Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Are you getting bored already?

No, I’m not. I have posted in the last few weeks, but M hinted that it was not of public interest, or it was boring or something. Personally I thought the post - my reasons why I was not prepared to do any of the work our buyers’ surveyor had recommended - was both informative and thrilling, but I took it down anyway, as I am learning to be a better listener in preparation for family life in a shed on wheels.

We have just been to see a broad selection of sheds-on-wheelses in the wilds of deepest Kent, and the boys got quite excited picking the ones they like best - basically the ones with the best bunk beds (which are bigger and probably more difficult to drive). We are ‘motorhoming in’ on what we want, ho-ho, which is very different from what we thought we wanted a month or so ago, and now we are getting down to geeky little details like whether it is actually safe or legal for our children to travel in it. It seems strange that among the vehicles we are looking at, there are comparatively few which sleep four and have four seatbelts.

The exercise was kind enough to expose what an hilariously bad fit we are as a family for what we are planning to do. First I decided I’d better check the oil and water in the car before actually taking it out on the motorway and found there was little evidence of either having ever been administered to the poor vehicle. This was quickly followed by (11-year-old) E’s very genuine “Are we nearly there yet?” as we drove across Blackheath. Our standards of motor vehicle maintenance and tolerance of road journeys are both going to have to improve, and very quickly.

But not as quickly as they might have. Yes, we’ve put the whole thing back another month, as we realised that the earliest we were going to be getting going now was only about three weeks before the end of the school year. M suggested that it might be “The Right Thing to Do” to offer E the chance to complete his Primary Schooling, and we were a little surprised when he jumped at it. Does this mean that we are just going to be setting off on holiday in late July, the same as everyone else? Perhaps. And maybe that would be a good way to start. Then, when everybody else goes back to school, we can start our home ed stuff, our exploration and our search for a new home.


The past and the present are more important than the future right now. E has been going to our brilliant (as far as I can tell) local school since he was three, and is about to be dragged off the grid into a world of fewer rules, expectations and demands. It might be a bad start to suggest to him that it isn’t worth finishing something you’ve spent most of your life working on.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Ha-ha. No, really - what kind of van are you getting?


Once again we are ahead of schedule. I said we might change our minds about the camper at the last minute. Not only have we done so already, but the last minute has been put back. We treated our housebuyers to my cooking at the weekend - a barbecue gave them a chance to see whether they still liked the house when its atmosphere was fifty percent paraffin fumes. After a few drinks and then a few more, we were able to discuss how soon it will all be done. It looks more like the end of June now, which I’m not going to allow to bother me, even if it does mean that I might run out of things to write about here before we get started.

So we have been thinking more about what we need from our rolling home. Do we need a shower? Nah. As part of my meticulous preparations, I’ve been teaching myself not to wash so frequently, conditioning my skin and glands to deal with a new routine where they have to sort themselves out. Then there will be visits to public baths, and anybody who’d like to register for us to come round and block their plughole is free to use the comments section to do so.

Do we need an oven? Again, I'd have to say no. ‘You would,’ counters M, ‘because you would never use it anyway.’ I think about reminding her that I do most of the outdoor cooking at present – which admittedly amounts to three or four times a year. I think about telling her that we are living to her exacting standards and if it were not for her, I would eat soil if I was hungry enough (and even if I wasn't, if I had some sriracha hot sauce to put on it.) Finally I think about telling her that if cooking duties are restricted to the preparation of beans on toast or tinned ravioli - "shitpillows" as M calls them - I will actually be able to pull my weight in this department, at least. But once a teacher, always a teacher, so I decide to hold this promise back for a moment in the future when I have to set myself some targets for improvement.

A comment on the last post (not the bugle tune but the thing I wrote about campers the other day, that wasn't really about campers) reminded me that a van without a pop top for one of the beds would be preferable, if we are to be indulging in STEALTH CAMPING on residential streets. Not for any real, practical reasons, but just because we don't want it to be obvious that we are taking the piss by very obviously residing, if only for one night, in a neighbourhood where we pay no council tax, have only contributed a tenner to the economy for egg sandwiches, and are waiting for a quiet moment to empty our chemical toilet into the gutter.

We won't do this of course. A full chemical toilet appears to be a huge responsibility. Even one of those little port-a-potty things that we could fit in a California. One review said something about how emptying one was not as bad as you might expect- "it just looks like lumpy chocolate milk" it said. Ew.

So the fundamental issue here is the toilet. We are going to need one in the van, there is no doubt about that. It would probably be better to have one in its own little room behind a closable door, as although we are not exactly squeamish, any of us, watching each and every member of the family curl one off every day may leave a trauma on the psyche of one or both of my children that goes undetected until their great dirty protest of 2037.

