what a difference a day makes

as the song goes…

We had a phonecall from Happily Bodging Mechanic (who I may now love enough to call the whole Wandering Wonderers shebang off for an go and marry him instead!) to say Willow is MOT’d and ready for collection. Bargain price of just £150 and we’re picking her up in the morning.

I’ve just been so fretful the last week or so that we would not have her back in time so it’s a huge relief.

A week from now we will both have had our last days at work, the house should be empty except for heavy furniture and we’ll be getting ready for a housefull of people for our ‘Bye Then’ party which local and not-so-local friends will be coming along to wave us off at.

So, Seven Day Plan needs to kick in to get us to that point:

  1. Saturday Get Willow here. Clean up my car inside and out ready to be used as Working Vehicle throughout next week. Clean up Willow inside and out ready to be used as Home for next year. Visit supermarket with a view to working out emergency rations of food to be kept in van. Work out wardrobe plans for Willow (shelves, stacking boxes?). Attend Goodbye Meal at friends house in the evening. Box some stuff up. 
  2. Sunday Spent time with parents. Go laptop shopping with Mum who wants to ensure she keeps abreast of our adventure online. Cook roast dinner using up final two joints of meat in the freezer. Box some more stuff up. Check with parents when stuff can start coming over to their house for storage.
  3. Monday attend local Home Ed nature reserve meet up in the morning. Make some phonecalls in the afternoon. Start using Mifi from Three as I think that is the day the internet access and landline stop working in the house. Box more stuff up.
  4. Tuesday email first few hosts to confirm dates, give contact details etc. Hopefully start moving boxes over to parents house. Attend last book group meeting in the evening for emotional farewell to book group friends.
  5. Wednesday more moving boxes to parents house, party planning and preparation.
  6. Thursday  my last day at work. Spent time putting last books back on shelf, issuing last books to last borrowers, having last tea breaks with last colleagues. Will wear waterproof mascara. In the evening have my leaving meal with colleagues. Top up waterproof mascara.
  7. Friday Ady’s last day, will pass him the waterproof mascara before he goes off to work. Finish any party prep and get empty house ready for guests.

So, that’ll be boxing mostly, while wearing waterproof mascara, which I may have already put in a box somewhere…

Swoosh rattle

Did you hear that? It’s the sound of February hurtling past us.

Today was something of a Day of Days in that we finally were reunited with Willow. Not for long, but it was tender and emotional just the same. We collected her from DMM, paid the very reasonable (I suspect he knocked at least £50 quid off in a combined ‘sorry I was shit about getting it done / sorry you are mental enough to think that will get you past Hampshire, let alone all around the country’ discount) amount he asked for in return for a new battery and a key operated switch so we can jump start it. He had left the passenger window open though so that seat is sodden (maybe there was a bit of ‘sorry you’ll get a wet arse’ discount in there too.). Ady drove it along to HBM and the kids and I followed behind

I’ve never really looked at the back of the van and certainly never driven behind it so it was pretty exciting watching her go. The kids and I were in very high spirits and Ady said he’d really enjoyed driving her, both from a ‘hurrah we’ll be off soon’ point of view and I suspect because she actually started and went and felt reliable. Even in very heavy rain.

HBM *promised* to have her bodged sufficiently to get an MOT and back to us by next Wednesday which gives us a whole week to pack her up, give her a good clean inside and out and spend time stroking her and being glad she is back.

In other news we have a van hired to move furniture booked for the week after next, much of the house is boxed up and we have plans to get more done over the weekend and I really enjoyed taking a phonecall from Sky TV this afternoon asking why we have cancelled our subscription and replying that we won’t have a TV so we really won’t be needing Sky. This week’s top well wishers and ‘I wish I could do something like that’ are our dentist, the bloke at Sky TV customer services and a little old lady at the library who invited me to come along to their pensioners reading group as a guest to one of their meetings and when I told her why I couldn’t agreed our adventure did sound rather more fun that debating The Grapes of Wrath!

We’re all really enjoying watching One Man & His Campervan which I know has had some rough reviews but simply couldn’t be more timely for us. A bloke *loving* campervan living and foraging or buying local to feed himself using basic cooking facilities and seeing fab places around the UK.

