4

Briefly Homeless

See that? Willow – our home, our bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, lounge, our vehicle, our shelter, pretty much our everything in terms of material possessions up there on a ramp about to have all her wheels taken off. This was where Willow spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday night. We on the other hand, by virtue of…
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4

Willow

We’ve done close to 1000 miles since we left home 3 months ago, some short and some long journey along the way.

We’ve slept in Willow for about two thirds of the time and cooked and properly lived in her for several weeks, sometimes plugged in to hook up electricity, sometimes ‘off grid’.

Internally she is showing some signs off wear and tear from this level of use now. Little things, which can be repaired or replaced but are giving her a slightly tatty and lived in feel; stuff like edging strips coming off the worktops, the material on the seat wearing and fraying and some of the curtains missing hooks. We are all conscious of looking after her but it’s a pretty small space for four people to live in so it was inevitable that we would have an impact on the rather pristine condition she was in when we started out.

Mechanically we have had some iffy moments. We knew she dropped oil but some sealant seems to have fixed that. She is however dropping automatic transmission fluid at a rather scary rate. We did call out a mobile mechanic at one of the hosts we were at as she was really struggling with hills and seemed to not be changing gears properly (Willow is an automatic but you can hear the gear changes when they happen). He checked the ATF and it was all but empty so he filled that up and just charged us for the oil. We were quite happy to be patronised by a mechanic thinking we were idiots for £30 and a fixed van!

She has been playing up again though and although we keep topping it up it keeps coming back out so we have been debating some sort of action plan. We do have breakdown cover so will not find ourselves in trouble in an emergency situation but we don’t have huge funds for repair work and so are debating the pros and cons of just spending a fiver every hundred miles or so to top the fluid up or getting it looked at properly. Today we got some stuff which claims to seal holes so we will give that a go and try and press on. I remain hopeful that at some point along our journey we may well find someone who is knowledgable enough about engines to help us out with it in exchange for some work or help and feel that part of this adventure is seeing whether Willow can do it against all odds.

We also have a second issue of the fan not working. It is a design that works in some sort of oil filled manner and it is broken. The mechanic we called out confirmed this and said we’d need to get one from a scrapyard and could probably fit it ourselves. It means that on a normal run it is fine because the air flowing as we drive along keeps it all cool but if we hit traffic or a hill which she needs to take slowly the engine starts to overheat, so we are getting through quite a bit of coolant / anti freeze too. Again I suspect calling in the proper people to do the job (whatever the mechanic might think I suspect the changing of a fan is beyond us without supervision) may well cost more than Willow is worth and will inevitably leave us homeless for at least one night so I am keeping my fingers crossed we end up somewhere with a broken down vehicle with a compatible fan kicking about that we are able to buy cheaply or swap something for.

For me this all adds to the drama and adventure of our year, for Ady it is often the cause of sleepless nights but I figure if one of us is fretting and convinced it will go wrong any moment while the other one is airy and nochalent and remains sure it will all work out okay in the end at least one of us will be right. If it’s Ady he gets the satisfaction of ‘I told you so’ and I get to shrug and be in charge of working out what we do next. If I’m right we all win as it’s the best result.

Place your bets!

3

Story so far…

 We’ve done five weeks of WWOOFing, nearly seven weeks away from the house and totted up over 400 miles so far so we’ve been chatting about how we’re finding it. I think we’ve all hit a wall here and there, had moments of loving it and moments of wanting to click our fingers and make it stop. We’ve all learnt loads and made an excellent start to achieving some of our list of aims and objectives for the adventure.

We have had a pretty diverse mix of host in just the first three – slept in a tent, in Willow and in a cottage. We’ve had time living communally, time left to our own devices and times spent mixing the two. Work has been varied, expectations have been different and we have met the biggest mix of people from the most amazing variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Unexpected advantages have been Ady and I enjoying working together so much, I miss the kids being off doing their own thing so much but I don’t remember the last time Ady and I had so much child-free time together, even if we are technically working. Not having as much time with the children as usual for me has been tough, in our previous life we were together most days, all day, often doing our own thing around the house or garden it’s true but always with time cuddled up together watching half an hour of TV, reading a book, chatting about something or finding out answers to their questions together. I’ve missed that and they tell me they have too, I’m keen to find time to make sure that has been a temporary blip rather than a long term casualty of the year. We are definitely on the way to a fitter and healthier lifestyle – again this past two weeks have been a slight blip but even so we are eating and drinking far less and spending far more time outside, being active. I think regular swims and walks more than made up for the less physical work anyway.

