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How to avoid complacency.

My Grandad always used to say “don’t put until tomorrow what you can do today.” Because at the age of  12 I knew far more than this World War 2 veteran and all-round good egg, I took very little notice of his well-intentioned advice.

Fast-forward to summer 2018 and I’ve just finished day 1 at the wonderful Hartlepool Waterfront Festival. I’m unloading at my state-of-the-art storage facility (my in-laws garage) and I tell my father-in-law that I can’t be bothered packing my new gas bottle and I’ll do it in the morning.

Can you see where this is going?

Day 2, an hour into my shift, gas is gone. I have a queue. The weather is beautiful and the festival is packed with at least 33 million people who desperately want crepes, at least that is how it seemed at the time.

Luckily my wife was still on site with her car and, even luckier, she actually answered her phone when I rang her.

So began the desperate drive home to get my gas and get back. It’s fair to say I was furious with myself and it took all my restraint to prevent my two-year-old daughter learning some fruity new words!

Quick grab of the new gas canister out of the garage, back into the car and the return leg to Hartlepool. I was significantly calmer but still upset at myself as the reality of the situation is that this little detour cost me money, both in terms of extra cost (petrol etc.) but also in loss of earnings (I reckon about £100+).

It could have been worse. Putting everything into perspective and at least I was able to make up for those sales.

The week before was a lot worse.

The week before people could have died.

My van and other vendors were 20 metres from an unrelated vendor who was selling hot sandwiches and the like. Just before I was about to commence trading, there were two quick pops followed by the sound of a much larger pop. I ran out of my van only to see the event organiser running towards the noise and telling me to dial 999.

The reason soon became apparent as the black hog-roast van was up in flames. By the time I saw it, it was well lit and as I began to evacuate myself and others, all I could think of was that if anyone was still in there, they wouldn’t be alive. Secondly, to go check would be risking your own life as there would be at least one gas canister in there and you can only imagine the damage one of those can do if they blow.

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The fire brigade, ambulance and police were soon on the scene and they were only too well aware of the dangers and evacuated the whole of the retail centre, moving people a further 500 meters away.

They soon established that no-one was in the van but the rumour was that someone had escaped just in the nick of time.

Once the area was deemed safe, we returned and saw the devastation in front of us as the whole of the service side of the van and the roof was non-existent. The short term effect was clear but long term effect could be equally as devastating. That could be someone’s sole source of income gone. Insurance claims, paperwork, liability… all come in to play and it becomes so much more than a financial loss. Stress, nightmares, the realisation that someone had nearly been caught up in it.

image1image2I had no idea how the fire had started but, upon returning to my unit it made me realise how complacent I had become. I was dealing with a potentially deadly force that had become routine to me. This time, before I lit my crepe griddles, I went and checked all my gas connections and the condition of my fittings. I held my breath as I lit up for the first time that day.

It is easy for complacency to creep in to your business, particularly when it is solely on you and you can’t rely on someone else to remember the spare gas when you forget. Sometimes there will be no cost for that complacency and other times it can cost you cold, hard cash – or worse. It’s important that we learn from those errors and eliminate them wherever possible.

When we can’t, bear in mind that things could always be worse and try to make the best of it.

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/16340663.food-van-catches-fire-at-teesside-park/

Since I wrote this, the official report on the cause of the fire has highlighted a faulty gas regulator as the cause. At no point am I suggesting that the cause of the fire was as a result of complacency, I am highlighting the dangers of my trade and that no matter what goes wrong, it could always be worse.

Don’t put off until tomorrow, what can be done today.” Owen Ernest Tong

How do I know which events to attend?

Quick answer: You don’t. You must use trial and error.

Long answer: You don’t. You still must use trial and error but there are some things that can help you pick out a winner over an event that falls at the first hurdle.

