Monday, 27 August 2018

The Boys from the Blackstuff, Mount Doom and a Dragon.

After weeks stranded at mothers, I needed another place to stay and wait for medical results. I can’t fit on her driveway so being parked halfway on the footpath both leaves me with a listing ship whilst inside, and an unwelcome obstacle for passers-by. And using electric hook-up is a no-no, as having a trailing cable crossing a public footpath is likely to get me sent to Guantanamo Bay. No I needed somewhere level, out of the way and accessible so people could fetch me supplies I couldn’t carry, like fresh water, propane. This took some doing. No-one I knew had a driveway big enough or any other space at all. However, as my son joked about parking in the yard where he worked – I said “ask your boss, see what he says”.

Well, Big Boss didn’t mind – and despite my offer to pay something but he wasn’t even bothered – and I could even hook up to the electric. Well, this was a gift horse I’ll not be examining to closely. I attached by bicycle to my van and with a little help, I moved the single mile to what I later called Mordor.

There’s a simple reason for this, everywhere is black, the ground, the work, the men, the machinery and anything downwind. It’s a yard where tarmac is processed. Interestingly much of what we drive on is recycled. When a road needs renewing, its torn up, trucked over to the yard, processed, then trucked back to a new road project, added to some tar in a big machine and laid out for us to drive on (me too I hope). There are shovels, conveyers, excavators, and a stream of articulated tipper trucks coming in and out.
In addition to the Bosch-like scene, there is a factory that spews out steam from towers that light up with red eyes each night, and in the opposite direction, a gas tower. It burns day and night. It has a life of its own, normally it has yellow flame, but sometimes it spews out enormous black smoke, like you’d expect in a war zone, spitting and crackling as it tries to clear its throat. But most of the time it breathes out like a dragon. At night, the flame spreads a beautiful glow across all the reflective surfaces, the fields of truck trailers nearby, the ever-present oily puddles in the macadam and the dinosaur-like machines in the yard. It’s flickers like a candle in a Dickensian bedroom. When the atmosphere is overcast, the pulsating glow spreads across the sky like a distant apocalypse – sometimes making the local news. Here in the yard it makes the black mountains of macadam look like Mount Doom. The gas tower is a dragon and the paper mill beyond is the Eye of Sauron. Who would expect to find such beauty in this pit of filth. Isn’t life so surprising?  

So here on the edge of a decommissioned chemical plant I now reside. How long for I don’t know, at least until medical tests have been exhausted, after that, who knows. A longer-term plan will need to be hatched if I cannot drive – otherwise it will be the back to the Road.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


I spent two weeks off work sick after which decided I was well enough to return. I left the place I had been staying with a three and a half hours journey back to my hometown.
I enjoyed the journey as I always do, not as much as the outward one, because that is always one of promise, the unknown, and adventure - but I enjoyed it anyway. There's something beautiful about just traveling along watching the world pass by and the ever-changing horizon. Like life really, one big journey meant to be enjoyed in the moment, which is all we really own.
I visited my Mother and started to prepare myself to return to work the following day.

Well life sometimes likes to throws you a curve ball - and here it comes.
While sitting at the dinner table I felt something strange happening, I wasn't sure what, but I knew I had to lie down on the floor (which I don't remember doing) My next memory is of me sitting on the floor leaning against the wall, looking at a small damp patch on the lino in front of me. I reached out to touch it and it was warm to my fingers. OK - that's where my head has been. While I was out cold. I wondered how long I had been unconscious as Mother appeared at the door from her walking the dog and knew something was wrong, she said I looked pale and confused. Damn right I was.
Well, we both put this down to the fact that I hadn't eaten all day as I never get hungry, and I guess as I had been alone had no idea (we later learned that the reason I don't get hungry is that some of my medication eradicates my appetite, to the point that I never feel hungry at all. Sounds great doesn't it? well not really, it means I can easily miss multiple meals and have no idea) So I ate an apple, an orange, soup and bread - which made me feel much more alert. Solved.

