Author Archives: Paul Smith
Author Archives: Paul Smith
We’ve appealed against the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) decision to refuse Cynthia permission to stay long-term in the Netherlands. Completing the appeal paperwork took days of compiling, copying and writing, but that part of the process was simple compared to the trouble we had getting the letter into the French postal system.
We don’t have room for a printer or a copier in our tiny home. We needed to find a business able to print the appeal cover letter stored on a USB memory stick, and copy dozens of bank statements sent by Cynthia’s American bank to our UK mailing address and then forwarded to us in France. An accommodating receptionist at Peyriac-de-Mer’s mairie, the local town hall, was prepared to print our cover letter for us. Our old USB stick had other ideas. It failed when she plugged it into her office computer.
We met Dave and Heather a few weeks ago. They were aspiring motorhome owners searching for advice about motorhomes, their running costs and the logistics of living in one for extended periods. The married couple offers French cookery lessons from their home on the Canal du Midi close to Trebes. They were delighted to discover that we were spending the winter an hour’s drive from their home. They took advantage of a local Pilote dealer’s ‘Try Before You Buy’ long weekend deal and met us on a stony beach at Leucate.
When we aren’t worrying about Cynthia being thrown out of the country for overstaying her welcome, we like to enjoy our time on the road. Driving, even in an area as beautiful as southern France, can be tedious. We’ve become somewhat desensitised to distant views of magnificent snow-capped mountains and endless lagoons filled with exotic birds. We need something else to entertain us. Guessing and counting the number of motorhomes we’ll pass on a journey is one game we like to play. Counting brightly coloured birds is another.
The day wasn’t one of our best. It began well enough. After two nights on a Narbonne aire mains electricity supply, our battery bank managed a night without dropping below 12V, 50% according to my AGM battery voltage chart. We may have shortened the battery bank life already, but to avoid reducing it further we need to stay as far away from 50% discharge as possible. That means either reducing our onboard electrical use or increasing our battery bank capacity.
We haven’t resorted to reading by candlelight just yet. However, I don’t think we can reduce our usage much more. To avoid running the heating system electrical fan, we turn on the heating less frequently. Cynthia doesn’t mind. She appears to be immune to lower living temperatures. A decade of enduring searingly cold Vermont winters has finally paid off. I’m not so robust. I often resort to wearing a fleece hat indoors, sometimes a goose down jacket too.
Spring has sprung here in the south of France. After a few days of intense wind and heavy rain, the thermometer has crept steadily north. Our isolated spot on a rocky beach overlooking Leucate’s shallow lagoon would have been the perfect place to bask in the early spring sun. Which is a shame really, because we had to move.
With an almost empty water tank, we drove two kilometres to Air de Camping Le Goulet, a sizeable terraced motorhome parking area overlooking the lagoon. One of the many benefits of winter tours in France is free parking, even on fully serviced aires. We’ve used this site regularly. The exit barrier has been left open to allow motorhomes to enter without paying the regular €10 per night fee. It’s too close to the main road for us to consider paying to stay, but its free facilities have been useful. At least they were until the aire owners prepared themselves for the new season on 1st March.
Our onboard electrics continue to puzzle us. The current in our leisure bank dropped to 11.7V last night, indicating that our two 90Ah batteries were down to 20%. That was after running the generator for four hours in the morning and then moderate 12V use throughout the day.
Following some excellent advice on Facebook’s 12V boating group, we decided to (A) buy what the group call a Phil meter and (B) spend two days on an electrical hookup to ensure that our battery bank is fully charged. The Phil meter is a combined voltage meter /Ammeter /Power Meter /Multimeter. One of the most useful displays will be the amps going in and coming out of the battery bank. I’ll be able to see whether the problem is with our batteries or with the way we use them.
I knew precious little about mainland Europe when I lived in England. I travelled abroad regularly until 2010, nearly always on holiday and always during the summer months. I thought that hopping across the English Channel was like opening a doorway into a world of perpetual sun, sparkling sea and hot sand.
I visited Le Mans frequently in the eighties for their famous twenty-four-hour race. The weather was scorching during the day and pleasantly warm at night. I have fond memories of sprawling on a dusty grass bank at midnight to eat barbeque chicken and drink cheap red wine. We slept on the grass all night and woke to bright sun and more irresponsible revelry. The climate was so different from cold and damp Engish summers.
Cynthia annoyed me. She said something offensive like, “Would you like a hot drink?” “Can I make you a sandwich?” or “Is there anything I can do to make your life more comfortable?” I can’t remember the specific comment which enraged me. All I know is that I needed to get out and spend some time on my own.
Living in a twenty-five by eight feet open plan box with a significant other and two large dogs all day and every single day of the year can be a bit of a challenge especially if, like me, you are a little antisocial at times.
Our Hymer appears to have made an unexpected and complete recovery from its electrical ailments. The two leisure batteries refused to accept a charge from either mains power or from our suitcase generator for two days. Yesterday, clutching at straws, I fired the generator up, crossed my fingers and plugged it into the 230V outlet on the Hymer’s starboard side. A steady stream of happy amps marched along a plastic and copper highway before leaping enthusiastically into the battery bank.
I’m sure our electrical woes are far from over. We still need to invest in a battery charger in case the charging system goes down again. I also need to add a multimeter to my toolkit and find someone prepared to instruct an adult with all the practical capabilities of a four-year-old (me) on its proper use.
Cynthia has left me. Not for good I hope. I said goodbye to her yesterday at the crack of dawn on a windy platform at Gare de Narbonne. She’s gone to Paris for a few days to enjoy the sights and a little stimulating conversation with one of her old flying buddies. That leaves me with just the dogs, and yet another electrical problem to solve.
We had an issue with our headlights last week. After three days wild camping I started the engine in the pre-dawn dark to discover that neither headlight worked and one of the high beam bulbs appeared to be out. Given our appalling record with French mechanics, we buried our collective head in the sand and decided to only drive during the day for a while and hope the problem would resolve itself. We didn’t expect the plan to work, but it did. Three days later all of our lights were fully functional again. We don’t know why, and we aren’t complaining.