The first thing that will ensure an event is successful for you is that you are pitching up at the correct events. What I mean by that is that your business is aimed at a certain demographic dictated by your product, your price and your image. Make sure that the event you are attending will have this demographic in enough numbers for you to be profitable.

It’s the reason that ice-cream vans don’t do so well outside football grounds on matchdays and why burger vans don’t drive the streets on summer evenings playing funky tunes.

Once you’ve sourced your events you need to apply to them. Get a contact and ensure that you’re asking the right person and get an application form. No-one gets back to you? Get in touch again, try a different person, make a phone call instead of an email. Be insistent without being rude. You’re not only trying to get a booking, but this is phase one of building a relationship so whilst it’s acceptable to ‘hassle’ once a week or so don’t be getting all grumpy about it and calling every day. That person will hardly relish having you on their site as a result.

I’m lucky. I’ve stumbled on some exceptional organisers in my brief career and they share, what I think of as, the most important characteristic – they care.

I recall a conversation with one of these people at a cold, wintery farmer’s market that I was doing for the first time. Throughout the day he kept asking me if I was doing alright. He didn’t mean how my feet were in the miserable cold, he wanted to know if financially I was making enough to make the day worthwhile. In truth, it wasn’t great, but it certainly wasn’t bad. The unusual thing though was he was more than a little concerned, I could see it in his manner having worked with him at previous markets elsewhere where I was considerably busier. I realised then how much he cared. The success of his market was intrinsically linked to my success. If I failed, he’d be upset on my behalf as he’d been a market trader and knew what it was like for us but also it may lead to me and other traders not wanting to attend in the future which would clearly have a negative effect on the market.

In this game, we can only prosper by working together.

A lesson that I have taken literally. I am always keen to share information with my fellow traders about good events, poor events and everything in-between. It is easy to think of the business world as cut-throat with every person out for themselves. I’m sure in some fields that this is true but certainly not at this level. I’ve always found that traders are keen to share because we can all benefit from another perspective and building a new relationship.

NFDM Soc. Med. Post
Facebook post from Northern Dales Farmer’s Markets.

Once you’ve contacted your event, check out their social media platforms. Are there pictures of thousands of smiling customers cramming in to stalls and such like? That may give you a clue as to how successful the event is although it is not a given, but certainly you should see some past posts advertising previous events, this gives you a clue as to how they will advertise the event that you are attending. A high social media presence is a good indicator of the success of the organisation and the demographic that they are attracting.

Something that has precluded me from events is cost and this can be very prohibitive. A rule of thumb is often, the more expensive the pitch, the more profitable it is although again, this is not a given.

The most that I have paid for a pitch is £125 and the least has been free! Some events will ask for a percentage of sales, this is quite often because they have no idea what the footfall will be and don’t want to preclude vendors from attending or sell short their event. This is a life-saver at events where you’re not so busy but if you do well, it certainly does hurt handing over a big wad!

If the event that you attend doesn’t do well, speak to the organiser, you may be able to agree on a reduction in your pitch fee but don’t expect it. I have had organisers volunteer this offer before I have even asked which dictates to me that they care whereas others have failed to respond entirely which indicates that I won’t be going back there and that I’ll be letting my fellow traders know too.

My top tip, however, is at the time of booking ask if there will be another vendor of your niche at the event. Generally speaking, experienced organisers will tell you before hand and won’t book anyone else, but it is worth asking for all but the biggest events which can accommodate repeated vendors. I fell foul of this at a local half-marathon where the council booked three food vendors of which two were creperies. D’oh.  Some 4 months later I have only just received a response from them. It wasn’t a great response.

Good luck out there, make some contacts and remember that sharing is caring.

What can I do in the off-season?

Belated Happy New Year!

I’ve made it to 2018!

I am halfway through my one-year business-plan!

Go me!

2018 is going to be a great year for my business as I diversify into the festival markets, expand my operation by training an extra body to make crepes and establish whether I can make this a full-time career or not. But all that is going to have to wait for the next three months. January, February and March are not the most profitable of months for a business such as mine and are a harsh reminder that my job is seasonal.

