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

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Home and Dry

After four near-sleepless nights in northern France we returned to Brighton late last night, worried that our lovely home may be flooded. But luckily it is dry and cosy. The tar sealant has done its job although the sealant tape fell off the ceiling under its own weight.

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

Drip Drip

I was knocking at the neighbours’ doors at eight o clock this morning looking for some help. After a torrential downpour all night we had woken up to the comforting sound of water falling on water. I realised there was a hole in the roof and the water was on the floor. The ceiling had bubbled, and touching it only poured out the reservoir of water from the ceiling to the floor.

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

Pavement Furniture

When driving a tall vehicle, remember to think about the top as well as the bottom. I recently tried to park up by the King Alfred on the seafront. I tried to mount the kerb to straighten up, but forgot that there is a big shelter right on the side of the pavement, so crunched the top of the van right into it. Oops! Luckily I didn’t put a hole in it, but why do they put pavement furniture so close to the kerb?

Sunday, 15 August 2010


I have just spent 15 minutes trying to cram my bike into the back of a Ford Focus. I pushed the two back seats down, yanked the front passenger seat as far forward as it would go, and still it took a lot of pulling, pushing and sweating before I could close the boot. I was parked on a residential street and as I worked, a woman scraped paint from an upstairs window above me, several dog walkers strolled by and a man opened his door to let out a guest, and then shut it silently.

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

The Council

I recently emailed Caroline Lucus, Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP, to ask about her stance on van dwellers in Brighton. She replied that she would like to see ‘local authorities establish permanent and properly resourced areas for travellers, including van dwellers. She believes that councils should be supported to do so by central government as ‘this is the best way to balance the concerns of permanent local residents with the rights of travellers’.

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

Traveller Strategy

In the council’s Traveller Strategy,they prioritise the investigation of ‘reports of anti-social or illegal behaviour’, but this does not seem to be a problem in the New Traveller communities I have come across. As I have said before, the New Travellers community seems to me to be instilled with the decent morals that have been lost in modern city living. I lived in flats for six years around Brighton, and I cannot recall a morning when I conversed with three neighbours on my way to work but that is exactly what happens when you live in a van.

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

Down by the Sea

We have spent a few days on the seafront, by the King Alfred. Luckily our flat used to be in the N parking zone, meaning that we were able to buy 40 or 50 visitor permits at £2 each. They last a day each and mean that we are able to park on the seafront without a problem.

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

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I met up with a friend of mine today who said that acquaintances of hers used to own a house overlooking Preston Park, but they sold it as they got fed up “looking at people getting dressed in the morning without shutting their curtains”. She was talking about people living in vans along the edge of the park and said that “there is a time and a place for hanging out your laundry”.

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 am kitting the whole van out in homemade curtains but as I have no sewing machine I’m doing the whole lot by hand. It’s actually a very relaxing pastime and I reckon another four hour’s work should do it. I have never made curtains in my life, never mind hand-stitched ones but it’s a rewarding job. I can’t wait to finish work every day so I can rush home and get stitching.

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

We Have Downsized

We did it. We bought a much smaller van that will be easier to drive and will fit in more spaces. It was sad to say goodbye to our lovely big van but our new one feels like home already. I have spent the past few days painting inside and making curtains, while Reg is focussing on cleaning up the outside. She needs a bit of work, but at £600 we got a real bargain.

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.