‘We’re homeless. Intentionally. What planet was I on when I agreed to this?’
Do you see where it says that up there beneath the title? When I wrote it all those years ago, I thought it was funny. I had no idea it would go on for so long.
As I said in my About page ‘ours is not the tragic homelessness of poverty or extreme weather, but the ridiculous homelessness of an Englishman who wanted to live in America with freedom and an Anglicized American who wants to live in England with family.’ And so we’ve wandered.
Well we’re back in the UK now. And still homeless.
We have spent in total five years in an RV (one-and-a-half years in Europe and three-and-a-half years in the USA) and four years (one-and-a-half in Washington State and two-and-a-half in Arizona) in an apartment as temporary accommodation before taking the next step. After six months in England in a rental house we are still floundering. Himself is keeping an eye on France with a view to fleeing the UK after the next general election but I won’t air our political views here.
Ingrid asked me if I missed ‘it.’ I’m not sure if ‘it’ is Arizona specifically , warm weather, RVing or possibly all three.
No. I don’t.
With the greatest respect and best wishes to all of you off on your adventures and photographic journeys – and you all look like you are having a whale of a time – I’ve had enough of meandering. I need a base. And I’m happy in damp England. It’s where I belong despite not wanting to give up my navy blue passport.
We toured the Suffolk and Essex countryside on Easter Sunday, initially to look at a house, and saw thousands, nay millions, of daffodils. Each new field of dancing yellow blooms took my breath away. Quarter mile driveways of stately homes were lined with the yellow darlings. What a treat to come home to that. What a treat to come home at all.
Is living the gypsy life a guy thing? He’s already bought another caravan/travel trailer/RV long before a sticks and bricks house. In fairness to him he spends a lot of time online researching houses to buy (and cars, trucks, motorcycles, race meetings, campsites, channel crossings – tunnel vs. ferry, flights to Arizona and Australia and reading just enough news to make him angry). But mostly he looks at house sale sites.
Himself would go back to the itinerant lifestyle in a shot. I would not. Himself is lamenting leaving Arizona. And if you could pick it up and drop it in southern England, so would I. I just can’t bear the thought of all the long haul flights and the accompanying aggravations I seem to attract with the airport gestapo. He takes it all in his stride. It was beginning to drive me bonkers.
Beginning? Don’t kid yourself, you’re thinking.
I would be interested to know from all you full timers:
Do you get homesick for somewhere that no longer exists?
Do you at least have a family base where they put you up or plug your RV in in the driveway and offer you showers and laundry and meals?
Do you fly there or drive there?
Do you see much of your family?
I also put it to you people of a home loving persuasion – would you sell up and store your present existence in order to fund travel?
We’ve traveled through 47 states and seen glorious U.S. State Parks and National Parks, Sites, Recreation Areas, Monuments and Historic Sites too numerous to mention. We’ve RVed east to west and top to bottom of England and Scotland and traversed France and Spain. We’ve camped all along the three U.S. coastlines as well as the interior and visited most major cities. I have thousands and thousands of photos and have written over 300 blog posts.
Now I want a house. A home base. I don’t want to go anywhere. At least for a while.
This title should read: Bad News, Good News, Bad News and More Bad News. We are alive and well so it wasn’t that that bad, however . . . .
After two weeks of trying and mostly failing to sever our relationships with credit card companies, the satellite TV, phone, internet and electric companies – for the most part these companies don’t accept that there is a functioning world outside of the U.S. – Jimmy tried to check in online for our transatlantic flight 24 hours before departure.
“I don’t believe this!”
“They haven’t got our reservation!” With the stress of packing, planning, making lists and arguing with corporate America on the phone I was surprised his head hadn’t exploded.
My heart sank but I tried to exhibit calm in my voice. “Let me try.” I carefully typed in our reservation code – 6yk2E7i14clD5CK – easy, no? and I got:
We don’t recognize this reservation.
Our furniture was gone, truck shipped, apartment lease terminated, hire car returned and taxi to the airport booked. I tried not to think through the consequences of having booked flights with a company online we hadn’t previously used.
“Have you typed your name correctly?” I asked.
“Of course I have!” said like this: “&* #&*%@* # &*$#!!!”
“What name did you book it in?” I asked patiently. He has two names, first and middle, like many of us, but uses them interchangeably, unlike many of us. They were both on the screen. “Try taking that space out.”
Up popped our flight reservations effectively putting the pin back in his primed grenade head.