This period can be depressing enough (apparently January 13th is the most depressing day of the year) what with cold, dark days and longer, colder, darker nights but to know that I won’t be actively working and earning money is going to be tough.

Because I am new to this malarkey, I haven’t earned enough to live off during this period and so I’m reliant on my savings and the earnings of my (long-suffering) wife. That doesn’t do a great deal for my self-worth and neither does being imprisoned in the house for the next three months.

What I have to do is attempt to make this period of the year the foundation for the rest. How do I go about this?

The five P’s. This was first mentioned to me by an outdoor pursuits leader who also happened to be the toughest man I have ever met. He was a former Olympic Judo coach and enforcer for the Krays. He’s the only person who’s threatened to kill me that I actually believed could and would. Anyway, he actually referred to it as the 6 P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance, I’ll let you guess which was the ‘P,’ he’d decided to add.

Use this time to plan your year ahead. Get a wall calendar if you haven’t already got one, mark on your events, mark on the school holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, everything and anything that you think is relevant. Any date with a space is something for you to now focus on, can we get an event or a job on that day?

Is my equipment ready? Does it need PAT testing? If so, get a date booked, you’ve got these three months! The same goes for MOT’s and while we’re talking about vehicles, get your maintenance done: tyre pressures, oil checks, touch up the paint work etc.

It’s not just the physical equipment that you may need to update, when was the last time you looked at your website? Does it look like the opening page of a Sega Megadrive game? If so, get it sorted. Look at other people’s websites and see how they compare? I was once told by a guy that whenever he books anything, he looks on Facebook and then double checks with the website. Anyone can set up a quick business page on Facebook but pro’s have a decent, updated website also.

Use this time to research. Are there any new events out there that you may have missed? Get looking and applying, it’s never too early to apply, it’s only ever too late.

What are you doing wasting time reading this for? Get planning!

How important are reviews?

I’ve sold a few things on eBay, I’m guessing many of you have, and so you’ll already be aware of how important the review system is and how eager people are to protect that 100% rating. Someone whom I sold something to wasn’t happy and wrote me a negative review, they hadn’t given me the opportunity to rectify anything or make anything up to them. As a result, what they have written remains a permanent record on my eBay profile. Luckily for me however, they’d pressed the 5-star option by accident so, despite their comment being negative they’d given me top marks! Boom!

Like most eBayers, I just look at the star rating of a seller, the comments tend to be repetitive and don’t give any valuable information. This is most likely because I know what I’m buying, I already trust the product and it is the seller I’m unsure of.

It was the other way around entirely when I bought my generator, a specialist piece of equipment, from a retailer that I trusted. I read review after review to find out what I needed and how it would benefit me. The generator I eventually plumped for didn’t get 5-star reviews across the board, some were 3-star and others went as low as 1. If I’d judged this product entirely on it’s rating then I would not have bought it, but it was because people had made the effort and written the reviews, both good and bad, that I bought it. Up to now, it’s been a good buy!

Being in the catering industry has made me realise how important reviews are particularly as I’m a one-person business and I’m reliant on having a good reputation. It’s hard to get reviews and in this world of Twitter and Facebook, it’s even harder to recover from a disparaging review. So, what should we do?

