I am not a hippy. I’m not a crusty. I’m not a gypsy. I work for a living. I pay my taxes and I am a responsible citizen. I believe in recycling. I do not litter. But I want a simple life and so with my husband I’m moving into a van. Maybe we will hate it. Or maybe this is the beginning of a new life.
In search of another life
Monday, 4 October 2010
I'm not looking for anything but a bit of an interesting life, I would think. But this summer has taught me that I was looking for something and I actually think I have found it. What started off as an easy way for us to pay off debt has turned into something else. We thought we would only live in a van for six months, but we have discovered a new way of life.
Next year we have plans. They may be loose but I am certain that we will make some of them happen. They involve buying land, living on the land in trucks, making composting toilets and using wind turbines and solar panels. The route we have chosen is on the way to self sufficiency. Much as I like living on the road (and will always travel) it would be nice to be legal and for the first time ever, I'm not counting down the days until I leave the country but am enjoying every single second of life. I think it's called living in the moment.
So my friends, I must thank you all for coming along with me on my journey and wish you all the very best. I hope those of you who are looking for vans find the right one very soon, and are able to learn from my mistakes. (I won't say I hope you find what you are looking for).
Take care and don't hesitate to keep in touch via the blog. I will check on it from time to time.
Friday, 1 October 2010
“No,” I replied, “I’m a new traveller. We respect the land and don’t leave broken fridges and other bits of litter lying around.”
He nodded and said “so you’re not working then?”
“I work for the council and I’m a writer,” I replied, “and 90% of people who live in vans around here work.”
He took all this quite well, and then I told him that I myself had come into van dwelling with preconceptions. He still looked a bit dazed but he took it in his stride then quickly said goodbye.
I feel as though I may have given him some food for thought. Perhaps next time he sees someone hanging out of their van he won’t be so quick to pass a judgement on them. I don’t blame him for his prejudices though. I think it is a rare person who does not jump to conclusions about van dwellers if he has never considered that way of life as an option. But it’s nice to play a part in the education of others.
Monday, 27 September 2010
While looking for a link to the book I have just found an excellent site called - what else? - Off-Grid. Here you can read the book for FREE as well as meet like-minded people, keep up to date with the latest news stories, buy solar panels and wind turbines and share stories.
Monday, 20 September 2010
But thanks for the interest. To reply to the person who asked me what we will be doing in India, I will be writing, practicing yoga and hopefully meeting more friendly and wonderful people. And looking forward to returning to the UK next spring.
We have found a home for our home throughout the winter. I was all set to look at loads of places but we were lucky enough to find a good one straight away. Because of the age and condition of our poor old lady we need her to be indoors in a dry area. Church Farm in Chichester has a huge space with high celilings that let in the air but not the damp. I won't tell you how much we are going to pay per month, but I was thinking £50 and we got it for much less than that.
We will be looking forward to picking her up next April.
Friday, 17 September 2010
I know countless men and several women who live alone in their vans and the van community here is extremely welcoming to new people who have decided to embark upon this way of life.
We are living out the last of our days of van life - for this year anyway - and I can truly say this has been the best summer I have ever spent in the UK. I will be sad to leave the country, even if I am heading for warmer climes. You may have noticed that my posts have become less, but that is only because I have been having so much fun!
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
Now begins the time of year when it’s good to have a burner in your van. We have a gas fire which we can’t really use as our mattress hangs over the edge. We can put a ring on the hob to heat the van, or simply wear more layers. Last night I slept in a hoody and didn’t wake up hot. Luckily the weather is looking good and we will put the van in storage at the end of the month. If we were staying any longer than that we’d have to get rid of the mattress so we could turn on the fire. Let’s hope the rest of the month is as sunny as it was today.
Thursday, 26 August 2010
We got hold of some aluminium tape but could not find a ladder, so after a trip to B & Q, Reg came back laden with tar roof sealant and a cheap ladder. After both spending a lot of time up the wobbly ladder we reckon we’ve cracked it (not literally I hope). We’ve sealed up both sun roofs from the outside, and taped the culprit with sealant tape on the inside. And now we’ve parked up and left Brighton for a few days in the worst rain we’ve had in months, so I really hope we did a good job.
Thursday, 19 August 2010
Sunday, 15 August 2010
Not one of these people so much as made eye contact with me, let alone offered to help. I did not even get a few words of encouragement from the woman scraping paint. I know for a fact that had any travellers (or Asians in Asia) been nearby, at least someone would have said something to me. I do not mean to attack those who live in bricks and mortar, (I’m sure I will do so again myself some day), but it is surely a sign of the broken society we live in when people go out of their way to avoid looking at another fellow human being?
