Brrrrrrrr

We’re back at Wankum (no sniggering – still) before we launch an assault on Belgium (to Brugges) for a couple of nights. And then the ferry home.

It’s been fun, considering the weather, which has been more autumnal than mid-summer. We did the Brocken. Steve and Bex ran up (500 metres of climb and 6.5km there, and 6.5km back again) whilst C and I walked up, meeting them for a picnic lunch at the top. The Brocken is the old East German listening post with huge towers on top which used to gather info on the unsuspecting West. The weather held, but rained when we got back to the stellplatz. It was a good day.

the top of the Brocken and a couple of idiots

We then drove via one of the few remaining Inner German Border segments – a mile walk into the forest. By chance it is pretty much the same crossing that opens The Innocence of Trust which was a big hurrah for me. And then we drove onto a small village short of Kassel. With the weather inclement we watched a lot of the World Athletics Champs on German satellite. The next day we did Hercules, a huge statue on a hillside above Kassel, but the driving rain forced us into the local cafe where we ate more apple cake and drank coffee. Fab.

= Prologue of The Innocence of Trust

brrrrrrr

Last night we made it as far west as Soest, another old British garrison town. We walked a bit, I went for a run (we’ve kept that up between us) and watched Mo get silver and the brilliant blokes and girls relay teams get gold and silver. Hurrah!

Overnight here (C and I have been for a run) and off to Brugges tomorrow. Bex wants to drink lots of  Belgian beer.

Doris has been fab, considering she’s looked after the four of us – and the weather. There has been plenty of room. Although we did have a catastrophic leak a couple of nights ago. Thankfully, after some more self-help fixing, the awning has stayed the course during some torrential rain. But, as C was washing something the other night, the hot water wouldn’t run. I checked all of the taps and the same thing happened – no water. I checked the pump, and that was fine. It could only be one thing – a leak in the hot water system. Somewhere. Thankfully I know the van well, and, also thankfully, I found the split pipe which was right next to the hot water tank. It was gushing out. It took me about half an hour to fix the pipe and C and I another half an hour to mop up the water (which was all on the lower, hidden floor). The beauty about Hymers is that, even though there’s a lot of water sloshing about, the wood and fittings are so strong that a dousing of water is not an issue. Anyhow, that’s all done now.

That’s it from the four of us. Back in the UK on Thursday. Bex and Steven fly back to The Bahamas on Sunday. Hurrah!

Berlin

So, we now know how to do Berlin in a 7.5 metre motorhome. As we travelled east we looked at all of the possible options. Campsites, stellplatzes ‘n all. The advice was sporadic and, in the end, not helpful. Inspired C said ‘let’s go to this stellplatz in Werder (Havel). It’s not cheap, but we can sit still for a day and decide what to do’.

In the end it was perfect, although at €13 with no water nor loo dump it wasn’t cheap. Right by one of the many lakes that define southwest Berlin and next to a lovely olde-worlde island village, we walked for 20 minutes, caught a train into Berlin (€21 for 5 people all day travel), and, tired, a free bus journey back to the campsite. We stayed three nights at the stellplatz. On the second day Steve and Bex hired bikes and we cycled (30 miles) into Potsdam and back. Potsdam is lovely – we’ve been before – full of palaces and green and gold topped churches. Think Versailles, but with bratwurst.

Berlin was lovely. Great weather and lots of walking. We did the Stasi museum (a Fuelling the Fire throwback for me) and walked along a stretch of the wall which has been turned into a graffiti/art museum. And we met with Lulu, one of C’s old girls – a German who lives in Berlin. It was a great day.

Today we have driven westward back toward the old Inner German Border. We’re parked up in another stellplatz in Wernigerode (think Chitti-Chitti-Bang-Bang child catcher village with imposing hilltop castle and you have it). Tomorrow we are walking (Steven and Bex running) up the Brocken – the highest peak in the Harz Mountains and where the East Germans used to listen to the West. Again, we’ve been before, but it’s always worth a trek up this extraordinary piece of recent history.

Book selling still – 5 yesterday (3 paperbacks?). Another 5 have gone already today. I shall break open a bottle of something when we sell 10 in a day. As a reminder, when Fuelling the Fire was at its height I sold 66 copies in one day and, on the same day, 19 copies of Unsuspecting Hero. So I’m far off the height of last year’s sales. But, nonetheless, confidence is high.

