About us

C and I are in our 50s (I’m 55 as I update this and I wouldn’t dare disclose C’s age) and three years ago we decided to be impetuous and push off into the sunset in our Van.  It’s been a long time getting here and we hope there’s a good slab of time before we enter the dribbling stage of our lives.  I hope this page explains why we are doing what we are doing, how I became a novelist and how we got to where we are today.

I joined the Army at 18 and after 26 reasonably successful years I had an epiphany.  I was a Team Leader at Abbeywood buying guns and stuff – it was taxing, but fun.  No day was the same and I worked with some really good people, although with a team of almost 100, one or two were tricky.  Looking forward I had a good career with very reasonable prospects.  However, although I had not spent as much time away from home as many of my friends, I was tired.  Tired of the 7.15 starts, the 6.30 finishes and the work and emails that surrounded and plagued the time either side of the working day.  I found it almost impossible to switch off and, whilst often a centre of morale at work, I was more miserable at home.  And then one day……

…..I was cycling from our quarter in Emersons Green to work when I passed, as I had done numerous times before, a man walking his dog.  Hold on.  Why aren’t I walking my dog?  Why am I rushing about making things happen (ok, getting paid well enough and promoted accordingly) when others actually take time to enjoy and get more out of their life?  Of course, for me with my inability to unpick work from  home, the only answer to that was to start again.  Expectations (and hold that thought for a little later) were so high that not delivering as I had done hitherto would be impossible.  So I, pretty much on the spot, resigned and decided that today I was going to be a maths teacher.  [Actually the man walking his dog is just one facet of the complexities surrounding my choice to leave, but it’s a very apposite metaphor.]

I resigned on a Monday and whilst this sounds grand it in no way paints the whole picture, I was offered a job at a school in Somerset as a maths teacher the following Saturday.  In retrospect I was very lucky to be offered the job as a full time teacher with no teaching qualifications nor experience.  And I will be forever in the Head’s debt.  I was 44.

We bought a house just up the road from our quarter in Emersons Green and I spent the next 4 years struggling to be a good teacher whilst C, bless her, was offered and accepted the post of Housemistress at one of the School’s girls houses.  She then spent 6 and a half years being a quite brilliant lead in the house (they still miss her now) and I worked hard accumulating roles so that after 4 years I was offered a job on the Senior Team at the school.   So whilst I guess I probably could have applied for top positions in the school and elsewhere, I had another epiphany…….although this was a more gradual affair.

Politics seems to plague schools.  I guess it’s all those well educated people working together without a really plausible and discernible hierarchy.  I was getting things done by sheer force of personality (even if I say so myself….) and, as is my want, the whole affair was becoming all-pervasive.  C retired when her energy levels dipped below a workable point and it was becoming clear to me that to stay at Wells would require a level of commitment akin to where I was just before I left the Army.  Our wider family really needed more of our time and, all-in-all, the enjoyment levels were dipping.  Don’t misunderstand me: there is no better place to be than the classroom and, as such, I am very proud of our elder daughter’s choice of career.  Having a hand in young people’s education is immensely satisfying.  But outside of the classroom for me, expectation was high.  And I was, once again, tired of trying my best to meet that expectation.

and the girls came too (Alpbach)

and the girls came too (Alpbach)

There were other accumulating factors.  We had been left a little bit of money and had managed to become property moguls (I jest, but our surplus rent created an additional (small) useful income).  And we had bought Doris, our 2008 Dethleffs Van II, which turned our holidays from camping into glamping.  For the first time we could both see ourselves living together in a small space for months on end without resultant violence.  I think we had always seen ourselves taking off for an extended European tour in the latter stages of our lives.  But Doris seemed to, in an instance, provide a vehicle for such an adventure.

And so one Sunday in June 2013 whilst we were in Weston pottering about, I received an email from a member of staff whining about something which I had had a hand in.  At that point, at the very crux of a plethora of issues building up outside of the classroom and impacting upon our days off, I threw in the towel.  The decision to leave at Easter or the following summer was a difficult one – but with 4 exam classes planned for the next year the summer won (I am writing this in early May whilst one of those classes are working through exam papers).

