Friday, 9 December 2011

Got Wood?

I accidentally came across a website for a place that sells reclaimed timber called Cambridge Wood Works, a blessing for a fit out like ours as they sell all kinds of wood from plywood sheets to doors and lengths of timber - exactly what we need! I'd definitely recommend checking in on them for anyone starting a DIY project as you can save an absolute fortune compared to the large stores.

Everything they sell has been collected from building sites etc as an environmentally friendly alternative to throwing it away in a skip, and all of the proceeds go into the running of the business and to local charities! Because it's all reclaimed there isn't a set stock list and pieces can have holes already drilled in or plaster stuck to it but with a bit of a rub down you'd hardly know. We was able to buy 2 large 18mm and 2 x 4mm sheets of plywood, several long treated 1x1/2 inch battens, a long shelf and a couple of strips of beading for £45!

The staff were all really friendly and super helpful. They even helped us get it all inside the motorhome and safely stowed! Thank you Cambridge Wood Works!

First Outing

Last Sunday (whilst still feeling very groggy from my works Christmas Party the night before!) we got up to go on our first real outing in the motorhome. Ryan's brother wanted to test out his new motorbike so Ryan borrowed a bike from a friend and we took them to Whaddon motocross track for the day.

It was just nice to be able to spend some time pottering around, making tea and bacon sandwiches on the hob for the first time! As it was the last meeting of the year at that track before they close for winter we were all very grateful of somewhere warm and dry to relax in. We hadn't filled the water tank up yet as we don't want the water going stagnant whilst not in use so we had Ryan's 'Camel pack' hiking water carrier hung over the sink for hand washing etc, though when I had to use the on site 'facilities' I wished we already had a nice loo installed! Very grim :S

I also took advantage of the spare time and began unscrewing the curtain rail from around the rear bunks :)

So Ryan and his brothers sped around a muddy field and around the various tracks all day (heaven on Earth for him!) and when the light was all but gone we towed the bikes home again with yet more ideas...

The Inevitability of Breaking Down

She's an old van so was bound to go wrong at some point, but I think there's a lot to be learnt about the personality of a vehicle from the way it breaks down. Some are a pain and seem to love nothing more than leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere in terrible weather (like the old Mini Ryan had as his first car which I must have pushed more miles than it drove! High heels and all!), and others may go wrong but they always get you home like the old Land Rover my parents had when I was little that had all sorts go wrong but always kept limping along. Thankfully Waki seems to be the 'get you home' type so we're pleased!

Technically the first issue was that her poor deteriorated tyre went flat once we'd got back from Wales and left her on the drive for a day, but that was fine as the spare was good enough to get her to Ryan's work to get them changed.

Ryan decided that since the cost of insurance and fuel economy was so much better on the motorhome than his 3.0L V6 Coupe he would drive it to work instead for a while and to shake any more niggles out into the open, which worked a treat when the clutch cable snapped when he was halfway out of the village! :D Needless to say they got home fine, if a little dramatically, Ryan got a lift into work and fixed it that weekend with a friend of ours with a little modification as they had to guess at what engine it was from and the guess didn't seem to be correct! Whilst Ryan rolled around swearing (I mean working!), I got to work on the scale drawings of the interior so we can plan the exact layout of cupboards etc.

They'll be more to come I'm sure but that's OK, and we plan on storing spares on board of anything that can't be bodged and will leave us properly stranded when we finally go on the road full time. That is when we can figure out just what engine we have...

First things First

So where do we begin? We're still lodging with Ryan's parents and have spent nearly every evening since we got her just sitting inside on the driveway staring about, opening cupboards, poking things and discussing ideas. There's a lot to be done, and we need to get the order it's done in right! 

1. The ceiling and wall behind the bunks needs to come down as leaks in her previous life have left some unsightly damage to the plywood and paper covering, also we need to 'winterise' the vehicle so can use the opportunity to pack in as much insulation as possible! This also needs to somehow extend to the floor and outside of the vehicle so that our water tanks and pipes don't freeze if the weather gets really bad, especially as we plan on spending a lot of time in Scotland.

2. The electrics are shocking (excuse the pun!) and lights flicker or switch on and off when we close cupboards! :S The one leisure battery certainly isn't up to the task of living full time without hook-up so it needs some friends, and as we will want to add a couple of solar panels and a TV etc the whole electric system needs re-wiring, a nice confusing and frustrating job for Ryan... Thankfully we can salvage and re-use most of the lighting and can get electronic accessories on the cheap.

