three weeks a vagrant

A vagrant – defined as one without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging.

Okay I’m not a beggar. In theory I have quite a lot of money in the bank, if the solicitors would stop arsing around and pay in the money from the sale of my house. But that’s a rant for another blog.

Three weeks today since I moved most of my possessions into storage, crammed the remainder into my converted panel van, and hit the road.  To paraphrase Marvin the paranoid android, the first couple of days were the worst. And the next few days, they were the worst too. The second week I didn’t enjoy much. After that, I went into a bit of a decline …

Well, I’m not Marvin. The first couple of days, though, there was so much in the van I had to step outside to take a deep breath, but I off-loaded a lot at my daughter’s on my way through England on the way to Europe. That meant I could repack the double passenger seat with the stuff I would only need when I arrived, and when I did get to the Costa Tropical I off-loaded that to a long-suffering buddy already resident, and suddenly there was tons of room. Okay, I have to make the bed before I can make coffee in the morning, since there is stuff stored on the grill which has to be moved to the bed, but that’s good discipline anyway. The morning routine is now habit – campsite loos, then pick up after the dog who also seizes the chance to make her morning ablutions, make the bed, clear the grill, light the gas to start the kettle, clean the birdcrap off the windscreen, sweep out the autumn leaves and make the coffee. Then back to the loos to shower and dress and – well, you get the routine. Today I’m stopping to blog. I’ve been doing updates on FB, and am recording the search for a less cramped place to live on the page for Spain https://www.facebook.com/VelezCasaDePalabras/# but this is a catch-up generally.

It’s all about trade-offs, living in a van. Space, obviously. I store my necessaire (which is huge, because it contains everything I might need and might forget to take, including spare towel and hairdryer) on the portapotty, so before I can use that in the middle of the night I have to find a place to put the necessaire. There’s a light in the en-suite, naturally, but it isn’t blinding and I’ve tripped over the necessaire while sleepily looking for it to put it back. I drink less water before bedtime now, and have completely stopped drinking coffee at night. I go to bed as early as midnight, sleep like the dead, wake with the dawn.

Another trade-off, here on the Costa Tropical, is shade – I picked the shadiest spot I could find on the campsite, and that’s excellent for a recent Scot trying to adjust to all this hot sunshine, but it does mean that seedpods fall on the roof at night and birds crap on the windscreen all day. The seedpods, at 3 in the morning, sound like North Korea spotted my position.

The dog’s bedroom overnight is where my desk needs to be during the day. As a vagrant I’m not actually working yet but with my neighbours being French on one side, Spanish on the other, my entire social life when home is emails, FB, Twitter, social media generally, and that’s a lot easier on the pc than on the smartphone.

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I do have to start working, but as I teach English as a second language online, and need a stable Ethernet connection, I can’t do it on a campsite WiFi signal. So the hunt is on for a house, I’d rather buy than rent, but the learning curve on that is steep. ‘Cosy‘ means I couldn’t swing the cat in any of the rooms. ‘Would benefit from refurb’ means the wiring needs redoing and chunks of plaster missing on the walls. ‘Needs work‘ – take your hardhat. One house I wouldn’t even go upstairs, although the owner ran up and down the stairs several times to show me how safe it was. Aye, that’ll be right. Pass. ‘Wonderful views’ means a drive off the motorway of up to 30 kilometres into the spectacular Spanish countryside, on tiny roads that turn back on themselves with such violence that no matter how carefully I pack the van, and strap stuff down, there is crashing from the rear. ‘Parking round the corner’ in a Spanish village means a walk of up to 30 minutes through tiny winding streets, I can just see my movers’ faces when the furniture is finally sent for. So right now my sole trickle of income is from my books, please pick one from the margin and buy it. You could even buy more than one. Ta.

So what’s it like, living in a van on a campsite in Almuñécar?  Could be a LOT worse. The sun is yawning and drifting into a pale clear sky when I wake up.  The dog is beaming from her bed, next to mine, and the cat wants in from his night on the tiles. There are hot showers, clean loos and washing machines near by, and I even have a plumbed-in double sink and washing line at the back of my particular shady site.  I’m paying, obviously, but not through the nose. There’s a self-service bar here – get an icy Coke out the giant fridge, and put a euro into the till.  That’s worth every penny, since my camper fridge is tiny and packed with water, milk, cheese and butter, there’s no room for frivolous drinks.

