Our Travel blog
Well, here we are. We have a roof over our heads and jobs. I’ve been having altogether too much fun on a mini tractor and Alison’s in nerd heaven merging three book collections into one library. These are just a couple of our myriad duties, from cooking for guests to serving them in the bar, picking up leaves to cleaning rooms, helping run a craft day to building a bonfire. Speaking of bonfires I absolutely love that particular responsibility. Standing in the crisp autumn air nursing the embers into life is an absolute joy. A gentle manly pursuit, the love of which I think I’ve inherited from my father. He looked at his most relaxed trundling a wheelbarrow full of brown leaves towards incineration on a smouldering heap that he’d prod, poke and fork to keep going. If he wasn’t feeding it he’d be leaning on his fork staring at the flames, lost in his own smoky world.
Once a year we’d have a visit from my dad’s childhood friend Stan and his wife Margery. Stan was an enigmatic man of few words and fewer opportunities to incinerate garden waste because they lived in a place where bonfires were not allowed; torture to a man like him. Thus while Margery was ensconced inside chatting to my mother Stan would be given sole responsibility for the bonfire while my father and I scurried around desperately trying to find more debris to feed his passion. He’d hover over the fire with a proprietorial air, like Beelzebub in tweed. Keeping it smouldering all weekend was a duty he took remarkably seriously. One weekend I returned very late and slightly drunk from a party, the sun was creeping up when I came face to face with Stan on the garden path, in his dressing gown and holding the garden fork. He calmly removed his pipe, greeted me with a grave “err…good morning Raymond…just been tending to the fire”, tapped out his pipe on the heel of his slippers and held the door open for me. It was never mentioned again but I think from then on we had a silent understanding of each other’s indiscretions.
Talking of early mornings I started composing this entry at around 02.45 am. I had to do something to calm myself as 15 minutes earlier we’d been startled out of our slumbers by the most unholy screeching and growling imaginable. I sat bolt upright and let loose a guttural howl along the lines of “ArrrrurggwhatthefuckisthatwhereamIwheresthelightstopthatunholyracketugg…” until Alison put the light on. Curiously the cats were spooked but having confirmed that they were inside we then heard the cat flap clunk shut. Various theories on our nocturnal visitor were proffered, including a fox, badger or leprechaun. It turned out to be a neighbour’s cat who I caught fleeing the scene of the crime again the following evening. Frankly I’m rather disappointed that our two cats didn’t deal more decisively with an interloper who wears a pink collar with a bell on it. Especially Mojo, who has discovered the delights of hunting small mammals; we are getting at least a couple of furry presents a day of the squeaky rodent variety. Walking to the bathroom in the dead of night, an all too frequent outing for a gentleman of my age, now has the additional hazard of stepping on a bag of squelchy fur cooling on the carpet.
That aside it’s wonderful having the cats for company and we have a lovely comfy home with our own furniture, familiar pictures on the walls and those odds and ends that make a house a home. It is taking a while to settle though and I think that’s due to a combination of factors. The job doesn’t follow a set routine and of course there is a lot to learn in a new position. Plus we’ve really taken to life on the road. One of the biggest challenges is adapting to not living ‘in the moment’ in the way we have been used to. Our easy going summer in Mavis really taught us both the value of being alive to the possibilities of the day, to allow ourselves to be spontaneous and relax into whatever we chose to do.
Way back in March we swapped our computer’s screensaver of a sunset for over 200 real ones. We traded our suburban semi for a motorised box on wheels and pointed it at whatever took our fancy. We’ve seen sights we never expected to see, met wonderful people, worked at some amazing festivals and had unforgettable experiences; we’ve played kazoo’s with a biker gang, hidden shopping bags for pop stars, minded houses and pets, noticed the seasons changing, seen abundant wildlife, watched the sun rise and set from the east, south, north and west of the country, felt the peace of total silence under the stars, walked over hills, up mountains and down dales, covered 10,093 miles in Mavis and generally had a blast. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary on the road, a year that we have spent over half of travelling and living in a space smaller than most bathrooms, cooking on two gas rings, sleeping with our noses a few inches from the ceiling and rarely had hot running water. We’ve opened our front door to over 60 different views, from Devon to The Isle of Skye; and we have laughed every single day.
