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…

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…

Wibbly heap ahoy!

You were warned!

I think we did most of last weeks job list along with some of this weeks too. The garage and garden wall have been painted and I’ve contacted all the Zone three hosts. The kids have waterproof coats, thermals, decent boots and waterproof trousers. I have my years supply of contact lenses. The van is still at the garage and we’ve given notice to anyone who needs it about our impending departure.

Our plan is to start boxing the house up now, storing the boxes in our playroom and then moving them into storage the week before we go. Once we get the van back we will start filling it with stuff coming with us. On our final weekend we should just have beds, sofas and other too large to fit into a car left in the house. We have friends staying for our Bye Then party and then 2 full days left (we’ll have both finished work) to fully clean the house, hire a van to move the last heavy / large things into storage before locking the door behind us and dropping the keys off with the letting agent.

Lots of people are asking how we’re feeling now it is all so real and imminent and the answer is ‘excited and scared in about equal measures’.

Excited because this is something we so want to do and have been planning for months, it’s a relief it is finally here, it’s been quite a logistical event to pull off and I’m personally quite proud of making it all happen. What felt like a mammoth task ahead with lots of scary variables has indeed proved possible to get this far in. I’m excited to be on the brink of what I think will be a life changing event and catalyst for all sorts of things in the future of all four of us aswell as looking forward to the year for it’s own sake – spending time together, meeting some very interesting new people, living with less stuff, getting fitter and healthier, having an adventure and creating a story to tell for when we’re old and grey bouncing grandchildren on our knees.

Scared because there is of course so many different ways it could go wrong. Working phyically leaves many chances for injury or being incapacitated let alone just getting ill with colds or flu or other bugs. Scared because although we have a small contingency fund along with a tiny monthly income we will be living on very tight finances. If the house needed something expensive doing or the tenants left or failed to pay we’d be in trouble, if the van breaks down and can’t be fixed in one day we have nowhere to sleep that night. We might find ourselves staying with people we don’t like or have different expectations of each other. I know Ady is apprehensive about keeping the kids safe and happy in so many unknown locations. I’m nervous about food, whether we’ll like what’s offered and what happens if we don’t, how I’ll cope with the many, many dogs we are bound to encounter along the way!

So… boxes.

we are proud to announce…

our plans to the whole world 🙂

We have been waiting for everything to fall properly into place before the final stages of the adventure start and we ‘go public’. Today Ady has handed his notice in at work so the rest of the world can now know.

We have firmed up a date to be out of our house and for tenants to move in which gives us slightly longer than we first thought. This is great as it means everything comes together as per my originial plans. It does mean we will end our time in the house without TV, phone or internet as I’d already given notice for the earlier date but I quite like the transition happening in staggered steps.

Willow the van is at the garage, having an MOT and getting checked over to see what is happening with the batteries to make the vehicle battery not keep it’s charge. We’ve had the landlord gas safety check done and we have waterproof jackets on the way. I’ve ticked off most of this weeks job list, the chickens who left have done so and are happily installed in their new home, the rest are staying here as the tenants are keeping them on.

I anticipate life (and therefore this blog) to rather degenerate into a slightly wibbly heap for the next month as we frantically try and pack everything up, say our goodbyes, documenting as much as we can and heading off on our way.

Going off grid

We’ve not neatly fitted into boxes for quite some time when filling in forms but today as I try and tidy up loose ends with regard to utilities I am reminded of just how out of the ordinary we are. There is literally no box to tick on any website or number to press given on those automated phone systems for ‘remaining a home owner but having no address, living in a campervan with no utilities attached’.

So today I have cancelled our BT landline and broadband, our TV licence and Sky TV subscription, checked the procedure for final meter readings for gas and electric supply, informed the local council and water suppliers of our moving out date, swapped household insurance for landlord insurance and looked at postal options from PO boxes to redirection.

I have a mini-rant about how bloody difficult it is to stop getting service from places, from the fact they refuse to accept cancellation any way other than by phone, that their dedicated ‘so you think you can just leave like that do you?’ phonelines all have queuing times of ridiculously long, designed to get you to give up trying degrees and quite why they want to admit to ‘we are recieving high call volumes’ to a phone number that is only for people cancelling is beyond me! I’ve swallowed several cancellation / cessation charges and stopped operators about to go into sales pitch mode their breath by explaining why we won’t be needing that service from anybody at all, not just their company.

