Reflections of a van dweller

Last week was our… last week of van dwelling, for a good old while. I spent much of it huddled under the duvet wearing a couple of jumpers and bed socks (socks), sipping on hot cocoa and trying to warm my hands as the rain hammered on the roof and the repti-thermometer struggled to rise up over the 10 degree mark… and I was surprisingly content!

Perhaps it’s not surprising at all. Perhaps I finally just realised how insanely lucky I am. And before anyone pipes up with ‘you make your own luck’, that’s clearly not the case. As we’ve established in previous posts, I can be a very lazy daisy when I want to be. Make my own luck? You’re lucky if I make my own bed.

No I am one lucky rubber duck, and although our transition from hard-working Londoners to carefree ferals of no fixed abode has had its “challenges”, I am ultimately happier than a pig in shit (ah isn’t it amazing how the prospect of a winter in Asia can lift a girl’s mood?!).

So, without further ado, here are some of the things I have loved about living a nomadic life for the past four and a half months…

(If you’re already struggling to cope with my irritating levels of positivity then just scroll down to the things I have loathed section. You’re welcome.)

‘My, isn’t life fabulous?’

  1. You cannot take our Freeeduuuum!!!!- Freedom means different things for different people. For me it is having less restrictions on how and where I spend my time, having more time in general and having so little stress that my mind is as quiet as a mouse. I am freeeeeeeee!!
  2. Alfresco dining- cooking and eating outside, in the sunshine or under the stars, never gets old. (Although blowing up the BBQ, Rodney, might be considered a nail in the alfresco dining coffin).
  3. Alfresco everything- when your home is ever so small you tend to want to spend less time in it. It forces you to explore and go be outdoorsy, if not for the love of nature, then just to ease the boredom (although you may quickly turn into a bird-spotting, nature-loving, cagoule-wearing beauty). Add Action Man Rodney to the mix and you’ll soon start to feel like you’re on a permanent PGL adventure holiday.
  4. Sticking it to the man- On 2 May 2015 we climbed into a van and drove it and ourselves off the conveyor belt, raising our middle fingers in the general direction of Westminster. It felt good.
  5. Less stuff- I hate stuff. I hate shopping for stuff. I hate wasting money on stuff. I hate cleaning stuff. I have loved being free from stuff. I’m really looking forward to taking it a step further and living out of my 35 litre rucksack for the next few months. Down with the stuff!
  6. Great Britain- we’ve not been everywhere yet, but we’ve seen more of the country than most. It’s beautiful.
  7. I think we’re alone now- I may have said some unkind words about our golden dream machine, however she’s turned out to be pretty perfect. The huge water tank means that we can spend a week alone in the wilderness before needing to find a tap. The composting toilet continues to fill me with joy. The solar power is a marvel and we just discovered that we can fit larger gas bottles in the side compartment, reducing the frequency with which we run out of gas. We’re a long way off being self-sufficient but living off-grid feels like a step in the right direction.
  8. Family- We’ve seen more of our families this year than we have in the past decade. They might disagree, but I thought it was pretty lovely.
  9. Fresh air- The air tastes better outside London. In fact, it’s delicious! (It also tastes better when we’re not driving around in a diesel-guzzling tank, but that’s a problem for another day 😳).
  10. Rodney- Funny that he should appear on this list when he’s about to feature at the top of the list of things I have loathed! Strictly speaking he should really be at the top of this list too, but nobody likes a smug couple so I’ve snuck him in down here instead. For the record, I would not like to live in a van with any other person… because there is no better person… in the world. Let’s leave it at that!

And now for the flip side. Ten things I have loathed about living in a van for the past four and a half months…

‘Just shoot me, shoot me now!’