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During the week we’d be on our way by now,  off to collect long-suffering local buddy who is a retired building engineer and the bane of the house-owners and agents, as he spots all the little weak spots they hope I’d never see.  In my price range, I know work will be needed, but he can judge exactly how much and give me a rough idea on price – often eye-watering. In return for this invaluable service, and indeed for being my guide to the more remote villages (who needs signposting from the motorway, eh? everyone who matters knows where the place is) we stop frequently for copious quantities of coffee and, as the day wears on, shandy and then beer, which is served with free tapas and sorts meals out nicely. Yesterday, one example – a beer, a shandy, two wraps and crisps, was 3 euros, water for the dog was free and we sat in a pavement café in the shade idly talking over the day’s crop of houses.

Three weeks. The first week in the UK, the second travelling erratically through France and then Spain, the third here adjusting to a life I couldn’t have begun to imagine.  Although I’m still out and about during the week, and racking up at least 100 kms a day in the search, it’s nothing like that daily 300 – 400 kms on new roads, hoping the camper in front knew a good campsite and I could follow it there … that bull on the skyline, you see a fair number of them. In La Mancha country, there was also Don Quixote and co, I rather liked that, even though I was horribly lost at the time and on a long lonely road I had, unnervingly, all to myself. I spent a lot of time being lost. It’s one way to explore.

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And now, as it is the weekend and no houses to see, I shall have a leisurely shower, do a load of laundry, and then, hmm – take the dog to the beach? Go shopping at Mercadona? Read? With no distractions and a lot of time on my hands, I’ve been able to rediscover the sheer pleasure of reading  – no copy-editing, no critiquing, just books I packed for the road because I loved them long ago and know they are worth the re-read.  It’s a tough life, this vagrant thing. I can’t let it go on too long, but I am getting a bit addicted to it.

I just wish I could start writing again, but I accept that right now, I’m loading data. The writing will come back – when I can close a door, not have to keep one eye on the dog in case war breaks out with another campsite pet, and making coffee is once again flicking a button. I do miss that. Not much else.

 

 

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Sleeping in the van – first night

Oh, dinnae fash you won’t get a daily log but this was the first real test – the animals chose to stay in the emptied house as they still had their beds, good, I could fumble around without tripping over them.

Making the bed was ridiculously challenging but my handmade blackout curtains came up trumps – not things of beauty, but definitely a joy forever, complete blackout when I switched off, yay!  Of course the more my eyes adjusted the more light there was creeping past the curtain edges – even the door had a rim of light – but after packing until 4 in the morning to be ready for the movers nothing was going to keep me awake for long.

I woke at 1, went back to sleep, woke at 3.30 and thought oh crap I’ll never get back to sle…zzzzzzzzz and then at 6.30 needing the loo urgently so I’ve bolted back indoors because using the camper’s portapotty is awful. You have to sidle in sideways, go on tiptoe to perch, and I am going to have to work on some kind of sturdy box (which will of course be another storage spot, so not a Bad Thing) for the long term because peeing almost straight-legged feels extremely odd.

So, learnings, find the knack of making the bed easily because a double bed enclosed on 3 sides is a bit of a bugger. Find a step for the loo. And although I had calculated the big steps would wedge in the gap at the side door, between the foot of the bed and the shelves, Muggins here then mounted the fire extinguisher there so they don’t.

giant double step

I bought the stairs for the dog – getting in and out of the van when you are an ageing and portly bulldog is challenging – but they haven’t really worked out. I thought they’d be brilliant and while we were on the road I could put her bed at the foot of mine so she could nip up onto the bed to sleep, down for her water or to use the patch of fake grass (on rubber matting) just inside the back door if in dire need. Not so much – not only because they won’t fit until I move the fire extinguisher, but because she’s convinced there are trolls lurking under them and hates them.

So that was the first night. I did think at 3.30 am that it was awful and I hated it and we’d never cope for any period of time but I’m slightly more cheerful this morning, apart from trying to make that dratted bed.

Of course re-reading this I’m thinking the obvious thing to do, and what the original guy probably had, is a single sturdy step to get in, which he would otherwise have kept in the loo to boost the user up to normal height for the throne. Or, being a bloke, just stood anyway, the male sex is definitely better designed for camping.