Two weeks to go

Two weeks from now we will have left our house. Three weeks from now we hope to be somewhere in Dorset or Devon, enjoying the early onset of Spring and sleeping in our van. Four weeks from now we’ll be sleeping in a tent at our first host.

Today was another ‘last’ at work for me, my last Wednesday shift. I have two shifts left at work. I told a couple of the regular customers today – both retired women well into their senior years and got resounding positive responses from both. I do sometimes wonder if the older generation look at my age group and wonder just where all our adventurous spirit has gone, hopefully we’re reassuring them it’s still there if a bit hidden under worrying about pension plans and plasma TVs.

A neighbour also came knocking on the door for a nosey chat too and was also very encouraging and supportive, telling me that her and her husband have a series of virtual boxes that they like to think they will tick all of before they die and aim to tick at least three or four per year. Ady and I both chatted to a very dear friend on the phone tonight too (waves at Rob) who was also full of the sort of positive encouragement it’s nice to hear.

But let’s have some ‘firsts’ shall we? Today I had my first real life conversation with one of our hosts. The place we will be staying at second. The host rang to confirm and to just tighten up plans, introduce herself with a real voice and say she is looking forward to meeting us all. There will be another family (with four kids) staying there the same time as us and she has loads planned to keep us all busy and give us a real flavour of what the lifestyle involves. It felt really exciting and very real to be actually talking to someone. We have had another couple of yes replies from hosts in Zone 3 and are now as booked up as we need to be, which is a great feeling.

Willow will be very briefly in our hands again tomorrow too as we are picking her up from Doom Monger Mechanic who is thankfully charging us a very reasonable rate indeed for the battery and some leads to make jump starting easier (the battery is in a *very* inaccesssible place, only really get-able to from inside the van, he’s fitting some leads with a key operated switch meaning we can jump start the van from the outside if the need should arise. We have a really good charge-holding power pack with jump leads which should mean we have a first line of defence against unreliable older engines, with decent breakdown cover being our second line of defence. I’m not thinking too hard about a third – I suspect it will resort to chocolate, alcohol, sobbing and quite probably ringing my Dad to come and bring us all home again because we’ve had enough! Let’s hope we never reach the third line of defense… So we’ll be collecting her, finally, and then taking her straight to Happy Bodger Mechanic who assured me on the phone today he could pug the manifold and get it through an MOT *and* have it back to me for next Wednesday. It’s tight, it’ll cost money and it will mean we have just one week with Willow to get her packed up and ready to go but it’s doable. A big characteristic of this whole adventure is the fairly small margin for error. We’re on a tight budget, travelling in a van which is well into advanced years while we are not far behind ourselves but hope, optimism, sheer bloody mindedness, a huge support network of friends wishing us well is enough to propel us at least halfway round the country and I reckon the van is up to the other half at least.

Contingency Planning

We do have concerns about whether the van is going to be up to the starting block on time. I don’t doubt the old girl’s ability to get us round, in small, gently coaxed increments but it seems the forgone conclusion of an MOT certificate isn’t quite so forgone. I’m hoping this is Doom Mongering Mechanic rather than a true fact and keeping fingers firmly crossed that once we get Willow back from DMM we can pass her along to Happily Bodging Mechanic and he will get it through and sorted. My car once ‘barely scraped through’ an MOT with a recommendation of about £400 worth of ‘urgent work’ needing doing on the exhaust. I decided as we didn’t have £400 I’d drive it til it actually stopped me from doing so and find the money then. To date (and this MOT was about 5 years ago) I’ve still not had that work done and it’s sailed through all subsequent MOTs. I’m rather hoping this is the same sort of scenario.

But, I like to have a Worst Case Scenaio Solution so have been looking at Zone One hosts and coming up with a plan to ensure we can still head off, vacate our house and start on schedule if we are not able to get Willow ready in time. Our very first host is 2 weeks in a tent (yes, a tent. In March), following that we have two weeks split between three farms where there is possibly room for us in the house anyway but if not certainly room for a tent, then we’re at a campsite so def tent space if not room in their pretty big house. This means we do have time to get the van properly sorted left in the care of my Dad while heading off in my car instead which is now running really well, MOTd for a full year and still taxed til June. The car is very big, it’d be a squash but we could even all squidge up and sleep in it at a push, certainly with enough storage space to take tents, sleeping mats and bags and the clothes we’d need. At those hosts we’d not need the cooking facilities etc that the van provides anyway so a car would make no difference.