  1. ‘Agggggghhhhhhhh’- Rodney drives like a f*cking maniac. He takes corners like he’s driving a ferrari, speeds up when he sees a red light and will often close his right eye so that when I look across at him I think he’s fallen asleep at the wheel- just to mess with me. Also, because it’s a left hand drive, when he cuts people up they give me the finger.
  2. ‘Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’- If it’s cold outside, there’s a good chance it’s cold inside too. If I put the heating on the windows steam up and condensation drips from the skylights. I am tired of being cold and dripped on.
  3. People don’t like us (part one)- Every now and then we stay at a ‘proper’ campsite with power showers and washing machines etc. Caravan Club sites tend to be the best equipped. Without fail- I can’t emphasise this enough- WITHOUT FAIL whenever we stay at a Caravan Club site, we are approached by another camper who tells us that they are here for a bit of peace and quiet. They’ll be nervously eyeing the golden beast (as if a party might erupt from its doors at any moment) whilst speaking further sentences on the topic of peace and quiet, such as how great it is to be in a lovely quiet spot on this lovely quiet campsite. I have to fight the urge to tell them that we’re there for the illegal rave.
  4. People don’t like us (part two)- Rodney has an Irish accent. There have been several occasions when he’s called a campsite to book a pitch and they have said that they were full. However when I called them back two minutes later with my very english accent, they were not full. The first time this happened we were killing ourselves laughing, but as it started to become a more frequent occurrence we stopped finding it funny. Rodney now makes all bookings using his best Gandalf voice.
  5. Please please Mr Postman- I used to love getting post. It made me feel like a proper person. I dream of a future where royal mail will track down the golden van wherever it may be and bring me postal joy once more.
  6. Road kill- The country is covered in dead animals. Badgers, birds, squirrels, foxes and hedgehogs lie squashed along every stretch of road. It’s a blood bath.
  7. Dust- Where does it all come from?????!!!!!!!!!
  8. I can’t think of anything else
  9. Nope my mind’s gone completely blank
  10. Hi there!

So there we are. We lived in a van and it was mostly great. I look forward to living in a van again, in about four months time. I look forward to finally making it to mainland Europe!

We’ll be spending much of today getting our shit together for Asia (we fly out next week) so I’ll sign off now and leave you with a final van-life update, for a while at least…

We went back to the Chilterns and walked the Ridgeway… 

We discovered Geocaching… 

We spent a day along the Grand Union Canal… 

It was really misty for a while (we had no solar power for a few days)… 

Rodney sang ‘Who wants to live forever?’ to some inquisitive sheep… 

I went to London to see Buzz the dog (and some two-legged friends)… 

And to get some travel vaccines (free on the mighty NHS)… 

We slept in the van one last time, at the ferry port… 

An old friend stopped by the ferry port early on Sunday morning to wave us off, and to add to our CD collection… 

The ferry crossing was pretty wild… 

We didn’t think we would make it off the ferry as our battery light had been on for a couple of days and it was getting harder and harder to start the engine. But third time lucky the golden oldie jumped into action and we made our way onto dry land and sort of ‘limped’ home (with fading headlights and sloooow wipers) in a rather anticlimactic fashion… 

And we were finally reunited with my summer fling… 

We’re now celebrating an early Christmas as we’ll be away for the real thing… 

And the van is looking forward to a few months of rest and relaxation…

As are we!!
Happy November one and all!

Road worthy?

It took three nail-biting days to get the van back from the garage. The first mechanic who tried to MOT it went home with a mysterious injury (true story), then by the time the other mechanic came to do it, the DVLA in Northern Ireland had shut for the weekend meaning they couldn’t check that the vehicle was registered, so they locked it away, alone in the cold dark garage until the Monday. If you’re in any kind of hurry to get an MOT done, don’t hand your vehicle over to a Cornish mechanic who says it’ll be done “dreckly”.

Fortunately we weren’t in any great hurry as we were living it up at my folk’s B&B in St Ives, celebrating my Mum’s big sixty. Because I am her one and only daughter, and because I live in a van, I was rewarded with the best room in the house, much to my nieces’ dismay. So for one glorious week we were sleeping in a super king-size bed with soft designer bed linen, fluffy white towels and the best scalp-battering power shower in the history of mankind. Sigh (now a distant memory).

Imagine our surprise come the Monday afternoon when the garage phoned to say that the golden beast had passed the MOT, and that the final bill was a wonderfully unchanged £40. I didn’t realise it was possible to feel relief and disappointment at the same time. It is.

It took a while to get back into the swing of van life after that. Partly because we were reminded how much easier it is to live in a lovely spacious sturdy on-grid building and partly because Rodney has been back and forth working on that there fillum for the past few weeks, thus shitting all over the holiday vibes. We’re currently waiting for confirmation of filming dates for September and October, which would put our Europe departure back considerably. That doesn’t particularly fill me with joy but Rodney is already counting his chickens and bartering them for extra special European treats and adventures, so I’m not totally against it.