And that brings me to a favourite song of mine, Society, by Eddie Vedder. It speaks a lot to me about the choices we make in life and I think it’s beautiful.
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
But I am not convinced it will work. The council already offers the Horsdean Transit Site as a place to stay for gypsies and travellers. I have not been there but it is apparently full of drug addicts. I would be interested to visit in future, but for the time being will have to believe what I have been told. It does seem to be missing the point somewhat though, as many van dwellers don’t actually want a site to live on: they simply want to be left alone.
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
The Traveller Strategy states that in 2006, 10% Roma Gypsies and 19% of Irish Travellers gained 5 A*-C grades at GCSE compared to 57% of general population. Although I have no facts to hand, I would be willing to bet the exact opposite is true for the children of van dwellers and New Travellers. I have met many of them and they have blown me away. Full of confidence, seven and eight year olds are able to converse intelligently with adults, whilst maintaining a child’s view on the world. Instead of shutting themselves away to watch television, they are outside, making campfires, learning about nature and playing musical instruments.
Monday, 9 August 2010
Many other people park their vans along there without tickets, and pay at the meter. It’s an expensive way of parking, but until recently, parking attendants were very lenient on van dwellers and frequently let them overstay their tickets.
But apparently the police are now getting involved, as the parking attendants have not been doing their jobs properly. We are ok for the rest of the summer but if you have any spare N zone visitor permits, other van dwellers would not turn them down!
It’s lovely to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the sea. When you close your eyes, listen to the waves and smell the salt air, you could be on any coast in the world. But where else would you want to be at this time of year?
Friday, 6 August 2010
At first I was offended. I have lived amongst these people and am in fact one myself, and the people I have met have been some of the most considerate, respectful and open people I have ever met. But I understand that those who have never yearned for a simpler existence in this respect may have pre-conceived ideas, and I feel that it is up to us van dwellers to disprove those negative notions.
I have felt much more community spirit and generosity amongst van dwellers than I have ever felt living in a flat in Brighton or a house in Kent, and surely that is a much more important thing to strive for than an uncluttered driveway or a spick and span street? But I vow never to get dressed without shutting my curtains (never did anyway, but have seen neighbours in houses do so) and what more can we do?
Wednesday, 4 August 2010
I have also painted about a third of the inside so far. I bought some non-toxic paint from the North Laine which incredibly has no smell and is safe to sleep near. Next year I think I’d like to build a van from scratch (well, the camper conversion anyway, not the actual van!)
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Having looked inside a lot of vans and trucks I can say I’d like a bigger vehicle some time, but as we are only planning on living in her for another couple of months before we leave the country I’m happy to go small. Not only does it mean I can drive the van, but that we can nip about town without too much hassle. And being a couple, we know that if we can live in a space that is just twice as big as a double bed, we really can live anywhere.
Thursday, 29 July 2010
Every so often the council will send people to whip round all the vehicles in an area and they all get ‘sectioned’. Some people move as soon as possible while others hang around to receive their section 78, which is a summons to court. Apparently it is not unknown for people to wait until the morning of the court hearing, move their van then call the council to tell them. The hearing is cancelled and no more is done about it.
But it's all very amicable. The coouncil have even put extra bins in Stanmer Park and they know van dwellers by name.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
He (or she) hops into vans, poos everywhere and tries to steal anything shiny. In fact, he tries to steal anything at all. I have to give him points for attempting to carry off one of my flip flops. He pecks at cigarette butts, sips from the rims of beer cans and generally makes a nuisance of himself. At the weekend I watched him terrorise a family of ten, hopping after them one by one and making a little girl scream. He doesn’t mean any harm though, and a small peck from his beak is more shocking than anything else.
I have heard that when a human touches a bird the smell is repulsive to other birds and he will be abandoned by the flock, but the RSPB website states that birds have little or no sense of smell so it is not clear why he is ignored by other magpies. Perhaps he longs for a different way of life too, like Jonathon Livingstone Seagull.
Monday, 26 July 2010
This is a wonderful way to live and having met such a friendly and welcoming bunch of people we are wondering whether we really would like to live like this for many years to come….?
Thursday, 22 July 2010
We are having a particularly spectacular summer so I daresay that has something to do with it but even when the weather isn’t ‘good’ it can still be beautiful. So that train of thought took me to the Cloud Appreciation Society which has 22526 members so far.
