It is 10:30pm on Monday the 23rd of September, Shazza is tucked up in bed at the back of the van as she has to be up early in the morning to take the car and the last of our personal possessions to her mums. It is all quiet outside, no noises at all, no passing of cars, no clip clopping of heels on the pavement outside, no sounds from the local wildlife it is in fact very peaceful. I have made myself a mug of hot coffee and am stretched out on my leather bench seat in a quiet and reflective mood. The past 3 days have passed so quickly that it is nice to just have some time to catch my breath. Although I have been counting every day it somehow still surprises me in coming to the realisation that we have just two more days parked up here on the driveway at the side of the house and then these familiar and safe surroundings will be gone for good.
I guess it really started to dawn on me on Saturday. It was time to get my haircut and I didn’t really pay too much attention to my surroundings as I made the familiar and somewhat routine journey into town. I headed for my usual parking place, took the same route to the hairdressers and chatted to Debs whilst she gave me my now customary No.2. We said our farewells, as I left the salon to make my way back to the car I suddenly became very conscious of the fact that this would be the last time that I would be making this routine monthly journey. Every month I had walked passed the same old man who was stood on the corner playing tunes on his mouth organ, his shoe box of coins at his feet where passers-by would sometimes throw in their loose change. Guiltily I had always passed by and although impressed at the beautiful tunes emanating from his mouth organ I had never felt the urge to toss any of my loose change into his meager collection. That was until today, I was going to pass him by as I always had but actually I smiled at his very proficient rendition of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’, and that alone deserved to be rewarded. He did not stop playing as I placed the coins into his shoe box, but he acknowledged with a ‘wink’ of his eye Without missing a note. I turned the corner and as I made my way to where I had parked the car I felt a small tinge of sadness at leaving a town that I had come to love. Although I knew that I would see a lot of towns and cities all around Europe over the next few years, I was actually going to miss this place.
I don’t really know why, but for the first time in all the times I have driven that self-same route back home from town I was actually ‘aware’ of the surroundings. The roundabouts, the fuel stations, small shops, industrial buildings, the golf course, the houses, the gardens. Just everyday things that until now I had been completely oblivious to. Shazza had been ‘pottering’ in my absence, moving from the van to the house finding small things to occupy herself with, having a tidy here and a tidy there. Not long after returning the ‘buyers’ turned up in their rental van laden with the furniture to be stored in our garage. Furniture which would soon transform the now very empty rooms of what used to be our home into ‘theirs’ ! We handed over the keys to the garage and left them to it whilst we went and did some shopping at our local supermarket.
We had decided to refuel the car ready for my one hundred mile round trip drive to Bristol on Monday morning and Sharon’s three and a half hour drive to Doncaster on the Tuesday. We pulled up at the window of the pay kiosk and Sharon told the young girl the pump number we had drawn the fuel from. The dower faced female did not look at us once but in a very monotone voice just stated the price. Sharon immediately knew that this was wrong, and wrong in our favour by several pounds. However, being the honest sole that she is, she told the dower faced girl that the price was wrong and again repeated the pump number that she had used. The girl did not turn to look at her, or apologise for her mistake or thank Shazza for her honesty, instead she remained silent and expressionless and she just pressed the keypad in front of her, presumably this time entering the correct number and then quoted the correct price. At an attempt to make light of the dower faced girl’s mistake Shazza said “Oh, I could have got away with paying someone else’s bill”, to which the sullen girl replied, again without looking at Shazza at all, “You would have been in trouble the next time you came to refuel”. Having sat quietly throughout and been totally bemused at witnessing this piece of ‘excellence in customer service’ , I just had to say, with a somewhat smug look on my face and just the teeniest hint of sarcasm in my voice, “I don’t think so my love as we will be in Europe the next time we want to refuel’. We drove away and left the depressive individual to continue reading her book “How NOT to win friends and influence people’. To say that my beloved was not at all impressed would have been a gross understatement. The last time I had seen her this animated was when I had suggested that perhaps we didn’t really need to purchase a roof box for the van to store her vast selection of fine wines, you know the one’s, they come in unbreakable cartons !! But there was no stopping her, she parked the car, strode into the store and up to the Customer Services Counter and demanded to see the duty manager, who, when he duly arrived, was informed of the incident, and he got both barrels !!!
I was getting a little concerned as I had not heard from my daughter for over a week, no calls, no mobile text, no Skype text so I left a text on her phone. She rang me and explained that she had been taking part in ‘Tough Mudder 2013’, for anyone not in the know, this is a physical challenge with all sorts of obstacles to overcome and not for the faint hearted. My daughter is 4ft 11in and a real ‘girlie girl’, not the sort of person who one would expect be partaking in such a gruelling activity. However, she completed the event and got her medal and pint of cider at the end of it !!
