Upgrade One – Adding a Heater

This year Barb and I decided we wanted to be far less dependent on the need for electric hook up, partly because its more economical, but also because we prefer sites which are a bit quieter and closer to nature and these generally tend to have limited amenities.

Our biggest energy dependency was on heating, so our first project was to install a Gas Blown Air Heater. The two most widely used RV heating systems seemed to be Truma, which uses gas, and Eberspacher, which uses diesel from your van fuel tank. Both these systems cost between £700 – £900, which at the time was beyond our means. We’d also found a few references which stated that some of the Eberspachers could be quite noisy, not great when trying to keep warm and get some sleep on those cold wintry nights.

After a fair bit of on-line research we settled on a Propex Heatsource HS2000 which cost us £420 supplied with flue, ducting, gas fittings and temperature control panel included.

Propex Heatsource HS2000 Gas Blown Air Heater

The next big problem we encountered was where to position the heater. Our two main aims were to minimise loss of storage space and have clear space under the van to route the air intake and gas exhaust pipes. Owing to the location of the Leisure battery, the water storage tank, the water heater, the plastic fuel tank, and the prop shaft running down the middle of the van to the rear axle, the only suitable location available to us was in the cupboard under the ‘kitchen’ sink and cooker.

In order to get enPropex Heaterough access to drill the required holes through the van floor we had to strip out the cooker unit and the shelf which it rested on.

This also gave us access to the main gas supply pipe and enabled us to take a gas supply to the heater via the existing 3 way gas manifold.

The hardest part of this job was drilling the holes through the very tough floor of the van. I strongly recommend you use new sharp drill bits to do this, we didn’t, it took ages, and the resulting holes were not as tidy as we would have liked leading to a fair bit of follow up filing being required.

With the heater being situated next to the rear wheel arch we were able to route the heater exhaust pipe alongside the vans engine exhaust pipe with the air intake being routed in the opposite direction secured at a couple of points to chassis cross struts.

Once the heating unit was connected to the gas supply and screwed to the floor it was a fairly straightforward job to route the internal intake and output vents into the van via the water tank and water heater storage area and connect the unit to the heater thermostat controller unit.

Heater vents into van

Next job: adding a solar panel.

Borys Joins the Family

After the loss of Gromit we quickly realised how much we had become ‘dog’ people. Gromit had been such a demanding dog that our whole lives had slowly shifted to being virtually all about caring for his needs. With a great deal of indoor entertainment between lengthy daily walks and two training sessions a week, looking after him was a full time job and losing him had left a huge void in our lives which needed to be filled.

Having Gromit had introduced new activities and social gatherings into our lives, activities that we had both come to enjoy very much, so we knew that we would get another dog eventually. However, we hadn’t planned on getting another dog so soon after Gromit’s accident until we discovered that two of Gromit’s litter brothers were still being kept in a pen on a farm still waiting to re-homed at almost 21 months of age.

After Barb had a chat with Gill, the dogs owner, we decided to go up to the farm to meet Borys. Gill had assured Barb that Borys was the more passive of the two remaining dogs and had shown definite signs of being cat tolerant, important as we have three cats. We also decided to go up in our camper van so we could stay overnight and get to know Borys a little better before deciding what to do.

Needless to say we fell for him immediately and he ended up staying with us in our van overnight. I’d taken a handful of chicken treats with me and, although he was very nervous and submissive, I think this won his trust fairly quickly.

We knew we would have a lot of work to do with Borys, as he hadn’t had any real training nor spent any time living indoors, however, we decided that the least we could do in Gromit’s memory was to turn his misfortune into his brother Borys’ good fortune.

Turns out that was a great decision as he is turning out to be a lovely dog, although the cats don’t think so yet!

Bory's relaxing in the Van

Borys relaxing in the van

Gromit – Shine on you Crazy Diamond

On Saturday 1st of March our beautiful dog Gromit was killed on a busy road in Wales having unexpectedly forged his way across a small river and a large marshy area in pursuit of some sheep he had spotted way over the other side of the valley.