They see clouds as ‘nature’s poetry’ and fight against what they call ‘blue sky thinking’. I have to say I agree with them. I have felt that ever since reading All Quiet on the Western Front many years ago. The central character swore that if he got out of the war alive he would spend every single day in the weather, be it rain, cloud or snow. I seem to recall that he was buried underground at the time where absolutely no weather penetrated. So while the sunny weather is great, give me any weather over no weather. And clouds. It has just started raining.
Monday, 19 July 2010
A friendly council ranger approached me this afternoon. “Young lady”, he said, “are you with this van?” I wanted to say no but he’d seen me getting into it so how could I? He explained that he was an ex-traveller himself (I love Brighton) and that he meant no malice but we had to move.
Apparently there have been a few incidents lately where council vehicles and emergency vehicles have been unable to get up the road due to large vehicles blocking their path. I explained that we always park considerately and do not block roads, but he said that the fact that some large vehicles park here attracts others who are not so considerate and that the police have become involved and they will probably paint double yellow lines all up the road. That will be a big shame as most people who park here cause no problem and it is a prime place for watchers of football games to park.
But I can see their point. This is the spot where ambulance helicopters land and one came in today. The County hospital is just down the road and several ambulances arrived. But they could not get onto the green because someone had blocked the entry. I had seen traffic police taking pictures of the offending vehicle earlier in the day. Luckily there is another entrance just behind where we were parked, but if this had been blocked too there could have been problems.
Still, it’s a shame. Why not just paint double yellow lines in front of the park entrances? Or paint parking spaces so that vehicles do not exceed the boundaries? Tomorrow we shall move on.
Saturday, 17 July 2010
But these days he jumps out of bed at 6am, cleans his teeth and dashes off to the gym, towel, wash bag and lunch in hand. Even on weekends, thouagh an hour or two later. He rarely forgets things and regularly turns up to work an hour early looking smart and pressed. I wonder if it will last beyond the van days?
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Jason Ebacher writes an interesting page titled How to Convert a Van for Van Dwelling.
He is mostly interested in stealth and I can see why. If you plan to live in a van simply to save money, having one that absolutely no one would suspect is a great idea. With his tiny van, he can park on any old residential street and no one would guess there was a man living in there.
I couldn’t do it though. You can’t stand up in his van and that makes a major difference to your happiness…at least, it does mine. He says he wants to avoid confrontation with those who just don’t understand van dwellers and if that’s your goal you should check out his site. He has perfected the tiny living space.
One thing that reminds me of the Lady in the Van is his toileting ideas: he recommends using cat litter and doing your business in a bin liner. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea or anything but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has done it!
There is also a fascinating page on how to stay clean which makes me realize we are not hardcore van dwellers at all…
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
But the residents don’t seem proud of this fact at all. We did have some particularly delicious sandwiches in town and to be honest, they were probably much tastier without the expected Disneyland-style advertising. But I see a hole in the market there….
Aside from that, we got back to Brighton in just a few hours and are happily more partial to the van than ever. She’s more than a home now: she’s a holiday excursion too!
Saturday, 10 July 2010
It feels as though we are a million miles from Brighton and I think the road signs have been written by a different person. Even though they say the same old thing (services ½ mile), they seem to have a different personality.
Sandwich is a beautiful little place but now we are in search of the perfect sandwich. I thought there might be shops advertising them as Cornish shops advertise Cornish pasties and cream teas but so far I haven’t seen any.
When we arrived last night Reg said “it’s great camping innit?” We looked around our van and laughed.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
When I first moved here in 2002 it was from south east London and I was shocked by how this apparently cosmopolitan city was lacking in ethnic variety. But these days Brighton is a much more multicultural place, and all the better for it.
Here is my top six list in no particular order.
1. Maz Maz, Blatchington Road, Hove.
This newly opened Iranian deli café is run by super- friendly staff and serves delicious meals for between £5 and £6. I’d recommend everything on the menu and I’ve pretty much eaten it all. I love the stuffed vine leaves and meat pastries, the curries and the couscous. I usually wash it down with a pomegranate juice but the coffee is excellent too.
2. Sami Swoi, Boundary Road, Portslade.
A lovely Polish café run by smiling girls and serving delicious plates of mouth-watering Polish meals. If you think Polish food is all about dodgy meat and pickled cabbage (like I did), think again. There is a lot of sauerkraut but it’s excellent and varied and the beef goulash melts in the mouth. Potato comes either mashed or as tasty dumplings similar to gnocchi and they also have a range of good beers.
