Cheddar and head gaskets

I feel like I’m emerging from a dark tunnel this morning.

I’m going to be honest – although I don’t really want to – because I know it’s good for me.

My mood has been in the toilet this week – and since last Sunday my chin has pretty much been scraping along the floor.

I may have hidden it from some – but I’ve shared my feelings with a few and tried where possible not to hibernate. It’s really difficult though because now more than ever I feel an extra little layer of pressure (that no one but me has applied to myself) to be extra perfect.

All of a sudden I don’t feel like I should be fallible – particularly when the world and it’s dog is suddenly coming to me for advice – but I’m trying to remind myself that I am, and that it’s ok to feel vulnerable.

Advice (by the way) is freely given – and no one should feel like they can’t ask me.

I absolutely love helping people. This isn’t about that – it’s something deeper and rather personal – so forgive me if I keep the specifics out of my blog. All you need to know is I’ve shared my problems rather than bottling things up and that I do have people to talk to when I need them.

My support structures are solid but I still need to withdraw and feel down from time to time.

Maybe because of a need to retreat and recharge today is a little different from my usual Saturday because I’ve decided to take a break from the norm. I’m not going to group and instead I’m heading out to somewhere I’ve always meant to visit but never gotten around to.

Cheddar Gorge in the Mendip Hills.

Currently it’s 7.30am and I’m the little blue dot on the map. I’m heading for the red one.

I’ve stopped at the motorway services because I need caffeine and there’s a Starbucks – so I’m currently in Davey’s happy place (despite looking a bit thoughtful).

(Author finishes his nectar of life and continues on his way)


I’ve had an interesting day.

Currently I’m sitting in Weston Super-Mare watching yet another steaming coffee cool. Oddly I’m in quite a good mood – but by rights I really shouldn’t be because this was the scene less than 20 minutes ago.


However – I’m getting ahead of myself a little. At around 9.30am this morning I arrived at my intended destination.

Cheddar Gorge.

Originally I’d intended to be 100% the consummate tourist today – but when I wandered down to the visitor centre after parking I realised the cost of investigation was a little higher than I felt I wanted to pay.

It seemed that £19.95 didn’t get quite the views I wanted (the lookout tower is apparently still closed) so I instead carried on with plan B.


This was a walk I’d spotted on the mendip hills tourist website (link) for a circular trek with allegedly lovely views that was around five miles. It started opposite the National Trust visitor centre – just a little way down the road from the bandits who wanted £20 for a cave.

As soon as I started up the path I realised that the guide wasn’t kidding. It was definitely a steep one!

The family in front of me in the first photo quickly ground to a halt – and shortly after the start I found them a short way up the hill sitting on a rock whilst puffing and panting.

Dad was looking at the floor dripping while his wife and kids looked up into the woods, trying to gauge how far they had to go.

Normally I don’t like diving straight into a steep incline without a good walk beforehand – but today, maybe because of the long drive (that had unexpectedly taken me through the heart of Bristol and wedged me in traffic for a while) I was in the mood to blow away some cobwebs.

Despite feeling a little out of breath myself I decided to just feel the burn and see how far I could go before I had to stop – but the surprising thing was that I didn’t have to – I could just keep going!

When I reached the top I’d managed to get a pretty good sweat on and if I’m honest I felt pretty darned awesome. The view however seemed underwhelming.

For fifteen minutes of steep hill climbing I’d really been hoping for a whole lot more…


I mean – it was nice but it wasn’t brilliant…

I turned around and continued.

The guide wanted me to keep the stone wall to my right and then go through a kissing gate, so I complied. Before I knew it I was walking along the top of the gorge with fields to my left and a wooded hillside covered in hidden sheep to my right.

The sun was really beating down by now and I was feeling pretty warm – but the whole place was relatively deserted. I just enjoyed the view as I walked and tried to take some pictures of butterflies – who continually refused to comply.

They just fluttered off into the distance before I could get close enough to take a picture of them with unfolded wings.

Just after the last one escaped the path started to descend again, and it seemed a little less rockier and uneven than the one that I’d been faced with on the way up.


So I started jogging down it – just to see if I could.

