I used to be a gardener

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We used to have a garden

I was planting geraniums in our window boxes yesterday and thinking about gardening.

Before we downsized to a small flat in the city, we lived in a semi-detached house and had a reasonably large garden.  The garden had apple trees, a beautiful silver birch and a rowan tree, a pond that was always full of frogs and a pretty wooden greenhouse.  The garden had been neglected when we bought the house and in the 20+ years we were there we tended it and made it a very special place.

I did get a lot of pleasure from the garden.  We had good soil and the garden faced south and was sheltered and warm.  In the summer the garden buzzed with bees, butterflies flitted through and we had plenty of birds visiting the bird table and bird bath and nesting.

However, the garden took up lots of my and Mr BOTRA’s time.  Looking after the garden competed with our desire to be away in the ‘van as much as possible.  The garden needed regular tending, particularly in the spring and summer when we most wanted to be away … so the time to move on had arrived.

Now, we live in the city and have a couple of pots by our front door and some window boxes.  We chose our flat because it is in a development that was built in a time when land was cheaper and benefit from having large sheltered central gardens that the management company employ gardeners to maintain.

Sometimes friends ask if I miss having a garden.  But why would I when I now have a garden that someone else cares for and the great outdoors to enjoy in the ‘van.  Camping in the ‘van provides opportunities for the fresh air and tranquillity we crave and takes us to natural surroundings.  The beauty of natural landscapes is that they can be different every day, we can choose coastline or mountains, moorland or woodland and we don’t have to spend time maintaining it.

Owning a flat and campervan work well together for us, helping us to be both financial independent and happy.

 

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Lucky litter pick

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Mr BOTRA and I can’t help ourselves.  Whenever we are out walking in the beautiful British countryside, if we spot any litter we have to pick it up and stuff it in the outside pocket of the rucksack.  We just like to leave places looking better than when we arrived.

On a recent walk / litter pick, along with the usual cans and bottles, McDonalds packaging and plastic, we found a £5 note!  We felt doubly blessed as litter picking always makes us feel good anyway.

I don’t just litter pick in the countryside.  Although here in Salford the Council provide some street cleaning, this doesn’t in anyway keep up with the amount of litter on the streets.  On my journey to and from work I often arrive with an armful of rubbish, mostly sweet wrappers and plastic bottles and I always pick up glass bottles as these are so lethal when they break, particularly for the tyres of bicycles.  This doesn’t really take up any of my time but helps to keep our environment looking just that little bit better.

Another good find on a litter picking sessions some time ago was a fluffy [after it had been washed] chocolate brown hand towel that we still use in our bathroom.  This probably was less litter and more lost but after seeing it for a few days it was morphing in to litter and I could only assume the original owner had no idea where they had lost it.

I would really like to live in a world where this litter picking wasn’t necessary but until then I carry on in the hope that for all those people who see me and think I am one crazy woman, just one or two will spot me and next time think twice about throwing litter down … until then I never know what I might find.

 

Taking our Devon Conversion van to Devon

The Devon coast near Hartland Quay
The Devon coast near Hartland Quay

Well … now we are wondering why did we wait so long to get to Devon?

Despite its name, Devon Conversions are based in County Durham in the north of England, a long way from the south-west.  We often meet people in other countries who smile and tell us how much they have enjoyed holidays in the beautiful county of Devon in South West England and we have to apologise for never having been there, until now.

We spent a few days exploring Somerset and North Devon and found some stunning coastlines and picturesque villages.  We particularly enjoyed the Hartland Peninsular which was perfect for us.  The spectacular rocky coastal scenery provided great walking country, Clovelly took us back in time and the clotted cream ice-cream was excellent.  The sunshine in the photograph hides the stiff breeze that kept the temperatures down but in the sheltered corners it was warm enough to walk without a fleece jacket.

Devon is well known for its narrow lanes with tall hedges and I certainly held my breath plenty of times as we met oncoming traffic as we toured around what count for main roads in this part of the country.  We are very familiar with single track roads in Scotland but this was different; in Scotland you generally have an open view over the moorland and the passing places are always regular and marked.  Breathing in on the narrow sections didn’t help one bit for the ‘van to squeeze through the narrow gaps but it was something I just couldn’t help doing.

Since we have been home I’ve been telling everyone how stunningly beautiful north Devon is but then lots of people already know this, it is just the two of us that have taken so long to discover one of the delights of our little country.