We celebrated with one margarita too many at happy hour. So cheap! How could we not?
The taxi turned up early the next day and we arrived at the airport in good spirits.
After the lost reservation fright on the laptop at the hotel I was unable to check in online anyway as I am to become an alien once again in the UK and I needed to be scrutinized. As I am “special” we were escorted to the head of the long queue.
The check-in clerk was either surprised at our cheerfulness at that early hour or just liked the look of us because then something magical happened. She put “security cleared” labels on our carry-ons and even on my handbag.
“You’re TSA cleared,” Tracy declared.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“You go through the security cleared line. You keep your shoes on, you don’t have to take anything out of your bags and you aren’t x-rayed or searched.”
We swanned past dozens of sweaty, harassed-looking, bare-footed passengers and I felt like royalty. They looked at us with hate and envy.
No more Airport Gestapo for us. We had had an encounter with an airport angel.
That’s the end of the good news.
During our trans-country flight we were concerned that should our flight be late, our one and a half hour layover in New York would evaporate and we and/or our luggage would miss the connecting flight to London.
We landed in good time and rushed to the departures board to see . . . . . oh nooooo! . . . . . a four hour delay! It was our punishment for feeling smug at security in Phoenix.
Four hours turned into six hours as we waited on board for eight passengers with names the cabin steward struggled to pronounce. They never turned up. When we finally pushed back from the gate the captain assured us these eight passengers hadn’t checked any baggage but I fretted all across the Atlantic about the airline’s record keeping systems.
You will have gathered that we landed safely. Somewhere.
London, actually. Tired and stressed but all in one piece.
Jimmy drove the two hours to our accommodation through torrential rain alternating with bursts of sunshine. With the countryside looking so green after spending 140 days in the desert with no rain we were pleased to be nearing the end of this particular journey.
Our caravan/single-wide/park model/whatever-you-call-it was pristine, cozy and dry and we tumbled in with six pieces of luggage in the evening, 36 hours after our alarm had gone off one third of a world away.
Driving rain continued on and off the next day but viewed through the window from the comfort of a warm sofa and feeling slightly smug again as we watched campers dashing in and out of their tents, we didn’t care.
Until . . . . .
“Ewwwww! This carpet is wet!”
After I’d stepped in the soggy mess our eyes drifted up to the ceiling where crumpled wallpaper showed signs of water damage. We had just unpacked and put away the contents of six suitcases and one hundred pounds (Sterling, not weight) worth of groceries. Looking like Spiderman, my hands and arms outstretched, I hopped from spot to spot and patted all over the walls searching for more signs of damp.
I patted down all the recently filled cupboards and shelves. There was no sign of running water.
We waited and watched.
Somehow a small damp patch on the carpet you could feel but not see turned into a squashy obvious puddle.
We were demoralized. The campsite owners were alarmed. The maintenance men were less than sympathetic.
“You didn’t know a swimming pool was included in the price of your rental did you?!”
“You should have popped down the shops and bought some wellington boots and charged them to the campsite!”
Ha bloody ha.
Long story short . . . oh wait, too late for that . . . we have to move.
“What are you doing?” He didn’t need to preface his sentence with “Now . .” It was implied by his tone.
“I’m shoving a magazine down my pants. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“No need to be sarcastic.”
“I’m using the magazine as padding to protect my spine from the hula hoop.” My new waist whittler had killer knobbly bits on the inside. To demonstrate, I gave the hoop a little spin.
“See? No pain. Whoops!” The fruit bowl took a hit and needed to be pushed back a bit. With the table cleared, myself carefully positioned between bed, window and wall, and Jimmy well out of the way, I could get my hooping exercise indoors instead of looking a fool outdoors.
I tried again. “If I put the magazine in my pants, keep my feet firmly planted, put my hips into it, concentrate and don’t let the hoop slow down, there’ll be no damage to me or the trailer.”
“That has to be one of the most stupid things you’ve ever done.”
“Thanks!” Who, after all, wants to be predictable?
“I still think it’s stupid if you’re risking hurting your back.” He’s trying to insult me or frighten me into stopping. It isn’t working.
Exercise is an issue in our confined quarters. We walk when we can, I swim when there’s a pool on the campsite and we both do sit ups about every six months. Even with constant tweaks to our diet to reduce calories and improve nutrition, our waistlines are expanding.
I worry about the blood pressure and obesity implications of eating a big meal then taking one step to the couch to have dessert and vegetate in front of the telly for the rest of the evening.
