The Voyage: Roz Savage
Priscilla, Queen of the Road
Roz Savage
03 Aug 2004, London

(above: the van at Vann)

My new home is a white VW camper van called Priscilla. The good ship Alvracht was an interesting place to live for a while, but I realised I'm just too old and too set in my ways to be sharing accommodation with four other people and a big hairy dog.

Since my little red sports car was stolen before Christmas, I've been very happily car-less, a smug cyclist relishing the fact that not only is a bicycle completely eco-friendly and a good form of exercise, but it's also the quickest way to get around the traffic-choked streets of London.

But it was reaching the point where being on two wheels had its limitations. A few recent purchases on eBay were too large to be carried on a bike, and if my master plan to buy a boat and do it up myself comes to fruition, I'm going to need to carry pieces of timber, deck furniture, kitchen sinks, etc. Not easy on a bicycle.

I've recently been making a few longer journeys, to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth in Wales, over to the Green Shop near Stroud, up to Yorkshire to see my parents - and the train fares were starting to mount up.

I'm booked to do my basic Yachtmaster course at the Bisham Abbey Sailing School near Marlow next week, and local B&B's were prohibitively expensive.

Given all the above, when a friend mentioned he'd just bought a camper van, I realised this would be the answer to all my needs. This flash of inspiration occurred last Wednesday. On Thursday it still seemed like a good idea, so I started looking on eBay, but it seemed a bit risky buying a vehicle sight unseen. I looked on the Gumtree website and found a van for sale in Fulham. I went to look at it - tons of living space, but a real rustbucket, and very dodgy brakes. And SO heavy to steer - I'd have developed muscles Popeye would be proud of.

On Friday I was due to leave for Surrey to go to a mini-festival organised by Will, one of the members of my Peruvian expedition. I'd been planning to get the train there, but when I saw on the invite that as well as tent and sleeping bag, I needed to take food, I decided that acquiring a van had become a matter of urgency. And this seemed like the perfect occasion to christen my van, as the festival is named after the house where Will lives - a Tudor house called Vann (

I bought a copy of Loot, and buried amongst the many adverts I found my dream machine - a 1986 VW camper which had been converted to run on LPG, (Liquefied Petroleum Gas - good info at, a very low-emission fuel. In the space of an hour, appointment to view, banker's draft and insurance had been organised. On the way over to Battersea I dropped in at a VW dealer in Sands End to conduct some preliminary research. Their secondhand vans were all left hand drive, and at least twice the price of the one I was going to see. Got to Battersea, saw the van, loved it, bought it.

She performed like a star over the weekend, despite a few teething problems (after getting a flat tyre, I now know how to change the wheel, and have also learned the hard way that the fridge has to be plugged into the leisure battery in the back rather than the cigarette lighter in front, or else when you stall at a busy junction, you can't restart the van, and you have to wait while some very kind people whizz back to their house nearby to fetch some jump leads). I've also learned how to use an LPG pump - it's a bit different because you're pumping a gas rather than a liquid, so you have to clamp the nozzle firmly to the inlet.

Not only is LPG eco-friendly, it's also blissfully cheap - at around 39p per litre, it's about half the price of petrol. So I'm assured I'll be getting the price equivalent of 45 miles to the gallon - not bad for a big heavy camper van.

Priscilla is a quirky old thing - up to about 50mph, her speedometer needle swings up and down wildly, but once she reaches warp speed it steadies. And she doesn't like idling - it makes her stall. She's much happier when she's going at full velocity - in her case, about 65mph. I think she and I are going to get on very well - we have a lot in common - right down to our bodywork, which in both cases looks more or less presentable but has definitely seen better days!

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All aboard the Alvracht
Roz Savage
05 Jul 2004, Brentford, London

Above: My new home, the good ship Alvracht

Life has been busy. Lots of interesting things happening, and I wanted to see how it was all going to start shaking down before I posted an update to my weblog.

Many things are still up in the air, but certain themes are starting to emerge - first and foremost, BOATS!

