And so it comes to an end

We took Cassie for a walk. To begin with we thought we’d walk to a waterfall, but in the end we trekked 5 miles up and up to a v tight saddle between two big mountains. And the views onto the other side, down and across to a lake and more mountains with no roads or tracks, was fab. And, after three weeks of v patchy weather we hit the hills for our longest trek with wall-to-wall Mrs Sun. By the time we got close to getting back to the Morvich campsite Cassie was ready to be picked up, but she survived … as did we both. Although, C did fall flat on her face early on when he shoelaces got all tied up. Exhausted, but happy, we washed Cassie down and both took the rest of the year off [noting we’d both run 5 klicks the day before].

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thanks to Gary and Ruth …

Last night we stayed with old work friends of C’s in Arisaig. Gary and Ruth (thanks for having us) moved up here about a decade ago and have built this lovely house with views over the harbour and onto Rum and Eigg. They looked after us royally, we spent a lot of time talking about Scottish politics and the possibility of IndyRef2 and generally chewed a bit of the cud. This morning, after a walk around the harbour with the dogs (they have a small horse masquerading as a Bernese Mountain dog) we took off and have made it as far as Rannock Moor for the night. We intend to assault England tomorrow, where we shall not be taking any prisoners.

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the view from Gary and Ruth’s balcony

And what of Scotland? It’s busy up here at the moment, and that really surprised us. There are hundreds of motorhomes and just as many buses of tourists. It got better the further north we went, but it’s still busier than we’ve ever seen it. We really loved the east coast, loved the northwest and are now definitely a bit underwhelmed by anywhere near a major conurbation. I guess we come here for the solitude. And to be fair we have always had decent weather. This time, it’s been busy and the weather has let us down a touch. However, to be fair the last two days have been glorious and some of the colour

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a photo from this morning’s run

has returned to our pallet. But we will certainly pick and choose our timings next time – either early Easter or maybe as late as mid-October. By then we should hope to have the place more to ourselves.

Anyhow. From a writing perspective it has served a purpose. I have finished the rewrite and am now halfway through the reading out loud of Unsuspecting Hero to C. We might not make the end of the book by the time we get home on Tuesday, but we shall be close. 

All-in-all, then, a great break. Next? Certainly in the Doris our ambition is Spain and Portugal for the Spring. But there’s a lot of water to flow under a number of bridges before we go firm on that.

I’ll let you know. 

Ah, Doris

A few words about Doris. 

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ahh, Doris!

I think we’re coming up to our third year of ownership (don’t ask me why I can’t remember) having lived in a Dethleffs Van II three years before that. In the end we lived in this van for a year and three quarters before moving into a small two-up, two-down in Bristol – just under five years fulltiming in total. The more I think about that, fulltiming in a van for almost half a decade, the more I wonder whether or not we were in a sane place when we made that decision. 

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Five years! Three of which we in a much smaller van than we’re in now. Blimey.

 

Part of me does think we were kinda mad. And that same part fully understands why our friends must have thought we were off our heads. But there’s a huge part of me that is massively proud of what we achieved. And I miss it. I really do. There is something about having everything you need, and close to everything you own (all our spare stuff was in a lock up garage) all around you – wherever you are. There is integrity to what you are doing … an honesty about your life. It makes everything much simpler (except when you need to go somewhere without the van, for which we bought a 10-year old Focus which is still going strong), and everything is on a much smaller and manageable scale. There is no room to expand … you can’t buy trinkets and unnecessaries as there is nowhere to keep them. Did I mention that I miss it? I genuinely believe we will do another 8-monther, onto the continent over Christmas which we did for our first year, this time towing the trike. And I can’t wait. It may not be soon, and indeed it might be years away, but we will do it. C always reminisces fondly of the, ‘do you remember when we were on Sicily …’.

And that brings us onto the now. Scotland is big, but the roads are small.We have beenIMG_20190908_091754424 caught in a couple of tricky situations this time where we have needed to breath in … or, as happened the day before yesterday, turn round with no obvious way forward and no easy place to back into. Of course, in that moment you think that it must be fab to be in a panel van: narrower and shorter. And, from an observer’s point of view, less big white block of aluminium and fibreglass.

But, we got out of both those situations without a hitch – I backed up 200 metres, and found a place to turn around. With big mirrors and a reversing camera it was no trickier than driving forward. 

