Monday, 17 November 2014

The Milk of Human Kindness (Beth)

Before we set out on this adventure of ours we had spent a long time reading about other people who had done a similar thing. We knew that leaving our comfortable lives was a radical decision and lost count of the number of people who said they wished that they could do the same (as well as the those who clearly thought we were mad) but took comfort and encouragement from the fact that there were many before us who had undertaken their own adventures.

Many clich├ęs are true. Life is short. You only get one life. You regret the things you didn’t do. I think it’s fair to say that Nathanial and I are not strangers to taking the road less travelled, or doing things differently. Or the hard way.

That said, we did a lot of research. We made sure that our adventure could be a reality. We worked hard to get everything in place so that we could achieve our dream. As well as the challenges of living in a small space on a small budget, we were going to have to build our small space too and accommodate the different needs of four people, including the education of the boys.

What I’m trying to say is, we tried to cover every angle, but with such a vast array of things to cover, we stretched ourselves very thin. It was perhaps inevitable that we couldn’t cover all the bases.

Deadlines come as they inevitably will and by the time we left the house (a month ago!) whatever wasn’t done wasn’t done. Nathanial has been working through the bits that weren’t finished on the van and I have been working more on the admin side of things: paperwork, documents, route planning, book buying, more research.

Once in the van, our priorities underwent a drastic change. Although it was an immense relief not to be worrying about work, decorating, finding tenants, sourcing supplies for the van, and having time to spend with our children, there were new pressures. In a house, you don’t generally have to worry about water; you just turn on the tap. You flush the loo without a second thought as to what just happened to the contents. If you use gas, you might be on a meter, but generally you don’t run out. Or if you do you pop down the road to charge your key.

With the van, we had decided long ago in the planning stage to have a gas tank fitted underneath the vehicle. This way, you’re saving room inside the vehicle and not having to faff around with gas bottles and the different fittings they have from country to country. An LPG tank just gets refilled from the fuel station in the same way a car is filled with petrol or diesel.

Although I knew that LPG was available in Europe (as GPL) I had forgotten to remember that like the different fittings on the gas bottles, the nozzles for the gas differ between countries and it was necessary to purchase a set of adapters to enable us to fill the tank. It wasn’t until we had been in France for a week or so that this little piece of knowledge decided to pop back into my head. And now we had a problem. We weren’t running low on gas but we would need to refill at some point and were now unable to do so. When we left La Rochelle, before we lost fourth gear, we had pulled into a campervan dealership we’d spotted from the road which sold accessories. Unfortunately, it was one hour into the customary two hour lunch that all of France seems to obey and we didn’t want to wait around for an hour in the carpark so we carried on. For about half an hour when the gear went.

Before we took the van in for its repair we had tried another camper dealership in Saintes but the staff had done the head shaking and breath-intake thingy that mechanics do and we’d come away empty-handed.

A big saviour of ours through the building of the van has been the SBMCC (Self Build Motor Caravanners Club). They have a fantastic forum where ignorant people like us ask all sorts of questions relating to self-builds and fantastically knowledgeable and kind people take time to answer them. In the past year the members have helped us out of several holes and saved us a lot of time and money. And research.

I posted a thread asking the members if they knew where we could get adapters in France. Within hours we had been told that most garages are able to lend you an adapter, but even better than that, a lovely chap called Mike told me that he and his wife Ann would be travelling through Saintes later that week and would be happy to meet us and give us their own adapters!

Having been victims of a few burglaries, a robbery in Spain, and a crash and run on our car just before we sold it, our faith in humankind had been somewhat dented. In just four weeks of travelling we have had some bad luck, yes, but wow, what amazing people we have encountered. We have been given invaluable advice from fellow van-dwellers, in La Rochelle we met the lovely Irish couple who gave us the printed sheet of aires and some great knowledge besides.

The mechanic who is fixing the van has gone above and beyond to help us out, even loaning us a car for free, which we would have been who knows where without, because the van was unfortunately not ready for Friday as we’d hoped and the owner of the gite we were staying in had another booking.

The owner of our new gite was at first bamboozled when I called him unexpectedly in London on Friday morning but within minutes he had arranged for his French housekeeper to pop round to the property and make it ready for our arrival.

Mike and Ann not only offered us their set of adapters but drove out of their way on a horrible rainy night after having been travelling all day (and on a ferry all night) to deliver those adpaters right to the door of our second gite which is several miles out of Saintes. It was lovely to talk to them about our lives and experiences. Mike and Ann seem to have had many adventures themselves and I felt their calmness very reassuring. As well as coming to our aid with the adapters, Mike was also able to enlighten us to the fact that our van was the subject of a Fiat recall to fix the under-mounted spare-wheel holder, something that has been a cause of concern because ours isn’t working and we are having to keep the spare wheel (which is HUGE and weighs a TON) under Alfie’s bed. Where we would much rather be storing other things.

So, in summary. If you’re planning an adventure yourself, I would say go for it. You will possibly forget some things, or possibly not if you are more organised than us. But if you take the wrong path, sometimes that makes for the best journey.

1 comment:

  1. Well I'm just on the school run ...read your blogs and all I can say is bloody amazing ...keep the blogs coming ...stay safe and keep well ...what an adventure ...well jel !! lots of love xx


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