We were staying at a camp-site that we had visited many times, a location we believed to be a safe place to let him run free, unfortunately this didn’t turn out to the case. Thankfully Gromit was killed instantly and will not have felt any pain or even been aware of what happened to him.

I cannot begin to describe the loss my wife, Barb and I felt on that day. Gromit was a ‘Tour de Force’ bursting with energy and endless vitality. Many times he left us feeling exasperated, as he always remained a very wilful dog, despite the hundreds of pounds we spent on training. We’d tried many times to teach him recall but with no success. In many ways it was the wilful aspect of his personality which made him the dog he was, the dog we loved so much, but unfortunately it also ultimately led to his untimely end at only 21 months of age.


Our beautiful boy. Gone in a heartbeat.
It was the best day in a dog’s life,
Running with the lurcher, learning fly ball.
Such high hopes for his skills,
He was intelligent, smart and so very fast.

Camping at our old haunt, visited many times
Our kids, many friends…..all have been there.
So many happy memories, now tainted for ever.
A moment’s lack of attention, ears flattened to head,
And he was gone, running with the wind.

And it was over, no pain, just so still.
The well-meaning farmer, used to the death of animals
Awkwardly comforting, offering a puppy to ease the pain.
And the pain was as never endured before.
A loss so profound, life changing. Final.

And then the chance to give love to his brother.
Poor neglected boy, now here to fill our days
And ease the pain of the loss of our beautiful boy.
The human capacity for love and Borys’ need for love
All melded together for our new journey.

Barb Mclean

Welsh Perry and Cider Festival 2013

During the Spring Bank Holiday we met up with our friends Rachael, Barrie, Lee and Darren on a camp-site in Gloucestershire for a couple of days. While we were in the area Barrie suggested that we all visit the Annual Welsh Perry and Cider Festival being held in Caldicot Castle over that weekend.

We had an excellent time there, certainly helped by the beautiful weather and the beautiful surroundings. This was the 12th year of the festival and the first time it had been held at Caldicot castle, The event generally runs all over the weekend and camping facilities are available at a very reasonable rate.

We just went for the day on this occasion but will definitely be keeping our eye on the Welsh Perry and Cider Society website for details of next years festival with a view to camping throughout the event.

It cost us £6.50 entrance fee each, for which you are provided with, a guide to the available ciders and perrys, a glass for sampling the aforementioned drinks, lots of entertainment and live music and a fantastic atmosphere. You also have to buy a sheet of tokens which you then exchange for those perrys or ciders that you decide you like after enjoying a few free samples of the available choices. There are also plenty of stalls selling food and craft items.

Best of all, well behaved dogs, kept on a lead, are also allowed in, so Gromit got to enjoy the event too :-)

LHPS ‘Modern Times’ themed Photo Competition

Well I’m the last person who would have thought it possible but I’ve managed to repeat the success rate I had in the ‘Work’ themed competition by collecting all three top places and a highly commended again in the  ‘Modern Times’ competition.

All four images where taken with my HTC One X mobile phone camera. Since getting the phone I’ve developed a real interest in the art of mobile photography and love having the ability to take, process and post shots all from the same device and the fact that you can get your images out there sometimes within minutes of taking them.

Here are my competition entries;

The Latest Fashion

First Place – The Latest Fashion

Second Place -  The New Three Graces

Second Place – The New Three Graces

Third Place - A digitized world

Third Place – A digitized world

Highly Commended -  Urban Respray

Highly Commended – Urban Re-spray

LHPS Work themed Photo Competition

I’ve been a member of the Liverpool Hope Photography Society (LHPS) since it was founded almost three and a half years ago, and, whilst I’ve had several ‘Commended’ and Highly Commended’ competition results, up until now I have only had one top three placing in any of the competitions. It came as quite a surprise, therefore, when I took all three top places and a Highly Commended in the ‘Work’ themed competition held late last month.

