Sunday, 29 April 2012

Fulltiming Preparation

First of all, what is 'fulltiming'?

It's a term applied to spending an extended period of time living in a mobile leisure vehicle, be it a touring caravan or a motorhome. It's not to be confused with being a 'traveller' or living in a semi-permanent trailer like a park home or on a 'trailer park'.

Although some folks end up full-timing by default (the classic example is as a result of marriage breakdown), for the overwhelming majority it's a conscious lifestyle choice. It is sticking up two fingers to not only thinking inside the box, but at being trapped inside the box too. Fulltimers are truly free.

Me, I've been fulltiming on and off for about 10 years in a variety of caravans in a variety of ways. The past few years saw me fulltiming (or, as some called it, 'part-timing') for seven months of the year during the warmer months, then retreating to bricks and mortar for the winter.

Now that the house was to be sold, it was time to once again consider fulltiming.

But this time it was to be different. Very different.

All outward appearances look the same… living in the Airstream most of the year, and renting a cottage or two in pretty places for a couple of extended periods in the winter.

So why should this time be any different?

This time, I was setting up life to be free. Truly free. And that meant free of the burden of extraneous possessions.

Every time I've moved out of a house and into a caravan, I've always done so with the full intention of moving back into a house within the foreseeable future. But a couple of things have happened along the way…

In 2002, the intention was to spend six months in Tarifa in Spain. Yet I was back in the UK after three months. Why? Because the friend who had kindly offered to store a lot of my stuff unexpectedly decided to move house. While she COULD have moved all my rubbish as well, it would have been unfair of me to expect her to do so. So it was a 2,000 mile trip back…

Meanwhile, I had other stuff in various people's lofts and garages. So I was dependent on those people allowing me access to it. And I had to remember what was where. After three years, as I moved back into my house, I realised that I was moving stuff - again - that I had never even used. And probably never would.

Fast forward to 2009. My new next door neighbours had a story. They had got together five years previously, and decided to move in together. They sold one of the properties - a gorgeous warehouse conversion in London - and moved into a rented flat 'for a few months'. So all the expensive furniture and fittings from the warehouse flat went into storage.

'A few months' turned into five years. The bill for storage came to… wait for it… £7,000. And, funnily enough, when they finally moved into the beach house next door to mine, they found that none of the furniture from a trendy city warehouse conversion suited the house. Most of it was then disposed of. £7k down the swanny. 

The message here is abundantly clear, isn't it? Possessions can be an absolute pain in the jacksy. We covert them and then we are owned by them, not the other way around.

I'm not talking about the things that bring value into our lives, be it the gorgeous vase that sits in proud view on the mantelpiece, or the funny fridge magnet that makes us smile every time we see it. I'm talking about the stuff that once had value, or possibly might have value in the future, so it's hidden away in a box somewhere.

I'm talking about the old stereo that we still have after 10 years in the loft. The pile of photography magazines that we 'really will' look at again some day. The blunt tools in the shed that might come in handy one day.

As I looked around my 'personal' room in the house at all these boxes of STUFF, I felt quite heavy of heart. The urge to rent storage was overwhelming. But to rent a 7ft x 5ft room in a proper storage facility was going to cost the best part of £70 per month by the time you add insurance and stuff. That's getting on for £1000 per year. The irony was, there wasn't £1000 worth of stuff to store anyway!

Having these figures in my head made decluttering and getting rid of stuff far easier. But I still needed some strength and inspiration from an external source as well as from within.

Fortunately I found it in the book 'The Joy of Less' by Francine Jay.

Naturally, it's downloaded to Kindle on my iPad to reduce the clutter.

I really like this book and recommend it to anyone who acknowledges the need to cut down on stuff, but doesn't quite know how to go about it.

The hardest part? I threw away my old teddy bears, and I threw away the jumper that my beloved Nan knitted for me as a teenager. It still makes me feel a bit wretched to think of that even now, three months later. But, I have to admit, I also feel just that little bit less bogged down. It also helps that my Nan was a minimalist, and I could hear her voice in my head saying 'What do you want to keep that thing for? Get rid of it!'. She'd be very disappointed to think that something she gave me was weighing me down. And you know what? I don't need a jumper I'll never wear to remember what a wonderful person my Nan was, and the lovely times we had together.

Time ran out before I was ready, and the completion date loomed. My possessions filled the car four times. That's still pretty good, but still not good enough. There's still some way to go.

