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BLOG – VAN LIFE

Craig's been flippin' vans lately, 'new for old' (or is it old for new?) worked for a bit, but now...

By many accounts, it wasn’t actually Einstein who said to repeat the same thing and expect different results was the definition of insanity, but the general sentiment seems legit. Likewise, as a species we like to hang our ideologies on the lapel of someone with some clout. It’s Dave down the pub-isms: this lad/lady once won the egg and spoon race, and they say these are best, so therefore we shall all use them. It’s essentially how bloggers and vloggers make their cash. How sponsorship works and our herd mentality leads us to our decision making.

Anyway, contrary to the opinion shared by Mrs 275 and a few others, I’m not averse to change and/or trying something new. I’ve had VW Transporters since I got fed up with cramming my mountain bikes into boy racered Vauxhalls. That and I needed some more seats to pick up guests from the airport when we used to be mountain bums running guided Alpine rides.

I love a Transporter; I’ve had loads of them. I’m fortunate enough to be able to run one as a company vehicle and I’ve had fancy ones for quite some time. But… controversial as it may be, a van is for carrying stuff, sleeping in and generally being used for van things – without scratching or damaging it of course, but the main point here is that a van should be for doing a thing, not THE thing. What we now see is far too many Transporters. I still love them, and I’ve sneered at the lesser scumbags and tarmac spattered builders vans for long enough. I had a brief foray with a Renault when the newer shape Trafics came out in about 03, as every other holiday co’ was running them and they were super cheap, but all the options eventually fell off when going over bumps, plus Bromley’s bike fell over in the back and put a sacking great dent in it, so we moved it on and I was back in the German tanks. (We still refer to Barkbusters as van busters.)

In my real life we need a works van. It was never really my van that was the work van. I don’t like other people sullying my wagon, getting in with their clothes on and touching my steering wheel, or breathing on stuff. We had another van that – under strict control – other people can use assuming they sign up for lifelong purgatory should they dirty it or, heaven forbid, scratch it. We actually sent our last works van back pre Dakar as it was a bit too nice to be sitting about and we figured it would be getting no use for 3-5 months. A shrewd move as it happens with the subsequent lockdown.

That should read 'no tools left in overnight', seeing as CK doesn't sleep in this one (geddit?). Fog says it's the end of the road for 'shitty van'
CK's shiny new work van. For the record, the wing mirror didn't last one week and the side panel there took a beating too. Van life is a hard life

And then there is what we lovingly refer to as ‘shitty van’. A far more honourable position than it sounds, shitty van is the weekend tip run and garden clear out, the grubby boots and overalls wagon. We let the riffraff in that – usually the company handyman. Our current handyman is an ex police rider/response driver, and we’ve a newfound respect for those Volvos since he joined us. Rarely washed and usually a few dimples and rubs to its name (we’re back on the vans now) shitty van has formed a part of our fleet for quite a while. We park it out of sight. Only more recently, with my progression into a big old barge of a Sprinter camper, it’s been my daily van too.

Current shitty van is an ‘07 Transporter – a lovely van in its day – a 130bhp Highline no less, but it has amassed 250,000 miles and a new dent or scrape about every 10k. It has a taped-on wing mirror and is bereft of a straight panel. Yet it drives like a new van. It has been a marvellous freedom to rattle about in it. Gaps are wider, those two-to-one lane stand offs are very much one-sided, and with zero hassle we continue our day, safe in the knowledge that the angry middle manager /staple saleswoman will ‘win’ in their next battle, but not this one. In fact it hardly registers. We park where we like at the supermarket. We don’t wash it on a Sunday when it’s covered in as much mud from the track car park as the bike is from the track itself.

I sort of fell into using shitty van during Lockdown 1, as it was impossible to buy a van/replace the one we’d given up. We’d sold the 4×4 rally support Sprinter, and my camper is huge, plus a camper, so we needed a runaround. Shitty van was located here, washed, tarted-up a little and then spent six months running up and down the country, being the engineering company runabout, the dog wagon, bike wagon, family wagon all whilst much posher vehicles went nowhere, depreciating on the driveway.

And then it got a bit too smoky. It was all my fault, probably fortunately, as it was earmarked to do a garden clearance with Engineer Bromley the following day, and no one really needs the kind of tea duty that blowing up the works van brings (there’s a policy somewhere that states I can veto any such policy by being the buyer of the vans…). The story goes… I got to the track with two helmets and no boots. It was one of those kind of days. During load-up I’d wandered back into the garage for my boots having done the mental check of what I’d thrown into the van while slurping another coffee, picked up another helmet instead and went on my merry way. As ever I was late already so…

An hour later, dressed in my moto kit (less boots) I arrive back home. With my riding head firmly on we’d made good time, and we’d had fun, but literally as we pulled up on the drive we were engulfed in a fabulous cloud of white smoke – like a big silver Gandalf appearing at a wizard convention. The fun was over. I parked it up, did a quick swap over into the camper, grabbed my boots and we headed back to the track to get the camper filthy. Balls.

Fast forward to the now. After a few weeks of prodding, poking and probing, a few gaskets and an inevitable new turbo, the van is looking ready for another 50k at least of hard driving, hard bargaining hard life. Only probably not with me. My derisory looks and sneering at the Transit Customs have been hiding a guilty hankering. Could we combine shitty van and works van into one? Can we find the elusive well looked after, smart and well spec’d one owner rider’s van that can be a van, but not have to be parked round the back? Can I release my death grip on the works vans and will Bromley ever learn to wipe his feet? If we repeat the same things…

So, in a very long-winded way, this is me confessing. We’ve bought a Transit. Please don’t judge us. Let’s see how we get on.

For now, this is the unblemished side
And now Lockdown 3 – Herbie has never had it so good

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