Needless to say, I am very pleased :-)

Here are my winning entries;

First Place - Carrying Passengers

First Place – Carrying Passengers

Second Place - School Work

Second Place – School Work

Third Place - Railway man

Third Place – Railway man

Highly Commended - Late Night at the Office

Highly Commended – Late Night at the Office

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training Program – Session Three

Monday evening – 22 April – Birkenhead Park

It seems my optimism following yesterday’s training was entirely misplaced.

BulldogWithin minutes of arriving and beginning training we were joined by a 12 month old Bulldog called Spence. Spence and Gromit immediately hit it off, and, as Sharon also told us it was very important that Gromit got as much interaction with other dogs as possible, I decided to let them play. Not that I appeared to have much choice at the time!

Because Gromit and Spence were playing quite boisterously I ended up having to let go of Gromit’s leash, which was ok for about 5 minutes, after which both Gromit and Spence spotted another, smaller, dog and decided to involve it in their game. Fortunately the owner of the small dog knew George, Spence’s owner, and, whilst clearly panicking slightly, was also relatively understanding whilst we attempted to extract her dog from ours and restrained our, much larger, dogs from swamping hers.

Having resolved that issue, I was trying to explain to George why I had to keep Gromit on a leash, particularly in wide open public spaces. I wasn’t entirely convinced that George fully appreciated my problems. His dog ran after other dogs, he said, and he wouldn’t always come straight back, he assured me, but he didn’t think it too much of a problem, just dogs having fun, he said. Gromit must have been listening in to this conversation because he then took the opportunity to fully demonstrate his capabilities and headed off across the park at around 40mph pursuing some joggers he’d spotted on the horizon! Within seconds he’d disappeared!

Whippet in full flight

I left the ‘now fully up to speed’ George and headed in pursuit of the ‘now at full speed’ Gromit!

After a few minutes desperate calling, Gromit reappeared on the horizon. He appeared to spot my frantically waving form and headed back towards me at top speed only to effortlessly pass by me at the last-minute as he headed back in  Spence’s direction. Fortunately I managed to get my foot on his trailing leash and brought him to an abrupt halt.

By now the entire parks attention was on me and I started to feel somewhat foolish as I marched up and down the park dragging a clearly reluctant dog behind me and after a few minutes of total in-attentiveness I knew this session had been blown out of the water!

From Gromit’s point of view this was an excellent session as he had lots of exercise and doggy interaction. From my point of view it was a total disaster!

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training – Session Two

Sunday afternoon – 21 April – Birkenhead Park

It rained throughout the session, which was almost certainly the reason why there weren’t that many other people or dogs around to act as distractions. Had a 20 minute training session during which Gromit started to show signs of improvement.

We then went for a walk around the upper lake. I finished training off with a quick 5 minute session before heading home. Gromit continued to show good levels of attentiveness.

Quite pleased with progress, however, I think he was definitely in a subdued mood owing to being wet.

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training – Session One

Technically the first training session took place on Saturday the 20th April, when we met up with Sharon and were instructed on how to do it.

During that session I walked off in one direction, trailing the lead behind me, while Gromit looked at a variety of dogs, in a variety of other directions, until the lead inevitably went taut and he was gently dragged in the same direction as me. At that point he would grudgingly trudge after me whilst still managing to remain focussed on everything else going on around him other than me. By the sheer law of inevitability he would eventually come alongside me and I would immediately change direction at which point the whole process would start again.

It sounds a fairly simple procedure but if you just keep turning right every time he comes up on your left side, it’s not long before you start to feel a little dizzy, however, if you try to head left when he comes up on the left you can tend to get a bit tangled up! It’s also possible, if the area your working in isn’t large enough, to walk yourself into a corner. Needless to say I did all those things several times during the session.

