Author Archives: Paul Smith
Author Archives: Paul Smith
I feel better now, thank you very much.
I received many comments last week about my downbeat, not-your-usual-jolly-self blog post. The comments were quite right. I was a bit of a miserable git. The drastic change to my lifestyle temporarily overwhelmed me. I wasn’t at all happy.
As is often the case though, the fault was all mine. I had two major issues; the acute lack of physical living space, and not enough time for me to practice what I do best… playing Billy-No-Mates on my own.
The solution was as effective as it was simple. All I needed to do was to spend some time on lonesome in the great outdoors, something which is in abundance around us at the moment.
I sometimes find this motorhome lifestyle very difficult to adapt to. Driving a large vehicle on narrow roads is often stressful and, after living afloat, I am used to living in a small space, but not nearly as small as the space I have to live in now.
I spent six and a half years living on a narrowboat. Those used to life in a bricks and mortar home would probably find three hundred square feet of living space I had on my 62’ boat a bit of a squeeze, but there’s more space than you might expect.
Our first day on Spain’s south coast wasn’t quite as relaxing as I hoped. We spent the afternoon sheltering in the Hymer from torrential rain. Two scruffy guys in their early twenties shared a suspicious looking cigarette leaning against the car park’s graffiti covered wall. We spent the night with pillows over our heads as rain drumming on the roof competed with noise from three lanes of continuous traffic passing twenty feet from our bedroom wall.
At 6am we woke to shouts and the clang of steel against concrete. The car park was a hive of activity. Half erected market stalls stretched as far as the eye could see, with a solitary motorhome, us, stranded in the middle.
We drove further into the Pyrenees towards the spa town of Vernet Les Bains. Before we left our Esperaza aire we checked Google Street view to make sure that the roads were navigable, but we didn’t check any of the turns onto them.
We needed to turn off a narrow main road in Estegal village onto an even narrower street between two stone buildings. The Hymer simply wouldn’t fit. Much to the joy of the lengthening queue of cars behind us, we dallied a while until we realised that the only way we could negotiate the corner would necessitate scraping the length of the Hymer along an overhanging stone window sill.
At the end of my last blog post I wrote about our latest electrical problem. We appeared to have a loose battery terminal or some faulty wiring. I managed to start the engine by fiddling around with the battery leads for a minute or two and hoped that I wouldn’t have to turn the engine off again before we reached our destination
We left our aire in Durfort for a forty minute drive south through heavy showers to a municipal campsite on the outskirts of Castelnaudary. We stopped briefly at a filling station to replenish our depleted generator petrol supply. We’re using the generator far more now that we are driving less and can’t rely on the alternator charging our battery bank. The generator is far more fuel efficient for battery charging, so €15 to fill our 20 litre jerry can was money well spent.
At the end of my last post, I mentioned the market at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and Cynthia’s excitement at the prospect of visiting another authentic, bustling French market. She visited several in Provence during her week long stay earlier in the year. She expected the market in this small mid Pyrenees town to be just as vibrant.
Because I am the embodiment of kindness and consideration, and because I have an all encompassing knowledge of French markets, having seen one once on a 1980’s television travel guide, I warned her not to expect too much. As we walked towards the town square through narrow cobbled streets, I demonstrated my intelligence and perception by pointing out clues that Cynthia probably hadn’t noticed; not a sound marred the early Sunday silence other than the gentle peals of a distant church bell, the streets were empty apart from an occasional dog walker and a solitary lost and perplexed tourist and, tellingly, the town’s main car park, all twenty narrow spaces, was mostly empty.
I’m sitting on our Hymer’s fixed double bed with my MacBook resting on my Lavolta folding bed table straddling my legs. Cold autumn rain is drumming on the thin plastic roof three feet above my head. I can see an open meadow through my bedroom window dipping down to the gently flowing water of the L’Aveyron. A granite cliff cloaked in pine towers high above me.
We’re parked at a free aire in the delightful medieval town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val forty miles northeast of Toulouse on day four of a five day rest stop in the south of France. Slowing down to a pace appropriate for leisurely exploration has taken me a while, but I’m slowly getting there. Cynthia tells me that I’m much more relaxed now, and less likely to blow a fuse at a moment’s notice. I certainly feel much calmer than I did ten days ago when I had to make an overnight trip from Calais to Folkestone to sort out yet another of what felt like an endless row of hurdles ahead of us.
At the end of my last post I mentioned that we had one more immediate hurdle to overcome before we could relax into our new lifestyle. We now have to overcome an additional hurdle as a result of bureaucratic ineptitude, but I’ll come to the second problem shortly.
I knew that we would need some distraction free time to resolve our problem so we booked ourselves into a very comfortable camp site on the outskirts of one of our favourite towns in the Netherlands, Dokkum. Our campsite stay also allowed us to replenish our water supply and empty our grey water and black water tanks.
We are just ten days into an adventure we hope will last for many years. We are already losing track of time. Yesterday we had to check our iPhones to determine the day. We have nothing to do but relax and enjoy our travels, but every day is full.
On Wednesday morning after yet another surprisingly restful night at a motorway service station, this time near Ghent in Belgium, I drove for five hours along mile after tedious mile of motorway. Cynthia was waiting for me with Florence-the-Fat, a recent addition to our gypsy family. Florence is a shadow of her former self. At her heaviest, when she was used for breeding in a Pennsylvania kennels weighed an unhealthy 105lb. She had dropped to 95lb by the time Cynthia collected her on 10th August. Today, after many vigorous walks and a strict diet, she is a comparatively svelte 64lb. With her stumpy little legs, she still rolls onto her back every time she lifts a paw, but we love her.
That’s it then. I’ve gone and sold my boat.
I moved on board on Friday 2nd April 2010. I spent my last night on board on Saturday 8th October 2016. For 2,383 days I’ve lived aboard a 62’ long, 6’10” wide narrowboat on the English inland waterways.
I had to adapt from living in a fairly large detached family home to a boat with just three hundred square feet of living space. Now I have to adapt again, this time to less than two hundred feet. I won’t be on my own either. I’ll share this tiny space with Cynthia and bassets Tasha and Florence. Fortunately Cynthia has had fatty Florence on a diet since she collected her just over two months ago. She’s not exactly skinny now, but there’s much less of her than to 105lb tub of lard Cynthia picked up from the kennels where she (Florence not Cynthia) had been used for breeding for the first four years of her life.