Friday, 11 August 2017

Home is what you make it

Jeez it's been positively tropical here lately!  Am sat here in a t-shirt and it's still too hot!  Not that you can complain about that.  Only a few weeks left of winter and I'm feeling downright buoyant. Sure, we've had our share of problems with mould and damp but thanks to trial and error and determination we are pretty much on top of them now.  On the whole, winter really has been a breeze and both Gareth and I can say without a doubt that this is the best winter either of us have experienced in all our years in NZ.  We just don't get the rain here, you see.  After years of living in wet and windy Waikato and Coromandel, we have been truly revelling in our months of clear, sunny skies and dry weather and feel so fortunate to have stumbled on this sheltered little pocket of Southland.  In fact, we love it so much, we aim to spend every winter here from now on!  More about that in a minute.

Ken on a typical gorgeous Southland winter's day

This week we passed the nine-month mark living on the road.  On the one hand it seems to have gone so fast, yet on the other it feels as though we have been doing this forever!  I have to admit though, after almost 300 days in a van we're starting to feel a wee bit feral.  I think our families would probably disown us if they saw us at the moment!  At the very least, they probably wouldn't want to stand too close!  With the exception of my fringe, I haven't had a hair cut in almost a year.  I can't even tell how long it really is because I only see it properly every couple of months at most; but it must be quite long now because it's always getting caught in my armpit and the ends seemed to have developed a life of their own.  Fortunately at this time of year you can get away with wearing a hat most of the time and my woolly pom pom covers a multitude of sins!  At the moment I look particularly stunning as my entire body seems to have come out in a rash, with the exception of my face.  Honestly, I look like I have the measles or something, but I don't feel unwell at all so have no idea what on earth it is or what's caused it.

The past few months have also taken their toll on a lot of my clothes.  I say a lot, but I don't own a lot, which is why they have all started to wear out.  At the same time, which is a bit inconvenient!  In the past week alone I have had to throw out three pairs of socks and I only have five pairs as it is. They're not the only things with holes in either; my two bras should be condemned! My $6 black kids leggings have been worn so much the fabric has worn thin and they're so baggy and wrinkled even Nora Batty would be envious.  Still, I'm not going to moan about it.  My entire winter wardrobe cost $120 and that dressed me from top to toe, including thermal vests and snow boots.  Once upon a time I would have spent that amount on a couple of jumpers alone.  Gareth has spent even less, as he didn't resort to buying thermals like I did and doesn't even own a jumper.  Seriously, he doesn't!  So there you go, that's how mild the winter is here.  Living on the road has been a really good lesson in how little clothing us humans really need.  I literally have around four winter outfits and could probably get away with even less.  I have a lot more summer clothes when the time comes - but that all depends on weather I still fit into them as I don't need a mirror to tell me I've put on a stack of weight!

It's funny, how people have so many misconceptions about what life must be like living in a van.  I think it's something you can't possibly know or understand unless you've tried it.  As I've already mentioned, for starters we're not cold!  In fact, we're probably warmer than most people living in a house!  I certainly remember it being colder when I lived in a house, with big rooms to heat and always having to worry about keeping the fire going.  In comparison it's been so warm here lately that we've been having to turn the heater off at night because it's too hot!  Secondly, we're not deprived! We have everything we possibly need; it just doesn't look that way to people living a conventional lifestyle because they're used to living with too much.  That's not supposed to be a criticism, you just don't realise how much in everyday life is unnecessary excess until you don't have it any more. Thirdly, we're not lonely; far from it!  For starters we have each other but living on the road makes you a lot more outgoing.  You stop and chat to pretty much everyone you come across; which in regular life you wouldn't normally do, because you're either too busy going about your business, or just don't think to acknowledge others.  For us however, we have all the time in the world to share smalltalk and stories with whoever we meet.  I think it's a good way to be.  When every day is the same it's easy to get so wrapped up in your own life that you don't really consider other people's that much, but everyone is so interesting and has their own story to tell.

I love frosty trees!

