3.4 The Frills Begin to Fray

The end is nigh.  A year spent living in the back of a van, mid-week, away from home, away from the wife, comfort and company.

The nights have been strange of late.  The light has peaked.  I leave later and later from school just because there’s something odd, sad, pitiful and self-loathing about parking up in my hidden places in the clear light of day.  Arriving in the darkness and shutting myself away has been so much easier.

In the light I’m on show and out of place.  A sad man in his van camping on a bed on the floor.  A little more comfortable than a shop’s entranceway. No frills, no allure.  The poetry

stops.

The window blinds, kindly donated, go up, but it’s just not right.  Of course I leave the tin shelter and walk.  Watch the sunset, walk the cliff path.  But still, I feel on display.  I feel driven from my shelter by the light.  The routine creates worry now, rather than contentment.  I was happy working, marking, eating, sleeping, waking, repeat.  Now there’s an interruption and the needle jumps the groove.

The second night of the week I park up again.  The same spot as last night.  The engine goes quiet and I look out and see a sign.

“No motorhomes or campers 23 hundred till 08 hundred hours”

Thanks to a plentiful diet of wartime films on a Sunday afternoon I understand this.  I’m in contravention of the rules.

A new sign.

I’ve made it the whole year till now feeling as though I wasn’t treading on any toes, but now I clearly will be.  I’m not a motor-home though.  But am I a camper?  I don’t have a tent and this isn’t a camper-van.  It’s your bog standard white panel van.  If you needed a man, I’d come with a van.  The only reason my wife took any interest in my online dating profile.

On a technicality I could be okay here.  But.

The paranoia of vulnerability, mixed with the clear, clear light sets in.

Nevertheless I decide to chance it.  I do, however, prepare for discovery and flight.

I wear a pyjama top (a shalwar kameez.  Or long shirt top to me and you) ready for the off.

The sign read 23.00 hours.  At 23.30 a car pulls in.  The lights drag past my rear view and I leap into action.  From my darkened dive I observe.  They park a little way away.  It’s now too dark to see any signage.  No indication of who this is.  I waste little time, taking it for a sign and hop bare-bottomed into the driver’s seat.  The engine hums, I pull out and escape.

But I don’t go far.  Wary that this is just my paranoia playing with me.  I’m parked in half an acre of darkened parking and I’m the only one there.  Have they really come for me?

I park near the road and pull on my shorts and trainers; no time for pants or socks.  Then I retrace my retreat, find a bush and stand watch.

It’s not as if this is the first time a car has pulled in to this particular secluded park-up so late.  Up till now I had assumed they were ne’er-do-wells of one description or another.  Uninterested in me and more interested in midnight fidgets and fumbles or the inhalation of weedy puffs.

But these ne’er-do-wells could be the real deal.  The council.

The story is, across county, the second homeowners are calling the shots and the council are hot to take action against anyone hoping for an early morning surf or enjoying a semi-wild camp out.  Recent planning applications sprang up at one local favourite spot; local interests clashed with the two-week holiday slots of anyone from Surrey and the council gave way to holiday money.

I stand in my bush, and time ticks by, expecting an exit and hoping for a resumption of my slumber.  Eventually I give in and head to my back up ground. It’s 1am. Dreams come quickly.

In the morning I leave earlier than usual in order to scout out other camp spots I’ve heard tell of, and discover a sea view a stone’s throw from the school gates and make plans for the night.

That night the caretaker appears on the corridor with a cricket stump.  We greet each other.  I make the necessary enquiry.  Apparently the Zumba class has been disturbed by foreign gentleman, rather less than sober.  They could be anywhere.  Details emerge.  A campsite has been observed by the school boundary line.  I offer to drive round the site to see what I can see, but see nothing.  On my return we discover the campers.  I’m in a dilemma.  My brethren are at the gates.  From twenty yards two things are immediately obvious: they are asleep (the snores are testament to this) and they are well-oiled.  I’ve never smelt alcohol from such a distance.

These men have unwittingly pitched a tent in a not-so-concealed spot, that, at 8am will be fairly obvious to any passing pupil as will the abundance of wine bottles.  The police are called.  The gentlemen are cuffed, cautioned.  Their English is good and they competently punctuate each sentence with an expletive.  Eventually they move on after complaining about the Zumba music.  Her majesty’s constabulary and I chat while we watch them disappear into the distance.  He too is a camper.  He too has a VW; his a T5, mine a T4. We’re not quite hand twins.

We watch our less fortunate comrades fade into hedgerows and silently recognise the moment and its note of hypocrisy.

He leaves and so do I, to a windy cliffside pitch and a rosy sunset.

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If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.

If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments