There are places that mean a lot to me and this meaning comes from a combination of things; the experiences and memories I have of the place, the stories and folklore of that area, the scenery and the vistas and the history of the area.
I will admit I was nervous trimming Mr BOTRA’s hair for the first time as I didn’t want to make him the laughing stock of his office. Fortunately, we seem to have got away with it and no one asked him the name of his amateur hairdresser.
A few months ago we splashed out some of our hard-earned on hair clippers [of course after thinking about it for some months and researching the best options]. Although the cost of buying the hair clippers was about £50 this outlay does now mean that we can both have our hair cut for free. Even though neither of us have ever visited any of the fancy salons in Manchester city centre, DIY hair cutting still saves us around £250 a year. That means in just a few months the hair clippers have already paid for themselves.
As well as saving money, we no longer have to be a part of that painful experience of chatting to the hairdresser [maybe this awkwardness is just my socially inadequacy]. For Mr BOTRA and I, finding things to chat about to each other has never been a problem [we already know where we are going to go on holiday] so hair cuts at home are more relaxed and save time too.
Home hair cuts are not for everyone. We are not able to create that perfect coiffured look at home but fortunately, that isn’t what we need. Neither of us have any job interviews coming up, need to be mother-of-the-bride or need to impress anyone. We understand that there are times when you might not want to have a home haircut. What we are both interested in at the moment is looking reasonably tidy, having a short cut that is easy to wash and doesn’t take any styling and [of course] in saving money.
I read motorhome magazines [MMM and Practical Motorhome] cover to cover, as well as other owners blogs and forums. Through these I read lots tales about campervans being broken in to and valued items being stolen. I know it must be dreadful when this happens; a campervan is after all a home as well as a vehicle. Touch wood, in our ten-years of motorhoming over 90,000 miles we haven’t had many problems but we do take a few precautions.
We try not to own anything too expensive [no really flash camera, no top of the range tablet] although with a small ‘van where space is limited everything we carry is valuable [to us.]
We think about where we are leaving the ‘van and consider whether it feels safe; if one of us is unhappy with a car park they are allowed a veto.
We never leave money or credit cards in the ‘van but always choose to carry them on our person [walking trousers/shorts and shirts have the benefit of lots of pockets]
We put any valuables [to us] that might be left in the ‘van out of sight
We prefer to park with the back doors reversed to a wall as they feel like a weak point and this makes it impossible to access the ‘van this way. Parking in this way also makes it difficult to get at the bikes when they are loaded.
We have added Lock M Out window locks to the two large side windows and we always lock the ‘van doors at night.
If the worst happens and someone steals the whole ‘van, we have a tracker which we hope will mean it can be found.
During our year travelling we did have a couple of problems which were both [coincidently] in Spain. The first time, someone attempted to take the bikes off the bike rack when it was parked in a small town that had felt safe enough. They had buckled one of the wheels in the process and we had to replace this. A few week’s later someone tried to force open one of the van side windows and scratched the plastic and then scored the drivers side window [perhaps in frustration] and we had to have that replaced.
‘I have never met a strong person with an easy past’
I came across this quote recently, although I can’t find anyone to attribute it to and started thinking about it in terms of my own life.
I am not claiming that the past I have experienced has been particularly tough but I can see how the usual tough times have helped me to grow and become someone with the resilience to manage difficulties in a positive way, learn from my mistakes and maintain an inner strength.
To give readers a short history of some of those challenging times. At the tender age of 21-years I had a few months when three events happened; my first husband left me for a new life with a mutual friend, the grandmother I loved very much and who lived next door died suddenly and my parents divorced. For a while I coped with this badly and mooched around feeling sorry for myself and seeking sympathy from my friends. However, I was young and I bounced back and as my attitude changed I felt stronger for the experiences I had been through and could see these had been life changing events.
I have now reached the age of 56-years and can’t help but be aware that this is the age my mother was when she died. But although this rumbles in the background of my brain it feeds my optimism, rather than pessimism; I only carry some of her genes and there is no indication that I am going to drop off this planet in the near future [touch wood.]
We are shaped by our past and it makes us stronger and I think the death of my mother at a young age (and also the death of Mr BOTRA’s mother also coincidentally at 56-years) have made me the person I am; that is one who is determined to retire before I get too old to make the most of it. These experiences have helped me set a course for financial independence.
I am not trying to give you a sob story but in the past I have also been made redundant from jobs I have given all my energy and enthusiasm to; been bullied by work colleagues that are just inadequate individuals and fluffed more job interviews than I care to really remember. I have regrets; I have sometimes not been the friend I would like to be and I have tolerated people in my life who have sucked out my joyfulness and spat it in to the gutter for longer than I should have.
I don’t regret these experiences, they have all contributed to the person I am today and help me to enjoy today, taking control where I can, trying to accept what comes along and planning for the future that I want.
Pinned up in the van is the above list of things. Mr BOTRA and I think of the lines of this verse as our ‘to do’ list when we are on trips in the van.
Our plans for our [hoped for] long and happy retirement are to spend lots of time on campervan trips and doing all the things on this list.
