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.

 

 

I’m so topical I don’t understand why I’m not an icon

Just call me Ms Demographic, Demi for short. I’m a babyboomer, for starters. Born between 1946 and 1964, and a little fed up that my retirement age moved from nicely handy to six years further down the line.

I’m a writer of breezy novellas who, thanks to the ebook and POD revolution, could publish myself. That’s a bigger demographic than you might realize. Last time I checked there were over 13 million books out there, and I checked Amazon.com right now, as I’m typing this – in my main category, Mystery Thriller and Suspense, there were 6829 new releases in the last 30 days.  (One of them is mine, 17 18, woohoo). There are over half a million in that category alone.  I do get pretty excited about occasionally popping into the top twenty thousand writers, but the reality is that only authors consistently in the top thousand enjoy the dizzying excitement of being able to support themselves with their writing.  Still. My books pay for my holidays, and I do take a lot of those.

I’m a mature single – that’s an absolutely huge demographic – and have been on a singles website for a few years now. Research, of course,  but I take my research seriously, been there, done that, got my heart broken (okay, dented) and wrote the book(s). (Being the mature single is the demographic, writing On Meeting Mr Will Do Nicely and a couple of novels was a bit more niche.)

I was made redundant  recently, that’s a growing demographic, and for the second time.  With all those extra years to fill in before I can start living off the fat of the land with a (partial) British pension, I’m part of that other demographic, the one that thinks oi, life the way it is hasn’t really ticked all my boxes or rung all my bells, is it time to try something else?

There’s the demographic of the many, many Brits who bolt to the sun to try that something else in a warmer climate. A staggering percentage of them chose Spain. Never one to buck a trend, I found a dilapidated (i.e. affordable) townhouse in a fairly perfect white village, and decided that was it, future sorted. Sell the house in Scotland, buy the house in Spain, which is way big enough to run a couple of Airbnb options (another growing demographic) and Bob’s your uncle.

Okay, working in Spain would be challenging, since my Spanish so far consists of knowing how to order coffee, and increasingly talented in the areas of point-and-or-mime, and that’s after seven holidays in rapid succession in Spanish-speaking territories.  All I can reasonably ask of the house is that it will earn enough to pay for its own maintenance and upkeep.

No problem. Teach the Spanish to speak English. So I did a TEFL course and am currently busily gaining vital experience as a teacher through an international online agency. That’s a smaller demographic, I’ll grant you that, but it too is growing.

Demographically, I am in so many Venn diagrams that Windmills Of Your Mind is becoming my theme song. I’m a human fidget spinner.

Surely I can turn this wealth of overlapping demographics into cash terms somehow? Brexit and the dratted General Election are playing merry havoc with the pound / euro exchange rate, and I do need that rate strong to do the house-and-fix-up thing. Scotland’s will-we, won’t-we rumblings about independence has slowed the house-sales market to a crawl. Tchah!

Ideas on cashing in on my demographic potential ? Anyone? Ta.

Walking the dog – a musing blog, not making any point whatsoever. Pass quietly by.

I was tugging a little impatiently on the dog’s lead today on the walk – definite nip in the breeze, lots to do back home – when I had one of those epiphany moments which for all I know she had beamed straight into my head.

To me – an item to be ticked off my day’s list, sandwiched in between laundry and writing and finishing the design of the bookmarks and and AND

To her – the highlight of her day. Oh, she likes eating, very much, and sleeping is good, and charging through the dog flap into the back garden to squabble through the fence with the westie which passes every morning on its walk and the border collie every afternoon, that’s high on her list – but her walk is the cherry on top. That’s when she checks out her little world from corner to corner.

There’s a set ritual to the whole thing. She has to be on the lead for crossing the road, and until I can be sure we’re good to go. She pulls as far ahead as it will allow, in her impatience, then stops to check some enthralling smell I can’t begin to imagine. Then she charges past me again to lead the way to the next smell. Progress is – jerky.

Once I can see far enough in every direction to be sure the westie, the collie, or any other dogs, are nowhere to be seen, the lead can come off, and she’s free to roam. It isn’t the longest walk, because she’s portly by breed, and getting elderly now (I’m not in the first flush of youth myself).  At some point known only to herself, slightly different every day, her fascination with every clump of grass is sated and stage three – the ball-throwing – follows. There’s no more sniffing around, this is serious stuff, the charge followed by a canter back with stately dignity to demand the next throw. Eventually we reach a point where she’s breathing hard and decides she’ll just carry it now, thanks, and we turn for the walk home.

