Van living is sometimes a bit crap

Our commitment to van dwelling has been tested this week. The alternator, exhaust and composting toilet all broke at the weekend in a triple whammy of horse shit. Rodney repaired everything as best he could but it looks like more expensive repairs may be in the pipeline. Then on Sunday evening we ran out of gas (butane) and spent five days without heating, hot water, fridge freezer and cooking facilities. I like to think of myself as fairly easygoing and low maintenance… turns out I’m completely deluded! After visiting or phoning over twenty petrol stations in the Chilterns and coming away empty handed (an obvious conspiracy), we resigned ourselves to a week of “roughing it”.

The lack of heating was miserable, but the easiest to solve, by putting on extra socks and jumpers and hibernating under the duvet. The lack of cooking facilities was more miserable because I’d picked shitloads of blackberries and had wonderful wholesome plans to turn them into jam and a fruit crumble. We couldn’t even make a cup of tea (heavy sigh).

The lack of heated water was the most miserable of all because I felt and smelled totally repugnant and would have killed for a long hot shower. There’s really only so clean you can get by flicking cold water onto your cold skin, in between squeals.

So I spent the best part of the week cold, grubby, headachey from the caffeine withdrawal and surrounded by decaying blackberries. I was mostly weathering this storm alone as Rodney was working 6am to 8pm everyday, and it was f*cking miserable!

However, on Wednesday I found a little survival stove that we had bought last Christmas (when we were fantasising about a future in the wild) and forgotten about at the back of the cupboard. 

Strictly speaking we weren’t allowed to light fires on the site, but we felt this constituted an emergency. The survival stove is now our most prized possession. It took maybe two minutes to assemble, about 10 minutes to get it roaring and hardly any minutes to boil a kettle. Several burnt twigs later I had enough water to wash my hair and make tea and hot chocolate. We felt pretty invincible after that.


On Thursday we met some fellow nomads for the very first time and the week ended far better than it had started, sharing stories and pancake recipes and accepting kind donations of hot water.

(Check out Vagabond Baker for awesome recipes and blogging!)

My favourite thing about transient living is that things can and do change very quickly and good times usually follow bad. I’ll be sure to remind myself of that next time I’m huddled under a duvet with greasy hair, or when we’re handing over cash for a new alternator in the not too distant future!

This weekend we’re staying at a farm near London where they make THE BEST APPLE JUICE IN THE WORLD. I don’t usually like apple juice all that much, but I’ve already guzzled a couple of bottles so it must be good. 

We’ve also been learning about beekeeping which is a lot harder than I thought, but my tickled taste buds say it’s probably worth it.

And I finally got to make my blackberry jam this morning as we are now fully stocked up on gas! As luck would have it some of the berries survived the week because it’s been so cold, so I got to pretend to be a wholesome van-wife after all.

We just found out that Rodney is being flown out to Iceland next week to work on a film for 10 days, so we’ve decided to store the van and I’m going to get the bus to Cornwall to stay with my Ma (Queen of power showers and maker of delicious biscuits). After that I think there are just three more weeks of filming and then… we’re off!!! I’ll be using the Queen of power showers’ speedy wifi to figure out where.

Until next time, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

(We don’t have bed bugs)


Winter is Coming

Rodney fitted the solar panel last week. It started raining as soon as he’d squirted glue onto it so he threw a bit of a paddy. The rain was my fault. He wouldn’t let me help so I took the dog for a walk instead, though whilst on the walk it occurred to me that I’d just left him, the clumsiest man on earth, alone on top of a van, in the rain, with wires in his hand. I jogged back and was relieved (sort of) to find him still breathing; still in a mood, but still breathing.

Clumsiness, moodiness and rainyness aside, he did a tidy job and we are now basking in solar wonderment. This blog comes to you courtesy of the sun’s power. We are at one with the sun. May it forever shine on our roof.

We went for a 100 watt semi flexible panel from Photonic Universe for the special offer price of £140. There are cheaper semi-flexible panels out there but we went for the best currently available for our purposes, in the hope that it will last longer. We went with semi-flexible because weight is a key concern for our old van (they’re a lot lighter than the rigid panels) and because we didn’t want to drill holes in the roof. We bought a 30A solar controller from Amazon for £20 which seems to work just fine at the moment, though we’re a bit suspicious of its cheapness. Add on to that a couple of cables and the whole system came in at about £200. We have the option of adding another panel in future if the 100 watt doesn’t seem to be enough, but so far it appears sufficient for our needs (charging phones, laptop, lights, water pump and fans).

Our dog and house sitting duties sadly ended last week and we are now back down south for Rodney’s work. They are filming on location for the next fortnight so we have found a nearby site to park up at close to the lovely Tring Park.

We’re paying £6 per night and for that we get access to drinking water and waste disposal, and a wonderful view of the Chilterns. There’s no toilet or shower, but as we have both on board (in our tiny bathroom) we’re doing just fine.

Here’s where the magic happens…

However, as Ned Stark would tell you, a thousand times (were his head not on a stick), winter is coming. Our Repti-zoo thermometer was at a chilly 9 degrees when we woke up this morning and my teeth were chattering as I tried and failed to turn the heater on. It was a small wake up call to our non-planning ways. My next task is to consult Google on ‘where in Europe is warm(er) in winter?’

If the search returns a ‘nowhere you silly cow’, then we may be booking those flights to India after all. Forgive us our indecisiveness, for we know not whether we’re coming or going. Namaste!