Oddly it didn’t seem to be a problem, so I carried on – and found that it was surprisingly exciting to be judging the ground ahead in a more compressed timeframe than I was normally used to when walking.

Looking for the appropriate foothold and occasionally slipping a little before getting some traction was rather fun – so I carried on to a little fork in the route at the bottom of the hill and stopped to check the pdf on my phone.

There was a gate to my left and a path to my right – but which to follow…

It looked like the path was the right way to go so I carried on, climbed over the stile a little further down and found myself (as the route said I would) on the road passing up through the gorge.

I turned left, followed it for a short way and then on the right found another path leading up again on the other side of the gorge.

I might be wrong – but this way up didn’t seem so steep – and it may be because the road I crossed was also heading up meaning that I didn’t go down quite as far as I’d originally climbed.

As I made my way up I said hello to a lady as I was passing and headed through a gate marked to Draycott and kept dutifully to the right again.

Then – all of a sudden the view opened up and I finally got the vista that I’d been waiting for.


This looked absolutely stunning and you could see for miles and miles – with what looked like Weston in the distance.

Over to my right was the edge of the gorge – so I decided to prop up my phone and see if I could get a shot of myself standing on the edge.


I do love the fact that Apple Watch has a built in remote control for the camera on my iPhone! How cool is it that I can just wedge it against a rock several metres away and then control it with my wrist?!

While I was doing this the lady that I’d passed earlier caught me up and I said hello again. We exchanged pleasantries and names and started chatting for a while.

It turned out that she was a Geography teacher from Sussex and on a whim she’d borrowed her sister’s camper van to get away for the weekend. She was staying nearby and as we both dried out on top of the hill (it was a sweaty day and my shirt was soaked by then) and I ate an apple whilst drinking my coffee we talked about our lives.

Sometimes you can meet a total stranger and just talk about anything. I think the fact that you’re unlikely to ever see them again means that there’s no reason not to be friendly, say hello and just engage in conversation.


She seemed like a lovely person – and we decided to carry on down the hill together ( I of course stopped to take more photos along the way) and continue chatting. She was planning to buy a motor home of her own soon and as we walked she expanded on this topic whilst I shared my love of blogging and my success with Slimming World.

It turned out that she loved to knit, and had not long finished making a jumper – which she said was they most technically accomplished thing she’d managed to date. She told me how it hung together and how you sewed it up at the seams once you’d finished the pattern.

I also admitted that as a young boy I rather enjoyed embroidery – which isn’t something I expected to be relaying to a stranger on the side of a hill in Somerset!


Before long we were at the bottom of the hill, and after shaking hands we bid each other farewell and wandered off in our own individual directions.

I headed over the road to sit and eat some lunch (apples purchased from Waitrose in a moment of indulgence at the service station).

The river looked like it was pretty low and the water level seemed like it would normally be a lot higher. The small pond that it formed when low was covered in green algae – which looked really nice!


After polishing off my exceptionally tasty pink ladies I wandered along the road to see what the shops were like now they were open.


I think that it’s safe to say that nothing in this little village was destined for the mouth of someone on a healthy eating plan.

If it wasn’t filled with sugar then it was made of cheese, and it wasn’t made of cheese it was filled with cider.

If none of these were enough then there was shop after shop after shop all filled with every imaginable kind of chutney and marmalade and variety of home made ice creams. If none of those took your fancy then the fish and chip shops (yep – plural) would definitely hammer the last dietary nail into your commitment coffin.

I tried a few tiny cheese samples on itty bitty biscuits and a few mouthfuls of chutney and left it at that.

I’m trying to be good at the moment.

By the time I’d walked back to the car it was around 2.30pm and I’d decided that I wasn’t going to waste the rest of the day. Weston Super-Mare was nearby and I might as well go to the seaside for a little while before heading home. The sun was still beating down and the sky was blue.

It seemed like the perfect idea.

When I climbed into my car I turned the key in the ignition and oddly the engine turned over but didn’t start.

I pressed the accelerator and it sprang into life.

Weird… It’s never done that before…

I set the sat-nav, exited the car park and headed for Weston 11 miles away.

It wasn’t all that far ahead that I noticed there was an orange EPC warning light on the dashboard. There also seemed to be a noticeable loss of power.

Then the engine warning light also came on.

