Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Romance of Travel

This may take some time, have a brew and maybe a biscuit. There are no pictures just a little over 5000 words.

This is one of those get it off your chest posts. The sort that takes the romantic notion of freedom from work, living day to day in sunny locations carefree and cheerful ... by its ear drags it over a knee bares its backside spanks it shiny, and sends it to bed for telling huge whoppers.

For every three days of having a laugh or an explore, there are the relative hardships of keeping house, cooking and shopping, making up the bed, dismantling the bed, airing the bedding, taking the washing up to the washing up area, filling the main water tank, filling and dosing the chemical toilet tank, emptying the crapper cassette or the waste water tank, walking to the shower block every time you need a pee, a poo or an actual shower (to not use the onsite facilities you’ve paid for results in, emptying the crapper or the waste water tank even more often, and in a worst case scenario; the fug of human excrement minging around what is essentially your living room and kitchen) ... you see, romantic notion thrashed soundly and dispatched to a corner to think about its sins. And I haven’t even gotten started yet.

Everything takes so much longer, from making a cup of tea to doing laundry. Life gets broken down into chunks of time, and the chunks of time have set processes but the time itself varies dependent on the specific rules or facilities available at a campsite, and your distance from those facilities. I touched on this before when I wrote about the discomforts of driving across the top of Spain. Our previous site was fully serviced pitches, water, electricity and waste all on pitch, the one I’m on to finish this post is a pigs ear of a site where the nearest tap to the moho is an inaccessible to the moho  50 yards away, necessitating bucketing water in 7 litres lots to fill the main water tank, or de-camping and driving the whole rig a hundred yards to a service point (this Oliva site is frankly shit and I’m sorry we came, but live and learn).

Let’s start at the beginning.

You have to get up in the morning, now that’s not too difficult, but for the fact that there are two of you and the space you get up into is only large enough for one person to safely get dressed in at a time.  We are a bit battered and stiff most of the time, so contorting around each other (while full of amusing innuendo moments), is likely to result in a literal bishop bashing, a stomped toe or chaffed nethers . The space you get out into, between oven and fridge (I like to refer to it as the Main Hallway) has a thermoclime. Above the bed is warm, floor level to knee level is cold; an invisible layer of `I don’t want to put my feet on the floor’ has to be factored in (this desire to stay in the warm can be overridden by `I need to pee’ more of which shortly).

One has to make sure before one puts ones feet on the floor, that there is not an object to step onto, left there by the resident campsite Gremlins, who spend the hours between sunset and sunup, loosening electrical connectors, moving shoes and miscellaneous stuff into walkways where the bleary eyed and barefooted will blindly step the following morning, or loosening the cap on the sugar pot in its shared nook in the breakfast cupboard (more on that later). Where upon said Gremlin videos the resulting  hilarious, half fall, half step antics and the accompanying diatribe, before posting said video on `You’ve Been Maimed’ presented by the Sprite and Pixie worlds very own Greminy Beagle.

We sleep heads to the middle of the van, so the space we move into when we get up is behind us (the Main Hallway), this means that a pirouette is required to get out of bed, not an athletic one, just a twisty turny all the covers fall off and it feels awkward and unnatural one. If like Marilyn Monroe and I, you sleep with just a dab of Channel No5 as pyjamas this means that quite often the first thing Amanda sees in the morning is my back wheels and hindquarters swaying through the ether, with the ever present danger of the morning gun firing a warning shot ... this is only ever funny to one occupant. And or, the one confronted by swinging hindquarters takes an opportune swipe at said hindquarters for their own sadistic glee or desire for said sight to be `smote from their eye’, likewise this is only ever funny to one occupant ... and maybe the gremlin.

Having levered oneself out of ones pit, without inducing toe or thigh cramp, or missing the support of the edge of the kitchen worktop with ones hand, to find that old prankster gravity whizzing ones face headlong towards the cold floor ... and avoided ruining the morning by propelling oneself forward with a guff of mostly nitrogen based wind (not that that ever seems to be reasonable mitigation), and avoided any booby traps left by the gremlin. One then has to reach back to ones locker and ferret out under garments and whatnots, this generally gives ones partner a close up of ones dangly bits (if of course they are warm enough to dangle). Then (as a general rule) one will totter off to the facilities to tinkle (on very cold mornings or wet ones the en-suite facilities get used). I swear my bladder capacity has trebled since we got here.Site facilities in the morning are usually populated by Germans and old people all saying hello in their native tongues ... we’ve adopted the Spanish Ola to cause confusion and to avoid starting a conversation.

