Countdown

Having only being back home for 4 days following CAMC training at Lingfield we were due at Moreton in Marsh CAMC for machine training on the 13th February. After much deliberation about taking the caravan for a few days away we reluctantly decided to just drive to Moreton in Marsh for the day. We were on the road at 6am and promptly came to a standstill on the M6, lost half an hour in multiple traffic jams but thankfully still made it in plenty of time for the start. We got booted and suited in our PPE and knuckled down for a day of classroom learning, hands on machinery handling and tractor driving.

The weather was a mixture of sunshine and showers but was continually freezing cold throughout. My feet although clad in thick tights and thermal socks were numb for most of the time, probably due to standing about alot rather than being on the go. The morning whizzed by learning about strimmers, hedge cutters, leaf blowers and fuel ratios,- fuel ratios? still a mystery to me. The afternoon was about the ride on grass cutter, pedestrian mower and bin run tractor and trailer. Although we couldn’t actually cut any grass due to the mud and potential damage to the pitches we learned it all in theory and had a go at driving the tractors on a quiet part of the sites roadways. The day ended with a 25 question test to check if we had actually been listening and had learnt anything, thankfully it proved that we had. It has certainly been a back to school couple of weeks, proving every day is a school day and you are never too old to learn a new skill.

An early start in traffic jams but they can’t be blamed on caravans just yet!
All geared up ready for training

Back home we have been taking it easy, days have mostly been spent in front of the tv and just enjoying the fact we are at home without having to rush about and fit in jobs on an odd day off. Thankfully the weather has given us a good excuse to do just that. We took the saying “there’s always tomorrow” very literally! Piles are appearing all over the house as we are gathering things together ready to pack into the car and caravan, and a pile for Steve’s Dad who is coming down to us with a loaded car the following day. The Ikea chairs for the awning have been gingerly manovered into the ‘van, thankfully without having to dismantle them, the tv and a few other bits having found safe travelling spaces tucked away. We have done a couple of trial runs packing the car to see how much we can get in and where, but the caravan cover still hadn’t come off at this point due to the ridiculous amount of rain and wind from storms Ciara and Dennis hitting the Country.

The car went in for MOT and service as it was due the first week we would be on site, we spent the day strolling around Wolverhampton reminiscing about all the places we used to frequent and amazed how a lot of the buildings have disappeared and the shops that are now closed. We did manage to fit in a couple of visits to Weatherspoons, firstly for breakfast and as we were still waiting for the car to be ready again later in the afternoon for coffee and cake, although they had run out of cake which was very disappointing, as that was my sole reason for going back for coffee!

A breakfast treat

A family “see you soon” get together at the weekend was a fabulous opportunity for us to say our thankyous to them for being so supportive of us in our decision to embark on our greatest adventure. We had a lovely day entertaining 16 of our close family with an age range of 98 down to 5, it was so wonderful to be with them all and talk over our hopes and dreams for the future, aswell as reassuring them that we aren’t emigrating to the moon and we will be back!

Into our final week and we still can’t get our heads around that we are leaving home as we know it and will be making a new temporary home in Ruby 175 miles away in the middle of a forest. I wonder at what point it will? Finally the caravan cover has come off and we really need to get going on packing everything in. Lists have been written and rewritten several times as to what item is going where, and sleepless nights are the norm as I mentally pack and tick off every item we might possibly need from home. Steve keeps reminding me that they do have shops in Portsmouth! but we’ll have enough to think about once down there so if we can pre-empt the possible need, aswell as not wanting to have to buy something we already have back at home, then we can just get on with setting up home, living, working and enjoying the new lifestyle.

As days now turn into hours our tummies are also turning over with a few jitters. We wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t some apprehension I suppose, are we able to do the job? can we live and work together 24/7? will we earn enough money to survive? We have always had a glass half full attitude to everything we do so am optimistic that the grass will definitely be greener and the sun will always shine – well realistically maybe not the latter but it wont be for the want of wishing!