With Jimmy away for two weeks I had contemplated our lifestyle and found it lacking. In the midst of doing what I wanted, when I wanted to (instead of falling into step with the tour director/camp commandant) I exercised frequently and cleaned up my diet between bouts of reading trashy magazines and watching trashy TV.
“Guess what I had for lunch today?” I had asked Jimmy during one of our international phone calls.
“Please don’t tell me.”
“Sautéed spinach with Parmesan cheese slivers on top.”
“Oh God help me.”
“It was yummy.”
“The thought of it makes me feel sick.”
“Tonight I’m having jumbo shrimp braised with garlic, onion, ginger, Jalapeños courgettes and spinach.”
“I won’t come home.”
“Tomorrow I’m having a crab cake.” Jimmy doesn’t like seafood, shellfish in particular, so I gave him all the details because there’s an unruly streak in me.
Back to the exercise matter, it is only four steps from our dining “room,” or living “room” or “bedroom” to our toilet. We joke about going upstairs to bed. It’s one step up. My pedometer registered just 151 steps from late afternoon to bedtime.
Where’s that hula hoop? And my magazine padding?
How do you include exercise in your daily routine?
We were halfway to a campsite in northern California about to enter the wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains. Our water tanks were empty-ish in preparation for mountain climbing and our batteries were big dead weights barely capable of lighting one light. Our only company for miles and miles and miles was trees.
Our bed slide was out, the runner was broken and the slide wouldn’t go back in.
As the California sun shone down on our tin box house we grew hotter and hotter trying to affect a makeshift repair. Our hearts were hammering and we were gasping and shaking with exhaustion.
It had occurred to me that we could be stranded for days with no electricity or water while help was summoned and parts ordered from Hoboken or Timbuktu though that thought was not articulated.
Nor did Jimmy share his bleak thoughts with me. We’d pulled the slide out possibly for the last time ever.
With the slide pulled out we couldn’t tow the trailer. If we pushed it back in the runner would break causing more damage.
We took the only option open to us.
We let bloody-mindedness take over.
The decision was reached by mutual unspoken assent.
We tried again and again and again. We just needed to unscrew one screw from the ceiling and put a washer on it.
Again. Gasp. Gasp. Gasp.
“Take a break,” I begged Jimmy. He was bright red in the face. I was probably the same but we each think we are invincible and don’t easily accept our limitations.
We tried again. Pull runner, engage screwdriver, grunt.
And again. And again.
“It moved!” Was I hallucinating? “Try it again!” I said excitedly, holding the screwdriver in place ready for Jimmy to put some muscle into it. The screw head moved a miniscule amount.
Each monumental effort, with both of us poised awkwardly and straining produced only about and eighth of a turn before the screwdriver would jump out and skitter across the runner. The screw head was acquiring a nice polished sheen and losing its sharp cross threads.
Seeing me shaking with exhaustion, heat and anxiety Jimmy called the next break and I sat quietly with my head and arms flopping down at rest.
“I took the screw out of the other runner last week. Do you want to know how long it is?” Without raising my head I let my eyes swivel round to his hand where he held his thumb and forefinger four inches apart. Needing eight colossal attempts from both of us to turn the screw one revolution, I wasn’t sure we’d survive the repair.
We let despair replace any stabs at conversation or conjecture and stared vacantly until the panting slowed, then resumed battle.
As long as the screw moved a tiny amount we were motivated to keep trying. The sight of a whole inch of screw poking from the ceiling turned the tide of the war and we got a second wind. The next inch was easier and I twiddled the screw out the last two inches with my fingers.
It only remained to put the washer on and screw the runner back to the ceiling. Flush with triumph, Jimmy decided to take the next screw out and put a washer on it as well. So pumped up with success was he that he put three washers on it.
It was a good idea, in theory, until we tried to push the slide in but the extra washers blocked the slide. It wouldn’t go in.
A cartoon of my expression is appropriate at this point:
It was a minor blip as it happened and easily remedied. Victory was ours.
Our reward for perseverance was Sequoia National Park and among other BIG trees the General Sherman Tree – the largest tree in the world – not the tallest or the widest but the largest in volume.
The top of the General Sherman Tree:
And here’s General Sherman’s bottom:
See the little people above for perspective.
If you’re worried about us we had the runner replaced. And after a few more bruises I gave the hula hoop to Goodwill and took up yoga.