Then it’s generally back home to make tea ... at this time I like to think of people living in a big house having to walk miles to the nearest latrine as karmic punishment for having too much room, though I suspect most actually have en-suite facilities in every room, or if they are really traditional and wealthy a Piss-boy with a golden bucket following their every step.

A chap cannot get going without a hot beverage, preferably tea, preferably builder strength, preferably with a Digestive, without question McVities (when the Digestives run out we have no option but to make a headlong dash to Gibraltar where we are reliably informed there is an over-priced (where McVities Digestive are concerned there is no ceiling limit on price) Morrisons). Bugger the Barbary Apes, I want wholemeal biccy, not overly sweet, with good crumb and doesn’t turn slimy when dunked ... if you know McVities then you know exactly what I’m talking about, if you don’t, then you should probably stop reading this blog and have yourself admitted to an asylum for an indefinite stay.

While in Spain, we have tried to acclimatise to the water that comes out of taps, to save a few Euros, to avoid the humping of litres of water around in paper thin plastic bottles that then have to live in the bunded area we call the shower room, and of course to avoid plastic waste on a monumental scale (the whole country is littered with plastic bottles from 500ml to 8litre and every size in between. There is not a Parqe Natural (even at 1070metres) or reserve or picturesque jetty without the obligatory selection of bottles sizes wedged into crannies, or decorating footpaths. The bunded area by the way ensures that if the gremlin ever drills the plastic bottles, that the water goes outside via the plug whole in the shower tray (though part of me suspects that somewhere somehow, a gremlin has seen this tactic previously, and in the war of attrition between the visible world and the world of sprites, elves, pixies gremlins etc, and the world of mathematical probability or improbability popularised by Mr Douglas Adams that one day eight litres of drinking water will find mohos most intimate internal crevices. This will in turn give me a fatal aneurism that will cause the gremlins (ironically) to die laughing whilst watching.

Where potable tap water is concerned there is no consistency to taste, even in the same place day to day. Maybe as a consequence of imbibing the waters we have both now experienced that old standby of the British comedian `Spanish Tummy’ or more correctly `The Shits’. This is somewhat frustrating for a two reasons: One, for several days one has to do the post `get out of bed pirouette and crawl’ very carefully, because, if mostly nitrogen based guffs are not acceptable, then they are definitely not acceptable if accompanied by a gravy spray.  Two, every other release of posterior `airs’ has to be done with the safety of a porcelain safety net and a nearby roll of Andrex, and breaking wind in bed ... well frankly you’d be insane to dare it.

Needless to say we now only drink bottled water, but have obtained 8 litre solidly built affairs that require decanting to, from the paper thin ones, before said paper thin ones get squished and binned ... FFS it’s the 21st Century, you’re part of the largest single f*$%@ing trading block in the west, at least make the taps pour something that isn’t laced with Dysentery Omoebas or alternatively what tastes distinctly like bleach ... or have a tap in the supermarket and big drum to refill the old bottles with your favourite `brand’ of H2O.

The matter of breakfast tea. The kettle has to be filled to a level that just fills both our mugs (from the bottled water). I have marked this level with a CD writing pen (wasting hot water is a sin at home out here it’s a crime unless there is enough to warm or half fill a thermos flask). The `US’ level on the kettle has changed once or twice because mugs seem to be more suicidal the further south you go, and the gremlin likes to juggle with them when we are asleep. Amanda has Earl Grey, I have PG-tips, I use Soya milk, Amanda has the stuff that comes out of cows (if I use the stuff that comes out of cows, then the mostly nitrogen based wind seems to have a higher quotient of sulphur or methane or something ... either way, one of us never finds it funny).