A sudden change of plan was needed at the last minute due to the forecast of another storm arriving at the weekend, we are now leaving home on Friday instead of Saturday to hopefully miss the worst of the wind gusts. It is still going to be torrential rain by all accounts but rain is the lesser of the two evils when towing. After sitting about chilled out for the best part of the last two weeks time is suddenly racing by at top speed and with a day less to fit it all in. Thursday has arrived and we were up early ready to dodge the impending rain/snow/sleet and gales whilst packing. The piles from all over the house have now all been found space in either the car, caravan or Steve’s Dad’s car. Surprisingly it all seems to have gone in without too much pushing and shoving and there may even be a square inch spare to fit in a last minute addition if I suddenly wake in the middle of the night and think of something I can’t live without! Mitch and Chloe have had their final run down on “how to keep a house” and we are optimistic it will still be standing when we return for our days off visits. Better just give them plenty of notice so the washing up can be done and lounge carpet hoovered.

Hoping it will all fit in

I don’t suppose there will be much sleep happening tonight, just a tummy turning mixture of excitement, apprehension, emotion and still marvel that our greatest adventure is about to begin.

Catch up with us in the next post – We arrive on site, set up home and start to explore the local area.

(Br)Exit, Training and a Hiccup.

Well to most people of the UK 31st January 2020 will always be remembered as the day we left the EU, but to Steve and I it will always be in our memories as the day we left the life as we knew it behind and embarked on our greatest adventure.

Friday 31st January was a very emotional day for both of us, we had both been at our places of work for 14/15 years so not only knew the job inside out and backwards but also the people we worked with. It was a fact that during an average working week we spent more waking time with our work family than we did with each other, so to suddenly be without them was going to be a tremendous tug on our heart strings. Even though we knew this day was coming for many months, as the day itself dawned it was with mixed emotions we set off for work for the last time.

“Goodbye” was something we didn’t particularly want to say so “see you soon” was said to everyone we could get around to speaking to. Good wishes, kind words and envious comments were in abundance, and we were amazed that not one person actually thought we were mad! ( well, that they told us to our faces anyway!) We each had lovely cards, gifts, and many promises to come and visit us, and had a jolly good get together with our work friends which ended with many hugs, tears and not a dry eye in the house. As the following day dawned (with bad heads and red eyes) the realisation that we weren’t going back on Monday hadn’t really had chance to sink in and we still didn’t quite believe that the start of a new chapter had really begun.

We didn’t have long to sit about dwelling on what we had left behind as we were off to Lingfield Racecourse on Sunday 2nd February ready to start our CAMC induction training for a week. We packed our bags and headed off towards the unknown, eager to learn all about what being Wardens entailed. What we did discover on arrival was that we have already had a promotion (along with existing site staff) – in name only though! Our official job titles are now Assistant Site Managers instead of Wardens.

The week whizzed by, hotel, food, colleagues and training were all brilliant. We learnt valuable skills in first aid training, fire safety, customer service, health & safety, manual handling and the IT systems, with talks on HR, Pensions and an inspiring introduction from the Director General Nick Lomas.

There were 27 couples on the training that had been offered sites as first years this season, to be forever known as Class of 2020. It was so amazing to listen to peoples stories of their personal journeys and how and why they came to be there. Some have been living in their caravans and motorhomes for a while, some have left high flying careers in pursuit of a slower pace of life, and some are still working waiting to leave their current jobs at the last minute. There were all walks of life and backgrounds but all with one thing in common -to live a simpler, calmer way of life, with the time to travel, freedom to explore and to be able to pursue their dream together.

The week ended with a Graduation meal and DJ entertainment. We put on our glad rags and dancing shoes and partied the night away feeling like we were back in the 1980’s. A great night was had by all and lifelong friendships were forged which will provide support, encouragement and plenty of laughs on the journey ahead.

Being back home was a bit of a shock after having 3 meals a day put in front of me for a week, not to mention standing on the weighing scales, that was the biggest shock of all. Perhaps they were trying to feed us up knowing we will be working hard and not even having time to eat once we get out onto site!