Heading East

Almost in Berlin. It is Rebecca’s favourite city. We stopped at Minden/Rinteln (where she was born and where I was working at the time), then onto Magdeburg where, having driven through relentless rain we parked up by the Elbe and Mrs Sun came out – we all went for runs and sat by the river as a music festival kicked in. And today onto Werder (Havel) just outside Berlin, where we have parked up by one of the many lakes that define southwest Berlin. It’s a lovely little island town with cobbled streets and olde-worlde restaurants jutting out into the lake. Tomorrow it’s a train ride into Berlin.

Book sales continue at a steady pace. I sold (I don’t know why) 5 paperbacks today, all of them to Europe. The day before yesterday I sold 8 books – still short of my preferred 10-a-day total. Maybe we’ll get there.

Anyhow, I thought you might be interested in an article I had published in the e-magazine ‘vanlifer’. It sort of sums up where we are, and why we do what we do. Oh, and all’s well with the newlyweds…apparently as long as we have sausages and beer all is well!

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You say ‘vanlifers’, we say ‘fulltimers’.

We’re not Spring chickens. You won’t find photos of us balancing on top of our van in some distorted yoga pose. The only place we surf is the internet, and mountain biking to us means cycling our electric bikes along tarmaced paths in the wonderful German Alps. But we are vanlifers, as they say in the States – fulltimers, if you adopt the British vernacular.

That doesn’t mean we’re not active. But our kayaking (in a 5 metre blow-up Sevylor) is restricted to calm lakes and warm, Mediterranean coastlines. Our walking is more inclined to ‘hills’ rather than trekking the mountainous Rockies (although we have scaled Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Sca Fell – among others). We are graceful skiers, not tricking snowboarders. And our running – which is a favourite of ours – is more old-folk pace, restricted to paths and tracks, rather than hell-for-leather over fells and bogs. We are 10,000 steps folk, though – and often many more.

To complete the comparison, we are not bronzed Gods or Goddesses. Shorts and bikinis are worn (but somehow never appear in photographs), and I have a stubbly beard which means, after 25 years in the Army and 8 years as a school teacher, I don’t worry about shaving. And we no longer roam the countryside in a small panel van with its bed cum sofa cum workplace cum sardine tin. Our van, Doris (it’s a long story), is a 7.5 metre Hymer 694, with a fixed rear bed over a huge garage, a separate shower, a 6-seater lounge and a whiff of motoryacht opulence. To be fair, she is 7 years old. But, built in Germany, she is designed to withstand a tornado – both outside and in. And those of us who do this fulltime know that tornadoes have a tendency to surface inside a van; it’s such a small space for two big personalities. We have 345 amphours of 12 volt power, a 2500-watt inverter, 200 watts of solar panels, the biggest automated satellite dish in Christendom and more cuddly toys than is absolutely necessary.

But we are vanlifers. Slightly older than your usual crew. Slightly more wrinkly, and with joints that creak a bit. But vanlifers we are – three years in and proud.

Our friends, both military and from the school where we both worked, applaud us confusingly. But there are questions. At 55, why wouldn’t I want to be working? What about a nice cottage in the country, comfortably surrounded by a lifetime’s collection of possessions? What about a seat on the parish council. Or to be a judge at the yearly village flower show? Tending our rose bushes?

These are all good points. But they’re not great points. We could ask them a similar set of questions. How much stuff do you actually need? Aren’t experiences more important than things? Have you seen the views that we wake up to? How long does it take to clean your house and do the garden? How often do you meet new people from strangely different backgrounds? What is your carbon footprint?

And, do you really enjoy working in an office? Really?

In the past three years we have experienced nearly all of the countries of Europe – and, let me tell you, there is a lifetime’s worth of stuff still to see on this continent. And we have flown to the US for a couple of weeks to meet up with some friends. But, just as importantly, we have seen a lot of our family and friends – much more than we would have if I had been working nine-to-five. It is a truism that time passes quicker the older you get. It does. There’s no magic here – it just happens. And, because of some other quirk of science, time is not something you can get back. When it’s gone it’s gone. By living fulltime in a motorhome we have decided to make the most of every last grain of sand in the egg timer. Who wouldn’t?