  1. Protect yourself against bad reviews. Ensure your standards are always high and consistent and the product or service you provide is good. If someone isn’t satisfied, do all you can to rectify the situation there and then. I once (it only happened once – honest) burned the edges of a crepe I served. I couldn’t remake it as I had no more of the filling the customer wanted. I gave it to her for free. What did I lose? The cost of a crepe. What did I gain? A happy customer who got something for nowt. If she’d left unhappy she may have posted a critical review, the cost of which could have cost me a lot more than the price of a crepe.
  2. Talk to your customers and build a relationship. Have a chat! I hate asking strangers to review me and my products, so I chat to them and make them friends. Maybe not friends enough to go to the cinema together or share my family secret but certainly enough to recognise them again as a returning customer.
  3. Share your story. My first reviews came from people whom I told that I was a brand-new business. They recognised how difficult it is to become established and were keen to lend their support.
  4. Review other people. You can’t complain about not getting any reviews if you’re not writing any! One of my favourite parts of events I attend is post-event sharing where stall holders give our products away to other caterers rather than let it go to waste. If I have a coffee from the lady next door or some Korean food from the guy opposite is it disingenuous to review it? Bear in mind I’m reviewing the food and the service as opposed to the cost. Of course it isn’t.
  5. Be responsive. If someone reviews you and says something nice, thank them, continue that positive relationship. If they say something not so nice, apologise and see if you can remedy the situation. You may not get a response but other people who read your reviews will see that you’re attempting to repair things and that you’ve done all you can.
  6. Show off! You get a great review then let everyone know! Share it on social media. Make it your Facebook banner. Want to get creative? Use a website like Canva.com and turn that comment into a work of art that is perfectly sized for which ever social media outlet you use.

Hope that all makes sense and may help. If it does, don’t be afraid to leave a review!

New Business Anxieties or Fear is the Mind Killer

It was Eleanor Roosevelt that said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I must admit that it’s not a maxim that I live my life by unless you include the daily chores of changing a nappy, entering my boys’ bedroom or asking my wife to explain the scoring system on Strictly. Despite this, I get where the historic First Lady was coming from, essentially if we challenge ourselves and succeed we grow as a person. If we fail, we learn more about ourselves and become better equipped to succeed at the next time of asking.

Starting your own business is one of those areas where you are constantly being challenged in a number of areas where you are a complete novice. No one starts their business because they love numbers and spreadsheets (accountants excluded) but it’s an area that you need to get to grips with in order to facilitate your actual love, the business that you are growing.

Something that has scared me has been my boiler.

I remember picking up my van back in June this year. I’d just had the kitchen fitted by a wonderful company down in Bristol called Tudor Trailers. Ashley was giving me the tour of the van and how everything works. The bit that I can remember with the most clarity is Ashley showing me how to light the boiler. It’s only a water boiler for hot water, the kind you see in any café or similar facility, you fill it up with water, turn it on and then a short while later, boiling water is dispensed. Ashley told me the trick to lighting it: you don’t repeatedly turn the knob off and on with that familiar k-thum, k-thum, k-thum until it lights, you gently turn it until you feel some resistance and then k-thum followed by the woof and blue flame!

For some reason, it stuck with me but it was fairly useless at the time as I had little intention of serving hot drinks until I had got to grips with my crepe griddles, until now! Bonfire night was approaching and it was cold. So cold that I considered wearing socks in bed: fact. People would want hot drinks and wouldn’t fancy joining a queue for crepes only have to join another queue to get a hot drink. It was time for me to get to grips with the boiler.

I read the booklet, the instructions might have well as read “turn it on, boil water, turn it off when finished.” I remembered with clarity what I must do. I gently eased the knob round, found the resistance and k-thum. No woof though.

I tried again, consoling myself with the fact that it hadn’t been used in 4 months if ever. K-thum. No woof.

One more time. Same result. Mild panic was starting to set in. I’d bought 600 tea bags! Not the cheap ones either! I remedied to re-visit the problem once I’d lit my crepe griddles, off I went to turn the gas on. D’oh.  Of course, the boiler wasn’t lighting without the gas on.

Lesson learned.

Or should I say ‘lessons’. I’d put off using the boiler to focus on crepes but that has undoubtedly lost me money because I could have sold a hot drink to every other person buying a crepe. An expensive lesson.

In short, don’t put things off because you’re a little nervous or fearful.  Remember that fear is the path to the Dark Side.