Not much downtime before we were due off again, to Moreton in Marsh CAMC this time for machine training. We were supposed to be taking the caravan for this one for 4 days but with the strong winds on the tail end of Storm Ciara on our departure day, and Storm Dennis due to arrive on the day we would be travelling back we very reluctantly made the decision to leave Ruby at home and just go in the car for the day instead. Ruby is kept on the drive, nice and cosy clean and dry under a cover when not in use, so it was with much excitement that we pulled off the cover in order to get her ready for the expected journey to Moreton site. We packed the essentials, being crisps, cake, wine and gin, then set about sterilising the water containers and pipework ready for the season. We ( Steve) doesn’t normally have to wash and polish the ‘van as it has a good clean before we put the cover on each time so a quick look out of the front bedroom window to check the roof is still ok is all that is usually needed. However on doing that this time we spotted some strange marks on the top rear corner pieces that hadn’t been there before. On a closer inspection off ladders Steve discovered that there were hairline cracks along the top edges. Hmmm not good. Coincidentally at that moment a neighbour came out and started chatting, and it turns out they had had the same problem and informed us it was a known fault and should have had a recall from Swift to get it put right. After many phone calls it was discovered the dealer we purchased the van from had gone out of business last month and Swift would not deal directy with us. We had to find another dealer to carry out a service and they would carry out the recall work at the same time, there was also a recall to the window seals needed. As time was running out to get this done before leaving home on the 29th Feb we phoned around far and wide but could not get the service and work booked in anywhere for at least 2 months. It appears that the original dealer had not registered servicing the ‘van before we had it so another service had to be done in order for the warranty work to be carried out. It became clear it wasn’t going to happen anytime in the next 2 weeks before we had to leave so we have had to book it all in for November, as once Ruby is sited in the compound at Rookesbury Park she wont be coming out again until we come back home then. In the meantime the cover has gone back on and she will be kept nice and dry whilst Storm Dennis does his worst over the weekend, and until November we will just have to live with waterproof tape covering over the cracks.

Cover is off, but unfortunately now back on!

Catch up with us next time as we do our machine training, pack up our possessions and spend our final few days living in a house…..

Homemaking

” Home is where you make it”

So now we know where and when we will be going to site to commence our first season as Assistant Site Wardens, and we ( or should I say “I” ) have been busy preparing for our new home away from home.

Being on holiday in your caravan/motorhome for usually no more than 2 weeks at a time is a totally different concept to continuously living out of it 24/7 for 8 months or more. A seasons wear and tear on drawers, cupboard doors, upholstery and blinds will be like using your van for 17 two week holidays, or 34 weeks continuous in total, which could be up to 3-4 years worth of use for the average holidaying caravanner. Meaning after a couple of seasons as Assistant Wardens we will have had up to 8 years worth of manufacturers predicted normal use from our Sterling Eccles. In a “normal” life most likely by that time we would have traded it in for a new one well before the 8 years, something we most probably wont be able to do every two years, so looking after it and trying to limit the daily wear and tear as best we can will be a priority. As electric on site will be free we are also intending to run everything off electric rather than use any gas.

Advice we have received is telling us that you need to make your caravan/motorhome environment homely and relaxing, as it will be your only private space during your months on site. The awning will become our lounge, a place to relax and unwind, watch tv, put our feet up or have a snooze after a busy day out working on the site. It needs to be kitted with comfy chairs, cushions – (an item that always provokes a groan from Steve), lamps, family photographs, things that are personal to us, just as you would when you were in a lounge surrounded by bricks. Also depending on the set up of our on site compound it may need to be our kitchen and wardrobe areas aswell. Of course this was all like a green light to me who loves to shop.

I love to ebay, great satisfaction is felt when I win an item I’ve had my eye on for a fraction of the new price. Thankfully Steve’s current job takes him all around the Country so there is usually somewhere in the UK I am asking him to go to collect an item Ive just won! All in a good cause I remind him, I’ve saved us a tremendous amount of money over the years.

So with the prospect of kitting out our new home, I was on the case without delay. Within days I had sourced an all season full awning from Bristol, only been used for one season. A day later there was a full height annexe for sale to match the awning, never been used and £150 less than new cost, thankfully sent via courier as it was about 250 miles away from home! We now had the framework of our new “lounge” so we needed something to make it homely. Ikea chairs and footstool were sourced from Nottingham. A tv stand was found for £1.50 in Birmingham and they even delivered it to us for that price! A folding kitchen table was just the job from Conningsby and a side table from a local charity shop matches everything perfectly.

In the post Christmas sales I sourced a combination microwave/grill/oven and also managed to use a gift card we had as an Xmas present which made that a double bargain buy. We took a trip to a local Caravan supplies shop and came back armed with more goodies to tick off the list, mains water system, additional electric hook up and socket bank, bin, clothes airer, awning carpet, new step, electric hot plate, camping kitchen unit and most importantly a new kettle! The spare room and garage are filling up fast, the only thing we need to sort out is how on earth we are going to get it all transported from Staffordshire to Hampshire?