As a training aid for the event she completed a half marathon two weeks earlier, that’s my girl !! We are so very proud of her and not a hair dryer or manicurist in sight :0)
So, Sunday arrived and even before i had time to turn the kettle on or kick-start my lungs we heard the ‘buyers’ arrive with the second lot of furniture to store in the garage, they were gone before I had time to say “Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs”. I then got a text from one’s daughter to say that she was at the Airport on her way to Munich ? and would be back on Wednesday ! Typical isn’t it, you don’t hear from them for over a week and then they won’t leave you in peace at the weekend (Only joking !). Today was also ‘move the van’ day, we needed to have ‘Big Momma’ prepped to hit the road so that meant ADG (Air, Diesel, Gas). I had been watching the tyre pressures ever since that incident with the flat tyre just as we were about to leave for Warwick, whilst not paranoid, I was a little concerned that one of the front tyres was looking a bit under-inflated. However, Shazza was there to re-assure me and said quite calmly and all knowingly that it only looked flat at the bottom !!!
I was correct to be concerned, all the tyres should have been inflated to 80psi, this front one was less than half of that !! And the other five were under 60psi !!!! If I was tell you that after inflating them all to the correct pressures that the ‘ride’ to the fuel station appeared to be that much better, I guess you wouldn’t be surprised eh ? Next stop, to fill up with fuel, I wouldn’t say these beasts have large fuel tanks but I could have eaten a five course meal waiting for the tank to finally fill !! Then it was off to the Countrywide Farmers 24hr LPG tank, this was a great find, sign up for an account and pay just 5% VAT as opposed to 20% at normal fuel stations !! For the eagle-eyed you may just have noticed that I had a helper with the filling of the LPG ? However, what I hadn’t seen just moments prior to that photo being taken was Dave attempting to ‘not so discreetly’ fill my cylinders with some of his own self- generated ‘gas’ !!
So with ‘Big Momma’ now topped up with all the essentials it was time to take her back and park up again. A spot of lunch and then we loaded the car with the last of the items for disposal at the Council Recycling Plant. Apart from these necessary tasks it was a reasonably leisurely day and it was finished off with a family meal at a local hostelry. From the left: Sarah, Barbara (Sarah’s mum), Shazza, ME and Chris. It was a lovely end to the day !!
Monday arrived and we were now down to our last three days before the real ‘Adventure’ started. We knew this was going to be a hectic few days as there were quite a few ‘final’ pieces of our ‘moving out schedule’ to organise. As we now only had the one car, yes the ‘OUR’ car that i now had the pleasure of keeping clean, and we both had need of it today we had to do a bit of a relay. First up was me dropping Shazza off at her 9am Dentist appointment, I then had to drive to Bristol whilst Shazza made her way home under her own steam. Whilst at Bristol she called to say that she needed some additional treatment but had to return after lunch, so it was a mad dash back home again to give her the car. Whilst she was back at the dentist it gave me a chance to make some important phone calls, important in the sense that some were to arrange for refunds of monies already paid like Council Tax refund and a refund on Building & Contents Insurance, I had already arranged for a refund on my TV Licence. Then there were the last-minute changes of address, this had to be done today as we were being disconnected from our Home Broadband with effect from tomorrow so things like our Apple iTunes, Amazon, Caxton Cash Cards, Domestic on-line Bank accounts, Credit Card and Mobile Phone accounts all required changing on-line. This all took time but was completed by the time Shazza had returned from the dentist. Next up was to load the car with the rest of our personal possessions that were being stored at Sharon’s mums house, again another car ‘full’. So much for being ruthless !! Sharon then prepared the evening meal and we were both quite exhausted both physically and mentally and we knew that there was still another long day tomorrow.