I immediately stopped the car and grabbed the handbook from under the steering wheel. This seemed like there was a problem with the engine, and a potentially serious one at that – according to some frantic Googling – which I did immediately after.

Thanks to the wonders of Sat-Nav once I’d read up on the potential for automobile armageddon I was also able to search for a VW dealership and amazingly (it was 3pm in the afternoon) there was one less than two miles away!!!

My luck was in!

I started the car again and headed for their dealership.

However – after I’d parked up and headed in it soon became apparent that after midday the servicing area of the premises was closed – and the salesman confirmed my worst fears.

No-one would be able to help me until MONDAY.


However – I do have breakdown cover (a very basic package) so I decided to call the RAC.

After a long wait on the phone to get through to them they informed me that the projected time for a tech to get to me was 6.30pm. I looked at the time. Nearly 3 hours to wait and I couldn’t stray too far from the car in case they came early.

Thankfully there was a Costa and an Aldi nearby so I could grab a few bits to eat and get a coffee in the meantime.


After a while I was seated with a coffee looking at

There wasn’t a single hotel room to be found anywhere in Weston. The whole place was absolutely rammed – and the nearest location with any space was over twenty miles away.


This could mean a night on the beach.

I plugged my phone into the socket in Costa. It wouldn’t do to get a flat battery now – and I was running low after taking lots of pictures along the way.

What the frick was I going to do?!

I looked at trains.

There was a station nearby – and I could get to Bristol – but then where? I guessed I could just about get to Birmingham in time if I set out now – but by the time I’d gotten there all the trains to Warwick would most likely have ended and I’d be stranded in Birmingham without a car instead of Weston.

Furthermore I’d still somehow have to get back to wherever I decided to leave it on Monday – and every road around me had double yellow lines and parking restrictions with big clamping signs.

What to do?

I knew that all of my friends were busy and even if they weren’t it was a bit of an ask to expect any of them to drive 120 miles to pick me up and then drive back another 120 to take me home.

Aldi however was selling tents… and sleeping bags… and camping mattresses… and pillows…

Maybe I should go and buy some before it closed? If I did then the cost would probably be around £80…

Not cheap – and none of it looked particularly portable either…

Then the phone rang. It was 4.25pm and the roadside assistance was unexpectedly only five minutes away!!!

I quickly unplugged my phone, screwed the lid onto my coffee flask, slung my rucksack over my shoulder and headed out to meet him.

As I arrived he was just pulling up – and within a few minutes Andy (a reliable sounding name) had his laptop plugged into my car.

‘Head Gasket’ he said grimly.

My heart sank. That didn’t sound like it was going anywhere. What the hell was I going to do?

He carried on looking however, and then said ‘Hmmmm’…

I like ‘hmmm’. It’s much better than ‘that’s absolutely wrecked and you don’t stand a chance.’

‘Let me see if it’s just the sensor.’ He said out loud.

‘I’m not sure it’s the engine. Maybe if I unplug it the engine will ignore the warning and come out of crawl mode.’

He proceeded to fiddle under the bonnet, unclip the sensor from the wiring loom inside the engine cavity, switched the car back on, reconnected the sensor, tightened the screws and started the engine.

The warning lights were gone!

‘I can’t say that they won’t come back.’ He said. ‘The sensors can fail over to another one if they’re broken – but this will probably still come back. It’s totally up to you what to do. You could drive it and it will be fine – or it could be a real problem and you may make the problem worse.’ He looked at me – and I told him about the lack of anywhere to stay locally.

‘I may be able to find you a hotel room for the night if you want to let them have a look on Monday?’ he said helpfully.

‘I might know someone that could help…’

I knew at that point that he couldn’t tell me whether or not I should drive it – just that he didn’t know for sure that if I did it would completely kill it or not.

He outlined the options.

Since I didn’t have full breakdown cover a tow all the way home (120 miles) would come to £240… That didn’t seem good.

If I could get a hotel room 20 miles away they were all showing up at around £200 for two nights as well, since all of the cheap ones were already gone.

Or he may be able to find me something locally…

The alternative to all of these was try to drive and hope I didn’t end up with a smoking ruin at the other end or pay through the nose…

I decided to chance it. Andy told me that although professionally he was unable to agree or disagree personally if it was him he’d have done the same. This at least gave me some measure of confidence that I wasn’t being a complete fool.

