Our regular readers will fondly remember Brian, our trusty old VW Campervan. After returning from glorious tours of duty in Scotland and Europe last year, we were unceremoniously forced to banish him from the environs of Greater London, as he was too old, heavy and toxic to be allowed to drive around the green, fresh streets of our fine city. This came about after being caught on camera by the London LEZ (Low Emission Zone), who informed us that Brian wasn’t welcome within the M25.
We could actually have enabled him to stay if a) we’d bought a converter that would have been worth more than the rest of him put together, b) paid £100 a day to drive him around or c) had him undergo an engine transplant – none of which appealed. Apart from his age and his preferred fuel tipple (Diesel) counting against him, he was also deemed to be a tad overweight. If we could slim him down to a maximum of 2,500 kg then he could stay.
That may not sound too difficult, but this is not his actual weight (he’s actually fairly trim) we’re talking about, but rather his official maximum weight (or Gross Vehicle Weight). We had no documentation with which to argue against LEZ’s judgement, unless we could find his VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) Plate that should have been pinned somewhere on his rusty old body. However, despite several intense searches, we were still empty-handed and had to decant him out to be stored in deepest Essex.
It’s been a year now since that sad parting and apart from missing our dear companion, it’s a terrible pain to have to cart bags and bikes to his old Volks home before heading off for a weekend. While looking for somewhere closer by to keep him I found the 80-90 Club. Sounds like a middle-aged disco night, but actually it’s an online forum dedicated to owners of VW Campers from the 1980s. My fellow enthusiasts ducked my actual question about storage and instead insisted that, as their ‘Brians’ were under 2,500 kg, so too should our Brian be.
These friendly forum folk told us that the key to proving that his GVW was indeed under the maximum allowed was to find that elusive VIN Plate. Armed with several variations on precise instructions as to where this Holy Grail may be found, we set off to visit our lonely pal. After an hour of poking into every visible cavity, we had to conclude that our prey had long since disappeared. The chance to bring Brian home had been dangled in front of us, but had slipped through our fingers. We returned home after bidding a fond farewell and promising that we wouldn’t give up in our efforts to bring him back to London.
Our next avenue was to apply to VW for a replacement plate (essentially a metal birth certificate). This appeared fairly straightforward, except that owners are required to have the form authorised at a police station. The chap at the VW centre confirmed this and regaled me with a story of the last bloke to attempt this feat, who had tramped around five stations before convincing a tame copper to sign his form. I argued that sending a customer on a tour of cop-shops could not be in the best interests of VW customer relations. Some time later, after a call to Customer Relations themselves, he yielded and a distant light could be seen twinkling at the end of the tunnel.
That light was of course a train. The next day, they called me to announce that VW had ‘changed their minds’ and were once more insisting on having a bobby’s moniker on their form. Several calls back all went to voicemail, so I have since enquired directly with VW in Germany and DVLA in Wales. This is now officially a multinational project to bring Brian home! By the way, my research into VIN codes yielded more information about Brian’s creation. He was apparently ‘born’ in Hanover, sometime in the ‘year’ beginning 1 August 1986, but no one adopted him until 30 June 1988. As his present guardians we shall not be giving up our quest, so please tune in next time to hear how this story of our exiled chum works out.
Lithobius forficatus is a creature that I had not seen in very many years. I discovered recently why that might have been – they all seem to be living along the edge of my brewery yard. For the non-entymologists among you, this prehistoric creepy-crawly is also known as the (common or) garden centipede. After a sedentary first career, I was hoping that life in a brewery would be much more hands on and physically demanding. In that spirit, I spent a few happy hours clearing the weeds, soil, grit, litter and buzz saw blades from the yard, armed only with a wee brush and pan, taking advantage of the skip left by the guys laying the floor. In so doing I disturbed hundreds of these fascinating creatures, who briskly decanted to the allotments next door. I steadfastly continued and topped up the floor guys’ skip to capacity with umpteen bags and no doubt a few hundred worms and arthropods.
On a less gruesome note, we are very proud to have a nesting robin family living inside an old hose reel by the brewery gates. While this may seem an absurd location, location, location, to have chosen, it’s dry, warm and almost predator proof due to the narrow gaps. It’s just lucky that the reel isn’t operational, as I doubt the eggs would survive the inevitable centrifugal forces when the hose was pulled. It’s also quite dark in there, but if you creep close enough you can make out the little, tired, worried face looking out from within. Maybe we should do a ‘Robin Red Ale’ in its honour.
Talking about beer names, we continue to seek inspiration, but our muse is proving elusive. Our range looks like being Kolsch, Pale, Red and Stout. Our first two beers will be the Kolsch and the Pale. The idea for a Kolsch came from our new brewer Mario, from Italy. This beer is from Koln (Cologne), ferments like an ale, but conditions like a lager. Under EU law, Kolsch is protected by designation of origin status, which means that whatever we call our Kolsch, we can’t call it Kolsch. That certainly adds a degree of difficulty. Unperturbed, we followed a musical thread (string?) and discovered that Nico (of Velvet Underground fame) was born in Koln. It then transpired that her family name was Paffgen, also the name of Mario’s favourite Kolsch brewery! And so it came to pass that we had created: “Nico, a Koln style lager.”
Inspired by this we thought that our Red could be an Altbier from Dusseldorf, which we could then call Neu. The legendary NEU! Hailed from Dusseldorf and calling ‘old’ beer, ‘new’ has obvious satirical appeal. I was all for calling the American Pale Ale ‘ZZ APA’ and the Stout ‘Sabbath’, before Mario stepped in to bring some order to the proceedings. Our next session (much closer to the truth than ‘meeting’) together will be another excuse for beer-fuelled creativity.
Meantime, our mellow, yellow floor is in, our kit is due in a couple of weeks and we should be ready to brew by early June. That said, we have yet to hear from HMRC (permission to brew), Thames Water (permission to discharge effluent) and Southwark Council (permission to operate a brewery). Those permissions permitting, we’re nearly, almost, getting there. We have 79 followers on Twitter and we even got a tweet from David Narcizo, drummer extraordinaire with Throwing Muses. The container saga continues, but if the site visit passes muster then we can buy our non-operational reefer, install it, fit a chiller, paint it (the container, not the chiller) and add some livery. I do hope our robin family will like their new surroundings and that there’s still plenty centipedes left for them to eat. Their home is shown below – their door is at 8 o’clock.