Saturday, 24 January 2009

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

This post may err on the scatological but I will do my best to keep it decent. As no honest person can deny, the clear up required after a hefty and satisfying discharging of ones bowels varies in it's involvement. On Thursday night I found myself at the wrong end of a serious clean up and decided that I would just skip the tissue and leap straight into the shower. As I went to get into the shower my family turned up and would not, despite my insistence, leave the bathroom. I remember the sensation of anger rising in me and I ended up screaming the house down, raging against my unwelcome intruders as I desperately wanted to get clean. Dreams can be most peculiar things.

Feeling the separation of the buttocks caused by an epic klingon, all I wanted to do was to get clean. I hysterically battled with my mother to leave the bathroom, the location of which remains a mystery, until eventually she took offence. Then it was tears, recrimination and blame as all I could think about was cleaning my polluted posterior. I was aware of a shower nearby and being naked as I already was I left the room and headed into the middle of the high street, covering myself as best I could, to find this surreal open air shower unit. It was not working so I returned to the shower room from whence I came. The room was clear, the shower was functional and just as I was about to get into it, one of my colleagues materialised in the shower and blocked my entry.

It was at this point that I woke up. Shocked at my sleepy adventure and pleasantly surprised to find I had not soiled myself in my sleep. My colleague was most surprised when I greeted him with a slightly harrowed 'I dreamt about you last night'. I am not usually one to read meaning into my dreams but I was acutely aware when I awoke that I do not have my own ablutionary facilities. No privacy in which to enjoy cleaning, it is all in public facilities, be they friends houses, the shower block or the shower at work. I cannot wait to have somewhere I can safely leave my soap.

That looks to be approaching very quickly. TLB returned from her meeting last night very excited and keen to talk about our new adventures in Dorset. I have asked her if it is okay to blog about the subject and she has kindly allowed me to share my excitement, as long as I do not mention names or places. So, the plan as it stands is to pack up the tent in 3 weeks and transplant our lives to Dorset.

TLB has managed to secure housing in a clock house in the grounds of a stately home on the Dorset coast. The house is the holiday home of a Knight who has been helping her to secure funding for a fossil museum and he has kindly offered to let us stay in it for the foreseeable future. The house, complete with walled garden, cleaner, wood burning stove, pool and horizon lake will be a world away from the tent. Wood will be delivered weekly and chopped for us and the track down to our private beach will make for excellent mountain biking. It would appear that we are going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

It all seems quite surreal. For many years I have always been the instigator, in matters of housing (or tenting) I have always been in the driving seat and for the first time I get to sit back and enjoy the ride, and what a ride it promises to be. TLB and I will both be working from home for quite a bit of the time. We will be able to share lunchtime walks with the dog, who will continue to be in seventh heaven, evening strolls to the seaside and balmy summer nights in our rural idyll. The mind boggles, I can hardly believe it is true.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Up and down.

TLB is away for the day finalising details of her new job in Dorset so the dog has come to work with me. At lunch time we set off across the fields over the road from work entirely unprepared for what we were about to witness. As we crested the first hill we gazed down upon a sight that simply took my breath away.

5 Red Kites were playing over the fields, antagonising a flock of pigeons that were resting, chasing off magpies and bombing each other playfully. The dog trotted out into the field to see what all of the fuss was about and one of the kites hovered about 10 feet above him, giving me a perfect view of what has to be one of the most magnificent birds I have ever seen. I have seen them from a distance a few times but today I got a chance to watch them in all their glory and it has made my day.

Back in 1977 Red Kites were all but extinct with only a couple of breeding pairs in the entire country, though there was a small population in Wales. Today they are thriving with an estimated 600 new birds being born each year in England alone. In the west country Buzzards are two a penny but they are most inelegant creatures when compared to the Kite whose long wings and relatively small body make for a very agile flier.

It looks like, one way or another I will be moving to Dorset in the next few weeks, TLB's job is looking more and more like a certainty. My employers have said that I can work from home for a few days a week but I am starting to wonder about the logistics of doing it from a tent.

The thing is, we have put in all of this effort to acclimatise to the winter and whilst it has been far from unbearable, it has been a learning experience which I will not forget. The thing that has kept us going, aside from the meagre cost of our day to day lives, is the promise of summer. The evenings are very slowly starting to draw out, the coldest of the weather seems to be passing and it is all downhill from here into a glorious summer or barbecues, parties and t-shirts.

Living in Dorset and working from home will require me to have a desk and a stable supply of electricity and bandwidth. For all of the things that we have made possible in the tent, I suspect that these will not be feasible and it is all quite a disappointment. There is also the fact that I will be away from home for at least 2 nights out of each week and I would not like the thought of TLB being alone and vulnerable in a tent whilst I am away on a sofa or a spare bed. It seems that accommodation will be thrown in with TLB's job for free which means that I will be able to continue to save, pay my increasingly modest debts and so forth but I will miss the camping terribly.