And the issue of what to do in the same situation at night is rather more, um, messy. When the rock 'n' roll bed (for I believe that to be the parlance) is folded down and M is asleep in it, there will be no remaining floor space for me to treat myself to a midnight poo. The only option would be to take the port-a-potty out of the van, which might be workable in a secluded area, but once again, in a quiet residential area of a city or town I've never visited before, it would be brave to sit on a glorified bucket doing a shit.

In order to have a little more space and a little more privacy when it is needed, we have shifted our sights onto a larger, high-top van. This will mean we deny ourselves the pleasures of Britain’s many wonderful multi-storey car parks, but if Peckham is to lose the jewel in its crown, we should probably boycott the others in solidarity. 


It seems that such a vehicle could even be cheaper than the Volkswagens we were looking at, so it really is a no-brainer. Certainly, we look to now be following the advice of the aforementioned Friends With Campervans. They will be delighted, I am sure.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

What sort of van are you getting?

Here’s a fun experiment you can try for yourself at home with the kids. Start telling people you are going to quit your current job, which is the only one they’ve ever known you to have. It helps if it's a job that nearly everybody knows all about and thinks they couldn’t do because the pay is a bit shit and you probably get loads of grief off of badly behaved boys and misguided middle managers. But they also have this notion that it must be “rewarding” in some pseudo-spiritual way and say things like “You are bound to miss it, though, aren't you?”
This is where teaching becomes rewarding for the first time. When you look them in the eye and say “I doubt it.” Because what you’re really saying is, “Although I never said anything about it at the time, spending a thousand hours in the company of your kid and his mates wasn’t as much of a thrill as you might imagine. And it was only when they went home that I was actually able to get any work done.”

Next they are going to want to know where you are planning to go and live.
London is expensive and they might want to sell up and ship out themselves one day, so if there is somewhere else that is worth going they want to know where it is. When you say you have no idea where you are moving to they are going to be very disappointed.
Tell them you are going to mooch about the UK until you find somewhere you like. Be prepared for them to ask you what sort of campervan you have got. They would really like to have a campervan because it would be brilliant for going to Latitude and Bestival. But otherwise they wouldn't use it very often and so it would spend a lot of time standing parked in what is actually a very nice residential street in a leafy neighbourhood with a surprisingly low crime rate but nevertheless campers get nicked there all the time. Especially older ones without immobilisers that can still be hot-wired by the most amateurish vehicle thieves. But even modern ones with immobilisers get nicked a lot by being loaded onto the back of flat bed trucks which takes a fair amount of organisation and a lot of balls but still happens astonishingly frequently.
It has now emerged that everybody knows more about campervans than you do. They are also forgetting that you are always, always flat broke and there is no way that you could afford a vehicle that would be so expensive to buy, insure and run but that you never actually have any time to use before it gets stolen.
Once they are past the disappointment of you not actually having this campervan that you are pretending you're going to live in for a year or something, they will want to know what kind you’re going to get when your house sale goes through.
They expect you to know exactly what kind of campervan you are going to buy, as if you will be able to pick it up, whatever it is, at Dulwich Sainsbo’s because they just have everything. Do not blame them for doing so. They want to find out if you are actually serious about this or if you are just making it up to appear more interesting than you really are. You have, as far as they are aware, always been a teacher, and therefore you always must be one, otherwise the fabric of the universe will become unstable before their very eyes like a special effect from a recent episode of Doctor Who.
They want to imagine you in one of those split screen vintage buses that look cool but are very expensive and break down every thirty miles. Or perhaps they want to imagine you in one of those enormous mobile home things like the one that is always parked in front of their house blocking out all the light. They want you to take it away from London and ruin somebody else’s life with it instead.
Surely you are going to want a really big, well-appointed one if you're going to be living in it for that long? Aren’t you? Erm, no. We are going to want what is just about the smallest vehicle that four people can actually sleep in. Why? First and foremost, it has to be easy to drive and park. We only really intend to drive it and sleep in it, so it doesn't need to be any bigger. Or am I being ridiculously naive here? When I visualise myself in my new life on the road, I'm walking hills and dales, rowing a boat on a lake or just exploring a park, or a pub or restaurant or whatever. Actually it was pubs I thought of first, and I pictured me getting drunk and then just being able to sleep in this big comfy car instead of having to drive home.
The perfect vehicle for us, it emerges, is a Volkswagen T5 California, which “is much too small for a week away, let alone several months” and will make us “look like a bunch of London wankers” according to some friends who do actually own campers and use them regularly. Why are we refusing to follow kind, considered, expert advice from people whose opinions we respect? Gosh, I dunno. Maybe we are contrary. Maybe we just like a challenge. Maybe we weren’t listening properly. Or maybe we will change our minds at the last minute, which will be in about a month.
In the meantime, I would really value any input I might receive in the comments below, from anybody of a mind to share some. Thanks for the comments so far, friends and strangers. I don’t know if I am supposed to respond.
Or how to.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Who needs estate agents?