3. Planet India, Richmond Parade, Brighton
This has long been an old favourite of mine. It’s a friendly, family-run business that is only open in the evenings. They have a small-ish menu specialising in Gujarati street food-style dishes and everything is delicious. My dish of choice is the bhel puri: a cold, spicy salad made with puffed rice, chopped onions, tomatoes and tamarind sauce but the dhal and curries are superb too. I think it’s best to go in a group and order as many dishes as you can. They also have a fantastic range of beers, ales and ciders but if you want to eat at the weekend make sure you book ahead as it’s always rammed.
4. Rasa, Little East Street, Brighton
Thank God someone replaced the terrible Mama Cheri’s! Rasa is a great little Indian cafe (I know I’m biased- I love Indian food!) serving up a range of southern Indian dishes. They do a tasty masala dosa (pancake wrapped around potatoes and spices) and the milk-based puddings are excellent.
5. Pompoko, Church Street, Brighton
This little Japanese cafe specialises in super-fast hot, steaming bowls of rice and noodles. My favourites are the tofu chilli don and the chicken chilli don: tofu or chicken in a tangy sauce with rice. The miso soup is good and the waiting staff are extremely cute.
6. Jack and Linda Mills’ Traditional Fish Smokers, King’s Road Arches, Brighton
This might just be my favourite. It’s English and fantastic. Jack and Linda are a friendly couple who serve basic but delicious fish meals. Last week I had a hot kipper role with chilli sauce, but the deep fried prawns or dressed crab sandwiches are equally good. I’ve never been disappointed. They have their own smoke house on the beach and on a summer’s day the queue is a permanent fixture of the beach. They go away each winter to take a well earned break so make sure you get in there first.
Monday, 5 July 2010
It would be too expensive for us at the moment, although we would still save money considering your average one bedroom flat in Brighton costs £750 a month to rent and bills amount to at least £300. Spending £20 per night on a campsite would cost £600 per month and bills would be virtually nonexistent.
Anyone with a bit of money to spend who is in search of a simpler and freer life would do well living like this, moving from place to place, but if it’s real money you want to save, it is better to live on the road and break it up with a night or two on a site each week, or better, four or five days every couple of weeks.
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
I highly recommend anyone planning on living in a van to read it, if only to get a feeling for other peoples’ views of those who live in vans. Not that I think everyone assumes we must use plastic bags instead of a toilet but because she would not have made half as interesting a story had she been an eccentric old lady who lived in a house down the road. What was lovely was how well she was tolerated and even looked fondly upon by the local community.
I did buy some heels today by the way, and it was a bit harder than usual to get into the van whilst wearing them.
Monday, 28 June 2010
I like crushing stereotypes. Why should I look scruffy just because I live in a van? I have spent the past thirty years looking scruffy (with a brief interlude in my teens where I actually ironed my hair and wore makeup), so this seems like the perfect time to make an effort with my looks. I have even started brushing my hair on a daily basis. Tomorrow I might go shoe shopping.
Sunday, 27 June 2010
We both almost feel as though we are doing something shameful when we speak to certain people. Both of our bosses know where we live yet we try to avoid discussing it at work. Friends and family laugh at us. I’m not offended though. Life is an adventure and this is part of it. One thing I have learned is that I don’t want to live in a van for the rest of my days. This is not a new way of life.
Reg met a man in his sixties who spent three years living in a van but recently decided to get a contract on a flat. He absolutely hates it and I can understand why he would. But I am certain that when the time comes for us to live in a flat again I will be very happy. Like life, happiness is a delicate thing which can be destroyed in an instant by the repercussions of tiny changes. One minute you can be spouting off about how wonderful everything is and the next you are questioning it all. At least that’s how it is for me.
We went to a wedding yesterday (lovely ceremony and party Davey!) and where did I get myself ready? The gym changing room of course. And a very nice changing room it is too.
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
When things are difficult we tend to value them more. Showers, toilets, ovens…what wonderful inventions! We had a picnic in the park this evening with bread, cheese, smoked salmon, pasta salad and Kentish strawberries. This is the sort of food we tend to live on so a hot meal is a real treat. I wonder when my next one will be?
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Monday, 21 June 2010
Sunday, 20 June 2010
But having spent the weekend in and out of various family members’ houses, surrounded by things that have always around it was hard to come back to the van which contains none of life’s comforts. As always life is one big compromise.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
I am almost certain that I will never do this again, love it though I do. Of course, it would be different if we were to stay on sites all the time. Our current mission then is to find a local site or two that offer affordable accommodation. Most of them seem to allow stays of up to three weeks, so if we could move from one to the other we would not be breaking any laws or offending people…the search continues.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
“Unfortunately, your writing gives the impression that you are a pair of middle class individuals who look down on the people who have less than you, claim to eschew material possessions but are quite happy to buy overpriced delicatessen food (and tell the reader all about it), pay for gym memberships, go off to India for the entire winter and within days of going out on the road (well, off Madeira Drive) are considering buying a different van, whilst still feeling envious of those wealthier than you.
