Sunday, 11 April 2010

Tying Up Loose Ends

It’s not entirely easy, this packing it all in and taking off business. You can’t just up and go. Disentangling yourself from your old life is actually quite a complex affair and trying to do it while finalising plans for the big trip is exhausting. I mean – I fell asleep on the sofa on Thursday and it was only 3 p.m. Anyone would think I’d retired!

Of course, we should have started all this a bit earlier really. We could have begun de-cluttering the house ages ago, years back would have been good, considering how much we seem to have. It seems a bit late to have started e-baying, but we have, and we spent this weekend preparing for and participating in our first car boot sale, though in our case it was a van completely full of varied jumble.
My nephew sold all of his toys.

As novices I felt the need to do some internet research so I read all the tips, often conflicting – price it up – don’t price it at all, and dire warnings of arriving only to be mugged by people rifling through your still packed boxes. I looked up prices of similar things on e-bay. I shouldn’t have bothered. No-one was interested in any of the good stuff, the antiques, but many things sold if announced loudly as a bargain at £1. Charlie dog’s old lead went for £2, as did two very mouldy wine racks which had lingered for too long in our damp cellar. My four boxes of books, all of them thoroughly enjoyed by me, did not shift at all. I guess they’re not big readers around here.
We could have sold  my brother-in-law's bike ten times over,
but then he'd have had to walk home!

It was a fun day in a strange way, though getting up at 5 a.m. for the opening at six was not pleasant. We sold about half of our stuff and joint profit for the van load was £220, shared between me and my sister, who is clearing her house too. Some of what is left will be going on e-bay tomorrow.

Speaking of e-bay, our auctions are hotting up. I have a few bids of 99p and 3 watchers on one item. The most exciting thing was a question last night about how much I would sell one item for straight away. I declined, but the chap came back with wanting it for his mother’s birthday. Big ahhhhh! It was just a quick click to check on the guy, who turns out to be an antique dealer, specialising in silver, which explains why he wants our art deco silver tea set. How lame was that?

Research for trip is like a spider’s web or tree roots. I look up something, which leads me on to something else, and then there’s this bit to read up on. I can’t imagine what I will do without constant reference to Google, so internet access is a main concern. There are all sorts of ways to connect to the web. You can dangle your dongle and pay the price. You can go upmarket and get your own satellite thingy for a cool 4K, but I think we will be plumping for good old McWifi. I’m not sure how it all works. I can’t remember the last time I went in a McDs, let alone accessed the internet there, but I am assured it’s easy and free. Added to that, a lot of campsites now have internet access apparently, so I should be able to check out minor details in finishing the novel in McDs, and could Skype family when at campsites. So what do you actually do? Get a coffee and a code to log on or could I sit in the car park and access the internet without having to spend any money at all?

Rob has used internet cafes, but that was in very far flung places like China and India where they have loads. I can't say I've really noticed that many when in EU cities, but perhaps I've just not been looking. It’s just one of many areas at the moment where I can only give a shrug and trust that it all works out in the end – it usually does.

We hope to get away by the start of May. House packing is going on, last minute decorating for rental, solicitors to contact as we decided we need a will, banking to arrange for use in EU, opticians to see to get a year's supply of lenses, shelving to put in a van cupboard, a wooden box to remake (read cobble together) in a smaller size, bags to sew from a old green tent we found at the back of a cupboard (still working on storing those cushions)... it’s a long list but we're getting there!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Weekend in Wiltshire

“We’ll meet half way.”

Half way between Surrey and Leicester came out as Wiltshire, so that’s where we headed to the Saturday after we both finished our jobs.

Needless to say the voluntary ending, possibly only temporarily, of our careers was bound to be emotional. For me that was floods of tears – the Burbage tsunami, according to one colleague – for Rob it was doling out fine cheese and Bosnian pastrami – well, we all have our idiosyncrasies.
Rather than mope at home muttering “It doesn’t seem real,” we headed off to meet family, and half way seemed sensible.

The van was duly brought out of storage and loaded up. One additional visitor was disposed of in the back garden – a mouse had got into the shower, presumably through a heating vent. It couldn’t have been there long as there wasn’t much damage and it was still very much alive, although Charlie dog nearly saw it off as it was released to find new mousy friends and most likely invade the garden room and eat the sofa.


We had a good drive down to Wiltshire and drove past Rob’s sister and brother-in-law as they got out of their car in Marlborough. It eventually registered on them why a woman was waving at them out of the window of a van and we stopped for a coffee before moving on to our destination –a small village nearby with a camp site and a pub with accommodation.

