Not been out and about much lately. Marigold fans rejoice, she’s in fine fettle, but, sadly (for me at least) the same cannot be said for your ailing correspondent. On the mend now, so Marigold has cancelled the trip to Exit in Switzerland she’d kindly arranged. She’s absolutely right, of course, some people are not cut out to be Florence Nightingale.
One (dubious) advantage of being marooned locally has been we didn’t miss the greatest controversy since Brexit – the invasion of the sea view snatchers!
There have been an unusually high number of motorhomes spotted along the shore where we’re based recently. Hard to miss them, over sixty at one stage and that’s just along the sea front. ‘An infestation’ one woman said in the middle of a rant about her perception of these winter visitors as despoilers of the landscape, occupiers of prime positions directly on the sea front, polluters of the environment and harbingers of the end of civilisation. If you imagine that last concern is an over exaggeration, just drop the word ‘pikey’ into the mix and see the difference in attitudes and perceptions.
I should at this point declare an interest. We were members of the transient motor home community for some years and they afforded us much joy.
I’m differentiating between transient and fixed motor home residents; the former wander at will (us) and the latter park up on a site and remain there for months on end (not us). Both have their adherents, but as the vast camping grounds around Benidorm, for example, are filled to capacity year round, almost exclusively with ‘long stay’ residents it appears the ‘wanderers’ are in the minority.
Three weeks ago that minority status looked unlikely around here after an influx of fresh seasonal visitors. They’ve gone now, all bar a few stragglers, and all those spurious claims of impending Armageddon have proved groundless. They arrive, park up to enjoy exactly what drew the permanent or long term residents to this area and then move on. ‘Moving on’ being the entire ethos of the motor home community, it’s raison d’etre.
Even so, the recent ‘infestation’ has been unusual. Twenty or so packed together along the sea front with scarcely room to walk between neighbouring vans, all gleaming white, all mod cons included vans each costing a minimum of £50,000 and several having cost a great deal more than any of the front line neighbouring apartments sharing their view.
As former motor homers, we don’t ‘get’ this. Gathering together in a ‘clump’ appears to me to impinge on one’s personal sense of space and liberty; thereby nullifying at a stroke the reason we enjoyed the life so much. This isn’t a rally, not a group of fellow nations, there are motor homes there from Britain, France, Holland, Germany and many other countries. Don’t expect an answer, I don’t have one.
They all left, within twenty four hours, leaving only the usual sprinkle of seasonal visitors who routinely arrive, stay a day or so and move on. ‘Our’ type of motor homer.
One of the ‘remainers,’ – not a Brexit reference – was an artist from Hollland in a garishly painted van with his easels and artists’ paraphernalia strapped to the back. One of those eccentric travellers who brighten our day, he also had a tiny dog on a lead that bore more of a resemblance to a gerbil than a dog. No need for a muzzle anyway. He told me he had moved from the edge of a ‘clump,’ (my word not his as I can’t translate the Dutch word he used) as a fresh arrival had brought their number to thirteen. It seems triskaidekaphobia is rampant in Holland.
The woman who coined the ‘infestation’ description first attracted our attention by talking about a funeral she’d recently attended. Such fun! It’s odd, isn’t it, how people enjoy a good funeral? In fairness, it’s the wake not the actual internment they recall with such fondness, but even so. An example of this person’s twisted logic could be inferred from her saying, ‘I always make an effort to go to people’s funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours, will they?
Well, no they won’t. Being dead renders one pretty damn antisocial.
We were out and about in the Cabo de Gata National Park recently and found many examples of ‘our’ sort of motor-homer. No gleaming white behemoths, no fancy airs and graces, just a place to sit, wash (ideally), do basic cookery and sleep while retaining the ability to move on the next day with a minimum of fuss.
We’ve recently visited the US and our former vans, or anything like them, were nowhere to be seen. In the US of A, bigger is undeniably better and some of the Recreational Vehicles, RVs as they’re ubiquitously called were very big indeed. Big enough to have their own postcode in some cases. Many Americans retire, sell up and take to the road in an RV, criss-crossing that vast continent as the mood takes them. Good for them! Must be better than sitting vegetating in a lay zee boy armchair in front of the television until it’s time to rustle up the next meal. Not that the RV fraternity miss out on TV or, indeed, their habitual gargantuan meals. We were invited inside a couple and the flat screen televisions were bolted to the walls by massive carriage bolts while the ‘snacks’ we were offered would have fed a family of four for a week.