So what you say, you make two different cups of tea ... get over it. However that isn’t the point, the point is that each of these tea components like almost everything else lives in a shared space with something else equally as important and or as likely to be used in the same space and period of time; a small cafetiere (once upon a time), cereal bowls, sugar (in a pot the gremlin has loosed the lid on, with results hilarious to all magical creature only cats can see ...  usually when it’s really really dark and you’re home alone for the first time in ages), honey, muesli, glasses (albeit plastic ones).  It’s the breakfast cupboard, it also houses fresh bread when we get it, and due to its overall use as my cooks cupboard, also houses: salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices various.

So f@#%ing what you say. However this is the same for every cupboard, everything houses multiple things, for multiple roles, so you have to move things to get to things, and nothing goes back perfectly from whence it came ever.  When consumable are replaced you can’t always get the same shaped or sized package as previously. And anyway life would be dull if you didn’t try different honey’s, biscuits (while maintaining a stock of the gentleman’s biscuit mentioned above), breads etc. This variety however alters storage dynamics, day to day.

For the purpose of enlightenment think of it like this: When you get off a plane having spent four or five miserable hours penned into an uncomfortable seat in cattle class, having been subjected to three or four rounds of frankly pointless expensive in-flight service. Service that’s supposed to break up the misery and make the time go faster ... when if you were left alone you would have slept yourself through the whole miserable experience using the self medicated double expensive booze you imbibed in the departure lounge specifically to knock yourself out for the duration of the flight ... you should be able to request a full anaesthetic for flights longer than an hour ... I’d pay for that and you could shove your airline mascot bear up your arse ... I digress. 

Once back on the ground you are prompted to be careful opening the overhead lockers `as hand luggage may have moved around since you took off, due to turbulence etc’ (turbulence of any kind is unwelcome almost anywhere). Well it’s the same in the moho, but from hour to hour. Kitchen roll; how many times has that roll of utility paper made a dash for freedom, unrolling itself as it goes? How many times has the salt cellar, a mug, ear buds, or a half full pack of Digestives tried to either assault me or try to kill itself as I’ve opened a cupboard door? R.I.P small but perfectly formed caffetiere, I’m sure the gremlin has saved one of your shards for one of our feet, for one of our mornings sometime hence (nothing tickles the gremlin funny bone harder than the site off human blood). In the case of Digestives; subsequent to being roughly caught or dashed against a cranium, how many have later fallen in half mid dunk to become a biscuit sludge in the bottom of my mug come tea break? This has introduced a new biscuit process: the safety tap, to find to faults lines before ‘dunk splash’ incidents occur.

Morning tea precedes breakfast, I like to keep breakfast simple or just avoid the whole messy business altogether. This is a practice frowned upon by one half of our dynamic duo. Because when I run out of energy, I also seem to run out of patience, fair English temperament, and the use of any vocabulary above four letters, though in my defence those four letter word sentences can be quite lengthy.

I’m a fan of bacon, bacon is easy to do on the George Foreman thingy (the best £21, convenience cooking implement we ever bought for our adventure). However George doesn’t like being immersed in water and has to be allowed to cool down before going back in his cupboard, lest he melt the floor. While George hangs around cooling down he is in the way, so bacon has now become a bit of a luxury reserved for jobs days. I’m also a fan of Muesli. However most muesli contains Whey powder, Whey is a milk product, I can’t imbibe milk based substances because of its negative effects on social harmony. So we’ve had to start making our own since the Dorset Cereals ran out, and only Alpen is widely available (Jordans here and there), they both contain milk. Making muesli is fun, it’s just oats, bran, seeds and fruits all mixed together in a plastic box and then shaken. To test whether that was correct I checked the BBC’s recipe pages, then I got cross about paying the licence fee, because: taking 100grams of Muesli, a handful of any chopped dried fruit, and a pot of natural yoghurt and combining them in a bowl isn’t a recipe ... it’s what you do with a bowl of muesli you patronising wankers (even if it’s soya yoghurt).

Toast has moved up the rankings as breakfast of choice for the Lactose impaired, George is great at toast and he doesn’t need washing up afterwards, just a safe spot to cool down where a misplaced elbow can’t find him.