Today I have to transport about twenty bags of debris to the recycling plant, then do the final pack into the van.  Learn how to disconnect the gas cylinder and replace it for a full one, hopefully slightly bigger. Clean the house, drop the keys off with the new owner, and head towards the sun …

Okay, via the Borders, where I’m stopping overnight at my niece’s, since my sister is over on holiday. Then via Berkshire because my daughter has a birthday to get through.  Then off towards the sun. With any luck at some point the dog will either accept there are no trolls under the giant steps, or I will be able to exchange them for a nice neat little step (with storage facility would be ACE), and harmony will reign.

 

 

The pets aren’t enthused about becoming travellers

I’ve watched any amount of youtube videos on taking animals on the road, and I know people who do it, or have done it, my animals adore me, how hard could it be? No problem, I thought, I’ll feed them every day in the camper for the next week, and encourage them to relax while I potter around finding places for stuff. By Saturday when we hit the road it will all be old hat.

Hmm.

The cat bolted the first time I tried, and now eyes me as if I’m Godzilla. When I finally did get him and his supper into the van he slunk around trying to find somewhere to get stuck, and refused to eat. That was about two hours after the dog had her stint. She ate, she always eats, but then she went into her play-bow for the next half hour. Only when it was time to leave did she rush to her blanket and sit down firmly. Oh, not because she was enjoying herself. She is terrified of the steps – the biggest I could buy, just for her. Twenty minutes I stood outside trying to coax her out,  speaking very nicely and waving a treat hopefully, while she shivered from head to foot. Finally I gave up, lifted the steps in, closed the side door and went round to the back doors. She’s old, and heavy, but she jumped down gratefully and bolted indoors without even waiting for the treat.

Fair to say they’re not terribly keen on the idea of hitting the road.  They’re not terribly keen on me packing, either. They’re not at all keen on the boxes. There is not a lot of harmony around the disintegrating family home. Looks like it will be worse next week.

Way to be supportive, guys.

Sigh.

 

 

I’m a squirrel on the rack here. #PackingToMove

Why why why is it so hard to throw out stuff?

I’ve just hauled one of my mother’s favourite antiques out to the car – it will go to the dump tomorrow. It’s Victorian, and an awkward shape, and when it was shipped to me after her death with a few other much-loved items it lost a leg in transit. The leg has been re-attached twice, but if so much as a feather lands on it the leg comes off again. Take it to Spain? No.  Oh, Mum, I’m so sorry.

She’d have kept it, because she was a squirrel, and because we all turn into our mothers eventually I am a squirrel too. A squirrel packing up after a dozen years in the same house, was there ever a more pathetic sight? I did the giant clear-out once before, 17 years ago almost to the week, and I was bad then, I am so much worse now.  Oh, I know why – the older we get, the more memories we’ve accumulated, and the more often we experience discarder’s regret. You know how that works – you throw out the bottom half of the Christmas tree because the top is nowhere to be found. A week later you find the top half under the spare bed.  (Yes, okay, if I was a more diligent housewife that couldn’t have happened. Bad example.)

Six months ago I put the house on the market and did a drastic clear out into the garage to make it look bigger. I should just be piling those boxes into the car and taking them straight to the dump because in six months I have never gone looking for anything.   I know I don’t need any of it. But no – I’m going through boxes to see what can go to the charity shops instead. Ask me how much I have put aside to take with me?

Don’t ask. It’s not a lot, but it shouldn’t be anything at all.

I’ve moved often in my life – in fact the dozen years in this house might be my longest stay anywhere, ever – and you’d think my belongings would be pretty streamlined. Nope. Auction junkie who can’t resist a bargain, with hoarder genes – disastrous combination.

The movers will be here next Saturday to move goods and boxes into storage and right now I’m having to hope they’re bringing a pantechnicon.  Not only that – there’s so much being put aside to go under the bed in the van that it will be teetering near the roof.  That’s if the van doesn’t just go spatchcock on me, because a lot of what I’m taking is small but too heavy to box.

I need an intervention.  moping

Have #campervan

That’s it, bought a converted van, drove it home through pouring rain, and just to add to the thrill, threading through narrow streets for the first endless hair-raising twenty minutes. Here’s something you should know – vans need a lot more steering than Toyota IQs.  Remember that. Still, it was quite late at night by then and the few other road users sussed pretty quickly that I was rubbish on roundabouts and gave me plenty of room. Thanks for that, guys.  And by the way, in passing, I am very glad indeed I went for a relatively small option, at least from the driving point of view.

