Potato Man attacks!!

May 11, 2010 Great Britain by Steve Martin Edit

Big Ben

There's a tap on the window. Outside there is a man in gumboots holding a hammer in one hand and a bag of potatoes in the other hand. He has a wild look in his eye and he shouts something un-intelligible. We can't hear him over the sound of the V8 engine, but we both know he's up to something a bit nutty.

I'm in Andover, a little over an hour from London inspecting a Winnebago when Potato Man attacks. Ian who owns the RV is horrified. This nut job from the camp ground is upset that Ian has started the engine and is making a bit of noise. He tries the hammer potatoes into the exhaust pipe, but the exhaust is too large and his potatoes too small. Something tells me this is life story.... big ambitions, small results.

The search for a vehicle has been one frustration after another. Most vehicles I look at are nothing like they appear online. Finally this particular Winnebago is worth a decent look. Ian has owned this vehicle for three years and lived in it full time. It's clear he is fastidious about maintaining it. It is in excellent condition for it's age. But it's just so BIG!

It's while Ian is showing the motor and on-board generator that the Great Potato Incident of Andover occurs. Ian is clearly shaken up and embarrassed. He shouldn't be, he did nothing wrong.... the bloke is just drunk and nutty.... and he's wearing gum boots!!

I've spent the last week driving endless english roads in search of a good cheap car or campervan. Some have been sold before I arrive, others were not worth the effort. One looked great until I started the engine. It rattled like nothing I've ever heard before. The salesman seemed unconcerned that I had just driven for 40 minutes into country side. 

Despite the constant frustration the days in between the car search are great. London is a fascinating, busy, cosmopolitan city. The city is teeming with people. If you imagine an Australian city at peak hour on the busiest day of the year, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what this place is like.

On just our second day we wandered through Hyde Park and its spring gardens into St James Park. At the bottom of the hill we saw a crowd that had gathered and realised we had stumbled onto the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

The square was overflowing with tourists snapping pictures with their digital cameras and we simply joined in. James scored the very best of views up on my shoulders. Unlike Vietnam where everyone seems to be 5 foot 3 inches tall, London has it's fair share of people 6 feet and over. Jo I think missed most of it and Emily saw the backs and legs of quite a few people.

Since the start of the trip we have walked more than ever before. The other options are limited, confusing and a bit expensive. London Cabs are great but costly. The bus network is extensive as is the underground, but trying to decipher trains with a three year old shouting" Are we goin' on that train, dad?" over and over in your ear makes it hard to concentrate. Walking is the easiest answer.

We have walked to Madame Toussaud's, The West End, Regent Street, the Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Not to mention hours in Hyde Park. 

Driving is an option, but again it's expensive. London has a Congestion Tax of eight pounds a day. The aim is to deter people from driving into the city.... I can only assume it doesn't work very well. The roads are clogged and one afternoon took me an hour to do 5 Miles through London traffic. 

It's very different to Hanoi and Saigon for very obvious reason, but in some ways it's very, very similar. There's the crush of people on the street, the dense traffic and the lack of personal space to name a few similarities.

Then again Saigon and Hanoi were both around 30 degrees and stewing in the tropical humidity. London is 10 degrees with lazy north wind pushing in from the North Pole. Welcome to England" it seems to whisper as it cuts through my clothing.

In the end we have decided to buy a car and caravan. The convenience of not having to drag our home with us everywhere, and the sheer bulk of a decent sized camper have virtually made the decision for us.

We've finally found a car... now we just have to find a van!