Yesterday at the tip, or Household Waste Recycling Centre as it is calling itself these days we had some very interesting conversations with Dragon and Star about waste and about what Off Grid means. We were all feeling pretty rubbish (if you pardon the pun) about the stuff we were contributing to landfill. Yes, we compost, we recycle, we freecycle & ebay, we try really hard to reduce waste but when it’s come to actually clearing out our home all of those things we stashed in our garage and loft and we realise that they are simply no good to anyone for anything so need to be landfilled it’s pretty sobering. We chucked out two tables and four chairs due to extensive water damage, wish we’d just freecycled them years ago while they were still useable 🙁 It’s great for Dragon & Star to know already that there is no such place as ‘away’. When you throw something away you are really just moving it somewhere else for someone else to deal with.

We also talked about Off Grid and what that means. We looked at the telephone poles taking cables to each and every home, we looked at a pylon and a power station bringing power across the UK, we looked at sewers and waste water just last week so knew we were driving over a massive network of underground pipes moving water around beneath us. We talked about how we don’t give it a second thought at home that flicking a switch turns on a light, that turning on a tap brings water flowing, that lifting the phone brings the dial tone buzzing in our ear but that these are recent-ish innovations and for all their convenience they are very costly (we explained that about 2 out of the 5 days a week Ady works are just to cover the costs of these things in our home), not necessarily sustainable and very probably not essential. We talked about how on camping holidays we ration energy, water etc and manage just fine, being more creative and putting more effort into ensuring our needs are provided for in terms of light, heat, water often by more effcient, environmentally friendly and less wasteful ways. We also touched on other types of ‘grid’ such as cheap food from supermarkets rather than local, organic or free-range food which may cost more in the short term or not be quite so convenient to get but what the fors and againsts of each are long term. I love talking about these sorts of things with Dragon and Star, they very much have their own ideas, bring a childish form of reason and challenge things that I have long since just accepted. It made me think of this quote:

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
 So today I have been extricating us a little from ‘the grid’, untangling it’s wires from our wrists and ankles, loosening the cable from our throats, reducing our dependancy, rationalising our need. I kind of think that whatever happens to us next, wherever our journey leads us after our planned year we may never fully plug ourselves back in again.

6 weeks to go, could be 5, could even be 3

But we’re hurtling towards it whatever it is!

We have tenants, not 100% confirmed as there is still paperwork to go through, references to be taken etc. But they have paid a holding deposit and we should have everything signed and sealed a week from now.

We’ve set a date to hand the keys over which gives us a deadline for being out of the house. 3 weeks. 3 weeks!!!

I’ve handed my notice in and Ady has his letter drafted to print off, I’ve put a poster in the staffroom to arrange a meal out with my colleagues, I imagine Ady will have the same and we have a party planned with friends before we go. I’m expecting lots of teary goodbyes, promises to stay in touch and people torn between feeling envious of our adventure yet grateful to go home and sleep in a  real bed at night!

So 3 week countdown to house plans go like this:

3 weeks to go:

  • Friends to stay for a night who are taking 3 of our hens for rehoming. The tenants want to keep the rest of our chickens -yay!
  • Trips to the tip for anything that isn’t worth freecycling
  • Ebay listing of last few things we uncover potentially worth selling
  • Freecycling anything that could be of use to anyone – already sent off a bike and a treadmill this weekend to new homes.
  • Start arranging Zone three hosts.
  • Begin boxing up stuff we won’t need in the last couple of weeks and clearly label boxes.
  • Try and sell old washing machine for spares / repair
  • Order years supply of mail order contact lenses

2 weeks to go:

  • Get kitted out with workboots, waterproofs, thermals etc. We have a mix of these things but need to a proper inventory of clothing we have and clothing we’ll need and fill in the gaps. I have contacted some suppliers of work wear, boots and waterproofs to see if any companies wanted to sponsor us, have us give their products a really good test or let us review for them but no one has showered us with showerproof stuff!
  • Email first round of hosts to confirm dates, give mobile number for contact etc. Draw up a map of locations with contact details to leave with a couple of people who will be keeping tabs on us to ensure we’re safe.
  • Book van hire for Moving Day. 
  • Reduce contents of two freezers into one and two fridges into one, freecycle spares. If extra interest let people know a second one will be available in a weeks time
  • Go through clothing and box up, give away or get ready to pack in campervan.

