England

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,–
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
William Shakespeare, “King Richard II”, Act 2 scene 1
I like to think of England as Shakespeare describes it. Perhaps it was how I thought of it before I had to live here. For Shakespeare, familiarity did nothing to tarnish the vision. I have found it easier to love my adopted country when viewed from abroad. Distance adds gloss to the image and removes from view aspects of life in England that one would rather not experience. Thus sitting on a verandah sipping a ‘sun-downer’ gin and tonic in the evening warmth, as insects flit in the cooling air, one can romantacise about the green fields and verdant hedgerows of ‘home’. One can imagine sunny, summer days and games of tennis wondering “is there honey still for tea?” Rupert Brooke eloquently describes the longing felt abroad in his elegy ‘The Old Vicarage, Granchester’ though in the same poem he is critical of much of the country he describes. But the longing is real and can be felt in the lines,
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?

From abroad, England’s weather is sunnier, her fields greener and her streets cleaner. For those of us brought up in far-flung Empire this was the England we loved, the England we dreamed of visiting and possibly returning to at some far distant point in the future.

Sadly, it neither is, nor was, the England of unkind reality. At the time he wrote, for many, England was a land of long, dangerous hours of work during short lives; work in steamy mills or dark mines, surfacing to coal smog and poor housing. A land of cities, such as Bradford, where in the1850s average life expectancy was less than 20. Now the mills and mines are gone; poor housing is largely replaced and real poverty is rare. Swept away with them has been community spirit, a positive work ethic and a sense of who we are. Communities are more mixed and the nuclear family appears to be valued more by ethnic minorities than by the English. No-one appears to know what Englishness is and often those who try to distil it, are labelled as one sort of bigot or another. Years of socialism has created a breed of people who expect the State to provide where they are too feckless, lazy or incapable of providing for themselves. The virtues of independence, self-reliance, robustness are much less valued, having been replaced by dependence on ‘them’, the ever more intrusive State and its organs.

I have watched as a socialist inspired iconoclasm has attacked the institutions that defined our society. Much has been pulled down; little of value has been erected in its place. The gods of equality and diversity rule a society in much of which the abnormal is normal and ability is swamped by mediocrity. Excellence is eschewed.

So, I have found the view from close-up unappealing. I have had to persist for 26 years, while the family grew up. Now, I long for warm evenings sipping a drink while supper cooks on the ‘brei’, thinking of the England that probably exists only in romantic elegies and in the minds of English communities living abroad. Enough of the reality; I’m off for some dreaming.

Adjusting to Freedom

I am very fortunate to have a friend willing to provide accommodation for several months. That the accommodation is so pleasant is an added bonus. Today I have been adjusting to my new reality. I have cleared the van of materials and packing so that it is now ready to continue being worked on. Sheets of ply and strips of wood are  neatly stacked in the garage, my tools are accessible, once again.

This afternoon I wandered up the hill to visit the friendly neighbourhood store, Tesco. It is a just over half a mile away and that makes a pleasant walk on a sunny afternoon. I was struck by the surprising liberty of the moment. The day is, and has been, mine to fill as I like. The evening similarly is mine. My hosts have gone up to spend these two days on their yacht on Windermere after a troubled day yesterday. They had two border collies, both about twelve years old. Lady has been ailing since I arrived, although not, I hasten to add, because I arrived. Last night she died. She was buried in the garden, light provided by the LandRover’s headlights. No Police turned up so either the Neighbourhood Watch had gone to bed, or burying things at night in the car headlights is not considered unusual.

Curved dry stone wall, Queensbury

As I walked up the hill, I noticed an old, and neglected, stretch of dry stone walling of unusual quality. Not only was it of particularly fine construction, but it was also curved. Sadly, these walls are little appreciated now and the lifetimes spent building them long forgotten. The coping stones have been taken but it was still a fine sight.

 

Towards Bradford

The view across the valley towards Bradford was a lovely piece of Yorkshire countryside and looked bright and cheerful in the sunshine.

I reflected, as I walked past some houses, on just what it means to be free of a house. I saw in the window of one a collection of china pieces and outside another a couple sitting in their garden. Both good in the way that they unite a person with a place, a house. I have chosen to free myself of that attachment and I am just beginning to fully appreciate what that means. It is a huge step that opens an incredible vista of possibilities. It renews my desire to press on with the build of the motorhome so that I can start to make forays at the weekend, living in my new home on wheels. I believe that this next twelve months will fly by launching me into my own version of the Grand Tour. The prospect is thrilling.

