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!

  

When the eleventh hour turns out to be the twelfth hour

Untitled-1

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!

2015-06-24 11.20.09

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.

IMG_20150623_214220

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

IMG_3131

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.

IMG_3035

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.

546159_10152079770200230_1328315800_n

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?

IMG_3059

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

The big day is here!

IMG_2990

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…

IMG_2998

*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”

childhood

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:

martin-freeman

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…

IMG_2980

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?

For the love of a good van

Van

Van life currently seems to entail one step forward and three steps back. I now know not to say things like ‘the van is nearly ready’, because every time we dare to dream that this trip will start, something else breaks. The new window blinds that Rodney spent 4 hours fitting turned out to be faulty. Yes, we should have checked them before he cut them to size and nailed / glued them tightly to the windows but where would be the fun in that? Fortunately the supplier was quick to respond and we now have a new pair of blinds on the way via courier. Three steps back, one glorious step forward.

nrf1

The motor to power the blowy air thingy in the dashboard is still to be found. Originally we thought we’d struck gold with a lovely Yorkshireman who had an old Fiat Ducato in his scrap yard. However the lovely Yorkshireman, like all good Yorkshiremen, appears to love tea more than he loves sending us a motor. We’ve phoned on numerous occasions and he’s usually just sitting down to have a cuppa, and hasn’t had a chance to test the motor yet. We’ve since discovered that these motors are positioned very awkwardly and it is a royal pain in the arse to remove or fit one, so I suspect he just decided it wasn’t worth giving up any of his tea-drinking time. Yesterday we managed to find another van dismantler with a fiat ducato, who seems slightly more motivated to send us something, but I’ll believe it when I see it. No steps in either direction.

 We had the cushions re-upholstered and on close inspection they’re not as professionally finished as I would have liked. Still better than I could ever have done myself, but disappointing nonetheless, in the form of three steps back.

IMG_2971

However, our biggest concern at the moment is that there is something more serious wrong with the engine. We took the van out for a merry jaunt to the river yesterday and it was revving like a mother chucker. It seems the accelerator cable sticks as and when it feels like it, leaving us in high revs until it decides to unstick. Don suggests a weak spring or frayed cable. I can’t really say whether this is a big deal or not because I know so little about engines and Don doesn’t appear to think anything is ever a big deal. But, we’re worried that it’s just another sign that we’ve purchased a HEAP OF SHITE. I guess time will tell. Potentially hundreds of steps back. Nail-biting stuff!

After all that, I didn’t have the heart to murder the mites, nor did I have a chance to get to the shops to buy a sulphur candle. So they got to live / die another day.

Considering all of the disappointments and small victories that appear to be part and parcel of this project, I am starting to see that none of it really matters in this great scheme of life. I’ve also come to realise that in many ways the trip has indeed already started. The van may not have got much further than Rodney’s parent’s drive, but the life we are living now is a world away from the life we were desperate to leave behind one month ago. We are, in many ways, already living the life of our dreams. A thousand steps forward!

Home is where?

We’re now back in chilly Ireland after spending 10 toasty days in England. I was lying low at my brother’s house for most of that time whilst Rodney was  filming at Pinewood. It was actually a really lovely trip, but I did kinda feel like a bit of a freeloader for much of it. My family have always been very encouraging of my escapades however it usually involves me disappearing to other continents and them seeing less of me. I’m not sure they really know what to make of my recent life choices / me showing up on their doorstep and evading the question ‘so how long are you staying for?’.

I don’t miss London or our old flat, but I think I do miss having a home. At the moment we’re relying on the kindness of family, living out of our rucksacks (carry on luggage), and it can be a bit unsettling at times. Home may be where the heart is (and in my case where the Rodney is) but it’s also the place where you put your shizzle, hang your hat and make like a sloth. We are territorial beings and I miss having my own patch to escape to.

IMG_2880

Luckily we are now very close to having a home again as the van is almost ready. Hoorah! Don has fixed the bed and the fridge (I think he blew through a piece of gas pipe for two hours to remove dust and spider skeletons) and today they put up new fly screens / window blinds. We think we’ve sourced a replacement motor for the blowy air heating thingy on the dash and we’ve ordered some new LED lights to replace the florescent lighting (because they make Rodney sad).

Rodney is making heroic / stinky attempts to turn an old chemical loo into a composting toilet. He’s now on his second porta-potti having cocked up the first one. I’ve been dreaming about this composting toilet for months. It’s sort of become a symbol of our break for freedom; our transformation from apathetic consuming robots into… well something better.  If you think that sounds daft, then you might want to avoid this blog in future because the composting toilet is going to become a regular feature… #vanfaeces.

IMG_2955

Tomorrow I plan to fumigate the van, which involves murdering the family of mites currently living in the cupboard. I don’t feel good about this, but I really don’t want mites in my cupboard and they’ve ignored my polite eviction notice.