That, I guess, is the historic part.  The choice of future is a mystery to many.  What will you do?  Won’t you miss having a proper bed?  Can you really see yourself living together in such a small place?  What about work?  How will you live without a base?  Isn’t divorce the only probable outcome?

These are all good questions.  And I suppose we don’t really know the answer to them.  We have spent 6 weeks away in a smaller van on the continent and loved it.  It is fair to say that we have always been happiest away in the van.  Certainly life is very uncomplicated; our carbon footprint is tiny and we really enjoy eking out an existence.  We wild camp when we can, but enjoy the luxury of campsites every so often.  I love foraging in Morrisons, finding water when we need it and fixing small things that break.  We both love the freedom and the ever-changing views from our bedroom window.  We have stayed in and seen some amazing places and walking/running/cycling becomes central to our lives.  We hope (and suspect) that doing this full time will be a good thing.

But for me it’s the removal of expectation that drives me.  I want, no need, to wake up in the morning and not feel driven by external forces.  I want to be free from the needs of others and the responsibility that that brings.  I need a break.  A clean break.  I freely admit that this is my fault; that I am the one, every time, building up the expectation.  But, as when I left the Army, the only solution is to move on.  And, as at now, the only viable solution is to move on to nothing.

Doing nothing? Mmmm. Well I did try that for about 6 months and realised that, whilst I cannot imagine working for anyone else, I did need to do something. There is a separate tab on the blog which describes my route to ‘novelist’, so I’ll leave out the details here. In short, I’ve sort of expanded the maxim that everyone has a good book in them. And have written three, starring the fab female Sam Green. They’re thrillers and have been well received – I am currently writing a fourth (hurrah!). Anyhow, dip in with Unsuspecting Hero if you like. It’s inexpensive in Kindle format and should give you the chance to become a raging Sam Green fan.

How long will it last?  I have been keeping track of a number of souls via their blogs and websites (see Inspirations).  Some have been doing this for over ten years.  Some of our friends give us 3 months.  The only important point for me is that there is no planned end.  It has to be open-ended.  If we announced that we were taking a gap-year, I would know that I had to find employment in 12 months time.  It just wouldn’t be the same.

There's more to life.....

There’s more to life…..

So that’s that.  As you will have picked up, this has almost exclusively been about me.  My choices.  It’s easy for me to add that C is with me all the way.  But I do believe she is.  I’d like to think that the major decisions we have made in our lives have been joint ones, even if it’s been me who’s put the idea forward.  Let’s hope so……otherwise it might be a short sojourn.



24 thoughts on “About us

  1. Mmmmmm…. there are so many parallels in our separate journeys of the past few years. It is wonderful to read your articulation of your determination to reset life when it needed a revision. Takes great reflection, awareness, honesty and courage to do methinks.
    I think perhaps the greatest freedom (apart from maybe escape from incarceration in a Thai prison) is from the expectations of others and of oneself in work and family contexts. Spells in (or the spell of) the Coachman for us is about disentangling ourselves from the musts and shoulds we get swamped by in life in Hampshire. We have lived in the same delightful cottage for 25 years and spent 25 years building habits in the way we think and do life that were necessary and worked well for us at the time but no longer suit us/provide fulfilment/ contentment. We found it impossible to change our approach in the context in which it all grew. Times away give us such renewal – of perspective, of what matters, of why Stephen and I wanted to marry each other, of focus on simple joys.
    It is oddly good to know this is not peculiar to us – that we haven’t somehow missed the point – that other bright and talented folk face similar challenges and use similar methods to work thru them…

    • Thanks Hilary (and Stephen). All that is true. Hopefully we’ll meet up again soon to discuss it further.

      We made it onto Sicily. Didn’t mean to, it just happened. We took the ferry from Villa San Giovanni – simple to find. €95 for Doris on a two month open return. We’ve stopped for the night at the first ACSI site South of Messina at Saint Alession Siculo. Seems pretty good to us. But we will be moving on tomorrow.

