Thursday, January 24, 2019

precious times

Escaped convict. That was an idea in my childhood, it came from a story.

In these short days there's a lot to do. You don't want to cook in the dark, or wrap presents, or fix the heating. But sometimes it rains in the day, and then you might have to sit tight, because every time you open the door there's more water to contend with. Keeping the van dry is a constant preoccupation, like charging the phones. After a wet day you are certain to bring mud into the van when you get up at night for a pee.

You set the cabin light so it doesn't come on when you open the driver's door. You don't want to spotlight yourself as soon as you park up. Even if it's raining hard, you need to jump out, to fold the wing mirrors and get the bedding into the front: -- but not via the doors like you would on a dry night, instead you bundle it over the seats. Two carry mats, two four-season bags (one inside the other), two pillows, a fleece blanket, and the windscreen sunshade for a bit of privacy.

But rain is a good thing because it raises the temperature. Knowing the temperature is important. Making a HWB is boring but not as boring as trying to sleep when you're cold. But if you make the wrong call and brew up when you don't need to you'll overheat. A couple of degrees either way is all it takes. But after a time you stop looking it up on the phone, you just know.

Even on cold nights you must have the window open an inch or two, or the van condensates.

The stream of traffic starts at 5am. Before that, in the quiet hours, I'm watching the steam of my wee rising from the stiff ground, which without my glasses is a blurry marbled pattern of pale leaves.

Dawn's a precious time. I've put my bedding away, had a steaming wee, cleaned my teeth in the wood, scraped the windscreen if it needs it. Got the motor running and the radio on.Day begins with driving to a coffee and croissant somewhere. Gregg's is the cheapest and is good, but Wild Bean coffee is a little stronger. Both of them are lively places at 7 am.The scaffolders and quarry boys, the heavy dirty jackets, the emergency services and the midwives are all here fuelling up for the day.

Grey. galvanized railings, orange gantry. Pavement wet with frost melt, not rain. I'm full of the excitement of 08:45.

The daylight hours are busy. The launderette, the library, preparing food in the back, recycling rubbish, tidying, getting a shower at the public baths, getting some exercise, making sure I have a good poo. Now's the time to save some money and have a break from sitting in cafes. That comes later, it's dark by 17:00.

Oh those long evenings. McDonalds is the cheapest, you can make a 99p tea last a couple of hours and you can charge your phones and use wifi. You always check the parking restrictions, how long can I stay before I get fined?

Who's noticing me? Having found the places that work best for you, you're at risk of over-using them. "I noticed your van here every day..." Driver's-side window to driver's side window. That was Gerry the tinker, a nice fellow, but I took the warning. You have to keep moving, change your favourite lay-by, your favourite hangout. 

Regulars. Not as if I don't recognize them myself. The ungainly tranny who sits in the corner, the gregarious couple who always seem to have just had a few drinks, the talky bloke at the library who keeps saying "Excuse my French", the man in gaiters, the ones who just stare straight ahead, the sacked teacher who lives on a narrow-boat, and the stocky guy with the laptop who is at the usual table. I've never seen him go. I used to think I was different. 


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