Sunday, 18 May 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land

Given where we have been for the last few months that is an odd title given that (as per the previous post) we are now home ... but.

We are in a house having filled a 7.5 tonne truck with the contents of our container (which we have to say were undamaged and undamped despite the British winter; maybe assisted by the couple of hundred silicone desiccant bags I obtained second hand from the Canon Engineer where I used to work and scattered liberally inside the container).  However that’s not the story of the title, that’s me showing off and being a know all.

The story is of distance and space, habits formed of rigorous routine over four and a half months now unnecessary in the vast caverns of our two bed terrace in a Cul De Sac in Highbridge, Somerset.
On the day we arrived I was wearing jeans a Tshirt, socks etc. Having humped in all our kit I was a sweaty dusty, grimy, sticky, snotty, smelly wreck  (Amanda was of course just glowing in a ladylike manner) . We had arranged to leave Moho at Essex Storages yard for three days, while we loaded, drove to Somerset, off loaded unpacked a little and then drove the lorry back to Essex. I suddenly realised that having executed operations one to three by late evening on moving day, that I now had only the Tshirt I was wearing with me. I’d over night bagged underwear and socks, soap and tooth brush etc, but no spare Tshirts or Jeans.

Digression: We need to say a massive thanks to my elder brother and my son for assisting us to load in Essex in the morning and an even bigger thanks to the Somerset Harrisons: Sarah, Andy and Heather, for helping us unload at the Somerset end having already completed a normal days work. Thus allowing us to leave an empty lorry parked outback for a day. We had envisaged offloading essentials on day one and doing the rest on day two, with day three for the drive home. Having the lorry empty left us a lot of time to get the basics done.

All the time I/we were moving boxes on arrival evening getting sweaty and snotty all over again I was mentally kicking myself for not bringing extra clothes. And wondering if it would be wise to just push on the following day and take the lorry back so I could access my other four Tshirts, other pair of Jeans, two pairs of convertible trousers, three fleeces, twenty odd pairs of pants and socks (you can never have enough underwear). I was concerned about walking around stinking, carrying dust from the lockup around on my clothes which had us both suffering from snotty sneezy noses all of moving day, and I thought the best bet was to just push through the fatigue, get up early drive at the max 55MPH the lorry allowed, turn myself around and get back with fresh clothes.

As well as the issue with not being able to change clothes I was tired and suffering from foolish pride that I’d not prepped properly for something as simple as a stay away from Moho for two nights, so I’d not mentioned my concerns to Amanda. And then all of a sudden while shifting boxes I spotted one that said `Graeme Clothes’. I was confused, WTF did that mean? I pulled the tape from one end of the box and opened the flaps, and lo and behold the box was full of clothes that I recognised. Anyone reading this will be thinking `Duuur twat’ and face palming. But, all that stuff in all those boxes has been out of site out of mind for the best part of seven months; effectively redundant.

Everything I own or wear in van life lives in a volume of maybe 65ltres or a large rucksack. Of the 65ltr space I probably fill 50ltrs the rest of the space around the stuff makes it easy to grab and tidy without disturbing the other stowed kit and clothes. Think about a backpacker. What do they have? Our advantage over them is one of convenient transport, a toilet that doesn’t require a hazmat suit, and beds. The personal storage space is the compromise.

It’s hard to explain that sense of dislocation when I thought I was going to have to go to the High Street to buy a new Tshirt and jeans to tide me over until I collected the van, or to make the mad dash back to Essex to obtain clothes, or even the oddness of the realisation that all the clothes in the box were mine and I could just wear them, whenever I felt like it, without having to pay a trade for something else penalty, as we did when we actually packed for the journey.

But the weird doesn’t stop there; that is weird to us, not weird to everyone else living as ever they have done in a house.

With the combination of guesting on drives, campsites and the odd wild places, we have become tolerated itinerants (in a very broad sense). We are used to going to sanitary blocks and having to wait until one is free for showers or loos. If friends have offered services, either laundry or showers we have been grateful and aware that while `mi casa es su casa’ is always implied and probably granted, that you just don’t take liberties with folks generosity.

