Just zip it: Zip [cable] ties are essential campervan kit

Does everyone carry zip ties in their campervan? Certainly without these handy plastic ties in our campervan spares cupboard we would sometimes struggle to stay on the road. I am old enough to remember the days before zip ties but still find it hard to think how we managed without these small bits of nylon in the past. We have used zip ties to hold lights onto bikes when the mount has broken; they have replaced broken handles on bags, held together rolled up blankets and more recently were essential for a makeshift [but solid] repair on our Renault Master.

According to Wikipedia, Cable ties were the invention of Maurus C Logan of the electrical company Thomas & Betts. Appearing in 1958 under the brand name Ty-Rap they were initially designed to organise and keep tidy the multiple lengths of cabling in aeroplanes and Logan spent a few years working out the design. They are, of course, still really useful for that original purpose as we now have multiple lengths of cabling that needs organising in our home.

I like to get our van serviced and checked regularly, so before we set off on our trip to France we took our campervan into the local garage. We needed some new front brake pads and oil changes were due. It seemed worth getting these things sorted before travelling so that we could be sure the Blue Bus would have a trouble-free trip. Unfortunately, this forethought had the opposite result as the garage didn’t quite put our Renault back together in the way they had found it.

Driving down to Portsmouth for the St Malo ferry there was an alarming banging noise from the front wheel at between 65 and 70 mph. We slowed down and pottered into the next services to stop and take a look. It seemed the cover over one of the wheel arches was flapping as the bolts that hold it in place had come loose. In our campervan we have one cupboard devoted to things that are useful for repairs. Here we keep various kinds of tape, spare handles, superglue, waterproof clothing repair kits, needles and thread, tools and of course zip ties. In this instance the reel of strong tape held the flapping plastic still and the rest of our journey to Portsmouth was uneventful apart from the three hour traffic jam that almost made us miss the boat!

We thought that was the end of the matter but should have known better.  A few days later I was doing some stretching exercises on the ground beside the ‘van, glancing underneath I noticed something hanging down that shouldn’t be.  Further investigation revealed that when the garage had carried out the service they hadn’t fixed the plastic cowling under the engine [the under-engine undertray] back in properly and it was now hanging down low just waiting to be caught on an unsuspecting speed bump.

We do have breakdown cover but decided to have a go at fixing it ourselves and so lying on the outdoor mat I had been exercising on, Mr BOTRA lay under the confines of our campervan while I handed the appropriate sized zip tie to him. He fixed three of these in the holes where the missing bolts should be. We checked the repair regular but this temporary fix saw us around the rest of Brittany and back home from Portsmouth. They worked so well I wonder if Renault should consider using cheap zip ties instead of the bolts that the garage had failed to fix properly.

Our quarantine is almost over and after the excitement of the dentist trip on day one of freedom, day two will involve a trip to the garage to give them the chance to put right their mistake.

Muddling through 14 days of quarantine

We knew quarantine was a possibility when we set off for France but is the enforced 14-day self-isolation we now have to endure a price worth paying for a trip abroad? Certainly, I felt refreshed from travelling in France in our campervan again, I enjoyed being back in mainland Europe, following an unplanned path, hearing different languages and discovering new places. Not everyone will think we should have travelled but we tried to be sensible and chose France because the Covid-19 cases were low when we left and we were cautious during our stay. We are able to quarantine, there is nowhere we have to be, so yes, it is worth it but I wouldn’t want to do it again and quarantine is tough. My first thought as I wake every morning is how many days we have completed and how many are left and I am only grateful that this self-isolation has an end date.

I understand how much worse this could be and there are many who have to be in quarantine for longer and for reasons other than a selfish need for a holiday abroad. I am humbled, remembering my house-bound neighbour in Salford. She remained mostly cheerful but rarely went anywhere, had a paid carer who called in once a week for some cleaning and basic shopping and I would visit and complete an internet shopping delivery for her regularly. For two weeks I am experiencing her dependency and I am not enjoying it. I am frustrated that I can’t even nip the short distance to the paper shop for our weekend newspaper while grateful to our kind neighbour who willingly does this. I texted him on Saturday morning and minutes later saw him heading off. He delivered our papers through the letterbox, ‘Should I leave the money in a bowl of vinegar?’ I asked.

At least, unlike my ex-neighbour, we have the IT skills to do our own internet shopping. We don’t usually have supermarket deliveries as our local Lidl is so handy but I signed up and got our first delivery the day after we arrived home. A second delivery should see us through the 14 days and will break up another day but I can’t really get used to not being able to bob out for something forgotten or just desired. This feels more like house arrest than quarantine.

Every day feels the same seen from the same place and I am grateful that the Tour de France had to move to September, as watching the cycling and the wonderful French scenery gives some structure and variety to our day. Our Renault needs a new van battery as it is now coming up for six years old. After an internet search I was excessively excited to find out that they could come to us and fit a new battery on our drive. Hurrah to a day that isn’t another Groundhog Day.

I am happy carrying out a spot of light pruning with the warm sun on my back but generally find gardening more of a responsibility and duty than relaxation. Gardening does get me outside, provide some exercise and pass the time. In these strange times, working in the front garden has become most interesting as I can linger and watch the rest of the world going about its business. I was lurking in the front garden pretending to be gardening when I heard the familiar clink of an empty aluminium can rolling down the street. On automatic I ran out to the road to pick the litter up and put it in our recycling bin. Walking back the 50 metres with the can I realised that could have cost me a £1,000 fine for leaving our home and garden!

We practice tai chi every day for balance and strength but it is the rhythm of walking that I miss the most. Even during lock down we could walk and we covered many miles. Through this quarantine I am like a caged animal pacing around our tiny garden and bungalow. In hindsight we should have booked a holiday cottage in large grounds for at least some of this self-isolation. I appreciate our quarantine is for the good of the wider public health but it isn’t doing much for my own mental and physical health.

In Iceland returning holidaymakers are not treated like lepers. Icelanders are given two coronavirus tests seven days apart, if both tests are negative they only need to quarantine for seven days. On the Isle of Man residents can pay for a test and only need to self-isolate for seven days if it is negative [a risky option as maybe 20-30% of negative results are false]. Unfortunately, England can’t be bothered to come up with anything more humane than 14 days of self-isolation.

We were so careful in France the chances of either of us being infectious with coronavirus is small but if we do have the virus is 14 days long enough to self-isolate? One study suggested that 97% of people will display symptoms within 12 days of transmission [99% will display symptoms after 14 days]. Let’s hope neither of us develops any symptoms as that will make our quarantine even longer. With too much time on my hands, I worry that we might be one of the around 80% who are asymptomatic and wonder why, if travelling to France is so dangerous, no one in authority thinks we should have a coronavirus test.

Reading novels is getting me through these hours and days. They take me to different places and [most importantly] to a world that hasn’t got a clue what coronavirus is. I can curl up in an armchair and lose an hour or more reading, my mind in another place. Without books I would be truly lost.

Am I looking forward to completing the 14 days and being free once again? Of course. And what wonderful thing do we have planned for our first day of freedom I hear you ask. I had thought a walk on the beach to see the view across Morecambe Bay, veggie fry-up at Rita’s Cafe, a browse in the Old Pier Bookshop and coffee at the Beach Bird would be the perfect introduction back into the world but it turns out we have something more mundane to do. My partner needs a dentist appointment and the only date available was first thing on the morning of our release, so our first post-quarantine trip will be travelling back to Salford [no NHS dentist has space on their list within many miles of Lancashire] for a dental appointment. Life has become so topsy-turvy since March 2020 that after 14 days of staying in, even the dentist will be an exciting escape.