By the way, if anyone can help explain the scoring system on Strictly Come Dancing, I’d be very appreciative. I don’t understand why the judges give a score if the public then have to vote. Surely one of those elements is superfluous? My wife just rolls her eyes when I raise this issue.

How to prepare for your Environmental Health visit.

Firstly, you need to know the extent of your operation.

I can only talk from my own personal experience as a trader where I deal with low-risk food products. Are you using raw meat, eggs freezing and re-heating food? Then you need more specific advice. Speak to other similar traders, scrutinise the latest copy of “Food safety First Principles,” (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) and, most importantly, get in touch with your local authority’s Environmental Health Department.

This may well be the most important relationship that you forge as a trader so start that relationship early and become known as someone who asks questions and wants to do their best to improve the services they provide. Their purpose is not simply to find fault and close down, far from it, they want to help all establishments comply with the law and ensure the safety of our customers.

Ideally they will come visit you whilst working but that wasn’t an option in my case and so an officer came to the address where I park my vehicle. Ian, the EHO, was thoroughly pleasant and polite and talked through the whole process putting me at ease immediately. For the next 50 minutes we talked about my procedures and how I run the business on a day-by-day basis, followed by a brief inspection of my vehicle.

Throughout the process I never really felt as though I was being tested, I was simply answering the questions that I was asked honestly and highlighting what I did. If I failed to give the answer that was expected, Paul would ask further questions to ensure that he got all the information he needed. This wasn’t just a test for me, it was an opportunity for me to improve my practices. This man had experienced the very worst as well as the very best food establishments in the county as such, he knew things that I could not. With a few choice questions, this became a learning process for me and provided choice tips that have influenced my future practices.

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In a nutshell, here are the things that I found most useful:

  • I use a cleaning diary that highlights my procedures and how often I carry out the tasks. This was good practice but the detail I was going into was superfluous for an operation of my size. It’s no difficult task so I think I’ll keep it up, plus it will be a great tool should I take on a member of staff.
  • For my wastage I use my local authority bin service. This was deemed as acceptable because my waste is so minimal (approximately a carrier bag full) but you may need to make other arrangements if it’s much more than this.
  • For the cleaning of surfaces you need to use a cleaning fluid that must comply with BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697. This will be highlighted on the packaging. If not, do NOT buy it.
  • Surfaces need to be cleaned with warm soapy water and then disinfected with the product marked above. Sometimes I can’t use warm soapy water, in that eventuality I double disinfect by simply disinfecting twice.
  • Have a poster of how to wash hands properly by your sink. It helps to remind staff and yourself what you should be doing but also ticks a box for the instructor.
  • Keep the receipts for your stock. You’re probably already doing this for tax purposes but they’ll also provide a trail should there be a problem with any food item.
  • Blue roll is king. Use it, bin it. Hygienic and multi-purpose.
  • Fridge temperature should be below 8 degrees but, due to door openings this can often raise so it’s recommended you aim for 0-5 degrees.
  • Know your allergens. Write them down somewhere handy and refer to them.
  • If you become ill, you’re not coming in to work for 48 hours from the end of your symptoms. Plenty of time for those nasty bugs to disappear for good and there be no chance of you passing anything on.

Anna and Shaun-138

Need further advice? Speak to people who already hold the award and see what they say and don’t be afraid to talk to the EHO’s themselves, it will highlight the extent that you are going to in order to achieve the highest grading.

I’m not going to wish you good luck, you probably already know enough to get the top grade but if you do a little bit of groundwork you’ll be sure of it.

How important is diversity in the marketplace?

Last week I was on holiday with the family in Keswick, a beautiful little town in the Lake District that manages to pack thousands of tourists on to its little streets every day. To cater for them all, there is a diverse and competitive number of eateries that I only touched upon. I loved the stacked pancakes, drizzled in maple syrup and topped with crispy bacon and blueberries at the tiny St. Mungo’s Deli. It was quirky and close with wonderfully accommodating staff.