With weekends now down to single figures before we go to site we thought we should make a journey down to our new home town and suss out the area. After a sunrise start we made good time with clear motorways and were soon nearing the area. Following the satnav it took us off the motorway earlier than I would have done if following a map but we decided to go with it and see what route it would take. Winding our way through pretty lanes and very picturesque villages we soon realised that it may be the quickest route in a car but certainly not a way to tow the caravan, as we hadn’t got the van this time it was a lovely introduction to the local scenery, but we made a mental note not to follow “satnav Susie” next time but stick with good old faithful “mapreading Sally” instead.

Sunrise as we hit the road

We found the driveway entrance to the site but it was gated and padlocked ( as we knew it would be) so decided against jumping the gate and walking the mile down the muddy drive, we were content in just knowing where we have to turn off the road. We have already viewed the area on Google Earth so basically know the site layout. Having forfeited breakfast in our eagerness to get on the road we then went on the hunt for food. Recommendation came from our Head Wardens to head for Monster Micks a mobile café with views across Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. A quick Google search gave us the location and a short time later we parked up in a panoramic viewpoint layby and judging by the queue Micks was a very popular spot.

Breakfast with a view

Suitably fed and watered we headed down to the coast below us. Parking up on the front in Southsea we were just in time to see the hovercraft departing off the beach to the Isle of Wight. It was a spectacular sight and something we look forward to doing on our days off. From there we walked along the esplanade and Royal Garrison to Old Portsmouth, an area where the original medieval town is situated. Cobbled streets are lined with many historic buildings, quaint tea rooms and several traditional pubs, which we also look forward to visiting again on our days off! We didn’t have enough carparking time left to make it to the Spinnaker Tower and the ships at the Historic Dock, but im sure we will in the months to come.

Hovercraft to the Isle of Wight
Spinnaker Tower

Next we made our way around the coast to Gosport on the opposite side of the harbour, spotting the locations of supermarkets, shops, petrol stations and anything of interest we thought we should be aware of on the way. Steve spotted the submarine museum which he is unlikely to forget about, so that’s another day out on the list ( oh joy)

The light was now fading fast and dropping cold so we decided to find the hotel we had booked nearby. Heading back towards Rookesbury Park area we drove through Wickham and as it is the nearest village to the site we parked up in the market square and had a wander around the small selection of shops and historic buildings. It looked very pretty with twinkly lights in the trees and inviting roaring open fires in the cosy pubs. We did only look through the windows this time though, honest. Wickham is a conservation area with the Romans establishing a settlement here as it was on the road between Chichester and Winchester. A traditional gypsy horse fair, the oldest and biggest in England is held in the square annually in May, a 4 day music festival in August and Taste of Wickham in September which is a food festival with stalls, crafts and music displays. Sounds like we might be kept busy then!

Continuing onto our bed for the night at Botley Park Hotel and Spa we were feeling very happy with our new found home County and cant wait to explore the area more and really get to know where we live.

A beginning and an end

you can’t cross the Ocean unless you have courage to leave the shore

So after a few nervous weeks wondering where our 2020 home will be we finally received the phone call with the news. We are overjoyed and so lucky that the site we have been given was one of our top 3 that we submitted as our preferred options. We will be going to Rookesbury Park in Hampshire at the beginning of March for 8 months.

Now that we had a definite contract, hours and pay all confirmed and a start date to be on site, the time had come to start closing the chapter on our current lives and moving on to our new adventure.

We have both been in our current jobs for 14 and 15 years, we are well respected, well paid and they are probably jobs that others would give a right arm for. We really had no need or desire to ever leave – until the option of chasing our dream came along. Since that dream started to seem possible our days have been spent longing to be somewhere else, doing something else, being together, but it was still with apprehension and mixed feelings we wrote out our resignation letters 2 weeks ago. Were we really going to be able to give up this comfortable life? were we being brave? perhaps we were being foolish? So many unanswerable questions but we believed it was a road worth travelling, an adventure we had to have, an exciting journey we just had to take.

Both of our employers had been tipped off a few months ago of our intentions to change our lives so were not surprised when the letters were eventually handed in, but both still couldn’t quite believe that it wasn’t just a pipe dream, that us chasing a new lifestyle was finally becoming a reality, that we would be leaving the life we currently had to pursue the life we wanted.