This list is not ours it is one of those oft quoted things you find on a fridge magnet or a postcard but it does nicely summarise the things we like to do on our campervan trips.
Walk in the rain – or [hopefully] in the sun, or the wind; whatever the weather we will just walk [or cycle] every day. We will walk up mountains, along valleys, traverse ridges, follow coastlines and explore towns and cities, at walking pace we can really appreciate the great outdoors. When we were away in the van for a year in 2009/10 (blog here) we walked most days, slept well and were fitter and healthier than we had ever been.
Smell flowers – There is no better display than the one nature provides and I always take time to smell the flowers [and watch the birds and animals], as well as try and identify what they are with the books we have in the ‘van … sometimes this is very hard.
Stop along the way – In a campervan there is really no rush and no excuse not to stop and explore whatever we find because being in the ‘van is part of the fun and the journey. Sometimes these unscheduled stops take you to unexpected and interesting places.
Build sandcastles – Or beach comb, or bird watch or just more walking but on beaches.
Go on field trips – For me every day in the ‘van is a field trip and the blog is my field note book. When I was a geography student the field trips were my favourite part of the course and I picked modules to maximise the number of trips I took part in. Field trips are about taking everything in, observing, experiencing and soaking in the sounds, tastes, history, smells and stories of a place.
Find out how things work – I will admit to a liking for interpretation boards and Mr BOTRA reads these avidly. I am also addicted to looking things up on Google. As far as I am concerned, every day is an opportunity to learn something new.
Tell stories – To each other and to others [when they will listen].
Say the magic words -These must be ‘Let’s go camping!’ I say these all the time.
Trust the universe – Okay, this is a bit dippy, I trust it to just keep expanding and be there.
With nine Devon Conversions ‘vans grouped together on the campsite near Nottingham it wasn’t unreasonable for a perplexed fellow camper to ask, ‘do you all come from Devon?’
We had gathered for the spring Devon Owner’s Group rally and once again had lots of laughs, met old friends and made some new ones, learnt plenty of useful tips and came away with new ideas for places to visit.
We were camped near the village of Cotgrave near Nottingham and Mr BOTRA and I caught a taxi to the pretty village of Colston Bassett with a plan to buy some delicious and creamy Blue Stilton cheese from the dairy there and then follow the lanes and the old canal back to the campsite (approximately 13 kms).
The taxi driver was a chatty character and told us he had been 20-years a miner at the Cotgrave pit before it closed and came from a family of ten generations of mineworkers. This took me back to the 1980s when we lived in the East Midlands and were surrounded by the hardship of the mineworkers and their families as they endured the long strike.
Colston Bassett, as well as having a dairy that makes fantastic creamy and tangy Stilton, also has an atmospheric ruined church on the edge of the village that was worth exploring. All the villages around here had charming names and we found a second cheese shop in Cropwell Bishop and opted to buy their tasty Beauvale soft blue cheese.
The Grantham Canal is no longer navigable and is now mostly a greenway of shrubs and plants and proved to be a haven for wildlife and we enjoyed watching a Willow Warbler flitting among the long grasses. As the canal reaches Cotgrave we walked through the lovely country park, landscaped on some of the land that was the mine.
The weather forecast had been for showers and so we had packed the waterproofs but we never needed them and we felt lucky as the day stayed warm and pleasant day for walking.
To update my previous blog post about the uncertainty of my salaried work, this is now sorted and I am so pleased that I won’t have to travel to the windowless cave-office [yipee]. Instead I have managed to negotiate home-working from the end of June. This means I can carry on working up to my retirement at the end of the year.
It is still a period of change in the office, as my co-workers are all being transferred to the precariousness of a new organisation that will be delivering the service or have successfully found different jobs to avoid the fun and games of the reorganisation. Either way, I am going to miss seeing them all every week, hearing their news and helping them plan their holidays [I can’t help taking on this planning role for people whether they want it or not – I really missed my vocation as a travel agent].
So now my mind is turning to the pros and cons of home-working. Will I lose the plot and miss other people so much that after just a few weeks I am talking to myself and have forgotten all my social skills [those who know me will ask what social skills]? Will I miss the regular requests for money for leaving presents, wedding presents, new baby presents etc? Will I be the person that sits in the local cafe relying on their WiFi and making one cup of coffee last hours just so that I can be around other people? Or will I love the freedom to be able to put the washing in the machine as a break from the PC and rustle up our evening meal at lunch time? Will I rattle through my work load and be even more productive because there are no interruptions? Who knows.
I already work from home two days a week as a travel writer and so I have my home office space organised and I think I have the discipline to stop work, pack it all away and not look at it again until my next working day. I will be able to keep in touch on the telephone but I will also meet with my manager and other colleagues at least once a month and I hope that will be enough to stop me being too isolated.
On the finance and savings front I think it is a win-win. Although I will have heating costs from working at home [unless I spend lots of time in the cafe] I won’t have travel costs plus I will be earning money that I wasn’t expecting to be earning just a couple of months ago. I always take in my own lunch [but no more office microwave for heating up left overs] so that cost won’t change. Currently my employer generously pays for the numerous cups of tea and coffee I drink during the day, so I will miss that perk.