In the meantime we’re back on the road again, heading north for a while, chasing the rain (unintentionally) and the good times. My mum has just sent me a shiny new smart phone so that I can update this here blog more easily and regularly, reducing the number of ‘are you still alive?’ phone calls she has to make. FUN!

Below is a light smorgasbord of our recent adventures to help fill in the gaps caused by my tardy blogging (I’m not sure if I can use smorgasbord in this context?!) and bring things up to date…

Getting happily windswept atop a hill at Boscastle…

Rodney became one with nature on his own private safari…

Then he threw a spear at me…

Then he stunk the van out for three days with this bony old trout (this was before he stunk the van out with badger shit after rolling around the fields, drunk, in his best suit, but I don’t have any pictures of that)…

Me pretending to wait for a train by the side of this old disused railway station (comic genius that I am)…

Rodney’s first ever visit to Newquay, Cornwall…

£2 a pint (the view is free), Sailors, Newquay…

The time we found prawn and mangetout gyoza in the reduced section at Marks & Spencers, bought three packs and ran out to the car park to cook them there and then (because we’re wild!)…

Go to the Eden Project, get in line at the Roskilly kiosk, buy shitloads of hazelnut & baobab ice-cream. Put it all in your mouth. All of it. That’s right (You can thank me later)…

The Great British holiday… Hmmm, 14 degrees and raining… Let’s hit the beach! (St Ives, Cornwall)

Older but not wiser, my nieces made a piñata for my Mum’s birthday celebrations. Only we took the piñata away as soon as the blindfold went on her and then cried laughing as, unawares, she beat the shit out of her pear tree…

A typical van meal (all grilled on the BBQ), when we’re not eating curry…

The time that Rodney was chased out of a field by giant cows when we were trying to find a shortcut home. And I accidentally wet myself laughing…

Nope, we’re definitely going to have to go the long way round…

Adjusting to van life

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We’ve been living in the mighty gold van for almost a month now. So ‘how’s it going?’ I hear you ask. Well, as you may have perhaps guessed it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride with numerous metaphorical (and real) potholes along the way.

The biggest metaphorical pothole (aside from the mini heatwave that left our tin can totally uninhabitable) was the discovery of rain water seeping in through the skylight last week. Yes, you read that correctly, the sh*****g f*****g roof leaks.

You’d think we’d know this already, seeing as we were working on the van in a very wet Ireland for two months. But noooo! It turns out that if you park the van at a particular angle (i.e. the exact angle it was parked on Rodney’s parent’s drive) the rain just runs off. It was mere luck that kept us dry through our first few rainstorms. Unfortunately that luck ended last Monday when we parked on the flattest patch of land in England and woke up to a raging torrent (a bit of a drip). We’re now only able to park on slopes until ‘Bodge a job Rod’ (business cards are on the way) gets what he needs to finish the repairs.

Soggy jim-jams aside, we’re starting to feel pretty good about living. The main thing that we struggled with in London was the feeling that life was passing us by; that there was never any time to do anything except work and sleep. We have very literally just bought ourselves some time. It’s not a massive amount of time (coz time is money yo!) but it feels significant.

For now we’re still figuring out how to live in a tiny space, and how to avoid killing each other when living in a tiny space. I’m happy to report that we are both still alive. We’re no further along in terms of a plan, but there are some big decisions on the horizon! We took the van into the garage this morning for its MOT and all future plans rest on the outcome of this momentous occasion. Fingers and toes are currently crossed. The results of this standard £40 test will determine whether we travel across Europe in a golden van this winter… or book ourselves flights to India / New Zealand / Japan instead. I’m not entirely sure which outcome we’ve got our fingers and toes crossed for to be honest?!

