I had a (van) dream

We’re currently in Northern Ireland, working and saving to get back on the road. Back to the dream. However, we may have hit a bit of a snag. A bit of a metaphorical pothole (remember them?!). A bit of an ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ juncture. At the beginning of May Rodney drove the van into the side of a Mercedes van. Into the side of a ‘one-off’ / ‘brand new’ / ‘not cheap’ / ‘was speeding but we can’t prove it’ Mercedes van. Thankfully no-one was hurt. We waited six long agonising weeks to find out if our insurance would pay out. If it didn’t the dream would have been well and truly over. We’d have been wiped out, financially, emotionally, and van dreamily. The past six months of commuting four hours a day to work and living off supermarket reductions to save save save would have been meaningless. The small repairs we had done after Rodney’s previous smash would have been insignificant. Long story short, they paid out, Goldie is back to her former glory and we’re now trying to figure out our next move.

It’s highly likely that Rodney’s insurance will now skyrocket to unsavoury levels that would make her economically unattractive. If we want to keep Goldie I’ll have to become the sole driver and at the moment that isn’t filling me with joy, partly because of the size of her but also because she’s a left hand drive and has no power steering. I have no doubt that I could get the hang of it, but do I really want to? Also, if I crash her I’ll have to stop mocking Rodney for driving her into houses and stuff, and he’ll never let me live it down. He’ll probably start his own rival blog as pay back, and the mocker would become the mocked. I may be overthinking this.

The other option is to sell Goldie and get a smaller right hand drive that might be a bit easier / more relaxing for me to manoeuvre. The downside of that is we’ve put a lot of effort into adapting Goldie into an off grid dream machine and I’m not sure I want to go through all that effort again with another van. Also, we love her. She’s become a member of the family.  Like an irritating little sister and a wise old grandmother rolled into one. She’s part of our increasingly fucked up story and I’m not sure I’m quite ready for the Great Golden Disaster chapter to end.

Slight tangent, but I read an article once that said if you want to know whether you are on the right path in life you should consider what you would do with your time if you won the lottery. If your lotto dream life is wildly different to your current reality then you may be on the wrong path and might want to make some changes. It’s easy to argue that this is utter bullshit as many people in the world are not free to change their circumstances, but I guess the article wasn’t meant for them folk. No siree. I guess it was meant for wankers that type ‘am I on the right path?’ into the Google search bar, and write blogs about their vacuous van-loving existential crises. Touché!

I asked Rodney the other day what he’d do if we won the lottery and the first thing he said was ‘I’d get Goldie pimped’. So who knows Goldie Horn. Maybe we’re not done with you yet.

We chatted a bit more about our hopes and dreams and it turns out we’ve not strayed too far from our wanky wee paths. We still dream of travel. Of not having to ‘come back’ to work, but just to keep going until the world stops spinning or we die of natural causes, whichever comes first. Maybe it doesn’t matter how we travel, but that we just find a way to keep going. To see the world before it burns.

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Scroll down for a quick catch up on what else we’ve been up to for the past 7 months. I don’t have as much photo evidence as usual as we’ve been trying out this strange ‘living in the moment’ phenomenon so I’ve not been as snap happy…

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We celebrated Christmas at the beach house…

We popped over to London for the Star Wars premiere and said farewell to a strange year. I’m not sure Rodney will ever forgive himself for fucking up his Darth Vader audition but he still got to dive off space ships and shoot rebel scum so I think he’ll look back on it without regret. Maybe. Someday.

I got work in Belfast so we moved back into the van and headed across the country to become city van dwellers. It was fucking freezing…

Rodney had to wear his turtle neck to keep warm…

We lasted three weeks before moving back into the beach house and I now commute to Belfast everyday. My contract ends in 17 weeks so I guess that’s how long we’ve got to decide our next destination. We talked about renting a place in Belfast so that I wouldn’t have to endure the long commute but decided we’d miss the beach too much. Returning home every evening never gets old…

We had a few guests. Making the most of having a place for friends to stay before we become nomads again…

We went to Tenerife for a bit of vitamin D. It was very resorty. We weren’t too keen to be honest but the sun was glorious…

We had some great trips away in Goldie the horn dog…

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And then there was that thing I mentioned…

But we just got her back and she’s looking as blingy as ever…

To be continued…

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)

  

Happy Mondays

Mondays feel different nowadays. Actually, everything feels pretty different. We no longer count down the days until the weekend, we don’t get that Friday feeling, the Sunday evening sorrow, or the ‘just f*cking shoot me’ Monday morning blues.

Today (on this sublime if a little grey Monday) I’ve made a promise to myself that I will never again work more days in a year than not. I actually quite like working. I’ve liked most of the jobs I’ve had in my adult life (apart from the year I worked in banking to pay my drama school fees- I wouldn’t wish that kind of misery on anyone, although the parties were excellent and the Friday feeling euphoric). However if my current state of contentment is anything to go by, it would appear that I like not working much much more. Call it a personal preference. I will therefore be ensuring that I achieve a genuine work-life balance for the rest of my time on earth.

Conveniently, it would also appear that I am content to survive on very little. Living in a van is not free, but the costs are a fraction of our previous London rent, and our other costs appear low too (so far anyway) so I don’t think I need to work full time to pay my way.

I’m aware that not everyone would wish to live in a small space but I rather enjoy it. I felt quite weighed down by all the stuff we owned in our London flat. Stuff is stressful. Living simply makes me feel lighter. It’s also a great time-saver. I can clean the whole van in about 30 mins (inside anyway- we’re yet to clean the outside, dirty bastards) which leaves more time for playing.

I’ve also got a bit of a phobia when it comes to contracts. Signing rental agreements and employment contracts has always made me feel quite nauseous, like I’m signing away my freedom. I prefer to feel like I could do a runner as and when I please without pissing anyone off. So the non-committal, flighty nature of van living suits me pretty well.

Anyway, enough of the self-indulgent reflection, let’s move on to business…

(Drumroll)…

(Tumbleweed)…

The chap from National Windscreens called this afternoon. They have found a replacement screen and can fit it for us tomorrow. We are officially saved!!!! Hooray for uncracked glass!!!!

And that’s not all. The icing on the cake of this merry Monday was the delivery of this genius piece of kit…

 

At some point this week (once we figure out how to install it) we will begin to draw energy from the sun (if it ever comes out to play again). I am still amazed that this is even possible. Sun hats off to whoever figured it out.

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

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 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?