We treated ourselves later in the week to the backstreet Mexican Bar eS. It’s a tapas bar that has a lot of strong, vibrant flavours accompanied by a wide range of independent beers.

The point I’m trying to make is that now we, as a nation, have a wide variety of tastes. The days of meat and two veg at every meal are long behind us. There was a time in the not too distant past where we knew what day of the week it was from the meal served to us at ‘tea time’ as we say up north.

“Is it Tuesday?”

“Yup”

“Egg and chips then.”

I remember the day, as a child growing up in West Yorkshire in the 1980’s, where we had spaghetti bolognaise for the first time ever. Where had my grandma learned the skills to create ‘foreign’ food? Did we have Italian heritage? Did this mean that I was now eligible to play in the great Italian World Cup winning team?!

It was actually more dollop of sauce rather than la dolce vita. I wouldn’t be playing alongside Rossi anytime soon.

Fast forward to the present day though and it’s a staple meal for the Great British household and one which is sneered at by Italian natives.

The marketplace in Keswick gets even more crowded on market days with a further range of local food producers. My final meal of the holiday came from one such stall and was another British staple – the curry.

It would appear, that to cater for our ever emerging diverse tastes we need a wide range of food producers and as such there’s always room for another establishment to take us on a culinary journey around the world. If you get to sample Mr Vikki’s stall, I recommend the tikka masala/beef madras combo.

However, you can’t knock a classic.

Today, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by popping over to Whitby (I really pushed the boat out) for lunch. Arguably, it’s equally – if not more – touristy than Keswick. We heard an American commenting on a waitress having a mug of tea before carrying on with her job frying the fish in delicious, light batter as being “so British!”

What did we have to eat? Fish and chips of course! You can’t walk more than ten metres in any direction in Whitby without either being in a chippy or being in the sea.

Possibly.

I didn’t see a McDonalds, Subway or any other chain. Local, independent chippys are at the forefront of Whitby’s culinary scene.

This totally flies in the face of the diversity nonsense I was uttering a moment ago…

Or does it?

Frequent Whitby travellers all have their favourite chippy. I have mine and according to one advertisement on their window, Jeremy Clarkson has his. We still have that choice, that diversity is still there but it is based upon quality, location, cost, tradition and any other factor that determines where you choose to eat chips.

Diversity is important. You need to research your position in the marketplace and then ensure that everything you do fits into that position. If you’re going to do something that is similar to someone else (let’s be honest, it’s likely you will as there are so few ‘new’ ideas out there) how will you be different to them? Looking at your competitors isn’t copying, just the opposite, it’s finding where you’ll fit in.

 

Saltburn Food Festival 2017

I had no idea what Saltburn Food Festival would be like. I’d chatted to other traders who had all told me that it would be busy and that I’d sell out and so I had come prepared with an excess of batter and fillings.

Being a food festival, I expected there to be some discerning palettes wandering around seeking culinary thrills and so I tweaked my menu accordingly. I had ordered some extra tubs of delicious red pesto from my local supplier, Helen’s Hummus, extra jars of both honey and red onion chutney from Acorn Preserves and a huge wedge of Yorkshire Blue cheese from Shepherd’s Purse. I was really looking forward to extolling the virtues of these local products while food critics from the region ‘nommed’ their way through a crepe, nodding in agreement.

After finding my position for the day (after my second drive through Saltburn) I began to set up. Because the streets were all closed for the festival, we were literally taking over. I parked on the road side and only really noticed the slope I was on when I began serving, having to pour the mix at the top end of the hot plate and then race to catch it before it rolled over the bottom edge.

Busy? Doesn’t describe the day fully. From 10:30am until 3:30pm (when I ran out of batter) I had a queue. As such, I was making my up-hill crepes for 5 hours solid. It was a beautiful day too (one short-lived rain shower aside) and so people had come out in their thousands to sample the many products on sale.