In the meantime here are a few highlights from our first month driving across our great british lands…

The fence appeared to be the only thing stopping these lovely bovines from humping the golden beast (Peak District):

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Banana pancakes for breakfast (every breakfast):

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Suspension bridge (Forest of Dean):

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Moments after Rodney (part-time vegetarian) said ‘I’m glad I chose the chicken instead of that pork loin, I can hear the pigs squealing from here’, this little chicken crept up behind him with an unmistakable look of judgement in her tiny eyes:

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A very green place (somewhere in the peak district):

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Cheesy chips and a cuppa tea at ‘The Regent Restaurant’ (Weston Super Maaaaare):

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Not a bad place to do engine repairs (Stratford-Upon-Avon):

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Foraging for wild garlic- delicious! (Forest of Dean):

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Wild mushroom foraging bounty- shroom roulette (Cheddar Gorge):

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Peace and quiet and spidery sunsets (South Downs):

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And here are some early tips for living in a van and for life in general (all lessons learned the hard way)…

  • Do check for leaks before you set off
  • Don’t expect to get a phone signal or wifi in rural England
  • Don’t expect to know what day it is
  • Don’t drive through a campsite at night (people will HATE you)
  • Do pull over immediately if the van starts to shake and shudder
  • Don’t wear skinny jeans on an eight mile hill walk on a sunny day

Good morning campers!

So rewind to last Friday, I was knee-deep in curtain fabric not knowing my arse from my elbow, Don was discovering new weird and wonderful broken things under the bonnet and with only 20 hours to go before we were due on the ferry Rodney’s stressy head veins looked like they were about to explode (all over my newly upholstered cushions). A reprieve came in the form of a phone call at 2pm telling us that the film dates were being rescheduled to later in July. We wasted mere seconds celebrating before diving for the phone to amend our ferry booking. For £31 we bought ourselves an extra day to get the van ready. I don’t know why we decided that just one extra day would be enough- could’ve really done with an extra week- but somehow, with the help of the wider Tosh clan, we made it onto that ferry on Sunday morning… and we bloody drove on, not a tow truck in sight! Here we are 30 seconds after “moving in” to our new home on wheels, and 30 seconds before we hit the road (for realsies!):

The crossing from Belfast to Liverpool was eight long hours and we used the time to steal HP sauce satchets (for emergencies) and to try to figure out what to do when we arrived in Liverpool. We decided that we should drive to a forest because that sounded like a solid plan. We drove off the ferry and no less than 3 miles down the road we realised that we were in trouble. The van was shaking so violently we thought it might actually break apart. We pulled off the motorway and drove into a creepy industrial estate and stepped outside to find this:

 

It was a joyful moment! Flat tyres are easy- vans breaking apart for no reason are not so easy (apparently). Of course, dealing with the flat tyre would have been easier still if our jack was a couple of inches higher (Rodney had to let down the spare in order to get it on and then pump it up again).

We tentatively set off again, marvelling at what a smooth ride we have (when all four tyres are intact). Within an hour we had arrived at Delamere forest, complete with owls, bunny rabbits and whispering trees (it really was a solid plan). We were too knackered to cook so reverted to our 15 yr old selves and ate Pot Noodles and cheese sandwiches before promptly passing out. Classy:

On Monday morning we woke up, made tea and wandered through the trees marvelling at the wilderness and proclaiming ourselves lucky bastards.

After many years of dreaming and many months of preparations it would appear that we are now fulltime van-dwellers, gypsies if you like. After spending so much time looking to the future it may come as no surprise that we now need to learn how to live in the present- which may prove quite challenging when it takes 15 minutes to boil water on the hob (pot noodles are not a convenience food).

Good morning campers- everything might just be awesome!

When the eleventh hour turns out to be the twelfth hour

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The blowy air heater thingy has arrived… at my brother’s house in England. There is now no chance of us getting it fitted before we head off, and probably no chance of us getting it fitted at all seeing as Don is the only person we know who would do it for free. It would take him over a day to fit as he’d have to take apart the entire dash and mess with wiring etc. so even if we had it couriered to us for tomorrow, we still wouldn’t have time to get it in before we leave on Saturday morning. So close and yet! I don’t want to think about how many hours we’ve wasted finding the piece of crap.

I also (finally) managed to convince Rodney that we should get solar panels, and having spent many, many, many days searching for the most amazing panels at the most amazing price, they go out of stock (20 minutes before we phone them) and we have to wait a month for them to be delivered. If you were the person who placed the last order, I hope it’s very cloudy where you are (for the next month). We did however order and fit a decent inverter, so what little power we do have can now be safely used to power electric shizzle. Exciting!