After 3 months of living in a Dickensian little garret above an antiques shop in central Richmond, I've now moved into a cabin on a 130 foot Dutch barge moored in Brentford. The good ship Alvracht is somewhat unofficially moored just north of Kew Bridge (OK, so we're squatters!) but it's a gorgeous boat, in a tranquil location, and just a stone's throw from my old stamping ground of Kew Green.

I share the boat with four other humans and a very large dog. The captain of the ship is a one-eyed ex-mountaineer called Caie - the story goes that he lost his eye as he was skiing down off the Eiger. He stopped to adjust his skis with a screwdriver, and slipped, and. eurgh. Nasty.

We have our own generator, solar powered lights, and water purification unit. It's a great opportunity for me to learn all about self-sufficiency, which will be handy, as I'm in the process of buying my own boat and want to get it set up to be totally self-contained and 100% eco-friendly. I won't jinx the purchase by saying too much now, but after a couple of years of being a nomad, it seems I'm shortly to be a home-owner again.

It will be the best of both worlds - once I learn how to navigate my boat, I'll be able to up sticks and move whenever I want. but without having to pack my bags!

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Cakes, Bakes and Convicted Killers
Roz Savage
04 May 2004, Richmond, Surrey

Above: Steve (NOT a convicted killer, I hasten to add) with me in the Green Café, which stocks cakes produced by my new business venture, Harmony Wholefoods

Last time you heard from me I was planning to ride a motorbike around the Four Corners region of the USA to meet the Hopi tribe to find out more about their philosophy of living in harmony with the planet.

Since then life has been busy, and the plan is now looking rather different. After failing my motorbike test (for going too fast - story of my life at the moment) I decided that it really was just a matter of time before I came to a sticky end on two wheels. Also, that I'd learned all I needed to know about the Hopi philosophy, was already living the lifestyle, and anyway, there are already enough books out there reporting what the Hopi have to say about the environment and our impending doom.

Around the same time, I was sitting in a coffee shop (as I do most days), and got chatting with the owner about his cake supplier, who apparently had very selfishly not only moved down to Devon, but at the age of 80 was about to retire, leaving him cakeless.

And so was born Harmony Wholefoods of Richmond (spot the Hopi influence), which will specialise in wheat-free cakes and breads, using mostly organic ingredients.

I've been in business just 10 days, but am already supplying 4 local coffee shops. My stall at the Richmond Farmers' Market last Saturday did an encouraging level of trade on a generally rainy and quiet day. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that I'm currently a baker without a kitchen. My tiny flat has no cooking facilities, so for a couple of days I was getting on my bike, rucksack and pannier fully laden with baking tins and groceries, and wobbling perilously (still determined to kill myself on two wheels) over to my landlord's place in Twickenham.

Then I found out I needed a properly certified kitchen, and my friend Steve very generously allowed me to bake at the Green Café in Richmond, which he manages. A basement kitchen with no hot running water, and not enough room to swing a cat (even if the environmental health officers permitted such a thing), but it was fine. until the owner changed her mind, overruled Steve the manager, told me there wasn't enough room, and evicted me.

So for now, I'll be using the oven at a local soup kitchen, but only have access to it for a few hours a week. Fortunately I've got an extension on my chucking-out time from 4pm to 6pm this Thursday - the reason being that there's a prisoner on day release coming in, and he doesn't leave until six.

'Erm, what's he's doing time for?' I asked.

'Murder. A gangland killing. But it was a long time ago. He's a nice chap.'

So it's not exactly ideal, but one day I'll look back on these humble beginnings and laugh.

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BrainTeaser – my TV career lifts off (?!)
Roz Savage
11 Apr 2004, Richmond

In the Green Room: (L to R) me, Jeff, Alex (the presenter), Alicia, Barry.

'I know it's short notice.' A phone call from Endemol Productions had come through on my mobile. 'But could you come in for this Thursday's show? We go out live at 11am. It'll be the last time we record the show in Oxford, which will save you having to travel to Bristol.'

Not much time to prepare, but not much time to get nervous either. 'Sounds good. I'll be there.'