We’ve learnt lots about nature – we’ve seen buzzards, sparrowhawks, otter, deer and various other wildlife, spent time with dogs, pigs, chickens, sheep, ponies, goats as farm animals and learnt about feeding and keeping them. We’ve sampled local delights including eggs and sausages from places we’ve stayed, local wine, cider, beer, cheese, ice cream, butter and so on. We’ve experienced an extreme off grid lifestyle, done tent dwelling in heavy frosts, lived in the van without hook up, seen some beautiful sights, some stunning scenery and above all met some amazing, inspirational and interesting people.

It’s been a fabulous start to our adventure, everything we hoped for and more really. We’re starting to anticipate what might be potential issues and discuss how we will deal with them as and when they might arise, getting a real flavour of what our year might bring at the same time learning that unexpected twists and turns to our careful planning are around every corner, along with new opportunities and unforeseen offers. We need to be flexible, subject to change and ready to roll with whatever comes along. These are great lessons to learn, a fab code for living and teaching all four of us so much about ourselves, each other and all the other people we meet.

Dragon:
I was expecting to only stay on farms, I was expecting to stick to our planned hosts rather than get invited to stay with people we only just met. I thought living in Willow would have been harder than it is. I’m not missing electricity as much as I thought I would, not missing a real bed, I probably sleep better in Willow than my bed at home. I’m having lots of fun, I feel healthier and think I sleep better. Before we left I thought I’d miss our house so much but I don’t miss it at all. I am missing friends who live near us – Toby, Archie, Eliot, Jack, Maisie & Lorna and Granny & Grandad. I am missing friends who are far away but can’t wait to see them while we’re travelling. I love the fact that before we go to each host I am never sure what they will be like or what that part of the country will be like and so every time it is new and exciting, not like at home when all our days out were to places we had been before.

Star:
I was expecting us to have to work or we wouldn’t get fed and there to be lots of rules and do as we were told even if we didn’t know how to but it hasn’t been like that at all. I really miss the chickens, ducks and our house but I am loving the freedom to run around, play in woods, going for adventures with dogs, goats. I like living in Willow because I like the fact everything is all here like our beds and the sofa. I like spending more time with Mummy and Daddy.

Ady:
So far I am finding the adventure far easier than I thought I would. Living in the van, travelling in the van and the work were all things I was worrying about but so far they have all gone really smoothly and far easier than I expected. The variety of people we are meeting, the generosity of people we meet is overwhelming and I never realised people could be so kind. I struggle with moving on from place to place, I get really at home and find it hard to say goodbye and move on. I like the work, being physical and outdoors.

8

Paddington Farm Trust

We have finished at host number two, Paddington Farm Trust, near Glastonbury, Somerset.

It’s been a really interesting week, a huge contrast to our first host and an education in all sorts of ways.

I’ve already talked a little about the work in the previous post, along with pictures so this is an overview of the week rather than more of that.

We spent our time there feeding animals and doing general animal care including trimming sheeps and goats hooves, dusting the pigs ears and the chickens bellies for mites, walking the goat twice a day back and forth from field to yard, did some brash clearing, some burning rubbish, took some fencing down, put some fencing up, cleaned the feed shed, lit a pizza oven, moved some chickens from one area to another, drove the tractor around and got a really good overview of how the farm works.