Citroen Gourock 1 numberplate blacked out

Once on the motorway I fell in love.  I’ve spent a large chunk of my life on horseback and my present much-loved car is like a nippy little pony with grit, determination, and an unexpected turn of speed. Driving the van was like riding a Clydesdale shire, phew the ground seems far away – but the van settled to 70 mph, offered me more if it wanted it (no, no, eek) and simply ate the miles with me eventually grinning like a loon with sheer delight.  It’s a diesel, much noisier than an IQ, and the rattling in the back made it clear muffling solutions will have to be found, but what I have is a big panel van with the absolute basics – a bed, a camping loo, a pump sink, gas hob and grill, (it was the grill pan doing the rattling) and fridge, all miniature and very reminiscent of childhood and Wendy houses.

Citroen Gourock 2

I’ve been out there this morning measuring and photographing and planning how to use every inch of space to maximum effect, while the dog, looking puzzled, searched every corner for the previous owner’s border collie. It’s been a weekend van, and now it has to be home for two to three weeks to me and the dog and the cat, and that’s challenging!  I watched youtube records of van dwellers  until 3 this morning and the general message has been pretty much ‘cut back cut back cut back, essentials ONLY’.

I can fit my trunk (stuff I only need when I get there) under the bed, with my six square storage baskets in front of it, will put a dress rail into the tiny loo area (I would only ever be using the porta-potty in direst emergency) so I can hang as much as possible on hangers – clothes, towels, a shoe-organizer with underwear, a shoe organizer with shoes and – okay, probably boring you now.

Useful stuff learned – a converted van should be re-registered as a campervan, this one was, but watch out for that. Lots of home conversions for sale which haven’t been.  That’s vital for insurance, and being a paid-up member of a camper organisation will also get you cheaper premiums. Most important of all, and I only found this out when I went looking up what was needed when buyer and seller are both private individuals, the law has changed on road tax, in 2016.  It is no longer transferable, so the fact that a camper is taxed and not SORN is good while you are test-driving but no good for getting it home. There is no grace period.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse, either, and the fine can be massive. No whining that it is a two hour drive you have to make twice – I paid my deposit, took the logbook, MOT, etc., away with me, paid my road tax, and my lovely tenant drove me back to collect the van the next day.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

2017 UK  regulations for a pet passport #petpassport

It isn’t impossible that someone someday will ask me about moving to Europe, although probably they’ll be using me as an example of how not to do things.  Since these days I am hard put to remember my name (be fair – I have about 5, I use 3 different ones just for my books)  I shall track my findings on the blog, under the category TRAVELS, tagged ‘travel advice’.

NB – always worth checking the regulations as they have changed from what they were and Brexit means they will likely change again. As at July 2017, here we go

  1. The pet must be in good health, because a healthy immune system is essential. Age of a full-grown adult pet doesn’t matter, state of health does.
  2. All those expensive boosters you’ve scrupulously kept up to date all these years? Forget them. No-one cares. The only record that matters on the passport is the rabies shot.
  3. The rabies vaccine needs 28 days. Despite this, passports can be issued, and the pet can travel, 21 days after the vaccination, without a further blood test. That’s one of the big changes and many vets don’t approve; it could well change again. For your own peace of mind, allow 28 days, especially if your pet is tetchy and argumentative with strange animals.
  4. If your pet isn’t looking well, even just has the sniffles, it will not be given the shot. You’ll be sent away, to try again in a week. A strong immune system is essential for activating the vaccine.
  5. The passports will be issued during the waiting period. Photographic likeness is not required. Instead, the pet’s chip will be read and put on the passport, so you can’t get a passport for an un-chipped pet. The cost for the microchip is around £15.
  6. Once issued, the passport is valid for a year. If you get the rabies booster done before the year is up, the passport is valid for a further 3 years (another change from before, when it was 2 and 2).
  7. The price hurts a bit – £175 per pet. They’re worth it, but I will not be impressed if either cocks their toes up just afterwards.

Pity the Customs officer trying to scan my xenophobic paranoid dog’s ear when she’s at best a testy traveller, but we’ll manage somehow.  I just hope that she passes the physical, rising 12 is geriatric for an English bulldog but her Frenchie half does keep her bouncy.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

Life – that thing that flashes past your eyes before you die.