He helpfully suggested I wait until the motorway traffic cleared so that I didn’t get stuck in it and I agreed. I shook helpful Andy’s hand and bid him farewell, knowing what I’ve always known.

Firstly that breakdown cover is worth more than gold at the right moment and secondly that it was time for more coffee…

Which is where you find me now. Sitting in Costa, biding my time.

However – now it’s time to set out!

Wish me luck….







Back home.

However the car is NOT well at all.

There were several misfires along the way – and a ridiculous loss of power on hills. Either my car is dying and it will cost a fortune to fix (it’s so old it may not even be worth it) or it’s a sensor. My gut feeling is that it’s not the latter.


However – if I’m honest I’m not unduly distraught.

It’s an inconvenience – but frankly this is not the end of the world that it might have been a couple of years ago. I no longer rely on my car at all, and there’s absolutely nothing in life that I can’t do these days without one.

If it’s dead then maybe I should just let it die and look at alternatives. The world is my oyster and I refuse to let a bucket of bolts get me down. I can make do with public transport for as long as I need to – and it may be a bit refreshing not to have one for the first time in many years.

We shall see!

Anyway internet. I’m absolutely pooped. It’s been a long day!!!

Time for beddibyes!


P.S. – I forgot to say.

I was interviewed by the BBC the other day – if you want to have a look at the (rather average) video that came out of it – then you can find it here.

Das Auto?

It’s unsettling when something you rely on becomes unreliable.

I have an intermittent fault with my car – an elderly but much loved 2003 VW Passat. There’s an odd juddering coming from the engine. It doesn’t happen all the time – just after a period of driving (usually on the motorway at speed) which is very disconcerting.

It’s making me worry about how much time the old girl has left.

Part of the problem is I’m not a bloke. At least not in the stereotypical sense.

  • I have no idea about the workings of an internal combustion engine, or indeed what to do if a car goes wrong (aside from exhibiting mild panic).
  • I have never called the RAC to change a tyre – but only because friends have taken pity upon seeing my helpless and sad face when I have a flat and swapped it for me.
  • I own a powerful hammer action cordless drill but until now have been too scared to drill my own walls with it. When I needed to put up curtains a few years ago my friend helpfully drilled the holes for me.
  • I have a rough idea how to knock nails into things but typically they end up very bent. My pictures rest on the floor instead of hanging on the walls for this and the previous reason.
  • My petrol lawn mower recently would not start. I looked at the mystifying ‘user serviceable’ innards for a whole two minutes before going out and buying an electric one. I have four lawnmowers and three strimmers in my shed, all in varying states of disrepair.

I could go on.

Cars contain magical pixies and run on fairy juice for all I know or care, so when things go wrong I’m already on the back foot.

I therefore feel a bit vulnerable when I go to a mechanic – although in that respect I’m sure I’m not on my own.

Since my usual tame grease monkeys have changed ownership recently and keep forgetting to return my calls I decided that I would take this issue to a main dealership. In the past I’ve had excellent experiences with VW and despite my pending joblessness I want a good inspection and a proper fix. I need to keep my current car on the road rather than buy a new one.

My old mechanic used to investigate problems for free, is close by, and reachable on the bus.

The VW dealership wanted £60 just to have a look under the bonnet and getting there and back requires two taxis.

However my old mechanic has failed diagnose or to fix this recurring issue twice in the past, seems currently disinterested in my business, and I’m forced to conclude that sometimes in life you tend to get what you pay for.

Over the last couple of months (on the RAC’s advice rather than theirs) I have replaced at the ‘cheap’ garage all of my coil packs, spark plugs and the compressor in my aircon, which finally (at least temporarily) saw the problem disappear.

So this morning I arrived at the main dealership expecting the best service possible. It was all shiny and white and made of glass and had a new car smell when I opened the door.


The enthusiastic greeter (they have a greeter!) met me, already knew my name, shook my hand, welcomed me to their establishment and showed me to some comfy chairs.

‘Would you like a coffee?’ He said politely.

I indicated that I would. Soon enough my wish was granted and the free coffee fairy arrived.


