Slipping through the cracks.
We’re a week into our journey. A week since we shut the door on our house, our jobs, our school and headed off in our van. It seems strange to be bothering to write about how that feels after only a week. After all, a holiday often lasts longer than a week, I’ve worked away from home for more than a week at a time. But this is different. This isn’t a holiday, this is our life for the next year. The bricks and mortar that we thought of as home for the last 9 years, that Libby and Stan have always known as home, is now home to someone else. The van is our home now, and believe me, that takes some getting used to.
It seems to me that there are stages in making this kind of change, and for us the stages went something like this:
- Have idea, get excited
- Waste some time picturing instagram sunsets and a kind of back to basics, blissful family life.
- Decide to really do it and spend the next 8 months sorting out work, van, house, admin, etc.
- Finish work and spend the last two weeks almost breaking yourselves to get things ready.
We finally set off late a night on Thursday 21st April 2016, excited to be leaving but frankly shattered. You can see a brief video of us closing the door on our ‘house life’ here.
The first part of our journey was all about making our way south to say a few goodbyes and give the van a proper test, before heading abroad. After a strange night’s stay in a field with race teams near Silverstone we headed towards London for a big family birthday, as our eldest, Harriet, turned 21. We parked up at a campsite in Chertsey, just outside the Low Emission Zone and there we stayed for 5 days, exhausted. I don’t think we realised until that point that this was not a holiday. Most of our time in Chertsey was spent fixing bits on the van and trying to relax, plan and take it all in.
The moment of realisation.
For me, this came as we walked along the Thames path from Chertsey bridge to Weybridge, across Dumsey Meadow (one of the last Thameside meadows, an SSSI and a great place for a peaceful stroll should you ever get there). As we walked into Weybridge and saw people heading home and going about their daily lives it struck me that we aren’t, for the next year at least, a part of that life. It felt as though we had quite deliberately, fallen through the cracks, and I was reminded of the parallel world in the Neil Gaiman novel Neverwhere. After over 20 years of doing the things that are expected of grown ups – jobs, houses, – we had opted out of that, for a time at least. It feels strange, liberating yes, but strange. There is no going back, our old house is no longer ours to use. The van is our home and the choice about exactly where we make that home and for how long is ours, but wherever we park we will always be passing through; outsiders and observers of a way of life that we have left behind, for now.
I’m writing this from a car park in Stratford St Mary in Suffolk before heading off to Aldeburgh to meet a friend with a van and hide from the bank holiday traffic for the weekend. The sun is shining, I’ve just pulled our home forward a few feet so a lorry can empty the bottle bank and life is good. Weird, but good.