Not us. We paid our seven hundred quid and the fella from the internet-only agents came round a week ago, took marvellous photos, and added them to his company's website. It went on Rightmove on Thursday evening and I got a call on Good Friday to arrange a viewing.

It went okay - they seemed to like the place, but it was out of their price range. I had a couple of cans of White Star to celebrate (I'm totally skint again, and White Star is the same price, the same strength, and much easier to swallow than White Ace). Then I got a call about another viewing.

The second couple came, had a look, had a chat, and were very friendly. I left them to themselves for a bit. After ten minutes she came downstairs and said, "I'll be frank. We want to buy your house."

They made an offer the next morning, which was actually pretty decent. I'd given them my number when I'd seen how keen they were and she sent me a text to ask me what I thought. I said we reckoned we might be able to get the asking price, so she offered that instead. It was exactly that easy. As I said to my friend that afternoon, if flogging records is as easy as flogging houses, I'm going to be a millionaire.

Now, assuming it doesn't all fall through, I have to accept that we have been hugely fortunate – at least lucky enough to find the perfect buyers. People, it seems, for whom ours is the perfect house. That said, with the housing market as it is, surely every property that goes on sale has the perfect buyer for it out there, as long as the price is right, and the person showing them around is able to answer all of their questions? But they're not going to be looking for it in a shop window in the high street, are they? They're going to find it on the web, specifically on Rightmove, aren't they?

What, I asked one of the (lovely) 'proper' estate agents who came and gave us a market appraisal, was he going to do to justify the extra ten grand this would cost me? "You'll get a professional agent, dressed like me," he began. He was talking about his suit, which was very nice, but surely could not have cost more than one twentieth of the fee we were talking about.

In conducting this crucial viewing half-cut on tramp juice, I can’t imagine that I came across as professional or sartorially elegant, but the good people seemed happy with the service I provided. They were a lot like us really - just ten years younger, a fair bit taller and better-looking, with lots more money. And they are probably less likely to judge people by their appearances. Or drink White Star.

We haven’t done this entirely without estate agents, of course. The nice people on the internet (whose company name I’ll reveal when the sale is complete, if you can’t work it out for yourself) sent a guy who did EVERYTHING except the viewings, which I would now suggest any reasonably proud homeowner should do themselves anyway. I said to him, "This'll probably sound pretty rude, but have you ever been a normal estate agent? It's just that you’ve been brilliant, when you could be forgiven for not giving a damn whether we sell this or not now, if you don't have any commission riding on it?"

He smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, I was once. What can I say? I like my job, and I want to do it well.” 

I hadn't really thought about that. I've been out of a job for four months now, and can't remember the last time I had genuinely taken pride in my work. 

It would probably be better for this blog if it did all fall through. You know, it’d give me something to moan about. The twists and turns of the whole process. If it's all plain sailing, this spiel is going to lack realness and I'm going to keep coming off as Pretty Damn Pleased With Myself. But I would encourage my readers never to give their business to a high street estate agent again. Take the time off work if you have to, but sell it yourself. Nobody knows what makes a house worth buying better than the owner.


Assuming it does all go through though, I suppose at least that our buyers' enthusiasm should give some indication of how much we are giving up in return for our New Bohemia. It is the sacrifice that keeps me humble. Yes, that is burning martyr that you can smell.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Is your house on the market yet?

People have been asking me this question for about six months now, with predictably ever-increasing frequency. As of a couple of hours ago, the answer is “Yes.” And so obviously I have never felt less like selling it.

It’s not just that we have made it look nicer – much nicer – than it has ever been before, with paint and de-cluttering and that weird feeling of I am literally cleaning this part of my house for the very first time. We expected to feel that little pang of self-envy of the style and class that comes from having zero dust bunnies in your hutch.

The feelings of uncertainty have been only very slightly exacerbated by the estate agent’s Camera of Phoney Enormousness. Thank God, in fact, that I don’t have to walk a dozen paces just to turn a record over – imagine the misery of all that unnecessary stylus wear.

No, I’m having a very parochial version of the Ian Dunt thing – where could be better than here? Not London, particularly, but Peckham. Or not even Peckham, but our bit of SE15 – our neighbours, our local shop, our local pub. Or not even that, but specifically our home.

I’ve been indulging in a masochistic fantasy – a premonition perhaps. One of my sons, bored to hell of being cooped up in a van with no PS4 and no friend from five doors down who pops in most days. A single tear gleaming upon his soft and rounded cheek, he looks up at me and says “I just want to go home.”