Our trip may have been conceived as an opportunity to see the country, meet people and find somewhere to put down fresh roots but it has also been a personal journey for both of us. We’ve discovered things about ourselves and about each other that will bind us forever. At times it has been a spiritual journey, an opportunity to reflect and consider; my relationship with my late father, whose presence has been a not unwelcome companion during the journey, Alison’s son moving on in his life, watching him mature as he has grappled with life’s complexities and settled into a new phase. From our insulated little motorhome we’ve witnessed momentous decisions, Brexit and the American presidential race for example, and debated these and many more topics with friends old and new the length and breadth of the country, and we’ve wrestled with matters of faith and social justice. It’s tempting to conclude that we are a remarkably foolish species who seem able to complicate our lives to such a degree that the colour of our skin, our private beliefs or where we happen to have been born seem to matter more to some people than love, compassion and mutual respect. We acquire possessions, trinkets and fripperies by the dozen, line the walls of our houses with tat and then watch children starve on our 42” Plasma TV’s while we sup on wine and graze on snacks to keep us going until the pizza is delivered. But we’ve been inspired on our journey by people who live on the fringes of society as well as those firmly embedded in it who stand shoulder to shoulder against prejudice and injustice. There are many people who don’t accept the status quo, people who are fighting for justice and lasting change. From the pulpit to the punk concert there is a groundswell of hope.
On our travels we have been given the opportunity to enjoy the simple things in life, things that we often overlooked in our former 9-5 existence; spectacular views, muscles burning after a long climb, a red kite soaring above, a mountain reflected in a still pond, a crisp morning, the kiss of the warm sun, silence, the seasons changing, simple food, love and friendship. The companionship and support from people who have opened their lives to us, who gave us advice, shelter, offered us hospitality, shared our passion and worked alongside us. Friends and family who have contributed to our experiences in ways they may or may not be aware of to give us the courage to start living our dreams.
And now we’ve almost completed the purchase of a house in a pretty town on the edge of The Peak District and we have jobs for the winter. Our plans aren’t concrete yet but we are aiming to rent the house out next summer so we can get back on the road; back where we belong.
We’d both like to say thank you to:
The list of people who have influenced us, been there for us, provided support, help, advice, encouragement or beer is too long to list here and we’d be mortified if we accidentally overlooked anyone. So, if you’re reading this please take this as a thank you for being you. Whoever you are, you are very special and we love you.
Likewise everyone who has encouraged us to keep writing the blog, for indulging our flights of fancy and for taking the time to comment, we are indebted to you.
Thank you to Matt, James and Dom for being Matt, James and Dom.
Ray would like to add:
My confidence as a writer has grown because of the kindness and encouragement of friends and strangers taking the trouble to read this. Thank you, you know who you are. (If you don’t, look in the mirror)
Hello to Linda; I love having a big sister.
A special extra big thank you to Alison who encouraged me to write and didn’t try to put me off, even when she realised the cost of doing so was having to read everything I wrote, edit it and explain why she’d changed it without once hurting my feelings. Her patience, tact and grace are only superseded by her editorial skills. She’s also quite gorgeous but I promised her I wouldn’t embarrass her by mentioning that here.
Alison would like to add:
A special mention and big thank you must go to my parents. We are indebted to you for welcoming us on countless occasions, allowing us to park on your drive and providing us with home cooked meals, laundry facilities, comfort and unfailing encouragement and support. We would like to award you with the ‘Mavis Trip Advisor Special Award for Hospitality 2016’ and hope that you would like to put yourselves in the running again for 2017.
That’s all folks – until the book comes out XX
Ray & Alison
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