So here we are in our home, and I’m sure in time we’ll adjust back into things. But right now, I go to the loo, and concern myself with the waiting time of anyone outside. I shower and hit the tap off every few seconds because on timed showers, every second the water runs leaves you at risk of walking out covered in soap lather or with conditioner still in your hair ... or worse still standing in a freezing spray because so often it’s only the hot water on a timer. I needed a shave a day or so ago, and because I don’t own a travel plug for sinks, instead I use the small bag I hold my bar of soap in to retain water while I depilate my chops. Having run the hot water I went through the process of squishing my bag into place to hold a basin full of water, laying out my kit so I could keep an eye on it and access everything I may need. Then I spotted the plug plunger sitting behind the tap that I had turned on to run to temperature ... Habits. I didn’t see the plug because I’m not used to seeing plugs, `and you’re back in the room’.

Standing looking around feeling like you just woke up and stepped out of a dream.

This has been us for the last four days. Looking for stuff we know is in lockers in the Moho.  Things that are duplicated full size in a purpose built human habitation unit, or house in common parlance; lost a few feet away by virtue six or seven paces and a mass of furniture with doors and draws.

As a by volume: the internal space of moho (the bit we live in) could be shoehorned into our lounge four and a bit times. And believe that we have both managed to lose things in that tiny space, resulting in the whole moho, every nook and cranny being eviscerated in the search for a misplaced bicycle pump, head torch, heap of socks (and in-spite of a 15 page locker/bag/pocket listing written in pencil so as things move around their locations can be amended). Accidents happen, a momentary lapse of reason an idle or tired hand places something for a moment in the wrong place, and the gremlins surge and sweep the object to the furthest corner draped with a blanket of invisibility ... the little bastards.

On from the weirdness of being free to walk to the loo at any time of day or night without doing the Moho get out of bed pirouette, or walking a hundred yards in the dark, clutching a wodge of bogroll. Or putting a load of washing in the washing machine, without first finding out if it’s token or cash, and if you have coins of the correct denomination to operate the machine, or if the reception where you get change or tokens is actually open during the hours you normally associate with open.

All these minor logistical bugbears are gone, but. There are other things that you suddenly see in your life that I think before you just ignored as a convenience to yourself or are inured to for the reason below. That nagging of conscience that says we own far too much stuff anyway, that realisation that has been crystalising  over the months that we are controlled and programmed by enormous media machines, whether we like it or not, or are even aware of it. Frightened into buying crap that gathers dust for (some of it) nineteen months. Unseen unmissed probably unneeded.

Amanda loaded all our glasses into the glasses cupboard in the kitchen. Somewhere in my deep id I looked in said cupboard to find the pint glass that I always use (Ruddles straight pint glass). I know it because it’s the one with most of the Ruddles lettering rubbed off. I picked it from the set of six, then clocked all the other sets of glasses, then looked at the distance to the tap, reassured myself that that tap water is safe to drink. Then wondered why the tap was so far away, and why there were so many glasses to sort through to find the one I wanted. In moho I have one `quality’ clear plastic beaker and a china mug I allowed myself. Simple enough. Obviously if we have guests we need a few more glasses, but five different sets of branded pint glasses (as an example). How did we get so wrapped up in thinking one set wasn’t enough?

The mind and the brain are in two separate places. One is looking at the walls spotting small blemishes that require painting or tweaking, minor improvements that we discussed while travelling around the nether regions of greater Europe. The other is wondering why we need all this space and how much of the conservatory full of boxes do we actually need to open and stash to create a complete home. FFS we have all the essentials, what more can there be, now we have the clothes, shoes, plates and cutlery? I said to Amanda we should just take all the boxes in the conservatory unopened to the dump and just fling them into the bins, and fuckit if stuffs lost will we ever miss it or be aware that it got binned.

Part of me is irritated that a whole life that used to be arms length from everything I need is now gone. In moho we could literally turn on a penny and grab my one drinking glass, a Tshirt, socks, pants, my mug, a hairbrush, open the toilet door, grab a box of cereal, open the fridge door. Now I have to walk to a cupboard to get a drinking glass, walk back across the same room to get to a tap, walk upstairs to get to a wardrobe full of clothes, then back downstairs to a hall cupboard to get an outdoor coat, then up by the front door to get shoes. This isn’t laziness speaking, this is `as little an amount of time wasted’ before being out the door looking at the wider amazing world we occupy, and so often blithely ignore. As opposed to looking at a collection of tut some clever bastard has sublimely convinced me I need to possess and worship.
There are compensations to home life, I can loaf alone on a sofa to read, we have a TV that I seem to be looking at, shaking my head at and switching off a lot. There’s a bath, I haven’t had a bath for seven months, rain doesn’t wake us up when it hits the roof, and I don’t have to empty a toilet cassette every few days. However I don’t get to wake up next to a babbling brook, a beach or looking at a distant set of hills I’m going to walk up (I may be lying there ... I can see both the Quantocks and the Mendips from where we live).