All that glitters

This week has felt like a bit of an uphill struggle at times with numerous van cock-ups and disappointments. I’m kicking myself that we painted the interior white. Though I most definitely prefer white to magnolia, the original wallpaper was still in good nick and was easy to wipe clean. The white is going to be a nightmare (and it looks like it has been painted by a small child). It would be difficult to keep clean if I was living on my own, but with a Rodney on board, I think we can just call it a write off. Or a white off! Aha ha de ha ha.

IMG_20150522_205458

Then the other day the battery light came on and ‘we’ (Rodney’s Dad Don) discovered that the alternator belt had fallen off whilst we were cruising / chugging along. At the time this felt like a massive set back and we stopped working and spending money on the van until it was up and running again. Potentially an over-reaction as in the end the new belt cost £6 and an hour of The Don’s time (free), but I guess you could say we’re very nervous about the van’s ability to get us around Europe and how much money we may have to sink into it to keep it on the road. Very nervous indeed.

Next we tried to get some gold paint to do touch ups, but it turned out to be a shoddy paint matching service which left us with glittery yellow spots / a shitter looking van than we started out with. Then the fridge stopped working. Then the bed broke. Then we found a strange mite infestation. Then… actually I think that’ll do for now.

Somewhere in the middle of it all Rodney was offered work on a film in London. Neither of us really imagined we’d be going back so soon but it’s easy work that will keep us stocked up on diesel / beer for a few extra months. So tomorrow we fly to London for ten whole days. This will push back our van departure date somewhat but ‘frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’!

I need to get to bed ASAP as it’s a stupidly early flight, but before I do let me share a little tale of mirth with you…

Rodney was helping his brother dig a grave this morning, as you do. He then got roped into helping to lower the coffin into the grave (a terrifying thought for anyone who knows how frequently Rodney breaks / drops things). Fortunately he only injured himself in the process (a small but bloody cut to the hand). The funeral ended, the bereaved departed and Rodney and his brother set to work filling the grave back in. Now, I’ve never really given much thought to graves before, what happens when the funeral ends etc. but it turns out you need to pack the earth back in pretty tightly to ensure the grave is level and doesn’t sink. To do this well, you’re gonna want to climb down into the grave and jump up and down on the earth every now and again. Rodney isn’t really the kind of person to do things by halves, and he tends to enjoy a bit of physical activity, so when the time came to pack in the earth, he wasted no time in climbing into the grave,  jumping up and down on the coffin and swinging his arms about the place. And it was at that point that some latecomers arrived at the graveside to pay their respects and were faced with the sight of a large jolly irishman appearing to dance on their loved ones grave, wearing a muddied, bloodied T-shirt with (we realised afterwards) ‘Day of the dead – play dead’ emblazoned across it in Spanish.

In between the hysterics we were all of course suitably appalled and Rodney has agreed to steer clear of graveyards for the foreseeable future, so worry not.

11350327_1455031804790342_1066525479_n

The shiniest van in Europe

2014-12-29 15.03.50

Week one of working on the van has been quite scary. It turns out that between us we have one skill –  cleaning. It may not get us very far but it will be the shiniest van in Europe. When something seems too difficult to clean, we paint it… badly! Fortunately Rodney’s dad is good at pretty much everything. He’s an engineer, a motor mechanic, a plumber, an electrician, an inventor and a builder. Granny Betty tells me he even knows how to use a sewing machine (so something else he’s going to need to teach us). It makes me feel quite humbled, and a bit pathetic at the same time. We’ve decided to blame poor schooling for this, even though we’ve been out in the real world for a couple of decades with plenty of time to learn for ourselves. I just don’t recall being taught anything practical/useful  at school that could help us with this project- how to make coleslaw (yuk), how to create a very bright light with a Bunsen burner and a piece of Magnesium (cool but no), how to evacuate for a fire drill… actually that one could come in quite useful before long.

So basically Don has done most of the work for us so far, including fitting a new Truma water heater which enables us to have three consecutive showers of five minutes each- Rodney can’t really fit in the shower and is happy to wash in the sea / cold water so this means I “could” have a 15 minute hot shower all to myself every morning. EXCITING. Obviously I’m not going to because I really care about the environment and everything but theoretically speaking, I’m very excited about this.

IMG_2841

The other thing we hadn’t factored in is how difficult it is to get parts for an elderly vehicle. Trawling the internet looking for things has almost become a fulltime job, and bugger me is it boring. We’ve found it so hard to get simple window stays (without a lock) and I’m so tired of looking that yesterday we were discussing whether or not the window needed to ever stay open anyway. Rodney: ‘If it’s too warm we can sleep outside’.

Spaceballs-US

Nevertheless progress is being made and we should be on the road before the end of the month. We’ve been out for a couple of trips, to the beach and to the forest and it’s pretty awesome, the captain chairs are big and comfy and the windscreen is so vast, you really do feel like you’re in a space ship!

As we were driving along, no matter what speed we were travelling (slow or very slow) other cars seemed to stay behind us and not feel inclined to overtake. I said that they must be admiring our shiny behind, but Rodney insists there were probably bits falling off the van and they were trying to catch them for us.

IMG_2591