It’s a month since we set off in our camper. It seems a lot longer, partly because our adventure was preceded by a week in a hired camper and 3 weeks in a rented cottage in the Forest of Dean. But the main reason it seems longer is that I find it increasingly difficult to imagine living any other way. A small, moveable home; only those possessions that you need and/or most value; no day job or mortgage to worry about; much more time spent outdoors; the freedom to stay somewhere for a day or a fortnight, as the mood takes you.
Rain drumming just above your head at night.
Owl calls and fox cries just outside your window.
Looking out on to fields and trees.
New walks to discover.
Strictly speaking, this is a motorhome (big) and not a camper van (small – think VW camper). But “motorhome” sounds like something you just use at weekends or for a few weeks in the summer. “Camper van” seems more like a lifestyle. And this is certainly a lifestyle. We’re living it 24/7, and will do so for at least a year.
Almost everything in a camper is inconvenient. Storage space is limited and crammed and some unwritten universal law dictates that whatever you’re looking for is at the back and at the bottom of everything else. Making a meal requires advance preparation and tidying up as you proceed – no expansive work surface to spread out over. Moving the van means everything must be properly stowed, cables and hoses disconnected.
But here’s the thing: I’m starting to value inconvenience. It makes you focus on the task in hand rather than rushing through it on your way to the next task. It makes you aware in ways that you’re just not in ordinary household life. It forces you to slow down, be in the here and now instead of forever hurtling towards a future that’s forever out of reach.
For years I’ve slept an average of 4-6 hours a night and regularly spent whole nights wide awake. In the camper, I sleep 7-8 hours a night, which just seems extraordinary to me. One reason is that I’m outside a lot more, walking miles with my dog every day. The other reason is that I’m no longer stressed. I’d been stressed for years, sick with stress, and suddenly it’s all gone.
Of course there are moments of frustration and annoyance, but these are far fewer than you might imagine and they don’t last long. You just have a little tantrum and move on, forget about it.
I was a bit concerned that living in such a small space would be difficult for Finn, my dog – a two and a half year old, 44kg Dobermann. I needn’t have worried. He loves this life – loves exploring new places, loves all the long walks, loves being with me pretty much 24/7. In the daytime, after his morning walk, he curls up on his duvet next to me as I work on my laptop. At night we lower the table against the seats, pile on throws and duvets and he hops up, stretches out and sleeps soundly through the night. He’s a happy boy.
It was hard work getting to this point. It took a lot of organisation and coordination of things that seemed resistant to coordination. It’s also a risk in some ways, I suppose, though balanced against the certainty of stress and unhappiness staying where I was, it really doesn’t seem so risky to me.
So here I am, writing this in a cosy camper van parked in a frosty meadow in the Norfolk Broads. Finn is snoring gently beside me. Outside, pheasants strut and squawk. Later I’ll take Finn out along almost car-free lanes, along footpaths at the edges of fields, past reed beds and waterways. I’ll take my camera and we’ll see what we find.
Then I’ll come back and work on the edits for my novel until I fall asleep.
This is a good life and I am happy.