Once the breakfast and `what are we going to do today?’ quandary has been sorted out (unless it’s a jobs day or pre-planned expedition), we have to perform several additional tasks depending on whether it’s Moho, bikes or shanksies pony that’s taking the strain. 

If it’s bikes, they either have to be taken down and set-up (saddles to height, handlebars straightened) and checked, the chains seems to get rusty real quick in spite of TLC with WD40 and a small copper wire brush. We then have to load backpacks either light (that’s pump inner-tube and puncture kit) if we are going shopping, or heavy if we are going for an explore (that’s water, snacks, spare inner-tube, puncture repair kit, first aid kit, mobile phone, pump, water proof jacket and or fleece, cameras etc).

If we are taking Moho, then we have to (if possible) take the bikes off the rack and leave them secure at the site, there is no point humping their weight if we don’t need to, or expose them to potential theft if we are parking the whole shebang in a public place, moho crime is somewhat rife. We have to reel in and or secure our hook-up lead, and detach the waste water tank, and generally padlock it to the bikes (not essential but at £58 who would take the chance on someone walking away with it).

If we are going on foot (shanksies pony) then we need to secure everything: Moho, the bikes, put the laptop and electrical items in the safe etc. Take water;  more decanting to our aluminium water bottles with a small funnel ... you see decanting ... it’s all about probability, the more you do something the more likely at some point it will go wrong, with the resultant side splitting results for the gremlins.

We may take lunch as well ... all the things you do at home, but with all the complications of having to move around each other and this tiny space, without: A: falling out (ha F@#%$ing ha to that one), B: injuring one another, with unexpected locker doors being open where a head will be moments later, impaling or slashing each other with bladed implements when turning around. C: Otherwise damaging Moho, cupboard contents, or anything else that dares stick it’s head above the trench line. I’m sure this prep period forms the main stay of early evening entertainment TV in the fairy realm.

And then finally around lunchtime we’re off, with around four hours of good daylight for activities, plus one for delays, and one left for making the most of daylight to prepare an evening meal and or unpacking and putting away all the stuff we spent most of the morning packing so we could go out. I can now see why some people become sofa surfers rather than go off on daft adventures, and instead choose enjoy the pleasure of travel vicariously ... as we used to using the telly and Alan Whicker.

Lunch out is always good. A big lunch, just snacks for tea, no washing up, even if it’s packed lunch. Just find a bin for the greased proof paper and jobs a good’un.

The evening meal is one of the bigger faffs of the day. I like to cook, I like to cook proper food. We do have some readymade foods but we keep these aside for when things get silly. Ready foods like Uncle Bens two minute pre-cooked rice, or those ready in ten minute pasta things that you can just throw a bag of salad and a tin of fish at, and all of a sudden you’re Jamie Oliver, done dirty and cheap.

Thinking about it, it’s carbs that take the time, potatoes, rice and pasta, lots of water lot’s of gas lot’s of steam. It’s worth pointing out that condensation is far less of an issue here than it was in December in England, but you still need the head start of a boiled kettle, and if spuds are your poison, cutting them up small is recommended by this hobo chef (saves gas and time).

Clearly if you’re on a site on hook-up light isn’t really an issue, you just switch them on. However out in the wilds, you have to strike the balance between good light and running your fridge. Throwing away food isn’t good at anytime. Out here it’s even worse, because Tesco Metro’s, Sainsburys Locals, and Coops don’t litter every high street and corner. So you can’t just nip out and pick something up, if you find the fridge has gone all oven like and part cooked tonight’s fish in a foul smelling bacterial ooze, and is now only palatable to other bacteria. We have found cooked meats and milk on shelves with `use by dates’ exceeded by weeks in the smaller local emporiums. Caveat: some of the cured meats (which I love and Amanda does not), only have manufacture dates on them ... so in reference to `The Shits’ above, I may have been my own worst enemy once or twice.

Amanda timed me doing a half an hour spag bol recipe the other evening, it’s one of my Monday evening standbys, it took an hour and half to prepare. All the same ingredients, the same method, but you have to play chequers with the bits as you prepare them, and set them aside in cooking groups in bowls ... it’s like Saturday Morning kitchen with a Gordon Ramsey impersonator having a really bad haemorrhoids day.