I heard Shazza get up at the crack of sparrows, she was making the long run to Doncaster to both drop off the last of our personal possessions and also to leave the car there. She would stay overnight and then travel back on the train on Wednesday. I stayed tucked up under the Nice warm Duvet for a little while longer but had to be up and ready for the last two remaining items of our furniture to be collected. That done, the house was now completely ’empty’, save a few bottles of cleaning materials for the final wipe down before we would finally lock the doors on what used to be our home. I spent the rest of the day giving ‘Big Momma’ a thorough clean, starting on the roof, the solar panels, skylights, sat dome and air con unit. I was always wary once on the roof, many years ago whilst placing items into a roof box on my very first van I had fallen off and was very fortunate not to have seriously injured myself, if you can call several months of Physiotherapy not serious !! But I was now never complacent when on the roof especially where height, water and slippery surfaces combine. I spent the rest of the day washing the van and cleaning windows, inside and out, until ‘Big Momma’ was gleaming. In between times Sharon had called to say that we had received our refund from the TV Licence, that was prompt !! Once I had finished the cleaning I then had the task of storing all the cleaning equipment back into ‘Big Momma’s’ garage, we would need to keep her clean whilst on our travels so things like bucket, wash brush, step-ladder and cleaning and polishing materials were all essential bits of equipment. But they all had a place, the logistics of where everything had to fit was no mean feat and space was at a premium so it had to be placed back exactly from where it had been removed. That job done I then needed to make a couple more phone calls that I had forgotten about. We would keep the LPG account open with Countrywide Farmers but I had forgotten to inform them of our change of address. Next was the call that I knew would cost me money ! I needed to tell my Insurers that we would be fulltiming. I had already spoken to them some months previously and the plan had been to keep my current policy going and just pay any additional premium that was required. However, on top of that additional premium they would also charge an Admin Fee for ‘Change of Address’ so I decided to cancel the existing policy and start a new one. This served several purposes, it meant that I would have a full years ‘fulltiming’ policy to last until the end of September next year, they would not charge the £25 cancellation fee as I would be taking out a new policy with them, I would not have to pay the £15 Admin Fee for Change of Address as it was a new policy and finally I would not have to pay a full years premium as they would take off the refund from my old policy, so all in all I felt quite pleased with myself. But my day was not yet over, we both had Kindles, now we got these for the sole intention of not having to utilise valuable space being taken up with ‘physical’ books, however, my beloved had quite a few ‘Physical’ books that she had not read and she reliably informed me that she could not get any of these in Kindle format, really !! So whilst I was in a cleaning and tidying sort of mood I found some extremely valuable space in which to store her books. What we men do to keep our loved one’s happy !!
I was all alone and it felt strange, we had always been together when in the van and somehow it just did not feel right not having Shazza here with me. Perhaps that is why, for the very first time in the van I was unable to sleep. I had left the night blind fully open on the large Heki’s skylight over the bed. I had rather hoped to have been able to have laid in bed and been able to stare upwards at the stars in the black of the night sky. However, the reason it had been reasonably warm during the night the last few nights was because of the thick blanket of cloud which obliterated any chance of stargazing. I must have fallen asleep at some point but woke again to the light pattering of rain on the roof. I looked at the clock, it was 03:15am and try as I may I could not get back to sleep. I must have dozed in and out of sleep for the next five hours and when I eventually dragged myself out of bed I was not feeling either bright- eyed or bushy-tailed !!
there was no structure to this our last full day and that didn’t help. Shazza’s instructions to me before she had left for her mum’s had been to strip the bed and put the bedding into the washing machine. That was as well as cleaning the downstairs bathroom and to make a start on the en- suite bathroom ! The rest of the day was spent ‘pottering’, it was time to find some nooks and crannies for the last-minute little bits and pieces, wax the van, and generally kick my heels until my beloved returned home.
Shazza rang me when she got on the train from Doncaster to Kings Cross, London and again when she caught the train from London to Swindon. She had taken Dave with her and to introduce him to the joys of rail travel, from the photographs it appears that he behaved himself.
After what had appeared an eternity, Shazza returned to the van and the equilibrium was restored. I made her a well deserved cuppa and then we proceeded to make up the bed with nice freshly washed sheets. Had I have remembered to take them out of the tumble drier then perhaps they would not have had so many creases, but what the heck, perhaps with an extra cuddle tonight, just to show how much I had missed her, they will get creased anyway……….. !!!!
Neither of us were up to cooking, and after all, as from tomorrow we would be on a budget !! We ordered from a local takeaway and thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful. Shazza took the opportunity of using the washing machine for the last time so that we were at least starting with an empty laundry basket. We both had our last evening showers in what was still our en-suite bathroom for a few more hours at least. We both asked each other the same question “are we mad at what we are doing ?”. It did feel a bit strange but my answer to her was “We dreamed this dream for so long, now let’s go and live it”……………
So whilst there are a few minor tasks to perform first thing in the morning, take meter readings, pack the last few items like the EHU cable and extension lead into their respective lockers, stow away loose items inside the van ready for travel and then walk to the Estate Agents to hand over the keys to what is now somebody else’s house we find ourselves at the end of one journey and finally at the start of our long-awaited ‘Big Adventure’………………