Lethargy

This evening I am very tired and would very much like a nap, preferably the mid afternoon kind although I’m a bit late for that. It’s great to find that you have an accidental spare hour or two in the afternoon in which to sink into a hazy, sunny type of unconsciousness that feels like it goes on forever. I’m not such a fan of the lethargy that follows when the time comes to actually function again but I never learn my lesson.

I’m lucky in that I have the type of job that makes this possible. It’s a very restrictive job in many ways but as I live at work it does make sneaking away for a couple of hours easy sometimes. On the down side, it’s actually impossible for people not to find you if they try hard enough but usually they don’t.

I’ve had the type of day that feels like it’s gone on forever but I can’t think of any single productive thing that’s happened. I’m a military musician and had to sit through a necessary but mundane rehearsal this morning for upcoming events before a hurried lunch leading into an over-tiring half hour or so of circuit training. After this I had about twenty minutes to completely shower and change for the fourth time today before a mess meeting. The whole event has succeeded in making me suspect (as I often do) that I’m far too old to continue in this field, especially as there is a whole day of parade rehearsals looming up horribly tomorrow. I’m now nodding off in my second job as a security guard, dreaming of my bed again.

That said, I do really like my job. I love to play my instrument and I’m in a job where I can do this every day. Although I have some responsibility this really means that I get more freedom to do things my way; something I had an issue with in my younger years in the forces. Because of the way our units are structured there is also a lot of opportunity for a lot of different job and skills, so even if life seems a dull for a year or so it will never seem the same for long. The same goes with postings and hierarchy – in some ways no two years are the same.

The people factor is also a big one for me. I love to do my own thing and I am completely at ease in my own company, but being surrounded by people on a daily basis means I never really get lonely. Working closely in a team of forty plus people can seem really overwhelming at times, especially if we’ve been away for a few weeks together, but I’ve had some amazing experiences and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. The people I work with really are an amazing bunch of individuals.

A colleague and I with some new friends from St Petersburg in 2013

The huge downside is that we have absolutely no say over our time off, although we do get a fair amount of leave. Even week to week our schedule can completely change which is inconvenient for me as my house is a good two hundred miles north of London and the rail companies make a lot of money from last minute changes. It’s difficult to justify paying external rent in London and living at work can be pretty grim although the opportunity to live right in the middle of the capital is amazing. There is also the constant threat of being posted to a band in another area, which is basically a completely different type of job. These bands also have their plus points but it’s not a job that I’d like to do again.

So here I am, still completely conflicted about when to take the next step. I’m really in an extremely enviable position in which I have no real responsibilities, I am generally happy in my job and I’m also excited about the future, but I’m terrified of making a decision that I regret. There is definitely an element of fear in there, I’m used to a steady wage and I’m 100% familiar and comfortable in my workplace. My old self would probably take this as the very sign I needed to get out of my comfort zone, pack my bags and head towards my next destination…

Marlo’s First Night Out

Two days ago I found out that today was to be an unexpected day off. Unexpected days off are by far my favourite type of unexpected days and I was particularly delighted about this one as I had inadvertently planned a rather busy weekend. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my recently acquired Romahome R10 for it’s first proper overnight trip.

My original plan was to leave around seven in the evening on Wednesday and drive to some picturesque place on the south coast until Thursday evening. This way I would miss the congestion charge both ways and have a mini experience of spending a day in my new (to me) and very tiny camper van. Ultimately I ended up gaining extra shifts both nights but I just left after nine and came back after lunch so I was still able to spend a night out by the sea and all was good.

I know a little bit about the Dorset coastline but I wanted to stay within easy distance of London so I settled on a visit to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. I used an app called park4night.com to find some free overnight parking stops. This type of travel is completely new to me; I did some minimal camping in my twenties but I’m more of a hostel/backpacker/train dweller type usually and I tend to plan ahead fairly meticulously.

