It all started for me when I was studying graphic design at Farnborough college in 1991, when a classmate took me out for a spin in his VW beach buggy.
He later gave me a copy of Volksworld magazine, and my fate was sealed.
Back in the 1960s my uncle Trevor founded a company called Fibre Fab, building beach buggies in Crowthorne near Wokingham. Using the initials of the founders Robert Taylor, Antony Hill and Trevor Pym the RAT beach buggy was born.
Trevor was the flamboyant salesman for the company, driving around the area wearing a velvet 3-piece suit with contrasting bow tie in a bright orange sign written buggy, obviously with a RAT illustrated on the side. He took great pleasure in giving the kids joy rides in the buggy at my parents wedding, long before health and safety made seat belts compulsory. I have fond memories of my uncle telling me stories of how they made the original buggy moulds in his back garden, and how they had to put concrete blocks in the front to keep the nose down when they fitted a Porsche engine in the back! I remember visiting his workshops as a child, it must have made a lasting impression on me.
For my work experience at college I secured a placement at Volksworld magazine, working in their graphic design and photographic departments. I was in my element working on the magazine, and got introduced to the legend that is Keith Seume, then editor and author of the VW Beetle Custom Handbook as well as many other Volkswagen publications. In Volkswagen circles, Keith is royalty! I recall going out on photo shoots in a Volkswagen camper, and also got one of my page layouts printed in a copy of Mini World magazine.
At a similar time I went on holiday to Newquay in Cornwall and stumbled across the ‘Run to the Sun’ Volkswagen show, and I was hooked. The vibe at the show was awesome, and the people in the Volkswagen scene were so friendly and welcoming. From that day forward I visited as many Volkswagen shows as possible, and still do to this day, although these days they’re a little more family orientated.
In the early days I visited as man shows as possible, photographing the wild show cars at VW Action, and was at the infamous Beetle Bash back in the 1990s to witness Dubhenge, a homage to Stonehenge made from VW Beetles. I’ve spectated as Beetles, campers, drag bikes and jet cars storm up the quarter mile at Bug Jam and Big Bang at Santa Pod raceway, and attended European shows like VW Euro in Holland, after stocking up with supplies in Amsterdam first!
The Party Bus
I never really enjoyed camping in tents, so a Volkswagen camper van was the logical choice! My work colleague Paul Ching bought a 1967 Devon Spaceway split screen camper, and helped me buy my first van in 1995, a very rare 1967 RHD Westfalia camper. Unfortunately the person I bought the van from had removed the interior whilst restoring the van, and his dad had thrown it away mistaking it for a pile of rubbish! So I built an interior based on the same layout, and the party bus was born.
Living the Dream
Soon after in my early 20s I decided that I wanted to see the world, and I now had the perfect vehicle for the job. I convinced my best mate Richard Wood to come on a road trip around Europe with me in the bus, so we handed in our notice and loaded up the van with surf boards and BMXs. At the same time our friend Martin Seal was ‘evicted’ from his house by his then girlfriend, so he called and said “Lads I’m coming with you”, so then there were three!
Many people talk about ‘Living the dream’, but on that road trip with my best mates in my split screen camper we really were! We spent a month surfing down the West coast of France, playing guitars by firelight on the beaches at night, and working our way down to Biarritz, the Mecca for surfers.
We drove over the Pyrenees mountains to Barcelona, then followed the coast all the way along the South of France, stopping to take photos of the camper on the start line of the Monaco Grand Prix race track, and lording-it-up with the rich and famous in St Tropez.
We continued into Italy, ate Pizza under the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and mooched around the historic architecture of Rome where by chance I met fellow Volkswagen fanatic Leon Taylor and his travelling companions. We met purely because they were also travelling in an early bay VW camper, helped by the fact his exhaust was hanging off and you could hear them coming from miles away! Driving a VW camper attracts cool people, and after a few drunken nights belting out cover songs on acoustic guitars our friendship was sealed forever.
Starting our journey home we heading North with our new traveling companions through the beautiful cities of Florence and then onto Venice. We then drove home via the stunning scenery of the Alps, swam in the freezing waters of Lake Garda and indulged in a few too many beers in Germany.
The camper van never missed a beat on the whole 7,000 mile round trip, a true testament to the reliability and simplistic design of the Volkswagen bus. Unfortunately I parked the van over winter whilst I went off on more travels around Australia and New Zealand, and when I came back it was so damp that I found mushrooms growing in the carpet! The van was then reluctantly sold to a local lad, who I later found out had set fire to the camper to claim on his insurance, so all of my hard work lovingly building the interior went up in flames.
Within a few months I was longing for another bus, and in 1999 I bought Baloo. My now wife Anne came with me to view the camper, and we were ecstatic as we drove home afterwards. It was bonfire night and as we drove up the motorway fireworks lit the skies above us, like the union was meant to be.
Baloo has been part of the family now for nearly 20 years, like an extension to my personality, I wouldn’t be the same person without my camper van. He has taken us on adventures across Europe to Biarritz, through the Champagne region in France, to mountain bike resorts like Chamonix in the Alps, and as far South as Lake Annacey in France. We’ve also explored every corner of the UK, from the Southernmost point of Cornwall to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.
My van has been on display at the world renowned Volksworld Show, and I’ve taken part in convoys of about 130 split screen buses on the annual Split Screen Van Club pilgrimage from Victoria Farm to Stanford Hall. My good friend Stuart Watkins organises Busfest (previously Vanfest) and I’ve attended since the show first started, watching it grow over the years and even helping direct vehicles in the show and shine.
Dubs at the Park
More recently I have been an integral member of the London & Thames Valley VW Club, and have even been awarded a lifetime membership. Whilst on the committee, I undertook the role of Assistant Manager of Dubs at the Park, a show that is very close to my heart. For five years I helped grow the show, working tirelessly with show managers Stuart Watkins, Tim Newnham and Paul Young.
I have always been passionate about music, so organising the live bands at the show was a natural role for me. During my time managing the music, I introduced an acoustic stage to support the main stage, and booked well known artists such as Mark Morriss from the Bluetones and Dodgy. It’s a wonderful family show with a great atmosphere, set in the grounds of a beautiful Manor House in Bracknell. If you haven’t been before, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it.
Then in 2017, with a growing family, we decided to buy Graysie, our beautiful factory converted Volkswagen California. Whilst we love Baloo, it’s much more comfortable camping in a 4 berth California, and it means we can still go off on adventures with the kids, whilst they still want to come away with us! In fact they said our trip around Wales in Graysie was the best holiday they’d ever had, strong words indeed!