I knew precious little about mainland Europe when I lived in England. I travelled abroad regularly until 2010, nearly always on holiday and always during the summer months. I thought that hopping across the English Channel was like opening a doorway into a world of perpetual sun, sparkling sea and hot sand.
I visited Le Mans frequently in the eighties for their famous twenty-four-hour race. The weather was scorching during the day and pleasantly warm at night. I have fond memories of sprawling on a dusty grass bank at midnight to eat barbeque chicken and drink cheap red wine. We slept on the grass all night and woke to bright sun and more irresponsible revelry. The climate was so different from cold and damp Engish summers.
Cynthia annoyed me. She said something offensive like, “Would you like a hot drink?” “Can I make you a sandwich?” or “Is there anything I can do to make your life more comfortable?” I can’t remember the specific comment which enraged me. All I know is that I needed to get out and spend some time on my own.
Living in a twenty-five by eight feet open plan box with a significant other and two large dogs all day and every single day of the year can be a bit of a challenge especially if, like me, you are a little antisocial at times.
Our Hymer appears to have made an unexpected and complete recovery from its electrical ailments. The two leisure batteries refused to accept a charge from either mains power or from our suitcase generator for two days. Yesterday, clutching at straws, I fired the generator up, crossed my fingers and plugged it into the 230V outlet on the Hymer’s starboard side. A steady stream of happy amps marched along a plastic and copper highway before leaping enthusiastically into the battery bank.
I’m sure our electrical woes are far from over. We still need to invest in a battery charger in case the charging system goes down again. I also need to add a multimeter to my toolkit and find someone prepared to instruct an adult with all the practical capabilities of a four-year-old (me) on its proper use.
Cynthia has left me. Not for good I hope. I said goodbye to her yesterday at the crack of dawn on a windy platform at Gare de Narbonne. She’s gone to Paris for a few days to enjoy the sights and a little stimulating conversation with one of her old flying buddies. That leaves me with just the dogs, and yet another electrical problem to solve.
We had an issue with our headlights last week. After three days wild camping I started the engine in the pre-dawn dark to discover that neither headlight worked and one of the high beam bulbs appeared to be out. Given our appalling record with French mechanics, we buried our collective head in the sand and decided to only drive during the day for a while and hope the problem would resolve itself. We didn’t expect the plan to work, but it did. Three days later all of our lights were fully functional again. We don’t know why, and we aren’t complaining.
We found a new place to eat. Its location wasn’t anything to write home about. Restaurant de la Garrigue is hidden on a small industrial estate. It’s at a junction with the main road between Narbonne and Perpignan and a narrow tree-lined avenue leading to Peyriac-de-Mer. The owners have a laid-back approach to business. The restaurant is open from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 to 8.30 p.m. six days a week. Despite their best efforts to avoid customers, diners need to book tables in advance.
Last year, 2017, was our first full year living a nomadic lifestyle in either our Hymer motorhome or on our Dutch motor cruiser. Because we needed to drive to some clinics for Cynthia, and because we had to wait for upgrades and repairs to be completed on the boat, we spent most of our nights on wheels rather than water.
We enjoyed one hundred and eleven nights, nearly four months, on our boat. Here’s the cost of living in a motorhome for the remaining eight months.
We drove 10,748 miles through ten countries; England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Austria. Much as we enjoyed exploring new countries and cultures, I often felt that the driving was too tiring and far too stressful. We are driving less and relaxing more this year.
Little things bring me so much joy. Simply having electricity this morning pleased me immensely. I woke yesterday to a dead battery bank, no electricity, and because we had no electricity, no lighting and no heating. Being able to briefly sneak out of bed this morning, click a switch and hear the gas boiler roar into life was a real pleasure.
Another simple pleasure was glancing away from my MacBook screen as I typed to see the distant snow-capped peak of nine thousand feet high Pic Canigou. The mountain was bathed in an orange glow from the sun rising in a clear sky behind our Hymer. It was a chilly thirty degrees. Thank God for electricity and a plentiful LPG supply.
Another day, another set of problems to overcome.
Yesterday, as we settled in for the evening, a red light blinked ominously from the control panel above the Hymer’s habitation door. It indicated that the motorhome’s 12V system was about to fail. No 12V system means no lights, no water pump, so no water, and no heating.
Fortunately, the night was mild, so we wrapped ourselves in blankets and settled down for a couple of hours watching a few episodes of one of the many sitcom box sets we keep on board. When we purchased the Hymer we decided not to install a television. Watching DVDs on a MacBook linked wirelessly to a Bose speaker is a much more pleasant alternative.
Another day of chores ahead of us; hand fill our one hundred litre potable water tank, empty the grey water tank and empty our toilet cassette. Fill up with diesel, buy more petrol for the Honda generator, replenish our depleted gas supply, and drive to Leucate and our favourite laverie to meet Tristan-the-tramp.
We met Tristan two weeks ago. A stack of dirty clothing littered a sheltered corner between a supermarket and a laverie, a launderette, in a small shopping centre on the edge of town. Tristan sat at a small table inside the launderette with his whiskey bottles, rolling tobacco and cigarette papers lined up neatly in front of him. He smiled as we entered and offered us words of encouragement as we washed and dried, occasionally lurching from his improvised bar to volunteer more advice or assistance. Despite his circumstances, he seemed a happy chap. We left him with an au revoir and a bag of fruit. Both Cynthia and I looked forward to meeting him again.
The sound reminded me of a blunt handsaw cutting hardwood; a low rasp rising and falling, endlessly cycling through the night. The sound was enough to make a grown man cry. Which was a shame, because the offensive noise was a recording of me snoring after a night of overindulgence after a party in the mid-nineties. I blamed a nose bent out of shape in countless teenage brawls. My then wife blamed excessive drinking.
I don’t drink much these days, and I don’t snore as much as I used to. A couple of beers a night is usually the limit. I suspect that now I’m rapidly approaching sixty, age is more to blame for my nighttime racket.