I've spent time living in a van. Certainly not some insanely priced behemoth, a birds eye pea green 1975 Commer camper van, to be precise. It led to some positively idyllic moments usually involving big surf and open fires (and quite a lot of old music brings it all back ). But it was only ever an extended, cheap, holiday. To pretend it was a socio-political statement and not a lifestyle choice, when I headed back to the great indoors within a fortnight of the first frosts (never mind India), would have been hypocritical”.
To be quite honest, I don’t have a problem in spending money on food (surely one of the greater pleasures in life) and gym membership (we are healthy living people and we cannot wok if we don’t shower) when we are saving money on rent and bills.
This life we have chosen has not been designed as any sort of statement. We are simply trying to live an interesting life while not spending too much money.
As human beings we are all judgmental. The only question is do we talk about our prejudices openly or do we lurk in the dark recesses of internet chat rooms waiting to launch attacks on posts we find controversial?
You can read the thread on: http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?p=33826919#post33826919
Monday, 14 June 2010
The Dalai Lama
Living without clutter has made me think about ‘stuff’ and its impact on our lives. Running a Google search on clutter I am overwhelmed by just how many sites and blogs there are dedicated to how to de-clutter our lives so it seems that I am not the only one who is bothered by ‘things’.
Having lived in east and west I am always shocked at the sheer amount of things people collect in the west and feel they cannot live without. I do not mean to preach. Everyone should be free to live how they choose but I cannot help but think that people are more able to appreciate things when they have less.
I do not want to romanticise poor nations. Everyone always wants more. I believe it is a human condition rather than a western one but it seems that the more we have the more we want, so perhaps it is better never to have that desire satiated in the first place?
All I know is that it is inexplicable how much I love van life. I thought that we would travel every weekend and spend every other night in a different place and that’s what I was looking forward to. But because of our gargantuan van we hardly ever move. It is the having nothing that I love.
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Friday, 11 June 2010
It is hard to say but people who live in vans seem to wash less frequently than most and spend their nights drinking heavily. I don’t mean to be judgemental. I have spent as much time off my face as any other Brit but it’s not something I’m interested in any more. And I don’t really care how often people wash, as long as I don’t live with them.
In Laos we briefly lived with a man who had not used soap in five years. He was proud of this fact and thought that people who bought soap were suckers. What were his reasons? Not that he was a peace-loving, soap-dodging hippy, but that he was miser and hated spending money on what he saw as useless items. He liked to think he smelled sweet and natural, but get too close to him on a tropical afternoon and you’d see that his greasy skin would exude a nasty wet dog smell reminiscent of a sweaty, windowless gymnasium.
But I digress. Honestly, I pride myself on being open minded and I will give anyone a chance, even if they do smell like a wet dog in the tropics. So, anyone who lives in a van in Brighton whose primary interest isn’t getting trashed please get in contact...I’d love to meet you.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
But the lows are harder. What don’t I like about my new life? Well, I know that I do not want to do it forever because I have dreams of having a garden in the countryside some day, but for the moment, there is nothing I don’t enjoy. Reg is another matter and I think his job has a lot to do with that. He bumped into a very good friend last week just as he was coming out of the van, and although she knew where we lived, he says he felt embarrassed.
Melanie wondered if that was because as a male he feels that he should be the provider. Perhaps all men have an inbuilt need to have that role but that is not the life for us and both of us believe that pride is a thing to be gotten rid of. So we are currently trying to find Reg’s pride, yank it out of him and stamp on it.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
The amount of amps a battery has means that it will take the same number of hours to charge when driving. So it will take 110 hours of driving to fully charge. Considering you can drive to Scotland in 12 hours, we will have to do a hell of a lot of moving around for that to work. The only other alternative is to get a charger for £150 which enables you to fully charge the battery in an hour on site.
I also asked about installing a skylight and apparently it is easy to do yourself. The prices range from small £60 ones to huge, take-over-the-whole-of-the-roof £450 ones. We have not come to a decision yet but it is good to know what our options are.
Monday, 7 June 2010
Van life suits me better than it does Reg. I have a part time job which I don’t have to look particularly smart for. The rest of the time I am a writer and I float through the streets as casually as I please. Reg on the other hand gets up early every weekday morning, goes to the gym to get a shower then puts on his trousers and shirt to do a ‘proper job’. I am guessing that most people who live in vans do not have proper jobs.