We have done small and smaller vans. We know what it’s like to have to make your bed up every night (not good for days on end). We understand the difference between watching tele in comfort, and watching it with your neck crooked. We know what it’s like to have to watch the electricity and worry about running out of water. And, and this is the biggest and, the moment you go on the continent big vans are everywhere – and accommodated for. 

Doris has everything. Everything. And it’s all beautifully made and eminently practical. Everything works and everything suits us. There is nothing we would want to compromise on. And we have never not done something because of what she is. 

So … we love her and she suits us. She acts as a granny flat outside our house in Bristol and has, like all of our previous vans, delivered some fabulous holidays for us. That’s Doris.

Nothing about politics, Roland? Well this next week is going to be interesting. His Borisness looks set to do everything he can to crash out of Europe on 31 October, legal and illegal. But … let everyone be clear. We may leave on 31 October without a deal. But read that sentence again: without a deal. The EU is our biggest trading partner by far. That means at some point in the future we will have to sort out a deal. So no deal becomes … well, a deal. And we will be negotiating from a position of less strength, whilst our country struggles to make do and mend with all of the predicted Yellowhammer outcomes. Including, dare I say it, some unnecessary deaths of people who cannot find medicine. 

Those pushing for a no deal need to be clear that the rest of us will blame them for all of this. I hope it is worth it.

Not so bad, thank you

We woke this morning and lifted the blind in our bedroom – yes, we have one of those. The window is right next to our heads (our being three of us: me, C and Cassie). I opened the window and, still lying down, we looked out over the Cromarty Firth, across to Invergordon. On the beach, less than five metres away, were more seabirds than you could count on all our hands and paws. The water was clam, OK, so there were no sun, but it wasn’t overly cold and we enjoyed a very slight breeze through the window. It was, pretty prefect.

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at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth; last night we stayed further down the coast

That’s what motorhoming can do. It can, very often, provide you with vistas that you cannot pay for. There is no hotel that I know of which gives you a bed right up against a window, right up against the shore. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that we have had similar views for the past 10 days. 

After breakfast we popped into Dingwall (yes, it’s a place) so C could pick up some more books from a charity shop, and then we drove on a few miles to Srathpeffer, and parked up in the local forestry commission. We walked for about 3 miles with Cassie, and when we got back I ran the same route whilst C made us a sandwich, and then she did the same when I got back. I write this having had a shower in our ‘ensuite’ … with a cup of Redbush and a doughnut. 

What’s my point? 

We are luckiest people alive. And, whilst I’d recommend semi-retirement to anyone, I absolutely recommend motorhoming to anyone who loves the outdoors. Yes, the weather hasn’t been great, but every time we’ve been out we’ve missed the rain – and when it has fallen it hasn’t stopped us from doing what we want to do. Since my Dad’s death, and even with 6 weeks in SE Asia (which we took at a run), it has been pretty non-stop. Now, after almost two weeks in Doris, we are pretty horizontal. Fab.

For the record rewriting Unsuspecting Hero is pottering along nicely. It will be a better book when I’ve finished, for sure. My ambition is to have it out there before the end of October. And book sales are very good at the moment … I’d say an average of around two books a day. That may well drop off in the coming weeks, but I’ll take it for now.

And I’ve slowed my running down. I think my heart, which currently is behaving up to a point, has sent me a clear message. I’m now running for longer (about 30 minutes) at what I guess the experts call ‘steady state’, that is where I could hold a conversation if I wished. At some point my fitness will drop and steady state will become a harder run, but we’ll see.

Anyhow. As you can tell … all’s good here, even if the His Borisness has, let’s face it, made a complete cock of everything. I’m still convinced we won’t leave. And whilst I know that will upset a good number of people, I sincerely believe it’s better for the country – their country.

We’ll see. 

Loving this bit of Scotland

No politics. No politics. No politics.

Phew. 

Loving the coast of Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, so often ignored by most people – us included. I think this must be our tenth trip to Scotland in the/a van and we have never ventured this way. We are, like most folk, attracted to the central highlands and the west coast and islands, all of which are beautiful in their own way.

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she’s happier than she looks

But … this coastline is different and special. Think Devon and Dorset – tall cliffs, hawking seabirds, soft brown sandy coves and more village harbours than you can count. It is, even in some rubbish weather, breathtakingly beautiful, especially the northcoast between Fraseburgh and Inverness. And it’s perfect for vanners. The roads are good and there are ample wild camping spots. And very few of us. OK, we are now just outside the summer season, but we have never been with more than two other vans overnight.