I am excited in general about the park4night app. It doesn’t have the most attractive interface but has reviews and tips about cheap and free overnight parking across most of europe. After reading the reviews I decided on an ocean view parking spot so that I could potentially take some amazing lying-on-my-front-overlooking-the-ocean-with-a-but-cheek-out pictures to put on instagram and set out at about ten o’clock in the evening. This did not go totally to plan as it was very dark and I couldn’t find the entrance to get behind the sea wall. I found an alternative spot a little but further up in Minster which had plenty of space and was super quiet so I decided to bed in for the night.

Strange stick-on window blinds

I named my new steed Marlo the Motorhome. I’m not a namer generally but I was encouraged to and so there we have it. It wasn’t intentional but Marlo is the name of a travelling companion that I met while exploring Russia this Christmas; she was/is a very interesting and inspirational individual so I think that will be alright. The Romahome R10 is a Citroen Nemo conversion and so is very small. The bed is made by using the table top to bridge the gap between the doubled over front seat and the single seat in the back. I had played with this before and had a nap on my drive down to London but never tried to have a good night’s sleep. I had also not really tried out the stick-on window blinds so that took a bit of figuring out. It was very late so I just got into bed and settled down for the night. The mattress was comfortable and although I did struggle with a slight lack of arm room I managed to have a pretty good night’s sleep. In the morning I realised that the side of the seat was actually detachable and gave a body shaped sleeping space so I think my arms will be happier in the future. I got up and dressed at about half past six and went for a wander along the beach.

It was a lovely morning, not too cold and almost sunny. There were already a lot of dog walkers about on the Minster Seafront and everyone smiled and said hello. I took a walk down to where I had seen some large motorhomes on the other side of the sea wall to see if I could find access. Right enough there was an entrance right off the main road so I decided to go and buy some breakfast goodies, park up and feel the #vanlife properly. I had seen the road the night before but it looked like it let to nowhere and I’m just not quite that brave yet. I headed to Tescos to use their facilities and buy a few bits and pieces for the van and came back to make breakfast.

My first van breakfast

I started by boiling the kettle. This took much longer than I expected but I didn’t mind as I was embracing the lazy seaside feeling that I knew would disappear as soon as got within a few miles of the M25. I made myself a cup of instant and tried to make scrambled eggs; this was when I realised the importance of parking on the flat. The kettle had been heavy enough to stay on the hob but the pan slipped straight off until I got the hang of it. All ended well, however, and I had a lovely breakfast overlooking the sea. I relaxed, read a book and almost felt like proper traveller until I realised that I had to drive back into central London within the next couple of hours but even that felt quite relaxed – there really must be something in that sea air after all.

So now I am sitting at my desk doing my painless but horribly mundane second job so that I can save up thousands and thousands of pounds to fund my general wonderlust of the future. I can see the light, the story is out there.

The Fox’s last stand

Three weeks ago I sold my car to WeBuyAnyCar.com. I don’t usually get attached to objects, but this particular car had belonged to my late mother and I did enjoy cutting around the country in it.

It was a silver 2006 VW Fox. At first sighting they are strange beasts and look too small to be practical, but apart from a very tiny boot there is actually a lot of room in these little cars. This particular model was pretty basic but it issued a warning if the lights were left on and the petrol cap was attached to the car; both essential features as far as I’m concerned.

I found it good to drive although I am by no means an expert. It was pretty good at accelerating past dangerous HGVs on the M1 and held the road well on the back roads in Scotland. It also served me very well when it came to moving house; with the back down it was excellent for trips to the skip or IKEA, it’s amazing what I have transported. I also liked the fact that it had managed to inherit a 1980s road map of Britain as well as hosting a Historic Scotland ruler in the glove compartment.

Last week I took it up to Scotland for what would be our last trip together. This was a trip of mixed emotions; it was the first time I had been up to my hometown since we sold my mother’s house three or so years ago and I went up to stay with a friend whose mother is also recently deceased. She was staying in her childhood home with her young daughter whilst trying to clear out all of those years of memories. We have been friends since we were two or three years old and so have a lot of shared memories as well as growing up in the same area. Our fathers worked together and our mothers shared a passion for gardening and botanical art, growing closer after they were both widowed.