The rats and their stuff take up a lot of space, and I've decided now that Dougal Dog is in my life, I'll not get any more rats when my current two shuffle off. But that will hopefully be a while away yet. I have boxes and boxes of magazines in my parent's loft, all of which I have an article in. I need to keep them for the taxman and also for my own enjoyment. But what I really need to do is digitise them… but can you imagine just how long that will take? Ditto the photo albums.

A typical scene from two nights away... although only the rucksack and wheely bag is my stuff, the rest is pet related!

Full-timing epitomises going against the 'norm'. So it makes sense that decluttering and living an anti-consumption life goes hand-in-hand with it. We live in a world where we are bombarded with messages telling us that the more we possess, the happier we are. Deep down, we all know that that's not the case. The sad thing is, it means that you ALWAYS have to be on the defensive, which is time and energy consuming. I have already entered arguments and disappointed people who are trying to give me something for 'free' that I don't want.

I can't promise that decluttering will make you happy, and it's not for everybody. Some people aren't happier than when surrounded by lots of knick-knacks and their bits and bobs. 

But for me, so far I am feeling far lighter and freer. Still a long way to go, and it can be uncomfortable at times, but it's an exciting journey.

Monday, 23 April 2012


Children of the 80s like me will be familiar with the motto 'Choose Life' as paraded on a T-shirt by a very fresh, very young, and very orange George Michael.

2012 brings a new one for me. KISS Life.

Nothing to do with snogging. It was my dear friend Soo@32 who introduced me to the concept of KISS when writing out instructions to help me cook my first ever Christmas Dinner. 'Keep It Simple, Stupid!' was the key to success.

Now, it was time to take KISS to a higher level.

For many years I have spent more nights of the year under a tin roof than I have under tiles. But I craved a 'base' of my own. So four years ago I bought my dream home; a beautiful, brand-new, trendy eco-house on the beach at Camber Sands. The idea was simple. I could live there in the winter, then when it was time to hit the road for the summer I could rent out the place as a holiday let, thereby maximising the use of the house and, effectively, living there for free.

A great idea. And it worked. But there is no such thing as 'free', of course. To run the place successfully required a lot of time and energy. In 2011, the time I still had, but the energy had gone thanks to more important things that had cropped up in my life. It was time to KISS.

Luckily I found a couple of buyers for the house who also wanted the furniture and the business. I was delighted, as it meant that my 'regulars' were still assured of happy holidays. The buyers were delighted as they had a ready-made business to walk in to. Everything just fell into place.

Of course, that would leave me with the minor detail of finding somewhere to live. The Airstream is fine throughout most of the year, but this single chap gets Cabin Fever when the clocks go back and less time can comfortably spent outside in the open air. But I know that many holiday homes sit empty during the few dark days that I need a bit of indoor space to stretch my legs. In fact, it even remains possible that I could end up back in my former house on a temporary basis. I'd enjoy all the good stuff, but without the worry of ownership. It seems like a plan.

Despite the fact that the furniture was included with the house, there was still a lot of personal stuff to deal with and sort out. This is where things could get interesting.

2011 in three minutes

With Dougal the dog ensconced in my life, 2011 drew to a calm close. 2012 was to be a very, very exciting year. But in a calm and relaxed kind of way. There are two videos to wrap up the year... an eight minute version that encompasses everything, and a shorter three minute version that only covers the caravan touring. Take your pick, and happy viewing: 

 Long drawn out version:

Short, succinct caravan-only version:

Monday, 16 April 2012

A whole new chapter

Life as I knew it was about to change. Forever.

Those you you close to me will know that we had a bit of a traumatic time round about Christmas 2010 and the first half of 2011. Basically, a close member of my family ended up going from a very fit middle-aged man to a non-ambulant wheelchair user overnight. Things like that, especially when they happen so close to home and you're dealing with the emotional and the practical side on a day-to-day basis, can have a massive impact on one's outlook.

We all know that we should live for today. Carpe Diem and all that.

Life is a funny old thing. We come into this world and we leave this world in the same way - with absolutely nothing. So we spend our lives coping with the ceaseless conflict of living for today, yet being prudent enough to make sure that we will also be comfortable tomorrow.

The term 'Bucket List' has suddenly become trendy and modern. For those unaware, it was first made popular by people with terminal illness who make a LIST of what they want to do before kicking the BUCKET.

I'm one of those outstandingly lucky and privileged people who had ticked off all but one of the items on my bucket list by mid-2011:

Go to New Zealand, spend a year travelling, work on a high-speed train, test out new caravans for magazines, qualify as a windsurfing instructor, run my own business, and many many more besides.