It will also relegate me to the status of a blogger waffling about my mundane ordinary life which I suspect would be rather boring. Therefore the options as I see it are:
  • Give up camping and blogging.
  • Pitch a tent in the garden of my new home and live in it.
  • Find a whole new and exciting odyssey to embark upon in my spare time and write about that.
If anyone has any ideas let me know, meanwhile I will continue to try to amuse and inform my readers with tales of camping while I work on the sequel.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

There but for the grace of god go I

It turns out that the people with the snappy dog were not in fact a young couple, nor were they on holiday. They are father and daughter who are homeless. They spend their days sitting in the car and their nights sitting in their leaky tent.

Last night we invited them over for some food, thinking that the extension of a warm hand of kindness might make things a little less bleak for them and they seemed to relish the attention, being unusually candid about their situation.

The father has never had a home, has been in and out of jail and after a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse, had finally pulled himself together just enough to be able to look after the only person in the world that mattered to him.

He explained that when he reached his teenage years he found out that the woman he had always thought of as his sister was actually his mum and his mother was actually his gran. Dyslexia had made school unbearable at the hands of unsypathetic and spiteful teachers so, feeling betrayed and lied to, he left school early and hit the streets. He spent the next 20 years living in shop doorways and hostels, eeking out a living where he could doing odd jobs, fruit picking, labouring on building sites and rummaging amongst bins. When the minimum wage came along he could no longer find work that was not illegal so he became a beggar.

I could tell that he has had drug problems the second a plate of food was in front of him. TLB rustled up a hearty sausage stew which he picked and prodded, never quite getting up the momentum to finish the plate. From what I could tell, on a daily basis he ate very little and his daughter lived on packets of savoury rice cooked atop their little gas stove. My heart went out to them so much.

The daughter did not speak much, we managed to ascertain that she was 21, has never had a job and is fleeing from a violent relationship. She joined her dad on the open road as her only option about 2 years ago out of fear of staying still and being tracked down by her ex. They got a dog, a yappy little jack russell/staffy cross who they both dote on and they endure life on a daily basis, rummaging for new bits of cardboard to line the floor of their dilapidated tent as the old ones go soggy. They both sign on but their transient life makes even that hard. I have never felt so lucky in my life.

The thing that struck me most though was how kind they were. They both automatically took off their shoes when they came into the tent. He had bought a few beers to drink so as not to have to take me up on my offer of a few of ours. We have a spare dome tent and a couple of camp mats which I offered them but they refused, somehow maintaining enough pride to be able to decline. They were profusely grateful when they left, I suspect mainly out of surprise that anyone would actually invite them into their home.

It occurs to me that these two are just two of thousands of people in similar situations. And they are some of the lucky ones. The dad has enough wherewithal to sort out a car and a tent, to get off the drugs and to feed their dog but it is apparent that not all campers are born equal. I can see that if my family life had been different and if I had not enjoyed the opportunities that I have had, I could well be in the same situation. My brother is dyslexic (but thrives nonetheless), my father has had alcohol problems in the past (and conquered them admirably) and I live in a tent.

I know that whenever I have problems in the future, I can look back at our nomadic neighbours and count my blessings. There but for the grace of god go I.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Strangers came...

Wind sucks. This morning I was awoken at 3:30 by gusting winds that made the tent more akin to a boat at sea. The lantern on the central pole was knocking back and forwards, spurts of smoke were being forced out of the stove and into the tent, the walls billowed this way and that and the tarpaulin that covers my trailer was flapping and undulating in the gale. All in all not a very peaceful nights sleep. Cold is, by comparison, a doddle.

We have been joined by various hardy (and not so hardy) campers in the last few weeks. The first was in the week between Christmas and the new year. He turned up with an improbably large tipi which took him about 3 hours to erect, he had a fire bowl which he started outside and then dragged in once he was all set up. We were told by the farmers that he had started to take his tipi down by about 5:00 am having suffered a bitterly cold night and I am sure that said tipi will be found on ebay any day now.

Then we had a chap who was complaining that the cold snap had ended by the time he had arrived. I could only guess that he was going to Greenland on some mad expedition as he had a tent very slightly larger than he was and a sleeping bag that he boasted was manufactured solely from the down from 2.3cm either side the centre of a gooses breast. Clearly mad but fared very well.

Last night we had a young couple and their snappy dog arrive on the latest leg of their holiday. They arrived after dark, pitched their tent and then sat in the car for the entire evening. I was quite surprised to see them still in their car when I left for work this morning. I can only assume that the wind has made life in their little dome tent a bit too uncomfortable and that they were rethinking the rest of their holiday.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

2009 has mostly been cold so far.