And yet every day I am working at home I will remember that at least I have a window and a view of our gardens.
It was Mr BOTRA’s birthday a little while ago [apologies this blog post isn’t as up-to-date as it could be]. We have always been frugal with presents and don’t buy expensive gifts for birthdays [we either need things and buy them or it is just stuff we don’t need] but I did buy him something to read and some of his favourite chocolates.
Along with these gifts I wrote a note promising to buy him cocktails down at The Lime Bar on Salford Quays. You might say one of two things to this; it is either no big deal or an extravagance too far for two people who are saving up for early retirement. However, it was a lovely and enjoyable gift for both of us, as we got to spend time together, just the two of us.
We eat out or have drinks fairly regularly in Salford and Manchester but always with friends, sometimes to celebrate something or sometimes just as an excuse to get together or before seeing a band or going to the theatre. We enjoy these sociable occasions and want to continue being able to afford these luxuries [necessities]. However, going out for drinks or a meal when it is just the two of us is an indulgence; after all if we want to chat to each other we can do this at home.
And we do chat and talk at home; we talk about what we have been up to during the day, our plans and hopes for the future, our friends and family, what we are reading, the state of the nation, our finances and little things we have seen that have amused us [of course we also argue sometimes].
But it turned out that being ‘out’, that is away from the flat, was different. It meant that we weren’t distracted by chores or projects, the internet or the radio and so our time at The Lime Bar was special because I was able to just enjoy being with my lovely partner. We enjoyed good cocktails and nattered and I remembered why I have been happily married to him for over 30-years. Is that so extravagant?
I love maps! I gaze at them and imagine journeys I can take and try and picture the places they represent. My fingers follow the patterns of the paths, rivers and ridges and how these affect the pattern of the towns and villages. For me, maps open up possibilities and going out with a map gives me the confidence to explore; this also means that without a map I feel a bit lost and all-at-sea.
I like to think of our plan for early retirement and financial independence as a map. This map also has a path I am wandering along but the benefit of the map is that I can spot the opportunities for short-cuts and longer more scenic routes, should I fancy deviating from the path. This map gives me confidence and the ability to be flexible around the route Mr BOTRA and I have mapped out and with this map I am hopeful that I won’t end up in a dead end or get lost along the way.
And so, not surprisingly, I love the look of these literary maps. They are designed as a sort of mobile and self-taught creative writing course, with exercises to help a writer explore a particular environment. There is a writing map for the city, for cafes and bookshops, for writing by the sea and in crowded places and others. Each map is designed by a different person and is a beautiful item to own and look at and make use of. I am hoping someone buys at least one for me some time soon.
As a travel writer and a blog writer I am not too proud to take any help I can get. I get loads of inspiration from other people’s blogs, from conversations with other people, from observation and from reading. These literary maps look like a great way to initiate the generation of new ideas in my brain. Take a look and let me know how you find inspiration for your ideas, projects and writing.
A quick word on the quote I have used: “A labyrinth is a symbolic journey . . . but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.” From Rebecca Solnit wonderful book Wanderlust: A History of Walking.
Last weekend we had the heating on, fleeces and hats during the daytime and were wrapped up at night in pyjamas, silk sleeping bag liners, duvets and blankets. One week later, here we are at last in shorts and able to sit outside the ‘van. We have moved from Please make it warmer! to putting the thermals and thick socks to the back of the drawer in just a few days.
As we set off walking in the rolling Shropshire countryside Mr BOTRA and I both felt lighter and we were. We were carrying just the camera and binoculars, no need for waterproofs and those extra layers. In the ‘van making the beds was easier and now we could eat outdoors, there were no crumbs in the van after eating.
We had a glorious weekend near Shrewsbury; walking up and around Lyth Hill, where we were congratulating ourselves for our excellent navigation skills and Shropshire Council for their excellent signage and then [you guessed it] we got lost. We found our way back to our route and then got lost again due to poor signage through a farmyard [we suspect the farmer was trying to deter walkers and had removed the helpful yellow arrows].
On the Sunday we visited the beautiful ruin of Haughmond Abbey, a tranquil and scenic spot and then moved on to Hawkstone Park Follies. If you have never been to this fantastical wonderland of grottos, narrow bridges, tall monuments and stunning woodland, all set on a sandstone ridge, then you should try and get here soon. I last visited in the late 1970s, when it was neglected and over-grown and not operated as a visitor attraction at all. Then we felt like we were the first people to discover it as we fought our way through rhododendron bushes and along narrow paths. Today, the paths are well marked and with your entrance fee to see the 200-year old park you get a map. Despite this taming of the landscape, the walks are both fun and demanding and there are still uneven paths, steep steps and dark caves and gullies to explore. We particularly liked ‘The Cleft’, a rocky gash in the hillside that is dark, damp and mossy and the rain water has eroded circular patterns in the sandstone.
It was cheering to see so many people having so much fun in the outdoors. What a difference the sun makes!