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The best bit of all are the people. They are all lovely. Chatty, welcoming and, when needed, indifferent to a seven and a half metre long tube of white aluminium and tyres. We have always felt welcomed and never uncomfortable with parking up and lazing along the beach.

We have run, and walked Cassie – she’s completely knackered. We have got up late (8.30 – yippee!) and read books. And I am one-fifth of the way through Unsuspecting Hero – the rewrite. And still loving that.

We need to be in Skye next weekend to meet up with Jen and James, and so will leave the IMG_20190830_084932928_HDRcoast tomorrow or the day after and then push off into them there hills. And then meander through the Highlands stopping here and there.

It has already been a touch rejuvenating. I think at the end of four weeks, we will be ready to take on the world …

… and politics? Well. No. I don’t think I’ll bother.  

We live in interesting times

I wouldn’t mind if Boris Johnson just told us the truth. He’s proroguing parliament for the longest session for decades because he wants to restrict parliament’s ability to discuss Brexit, and particularly a no-deal Brexit. Fine. And with parliament unable to come to any quorum on the subject in the last three years I have the smallest amount sympathy with that. But only a very small amount.

But, no. Apparently it’s about preparing parliament for what his government (which has the vast majority of one) is going to do over the coming year. But it can’t be that. Because he knows that we know there must be a general election. And he knows that we know that he cannot hope to continue to govern and pass legislation (and spend billions of money on things that austerity ripped from the country’s administration just recently – brazen vote catching if ever there was) with a majority of one. There has to be a GE. And the only way he can win a GE is if the Brexit Party do not compete … because if they do they will split the right wing vote and the Tories will lose badly. And, and this is key, the only way the Brexit Party will stand down is if there is a no-deal … on 31 October. His Farageness has made that perfectly clear.

So Boris Johnson is proroguing parliament to prevent it from legislating against a no-deal. And he intends to go ahead with a no-deal on 31 October. 

And, on that basis, sad as it sounds from me, that’s what’s going to happen – unless the rest of them prevent the extended proroguing … if, indeed, that is even English.

Ho-hum.

I don’t want to rehearse the arguments against a no-deal, but I do want to remind everyone of one important fact. A no-deal does not put an end to Brexit. Far from it. The EU is our largest trading partner and if we crash out without a deal (and leaving aside job losses, maybe even deaths from medicine shortages, and the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement) we will have to very quickly come back to the EU and sort out a trade deal. The first thing they will rightly insist on is that we pay the divorce bill. And then, whatever we want to take on trade we will have to give on other concessions. Like freedom of movement. As we are the junior partners in this – and as we have soured our pitch with our largest trading partner by originally walking away from a deal – we will not have all the cards; if, indeed we have any. It will take forever, will not be anywhere near as generous as it is now and we will be the worse for it. 

And for those relishing the impact a no-deal with have on the EU, they need to understand that if that market fails … then so do we. 

Ho-hum squared.

Across the Pond, among a million things I could rant about, His Orangeness is pushing for one of his resorts to hold the next G7 summit. One of his resorts. There’s gold in there them hills. And he told Merkel that he was part German, for which she sniggered. And he was the only G7 leader that didn’t stay for the emergency meeting on the Amazon fires. For which they only raised £20 million – Brexit so far has cost £60 billion (x 3,000). Which Bolsonaro (Brazil’s popularist Trump) has petulantly turned down.

So. What’s my point?

Greta Thunberg has just arrived in New York, travelling across the Atlantic by wind and solar power. It has taken her six days and, as far as I know, she’s in good spirits. She’s going to the UN to talk about the Climate Emergency. On her own. A teenager on the autistic spectrum.

A lamb. Leading the elephants. 

How did we get here?

Some photos to cheer you up:

Back on Earth, we have made it as far as Aberdeen. C’s pal Katie came to lunch on Monday, we’ve had some fun wild camping on the east coast and tomorrow we’re taking Cassie to the vets because I have been unable to successfully remove a tic from her side. In my defence I have had two ticks myself over my time, and in both cases needles and tweezers (and a lot of blood) have done the trick. She was v good about the open tick surgery.

So we will be visiting the vets tomorrow …   

  

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Scotland. What to say, apart from we only managed one out of three weeks because of mum and dad, but more of that later. My brother doesn’t give it time of day, and I can see why the weather and the midges might deter some. But for us the combination of fabulously old mountains – greens and brown dusted with snow – the dark blue lochs with hidden monsters, and sparkling clear seas floating above white sands always makes it special. Oh, and the rain. And the five degree drop in temperature. And the wind. Lots of wind.