I live it pretty much alone – great friends, some lovely relatives (and some not so lovely), but I do live alone and I’ve finally had to realize that’s by choice because even when someone suitable for a home share comes along I’m not entirely comfortable until they’re gone.  The cat that walks alone, that’s me, and usually, I’m absolutely fine with that.

And then something has to be done and you realise having another human being in your life can be truly useful. Whether it is as minor as putting up a six foot curtain rail, or as major as trying to work out how to get a dog + cat + car + furniture from point A to point B 2000 miles away – and on a very, VERY, tight budget.

I’d like to drive, in my much-loved car, with my dog and my cat, sending the furniture via professional movers, but I can’t, obviously, drive 2000 miles in a day and I don’t know if I will be able to find pet-friendly hotels all along the route at exactly the point where I am tiring and thinking it time to call a halt.

My sister and her bloke have done the same trip every winter for years (well, without the furniture, of course). They plonk the cat in the motorcamper, he drives, (her bloke, that is, not the cat) and she follows in the car, and they stop whenever they want for as long as they want.

Could be a plan. I could buy a fairly elderly but hopefully reliable left-hand-drive motorhome, and sell it when I get there. That’s me and the pets sorted, but unless I’m going to nip to the shops in a motorhome, mmm, what about my car?

A clone would be extremely handy at this point. Or a second driver – someone I like enough to share the close confines of a motorhome with, overnight  – bringing up the rear.

I had a eureka idea moment – tow the car! I mean we’ve SEEN those campers, right? And yes, we’ve been caught behind them as they pant up hills at ten struggling miles an hour but . . .  if my aging motorhome did break down, it wouldn’t be impossible to unleash the car and go hunting for help. I was really rather pleased with that. See? It is possible to have it all!

motorhome and trailer

 

Apparently it’s a bad idea. Towbar expensive, trailer expensive, taxes, tolls, and fuel all doubled, not to mention straining the elderly motorhome to the point where it will die on me. Not worth taking a fairly old car which is right-hand drive anyway, no matter how loved or reliable it is.

So my brain has quietly exploded.  I even wonder if I am past the age of adventure. Everyone said I’d never cope when I came to the UK (no pets, no car, too many boxes of books) 17 years ago – in fact, the way things are panning out, it would be 17 years almost to the day when I leave again – and maybe this time they’re right.

And yes, I do hear your eyes rolling. Pete’s sake, woman, you’re saying out loud, just fly with the animals, rent a car, be at the house to meet the movers, then buy a car and return the rental, bob’s your uncle.

Oh, would it were that simple. I’m on my third offer for this house. I rejected the first, the second fell through, and although third time can be the charm, ain’t no guarantees.  The one thing I cannot afford to risk is buying t’other place before I have sold this one, or I will own both and eek, that tight tight budget will go nuclear.  So that’s on hold until missives are concluded (which may only be a Scottish term?  basically not before the deal is signed, sealed, and funds transferred).

Missives are often only concluded on the day of occupation. Okay – furniture into store, and you suddenly start to see the attraction of the motorhome, rather than me to a hotel and the animals into pet storage.  Once I have the money in my hot little hand I can re-start the process in Spain, but it could be weeks before that completes and I can move in. Again, the motorhome means I can be there on the spot, hopping from foot to foot and spurring them on.

So I am bidding for one on eBay.  Never seen it, although I’ve pored over the pictures and researched the make intensively and will come back and kill the seller if it’s a pup – I write whodunits, I know how to kill.

So far I am still the winning bidder. 5 days to go. I genuinely, now that my brain has exploded, don’t know whether I want to be the final winner, or whether that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made so far. In fact I don’t even know if the house in Spain will still be on the market when this sale does complete. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Things that are meant to happen fall neatly into place. This is not falling into place!

I’ve not blogged much lately so with any luck no-one will even see this rather forlorn ramble. I can’t write. I can’t think. It’s as much as I can do every day to teach, both to keep at least some tiny income trickling into the coffers and increase my experience as a very newly-qualified teacher of English as a second language.

And yet – in some bizarre way – I’ve never felt so alive, so challenged. If it does all fall through and I have to settle back down to life as it has been (with or without an expensive left-hand-drive motorhome sitting outside, eep) it will be very anti-climatic.  A sneaking relief, the easy option but – very flat indeed.