Day 7: Friday
A pretty mild night, so no real need for the heating. Still, as I wake up it’s 15 degrees in there, so I turn it on anyway to potter about making tea without having to put clothes on. I finish work early today, so I’ll be heading back to Stretham at about 2pm, to refill the water tank and have my first attempt at the delightful task of emptying the chemical toilet. That should get me ready for my first real excursion in it, a trip to Cornwall to see my friend Tom. But first, there’s a gig with Phil’s band at the White Horse this evening, so another night in the pub car park beckons!
I need to post some things I sold on eBay, so I drive to the nearby Sainsbury’s at Coldham’s Lane to get some padded envelopes. This is my first experience of parking the van in a supermarket car park – it obviously takes up more than one standard parking space, so I go to one of the more remote bits further away from the shop door. More walking, more exercise.
Turns out Sainsbury’s don’t have the right size of padded envelopes for one CD, so I stop at Milton Tesco. They don’t have the right size either, but at least they have some that aren’t ridiculously too big so I settle for those. I also have the bright idea of getting some shopping in for the next week in the van, and soon the cupboards are nicely full.
Getting back to Stretham, I spend an hour getting the van ready for another week of living. That means refilling the water tank, and emptying the toilet cassette, which I approach with some trepidation and a pair of Marigolds.
It actually turns out to be surprisingly painless, and not even smelly – well, I’d only been using it to pee in, with the …other function dealt with in the work loos. You have to shut the toilet ‘blade’, open the door, lift the cassette out, rotate the spout, and unscrew the yellow lid. Then you can simply pour it down a normal toilet, though you also have to hold down a little yellow button to let air in the other side. It doesn’t even smell too bad, thanks to the blue chemical.
This achieved, I head to Milton for my second weekend in a row sleeping in the White Horse car park. I didn’t leave enough time to eat before I left, so I treat myself to one of their marvellous Thai green curries, which fills me up so much I don’t even eat the prawn crackers.
The band hit the ‘stage’ later than advertised – well, it wouldn’t be rock and roll if it was on time. DeWolf play mostly classic rock covers, though Phil promises us some work by the Bee Gees. Confusingly, this turns out to be Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, so he was obviously having a bit of a laugh.
That’s followed up by a storming three guitar rendition of the Surfaris’ surf classic Wipe Out, giving Phil’s brother Matt, on the drums for the first time at a gig, the chance to really go for it too. Awesome!
They’ve even got a keyboard in, and with Gavin on that, the band try out one they’ve not done before – the Who’s Baba O’Riley. They pull it off really well, though Gavin later tells me he had a click track on his headphones to keep the complex keyboard rhythm.
There’s the inevitable drinks with the band afterwards, and plenty of socialising with old Milton friends I haven’t seen since moving to Stretham. But one of my Stretham friends is there too – young Aiden (just turned 19). Obviously he can’t easily get back to Stretham and he has to go to London tomorrow, so I’ve said he can stay in the van with me (totally innocent, get your minds out of the gutter). By this time it’s 1am, so I put the latest Radio 4 News Quiz on the big speaker and we both pass out before we’ve even heard question 1.
So, how did my first week of vanlife go and what did I learn? Well, I hadn’t figured on the slanty angle you have to live at parked by the side of the road for a start. This may actually be the reason why the fridge has been so ineffectual – a bit of reading up has shown me that these fridges apparently have to be as near as possible to perfectly level to work efficiently, to the extent that some people take spirit levels with them when camping!
It’s still a little unnerving when you’re lying abed to hear passersby loudly chatting as they walk past, frequently on their way back from the pub. But I’m getting used to it, and it’s no worse than when I used to live in North London with the constant din of police sirens.
My initial worry about pissing off the residents of the street where I parked hasn’t come to pass (though I can’t guarantee that will be the case for every time I do this), and there’ve been no stern knocks at the door or angry notes stuck under the wipers telling me to move on. I was also initially a bit paranoid about leaving what’s effectively my home on the side of a public street, but there’s been no vandalism or attempted breakins. I think I’ll still keep to the practice of stashing the expensive electronics in the out of the way cupboard under the sofa while I’m out though.
It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but this first week of van living hasn’t put me off it in the slightest. Obviously there’s still some stuff I need – laptop, mobile broadband, and solar panels mostly – but I’ve had to compromise on surprisingly little. I’ve found myself eating and drinking less, probably because there hasn’t been the room to fill the cupboards with snacks and beer like I do at home, so that’s an obvious improvement. Plus no travel costs, and the 25 minute walk to work is probably better exercise than I’ve had in ages!
So, roll on week two, and my first Big Trip. To be continued!