It was strange to be back amongst familiar childhood surroundings without any real tie to any of them. I left home at seventeen and never really moved back but my mother stayed in the same house and I always felt that I had some kind of base there. Living slightly off the beaten track; my brothers and I had the run of the surrounding area and spent the majority of our free time outside during our younger years. We had dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, various rodents and at one time even a duck called Sally. When I think back to the endless summer holidays it seems that it was usually sunny (despite being in Scotland), we had constant adventures, got into lots of minor trouble and were always half eaten up by midges. The only important rules I remember were to be back before dark and not to cross any main roads or rivers. What more could you need?

Everything now is much smaller and less shiny. The magical forests are now fairly small woods and the endless drive to the main road is now nicely surfaced and really not that long. The big house where the old ladies lived with a secret passage in the cellar is now a B&B with an unpleasant looking sign and the overgrown wilderness of a garden horribly clipped and sanitised. I haven’t been to see if the (legless) hut on hens legs is still in the woods as I think these days it would probably be classed as trespassing rather than exploring, although I still have that child’s sense that it is my world and I have every right to check on it. The track to the house where our closest friends lived is still dark and mysterious but I no longer feel the need to shut my eyes and run until I can feel the sun back on my face, and not just because these people are now long gone.

I skipped all of these things and went to see my mother’s next door neighbour. She was very close to my mother and I’m terrible at keeping in touch with people so I thought I’d drop in for the first time since we sold the house. I’m not sure what I expected but I didn’t really feel anything about passing the old house and gardens. My mother’s beautiful garden had been crudely fenced off to keep in an unruly dog and basically strimmed to within an inch of its life. The front looked waterlogged and unloved. The house itself didn’t look any different but my mother would never live in a house without a lovely garden so I knew she wasn’t in. I had a reminisce with the neighbour and endless coffee before going back to my friend who was in her own mother’s house trying to sort out a lifetime of bric-a-brac, dusty paperwork and many, many miscellaneous hand-crafted impossible-to-dispose-of items. Clearing out a dead parents house has to be up there with the hardest and most wrenching jobs of all time.

Despite the circumstances we managed to have a nice week up there. We drove round our respective old haunts and talked a lot about the past and our departed parents. We went for a lovely walk up Conic Hill and an enormous breakfast by Loch Lomond. We completed the day hike to the troll bridge in Callander in about an hour on our boring grown up legs and managed to avoid all dangerous creatures, mythical or otherwise. On the Friday morning I stopped at the butchers to stock up on scotch pies, haggis and tattie scones and drove back to the North East and the next day I sold the Fox. The car was probably my last physical tie to my mother but I don’t really need things to remember her, she’s part of me. I still miss her every day.

This Week

So it’s Sunday and the day that I have to get on a train back to the big smoke and resume my working life.

I’ve lived in London for the majority of time over the last seven years. It’s an amazing city full of beautiful things, places and people but I currently yearn to live in my North Eastern flat full time, take life a little more slowly and surround myself with the lovely people that I’ve chosen to make my friends over the years.

Or do I?

I love my life generally but I have always had a huge restlessness and belief that the ‘next step’ should be taken imminently. My current plan is to become self employed, base myself at home and basically travel and live across Europe (to start with) for extended periods of the year. The van life dream is real to me and, I think, obtainable but it will take a lot of guts and work on my part. I’ve always worked for large organisations after a couple of drifter years after college so I’m not sure I have the confidence or skills to put myself out on the freelance market without a substantial financial safety net. I’ve also been in the same profession for the last thirteen years and so I don’t have any first hand experience of the current job market.

This said, my varied career history surely must lend itself to freelancing. I’m used to figuring things out, I’m organised and do relatively well in whatever field I find myself. I’m au fait with technology and can use/learn it quickly. Although I love my colleagues, and in fact they are probably the biggest reason I don’t leave now, I am very happy in my own company and love being on the road.

