Ja – no. Aye – no. Si!

Ja Aye Si

I’ve just noticed my Twitter account describes me as a Saffer who has been in Scotland so long I say aye instead of ja . . .  oh dear. Now I’m having to say si. I’d only just reached the point where I could follow an entire conversation between two Scots.

On the bright side, I did learn to follow an entire conversation between animated, even arguing, Scots, even when they were talking politics or football, and it took a mere fifteen years. Spanish has to be a doddle after that, right?

The Spanish do talk ever so fast. I had a wonderful plumber come in to quote some of the necessary work on my house, and he scorned the simple tried-and-true English method ‘speak slower and louder’. He fixed me with a gimlet eye and waved his hands a lot and talked around 180 words a minute and willed me to understand.  My lovely Dutch neighbour, who recommends him unreservedly, does speak Spanish and she came along too and did a running translation. It all got quite hectic, they were both completely thrown off their stride if I interrupted. I didn’t interrupt often, mainly when he decided to move a door, and I squawked in protest.  I don’t know what he has against doors. If I have one in the middle of a wall, he wants it nearer the corner, and vice versa.  No, no, no, entiendo? I wave my hands around with the best of them, it is surprisingly effective.  I say entiendo a lot (well, usually no entiendo) and no hablo Español, I say that a lot too. The village has taken my education in hand, when I point hopefully at something in a shop they carefully say the name, then wait expectantly for me to repeat it.  Talk about every day a school day.

Things have moved swiftly since my last blog. The pets and I left Scotland on the 27th of August, rolled out of the Chunnel on 2nd September,  drove erratically down France (getting lost quite often) and then Spain, where it should have been easy – if the sun is on your windscreen, I was told patiently, you are going in the right direction. If not, turn around until it is.  Stop when you reach the coast. Simple.

By the time we did zigzag our way to the coast, we were all – the dog, the cat, me – seasoned travellers. We booked into a campsite in the coastal town of Almunecar, on the Costa Tropical, base camp for a few weeks while the campervan surged out daily on sorties between the coast and Granada looking for a house in either the Lecrin valley or Las Alpujarras.  Then fortune smiled – the elefante blanco, the townhouse in Velez de Benaudalla for which I had sold up and turned my life around, had after all dropped its price back into my price range, was I still interested?

Yes!

Less than two weeks later, we were all crammed into the notary office in Padul – me, my attorney, my translator, the vendors and their attorney – to sign 140 square metres of Spain into my hands. 90 square metres of house, 50 square metres of terrace. I’d already moved in – although I enjoyed living in the camper far more than I expected, there was and is a ton of work to be getting on with, lolling about on a campsite with nothing to do wasn’t an option.

I’m doing more physical labour than ever in my life, with chipped and broken fingernails, paint-freckles, and hair so stiff with plasterdust it looks like a loo brush, but I think I’m happy.  I’ll know for sure when I have time to sit down and think about it without promptly falling asleep. Room by room has been sorted downstairs so I am now in a self-contained apartment of three inter-leading rooms (two of them lead only into the third, it’s a traditional Spanish build) and five in all are in usable mode, now we can start on the rest of the house, the last seven rooms. It’s a big place, neglected and a bit dilapidated after a few years of tenants and a couple of years standing empty, and the ceilings all high, Spanish style, to keep the house cool … there’s a lot to do.

The dog is definitely happy. She was reunited with her proper bed when the furniture caught up, and nearly burst into tears. Her travel bed is now on a covered bit of the terrace, and the toys from her toys box are spreading round the house. I put twenty square metres of fake grass on the terrace, to her delight, and said she could consider it an emergency bathroom facility. She wouldn’t dream of fouling it, and daintily relieves herself on the top patio if there’s too long a break between walks around the town.  Tiles are so easy to clean it hardly matters. After eight weeks of being off-duty she seems pleased to have a doorbell to react to, an area to patrol (albeit twice the size of the workload she had in Scotland) and clear responsibilities once again. I knew she was fully settled when she tried to bite the nice man coming to connect us to the internet.

The cat is happy. The atrium, although largely under ceilings of some kind, has a section left open to the sky and for years while the house stood empty birds have been popping in and making themselves at home. He has a full-time job running them off the premises and takes it very seriously. He spent two nights out exploring the surroundings but hasn’t shown any desire to go out since. He’s colonised the entire upstairs for himself, so will not be quite so happy when me and my builder buddy and the voluble plumber, plus others, start heading that way next week – finishing some time in January, at a guess.

So much for blogging about life on the road. As often as not the campsites only had ‘wiffy’ in the bars, or an intermittent signal at best, and we spent four weeks in one campsite, which doesn’t really count.  It was great, but is already fading so quickly in my memory I’m jotting down notes as I remember bits, I’ll pull them into some kind of book soon, even if only for my own reference.

Now I face having to sell the camper, since every spare cent has to go into the bottomless pit of the house restoration.  Not immediately, since it is invaluable for collecting bulky building stuff, but soon.  It needs a good home, and someone who will enjoy it to the full, because it was absolutely great.  My own car may be less than half the size, fantastically easy to park and practically free to run by contrast, but sailing along the open road, lord of all I surveyed from my high perch, and a new world unfolding in front of us with every mile – Kodak moments linking together into weeks.  Incredible.

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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.

 

 

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