1 week to go:

  • MOT van
  • Do SORN declaration and cash in road tax for Sharan
  • Cancel car insurance & breakdown cover
  • Cancel house insurance and take out landlord insurance
  • Finish boxing up house
  • Revel in last baths, last sleeps in beds, last sits on sofas, last cookings in kitchen etc.
  • Put together How To Guide to the house to leave for tenants
  • Cancel all household bills

Moving Weekend

  • Transport all stuff for keeping to my parents for storage
  • Clean house
  • Take meter readings
  • Take some photographs of empty rooms
  • Drop keys off with letting agent

We’ve had an incredibly productive weekend and totally cleared the garage and garden of everything except for a few garden tools which we have already agreed with the tenants we’ll be leaving. The chicken coop is all cleaned, raked over and we are leaving a full dustbin of bedding and another of food for them. We feel like we’ve had  taster of bloody hard work (I spent over an hour chopping up firewood and nearly as long again moving logs about and we’ve all been hulking stuff in and out of the car and around the garden) and are looking ahead now ready to get started on the adventure.

Weeks rather than months….

Further developments to report!

Firstly, and most excitingly we seem to have tenants! There is still paperwork to be completed and final dates, signatures and checks to be done but it is all in hand.

This means today I am off to hand my notice in at work. They already know and have done for months about the plan and I had a provisional leaving date in the diary ages ago but I need to go and confirm it. A will wait until next week as he has a little annual leave to use up anyway which means he shouldn’t need to work his full notice so we’ll wait for everything to be fully finalised before he takes his letter in to work.

This gives us about 3 weeks left in our house to box everything up, clear out the last few things which need listing on ebay, taking to the tip or giving away on freecycle.

I’ve given notice to Sky tv, have lists of places to give notice to once we have a firm date, lists of people we need to try and cram a get together with before we go and a Bye Then party to plan with a large group of friends.

We need to sort out internet access for the van, a solar panel for the roof, waterproofs, thermals and decent work boots. I need to order in a years supply of contact lenses, decide whether a kindle is a worthy investment 😉 and confirm dates with the hosts we’ve already booked and send out the first email enquiry to the zone three hosts on our shortlist.

Let the countdown to craziness commence!

7 weeks to go

We have a tenant viewing this afternoon, so fingers firmly crossed that all falls nicely into place. Will come and update with any news as soon as I have some.

We have spent time this weekend tidying up the garden to create a good first impression of the house and clearing the cupboard under the stairs. Despite it already being cleared at least once we still found a full bin liner to throw out and another large bag ready to go to the charity shop. We also have a couple of boxes worth of stuff for ebaying. We had a brainwave that all our camping stuff could be stored in my car while we’re away for the year as that is going into a locked garage. Anything that minimises the amount of stuff we have to ask my parents to store for us is a good thing, so we are cramming stuff into our tiny loft spaces and will also fill my car.

We also weeded out some stuff from the camping gear to come with us in the van. We have some solar powered lights, various tape & tools, stuff like cushions, fleece blankets and sleeping bags, a mini cooker which runs on tiny gas bottles and has one ring. It’s tough trying to decide what does and doesn’t justify space in the van. I think we will have a box or two clearly labelled stashed at Mum & Dad’s of stuff that nearly qualifies so that if we realise along the way we should have brought it they can send it / bring it when they come to visit.

Along with my list of what happens when – stuff that gets triggered by us confirming a tenant, I also have a list of things we still need to buy: a years supply of contact lenses, a stash of toiletries, work out what our basic food rations for a week are and whether they fit in the van, waterproofs, work boots, some sort of solar charger, an internet access on the move solution. I’ve started to contact retailers / manufacturers of some of these things to see if they would be willing to loan us stuff for the year to really test and review for them. I feel a bit strange about this as it feels like I’m begging but friends assure me it is very common practise and I guess we will be giving their products a real ‘road test’. Of course all of my tentative enquiries may well return nothing anyway.