 

Normality is a paved road; It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow

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A beautiful Italian sunset

Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow

I am well aware that for many people even ticking along through life can be stressful and that life throws more tough times at some people than is fair.  I am sure these folk must feel irritated by trite sayings like this … so apologies if I’ve got your back up but perhaps you will still read on.

The quote is attributed to Vincent Van Gogh and it is one of those quotes that appears in the blogosphere now and then to start a discussion on taking an unusual or creative path.

Firstly I need to say that I have had times when too many awful things are going on and I will be heard to complain, ‘I just want a quiet and normal life!’  I don’t think there is any shame in wanting a carefree and stress-free life.  I also know that when I have survived a period along the rocky road and I return to the smooth path of ‘normal’ life I have a greater sense of strength and self-reliance … adversity can be character building.

What I also take from this quote is that sometimes I need to turn away from the easy paved road because it is taking me in a direction that will not make me happy in the long run, even if it seems the path of least resistance.  If you saw a copy of my cv you might be horrified at the number of organisations [over 20] I have worked for since I first started work at the age of 16.  This fickleness is partly because I am easily bored [the longest I have stayed in any job is five years] but is also due to my lack of patience with employers who either undermine me, pay me badly, set impossible targets, have ridiculous rules or don’t give me enough to do [some employers have excelled themselves and will do more than one of these things].

As an example, let me take you back in time to an office in a Midlands city in the 1980s.  I worked for a [very] short time for a company who insisted women [not men] wore tights even if it was 30°C in the office [this was before air-conditioned offices].  In addition, although the office of about 20 people was very busy processing wages for temporary workers Monday to Wednesday, on Thursday and Friday we were kicking our hosiery-clad heels.   These were pre-internet days and having nothing to do at work was exceptionally tiresome; however, my practical and money-saving suggestion to management that I work part-time was refused.  Needless to say, although staying in the job would have kept me on the smooth path of security, I soon left for the rocky road of short-term unemployment until the next opportunity came up.

I think this experience of constantly changing jobs makes me feel fairly confident that I will always find some kind of work if financial pressures mean that I need to because of some unforeseen catastrophe.  This certainly contributes to giving me the confidence to take retirement as soon as I can.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Devon Tempest

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I constantly pinch myself, unable to believe that it is really true … do we really own our very own campervan?  Owning a campervan was my dream from the age of 13 until I was 45 years old, when we bought our first ever ‘van and the joy of being part of the campervan community still hasn’t diminished and I hope it never will.

We have owned our Devon Tempest on a medium wheelbase Renault Master for just over twelve months now and driven over 9,000 miles.  This is our second Devon conversion [and third ‘van] as for us Devon offer just what we need; good solid vans at a reasonable price and being a small converter they are able to include some modifications to the standard specification when buying from new.

Having owned firstly a short wheelbase Volkswagen and then a long wheelbase VW Devon Sundowner, at 5.5m long the Renault is as big as we want to go.  The extra length gave us a sofa, a [small] bathroom and means we no longer have to swivel the front seats to have somewhere comfy to sit.  Having lived for twelve months in our Sundowner we know we can live happily together in a small space and we enjoy having a ‘van that can [mostly] fit in a standard car park space.

We learnt a lot from owning our Sundowner and we specified the following modifications to our Tempest, which Devon Conversions were able to incorporate:

  • The ‘van has good lighting with spotlights and roof lights but we added a strip LED in the kitchen which has proved very useful for being able to see what we are cooking.
  • We have two 240v sockets in the kitchen [for kettle and hotplate] and two in the lounge [for charging phone, camera, laptop, tablet, MP3 player] both very useful when we are on hook-up and a 12v socket in the wine cupboard for when we are off grid [see below].
  • We have a re-fillable LPG canister which allows us to cook and heat the van and hot water when we don’t have a hook-up.
  • We don’t have a TV [we watch downloaded programmes on the laptop in the ‘van] but the TV cupboard makes a great wine cupboard with the addition of a couple of shelves that are great for jars and tins.
  • We didn’t want the open shelf for cups and plates and Devon were able to change this to a more useful cupboard.
  • We had shelves put in the wardrobe as these give more flexibility, provide more space and [being exceptionally scruffy] we never have a need to hang clothes up.