The difference between -1 and -11 is astounding. I laid in bed the other night, took the sleeping bag from over my head and let the heat seep out of my face and into the freezing air. I could feel the cold sucking the heat out of me and my face felt like i was melting into the air. Creepy. I whipped the sleeping bag over my head to create a nice pocket to warm up with my breath as was as snug as a bug.

Mornings are the hardest bit, we often have to break the sponge-scourer thing out of a block of murky ice and then defrost it on the stove so that we can wash up. We have to save the last bit of water in the container so we can get more water, which will go through a cycle of solid and liquid until it is used to defrost a tap.

I have always rained scorn on people who dress their dogs up in coats. Cold has turned my dog gay. In the night he likes to snuffle about at all hours, and will often shed his blankets, which then need replacing or we will wake up to a meek looking shivery dog trying to get into our sleeping bag. In my defence, the pooch poncho is brown, aside from the maroon bits, and it is made out of 3 wale corduroy, in accordance with one of my demands. I found him trying to shred it the other day and though I scolded him, I was secretly proud.

I have also become very aware of the variance in quality of tea lights. We use a lot of them and have even become sad enough to develop a favourite. We had some of them from the garden centre down the road and they required a great deal of attention to light and then died in about half an hour, with most of the wax unburned. Useless. Bolsius candles from the market will last for about 4 hours, almost to the minute, will burn all of the wax and are easy to light. Ideal.

We are running out of heat logs which means either re-order or start using other sources of wood. The welding dude whose workshop is on the farm has a mate with a big pile of wood which we are investigating.

Other than that, it has all been very laid back. We eat well, personally, rather too well in fact having put on a few grams since I moved in, we are warm in the evenings and nights and cold in the mornings, I have paid off more debts and we have not so far been mistaken for gypsies and hounded out of the neighbourhood on the wrong end of a pitchfork. We keep getting invited to increasingly weird dinners with the farmers and I have taken up archery.

It is however illegal to hunt rabbits with a bow and arrow in the top field beyond the pigs. So I won't be doing that. A guy here who has recently closed his adventure sports company has a barn full of archery and mountain biking kit that he is flogging cheap so I intend to obtain a compound bow (very dangerous, myeh heh) and some of the associated gubbins (like arrows), and do some shooting in the field, at targets. A mans gotta have a hobby other than fantasising about women about land rovers.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


As a complete aside to my camping adventures, I recently discovered a new category of objects that I am trying to find a suitable name for. The definition of this group is 'Objects whose primary functionality determines that they are highly likely to be lost'.

Being the mildly obsessive sort I have been looking for additions to this category and have so far found 4 items that I think qualify for the accolade of being included in my newfound clutch of items. These include Aerobie's, anything camouflaged, spectacles and marijuana.

If anyone out there can come up with a suitable name for the group or any items that should be included in my eventual submission to the authorities I would be most grateful.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


This morning my glass of water was frozen solid, the car took 20 minutes to defrost and the temperature was -11C when I left for work. The butane in the cannister had frozen and only a trickle was coming out when I went to light it first thing and the dog was most reluctant to come out from under his blankets. Winter has truly arrived.

I reckon that this has to be the worst of the winter, doesn't it? Whilst wrapped up in a 15tog Goose down duvet, inside a fluffy double sleeping bag it is pretty much impossible to get cold, I am still sleeping without pyjamas, I have not felt the need to start wearing clothes in bed and I can't see it getting too much colder. Lord please don't let it get any colder, if for the simple reason that getting out of bed is a visceral and very determined morning gauntlet that must be run and it is not much fun.

I have had a couple of weeks holiday from posting, sorry if anyone thought I had frozen to death, I have mostly been holed up in peoples houses enjoying luxuries like taps and electricity. Some good friends joined us, along with the farmers and we spent new years eve around a fire and were all remarkably comfortable, using the Romanian Grappa provided by the farmers to keep warm. Not to drink you understand, but to fuel the fire. A few days on a friends sofa doing laundry and one softens up considerably, I found that I was very reluctant to go back to the cold of the tent. Once back though you settle in pretty quickly, the old routines of fetching wood and water, food and fuel quickly returned and the romance has not been entirely frozen out of us.

It is now only a matter of days before we have a firm idea on what TLB will be doing and when her new job starts in Dorset so I will soon be able to make some plans about what I am doing. Work have provisionally authorised a couple of days per week working from home so I may find myself out of the tent in a matter of a couple of weeks, a fact I am slightly sad about on the quiet, as is TLB she tells me. Will post more tonight when I have some more time and in the meantime, wrap up out there!
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