3. Whilst we're re-wiring and insulating we can run our blown heating system, including devising a handy clothes dryer facility in the shower compartment with one of the outlets! Our main source of heating will be via a skinny wood burning stove by the door (as we both wood-carve as a hobby fuel will be plentiful!) with just enough space on it's top for the kettle or pot to save on cooking gas.

4. Storage, and more storage! We will be using the space where the extra berths are for more cupboards and work surfaces. So they need to be carefully planned and built in.

5. We also need a toilet on board, and plan on getting one of those bench type in built ones with the cartridge that comes out through the wall. Or to start with we may just have to go with a traditional portaloo but I really don't like the idea of carrying the waste through the kitchen, I know those cartridges are also sealed but still! :(

6. Last but not least on the inside (and probably not really last either as something is bound to change!) the bed platform needs widening and a nice new mattress bought. Then the left over things like furnishings, extra thick lined curtains (the existing black out blinds are good already) to add colour and extra insulation.

7. I leave this part at number 7 with the view that it will get slotted in somewhere else dependant on the weather and Ryans work shifts. We need to address the rust on the cab but need a spell of dry weather where we are both available for a couple of days in a row to be able to get it all rubbed down and protected. The actual van paint job will be someday in the summer when the inside is finished so for now she'll have to stay looking tatty.


I'm sure many people are wondering why we would want to do this! Why would anyone choose to live in a van when they have good jobs and could afford to rent a perfectly normal house or flat? 

We do both have good jobs, but we still find ourselves regularly depressed by not having either the spare cash or time to go to the places we would like to visit or to do what we want to do. Without a job or at least working part-time we'd have all the spare time to do what we want, get a dog, whittle wood...but then we wouldn't be able to afford to rent a house either. So something needs to change, and by addressing the housing cost issue we will have far more money to put into what we want and then someday in the future we'll be in a position where we can go on the road full time and make what little living money we need along the way. Many people retire this way, but I've found already that life has a way of sneaking an unfortunate or ironic surprise or two on you and I would prefer to experience and enjoy my life whilst I'm here or able to do so.

So it’s simply through a matter of addressing the priorities of your life and finding that ultimate balance that works for you. I'm a Libra and so symbolised by the scales, perhaps that's why I do what I do!

Why do you live the way you do? What do you do or have that isn’t really important that you can cut out and so focus your money & energy on the things that are more important to you? It doesn’t have to be as extreme as selling all of your stuff and living in a motorhome! It could just be living in a slightly smaller house, or having fewer expensive to run electrical gadgets... 

Everyone is different so there is no definitive way to live for everyone to follow, or perhaps you’re not ready to do what needs to be done yet! It took us a while of living by ourselves and in smaller and smaller houses/rooms, until finally our financial situation (and I’m sure a little insanity!) caused us to have to take the plunge and make the change. Our family don’t really understand yet how or why we would actually want to live this way, but I’m sure they will before long. That’s doesn’t mean to say however that even when they do understand that they’ll want to, or be psychologically able, to do the same!

Introducing Waki

I know most people think that naming a vehicle is ridiculous, and I certainly don't name all of my vehicles but I figured this one needed a name, like a boat does. As we plan on getting rid of the rust that nickname had to go, so we decided on Waki which is native American for 'shelter' and lets face it we're both very wacky to be doing this in the first place! You gotta love a good pun ;)

So here she is on the day we got her home, Waki the 20ft long 1985 Dreamliner Vogue with a Fiat cab. It's funny how we vowed we would NOT get a Fiat one (Fix It Again Tomorrow!) but I suppose it's not so bad as actually has a different engine. Most of the Dreamliner's have a 2.0L Petrol engine but this has been changed to a 2.5L Diesel with Citroen badges on it - we don't actually know what the engine is from which will make finding parts interesting. 

She has plenty of rust around the cab and doors, but that can be easily remedied and was to be expected with a van of her age. Ryan seems to feel a certain attachment as he is the same age! The body is good with just a few dents and dings, and needs a re-spray but that's another of Ryans talents so no problem there either.

