We have spent our adult lives determined not to be defined by our possessions. We have dressed in charity shop bargain finds and always been a few years behind the fashion; we’ve camped and self-catered rather than had luxury holidays; we’ve managed with bicycles and no car and we’ve always lived in housing that is at the cheap end of the scale. I know we now own a pretty new camper van but I don’t feel a need to justify this, it will last us years and doing without a camper van would be like sawing an arm off (… okay I realise I have just justified the owning of the ‘van right there).
At our time of life (in our 50s) we have a bunch of friends who own big houses full of expensive furniture, carry designer handbags and take holidays to exotic far-flung locations, fortunately they are prepared to be friends with such a thrifty couple. When we first down-sized and moved to our small flat in the cheapest end of Salford (and Salford itself is the cheap end of Greater Manchester) we felt too ashamed to invite visitors round; what would they think of our frugal housing choice, how would they judge us? After seven years living in our tiny home we are now more comfortable with the choice we made as it is clear that the decision is paying off and we are near to our goal of financial independence and early retirement. We are mortgage-free, own a small flat that is inexpensive to heat and maintain and live in a development that has good security; useful for a couple who are always away in their camper van.
There are times when our choice is more difficult to deal with than others and particularly when it is our turn to host book group. This involves entertaining and feeding ten people and we do it by squashing them around our dining table using an array of cheap folding chairs. At first we were embarrassed that everyone has to shuffle around when one of the group wants to use the bathroom and that there is only comfy chair space for five, discouraging relaxing and chatting into the night (as we are getting too old to sit on the floor). Now we are just grateful that our very good friends are willing to put up with this discomfort and visit and they don’t complain or judge us.
I am happy that we have lovely friends who accept our decisions, even though they are very different from their own and this helps us to feel comfortable living in the cheap end of town.
We are often asked how two low-paid public sector workers managed to afford a new campervan. There is no mystery to this, we didn’t find a lucky money tree, win the lottery or rob a bank, the answer is that we saved our money to achieve our dream.
This (and perhaps my love of the west coast of Scotland) is why I feel a connection to the Deacon Blue song Dignity. If you don’t know this song, you can hear Deacon Blue version here. I became reacquainted with this beautiful song when the singer-songwriter Karine Polwart played her own version of this 1987 hit at a gig last year, after playing it at the National Theatre of Scotland Blabbermouth event in 2014. This was a twelve hour celebration of Scottish music and spoken word on the eve of the Scottish referendum and you can see her playing it in this video.
The song is about a man who works for the council and is mocked by local children but who has a dream; over the years he saves his money to achieve his goal. The song reminds us that no one is who they might seem at first glance and celebrates the hopes and dreams of those who work in humble but essential jobs.
I had dreamt about owning a campervan since I was 13-years old and although there were many years when this and a twelve month gap year in a van seemed unachievable and impractical Mr BOTRA and I got there eventually and the adventures are told on my first blog. Now we are saving for early retirement because for us there is no dignity in working until we drop.
There’s a man I meet
Walks up our street
He’s a worker for the council
Has been twenty years
And he takes no lip off nobody
And litter off the gutter
Puts it in a bag
And never thinks to mutter
And he packs his lunch in a Sunblest bag
The children call him Bogie
He never lets on
But I know ’cause he once told me
He let me know a secret
About the money in his kitty
He’s gonna buy a dinghy
Gonna call her Dignity
And I’ll sail her up the west coast
Through villages and towns
I’ll be on my holidays
They’ll be doing their rounds
They’ll ask me how I got her I’ll say
I saved my money
They’ll say isn’t she pretty
That ship called Dignity
And I’m telling this story
In a faraway scene
Sipping down Raki
And reading Maynard Keynes
And I’m thinking about home
And all that means
And a place in the winter
Set it up (repeat)
And I’m thinking about home
And I’m thinking about faith
And I’m thinking about work
And I’m thinking
How good it would be
To be here some day
On a ship called Dignity
A ship called Dignity
We opted to see the year out in County Durham and Cleveland in the north-east of England. We followed the river Tees from the wild open country of the Pennines to its estuary into the North Sea. Thanks to the heavy rain we had experienced in the north of England over Christmas, High Force and Low Force were stunning and on a sunny afternoon there were plenty of people around to marvel at the spectacle. After admiring the falls, we found a quieter spot for contemplation at Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave, just a few minutes’ walk from the Bowlees car park.
At this time of year we like to tour around in the ‘van and stretch our legs, making the most of the seven hours or so of daylight. We followed the river through the historic town of Barnard Castle, exploring the impressive castle, admiring the view over the river and searching out some of the many blue plaques here before moving onto Darlington. This once thriving engineering town still had a lively buzz about it in the winter drizzle. We visited the Head of Steam Railway Museum and looked in wonder at the amazing Locomotion No. 1, the first passenger steam train.
From Darlington the Tees flows through industrial and urban areas but we still found plenty that is beautiful and certainly interesting.
The Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough is a stunning piece of engineering from 100 years ago. The ‘bridge’ carries cars and pedestrians over the Tees in a cradle that is wound on cables across the river. Nearby, ducks, geese and hordes of lapwings entertained us while we explored the National Nature Reserve on the north side of the river and at the excellent Saltholme RSPB reserve.
We finished our trip on the fantastic stretch of sand at Saltburn-by-the-Sea. From the attractive and recently restored pier we watched the hardy surfers and wandered around the pretty streets of the town window shopping.
We stayed at:
The Crown at Mickleton in Teesdale – this is a small Caravan Club CL with a bathroom and all hard-standing. It was £20/night.
White Water Park Caravan Club Site in Stockton-On-Tees is about 20 minutes walk from Stockton town centre and 30 minutes walk to Thornaby railway station for trains to Darlington, Bishop Aukland and Saltburn and Redcar. We paid just short of £25/night.