There was only one thing left on my Bucket List, which I was leaving until I retired. That one thing was 'Get a dog'.

I love dogs, having grown up with them. The family's Airedale Terrier 'Rex' used to accompany me on my first solo caravan tours in my late teens in my old Thomson Glenmore. Happy, happy days.

I suddenly realised that I had cut my working hours in the 'day job' to 50 per cent to fulfil other requirements, and was only working two days a week. I had also cut out a lot of journalism work. Suddenly, I stopped and took notice of the signs, did some research, and started to realise that, indeed, looking after a dog properly was 'doable'. And, given the closeness of my wake-up call to live for today, I realised that leaving the delight of getting a dog until my retirement could be way too late.

So, dear reader, I am delighted to present to you my wonderful, devoted, chilled-out and laid-back little friend, Dougal:


Altogether now…. 'Awwwwwwww!'

Dunster House Concordia Adventures

Back from the Hebrides, it was time to attend to some family admin. My next adventure was due for mid-November.

Lucky me, I was asked by Dunster House Caravans to take away one of their Concordia caravans and put it through its paces for a week. The only drawback would be that I's have to use the time to shoot some footage for a TV programme and a video. But hey, as I often say, it beats working for a living.

A logistical nightmare followed. The Airstream was due for its service and I would drop this off BEFORE collecting the Concordia. I hate doing it that way. Because if you forget to unload any 'essential habitation equipment' from your own van into the car to use in the press van, you're snookered. And my brain isn't that switched on.

But it all passed smoothly enough, the Airstream left with the good people at Airstream's southern depot in Gloucestershire, then a dash over to Bedford to collect the Concordia, then an evening at Commons Wood CC site in Welwyn Garden City settling in and setting up.

It's at this tired, cold, hungry, frazzled point that some press caravans turn up all their faults, which of course seem ten times worse in such a grump. So I was delighted to find that everything in the Concordia worked, it worked properly, and it was easy to operate. Well done Dunster House.

The week that followed was all about winter caravanning. After all, we were well into November. A shame, then, that nobody told the weather, which thought that we were still in September. As such, I enjoyed a week of wall-to-wall sunshine visiting London (Abbey Wood CC Site), Brighton (Sheepcote Valley), and the New Forest (Black Knowle). Great news for the video pictures, not so great to illustrate the 'winter caravanning' theme!


The final weekend, at the New Forest, it really was the most magical time. I enjoyed some great walks and mountain biking through the woods. A lot of caravanners and motor caravanners were on site reaping the rewards of the freedom and the spontaneity that our wonderful pastime allows us. It really was so utterly perfect that it does make you wonder why so many people just don't 'get' it. But hey, their loss is our pitch availability.



After a hectic, full-on, but fun-packed week, it was time to head back to Commons Wood, clean up the Concordia, and reluctantly give it back to Dunster House. The strong performance put in by this new caravan over the week was astonishing.

If you have a spare 15 minutes and a good broadband connection, do take a look at the videos, and see just what you can do with a caravan in the winter while your bored friends are trawling the shops and watching trash TV:

Off I went back home for the winter, and while I hadn't ruled out further caravanning, I did know that I was going to be busy for a while.

Not one but two life-changing events were on the cards.

So life-changing, that a change of theme to this blog is now in order.

Homeward Bound

Returning from the Hebrides, I chose the longer sailing (but shorter overall journey) via Oban, which passed without event bar the world's worst vegetable curry courtesy of CalMac. It really was the utter pits, but there wasn't a lot else available, and five hours is a long time…

Still, it was a beautiful afternoon. Although this has to go down as the saddest view in the world in my book:


At least afterwards we were rewarded with liquid fire in the sky over Mull:



I made it as far as the Lake District before pulling over at a Caravan Club Site and passing out gently in the Late Night Arrivals area.

The plan for the next day was to head to Burrs Country Park to stay the night and visit a Manchester friend, but the Universe conspired against it and I ended up parking the Airstream outside the lovely house of some friends in Hereford who had kindly offered an open invite for many months.

I had a lovely stay with M&G, both of whom work as long-haul cabin crew for my favourite airline. Nothing strange about that, but they had three dogs, two horses, and a plethora of rescue ex-battery hens.

It intrigued me how they managed to look after the animals while having such jobs, but they worked it well and on the very few occasions they are both away, there is a support network to take on the animals.

