Vanlife, the second week. Day 14: Friday

Day 14: Friday

My last day in the van for a while? Maybe – but there’s a weekend coming up, and I’m still rather enjoying it, so I might stay in it for one more night. It’s really starting to feel like home, more than my rented bungalow in Stretham ever really did after my partner and I split.

I finish early on a Friday, and it’s Layla’s birthday, so I’m going to stay around town and go for drinks with her later. I spend a while laying on the bed in the van and perusing the internet, only to suddenly be confronted by a warning from my phone provider (O2) that all my mobile data for the month is about to expire, with four days left till it renews.

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I’d thought mobile data might be a problem, and in fact had already bought a ‘Bolt On’ of 1GB when my usual allowance ran out a couple of days previously. I’ve been on the same phone plan for years – unlimited calls, unlimited texts, but only 5GB of data per month. That wasn’t so bad when I was at home most of the time, but it’s clearly not enough for the amount of web use I have when constantly away from home.

I’d been meaning to change this for a while anyway, so I use the last remaining dribbles of data to check into phone plans. The best (for my purposes) turns out to be a SIM only plan from Three, with unlimited texts, calls, AND data. I can even use my iPhone as a WiFi hotspot for my other devices, though this ‘tethering’ is limited to ‘only’ 30GB per month. That’s still six times more than I had previously, and the plan only costs £2 more per month. It’s a no brainer.

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There’s a Three store nearby in the Grafton Centre, so I have a leisurely walk down Mill Road to sort it out. I must say, all this walking must be good exercise. I’ve never exercised much, and the dreaded middle age spread has begun to noticeably affect me; now I’m walking 25 minutes to work from the van and 25 minutes back, plus all these 35 minute walks to central Cambridge and back. I’m crossing my fingers that this will do me some good.

Nathaniel, the guy who serves me in the Three store is, charming, chatty, and (at least from my perspective) the best looking bloke in there, though a mite young for me. He’s easy to talk to, and would make a great salesman if I hadn’t already decided exactly what I wanted.

As he does all the necessary form filling on what looks like a prehistoric version of Windows XP, we have a nice chat, where I (perhaps unintentionally) discover that he has a girlfriend, and he (accidentally) finds out I fancy blokes when a Grindr notification pops up on my phone screen. This causes no change at all in our friendly chat – I wish it had been so inconsequential to be gay when I was his age!

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Anyway, he’s fine with me taking his picture for the blog, and I promise to give him a good report if Three contact me for feedback on my ‘experience’. No ulterior motive there, it genuinely was a good customer service transaction. There again, they were getting money off me, so that part was bound to be painless.

I found out what the other part was like when I tried to cancel my existing contract with O2. I pop into their nearby store, and am greeted by an equally chatty young guy, but when I tell him I’ve come to cancel my contract, he gets noticeably less animated. “You have to call 202 from your phone,” he tells me. “They’ll put you through to customer retention, who’ll take ages trying to persuade you to stay, but you just have to get through that.” At least he’s honest.

I have a feeling this process will not be quick, so I decide to have a pint at the nearby Tram Depot pub while I go through it.

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As it turns out, it takes longer than the time it takes to drink a pint of beer. There’s a lengthy automated menu just to get through to anyone, and I realise that I don’t actually remember the ‘security question’ I set up with them four years ago. I try a couple of the usual suspects, and the second turns out to be right. Then I have the delight of listening to tinny hold music for ten minutes before the call goes dead.

Well, obviously they’re not going to make it easy for you to leave them – I’m reminded inescapably of the current Brexit idiocy. However, the call being dropped was probably the fault of my phone; having heard nothing from my end for several minutes, I assume the iPhone decided I’d accidentally left an open call running and closed it. So I call again, repeat the process, and get stuck on hold again; but this time I remember to say something every so often to the oblivious tinny recording of Lady Gaga.

After another fifteen minutes of holding, I get through to a loquacious operator called Darrell, who spends, as predicted, a long time trying to persuade me to stay. I patiently explain that none of their products fit my needs, but he still puts me on hold several times to speak to “someone higher up” before coming back to me with ever nicer offers, all of which fall well short of the Three plan I’ve just purchased.

I’m sceptical that he actually did speak to anyone else, but it’s all part of the formal dance every consumer is obliged to go through when trying to cancel a longstanding contract. We both go through our steps patiently for a few more minutes, and eventually he relents and sends me a PAC code to transfer my old number to my new SIM, warning me that I have to use it within 14 days or the account will remain active. I use it as soon as I’m off the phone with him.

Another refreshing walk back to the van, and I spend a while experimenting with my newly available data. It’s nice and easy to tether the iPad to the phone, so I spend a while watching iPlayer. After the previous week of having to download things to my projector whenever I was connected to a WiFi network, and having nothing to watch when I’d seen the downloads, this seems like luxury.

As it turns out, Layla can’t go out for long – she has a meeting with a financial adviser first thing in the morning about remortgaging her house. Nonetheless, we have a couple of pints and a good chat as I fill her in on recent events, including last night’s date. After that, I contemplate going on alone to another Mill Road pub, but I’m feeling a bit tired so it’s back to the van for more episodes of Upstart Crow.

As the night wears on, it starts to get noticeably chilly so I put the heating on. It warms the van up fairly quickly, but never quite gets to its usual target temperature of 23 degrees, so the fan stays blowing all night. I manage to sleep through it (mostly), but I’m wondering if really cold weather will make it struggle to heat the interior. I don’t think it will be a major problem, but as winter draws in I may have to be prepared for the heating to be running all night every night, which means more gas usage. Have to keep an eye on that.

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