Modifications we have added ourselves:

  • Hooks for coats on the back wall and for jackets behind the driver’s seat
  • Hooks on the bathroom door for towels
  • Nets inside the ‘wardrobe’ door for the campsite log book and the ‘van quiz book

The Renault has not given us any bother [I can’t help touching wood as I type this] after the traumatic day when we collected the ‘van.  Because it had only travelled seven miles and all of these miles had been shunting around the factory and the dealer’s forecourt, we got a warning light relating to the diesel particulate filter within a mile or two of setting off.  We spoke to the Renault garage and then had to call roadside assistance out.  The RAC thought it was amusing that our ‘van was the lowest mileage they had ever had called in but as we waited by the M61 in the February gloom and rush-hour traffic looking at our gleaming van we just wanted to cry.  Fortunately, the story has a happy ending and once the RAC had arrived and revved the engine aggressively for some time the particles burnt off and all has been well since.

I can’t pretend that owning a campervan is a frugal choice but it is much more than that and does allow us to travel widely and cheaply.  How I tend to look at it is this; living in our urban flat and owning the ‘van go hand-in-hand and only make sense to us together and the cost of these two places we choose to live in is equivalent to the average house price in Greater Manchester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A weekend of two seasons

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Tittesworth Reservoir from The Roaches

I am not complaining, last weekend was text book spring and April weather; one minute it was sunny, the next a shower flew across, obliterating the view and bringing the temperature down.

We were in north Staffordshire, near the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and walking in some of the loveliest countryside in England, over The Roaches.  if you’ve not been to this lovely area, then I highly recommend it.

In the sunshine, the climbers were out on the gritstone crags, those who prefer bouldering were spotted with their colourful crash-mats strapped to their backs, the dog walkers, young families and  photographers were all enjoying this beautiful natural playground.

On our first day we visited Ramshaw Rocks, on the quieter side of The Roaches, where you can find the Winking Man, an interesting face-shaped rock that protrudes from the crags and entertains children on the drive past on the A53, as if you watch carefully the eye appears to wink.  We parked in the lay-by and had a brew in the ‘van and set off in the fine weather without waterproofs (clearly a mistake in April).  As we reached the top the wind whipped up and a hail shower turned the ground white and my hands blue, the hills around us disappeared and I was back in winter.

The next day we walked along The Roaches ridge to Roach End and back behind the rocks.  This time we packed the waterproofs (having learnt our lesson the day before) and the sky was blue and the sun shone all day; this was definitely spring.  What I hadn’t taken with me on this walk was any money and so we had to walk past the ice cream van at Roach End without treating ourselves, so a frugal walk.

When is it time to tell our employers?

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I am not suggesting by the photograph that this discussion will be unpleasant and I have no illusions about being irreplaceable but I have been wondering when I should tell my employer that I intend to leave and enter a non-working state of retirement very soon.  The company I work for won’t be expecting my retirement just yet as I am [only] 56 and most of my generation are expecting to work at least until they are 60 years old.

Before the chaos of the forthcoming reorganisation I had been thinking that I wanted to give my employer what I consider sufficient warning [about three months] but as my leaving date is now up in the air I had decided to keep quiet until I know if I will be offered a suitable working base beyond the summer.

I have concerns that once they know I am leaving they will treat me differently in some way, maybe give me all the jobs no one else wants to do or just cut me out of business discussions.  However, keeping quiet brings its own problems.  I have recently been given a new area of responsibility that takes up about three days a month, as a colleague has moved on.  I have no doubt I wouldn’t have been given this responsibility if they knew I was leaving in the foreseeable future.  This change to my role suggests my employer doesn’t intend to make me redundant but leaves me feeling guilty.  I have now been trained up to carry out an important and vital role within the company and as I work in a fairly small organisation and I am the only person that is trained to carry out this task and only I know that I am planning to leave in at least eight months time [and counting down].

This new responsibility has left me feeling even more that unless I want to leave the company in the lurch [and I don’t] I do need to give a few months notice so that I can train someone else in all of the tasks I carry out but the options relating to the re-organisation continue to confuse the picture.

Things are a bit more stable and straightforward for Mr BOTRA and he plans to inform his employer in December, giving them three months notice.  This decision is partly dictated by practicalities, as he holds a company credit card and will need to stop using that in enough time for all transactions to be processed before he leaves.  But also like me he wants to keep his cards close to his chest for as long as he can, just in case …