As I left the following day, M told me that I really should get a dog. It's something I've always wanted, but as I still 'do the day job' twice a week, it was something that was always going to have to wait till retirement.

Or was it?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hebrides Revisted - October 2011

It seemed a little decadent in the least to be aboard the mv Hebrides heading for Lochmaddy just four weeks after leaving the islands and going back to Kent. But life is simply too short not to.

The wind continued to blow, making for an interestingly bumpy ferry ride.


Upon disembarkation, I headed to one of my favourite camping spots. Before long I was set up and kitesurfing on the turquoise sea. It was a fairly good session, nothing out of the ordinary, but then something rather special happened.


I was conscious of something in the water about 10 metres away and looked over. Up out of the water popped the head of a seal. The indignant look he gave me was an absolute picture… this pesky human skitting about on the waves was obviously scaring off the fish and making him work for his supper. After giving me a hard stare that would have made Paddington Bear proud, he submerged and no doubt swam off in a bit of a huff.

Weather was not kind over the next few days. Wind blew incessantly, whistling around the rooflight of the Airstream all night and day, and nowhere I went on this flat island could I escape the incessant blow.

This is just one of the glamorous camping spots where I tried, and failed, to find shelter:


For three nights I had no sleep. Come day four I was becoming desperately delirious on lack of sleep, and started to ring around B&Bs. Yes, it was that bad.

Nowhere could I find a decent room for a decent price, but fortunately the wind subsided a little and I slept that night. Hurrah! Slowly, the feeling of being human, rather than a walking shell, returned.

A couple of days later I stopped off at 'seal point' on the island of Berneray. In all my visits to the islands, I'd always considered Seal Point to be a misnomer. I'd never seen a single seal there.

Today, I hit jackpot:


And there were LOADS more besides. Brilliant!

All too soon it was my last night so I headed off to 'my' favourite beachside camping spot. The weather hadn't been so great on this trip, but at least my final evening was enjoyed sitting outside the Airstream with the fire pit burning away.

Two amazing things then happened….

First of all, the constant cloud of the trip lifted to reveal a stunning sunset. Absolutely stunning.



The second was my company that night. On a previous trip I had met the local border collie dog who kind of belonged to someone on the island. As this was a small island, this doggy roamed the whole place at his leisure. He came and joined me, sitting at my feet enjoying the warmth of the fire as I marvelled at the raging colours of the unfurling sunset.

While this had not been the best of Hebrides trips for me, this small occurrence made sure that it ended on an absolute high.

Little did I realise at the time that this was one of many signs…

Heading North. Again.

From England and the Borders of Scotland, there are two ways to get to the Uist chain of islands in the Outer Hebrides. You can either sail from Oban to Lochboisdale on South Uist (5hrs direct, 7hrs via Barra), or from Uig in Skye to Lochmaddy in North Uist (1hr 30). Now that CalMac ferries charge a 'Road Equivalent Tariff' the cost is about the same whichever route you choose. Oban offers the faster journey time (despite the longer crossing) but Uig is the route to choose if you have the time. The A87 from Fort William to Uig via Kyle of Lochalsh and Portree has to go down as my favourite road in the UK. The scenery is stunning, absolutely stunning. Mountains tower either side of the valley on the mainland making for a dramatic drive, not to mention crossing the jaw-dropping Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye. It's a wonderful, wonderful drive.


First port of call, just South of Fort William, was Bunree Caravan Club site at Onich.

The wind was still blowing but it was a gorgeous evening on this gorgeous site. Across the water from the Ardmamurchan Peninsula, the view was spectacular. And there was even a grassy area to set up the kite, so out I went onto the water to flirt with the Corran Ferry.

Once again, it would have been rude not to.

And the next morning, I did it all again! Brilliant.


As if that wasn't enough, I found out that there was a mountain bike trail just North of Fort William at the Nevis Mountain resort. So a small diversion was made.

It was a pleasant ride with some nice singletrack, but nowhere near as challenging or time-consuming as the publicity suggested. But the best thing for me was that the car park was ENORMOUS, so there was plenty of space to park the entire rig. Downhill fans were taking the gondola up the mountain to charge down it at breakneck speeds, but I decided that I quite like having my own front teeth so settled for a sarnie in the trailer instead.


That night, along the stunning A87, I sought refuge at Morvich Caravan Club Site. What a beaut! Towering mountains all around… but sadly no time to climb them. I had a ferry to catch the next day.