In reference to Jamie Oliver above. Now I think back to those shows where he cooked outside, he actually had quite a bit of additional worktop to play with. Your brain doesn’t see those things when its going all googly eyed because he’s cooking chillie prawns caught fresh that morning on an improvised barbeque by a harbour wall somewhere sunny. All your brain sees is; is what a piece of piss it is to chop up some chillis, drizzle some runny honey, waz up some floobabdoobs and tiddlywinks with a touch of mockney sparkle and knock it all back with the local bevy DAAAAAARRRRLLLIN!

Three things: Only one cook book eventually made it to travel time: Jamie’s Fifteen Minute Meals (sorry Hugh). Mr Oliver set me free in the kitchen and let me know I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I can’t follow all the recipes, if any. But it provides rough and ready cook times for many things and means I can still work the odd miracle. I also Love Hugh Fearnly Whitingstalls books, but you do need a better setup than I have here (though River Cottage is represented by the Edible Seashore book, and some CDs of his TV series someone burned for me ... we’ve seen them all, they make me homesick for cold and wet, dark at 4pm and telly). Two: if I miss anything it’s about twelve inches of additional kitchen worktop, so the dinner prep chequers isn’t such a faff, and then I could cook up a storm. Three: I could have packed the Braun Handy Mix and made very good use of it if had I known how much time we’d be spending on proper campsites, with leccy (since we got the 2014 ACSI card).

Our bodies haven’t adjusted to the new hours of daylight or our new routines ... what routine??? Our friend Lance Harrison pointed out some time ago that not knowing where you are, or where you are going must be disorientating and he was right. I never feel settled until I see the stars at night, and can spot Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades and the Plough ... funny enough I always plot them relative to Lance and ZoĆ«’s patio in Southend not anywhere I’ve actually lived. This does help, and how strange in this day when I can plot my position to within 10metres or there about with the Snooper Satnav that I only feel happy once I’ve seen the oldest navigation devices known to mankind.

Come darkness we look around the campsites, clocking the odd bit of flickering light indicating real telly. But mostly we look around and wonder why we are the only ones up later than 8pm most evenings? Us sitting under the dull spotlights listening to each others breathing, sniffing, throat clearing and farting ... and in my case the annoying clickety clickety click of a keyboard being variously pounded, poked or snickered at when I think I’ve written something funny.  I wish I’d bought a kindle, I wish I’d bought a Euro Wifi Fandango widget that means I can surf and scribble (I still might).

About this time I should mention Facebook, we post to Facebook via Twitter when I post a blog. Facebook is a window onto home, a portal to all our yesterdays, our friends who supported us, those that follow what we do and of course it’s the source of acerbic cartoons about why all men are bastards, all husbands are stupid lazy bastards, women who are variously hot totty strumpets looking to blow you, or hatchet faced crones you were stupid enough to marry, and photos of kittens cuddling rats, kittens hanging upside down off toilet rolls or sitting in your pants while you’re taking a dump, and other time wasting twaddle and memes floated out  by the Illuminati to waste your days and keep you indoors ... according to David Ike fans on the David Ike fan page on Facebook (I may have made that up ... ).

Of course out here in Third World Europe T’Tinternet is like magic. It’s something you can be charged through the F@#$%ing nose for, for speeds of 33kbit a day or so it seems ... for those not techy, 33kbit download speed a day would be this paragraph or less in 24 hours. It’s slow it’s unreliable, it makes Skype a nightmare, and waiting for that picture of the tabby kitten hanging off your bogroll becomes pure hell. It also means that computer time becomes premium when wifi is good (which is usually after midnight on campsites) ...  I like to think of those Victorian travellers and explorers away for months and years with only the post, and lead times of weeks for getting a single letter to and from home ... when it’s not my turn to sit snickering at the trivial shit that passes for entertainment in the world we seem to have left behind. And I’m left asking `What’s funny? What’s funny? What are you laughing at? Accompanied by the Clickety Clickety Click of Amanda sharing witticisms with her Facebook clan, while I’m still packing away all the shit we used to do dinner three hours before.