How do we manage it? Well, I have a military pension and we rent out the property we own. But, and here’s the fun part, I have become a novelist! I started in year one, with Unsuspecting Hero, an international spy thriller centred on a slightly broken female protagonist, Sam Green. The second in the series, Fuelling the Fire, was published at the end of year two by Kindle Press. And, not wanting to break a pattern, I have just released the third of the Sam Green series of books – The Innocence of Trust. Am I making a living wage? Does any author make a living from writing? Of course a few do, and I have sold 3,500 books. And that’s great. But it’s hardly a living wage.  

Would we recommend this life to others, let’s say more older folk? Like us? We both know of couples and singlies who have tried this (some selling everything they own) and it hasn’t worked – or not worked well. It is not all beautiful sunsets with a glass of pinot noir. Living in close-quarters with someone, even someone you love dearly, can test everyone’s patience. Money, for most of us, is tight. And if you have no financial fall-back, then that can play on your mind. But, in the past 12 months we have toured Bavaria (again – we love it), finished writing The Innocence of Trust in the south of France parked right by the sea, and have just recently come back from Croatia. We are at our most relaxed when we are away. And that feeling is amplified by the sun. Mix in to that the fact that we have kept in very close contact with friends and family, and nearly always find the time to look after ourselves and keep our eco-footprint small, what’s not to like? So, yes, we wholeheartedly recommend it.

The clock continues to tick…

A quart into a pint pot…


We’re almost back to normal, if you consider having your newly married daughter and her husband in the van marching eastwards across Europe toward Berlin as normal. It’s a honeymoon of sorts – their choice. Two weeks looking for Mrs Sun and bratwurst and chips. Doris copes remarkably well with four adults, although I wouldn’t want to do it full time!

bride and birthday girl

We spent Sunday gathering our thoughts, Monday clearing the venue and driving to Mary’s, and Tuesday picking up the B&G from Ashford, stopping at R&C’s to be fed and watered before heading across the channel (thanks again R&C). We’ve ended up at a place called Wankum (no sniggering please) in Germany. We know the place as it was the last stop in Germany where soldiers could use their petrol coupons on the way to Calais to catch the ferry home. Of course, with the soldiers the name made it and I’ve seen many a photo of English folk standing under the sign for an old-fashioned celluloid selfie.

ahhh

Yesterday was also C’s v important birthday, so we ate in the restaurant on the ferry and ate out last night at a local gastestube – Wiener schnitzel and chips was the order of the day.

Today we head off for central Germany to visit some old Army haunts and where Rebecca (and C) were born. Berlin in a couple of days.

Books? Well they’re still selling organically. Fuelling the Fire went on promotion in the US yesterday for a month (at $0.99) and amazon.com are still encouraging people to buy The Innocence of Trust. The problem for me is I only have 2 US reviews (14 5-star reviews in the UK), so I need to generate some more there. Frank, my director friend, tells me that Keiron Hawkes will look at Unsuspecting Hero’s screenplay in the next couple of weeks. And I have submitted articles to two magazines: the US Vanlifers and UK’s Caravan and Camping Club. Oh, and the UK’s Soldier Magazine have promised to review the book – and hopefully, this time, I might actually get a review in the 100,000 readership magazine, We’ll see.

quart into a pint pot

I have some other marketing ploys up my sleeve to hopefully add to sales (8 yesterday – still not at the magical 10). And, of course, book 4 beckons. Hurrah!

Mr and Mrs Green

Mr and Mrs Green – no relation to Sam. In fact I have no idea if Steven’s surname inspired me to call Sam Sam Green. Anyway the happy couple have hitched the knot and we are all breathing a sigh of relief. It was a huge success, full of love and happiness. I only have some photos, which I’ve added below – I didn’t take any during the day as I was too busy being proud. And I don’t have the energy to write anything else. Sorry (and sorry for no blog on Wednesday – I think I was up to my arms in flower arranging or something similar). Hurrah!

our friend Caroline – as Parker…

the rehearsal

Doris at the cottage where the bridesmaids stayed

 

Get me to the church on time…

It’s been a more relaxed couple of days with C and I popping in and out of Bristol picking up stuff we need for the wedding. I suppose next Saturday is best described as an ‘average’ wedding, in that we’re not paying some venue to run the whole show – with associated costs. Between us we have a church, a reception hall, caterers, a bar, cakes….etc, etc. But, as is always the case with events it’s the detail where the devil is. Hence, trying to find 100 tumblers (as the venue only have plastic beakers) that look the part without breaking the bank, has been an effort. And that is one of about 50 jobs which we have on our collective list. Bex and Steven are up in Penkridge and, as well as walking 20 miles into Birmingham yesterday morning, they have been collecting bits and pieces. It will all get done.