‘Someone from servicing will be with you in a minute’ he said and went back to his desk.

Happily I set about blowing my hot free beverage and browsing the web on my phone. There was an excellent 3G signal here too. Five bars! I might consider moving in.

However, soon I began to notice that people were coming in and talking to attendants, handing over keys, leaving and being replaced by other people, also handing over more keys after chats.

Maybe their queries were different departments?

I looked at my watch… I needed to get home and log on for work. My coffee cup was now empty.

Thirty mins had now passed.

I caught the greeter’s eye as he passed to voice my discontent and ask when I would be seen.

With what appeared to be genuine horror the greeter realised I had not been processed at all and immediately set about the task of finding someone to see me. If nothing else I was impressed by his concern. Within a moment I was seated with him and a representative from servicing to discuss the issue.

‘Mr DWK’ he said ‘ I am so sorry we have kept you waiting. Your inspection will be free of charge.’

I was a bit stunned. Wow. I couldn’t argue with free! That made my hourly rate approximately £120.

‘Thanks.’ I said ‘I appreciate that!’

He introduced me to and eventually left me with left the servicing representative, a well organised lady, who continued to take some extremely detailed notes about the nature of the issue. These were on top of the details I had already given them over the phone.

As she read them back I noted that these were extremely accurate, and listed almost exactly what I had said a few days previously. I was impressed. I hate poor note taking.

Once this was done I told the nice lady that I would need her to give me a couple of hours warning about when to pick the car up as I would be relying on taxis.

‘Would you like me to get one of the team to drive you home Mr DWK?’ she said.

Blinking a little I replied ‘Yes – erm… That would be very helpful thanks!’

So approximately 10 minutes later and roughly £67 better off than I had expected to be by that time of the morning I arrived home in a pleasantly scented chauffeur driven 2016 Silver Golf Estate and logged on to start work with a cup of coffee.

Moments later my mobile rang. The number calling was the car dealership.

What could have gone wrong? Did I leave something in the car?

‘Hello Mr DWK its xxxxx from xxxxxx Volkswagen’

‘Hello’ I replied.

‘It’s just a courtesy call Mr DWK. I’m from the sales department.’

‘OK…’ I replied, my jaw tightening a little.

‘I see that today you’ve brought in your VW Beetle for servicing and I notice that it’s 13 years old. I was wondering whether I could interest you in any of the deals we have on our new range of Beetles?’

‘It’s a Passat.’ I said flatly.

‘It says on my documentation its a Beetle Mr DWK.’ He replied.

‘Well nevertheless it was a Passat when I dropped it off – so I hope you haven’t made too many other modifications…’ I said.

I waited. There was a tiny pause while he regrouped. His funny bone appeared to be firmly set in place and had not been triggered.

‘Would you like to see any of the great deals on our Passat range?’ He said with the same identical tone of voice.

‘Well I’d love to…’ I replied ‘but sadly I am facing redundancy and will be unemployed in less than a month. I don’t think its a good time to be entering into large finance agreements.’

‘No… OK…’ He said, typing in the background.

‘I’ll give you a call in 3-4 months.’ He said. ‘Have a good day Mr DWK.’

I put the phone down with a sigh.

Not. Good.

Several hours later in the afternoon the call finally came to explain what had been done. The problem could not be found. Irritatingly the issue had refused to manifest itself on a test drive. However – they noted that there had been a factory recall on my coil packs and they had replaced them all free of charge.

When I picked the car up it was indeed running just fine.

I’m not entirely sure what to think now. I’m theoretically paying more for improved service, but have received better and worse service simultaneously (and a potential fix) – but for free.

They have shown excellent record keeping and awful information handling all in one neatly wrapped up bundle. I mentioned why I needed to keep my old car running to the servicing department in the morning, and despite their knowledge of my pending employment hurdle they still referred me to the sales department.

My coil packs had been potentially failing due to a manufacturing fault – however I had never received a recall notice, and had already replaced them out of my own pocket six months or so ago.

I’m completely bemused. It’s rare I see such excellent service rolled up in a bundle with such average (and with regard to the recall potentially unsafe) service.

Do I go there again?

Internet – I have no idea… I’m bemused.