I'd applied to appear on a Channel 5 quiz show called BrainTeaser. via a website called set up by my entrepreneurial friend Samuel-Dean. But I'd never actually seen the show. I thought I'd better watch it a couple of times to find out what I'd just let myself in for.

So Tuesday and Wednesday mornings found me glued to the TV screen, trying to calm a growing sense of panic. This was no dumbed-down daytime TV. These word games and general knowledge questions were, in fact, going to be rather more tricky than I'd realised.

And even if I got through to the final, which only one in four contestants did, it seemed there was a good chance I'd come away with nothing - on both Tuesday and Wednesday the finalist gambled their winnings on reaching the next level, and then blew it, coming away empty-handed.

Thursday morning arrived. As I waited in the Green Room at the studios in north Oxford my apprehension grew. A TV set in the corner was showing a videotape of previous editions of the show, and my co-contestants were firing out the answers at incredible speed. Jeff, an 18-year-old student, was especially impressive. 'He's got a virtually photographic memory,' his mother proudly confided to me. I bolted outside for a calming cigarette. I considered running away, but it was a live show and they had no spare contestant. I had to go through with it.

Alicia was the unfortunate cannon-fodder for Jeff in the first round. He racked up an enormous score. Barry, my opponent, was a very entertaining contestant, but he kept buzzing before he knew the answer, giving me valuable extra seconds to figure it out.

So I found myself going through to the second round.. where I would meet the boy genius Jeff.

I'll have to watch the video to see what happened next - my memories are a bit blurred - but somehow the right questions came up, questions I just happened to know the answers to.

I couldn't believe it. Somehow, I was through to the final - the Word Pyramid - and the chance to win some cash.

The Word Pyramid would present me with 7 rows of anagrams. A 3-letter word would appear on the first line, then an additional letter would appear in one of the 4 positions on the next tier, and I had to drop down the 3 letters from the top row and rearrange them around the new letter to create a new 4-letter word. The clock would start counting down from 45 seconds as soon as the new letter appeared, and would stop when I figured out the anagram. I'd then have the opportunity to decide whether to gamble my winnings so far on progressing to the 5-letter word and more cash, and so on down the pyramid.

'What's your strategy for this round?' Alex the vivacious blonde presenter asked me. 'Strategy? I don't exactly have one - I'm just going to wing it,' I replied, truthfully. I was counting on my instincts to tell me when to quit.

The Word Pyramid appeared on the screen. I squinted at the letters. The word in the first row was ART. 45 seconds on the clock.

'Are you ready?' Alex asked.

'As I'll ever be.'

An N appeared on the next row ( _ _ N _ ). The clock started ticking.

'Errrm. RANT.' The clock stopped. 41 seconds left.

'Well done. You've won £250. Do you want to carry on?'

'Yes.' A letter appeared on the next row down.

_ _ _ I _

'TRAIN.' Easy one - it had taken me just one second. 40 seconds left.

I was on £500. 'Do you want to gamble your £500 and try for £750?' Alex asked me.


'Are you sure?'

'Yes.' I nodded.

'Here you go then. For £750.'

_ E _ _ _ _

I froze. Total numbness of the brain. I stared at the letters - nice, normal, innocent-looking letters - but they refused to resolve themselves into a word. My lips moved as I tried out various combinations, but nothing was working. I could picture the other contestants, sitting in the Green Room, shouting the answer at the screen while I struggled. The seconds were counting down for what felt like an eternity.

Suddenly, out of the blue, inspiration struck. 'RETAIN' I shouted. I still have no idea where that answer came from. It came straight out of my mouth without passing through my head.

'Yes!' cried Alex. I almost collapsed in relief. I clung onto the contestant's lectern for support, trying to believe my luck. I'd just won £750. Against the odds, against my expectations. I couldn't have been any more ecstatic if I'd just won a million.

And not only had I just pocketed some useful cash, but with Alex's help, we'd managed to plug my book and briefly outline my plans for Arizona this year. The phone hasn't rung off the hook yet with offers of book deals and sponsorship, but you never know.

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