I knew there would be doubts. There were always going to be times that I would have to have the courage of my convictions – and I do mean me, as M has been very clear recently that she doesn’t want to do this at all. If you will excuse me, I might have a quick look at TES Jobs to see if I can find something I would enjoy in London
That will soon get me back into the idea of moving house.

Friday, 7 April 2017

What's that you're playing?



Last night I had a surprise, one-off, secret, additional, extra, final, last-ever gig in London. A charmless corporate affair, the fee for which I simply couldn't turn down, wherein the music provided was never going to be anything more than an inconspicuous soundtrack to noisy conversation, this gig nonetheless demonstrated that making a living as a professional player of the record players could be even less enjoyable than teaching. 

The venue was a new office development on a gorgeous square. A cavernous, L-shaped room entirely devoid of soft furnishings, with a laughably inadequate sound system arranged along one side. The right-angle of the room was packed with very smartly-dressed London Property People. 

There was a preponderance of blokes, of course, who seemed like perfectly nice people. Some of the younger men were very handsome and cheerful-looking. The old boys who came over to talk about their record collections or their valve amps were friendly and only slightly boring, and my policy of sticking to 45s on these occasions saves me from the stress of attempting to appear interested in what somebody is saying while cueing up an album track on the headphones. 

There were women there too. One asked if I had anything off of Dirty Dancing, and another told us several times to turn it down, probably because she had chosen to stand very close to one of the speakers for all of her conversations that evening. It will irritate M if I take this opportunity to point out that I recognise that these individuals were not representative of all women, and were indeed, like the slightly boring men, probably perfectly nice people, despite their dissatisfaction with the service we were providing.

I knew beforehand that nobody was going to dance, and dancing is not always the appropriate response to music anyway. I knew as soon as I saw the room and the speakers that the sound quality was not even going to be adequate for people to enjoy listening to the music. If I had been on my own behind the decks, I probably would have kept the phones on all the time, so that I could entertain myself, at least, for five hours or so. Further, all of these people had conversations to conduct, I knew that. I'm really not complaining about any detail of this gig last night. Honest. It was a useful experience for a man whose life is changing, whose future is uncertain, and who is writing a blog about it.

For twenty-five years, and now more than ever, what I have really wanted is my own room, with a simple-but-entirely-effective system, that people might want to come to, and actually listen to the music. They are allowed to talk, just not too much.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

How important is breathing?

That bloke Ian Dunt (I think that is his name) wrote something provocative on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, about how stupid he thought people were to move out of London when they have kids. "Where are you going to raise them that's better?" he asked. I found myself reading the replies for the best part of an hour. Some people were getting really cross about how Londoners reckon themselves and their home city to be so great. Londoners seemed economically obliged to fight their corner - if they can't justify the enormous extra expense of living here, they are daft to be doing so, I suppose.

In amongst loads of emotive language on both sides, a Scottish paediatrician took the time to list more-than-one-tweet's-worth of toxic agents and carcinogens that he believes Londoners and their children are breathing, all day, every day. In fact, throughout these tuppence-worths, the idea of bringing your kids up breathing poison was second only to making them live in a smaller house without much of a garden in its frequency of appearance.

I grew up a loathsome asthmatic, one of those kids whose lungs make such unpleasant noises that other people around them forget how to breathe properly too. This was deep in the heart of rural Suffolk, and was particularly bad late in the summer, around harvest time. When I came to London as a student at eighteen, I started breathing better straightaway. My alveoli took to the heavy metals and diverse pollutants in the London air so well, in fact, that I often found it difficult to go home in the holidays. I had also become allergic to my parents' cats and dogs, something there had been no sign of before.

Twenty-six years later, as long as I stay away from hairy animals, which I'm usually very happy to do, it's unusual for me to have the slightest of wheezes. My two sons have both inherited my crappy lungs, however, and I feel a little guilty when I read on the internet that I am slowly killing them with my selfish metropolitan lifestyle. But what if they, like their father, turn out to thrive on lead and dangerous chemicals rather than with all that pollen and organic nastiness?

We usually find that we all breathe better at the seaside, oxygenated air inflating our wimpy bronchioles like withered foil balloons, leaving us over-aerated and ready for bed by seven. But on holiday in a chalet in Cromer once (where it seems a dog had been staying not long before), I ended up in hospital on a nebuliser, a facemask strapped over my nose and mouth.

Fred Neil was going where the sun was shining... where the weather suited his clothes. I guess we are going to have to go where the air suits our lungs. Oh yeah, and the kids have said that wherever we end up, they are going to want a dog.