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.

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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