Van Life

January 2018 has been the wettest January on record in France for 100 years. It’s also the second winter we have spent living in our caravan. What motivates you to even contemplate doing that? I hear you cry. Well, last year we rented a beautiful gîte from a dear friend of ours, but this winter with the house only half finished, the idea of leaving Little Strawbs without a keen eye on it was more than we could bear given that we have ploughed our blood, sweat and tears into it.

Caravan ‘Van Life’ living has its challenges to say the least, especially when it comes to utilities. Water, electricity, heating and cooking are all obstacles waiting to be solved in their small, van-like manner. Heating is provided through a ‘petit Godin’, the saviour of our lives, although not the saviour of our seating area. In order to fit it safely into the caravan we had to lose 50% of our seating space, leaving us with just one seat. But all three of us can fit on there, normally with the cat taking up the majority of the seat space.

Electricity and internet are probably the most unusual; Dan’s awesome homemade Powerwall is worth its weight in gold, really enabling us to be here. All electricity comes from the solar panels, tops up the battery meaning we only use solar for all our electrical needs. This includes; water pumps for the kitchen sink and shower, lights, internet, computers, drill and blender charger, and phone charging. During the darkest days of winter however, and the aforementioned super wet January, we really struggled to generate enough leccy, so we topped up the Powerwall at our wonderful neighbour’s house.

The internet installation was hilarious. The guy from Orange arrived and walked onto the land, pointed at the caravan and said,

“You live in there?”

“Yes”, I replied

“In there?”

“Yep”

“This is going to be complicated.”

“Probably.”

He came into the caravan (all 6ft 6 of him), bumped his head on everything and eventually said it can’t be installed in the caravan. As he walked out of the awning he spotted the little hooks sticking out of the awning poles, hooked his thumb on one and “Ici?”, “Baouis!” I replied. And that is how we had the fastest internet connection I’ve ever experienced (34Mbps) ‘installed’ in/on the caravan.

Not only is the caravan our 8m2 home at the moment, it is also our work place. Dan teaching in the East Wing, whilst I’m humbly placed in the West Wing. Despite being within touching distance of each other, we manage to teach a full timetable online. Occasionally our students can hear the other person, which can be annoying, however, at other times they have two teachers for the price of one! We regularly help each other out with synonyms, difficult grammar, interview practice and the like with our students.

Space saving has become a regular pass time, with Ikea being a favourite. Utilising every inch of space in an innovative way whilst trying to maintain some semblance of uncluttered space now brings satisfying delights previously unknown to mankind. This includes a self-whittled ukulele stand; the ukulele being the only instrument allowed due to its miniature size. I wanted a piano, but was outvoted 😣

In terms of cooking, we have become proficient at one-pot wonders and making general orange slop. These days we utilise one gas hob, and a 1988 Eye-Level Grill Mark 1 – truly the height of 80s technology. Summertime provides the opportunity to cook and eat outside, but for the last four months this hasn’t been possible. The knock-on effect is that it has been impossible (even more so than before) to host anybody. Dan has become most excellent at inviting us over to other people’s houses for dinner…strong tactic!

The afore mentioned wet weather provided us with our own water source – a stream in effect. Which happily wound its way underneath the awning floor and the toilet floor/tent. It’s rendered the awning nigh on unusable, although the OSB flooring has made big difference, well it would have done if the awning had remained waterproof itself, it is now a little bit more than suspect.

Frozen mornings are generally the best to wake up to. No damp, no humidity. Just a rather chilly trip to the outside loo first thing, but I believe it to be character building and if nothing else, it certainly wakes me up! Once the stove is going though, and I am teaching with the cat curled up on my lap, the view of the field with all the life it has to offer, it feels super cosy.

Conversely, in the summer, living almost entirely outside is a delight. We cook, eat, socialise, star gaze and often work outside, only venturing inside to sleep. Working inside the caravan when it is 42° outside means the temperature is invariably inflamed to around 55°, which ensures working under the old Oak tree or on the decking under a parasol is preferable.

Keeping the outside, outside, is more of a task when you actually live outside! Cleaning is a fruitless pastime and has become more so with our feline addition, Whisky. “Cat wet paws!” is the battle cry as the one-cat army advances from the awning into the caravan 🐾

Gradually, our straw-bale house has gone up over the last year, I survey its progress every morning whilst I teach, so I know it won’t be long before we are living in it and these hilarious, frustrating, tiny, cosy, freezing, boiling days in the caravan will be but a fond memory.

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