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…

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?

For the love of a good van

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pack up your troubles

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Today I’m going to pack up the bedroom. Or the kitchen. Or a small section of the kitchen. Rodney is at a costume fitting for a film he is working on this week. Then hopefully he’ll come back and help. I don’t really like being on my own in the flat anymore. As Rodney pointed out last night, it no longer feels like home. We took all our pictures down and have started packing a few things, but I don’t think that’s the reason. Mentally we’ve just shifted so our minds are already halfway to Ireland.

However, there is still a whole week until we leave London and as neither of us is very good at early preparation I know exactly what will happen when Rodney arrives ‘home’. He’ll take one look at all the mess I will possibly create in the next few hours and he’ll suggest we head out for a break / drink. I’ll be persuaded by the bright lights of not-here and the packing will once again be abandoned for another day (we’ve had a month of this already).

At some point though, we’re going to have to face this beast, to sort through years of accumulated shit and decide what to keep and what to dump / take to the charity bin at the end of the street.

I’m pretty sure two people do not need 26 plates and 31 mugs. But how do you decide which ones to keep?! One of my biggest regrets is taking random household items from my Granny’s house after she died. Things I didn’t even know she had which I now can’t bear to part with because they remind me of her. Like this priceless old plastic brazil nut container which she used as a tea caddy:

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Practical huh?

I think I’ll sit down with a cuppa tea and mull it over.