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west coast – fab

But, do you know what? We walked and ran and cycled – every day. We found new places, better places … strange places. We wild camped for four nights, parked on a friend of C’s drive for another and stayed in two lovely Caravan Club sites (now the Caravan and Motorhome Club – can’t miss then: more signs than a nuclear power station) with fabulous showers and ever-so-slightly over-attendant attendants.

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lovely?

We left on Friday to travel to Bristol and then turn round to get to mum and dad’s yesterday. On the way we picked up the trailer for our Piaggio mp3 trike. Built buy Armitage (and sold, almost new by a chap in Doncaster) it is fab. I’ll elucidate more once I’ve managed to put the bike on top (via a winch), but Doris pulled the bikeless trailer behind without a by-your-leave. When we next go on our ‘big tour’, we’ll be the business: big van pulling a motorbike. You won’t miss us when we pull up. And, as you can see from the photo, the trailer lives on its end when not in use. What’s not to like?

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And dad. We didn’t expect him to be with us now and it is a bonus that he is. But not for long, I fear. He was v poorly today and pretty much unresponsive … and in a lot of pain. Mum and I will speak with the doctor tomorrow and see what the plan is. There seems little chance that he will come out of hospital and, certainly mum will not be able to cope if he does. I think we’ll have to have a frank discussion tomorrow.

Politics? Well, what can I say? His Orangeness thinks wind farms give you cancer, unlike the by-product(s) of fossil fuels, which clearly have not over-heated the planted and do not spew out particulates that infest young lungs. What hope do we have? What really pisses me off … sorry … is that this is not our planet. It belongs to the sperm whale with plastic in its stomach, dead on a beach somewhere, the disappearing insects and the hedgehogs who are still elusive. The arrogance of our race, and particularly our leaders, who opt for short termism over our children’s future. I do not get it.

And, as for Brexit, well what can you say? Jacob Rees Mogg says, should we have to go through the process of electing MEPs, those selected should do as much damage as possible to the institution in Brussels whilst they’re there.

What? Really? How hateful is that?

No wonder my heart is dancing to its own tune, although to be fair, after a rubbish Friday, Saturday was better and today you wouldn’t think there was a problem. I have scratched my head as to what environmental factors may have influenced how my ticker behaves, but other than a cup of caffeinated tea on Thursday evening, I can’t put my finger on anything. We’ll see.

We’re here in Great Bentley for at least a couple of weeks, assuming we – that is C and I and mum – remain harmonious. Mum, bless her, is old and frail … and cantankerous. And she can say hurtful things, especially after a glass of wine. But she’s in a difficult place; we will make it work.

A day at a time.

A book number addendum

Just a quick addendum to yesterday. I told you that I would let you know when a 10-book sale day came along. Well, yesterday was the second 10-book sale day in under three weeks; 3 x UH, 2 x FtF, 1 x TIOT and 3 x FGMTDN.

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I chose ‘10’ as a random number that, I think, would best suit what I think a proper author should sell. OK, not best-selling, but a sensible number. Noting that I make, on average, £1.50 a book, it’s hardly a living wage, but it will be a nice pension – actually it would be a nice pension.

Ignoring when Amazon were advertising FtF in the autumn of 2014 (that November I sold almost 1100 books), my lowest monthly sales total were 29 – that was four months ago. Last month, with four books out there, I sold 87 books. Ten books a day would take that to 300. Nice.

Why the spurt? I’ve always said 4 books is better than 3 books … etc. I do think there is something organic going on here. And it certainly helps that FtF is on Prime Lending (for which I have been paid). It does mean that I can’t tell you how many copies of FtF are out there, because I don’t get stats for Prime Lending – but it does mean that if someone reads FtF and likes it, the other books are there. And I guess, but I don’t know, that Prime Lending has its own marketing scheme. Dunno.

Anyhow. That’s it from me, save a big, big reminder. Please. If you’ve read any of the books and haven’t yet penned a review, then please do so. Just go onto the book page on Amazon and press ‘write a review’. You don’t actually have to say anything, you can just grade the book.

And – if you are a Sam Green fan, please keep telling everyone. A post on Facebook or Instagram would be good. Tell you friends! I know a lot of you do both of these things and I am eternally grateful. Together we shall get Sam Green to meet a whole load of new people!

Thank you.