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

"They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn..."

Jack Kerouac

Thursday, 29 July 2010


After we got our ‘section 77’ (the piece of paper left on our windscreen telling us to move or face a fine), we moved immediately and have not been back to that spot. But having met other van dwellers we have learned that everyone gets them at times and it’s just a game between the council and travellers.

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

One for Sorrow

For the past week or so we have been staying in Stanmer Park and what a beautiful space to have as a back garden! There is a scruffy magpie that lives amongst the travellers and seems to be an outcast in the bird world. According to the RSPB magpies gather in flocks when not breeding but this one prefers to gather with people.

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


People who live in vans come from all walks of life but they seem to have one thing in common: everyone is open. Both Reg and I have spent years travelling and living abroad and the two main reasons we love Asian countries are that people there are friendly and they spend a lot of time outdoors. Now finally we have found a community like that in our own country.

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

A Small Digression

The sky has been just stunning for what seems like weeks. Every day at around 8.30 pm the clouds scatter while the sun is low in the sky. But I have been wondering whether or not that’s normal for this time of year? I wouldn’t know because when I lived in a flat I didn’t spend my evenings looking out of the window like I do now. I might go down to the beach a couple of evenings a week, but now I am almost living outside.

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


For the past ten days or so we have been parked in a beautiful spot at the bottom of Wilson Avenue. Our back garden is a vast green which heralds the beginning of Brighton’s new national park and from here you can stroll up into the Sussex Downs or down to the marina in a matter of minutes. We have been parked on the quiet road which leads to the campsite, surrounded by other van, car and tent dwellers but unfortunately we have been evicted.

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

How My Hubby Has Changed

The thing I have been most surprised about by van life is how organised Reg has become. I’ve always been organised (and one of those annoying morning people), so that’s probably why I adjusted so easily, but Reg is has always been chaotic and unsystematic in everything he did.

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

How Others Do It

I have just found a site called cheapliving.com which runs through some important points for van dwellers to consider.

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

The Earl of Sandwhich

We were somewhat disappointed at the lack of pride amongst sandwich residents. John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich invented the humble sarnie back in 1762 when he was so hooked on gambling his fortune he had no time to stop for lunch. He ordered his dinner be brought to him between slices of bread to prevent his fingers from becoming greasy and damaging the playing cards.

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


We’ve finally brought the van far away from Brighton to Sandwich in Kent. It took a long time to go up hills (15 miles per hour in some places), but once on the motorway she ran like a dream. We even overtook vehicles on the way.

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

Top Six Cheap but Delicious Eateries in Brighton and Hove

Living in a van we tend to eat out a lot but we still balk at paying exuberant prices for flavour-less cuisine with little nutritional value. In lots of towns around the country finding a place to eat that is both cheap, delicious and nutritious is a near impossible task but Brighton is crammed with little gems if you know where to look.

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

Campsite Bliss

Having spent the past few days on a campsite we are tempted to live on one permanently. It makes such a difference waking up to the sound of birds singing instead of noisy traffic, stepping out onto soft grass instead of being shaken from our bed by the movement of trucks and being able to barbeque and switch on lights in the evening.

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.