We have made our lives complicated, we have made our lives difficult. We have taken a lifetime of time and tried to make it more convenient and just made a balls up of it by filling it with excess crap we coveted to make us feel better about ... the life we feel we should be living instead of the one we could be living if we weren’t wasting so much time walking around these big empty spaces we call home and then filling them because they feel so large and bare when they are empty ... space the final frontier ... it’s outside ... or is the emptiness in us? Fulfilment through acquisition.

As Mervin the Naturist ex-Tax inspector proposed in El Portus of the rich man. He may have a fifteen metre motorhome with a full size bathroom, a garage underneath and a car in it, but when the suns out where are you going to be? And in truth how much do you need to wear on a sunny day? No the sun isn’t shining in May in England but just extrapolate and you’ll find you’ve been guilted or Jones’d into buying a load of crap you don’t want, don’t need and hardly if ever use. I suspect the contents of the conservatory will prove it.

Footnote: it’s six days since I wrote the above. It looks like the conservatory boxes may be going direct to the loft. We have filled seven boxes with stuff to go to charity shops, and we aren’t finished yet.

Monday, 5 May 2014


We came home on the ferry from Rotterdam on the 30th of  April 2014 across a ghostly mill pond calm misty sea, the colour of gunmetal, to a half light grey pink evening sky over Harwich. It was still and cool and the breezes that there were seemed to be without direction; one minute north to south the next east to west, the same airs undecided on whether to stay or go, shuffling and mixing microscopic droplets of water in the eddies above the sea that was doing it’s kinetic minimum under the influence of the moon.  A lazy still, not quite sombre evening, the last hour of which was spent watching the coast define itself over what seemed like an eternity of time. Less exciting than watching Santander grow from the horizon in December, with a sense of  strange anticipation and a little anxiety that the land we left four and a half months before would have changed beyond all recognition ... which of course it hasn’t.
Last August Essex 2013
As the new horizon eventually refined itself I saw to my immediate south that I could make out Walton on the Naze and the Martello Tower that stands (for now) at the top of the cliffs; a place where I have spent many weeks as a child on holiday with my parents and siblings (also with my long since departed nan when we got packed off parentless to Great Holland on Sea, a name that reflects the earlier ties between Britain and the Netherlands in the years after the Anglo Dutch wars).
Brean Down October 2013
Thetford November 2013
It was at once horribly sad to be coming home, but also very pleasant coming into Essex and not Dover, coming home to our adopted county and not a strange haven. We drove the fifty five miles from Harwich to our friends the Essex Harrisons and parked on their drive for two nights. We’ve since spent time at my parents, with Amanda’s friend in North Kent, a night in Tilbury, and today as I write this we are the itinerants on my brothers drive, before we collect our 7.5 tonne lorry to move west  tomorrow.
Taragona Spain December 2013 (the block is a nuclear power station)
I am having to remind myself as we sit here with the impending hiatus in our travel plans, that the adventure isn’t over. We have Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales and western England to tour through, through our high summer. And as we now know what the FF we are doing we also know that even after the big block of adventure is over (we can’t afford two years at current prices), that we can carry on exploring year in year out, for as long as Moho passes MOT’s and we feel capable of making the trips.
Poblo Nou del Delta Spain January 2014
So that’s it for now. I’ll post a couple of catch up posts on our Holland adventures ... though if the truth be told, the rule of what goes on in Amsterdam should stay in Amsterdam may be applied. I may find other things to witter on about over the next month or so, however I’m not promising and I’m not even going to try. This is a break, but in the words of Arnie `Arl be Baach’. Enjoy the pictures, we’ll be back.

Tarifa Spain February 2014
Cape St Vincent Portugal February 2014
Serra de Estrala Portugal March 2014
Coimbra Portugal March 2014
Salamanca Spain March 2014
Carcassonne France April 2014
Pisa Italy April 2014
Pompei Italy April 2014
Black Forest Germany April 2014
Luxembourg City April 2014
Rotterdam Holland 2014
Hasta La Vista.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...