The general idea is to keep going for a maximum of 20 – 30 minutes. If you find you are starting to feel less tug on the lead after each turn, and your dog is starting to head in generally the same direction as you on each turn, then you can probably stop after 20 minutes, otherwise keep going for the extra 10 minutes.

At the end of the training it is also a good idea to take your dog for a more relaxed walk so he/she still associates the training sessions with having an enjoyable time.

To be honest I couldn’t tell if Gromit was being more attentive or not at the end of this session, however, Sharon and Barb thought he showed some signs of improvement.

Gromit Asleep

Gromit’s Attentiveness Training Program

Gromit SittingOne of the big issues we have with Gromit is an almost total inability to get him to come immediately back to us when he is let off the lead on walks. I say almost, because on some occasions, when there have been no distractions, such as other dogs, he does come back, however, lately this has become so rare it probably doesn’t count any more.

I should also just add that obviously we do get him back eventually, but this generally involves me having to walk some distance to extract him from a group of newly found playmates!

Prior Training

When we first knew we were getting Gromit we visited a couple of training establishments but weren’t very impressed with what we found. Most places seem to suggest that they deliver kind and caring, non aggressive, training methods, but this did not seem to be the case with those we visited, who demonstrated the use of ‘kneeing’ the dog down, squirting water in its face and the use of a choke chain.

I have no doubt these methods produce quick results, and I’m not going to add to the debate of what is right and wrong, that’s a hot topic many professional trainers can’t agree on. However, from our personal point of view, we wanted a dog that would follow us because it wanted to and not because we may inflict some punishment on it, so we we’re prepared for the long haul. (pardon the pun)

We were not, however, prepared to handle Gromit’s training entirely unsupported, so after a couple of months of sharing our lives’s with him we engaged a trainer called Sharon from the ‘Bark Busters‘ franchise.

We’ve met with Sharon on a few occasions during Gromit’s development and, between her and a couple of puppy training books, we’ve managed to get him to do the usual tricks such as sit, down, wait, and occasionally heel. We can easily remove any foodstuff from him with never a hint of aggression and we can leave food on the floor in front of him which he will not touch until told to do so. In fact he is a fairly well-behaved dog for a puppy… until we take him outside!

Attentiveness Training – The Theory

It had been several weeks since we last met with Sharon, as we’d had to reschedule a couple of appointments owing to holidays and other commitments, and during this time Gromit’s growing lack of recall had become a major issue which we urgently needed to get advice about.

We started by taking Gromit for a walk on a long lead through the park while Sharon chatted to Barb about our issues. After about 15 minutes walking, Sharon commented that during all that time Gromit had not looked at us once, indicating that he was operating almost entirely independent of us. Normally, when running in a pack, all the pack members will continuously look at the pack leader for direction and this enables the pack to operate as efficient unit. We were clearly not operating as an efficient unit.. far from it!

Sharon’s advice was that we would have to get Gromit to be ‘attentive’ to our directions before we could ever hope to embed an effective recall command and has recommended that we carry out an extensive program of attentiveness training which needs to be carried out everyday for 20 – 30 minutes for the next 3 weeks.

Attentiveness training, in our case, consists of finding a reasonable sized open area, preferably with other dogs in the vicinity as distractions, and, with Gromit on the end of a long lead, we begin walking off across the area, keeping an eye on Gromit’s position so we can spot when he comes alongside. As soon as he comes alongside we swiftly change the direction we are heading in, forcing him to eventually change direction too. We repeat this process for at least 20 minutes or until we get extremely dizzy! You are also not allowed to give verbal commands as this exercise is about getting your dog to watch you for visual clues rather than listen for commands.

The theory behind the training is based on the premise that because we have now become unpredictable in our movements Gromit will start to keep an eye on us to check what we are doing, i.e. ‘be attentive’. By continuing the training every day for 3 weeks we are hopefully going to reinforce the behaviour of him continually checking to ensure he is going in the same direction as us, ‘the pack’, and, therefore, also be ready to receive any command we may give him.

I will post a record of our progress over the next three weeks..