It very quickly became clear that the crepe connoisseur’s I was expecting in droves were edged out of the queue by the people wanting the perennially popular fillings of Nutella and lemon with sugar. Who am I to complain? If people are enjoying what I make then it’s a win-win situation, particularly as I now have a personal stash of pesto and Yorkshire Blue at home that needs eating!

I was happy to sell out of stock despite having a further 2 and a half hours of selling time left as it meant I could now wander round the remainder of the stalls and try their wares, unfortunately after leaning up-hill for five hours to counter the slope I was on, I had an acute case of the wobbles on level ground. That didn’t deter me from my choice of a vegan chilli burger from the Green Guerilla (I’m not a vegan, I’m a hungry bloke) a food stall that I’m a particular fan of.

All in all, a great day. I’m looking forward to 2018 with gusto and with a plan to get level parking.

How to buy an H van

  • How I bought an H van
  • 1980’s TV references
  • Points to consider

 

Like Scrooge McDuck in the opening titles of a much loved 1980’s cartoon, I had dived straight into a new business venture and committed fully by investing my money into this iconic vehicle. I purchased it from my most local specialist, 2CV City in Bradford. After my first tentative exploratory enquiries I had picked my vehicle online and had put my bartering hat on to do business! A brief conversation ensued which highlighted the fact that these vehicles are in demand. The van I wanted was on a container ready to be shipped to Australia and the next one in the garage was bound for Japan. My bartering position had diminished significantly. “I’ll have the next one please Tony, here’s a large amount of money as a deposit.”

Just like when you adopt a dog from the RSPCA, I went down to visit the van a couple of times and loved it. 2CV City did a great job getting it roadworthy and looking good. Regular updates kept me informed of progress and after a while it was done and ready to come home, except I needed a kitchen fitting in it.

Tudor Catering Trailers were recommended and my van was despatched down south for fitting.

When the day came, I flew down to Bristol (literally) with a load of welly-clad hipsters on their way to Glastonbury and arrived at Tudor where I  set my glassy eyes on the H-van. At last, we were together.

After a quick once over around the kitchen (beautiful job by the way Tudor), the keys were thrust into my palm, my back was slapped and I was ready to go.

Or so I thought.

I’d never driven it before.

It had no power steering, a manual choke, three gears, left hand drive, a speedo in kilometres and a switch that, to this day, no-one knows what it operates.

I expected to be home in about 6 hours. Pick-up at 4:30pm, home by 10:30pm, cup of tea then bed.

After being advised to rest the van every second service station and to not thrash the engine, I quickly realised that this was not going to be a short hop home.

I drove through the night, stopping for a nap every hour or so, at a steady 60 km/h. I would have liked to have listened to some carefully selected podcasts but the engine was too loud.

I got to bed at 7am the next morning.

Aside from getting lost in Derby, it was one of the most enjoyable drives of my life.

Points to consider before purchase:

  • They are a French vehicle and are available to buy cheaply in Belgium and France but they’ll likely be in a bit of state and require a lot of paperwork to get over here and convert. Whilst not impossible, I’d always recommend using a company that specialises in this so that you get a great, expertly renovated, UK road legal vehicle. It may cost more but you’ll have less worries and a point of contact in the future.
  • Always test drive it if you can. Not necessarily to test the vehicle but your ability to drive it. Steering a heavy vehicle without power steering may seem like a great upper-body exercise but it’s novelty can wear off.
  • These vans were not designed for long journeys. They were intended for village to village jobs, delivering items and selling directly from them. If you’re planning on going all over the country in yours, you’ll not only end up with forearms like Popeye but it will take you a long time. Take note!
  • They’re a thing of beauty. No matter what you do with yours, people will stop and stare, take photo’s and just want to be near it. If you don’t mind playing second fiddle to a car (think David Hasslehoff in Knight Rider, another 1980’s obscure reference) then this could be the vehicle to suit you.