time the rain had stopped and the tarpaulin which was rigged over the rear corner had kept the outside dry enough to seal. We let our brother-in-law have first dibs at using the nasty Sikaflex; he re-did some a couple of the seams that had been too high for us to reach last time, then I hopped onto the roof to remove the bathroom sealant around the skylight and replace it with the proper stuff. Whilst I was up there I also did a bit of a patch job on one of the connection points of the roof cage that was looking a little exposed.

All too soon it was time to head back to our London lives and say farewell to Bertha for another couple of months, but not until we’d had a photo taken with our Lego alter egos!


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Our floor-less (flawless?) Bertha

May 28th, 2013 (by Steve)

After two and a half months away from Bertha, we were excited to see her again this weekend. When we last saw her, she was very damp and a little unhappy, so we patched her up and left her with a heater and dehumidifier inside to see if we could dry her out and cheer her up. When we arrived on Friday night, we were very pleased to see that the floor was indeed dry, but still very rotten. There was just a little damp patch on a batten in the top rear corner that we’ll have to attend to at some point soon.

First job on Saturday morning was ripping up the floor and removing the top layer of plywood on the walls. As there’s not really space for two of us to work with sharp tools in that little corner, Kiri set to it carefully with a chisel whilst I had a look at replacing the lighting above the bench. Our previous lighting above the bench consisted of some rather dated plastic spotlights, so I unscrewed those, wired in a new switch and an adhesive strip of 12v LED lights. These look more stylish, whilst using less power. Simples!


It took most of Saturday and Sunday to remove the whole section of flooring that was rotten, cutting through the top layer of plywood, the polystyrene and battens below, then what remained of the de-laminated plywood underneath. Whilst Kiri and I hacked away at gently removed the floor, our brother-in-law skilfully replaced the some rotten wood around the step to get into the motorhome, and the fold-out step which had clearly passed its heyday! Finally, we were left with a clean hole where a rotten floor had once been:


A trip to Homebase on bank holiday Monday is not the most pleasant of experiences, but it was necessary in order to get exterior plywood for the new floor, which was duly coated with timber care before we cut it to size and laid it. With holes needed in the floor for the fresh water inlet and table base, we did some precision measuring and some not-so-precise drilling. Add a few battens to the top, and we’re vaguely water-tight – just some polystyrene and a top level of ply still needed.


It’s a big psychological boost to know that we have a solid floor once again in the rear – all of the other jobs (replacing the rear walls, fixing the leak in the boiler, replacing the gas system, fitting a solar panel, fitting a bike rack, making new curtains, re-upholstering the cushions, etc)…hmmm, I was going to say that they will seem minor in comparison, but actually there’s still a lot of work to do!

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Seams a bit damp

April 7th, 2013 (by Steve)

Nearly a month after we bought Bertha (our beast of a 1990 motorhome), we’ve finally had a free weekend to start some work on her. We chose to begin by giving her a good clean inside and out, but also by investigating a little damp bit of carpet we’d spotted beneath the rear seat in the back corner (opposite the toilet). We’d done some detective work online and found this posting about some damp made by the previous owner back in 2010 (shortly after he bought her), however we didn’t know the extent of any fixes he had made.

After we’d dismantled the seat, stripped back the carpet and pulled away rotten and sodden walls, this is what we’re left with:

damp corner

So we set up a heater to dry it out so that we can assess the damage a little more, but we think we’ve found the culprit – the seams at the rear were pretty badly sealed (as mentioned in the previous owner’s posting). So we cleaned the seams properly and as we were doing so, the wooden batons inside changed from damp to wet. We then applied a little bit of lots of Sikaflex (caravan sealant – nasty stuff to work with) and have left it to dry with the heater sorting out the interior. Once that’s done we can replace all of the rotten batons, polystyrene insulation and plywood inside. Here’s one of the seams in all its glory – covered first in nastiness, then cleaned, then slathered in Sikaflex:


In other news, as we tested out the water pump for the first time today, water gushed from our Paloma heater (obviously added by the previous owner as per his posting). We checked the drainage plug on the heater which was very stiff and very closed, so we guess that water was left in there during the winter, which has burst a pipe or component inside. What fun! That’s for another time!

As for the cleaning? Well, Bertha is now much cleaner on the outside and we’ve made a start on the inside, but there’s still plenty to do!


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A new mode of transport

March 10th, 2013 (by Steve)

We’ve just bought a Chinook!


It’s amazing what extra expenses and hassles there are that come with it though…not quite the walk in the park that we were hoping for. For a start the tax is quite expensive, but luckily due to its age we won’t have to worry about it in a couple of years.

If only the cost were the sole thing to cause issues when it came to insurance! It turns out that very few insurers are willing to provide cover for something of that size and age, especially if it’s to be used internationally. Finally we receive a quote from Safeguard which, although quite dear, seemed quite good in that it also included breakdown cover, even outside of the UK. With few other options we went for it…only to read the small print and find out that because the Chinook is over 20 years old, the breakdown cover wasn’t actually included, as the underwriters (the AA) wouldn’t provide cover. A quick call to the AA revealed that they were very happy to cover us and the clause was something added by Safeguard.

So off we went in search of someone who would provide breakdown cover for us, at which point our plans for the trip around Europe in the Chinook were forced to change. You see it turns out that whilst insurance companies may be happy for you to be in Europe for a year, breakdown providers aren’t quite singing from the same hymn sheet. The AA and the RAC are willing to provide cover for periods of 90 days at a time…not quite the 365 days that our trip may take. Britannia go one step better with trips of 180 days at a time. It looks like we’ll have to compromise and have two trips rather than one! We’re not complaining though – we get to break up our trip and see our families for a bonus time in the middle! Good times.

But back to the woes of the purchase of a mode of transport such as the Chinook…! As it was a private sale, we set up a pre-arranged bank transfer during the week to move the money across from our account to the seller’s account yesterday (the date of purchase). In the days of internet banking, you’d think it would be a stress-free affair to move money from one account to another. When we checked our account yesterday morning, the money had left – good news. To cut a long story (involving 4 phone calls to our bank and the seller calling their bank a similar number of times) short (although not cutting a long sentence short by adding in brackets!), the money still hasn’t made it to the seller’s account and our bank “cannot explain where the money is”. We are very blessed in that the seller trusts us and we’re praying that the money is in their account on Monday.

At approximately 4:30pm on 9 March 2013 we became the proud owners of our Chinook…and here she is:


Oh, did we forget to say that she’s a Talbot Express Autotrail Chinook motorhome? Sorry about that. The photo at the top of the page is just a holiday snap from a couple of years ago in the lake district. And the name of our Chinook? “Bertha the Beast”.

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