Sunday, 6 June 2010
Friday, 4 June 2010
I got my hair cut yesterday. I’ve known my hairdresser for about five years but I only see her sporadically. She is absolutely lovely but when I told her that I live in a van she went all high pitched. The tilt in her head said it all. She was thinking: I like you and I want to continue to like so we are not going to discuss the fact that you live in a van. She asked a couple of polite questions and that was that. Our friend came round yesterday evening and was full of praise. On his way out the door he gave me a big hug and said “Well done. Well done!”
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
That is not to say that people do not live in their vans full time. There is a Mexican/Spanish couple who have lived together in a tiny van for three solid years and I met a German man last week who spent three years in his van in Cornwall. He had gas heating and his van was not particularly well insulated. Still, he said that as long as it was only cold he was warm; if it was cold and windy it was not.
To be honest, it would make us miserable but that is just the way we are. Perhaps we are not the hardiest of folk. Or perhaps we were simply built for hotter places. Last year we lived in the tropics and I cycled around the city in 36 degree heat. I was hot, but it was amazing how my body adjusted. I used to shiver in 20 degrees. I am not sure that I would adjust that easily to minus temperatures.
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Monday, 31 May 2010
I love the inside of our van and it really feels like home but Reg has not grown to love driving it at all. The steering is super heavy and being such a large vehicle, it tends to offend certain people. And so we shall start the process again. But I don’t know whether it is best to buy a new one first, and risk not being able to sell the first (though living in Brighton we anticipate no problems) or selling this one and risk being homeless for some time or worse still, not finding another one that fits our criteria.
If only we could find somewhere permanent to park we would have no problems. This evening on a whim we followed some vague directions given to us by a friend of a friend who had seen some vans parked alongside the river in Lewes some time ago. It is a beautiful spot but one that is dominated by rich folk living in converted warehouses. Why should it be that only the rich are entitled to live in beautiful areas? I envisaged a small throng of loveable rogues who would welcome us into their community with welcome arms if only we would put up with their slightly peculiar politics but there was no band of merry men to be found. The dilemma continues.
Sunday, 30 May 2010
Friday, 28 May 2010
Living in a van means that you have to be more community spirited than usual. Things normally done behind closed doors need to be shared. I remember all those times I laughed at Asian people practicing Tai Chi and aerobics in crowded parks. But where else do they have to practice? Like me, a lot of them probably cannot stretch up into the air in their homes without banging into the ceiling. Of course, it is an Asian trait to shy away from solitary activities but I can understand that: it is strange exercising in a park alone. But maybe I just need to get over myself. Who cares if people laugh at me?
The library is my other haunt. Here I can charge up the battery on my laptop and of course borrow books so I don’t have to overload the van with things that I own. But why did I ever want to own books anyway? Books should be shared, not stuffed away on a dusty shelf!
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
It seems strange to think that less than two weeks ago I was worrying about selling my belongings. For ten days what belongings have I needed? A few changes of clothes, a couple of books, my laptop, my bike...It seems the less I have the less I worry and the less I need. I have been having lots of conversations about society norms with people this week and it is clear that I am not the only person to feel this way.
Monday, 24 May 2010
The sun was just going down and we played a game of frisbee by the water. I feel as though I have nothing left to worry about.
This morning we got up early and I packed everything away-badly. We could not stay by the lagoon as parking is only free on a Sunday. As Reg turned the van round, the plastic boxes containing food, pens, cutlery, and everything else we own came crashing down onto the floor. Our belongings really have to be crammed onto the shelf, otherwise they come loose. A better idea is just to place all the boxes on the floor when moving.
The other problem with moving is that the waste water starts swishing around in its container and it reeks like a public health problem. The first whiff of it brings back romantic memories of times spent in Greece and India but trying to sleep with that stench in the air is not easy. We are going to clean the container this week.
I cycled up to the gym but I didn't bother working out this morning. I sat in the sauna for a few minutes before showering, and came out of the gym tingling all over. I would never have dragged myself over to the gym for a sauna if I had a shower of my own but it is so worth it.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
We thought long and hard about buying a ‘project’ van-one that ran smoothly but needed to be customised to live in. We chose against it as we wanted to move in straight away, and knowing our DIY skills (minimal), it would just have sat on a road empty as the months ticked by.
