Although we hadn’t intended renting our house out for an extra year when we left the UK the change of plan actually worked out well.
Our next door neighbour Graham was lovely as was his friend Anne and Graham’s little dog Jasper. I’m not sure how we would have managed without them. We had problems finding somewhere to park our motorhome, we weren’t allowed to park it on our Estate, the parking spaces were barely large enough for a mid-sized car! We discovered there were no vacancies in any campsites or storage sites within a sensible drive of us so we parked the van at the top of our road behind a long thick hedge that was higher than our van so that no one could see it from their house.
We had intended selling the van and thought that if we put a ‘For Sale’ sign on the windscreen it would appease people because they’d see it wasn’t going to be parked there permanently, however it had the opposite effect and the people living nearby decided that we were motorhome dealers and were worried that we would keep leaving motorhomes there to advertise them.
We tried to take the van away for weekends as often as we could and one weekend we drove it away so we could give it a clean, I didn’t feel our neighbours would appreciate us doing that outside their houses! On our way home we caught sight of our friends Katrina and Richard who were out for a walk and stopped to chat with them.
They invited us back for a coffee and we ended up getting home after 9 in the evening in the dark, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw two neighbours standing outside chatting and the minute we pulled up to park one of them came storming over. I’m so glad that Darren is such a calm person, I’m a coward and I hid in the van but Darren got out and chatted calmly to the men. That was when we discovered that they thought we were motorhome traders! During the conversation one of them became very embarrassed when the angry man informed us that the road we were parked on was private and he was going to contact the local council about us. When Darren mentioned that it was actually a public road and our van was taxed and insured and perfectly legal the man huffed and puffed and said “Well this part is private to me!” at that point his friend wandered off! Darren tried to assure the angry man that we were going to move it as soon as possible, we didn’t want it parked there either, it was in our interest to get rid of it as soon as we could. I think the man had calmed down a little by the time he’d walked away, I on the other hand was EXTREMELY stressed to know we were stressing our neighbours out!
The shenanigans didn’t stop there unfortunately, one ‘comedian’ even placed a Penalty Notice envelope on our windscreen, the irony of that act seems to have eluded them, THEY had apparently parked illegally at some point and subsequently received a fine. Someone else threw a bag of rubbish on the roof. We put a new note on the windscreen which included our phone number asking if anyone knew of anyone with land or a space that we could rent so we could move our motorhome, we did get one phone call from a gentleman who was very polite, he left a message suggesting there was a road closer to town where we could park on a stretch of road that had high fences outside the houses (not as high as the hedge) and there was a piece of wasteland in another local road where people parked their vehicles. We thought that might be a bit much, parking our van in a road where parking was at a premium because the road was VERY narrow, especially as the road we were currently parked in was a long, empty, straight road.
Our friends Mandy and Paul kindly offered to let us park on their grass but we knew it would totally wreck their lawn and we didn’t want to spoil our friendship with them so declined their kind offer and my friend Lucinda suggested asking the Landlord of the local pub which we tried but he was away for a month and on closer inspection of the car park we decided our van would take up far too much space.
The frustrating thing about all this was that we’d had some work done at the bottom of our garden just before we’d left so we could park there, it was supposed to be a ramp down into the garden but the ground worker had built it as a raised mound with a flat top and we were concerned that if we drove on to it the mound would collapse under the weight of the van! He was adamant that it wouldn’t but we didn’t want to test that theory!
I hate upsetting people and mentioned our problem to Graham, who mentioned it to Anne, who in turn offered to let us park the van in her driveway alongside her house for as long as it took to sell it. It was very generous of Anne to make her offer considering she’d only chatted to us a couple of times in passing as she visited Graham at that point. We discovered during our time in our rental that she is very kind and generous to everyone she comes into contact, a true angel.
We moved our motorhome to a workshop where it stayed for a week whilst it was polished and the ‘dings’ were repaired, it looked great when it was finished then Darren took it from the workshop to Anne’s driveway, unfortunately he had to reverse off a very busy main road in through two brick pillars and in the panic of holding up the traffic he scratched the side of our motorhome on an overhanging slab! Hey ho! Such is life! That was a bit upsetting but the relief of not having to park it at the top of our road any more was immense.
We had a few people interested in our van, the first people to look at it were very keen but were surprised at how tall it was, they phoned when they returned home, they’d measured a branch overhanging their driveway and it was too low to get the van in (they seemed very disappointed but who knows whether that was just an excuse). We listened to a lot of different reasons as to why people had decided not to buy it until eventually we decided enough was enough and we took it off the market. We realised that we didn’t actually want to sell it. We had one more person to show, he seemed very keen and unfortunately he wanted to drive it. Darren had already made the executive decision that once the motorhome was driven off Anne’s driveway it would have to be parked elsewhere as it had been taking up room in her garden for an extremely long time. The man took it out for a run, then informed us a few days later that he’d decided to buy a motorhome in the South of France!
Although it meant putting the van back behind the hedge where it had been before it also meant that we started using it again. We felt that everyone would feel a lot happier if it wasn’t parked there at weekends. We explained to the neighbour who was the most vocal what we were going to be doing and that in a couple of months time we would be going home and taking it away forever, he was mollified by that thought thank goodness.
During the 16 months we rented we had time to do lots of new things as we didn’t have to do any DIY or even have a garden to maintain. We started going out regularly to see films, comedy performances and monthly markets at venues near us (Graham said we were always out!). We met up with friends again and joined regular social outings with them too.
During a walk with one of my friends from my youth whom I’d first met when I was 18 and we were both training at The London College of Dance and Drama, she asked me if I’d like to come in as a ‘ringer’ to perform in her village pantomime that she was choreographing. I had great fun doing that, it was so good to get my brain working again as I learned the dance movements and the lyrics to the songs and it was very nice to meet all her friends from the village.
I enjoyed it so much that when I saw an advertisement for older people to apply to be a part of a dance group that was being run by members of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures I tentatively applied. It was an amazing experience, so exhilarating. I met lots of lovely people as a result, the other members of the group were such fun, Daisy and Luke (both are professional dancers with the New Adventures Dance Company) who ran the rehearsals were wonderful, they definitely know how to stretch people and help them find their full potential. Everyone we came into contact with through this venture boosted our confidence in our ability to perform. When we performed the curtain raiser at The New Victoria Theatre before Matthew Bourne’s company performed Cinderella we did a performance especially for the members of his company, we were worried about performing to professional dancers but they were all very encouraging and gave us a standing ovation! What lovely people. We ended up performing this dance piece 5 times and each time was special, so special that The Maltings has decided to do a new piece this year for which I’m just starting rehearsals.
We got into contact with our friends Chris and Annik and they encouraged us to return to salsa classes which started up again just after we got back to the area. Unfortunately a few months into the lessons our teacher had to pack up because there weren’t enough people in the class and it didn’t cover the cost of the hall and his fuel.
From the moment we moved into our rented accommodation our lives became a whirlwind of visits.
We went back to Littlehampton for my Aunty’s 70th birthday celebrations. ‘January 2016. Our First Trip In Van’
I met up with my friend Rachel and her cute little son Logan.
I caught up with my friend Shirley and we visited the wolves at the Wolf Conservation Trust .
We travelled to Malvern and Tewkesbury. We had intended going to the Upton Blues Festival but it was raining heavily when we arrived at Upton and as we drove through the town we saw a lot of people standing in the rain trying to listen to the music that was being performed in the pubs so we just carried on driving out of town and on to Malvern. We were certain we’d never been to Malvern before until we happened across a fountain that we’d seen on a previous walk we’d done with my college friend Zoe when she’d lived in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.