Well, one torpedo wasn't enough for this curving ball, as a couple of hours later, the same feeling visited me, and again I was out cold on the floor. Witness's say I was delirious for some time - although I do remember wanting to wake up from a terrible nightmare where a number of people were staring at me, talking to myself about wanting to wake up (but I already was..)
Lucidity did not begin to return until I was in the ambulance, and I felt like I had got my own head back - even though I wasn't sure why I was in the ambulance.
So, after a few hours in the hospital, a few tests and a long wait on a bed in a corridor full of other patients on beds too, I got to see a Doctor. During my wait in the corridor I myself had become a fully qualified Doctor, and when a meticulously presented man wearing a stethoscope came to find me, I fully expected him to tell me I was Diabetic. A good explanation I thought.
Well, he is the Doctor, and I am a middle aged man who lives in a motorhome. It was the epilepsy, come back to haunt me after ten whole years of being suppressed by Sodium Valporate. "Your going to tell me I cannot drive" I said to the Doctor. "I am doing - is that a problem?"

I left the A&E department with a strange mix of emotions, partly devastation, and partly thinking of the staff. I thought how lucky we are to be able to simply dial a number after which, a mini hospital on wheels arrives at your door, all down to the amazing people who staff the NHS. Am I as good as them in my job?

It seems that there is something called 'seizure threshold' regarding epilepsy and other neurological conditions. Normally, the medication works fine. But, some things, if they're bad enough, can trigger seizures again. Luckily it didn't happen on the road. Luckily I was with someone.

So for now it seems my 'gypsy' life is over, and I have more questions than answers.

I'm wondering what you call a traveler that doesn't travel. Oh, and I'll set an alarm to remind me to eat.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Highsided Windward

Before I started, I thought finding places to park might be difficult, or that I would run out of places quickly. Well three months on and its (so far) not been a problem. Some of the locations I use seldom, some regular. On this night, I settled down at a regular spot - its quiet and I share it with up to thirty trucks.


However, by 11 pm I was already awoken by the van rocking about in the wind. Normally I go back off to sleep but this was much rougher than before. The prevailing westerly was on my nearside and what I desperately wanted to do was park facing into it - Windward. But that would have meant blocking the entire road. I wondered how strong the wind actually was so I checked the weather on my phone. It forecast strong winds that would increase during the early hours - hmmm. At this point my son randomly text me about something unrelated - so I took the opportunity to ask him for a more detailed weather report:

I was alarmed at the fact that although it was already very windy - it was going to get even worse! I got out of bed, got dressed and went outside. As I watched my van rock about I noticed how warm it was. As I was re-entered the door I looked at the truck in front of me, a forty foot articulated HGV carrying shipping containers. Did I just see it move in the wind? did I? Indeed I did. It could weigh more than 40 tons - and its MOVING. You don't need to do the math to figure out my (Ive just realized at eleven feet high its 'high-sided') 3.5 ton van can blow over a lot earlier than a HGV...

Time to MOVE.

I drove about 4 miles to a sheltered spot, during which I got blown about quite a lot, reluctant to go over 30 mph - and I can tell you I looked very closely at every single tree on the way. 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Mary's Invasion

I had invited a colleague to join me in my lounge whilst parked at work. It had become dark as it was about 4 pm. Shortly after settling down to a nice cuppa,  we heard a knock at the door. I opened the habitation to find a torch shining in my face:

"Oh, it's you! I thought the gypos were moving in!"

It was Mary the Estates manager.

"Come in Mary!"

She came and sat with us but declined coffee.

"I have to keep an eye out y'know, anything can appen round ere, I really thought we might have a gypsy invasion! and I'm not avin that!"

(I have yet to figure out what is so wrong with gypsies)

Mary (as most do) had many questions about how I eat, keep warm and keep clean. She was amazed to find the I have a boiler for the central heating, another boiler to make hot water, a shower, kitchen and 7 berths.

"where do you park it at night?"

"Well, wherever I stop I guess.."

Well, if you need to leave it here just tell me - I'll inform security - you can't sleep here mind! Oh - and why don't you use the shower on the 4th floor?"

"there's a shower?"