Saying all that, even we have been guilty of having the same misconceptions just recently!  There's a lady who has been living at the campground in her station wagon for the past week or so.  I don't know how old she is, I would say 50's at least, maybe even older.  On her first night here she came and knocked on the door of our van and introduced herself and asked if it was OK to park near us, which was nice.  The following night was freezing, a real hoar frost.  We didn't even notice it being any colder than usual, with our oil heater and dehumidifier but the next morning I was out admiring all the frosty white trees, looking all lovely and lacey and jumping in the icy puddles.  Even after all the countless frosts we've had here, I still haven't got over the novelty of stomping on the ice and hearing that satisfying 'CRACK!'  Anyway, I stopped for a chat to the lady on my way past.  'How did you go last night?' I asked her.  I couldn't imagine what it must be like, sleeping in a freezing cold car with no heating but I didn't think it would be pleasant.  'Gosh, it was cold wasn't it?  I woke up this morning and there was ice on all the windows'.  I thought she meant on the outside of the windows, but she was talking about the inside!  'How do you deal with it?' she asked.  'What, the ice?  Um, we don't get any', I mumbled, feeling horribly guilty.  This lady had it tough, I can tell you!

The only ice we get is in the puddles!

We talked at length and swapped stories about mould and damp, as you do.  She had been living in her car for three months now and was also struggling with a damp mattress.  Just like us, whenever the weather was fine, she would have to strip her entire bed and hang everything out to dry and air.  It was the first time in all our months on the road that I had encountered someone who made me sad living this way.  'That poor lady', I said, when I got back to Gareth.  'Hmm, I can't imagine she's living in her car by choice, surely?' he agreed.  Surely indeed.  We lived in absolute luxury in comparison, and not just because we had a bigger vehicle.

The next day, the lady stopped me again.  'I've been thinking about you two! Tell me all about your travels,' she smiled.  So I told her a bit about where we'd been, where we had originally come from and some of the places we still had left to see.  'Whereabouts are you from?' I asked tentatively.  'Taranaki', she replied.  'I lived in the same rented house for 24 years until it got demolished in May.  I decided then, after so long in one place, it was about time I moved on anyway.  I've got family in Wyndham', she said.  Ah, so that was how she came to be living on the road.  It also turned out that she was quite accustomed to living in a vehicle, having owned a campervan for years.  Maybe I was wrong about this lady; maybe she actually liked living this way after all!   'I have to admit, I do still struggle to process the fact that it's actually OK not to live in a house', I laughed.  'But we just love living in the van, we don't want to go back to living in a normal house!'  'I know what you mean!' my new friend agreed.  'It makes me chuckle when I go to the supermarket and then say I'm going home, which is here', she nodded towards the station wagon.  'But this is my home.  Home is whatever and wherever you make it.'  I couldn't agree more.

'You know, I don't think that lady is sad after all, I think she's quite happy!' I said to Gareth when I returned to the van.  'Yes, she seems to be!' he agreed.  She's just someone who is quite happy and content in her own company and I can identify with that completely.  Now, when I see her sitting outside reading in the sunshine with a cup of tea, it makes me smile to see her living life just the way she wants to.

I forget all the time how odd we must look to someone who has never experienced life in a camper. People are always curious and you can often catch them surreptitiously looking in when they walk past.  I'm sure the last thing they expect to see is a hand crafted pine kitchen with a sink and a kettle and crockpot on the bench!  Today it's full of beef pot roast and it smells amazing.  I don't usually cook with an audience but this morning I inadvertently found myself with one.  It was such a beautiful morning and far too warm to stay inside, so I pulled out the little side table and stood outside browning off the meat and preparing the vegetables before transferring them into the crockpot.  What I didn't realise was that there was a kids' rugby game due to start and no sooner did I have the meat sizzling merrily away, than I was surrounded by scores of cars full of kids and parents! With my preparations already underway I didn't have any choice but to finish what I was doing but I felt rather awkward, not least because I was right next to the try line!  What made me chuckle the most was all the people going deliberately out of their way to walk RIGHT past the van.  Maybe it was just due to the delicious aromas coming out of it but I think it was more likely that they a) wanted to see what on earth I was doing and b) so they could have a peek inside the van while I had the doors wide open!  Kids are quite open about coming up and having a look, whereas their parents try to be sneaky about it and fail!  Still, less than a year ago I would no doubt have been the same.

When we set out in our van nine months ago, the plan was to find a new home; to buy land.  But as time has gone on, we've realised that we have already found our home.  Our home is Ken and we want to keep living just the way we are, wherever we want in our house on wheels.  We don't want to be tied to one place and we want to be free to visit our families wherever they are, whenever we want.  Maybe one day that will change and we'll want to settle down - but not for a long time yet.  We still have too much to do and see.  Most likely we'll upgrade to a bigger vehicle at some stage but we're in no rush; we'll wait for the perfect one to come along.  For now, we're happy just to stick with Ken.  After all, as we've learned from the lady in the station wagon, we really do live quite a privileged life!

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