      Roland and Claire

      • Glad your day went well. We walked along the beach and thru the dune border woodland – to view the art installation again (!!), then watched the lightening storm come in from the sea. All of a sudden a powerful gale arrived, at which point our camp turned into a reenactment of major storm battles in all the best films… (Poseidon, Jason and the Argonauts, Swiss Family Robinson…) with me lashing down the flapping awning canvas whilst Stephen held on to and reassembled failing support poles. We came thru it after it raged for maybe 10 minutes-verging-on-eternity with only one minor rip in the fabric, which I think i can mend acceptably. Quite an adventure. It was so very fortunate we were on site when the storm blew in – otherwise there would have been a tangled and shredded mess to clear up.
        Say hi to the mafia for us.
        Hilary and Stephen

  2. Hello the Wonderlings, just wanted to say how lovely it has been to read your story. We have done something similar ourselves, but with two boys in tow also. In the same vein as yourselves we wanted to escape ‘normal’ life for a while and ‘live a life’ rather than just pay the tax man and keep collecting possessions. We are only two months in with no end date in mind, i personally enjoy having this feeling of freedom and not just the ‘long break’, although our eldest son would prefer time scales.
    Just wanted to introduce ourselves and say hello, we are hoping to be in Sicily ourselves come the Spring/Summer, so will keep an eye on your blog for any useful info. We are currently doing he south of Spain thing.


  3. Hi Wanderlings, I’;ve stumbled upon you from Nathanial, Beth, Alfie and Tom’s blog, which in turn I found via the SBMCC site! I retire (early) in May 2016 and Avril my wife and I plan to “wander around Southern Europe for a while”. I shall enjoy having a good read at your site over the holidays (remember them?)

  4. Hey, another Tolkien fan. I found you via “the Fragrant One …”
    Will work my way through your back catalogue. I’m delighted to have the freedom to go where/when I want although currently on a few months travelling hiatus au pairing for my daughter and grandson whilst she does teacher training. That was a choice I had no difficulty making tho’ I am missing the spontaneity I’d so rapidly got used to. Roll on July!!

  5. Roland and ‘C’, Richard Cripwell gave me your blog address after we saw him and Louise in Istanbul where my own ‘C’ and I have lived for the last 2.5 years (NATO), but will be leaving this Summer. If you come this way, come and have a shower! Simon Andrews

    • Well blow me down…Great to hear from you Simon!

      Unfortunately we are heading northwest next out of Greece by ferry to be in the Alps for early April. Turkey is just one country too far this time. What a shame.

      Keep in touch – maybe we could meet up in the UK (or wherever you’re going to next? Last posting perhaps? We are getting old…)

      Roland and Claire

      • I am resigning for Summer 16 but, typically timid compared to you bold twosome, will look for a job.

  6. Hello – Deb and I are envious! We would love to cast off as you’ve done and be creative! I just spoke with Kevin and your latest venture is very exciting: I’ve just finished reading most of Charles Cummning’s spy thrillers…….So – we look forward to reading more and we wish you safe and interesting experiences!

  7. Hi Roland and Claire, have dipped into your blog from time to time and just wanted to say how pleased we are that you are having such a good time, long may it continue and how inspirational you are! You are really making me think how good it would be if we could take a gap year and do something similar before we get too old and decrepit! I do hope we weren’t among the high maintenance parents that drove you away on your travels, but even if we were its very heartening to hear how therapeutic the whole experience is proving for you! Best wishes on your onward journey, Ann x

    • Hello Ann! Claire was just talking fondly about that bunch of girls a couple of days ago. Glad you’re keeping in touch and don’t buy a campervan without talking to us first! Love to Bethany. Really hope all is well. Roland (and Claire) xx

      • Hi Roland and Claire, thank you, yes we’d love to pick your brains some time about camper vans! Though it might be a little while before we can embark on an adventure! All fine with us, Bethany is 2/3 of her way through her AS exams and enjoying life in the sixth form.
        If you plan to visit Wells on your trip home and need somewhere to park up, you’re welcome to park at our place x

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