Along with more clearing of stuff from the garage and garden we also need to start using up the contents of our kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. Thanks to a big bill for work done to my car at the end of last month we are a bit strapped for cash this month anyway so eclectic meals R us, probably good practise for the coming year!

12 weeks to go…

All falling into place in 12 weeks we will already be installed in our first host’s tent!

Yesterday I engaged a letting agent, choosing the one I had most clicked with when I had a couple round last week to talk to them about prices, what services they offer and so on. After much discussion we’ve decided to initially go with an agent and the charges seem reasonable.

The house is already up on their website and assuming a tenant is found by the end of January everything will fall nicely into place. If we don’t find a tenant in time we will simply put back our plans until we do, if we find one who wants to move in early the plan is to move into our campervan or go and stay with my parents / friends, hand in our notice as planned and head off. There are benefits to the original plan timing falling into place but either of the other options also have potential upsides – if we let the house early we will have more cash in our contingency fund pot as we won’t have bills to pay but will still be earning, if we let the house late there is the chance of Ady getting a work bonus which we agonised over leaving too early for when we first started talking about this plan. I’d rather it just went as planned and we head off in March but what will be, will be.

The other task to look at now is giving notice in various places – phone companies, getting gas and electric meters read and paying up, Sky tv and so on. I’m also looking at Zone 3 ready to have a list of places to contact just before we head off to book for September, October and November. Zone two has been very quick to fill with five yes replies already and no one saying no yet. We are already booked right into July so another 3 or 4 yes replied would have that zone fully booked.

We need to get Willow MOTd but we have got that provisionally booked in for late Feb and will confirm that once we have a tenant lined up and a definite leaving date.

The last big hurdle

I’ve got two letting agents coming round later this afternoon to look at the house. Renting out the house for the year has always been the last and biggest hurdle of the whole plan. It’s totally out of our hands and needs to slot into place with very little room for manourvere on timescales or finances. We have an amount of money per monnth which we simply *must* clear in order to pay the mortgage and a couple of other bills / insurances, with any excess making our small monthly income to cover food, petrol, PAYG internet and anything else that crops up. We should have a contingency fund of our last months salaries for any emergencies – either for us or the van or for anything that needs attending to back here at home with the house but there is no real margin for error.

I am fairly relaxed about this as part of the whole adventure is living with as little as possible in the way of ‘stuff’ or expenses but we do need this most basic cost covered to enable us to leae the house behind and have it to come back to.

In terms of timing it is our intention to leave here at the beginning of March – I have already planned to hand my notice in mid January to leave mid February, Ady is intending handing his notice in at the end of January to leave at the end of February. Our first host is booked from the second week of March leaving us a week to either stay with my parents, or head off for a first week living in the van getting used to our new lives before staying at our first hosts. We do have room to bring things forward if we found a tenant for the house who wanted to come in before the beginning of March – we could leave the house early and we could either stay at my parents or a nearby campsite in the van and carry on working out our notice from there – we have had plenty of offers to stay with friends locally if needs be. If we don’t find a tenant in time to leave for that date though we will have to put everything back by a month and leave for the beginning of April – not the end of the world as all our hosts are provisional bookings which need confirming nearer the time so we can shuffle things around but it would be nice to be sticking to our original plan really.

So the house is pretty much ready to go ‘on the market’. It’s been painted throughout, everything remaining will be used up, stored or brought with us when we go. So I’ve rung up two different letting agents, have them both coming over this afternoon to get an idea of their services, charges and what sort of price they expect us to make per month at which point we can take the last big step towards finding someone to live in our house and pay the bills while we go off wondering.

A part of me has been reluctant to take this final step and I think there are several reasons for that. It is the sealing of the whole deal in many ways, once we have someone due to actually move in here on a certain date everything else becomes more definite. It all gets very real.

It is also an area almost entirely outside of my control – everything else has been very much managed by me, this is out of my hands and as such makes me twitchy.

It’s been so interesting that long before we actually start up the van and head off for our first host we are all already facing fears, taking on challenges and learning so much about ourselves.