So, Mary's 'investigation' proved quite fruitful for me, I now have another safe place to park if I need to - and a shower that doesn't use my own resources. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

Pitch Black Switchback

Freedom has taken on an entirely new meaning since I got the motorhome. Planning has become so much more unimportant and just knowing I can change my mind at any time is a revelation. I really can just make stuff up as I go along.

During the Christmas break I fancied a day trip. I headed to the Peak District mainly because I knew it would be quiet and after slowly crawling my way up the snake pass I stopped at the top. It was quite snowy, and for most of the half hour I was there it was busy with cars arriving, people getting out, doing selfies the turning around and driving off again. Madness.

After watching this bizarre spectacle for a while, I continued along the pass and stopped in a lay-by adjacent to Ladybower Reservoir where I spent a few hours just writing, wandering, brewing up.

After watching the sunset,  I set off for a friend’s house in the valleys.

For no conscious reason, I set the Satnav to guide me. Shortly after setting off  I saw width restriction - but couldn’t read it quickly enough. Later on, I saw another sign:  'Length Restriction >9.9m<  

(I am 7.0m)  it's OK then. I haven't often seen a length restriction, and wondered why it was in place.

By now the night was black, crooked trees curled over the top of the road only visible in a pool of light made by the headlights, as the road ahead slowly unfolded on the Satnav, a hairpin bend began to appear and I quickly realized why there was a length restriction - it was quite a sharp turn - the approach was steep downhill and the exit was steep uphill.

Hairpin after hairpin appeared on the Satnav - a good job as I could see very little with my own eyes. Approaching the last one it was so dark the bend ambushed me, and just as it appeared in front of me, I was horrified to see the the exit - it was so steep I quickly resolved to take the corner much faster than I wanted so as to avoid lifting off the throttle – I was concerned I might not make the gradient. The engine worked hard without complaint and eventually made it to the top. The rest was easy, and it was only upon arriving at my friends house did I realize it was actually boxing day - making stuff up as you go along sometimes means losing all track of time.

 So know I know what my van can do, and I also know that Mortimer road looks just like something out of Sleepy Hollow. 

Never again..

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

White Wolf in a Black Forest

Breeze the dog has only recently learned to play, run, explore - when I arrive at his house in the motorhome he knows he's going on another adventure - he leaps in and sits in the cab like a sentinel.


We headed to the forest for a walk whilst the light lasted. Soon after our arrival, we wandered off, taking note that the carpark would be locked at 5 pm.

It was snowing as we arrived, everywhere was white, much more than the city we left behind. Breeze walked in the snow wherever he could - thankfully avoiding the mud - (the cleanup process on returning to the van is a bit of a chore) we wondered if he had ever been on snow before as he padded around sniffing. He looked whiter than ever against the snowy landscape. It quickly became dark and we didn't really know where we were anymore. The Blair Witch loomed. The clock was ticking and 5 pm was approaching fast - I suppose we could always stay overnight if we got locked in I thought...

The path petered out and we found ourselves in a black abyss. Despite having a good sense of direction I wasn't at all sure where to head, but instinct led me to cut further into the blackness toward what I hoped would be a lake.


Somehow we found our way back to the trail, quickening our pace. We happened upon a hut, lit from within and we all stopped and gazed upon the scene. Owen said it looked like the game Skyrim, Tom suggested Game of Thrones. I guess we all had our own ‘I'm in a movie’ moment simultaneously. I was thinking of Jasper's house in the 2006 film Children of Men, only this was a lot, lot darker.

The carpark didn't close on time.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Cross-legged Samaritan

The more you utilize other facilities the better - toilet, shower, cafe anything that can make your own resources last longer. It’s not more difficult, it’s just different habits than if you live in a house and I got used to it quite quickly – it only takes a month to make a new habit.  As for where to stay overnight, well that turned out easier than I thought. The trick to parking in the street overnight is not to draw any attention at all - no noise, no lights, no clumsy moving around and particularly careful timing if using the toilet.

I visited a friend and went out for a meal, then as I was leaving the restaurant I meant to use the toilet - but forgot. Having bid goodnight to my friend outside her house I returned to my van nearby. Id asked her was it peaceful enough to sleep where Id parked and she believed it would be, so I started to settle down with the intention of watching a movie. I didn’t need to put on interior lights as I had parked under an old sodium type streetlamp that was streaming through the skylight. Just before I put the movie on I remembered to visit the loo. But before I opened the bathroom door - I heard talking directly outside.