The thing is all these issues can be resolved with money and technology and bigger motorhomes. We met a fat bloke a week or two ago, who had a Skybox and a Freeview box, normal Internet speeds via satellite, two full size made up beds, captains chairs, the British newspapers , and the attitude that he was here in Spain doing them a favour, as long as they kept the beer cheap, supplied English breakfast at the tragically named Alli Babars Curry House and English Pub ... Ali Barbar is a Persian, Curries are from India FFS. However most of those people in the land yachts are not here to explore, they’re here to escape the British winter and that’s about all. 

The fact that most of what draws them here to whit: English themed pubs, other English tourists, rides on banana boats, parasailing behind a speed boat driven by an irresponsible twat who speaks pigeon English and is looking to either make you shit your swimming trunks, or fuck your girlfriend, is not open again until March. And so those in the land yachts have their satellite dishes, TV’s, a million mod-cons and a place near a beach with sun every third day or so, for £12 a night as long as they stay in the same place for three months at a time. I should point out it’s not just Little Englanders, it’s also Ze Germans and Le Francais and a few Dutch and Swiss, and at the weekends our hosts the Spanish. All finding ways to irritate each other just enough to keep the countries separate. Be it biking, petang, walking or feeling the need to fly your own national flag from your motorhome or caravan, or setting up a communal area on an empty pitch to ensure no one of a different nationality can move in without passing a racial purity test ... I’ve not seen any Polish campers. If nothing else proving that it will be a `fucking freezing cold day in Hell when Europe is fully harmonized’. 

There are of course exceptions in the land yachts and to the national isolationists, those that choose to come for what little sun there is and to enjoy the fact that Spain is closed for winter and miles and miles of resorts are just shuttered up for months. Those that come every year but always to somewhere different and new, who live fulltime in their giant tin cans both here and at home; new Gypsies not New Age Travellers or Pikeys, those for who this is life and living 24/7/365. The early retired renting out a building back in Blighty, or Holland or Germany or France ... they come from all over Europe, themselves living wherever they fancy and like us always on the move, and as a general rule say hello.

The sun when it’s out here lifts temperatures to very agreeable levels ... though the locals are wearing scarves and coats and look at us in our shorts and tee-shirts as if we are either insane or taking the piss ... except those who weekend here from the north `Green Spain’, and enjoy almost all the same weather miseries as those even further north.

It’s the people like Amanda and I, in the improvised campers and smaller moho’s who are here to explore, and for us it’s been a treat ... in spite of the tomfoolery that accompanies everything you do. Entire historic towns and sites have been ours to ourselves all day, miles long beaches with not a soul but us, empty foot and cycle paths, no queuing, only local eateries open. We have decided that it’s best to avoid the eateries that stay open near the campsites, the food quite often seems `thawed’ as opposed to cooked. The tourist food sections of supermarkets are empty so you have to eat local. Only the odd Ex-pat English shop selling the taste or feel of home ... but only really what was left over from last season.

And so to bed. The bed that we came out here with lasted all of three months before I had an `Epifit’ as Amanda calls them (Epifits only ever go out after the watershed on Pixie land TV) and is to be consigned to the bin in favour of our new sleepy gear. The Duvalay, a grownups version of the child’s Readybed; part mattress part sleeping bag all contained in zipped up Polyester Cotton softness. No more duvet stealing tactics, no more having to open the rear doors to make the bed properly. You just set out the bits that make the bed base, re-arrange the cushions from seats to bed base, and roll out memory foam based comfort, add in a hot water bottle on really cold nights and you’re home and dry. Oddly making the bed up never seems such a chore as putting it away.

It’s a bit of a faff making then breaking camp each morning, but the truth is you don’t have to walk far for any of the creature comforts, and if you can tolerate snoring, farting, having your arse slapped or poked as you crawl to a place where you can stand and days when you feel like you’ve been rolled down a hill in a barrel, then been forced to open your eyes with matchsticks because the Germans are loudly encouraging each other to throw metal balls outside your wagon in the middle of the only access road in the name of entertainment ... then I can tell you there are far far worse places you could be than here.

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