Nothing fancy – but it means so much to her that I felt thoroughly guilty about the tugging. Maybe if I followed her example? Perish the thought I’ll start snuffling around the same spots, that would be eccentric and I don’t have the nose for it anyway, but I resolved to enjoy it, chilly wind notwithstanding.

Actually, pretty nice out there, what with it being spring and all – Scotland is always a little late to spring but some utter genius  in the town council has turned whole swathes of land over to wildflowers, which are starting to build up their energies. The Firth is always beautiful, in every mood, and the foreshore is so vast that we mostly have it to ourselves. You’re reading this on my website, right? Look at the picture at the top. Just been there.

It was a good walk.

One Two Buckle My Shoe- E.J. Lamprey

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I could have sworn that Miss Maple was back, in Scottish guise. Is it ever fair to compare, possibly not, but this is very Agatha Christie-esk for the modern century. ‘One Two’ is a great first in series, introducing some wonderful characters of senior years. Lamprey has a very easy read style and an ironic, subtle humour that says most by what it leaves out.
The plot is complex enough with a couple of classic murders, lots of possible clues and badly attached leads, some more doggy than others. All the bits simply can’t be quite put together until Edge gets a grip on the case. The older generation will enjoy this, if they can find their glasses, and the aging youths and middle readers should enjoy noting that at least at the Grasshopper Lawns, 20 miles north of Edinburgh, old age doesn’t necessarily mean the end of joie de…

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Can this marriage be amended, sorted out? Is Brexit really the only option? WHY?

So many people voicing their opinions, such absolute chaos, I know I’m not the only one frustrated to the point of helpless inarticulate rage because the powers that be aren’t listening.

tower-of-babel-by-pieter-bruegel(The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Breugel)

 

Long time ago, I was married, and it wasn’t going well. scoldThis has to change, I said. Family comes first, not last.  That has to change, I said, working until midnight (it genuinely was work) is a no-no. If you don’t, I said, I will have no choice but to leave.

I wish you would, he said.

Oops. Er. Um. Okayyyyy – so I did.

Turns out he didn’t mean it, he was calling my bluff but that’s all water under the bridge and a marriage that could have been okay, even good, if we had talked and compromised and made some changes, was in the crapper.  Should have gone for counselling but hey, who expected the break?

So, Brexit was  about a long-term marriage – not ideal, and ouch paying a lot into the joint bank account but sharing the benefits of being married. Okay, the other partner is overbearing, opinionated, deaf to input, very controlling, kept moving the goalposts and taking on more and more commitments with dodgy partners you would personally sooner avoid but marriage, we all know, is for richer for poorer, for better for worse.

Divorce on the other hand, is isolation, reduced income, the ritual sharing out of friends, drop in lifestyle, having to get out there and make new alliances – eek.

There isn’t a marriage councillor in the WORLD who wouldn’t have said put your foot down, talk about your issues, make your partner listen, don’t just give up.

Brexit didn’t offer that option. Brexit said

  • stay in, exactly the way things are
  • or pack your bags and go.

So Britain went to the polls and I am ready to bet a lot wanted to say we don’t really want to go, but we do want them to finally realize we aren’t happy, and there has to be change. 

A lot? Oh yes. Over half.  Oops.  Many of them older, there’s been a lot of whinging about that but older people have had time to learn that situations which are heading into trouble don’t magically fix themselves. Whether you like it or not, they head deeper into trouble. Always.

Thing is, those bloody politicians still aren’t listening. They are fighting over when the bags should be packed, and they are fighting over whether we should go at all, or just pretend the whole quarrel never happened. None of them are saying hey, how about we work something out that will appeal to the Leavers wanting some compromise, that will make them happy. In the process we keep most of the Remainers happy? Wow. Happy population!

That working something out – how about, just like any marriage, we want things back the way they were during the honeymoon period?  Working together, common goals, supporting each other for the good of both, not bullying, not controlling, not losing every argument because our partner is just ignoring us and forging on?

What we need is a marriage councillor to take charge. Please. SOON.

I wish, I really wish, I had a voice, a real voice, loud enough to make the idiots listen and wasn’t just another voice vanishing into the background clamour.

sigh