The difficulty is that I really do love my current job. It was something that I always aspired to and eventually did despite much concern from my family and friends. I believe that everything comes to a natural end and due to ill health and age I suspect that this is fairly imminent, although there is nothing yet to force my hand. My workplace is about to undergo another change; maybe this is the time to cut the cord.

So the big question is am I still daydreaming or should I put my notice in, brave the leap and put all of my energy into creating this new amazing life in my head. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve bought a little Romahome and plan to get out in that as much as my schedule allows to see if I really can hack life on the road. Maybe if I look hard enough I might actually find the happy place that is so defined in my mind.

These are my breakfast musings. This week this is where I am. Next week it may not be so.

Friday!

I love Fridays, even when I’m working on a Saturday – there is just something good about knowing that the weekend is upon us.  This one is particularly good because, although I did foolishly agree to do a shift on Sunday, after that I have a whole 5 days off.  I’ve managed to get a good deal on a first class train ticket from London to the North East on Sunday evening and I fully intend to enjoy the ride.

I’ve only recently discovered the joys of travelling first class, until recently I’d always thought it to be way too extravagant, and I really love it.  I love the bigger seats and tables, the fact that you can sit by yourself by a window with enough space on a table and a power socket and of course I really love that you are provided with one meal and never ending inappropriate snacks with your tea or coffee.  I only book these tickets if they’re less than £10 more than standard class but as I usually travel late at night they often come up.

The discovery of reasonably priced first class tickets has also slightly reduced the irritation that I have with the general state of the rail service in the UK.  I can’t count the times that I have run for a train at the end of a busy week to find that all of the reservations have been cancelled and I’ve had to spend almost the whole journey in the doorway of a carriage.  I may be shallow but the comfy seats and snacks further up the train go a long way to appease me for years of mild Friday evening rage.

For my week off I am going to drive up from my North Eastern home to Central Scotland which is where I grew up.  I am looking forward to this as it’s a lovely part of the country and will be staying with one of my oldest friends.  I will travel up on Monday and hopefully visit a lot of old haunts through the week – I miss the Scottish scenery.

IMG_0651

The top of Dumyat, Stirlingshire.

Wish this could be my maiden voyage with the new mini camper but my trusty VW will do the trick.  Not a particularly spectacular roadtrip but a roadtrip none the less.  I’ve spent most of my time on trains recently so I need to rekindle my love of driving before my eagerly anticipated adventures.  Onwards and upwards.

 

Expectations

This vanlife trend has recently begun to appeal to me again. I have a job that I like, a home that I look forward to arriving at and a group of people that generally make me happy but for some reason I still feel the same pull to travel that I’ve had ever since I was young. This is perhaps why I’ve decided to try road travel on a very careful and small scale by acquiring a Romahome R10. While not one of my more considered decisions, now that I have made it I am very excited. My amazing converted van of the future is still looming with my next change of career but for now I plan to see how far the little R10 can take me.

In my mind I can see endless picturesque roads winding off into the hills, beaches, exciting cities with ample and safe parking facilities, many interesting yet-to-be-met people and some unexplained source of income to sustain me. Washing and power facilities are far away notions that should all fall into place without too much concern and obviously the weather will be lovely all of the time. My previous travel has been mainly by train, which I love, but this new gritty road approach will surely lead me to an entirely new far-away-land where everything will make sense and my future will be laid out… Wish me luck!

Unfortunately my first van style road trip will not be up to the fatherland next week like I had hoped, but my current little VW will do nicely until my new minihome arrives. Meanwhile instagram will just have to appease my need for instant escape until a suitable time comes. Here is an old picture of my back garden in the early 80s to get me in the mood for the long drive up north.

Sally the Duck with her family, Central Scotland 1980

The Beginning

I am a traveller when I can be, exploring life and aiming to make a living on the road. I plan to chronicle my thoughts, experiences, encounters and most importantly take many, many pictures of my evening meals for your perusal. This isn’t really the beginning – that was forty odd years ago, but it is the beginning of something, so thank you for joining me…

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Lewis Carroll