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We’ve still got a long list of jobs to do before we leave so we’re now at the point where we have to prioritise which jobs are most important as we don’t have time to do it all. The alternator is still on the list, I don’t know why but it is. And the composting toilet is on there too, though Rodney has said “we’ll not leave until your shit bucket is installed”, so either he’s sure it’ll be done or he’s willing to change to a later ferry (I doubt it’s the latter coz he really wants to go back to space).

I’ve just written a long list of the jobs we’ve already completed so that we feel less like we’re failing, and we really have done a lot. It made us feel better for two whole minutes… then we started to think about how we’ve spent TRUCK LOADS on these repairs… and how lovely it is in Bali at this time of year. The cost of the van plus our expenditure since leaving London on May 2 has now exceeded what we spent on our last (7 month) trip around SE Asia. What a hoot!

None of that matters of course because this was never really about living it up in warmer climates (though we like that very much), but about breaking away from a life that did not make us happy, living more simply and freely and reducing our footprint.

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Now, I’ve got one day to make / learn how to make four curtains. Someone send us a bit of good luck because I think we’re going to need it!

A very official start date

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Tomorrow wasn’t awesome, but it was better. Don and Rodney repaired the alternator and fitted the shiny new radiator. Rodney’s brother made and fitted a safe and they reinforced the pull-down bed, replaced the halogen lights with energy-saving LEDs, and fitted new locks to the door and all compartments. I put a second coat of white paint all over the interior and cleaned up everyone’s mess (yet to expand my skills). I also bought material which I plan to turn into lovely curtains for the front windows (soon to expand my skills).

Then Hollywood called requesting that the boy wonder return to London before the end of the month for more adventures in pretend space. And so we did the unthinkable, we bit the bullet and we booked a ferry from Belfast to Liverpool on Saturday 27 June. So that’s that, we have a brand new and very official start date for moving into the van and hitting the road. Holy shit!

On Wednesday we took the van on a 70 mile test drive. She performed admirably and fuel consumption is at least a third better than we were expecting. We celebrated with fire and cider and cheese.

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On Thursday I sat outside in the cloud (sun appears to be a foreign concept in Northern Ireland) drinking a cup of tea and I thought to myself ‘something is going to happen’. It was a fleeting, unsettling thought and I may have a future career in soothsaying.

On Friday we were woken by a phone call from Rodney’s cousin. Granny Betty had phoned, she’d fallen over and couldn’t walk (she’d shuffled down the stairs on her bum to get to the phone). An ambulance was taking her to the hospital with a suspected broken hip. When we got to the hospital she was still in the ambulance. The gas and air and morphine were doing little to numb the pain so they’d had to give her more of everything. The paramedic said he thought the hip must be shattered.

We were in A&E for 5 hours whilst they did X-Rays and scans and I lost count of the number of people who came over to say hello- passing nurses, visitors, other injured folk- they all knew her, or knew of her, or were somehow related. “I’m Mary’s wee girl”, “My Granny was your first cousin”, “I used to live next to your son” etc etc. Everyone just knew everyone.

It occurred to me that had I been rushed to hospital in London under similar circumstances, I wouldn’t have known anybody, nobody would have known me, nobody would have been related to me, and it would have been a royal pain in the arse for family to come visit me. I always said that one of my favourite things about London was the anonymity. I’m now not so sure.

In the end ‘a wee fracture’ was the diagnosis and GB was ambulanced off to a hospital in Derry that knows how to deal with that sort of thing. She had to wait until Monday morning to get a partial hip replacement and I’m pleased to say she’s doing well (or as well as can be expected for an 83 year old chain smoker who can no longer walk) and may even be home again by the end of the week.

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Now, here’s the thing… the last time Rodney and I went off travelling (2011) my Nan died. I wholly regret that we chose to go away when we did- she’d told me months before that she’d be done within a year, but as I couldn’t really comprehend such a thing I guess I just didn’t believe her. It is my one and only regret in life.

We’re yet to have a serious adult discussion on the topic, but given the week’s events it’s starting to weigh heavily. Are we really about to feck orf again and allow history to repeat itself? Rodney has two very fragile grannies and, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but father Don is pretty sick too. We could spend a year or so closer to home so that Rodney can get some quality time, or we could get the ferry to Spain in September as originally intended knowing that when we leave this Saturday some goodbyes will likely be permanent and we may be flying back before too long for funerals. Quite the predicament.