The layout is pretty much as this one below, with just a slightly smaller shower room which we need to buy a toilet for and so one less cupboard than shown in front of the rear bunks.

The kitchen (below left) is in good condition and has everything we need to start with, but we may yet switch things around. The shower room (below right) is nicely finished with a fold down sink and an old vanity unit that will come down in favour of the suction corner shelves for our shampoo etc.

Below is the view to the rear from the living room showing the rear bunks and the kitchen area.

Below left is the L-Shaped sofa which we will leave as it is, there is a table that can be fixed into the floor on a single pole to create a very handy dinette/crafting desk.

Opposite the sofa there is another small seat for two which can be made up with the sofa to become another double bed, but it will instead be another storage area and home to my Corn Snake 'Kaa' to add yet another mad twist to our plans! The passenger seat also swings round to face the living area and we plan to get the boss-kit to do the same with the drivers side so we don't lose too much spare seating.

And finally below is the fixed bed platform that we will use as we don't fancy making our bed up every single day to a sofa and then back again. After the night spent at the Services where Ryan spent the entire time crushed up against the window we decided we definitely need a proper mattress, preferably a few inches wider but I think most of the problem was that I was subconsciously terrified of falling off out of bed so didn't use the full space! I figure that's just something you get used to, after all I don't fall out of my regular bed at the moment so this one shouldn't be any different...

Wales and Butterflies

We moved in with Ryan's parents when our tenancy run out so that we could save up as much cash as possible including the deposit from our old house and the proceeds from selling as much of our furniture and things as we could! It's strange how selling your things becomes almost addictive (I love e-bay!), and the more we threw out or sold the better we felt - maybe there is something to be learned from Feng Shui as the de-cluttering certainly lifted our spirits. Everything we wished to keep was boxed up safe and we began the search.

Our many hours of searching e-bay and Auto-trader and anywhere else that might possibly be hiding a cheap motorhome unearthed a slightly tatty looking 6 berth Dreamliner Vogue in Wales, 'first £3000 offer and it's yours' the listing said, so we were amazed that it was still there when we rang. So on the 10th November 2011 off we drove to Wales, with butterflies in our bellies.

Several hours later we arrived in the dark with a full moon in the sky and whilst Ryan checked her over with a torch for any structural or mechanical issues, the owner was very friendly and chatted to us about where they'd been as a family with 'Old Rusty' as they'd nicknamed her and happy enough we paid up and began the journey home. Ryan drove the motorhome and I followed in my little Clio with the biggest, maddest grin on my face the entire time! As it was so late already we stopped at some rather noisy motorway Services for the night, enjoyed some fish and chips at the dining table and slept (well for a couple of hours in total I think! :S) in our new home. We continued on the next day, and the butterflies and the smile stayed with me all the way! Dreams aren't so scary when they're still dreams, but ours was suddenly reality...

The very scary and strangely exciting process of jumping into your life dreams with both feet!

It’s a long title I know but the only one I could think of that begins to explain how we feel right now! My name is Sarah Hamer and I am an Artist and crafty person (though am currently a salesperson to pay the bills!), and my partner Ryan Clack is a mechanic (among many talents) with a crafty side too. 

We are in the process of completely changing our lives to live permanently in a motorhome in the UK, something that probably sounds awful to most people but that suits me and Ryan down to the ground. We are both enthusiastic bush-crafters and love camping, hiking, woodworking and pretty much anything that allows us to enjoy being in contact with dear old Mother Nature for an extended period.

We have been together for over 10 years already, but only 2 years in came the realisation that we would never afford to save up a deposit for a house whilst renting, and as we have always been horrified at the thought of spending at least 25 years after that owing money to someone else for a pile of bricks we started looking at alternative housing options. Our friends introduced us to the world of Narrowboats and that became the dream for a long while, though life’s twists and turns wouldn’t let us get there either. We then came to realise that a motorhome is by far the cheapest option and gives us the freedom we want, and that you don’t necessarily need to be sleeping in a layby somewhere with the multitude of cheap campsites and quiet hidden car parks throughout the country.

We had been renting a particular house for only a year when the owner decided that we were not able to renew our tenancy for the next year and so we were faced with either using up the little amount we'd managed to save up so far on credit checks for another rental house or jumping into the dream NOW! And what's wrong with now anyway? So we began searching for that one vehicle we will want to call home, on a budget of only £3000!