I have my fingers very firmly crossed that DMM gets the van back, not too expensively dealt with in the next day or two and HBM gets it fully sorted in plenty of time for not a lot more money too. But if not, we have WCSS there in the wings waiting, like a rather grubby white people carrier of an understudy.

Bad, good, learnt today

 Every year in January Ady, Dragon, Star and I sit down and make a list of the things we’d like to learn, achieve, see, experience, visit in the coming year. Although we Home Educate we don’t follow a curriculum or have a structured approach to education, viewing our role as facilitators rather than instructors, cheerleaders rather than coaches, fellow learners rather than teachers. It’s true I seek out things I think will interest Dragon and Star, introduce them to ideas or concepts, arrange visits to places I think will inspire them but it is very much a partnership with them asking questions and me helping them find the answers rather than something driven by me. This sitting down together talking about hopes and dreams and plans for the year ahead is a really valuable exercise for us and one we replicate to a lesser degreee throughout the year with regular conversations about how life is going. The whole Wondering Wanderers Adventure has been talked through in this way over many hours in the last nine months.

Last year for a while we did an exercise where all four of us would share something new we had learnt today with the others. These nuggets ranged from interesting factoids to startling new discoveries. Sometimes they were more ‘life lessons’ than trivia but it was an interesting exercise that we all enjoyed. Somewhere along the line life got in the way and the ‘what I learnt today’ sharing got forgotten but one of the suggestions Dragon made when we sat down this January of things he’d like to do this year was to reinstate it. I added to that with a Good and Bad thing too. I’d read a book recently which talked about sharing one good thing and one bad thing about the day with the rest of the family at dinnertime each day and I really liked the idea. I like the focussing on the positives, sharing the negatives and the realising that in every day when you summarise it there are good and bad bits. So for the last month or so we’ve been sharing a ‘Bad, Good, Learnt today’ chat before bedtime. I do record what we all say on a private blog and they are interesting to read back over.

Anyway in the same spirit of Bad, Good, Learnt today here is an update as we hurtle ever closer to Leaving Day.

Bad: Willow is still at the garage. Apparently a part is needed for the exhaust manifold. A part that is no longer made so will need to be sourced second hand and doesn’t appear to be available anywhere. The mechanic has had the van now for over 2 weeks and I went from congratulating myself for getting it packd off there nice and early with 5 weeks still to go before we head off to panicking madly that it won’t be ready to go in time. I want it back parked on our drive, MOT’d and ready to start packing stuff into. Instead I’ve been ringing the mechanic every couple of days for updates and getting nothing other than ‘nothing to report’ responses. Ady has now been along and talked to him and he’s doing a couple of minor other things and getting the van back to us. Un-MOT’d and without the manifold done. We have another mechanic (who serviced it for us back last year) in mind to see if he can get it through an MOT and sort the manifold out but I am really very twitchy about it all being ready in time. We’d not really reserved any funds for the van before we go either, so that will be coming out of the ‘contingency fund’ we were hoping to keep more or less intact for emergencies along the way.

We are finding it tear jerking saying goodbye to family and local friends, knowing that seasons will have passed, life will have moved on, everyone will have had birthdays and other special occassions while we’re away.

Good: Everything else really I guess! 🙂
We are getting such touching and supporting emails, texts, phonecalls, facebook messages and things said to us by friends, colleagues and people we know. It’s so lovely to know we have people encouraging us and cheering us on, it really does mean the world to us.
The tenants are all still on track to move in, their references, credit checks and other paperwork is all coming back satisfactorily, the TO LET board outside the house has been changed to a SORRY, IT’S LET board and the agent is drawing up the tenancy agreement. They want to keep some of our appliances and the chickens which means we don’t need to rehome them.
We are kitted out with waterproofs, thermals, boots, warm socks and other such essentials. Three have supplied us with a MiFi to try out (which I will blog more about once we’re actually using it) so we’ve got our internet access in hand for the beginning of the journey.
We have pretty much filled our three zones with willing hosts. We have the odd week here and there empty which was always our intention so we have some flexibility built in to change plans or stay longer in some places, to take some down time and find a campsite or even pick up some casual farm or fruit picking work to boost our finances a bit if required. we have had some overwhelmingly positive responses from some hosts and we are so excited at the prospect of meeting people who we already feel a connection with having exchanged a few emails.
We’ve made great headway packing everything up. The house is starting to get put into boxes. With the exception of a couple of things still to be listed on ebay I think we have gotten rid of everything that isn’t about to be boxed up or put into the van.