A lot of people who stay on the seafront in Brighton have converted horseboxes to live in. They are beautiful and spacious but I suspect they must be cold in the winter. Most of them have been fitted with wood burning stoves which are lovely but probably invite more irritation from people who hate those who live in vans. They are hardly inconspicuous.
Ours is not inconspicuous either. It is big and it has windows:it is obviously built for people to live in. But it is the compromise between massive hippy van and subtle windowless white van.
The other main point to consider before buying a van-one which we completely ignored-is whether you are legally allowed to drive it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the law regarding large vehicles changed in 1995, so those who got their licence before then can pretty much drive anything, while those who passed after need to be more careful.
Our van cost £3850 and as of yet we have not had to tax it. It cost around £300 to insure it for a year. Since buying it, we have not had to fill up with diesel, but it does around 25 miles to the gallon. Converting it to run off chip oil is definitely something I would consider in the future but not this year and I have no idea of the costs. It would be pretty expensive I imagine.
There are a lot of converted vans on eBay and other seller sites, but it is important to have a look at the van before agreeing on a price. This advice was given to us by numerous people, and I believe it to be a sound recommendation. Photos can make conversions look incredibly well done, but it is important to check things like insulation and gas and electrical appliances, especially if you will be living in the van during the winter.
We currently have a three way cool box, which means it runs off electricity, gas or the battery. When parked on the road we leave the gas on, so the box is cool and we can use the stove. We have two thirty litre bottles in the back of the van which give us running water in the kitchen area and another bottle attached to the bottom of the van which collects the waste water.
We plan to check on to a caravan site every ten days or so to empty waste water, fill up with fresh water and charge our electrical appliances. This is the time to eat a good meal as there is plenty of water around for washing up.
We are considering buying either a generator or leisure battery. I would rather get a leisure battery which will cost around £150. It can be charged on the caravan site but in the future I would like to get a solar panel to charge it.
There are other costs to consider but they really depend on how you want to live. I still want a shower every day and to wear clean clothes. Gym membership costs around £35 per month and laundry costs around £8 per week for two people in a laundrette. Caravan sites cost between £16 and £20 per night. Because we choose not to cook very much, we spend slightly more money than we did before on deli foods but that it not a hardship for me. It just makes life more simple and beautiful. No washing up!
Having no electricity, for the past few days we have been to bed with the sun and got up early. It is a different way of living but one I like. I suppose it helps that I am a morning person. But last night we stayed out late, enjoying the heat wave that has just taken over in Brighton. It made me remember that England-and particularly Brighton-is the best place to be in the summer time. There is a festival atmosphere as people ditch their coats and jumpers and head to the beach and parks laden with picnic hampers, cans of beer and bottles of wine.
We sat in Preston Park with friends for hours. For years there were a lot of vans parked on the north end of Preston Park but the council recently put up a barrier so that high vehicles cannot get in. Now there are vans parked on the road outside the western end of the park, but it is on a steep hill and would be no good for sleeping.
In the evening I went to St Anne’s Wells Gardens to watch an outside performance of Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’. Brilliant. You hardly need any money to enjoy Brighton in the summertime. This park used to be good for parking vans too, but now there is only free parking on a Sunday. I am going to get up and go to the gym soon. Living in a van certainly forces you to keep fit.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
In the afternoon I went to work for the first time since being truly homeless. I stayed at work for twenty four hours because that is part of the job of a support worker (I do get to sleep in-between). When I left this afternoon it felt strange. Normally when I leave work I am in a hurry to get home. But now I have no home. I thought it would feel strange sitting in a van by the side of the road alone. So I went to the library to charge up my laptop and use the toilets.
But when I got to the van, life felt wonderful. Reg had moved it back to the seafront amongst the other vans so we blend in a bit. We ate food from the deli for dinner then went for a walk along the beach. It is on our doorstep and everyone seems happy in the sun. Life is good.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
We have more than enough storage space. It is the weight that is an issue. Obviously, the van is harder to drive and is less economical when it is heavy. It can take it though. It was an HGV until the previous owner removed a spring which changed its status. So, with this in mind, I am keeping the cheese grater and cake tin for now.
Today we checked onto a site again. The prices have gone up since last time and for one night we paid £20. If we were to pay that every night it would be more expensive than the rent we were paying before. But it was useful to come today as after moving our belongings into the van it seemed dusty and in need of a good clean. Running water is a wonderful thing. Here we can stock up on tap and drinking water, ready for the coming week.
