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…

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