Learnt: I’m sure we’ve learnt loads already. I know my UK geography is already massively improved just by all that plotting on maps, trying to coordinate a route and book in with hosts. We’ve not learnt but have certainly experienced mass decluttering, carboot sales, living with less, letting go of the ‘stuff’ and working through what we actually really need and how little that is. I know the list of ‘good and bad’ will grow and grow throughout the coming year but I reckon the biggest list by far will be the ‘learnt’. I’m hoping that the phrase ‘live and learn’ will be an equal ratio of massively enhanced learning via massively enhanced living.

Further wibbling

Yesterday we had a reply from one of the potential zone three hosts we’d contacted which was cloaked as a sort of ‘we have these concerns, can you let us know what you think’ type response but I suspect was actually an excuse to rant a bit at us. Maybe they’d had a bad experience in the past with WWOOFers. Their concerns were quite how we’d earn our keep with two children in tow and how much of a liability the children would be. This is of course something we have considered and talked about between the four of us. We know of one other family who have done UK WWOOFing with children before and another family about to set off. Within the listing of hosts there is a tick box to say whether or not you welcome children by arrangement.

One of the chief reasons we have got the campervan is because we know putting up a family of four is a big ask, in places where they are able to host us in the house that is great but often we will be sleeping in the van so all we really need is access to a bathroom, water and electric if possible (minimal use required, just charging phone / laptop / batteries) and food. The children will of course need supervising but that will be done by us, we appreciate it may limit the tasks Ady and I are able to complete if we need to have a child alongside us but they are not toddlers, or unused to that environment.

I did respond to the email and have since had a reply back to say they can’t host us, which is probably just as well as I think we’d all been put off them anyway but it was such a contrast to the usual replies we’ve had from potential hosts. Reading around the WWOOF forum I have seen talk of hosts who do not adhere to the ethos of WWOOF and are out to get cheap labour for commercial operations. I had thought we would avoid any such places by virtue of not looking an attractive option but I suspect this was one such place where we simply wouldn’t be able to work enough hours per day to pay for the couple of quid it would take to feed us. I know you can feed four people easily for a tenner a day which is pretty cheap for the work of two adults…

Fortunately I did get two, possibly three yes replies from Zone three (the possible yes is that they can’t do the dates we were asking about but may be able to do others so I have emailed them some po. ssible other dates). Plus I am less worried about filling that final zone right now as we are still 6 months plus away from it so know a lot can change between now and then and any booked hosts will be provisional really. We are renewing our WWOOF membership and getting a paper copy of the directory too so will have phone numbers of hosts we can ring along the way to make arrangements as we go.

The second wibble is regarding Willow. I chased the mechanic today and he has had an initial look at her and gave me a long long list of things wrong with her. We talked it back down to a way shorter list needing to be done to get the MOT done (which actually doesn’t run out til May anyway but we wanted to have it done before we go so we don’t need to think about it during the year). He agreed that things like a minor oil leak can probably be dealt with by carrying oil and checking it regularly. There is clearly a balance between ensuring it is roadworthy, safe and reliable enough to get us round and chucking all our available funds at it. I think we’ll go for bare minimum, good breakdown cover and learning as we go, hopefully from some hosts who will be mechanically minded anyway.

Ady will fret about this, poor Dragon had a nightmare last night that we’d gone to the host I mentioned earlier and they’d been really mean to us making us sleep on beds made of mud and eat cat fur ridden meals. Fortunately between the four of us we pretty much strike a balance of the crazy risk taker with a live for today attitude and an airy ‘everything’ll be okay’ view of the future, a sunny natured ‘isn’t life BRILLIANT?!’ optimist, an awake at night fretting over things which probably will never even happen worrier and a cautious, ‘it’s all in the details’ thinker. I think between the four of us we manage to laugh in the face of adversity while still having a healthy respect for the chance of the whole thing crashing round our ears!

Off to research breakdown cover…