There was a distraught woman talking on the phone explaining that she had come out of her house so she could speak privately without alerting her family to her obvious trauma (I guess she was talking to some kind of councilor) no matter where I positioned myself in the van I couldn’t help avoid eavesdropping. Of course, I could only hear her side of the conversation.

“Yes, I’m safe, I’m hiding behind a van so they can’t see me, I just told them I wanted some fresh air but I only came out so I could phone you, I feel terrible”

She meant my van. Nearly an hour later I was getting a bit desperate to pee.

Here I was listening to a private outpouring right out in the street while using my van as cover - unaware that I was sat inside hearing her most private thoughts. Uncomfortable listening. I felt really sorry for her.

Grumbling about being desperate for the loo felt quite rude – and imagine not using your very own loo because you didn’t want to disturb someone outside?

But then I guess we were both outside.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

He who is Late may Gnaw the Bones.

One thing I don't miss is rush hour. It's rare I drive at those times now. Instead, I travel before or after. In fact, if I do find myself in unexpected heavy traffic I now take the option to pull over and brew up until it passes. I never feel pressed for time anymore. What also helps is (ever since I worked as a postman) I always wake up at 6 am - so if I'm not already where I need to be - I travel before the rush hour. Alternatively, I travel there in the evening, find a spot, sleep, then literally drive around the corner to my destination.

I had to go to a different office the other day so this is what I did - I  arrived there about 6.30 then I decided to return to my bed and have a lie in.


After my morning ablutions, I sauntered into work about 8.45, got breakfast in the canteen, and switched on my laptop. Here I found an 'all staff' email (that's a LOT of people) Whilst I was fast asleep my Boss had answered it for me. I'm almost famous within the college now.

From: Communications Team
Sent: 18 December 2017
Subject: Please could the owner of the motorhome parked in the XXXX car park contact Facilities
To: All XXXXXX colleagues
From: Facilities Management Team
Action: Could the owner of the motorhome parked in the XXX car park please contact XXXX XXXX
If you are the owner of the motorhome that is currently parked in the XXXX car park please could you contact XXXX XXXX on 0161 XXX XXX or XXXXXXX
There is no problem with the vehicle, Facilities just need to confirm that it belongs to a member of staff.
Kind regards
Facilities Management Team

Xxxx Xxxxx
Xxxx Xxxxxx
Mike Stephens
Monday, December 18, 2017 8:24 AM

Hi Xxxx
It belongs to one of my staff, Mike Stephens.  We will be the cccc today for training.


The office I go to most know who I am and that I have a motorhome, this one didn't. In an effort to avoid future confusion I headed to Facilities.

"Oh, so you're the gyppo then?" (had I possessed a Gypsy blood I might have been even more offended)

Anyway - I now place a sign on my dashboard when visiting other offices......

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Chainsaws in the Dead of night

 After an evening at a friend’s house, I retired to my shell nearby. I had been quite cold but seemed warmer on the way to my van so I didn’t bother putting the heating on. Off to sleep instantly.

I am prone to lucid dreaming, I swear it is connected to, or because of my Epilepsy. Either way, it's both normal and common for me. I mention this because I was dreaming about hearing a chainsaw, then chasing a bloke with the said chainsaw down the road whilst swinging a spade at him. (not sure that a man armed with a chainsaw would feel threatened by a man only armed with a spade but hey)

It was one of the dreams that actually woke me up. Because I was groggy, it took me a while to realize I could indeed still hear a chainsaw?

Ok. So there actually is a chainsaw, somewhere, and it was getting closer and closer…

At 2.30am?

Yes. This is really happening.

Ok – options:

1.     Drive away?      (well, did I have three or four glasses of wine? Bad idea)

2.     Call the cops?   (even dumber)

So I got dressed to investigate, and as I opened the habitation door (wondering if I should have picked up my spade) I quickly realized it was rail workers clearing branches in the cutting nearby. At 2.30am.

Panic over. Back to sleep.