Bex is coming here today so she can go to Wells for a haircut tomorrow and then collect her dress from Bristol. I am driving up to Penkridge as a sort of advance party. The bridesmaids all arrive on Wednesday (we have rented a large house to put them all up) and then the festivities really begin. I have vowed to remain sober throughout – someone has to.

doing some belated admin – still needs to be done!

In among all of this my spate of good, long running has wobbled a bit. I think I’ve hurt my back, but I can’t be sure as the pain moves about a bit. It hasn’t stopped me from going out and only once have I had to reach for some painkillers, but it’s annoying. I am running 10km later with Jen – who has really picked up what she’s doing. So that will test the old back.

dog walking!

Books? Well, they’re still selling – all colours. 7 books on Friday and 6 yesterday. The Innocence of Trust has been re-edited after a number of proofreading errors were discovered by the 100 or so readers who have it in their sticky little  mitts. I am really sorry for those of you who paid good money for something which isn’t yet perfect, and I am really disappointed with the publishing company who have been paid well to put this sort of thing right. Hopefully by the end of the weekend it will be sorted.

That’s all from me then. [Oh, for the record we also completed a day’s admin – I completed our tax returns, which is always a hairy time.] The good news is that this time in about a week it will all be over and I’ll soon be showing photos of the four of us rushing across the German plain. Hurrah!

Sam Green is becoming part of the family

Yesterday I go the nicest review I’ve had for a book. It was from someone I don’t know and it read: Didn’t see that coming…just about sums up this exciting spy thriller series. Loved this third book. Great detail, and up to date storylines. Sam Green is becoming part of the family and I can’t wait to find out where she goes to next. I’ve highlighted the bit that inspired me to write and write. What a lovely thing to say?

We took Bex and Steven to Grandma and Grandad’s (my M&D). A sort of last look before the wedding. M&D cannot make the journey – it would just be too far for them, and so it was great to bring to two pairs together. On Monday we took G&G shopping – in Doris. Clacton is an interesting place to drive a 4.5 tonne truck into, so that Dad can get some batteries for his hearing aids. He has dementia, which comes and goes. Most of the time, bless him, he has a vocabulary of about 25 words. He rarely uses nouns. C and I weren’t sure where the hospital was, but Dad promised us that it was just around the corner from the coach park. Now, Mum can’t walk very far and so we let Dad go whilst we hung about in the coach park. After 10 minutes and seeing Dad disappear into the distance I realised it was a mistake. I chased after him, thinking that we might lose him forever. Anyhow, I got to the hospital and, as if by magic, Dad walked out of outpatients with his batteries. He didn’t spot me, so I let him try and find his way back to the van. Which he did! So much for dementia…

bandanna time…

Yesterday we drove to Mary’s to touch base there. Mary, a retired professional flower arranger, is kindly ‘doing the flowers’ for the wedding. No small ask. So we helped a bit there. And today we’re back in Bristol. Our aim between now and Sunday when Rebecca turns up to pick up her dress, is to recoup and source all the things that are currently outstanding for the wedding. As we picked up the car (which we leave with Jen), we found her up to elbows in cotton and material. She has taken C’s sewing machine from the roof and started to make bandannas for dogs – so she can sell them on her dog boarding website. Well done her!

flower things beyond my ken

And the books continue to sell – very slowly. I had a boost today when Amazon sent me an email recommending that I buy The Innocence of Trust. Fabulous. As long as they’re telling everyone else! But, seriously, this is good news. The advert was for their .com site, ie the US. I have over 3,000 readers in the US with no guaranteed way of reaching them. Hopefully this might do the trick. Fingers crossed!