We also joined a gym today so that we can have regular showers. I don’t think 60l of water would go very far if we were to start showering in it. Living in a van is not for the squeamish. The chemical toilet does have its downside. Obviously, it needs changing, which in itself is easy to do. But it means that when we are not on a site, we are driving around with up to ten litres of human waste sloshing around in the box. We are trying to use it for emergencies only, but who doesn’t need a waz first thing in the morning? And how can we command our bodies to be regimental in all thing faecal?
Monday, 17 May 2010
So it is our first night in the van. I’m sitting on the couch watching Reg cook baked beans, chorizo sausage and Marks and Spencer’s croquette potatoes. I laughed when I saw what he had bought and said “we are not going to only live on tinned food are we?” Luckily he agrees with me but I can see why it would be tempting: less washing up. Cooking is no problem. We have as many pots and pans as a normal householder would have. But I am scared of running out of water when we wash up. At the moment we have a water capacity of about 60l. So while we are on the road the less pans we use the better. Still, I am not going to live on tinned food.
Reg thinks we should get rid of the cheese grater and the cake tin. How can we make cakes and grate cheese without them? We have either sold or given away the vast majority of our stuff but when it comes to food I find it difficult. I might only make cakes once every few months, but when I do I need a cake tin.
We are parked on the sea road heading west out of Brighton. From here we can see the industrial area, but beyond it is the sea which is deep blue below the white of the sky. The road is busy and the speeding cars make the van sway as if we were on a boat.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
We have not sold everything. A few books and things-and our passports-have been packed up and stored at my parent’s house. I still have not decided what to do with the herbs and chillies that I have been growing. And the lavender. Is there room for it in the van or will it get destroyed whenever we move?
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
But people were pleasant, and we were hooked up to electricity, so we could enjoy our television, heater, radio and three way cool box. There were showers, toilets and washing facilities. But this caravan site is not the life we have chosen. This morning we set our alarms for 6am, saw in the shivery but sunny morning and moved out of our safe place. With icy breath we drove to Shoreham and found a new home by the sea. But how vulnerable we feel! And we have not yet packed all of our belongings into the van.
Last week we were issued a notice by Jenny Rowlands, Director of Environment. It said that by parking on the seafront we were contravening section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and that if we return within three months we may be liable to a fine ‘not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale’. What the hell does that mean? Google tells me it means £1000. My husband has spoken to a few other van dwellers who told him that this never happens: people are taken to court, asked to remove their van and that’s that. Do we want to risk that? I don’t want to be a criminal, I just want a simple life.
There were about fifty gypsy caravans parked up by the caravan site when we first arrived and we looked at them longingly, thinking: they’ve got a good life. Some of their children came up to us and pointed in the direction of their clan and said “those people are no good, are they?” in their rugged Irish accents. How strange it must be to grow up on the outside of a world, to know that the rest of the nation hates you. We reassured them: “some people are good and others are bad” said my husband. But when we saw what they had done to the land, we shook our heads with the rest of the world. They had left gas canisters and rubbish everywhere. A mangled bike lay in a bush and pieces of tatty wood and metal were strewn all over the meadow. The people who ran the site cheered when they left. But whose fault is it? The Caravan Sites Act, 1968 stated that local authorities must provide places for travellers to legally reside. Of course, that never happened and so those who live alternative lifestyles are shut out by society and have nowhere to live. Disrespect breeds disrespect. I can’t help but wonder if travellers would be quite so offensive if they were treated a bit better?
Monday, 10 May 2010
We are fed up with spending all of our income on rent and bills, shredding envelopes only as fast as bills shoot through the letterbox and making excuses to lull in solitude instead of being outside in beautiful nature. We are fed up with living this ordinary life which has been dictated to us by our elders and betters and which everybody seems to be striving for: sleep, work, eat, mong out in front of the television and then start again. We are fed up with the monotony of 'the great indoors' and are looking for a simpler, more natural existence.
And so we have bought a van. A big one which-it turns out-I am unable to drive as I passed my test after 1995 and it’s just too big. Luckily my husband can drive it because it looks like we will have to be moving on a pretty regular basis: people who live in vans may be more in numbers in Brighton than in other parts of the country but they (we) are still seen as adversaries of normal folk and reactions tend to be fairly negative.
In our optimistic innocence we thought that people would be happy for us, but reactions have ranged from: “You’ll be gypsies and gypsies are disrespectful of public land and they dump their rubbish on private property” (my parents) to dumb-founded questioning:”why do you want to live in a van?” (various friends). But our answers are simple: Maybe we don’t want to live in a van. We have never tried it so maybe we’ll hate it. But at least we have to give it a go. Think of the money we can save. Even better, think of the money we’ll never have to earn. We can lead simpler lives and meet interesting people. At least, that’s the plan.