We toured New Zealand by camper van, too puny to rate being called a motor home, and loved every minute. We’re not envious folk, but the converted buses, usually but not always of the single deck variety, really took our breath away. There are thousands of them in New Zealand and Australia and we love them. Both countries are ‘motor home friendly,’ but this isn’t the case elsewhere. France welcomes motor homes, providing hundreds of aires where you can stay overnight either free or for a notional fee. The British, however, are deeply suspicious of campers in vans outside their prescribed habitat of official campsites, fearing they will be robbed, attacked or forced to buy lucky heather at the first sight of a van in the locality. Spain we’d always found to be reasonably tolerant, but evidently there is a ‘tipping point.
In the Cabo de Gata there are many hidden coves the tourists hardly ever seem to find. Pristine beaches, sand dunes, sparkling clear water and all of it hidden away. Hidden from everyone but the motor home brigade. The big tyres help as there’s no real ‘road’ to the best places, but as we know very well, ‘van dwellers’ are happy to share their finds with others.
The un-named beach we walked along a couple of weeks ago is a case in point. A Dutch couple I swapped paperback books with a few years back told us about this place. On our first visit we found five motorhomes, no cars, and only three people on the beach. This last visit it was busier. Seven motorhomes, each of the ‘cobbled together van conversion variety, still no cars, other than ours, and a gloriously empty beach. Three Brits, three French and a solo traveller from Lithuania riding around in what looked like a former World War Two vintage ambulance.
We chatted to a French woman, in her mid twenties, who left France three years ago with two children, a husband and a dog and they have been wandering ever since. She plays guitar and sings, her husband is a skilled diesel mechanic and makes exquisite jewellery – an unlikely combination, but if he’s as good a mechanic as he is a silversmith, he’ll be sure to find plenty of work on their travels.
Their van is an old lorry with hand cut openings for door and windows; one of the most ‘basic’ conversions I’ve ever seen, but it has been to 28 countries, so far. Their children ran around, happy, content and healthy and it would be hard to find a family more content with life. They have so little, but sunshine and freedom are a heady mix.
The delightful French woman struck an exotic pose for a photograph alongside her van, calling out ‘sell to Paris Match Magazine.’ As I took the photo, another of the ‘temporary residents’, a Brit from Halifax, called out,
‘Eh up, we have a visiting paparazzo’ which intrigued me, the singular (and therefore correct) form of the more usual plural version, paparazzi, being heard so rarely in recent times. Evidently, folk hailing from Halifax are sticklers for correct grammar.
In fairness, the word paparazzi has been so widely used it has been unofficially adopted as a plurale tantum.
A plurale tantum, being a noun used only in its plural form such as scissors, jeans trousers, is common enough, but I did overhear a shop assistant in a rather smart clothes shop in Lewes once say to a customer, ‘that’s a very smart trouser, sir,’ thus defeating the whole point at issue as he was surely not intending to sell only one leg of a pair of trousers!
Later that same day we were in Los Negros and came across a bizarre mixture of vehicles on waste ground just behind a deserted beach. I’m at a loss to describe such a confused mixture of styles – a Gallimaufry , perhaps - but all serving the same purpose: a means of containing the absolute essentials of life, and virtually nothing else, in one small space and then giving it the priceless freedom of mobility. No flat screen televisions here.
Every day we take 24,000 breaths and waste most of them in useless pursuits. We all do it. Some choose to live life to the full, in absolute simplicity. Those van dwellers don’t have anything the Western World regards as desirable. Yet they appear happy and they certainly look healthy living an outdoor life. Food for thought.
Yes, I know I do get occasional flashbacks to my lapsed hippie past, one occurred on a beach in the Cabo de Gata two weeks ago.
I’m not a Buddhist or a Hindu, but can appreciate the spirituality of this quotation from Guru Arden.
‘After many lives as insects and worms and many more lives as elephants, fish and deer, after many lives as snakes or birds, and then as trees for lives unnumbered; after countless ages you are graced with a human life.’
What he leaves unsaid must surely be ‘don’t waste it.’