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.