We spent loads of time talking to people; M&T the farm managers who gave us an insight into how working for a trust and managing a farmland works, some of the other long term volunteers including a couple of foreign men who had stories to tell of other farms around the world they have stayed at, an ex traveller who is a whizz at green woodworking, a retired engineer who maintains the machinery, the teachers accompanying various special needs children including teens with behavioural, attitudinal and learning difficulties, a selective mute boy, autistic children and other special needs, the people at the food co operative that M&T are also involved in running locally and the other residents of the farm who run an organic fruit and veg growing business. We spent time talking to a man pruning apple trees in the orchards and all sorts of other visitors to the farm from weekend guests, nearby neighbours and ramblers taking the footpath through the farm.

We spent a fair bit of time in Glastonbury itself, a mere 20 minute walk away which has been an interesting experience as it’s unlike any other place we’ve ever been to. There is lots to love with a laid back air, plenty of spiritual stuff, lots of people hugging and being all peaceful but also plenty to cast a cynical eye at particularly if like us you are less comfortable around casual drug use and not quite so into crystal healing and the smell of joss sticks! It’s way before my time but this is what I imagine living in the sixties would have been like…

We’ll stay in touch with our hosts, it was a great place to spend a week, a chilled out experience after the full on living of the previous two weeks. Our first impressions were not great; the kids got involved in playing with a rather wild child who turned violent with them both which is simply not something they are used to so they were shaken and disturbed by that, we lived in the van without hookup so all evenings were torchlit and although we were given free rein to help ourselves to anything in the kitchen it felt too strange to go and help ourselves so we ended up buying most of our own food for the week which put rather a strain on our budget. But on balance we gained loads of new skills, new experiences and made some contacts that will hopefully prove useful in the future.

Finishing with bad, good and learnt at Paddington Farm:
Ady    
Bad – less direction than the previous host in terms of what we were expected to do… but…
Good – the freedom of directing our own workload
Learnt – don’t panic, give things a second chance.

Dragon 

Bad – it didn’t feel like I thought WWOOFing would be because we spent so much time just the four of us rather than working alongside hosts and learning from them and eating with them at mealtimes.
Good – spending time with the animals on the farm
Learnt – that goats can’t eat rhubarb, that mutton is ‘old sheep’ meat, about fighting cockerels (the resident cockerel is that sort of breed) how fun tractor driving is

Star
Bad – being hurt on the first night by a visiting child
Good – all the animals on the farm
Learnt – various things about animals including a first sign of an unhappy sheep is droopy ears.

Nic
Bad – a more expensive week as we spent money topping up food supplies
Good – diverse environment for learning – lots of different aspects
Learnt – about animals hooves, that there are jobs managing farms, how to drive a tractor


This post was bought to you using a Mifi from three

4

It’s a great day to start an adventure

So we survived our first night in the van 🙂

It was cosy, warm, comfortable and already feels like home :). I stirred a couple of times in the night – once for another visit to the portapotty (curse that tea!) and at least once just to revel in the fact I was asleep in my campervan :).

Dragon and Star slept well up in their bunk and we all properly stirred just before 8am and it just felt lovely to open the van curtains and see the world outside while still being snuggled inside my sleeping bag.

We’ve already shed a few things – the spare blankets and sleeping bags have gone back into my car which we have with us until the weekend when it will go into storage complete with anything stashed inside it. We’re getting used to the idea of living in different  spaces – the kids bunk is effectively a storage space during the day and the cab becomes the storage space during the evening / night time.

After a lovely day with family we headed just a mile or two along the road to stay with friends. Dragon and Star’s very close friends (and ours too) who live a similar sort of lifestyle to the one we hanker after ; growing their own food and being very much part of the local community. Dragon and Star instantly headed off with their boys and infact are sleeping in the house with them tonight while Ady and I have the van to ourselves. C & B came in the van with us and toasted adventuring with wine and crisps around the little table inside Willow.

Tomorrow we get a taste of WWOOFing joining in with our friends’ Volunteer work day where local people come along and join in with growing in exchange for a share of the eventual produce.

Today the sun has shone, we have been outside in T shirts, shared food and stories with friends and family and particularly for Ady the first steps towards being free with no schedule, no time keeping and no pressure have begun. As first day of the rest of your lives go it’s been a pretty good one.


This blog post is brought to you by Three who are supplying our internet access by way of a MiFi

2

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.