 

Let Phase II begin

I didn’t initially identify phases for my project plan. If I had known what a project simply getting out of the house would be, I might have done so. It has been far harder and more strenuous than I ever imagined. Disposing of items acquired over 40 years has challenged me both emotionally and physically, because I have had to do most of it on my own.  Many of the things one values have little monetary value and, after a while, eBay begins to look more of a chore than an opportunity. This came home to me forcibly when I auctioned our Christmas tree complete with extensive decorations and lights. The winning bid was £0.99, probably less than 0.03% of its cost. I reneged! Some of the furniture was sawn up and burnt; charity shops did well out of picture frames and nick-nacs and a local bookshop was swamped when I decided I could no longer stand negotiating with agents and presented it with four packing crates of books! Some of the better items will go into the houses of my family and more into their lofts!

I’m wrecked, but I’m out! I am hugely relieved and excited at the prospect of really moving on with building the motorhome. I have already been in contact with CAK Tanks and made arrangements to have the water tanks and charging & control system fitted. That will take place mid-June and will be the first major system to begin to take shape. I will describe the process in more detail on the Water System page. So, now, in a real sense I can say, let the journey begin. I hope that you will travel with me.

There from here. Life’s most difficult Journey.

Most of us have a dream, something that we would love to do. The reality is that for most of us, it remains just that, a dream. No doubt there are many reasons and each individual may be different. But I believe that for most people, the major obstacle to living their dream is getting there from the here and now. Our lives are ordered in such a way as to make the here and now as convenient and pleasant as possible. We live near our work and perhaps near our family. We may have been here for a long while. It may have taken effort and even struggle to get where we are. And all of these things are good. Except that they may make moving towards a dream very difficult.

Some people cannot move on a plan unless they can see every step of the way. This is so limiting as often the later steps can only be seen clearly in concept and will  not make themselves plain until much nearer the time. And because they cannot see the end, they do not start on the journey. Perhaps, it was not their dream. In any event, they are destined to remain where they are.

For the dreamer, there comes a point when the desire to move towards their dream becomes strong and they begin to plan the detail. Today, there is no shortage of information available to help with that plan. Almost anything that one could want to do has been done before. Uniquely, most of it has been documented and can be found on the Internet. There is little excuse for not being able to research and cost every aspect. This research will quicken the desire to embark on the journey and every detail discovered will make the prospect more exciting. The planning  process probably culminates in a fully costed project that has been discussed with others who have gone before. Now is time to start moving. Yet, this is the point as which it starts to get really difficult and is the point where many dreamers come up against intransigent reality.

For me, the point at which I started to battle with that reality was when I decided to leave this house and move into my motorhome. Over the past 45 years I have accumulated those things that make a house a home, lots of memories of people, particularly my five children. I have the normal range of furniture, from sofas to a dining table and an abnormal collection of books, ranging from books collected when I was at school to books inherited from my parents and grand-parents. I have also accumulated many pictures. In themselves, these things are good and it has been a pleasure to own them and enjoy them. But good though these things are, they are a major obstacle to my dream. I have chosen, for reasons that I have discussed in ‘About Me’, to live in a motorhome in southern Europe where the pace of life is slower, the sun is not a stranger, and I can enjoy life at my leisure. All of these ‘things’ are conspiring to make it as difficult as it can be to move on.

Some time ago, I acknowledged that I would have to put some things into store. I do not want to pay storage charges for the next twenty years and so will move them on to the lofts of my family, who have kindly offered to help. Over the past few days I have become increasingly ruthless in casting off things which, only a few weeks ago, I could not have considered losing. In doing so, I have come to understand a release, even a freedom, that a less encumbered life brings. I consider that I have crossed a personal Rubicon burning the ‘boats’ on the other side, so that when I come back, if I come back, it will be to a different life. The same is true of this house. I have long felt that, as long as I live in England, I will live here. But now I am leaving and again, there is a tremendous sense of relief at no longer being tied to this piece of land; this particular hill top. Every now and then, I glimpse a completely new freedom; the freedom to wander. I still have a difficult few weeks finishing here but it is only a few weeks. At the start of June, I shall be lodging with a friend for a while as I continue to build the van so that from August I can be living in it. Already I can feel a new lightness of spirit and excitement at making progress. I am overcoming intransigent reality and soon my dream will become my new reality. I will have made the journey and crossed over. So, dream you dreamers; your dream may be nearer than you thought.