If we postpone the ferry and spend the winter in Ireland, would we not just be two chilly unemployed people living in a van, waiting for the grim reaper? Would Rodney persist in wearing (holey) socks and sandals?

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I guess time will tell. Stay tuned… watch this hole… etc.

The big day is here!

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Is it b*ll*cks! We’ve pushed back our departure date so many times now I’m starting to wonder whether we have any concept of time at all. The big day is certainly not here, nor does it seem to be fast approaching. I now understand how Hasta Alaska ended up spending 5 months camped outside a Mexican mechanics (watch the whole sorry story here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A20RWnMOf0- it pretty much encapsulates how we’re feeling today, minus the tequila).

The good news of course is that Rodney is back from London (which was every bit as exciting as he hoped it would be) so we can now return to the process of ‘getting our shit together’ and crack on with repairs. Tomorrow.

In the meantime I think it would make me feel a little better to have a mini moan. Because it needs to be said… getting your shit together is not easy when the world is full of so much incompetence. Today we had some curtain hooks arrive and we were so shocked that they were actually the right ones and not faulty that we danced around the room for five minutes. The luck really does end there. The LED lights that we were waiting patiently for turned out to be faulty.  The replacement blinds arrived and they too turned out to be faulty, again. The new alternator belt we fitted turned out to be the wrong size (actually that was our fault) and fell off.

And in other cheery news Rodney and Don flushed the engine radiator and a whole load of shite came out of it. Unfortunately, it would seem that the shite was the only thing stopping the radiator from leaking, so we’ve now had to order a new radiator. We’ve found some rot in the flooring so now need to replace a floor panel, because we really know how to do that. I just broke the step. Rodney just spilled an entire bottle of glue in the glove compartment. THE MITES ARE REPRODUCING!

I’m going to go and buy a bottle of tequila. Actually I don’t really like tequila. I’m going to go and buy beer. Lots of bottles of beer. And then we’re going to get our shit together.

We’re also going to put this everywhere because the label is so utterly convincing…

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*I apologise for the amount of “shits” and “shites” in the above

**Tomorrow is going to be Awesome

“The force is strong with this one”

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We had big plans to get our shit together and sort the van out once and for all this week. But then Rodney got “the call” and he ran off into the sunset, leaving me and the van lying by the wayside (Rodney’s parent’s drive), lost and broken and so casually abandoned.

I can’t say I blame him really. Seeing his little face light up when he got “the call”, I knew there was only one way that this was going to pan out. There was no way I was going to stand in the way of him fulfilling another childhood dream. (He still hasn’t forgiven me for dragging him away from the baggage reclaim in Delhi airport before he had a chance to accost Ian McKellan with “a bag is never late Sir Ian, nor is it early, it arrives precisely when it means to”. I maintain that he was probably a bit tired after the long flight and wouldn’t have appreciated Rodney’s hilarity- you can thank me in your own time Ian).

So the call was an invitation to work as a stand-in for a certain character on a certain sci-fi film. If you can’t recall what a stand-in does, then maybe this will jog your memory:

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That said, I’m not really sure what being a stand-in for this certain character would entail. Same as usual I expect… lots of standing in. Dreamy stuff!

Ah but there’s more! For no sooner had he jetted off to London than the phone rang again… “another call” (this is exhausting), this time offering work on the new James Bond film. Two childhood dreams in one week, should have bought a lottery ticket.

And so he’s gone and here am I, keeping the other dream alive, like a champ, an internet shopping champ (still searching for that illusive blowy air motor). Van worries aside I’m pretty content. I have fully mastered the art of relaxation and I am in love, with this wee dote…

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She is called Lucy, she is a Jack Russell / Yorkie cross and was bought (saved) by Rodney’s parents for £40 from travellers, a little over a year ago. She has a sticky-out ribcage on one side where she’s been kicked or thrown, and sometimes she gets a bit scared. But mostly she’s happy and awesome. She’s very intelligent and she gives cute hugs. Her childhood dreams are just to be loved.

Rodney who?