They say first impressions count, but in the case of the campsite the first impressions weren’t good, yet it turned out to be a fine place to stay. Yes, we did park up in a corner of the farm yard, between two barns, but we had a view of a field on one side. Yes, it did seem to be populated by a work force, hitherto hidden to us, of semi-itinerant, casual labour, living in small, permanent caravans, but they were very friendly and seemed happy to welcome any new face.

Typically of many small communities, word was soon out that the people in the posh van were there with the people in the even posher car who were staying in the pub.

We had loaded up the van in a bit of a rush to get away early, but on settling in we found we had failed to pack any saucepans or a frying pan. Luckily we were planning to eat at the pub, but we’d have to be inventive on Sunday.

We filled up with fresh water, parked up and switched everything on, only for the water to dump out of the boiler – all of it – gushing – very dramatic - this just as our family arrived to look at the van in action. Thank goodness we’d joined a motor homing website though. Weeks of idly reading posts in the Motor Home Facts forums had prepared me for this. Don’t panic. Nothing had burst in the very cold weather we’d had in February. We’d done something wrong. The boiler was dumping water. This happened when the weather was cold – below freezing – which it wasn’t. It also happens when you forget to put the little drainage valve switch thingy, that stops it dumping water, back into the position after you left it open when stored away. We’d written all this in the little yellow notebook which was...on the breakfast room table...not good. Still, we had the boiler handbook. The fact that none of the pictures or descriptions seemed to match our particular boiler didn’t faze us and we got it all going, albeit with very little water now in the tank.

We made our way round the dark little lane, past the church, to the pub, and spent a very pleasant evening with our family. The food was surprisingly excellent for such a small, out of the way pub and all four of us were satisfied with our choices, which was good because there’s nothing worse in a restaurant than being jealous of what someone else has ordered.

We got back to the van around 11:30, which suddenly turned into 12:30 as the clocks were springing forward into spring. It took another half an hour to get the bed up - if only we’d packed the little yellow book where I’d carefully drawn the layout of the cushions. Without it the whole process was like some cruel tangram puzzle. First Rob moved the pieces about, swore gently, scratched his head, then I did the same. Each time we were left with cushions which didn’t fit the available gaps. After four goes we had a bed. I swear it wasn’t the bed we had last time, but it did fit the space and we had another very comfortable sleep.

Sunday, Palm Sunday to be precise, was the time to get clever with the cooking. As the church bells called the faithful to come and celebrate the run up to Easter we were happily tucking into a bacon sandwich – grilled – and a cup of tea – boiled in our 24 year old Turkish teapot – a nice link back to leaving our jobs as we bought it on our big camping trip before we started PGCE teaching courses and got our first real jobs – for me at the very same school I’d left on Friday actually.

We said our goodbyes to family, assuring them we would see them again before we left the country and reaffirming that if they could find us we would happily meet up somewhere during the coming year.

Barrows at Overton Hill - known locally as "hedgehogs" .

Then we drove off to visit barrows and standing stones, which must surely be what Wiltshire is most famous for. These sorts of trips always end up with endless questions about what such ancient sites were used for. Barrows are easier – burial mounds, rituals surrounding death, they seem to be a basic of most societies.

                          Silbury Hill
The stones are more problematic. We ended up with likening them to the building of cathedrals. Huge structures to the glory of something outside their worlds – a god – several gods – maybe some alien beings who’d visited our planet thousands of years ago (damn that Erich von Däniken bloke – he’s ruined me for anything spiritual).


There’s only so much culture we can take in a day though and since it was late afternoon we didn’t bother looking for any of the experts’ information in the museum. We’re much too know it all for that malarkey. Instead we headed for the very attractive campsite at Postern Hill.

It’s amazing what you can cook in a van oven in one baking tray, and since we’ve been without an oven at home since Christmas it was a change to eat roast carrots, onions, potatoes and sausages. Gravy was made in the pan too. See Mum, all those cooking skills you taught me still come in handy. Not only did I assure myself popularity at university 30 years ago by being able to cook a full Sunday roast, I can still come up with tasty meals with virtually no cooking equipment at all.

It rained fairly solidly for much of the night and so the first Monday after leaving our jobs was a bit of a damp squib. Still, we were away on a Monday morning and it wasn’t a bank holiday, but life always likes to throw up little problems and ours was a good degree of wheel spin in the mud and no discernable forward movement. We tried rolling into reverse to get a grip on the tree roots we had carefully parked on but nothing was happening. In the end we were pulled off by the tiny campsite tractor. It was more of a lawnmower really, but it did the trick and we were able to head off home to start on the next stage of our journey, packing up the house.