We have decided that 31st January is our last day of work as we currently know it and the process of recruitment to fill our roles has begun. Phone calls from colleagues around the business are flooding in as the news is reaching all departments and the story telling of our journey to this point, our plans for the future, and trying to answer questions that we hadn’t even thought about happens on a daily basis – several times a day. Apologies to my work family who have to hear it over and over as I enthusiastically tell our story to anyone willing to listen!

The feeling of excitement is very contagious and the news is received with amazement and awe, aswell as slight disbelief at what we are doing. Everyone is very eager to hear the why, how and when, particularly the why. As we explain the reasons behind the move and regale our hopes and dreams for the future, the overwhelming feedback is one of congratulations, envy and the question – “can I come with you?!”

So as we head into the Christmas break and then the last 4 weeks in our conventional jobs in the New Year, we are just a little bit smug that the rat race is coming to an end, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and our greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Will it be easy? – nope

Will it be worth it? – absolutely

The Waiting Game

” … for one who is waiting time feels at a standstill”

… and we waited, and we waited, for what seemed like an eternity. Every day checking emails until at last one popped up at the beginning of February.

The good news was we had passed the online assessment and would be invited for an interview – and to wait for another email to tell us when.

So we waited, and we waited again until in the middle of April it arrived. We had to choose 3 options of interview dates and locations, after a brief discussion we had decided and eagerly sent back our choices, and sat back to wait again.

And finally at the end of May our interview date was set for 13th August, another 3 months to wait.

In the meantime we had 2 weeks in Brittany, a couple of music festivals and weekends away to look forward to, all the time wondering if this was to be the last summer we would be staying on sites as holidaymakers. Next summer we might be on the other side of the fence.

August arrived and a warm sunny day dawned as we set off for our interview. Everyone’s advice was “just be yourself” so we took that on board and hoped they would like us for who we naturally are. We were interviewed separately whilst the other was being shown around the site by the Head Warden. We thoroughly enjoyed the day and could really envisage ourselves in the life and the job role.

On the way home in the car as we each debriefed our respective interviews it was amusing to find that we had given the same answers to most of their questions, although we had not rehearsed anything and of course had no idea beforehand what the interview questions would be. It appeared that it had amused the interviewers aswell!

They had said it would be 2 weeks to wait until we heard next and bang on 2 weeks to the date another email arrived. We were successful at the interview and would be invited for a weekend of work experience. We were asked to give 3 weekend dates when we were available so these were hastily decided and sent back and we waited to hear when we would be travelling to a site.

Not long to wait this time and we had a date set for mid September. The weather forecast was for a beautiful weekend and as we set off on the Thursday afternoon we were excitedly looking forward to a taster of what might be our new life.

We had a fabulous weekend, although it did end up raining on the Sunday. But that didn’t put a damper on our enthusiasm and we tackled every duty and took on every instruction with zest. As guests on the sites as we sit in our cosy vans with a cuppa, or lounge in the sunshine with a long cool glass of something we have all watched the wardens walking around, occasionally stopping to chat, picking up the odd bit of rubbish, and no doubt have all commented ” I’d like a job like that- can’t be hard can it?” But who knew just what was involved behind the scenes, we couldn’t even have imagined what has to be done to keep the site running like clockwork, and to the high standards we have all come to expect, and we had just had a very brief introduction to a small part of the mammoth role of a Site Warden. As we arrived home on the Sunday evening we fell into bed totally whacked but with big smiles on our faces. We had a great sense of achievement and satisfaction and both with no doubt that this was the life we wanted.

The waiting was definitely getting shorter as it was only 2 days later we had the most important email of all – they liked us! We had been offered positions as Assistant Site Wardens.

But the waiting was still not over, we are now waiting to hear what site we will be offered to take up our positions in March 2020.

Watch this space…………..

The Idea

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have”

September 2018 was our deciding moment that it was time our lives were given a shakeup.

We were on holiday in Sardinia with our best friends Michelle and John when they got the news that their house had sold and they could now make their permanent home move to live in Italy. During much celebration of the liquid kind they asked- ” so what are you two planning for the future” We looked at each other, looked back at them, looked back at each other again and realised that that was a very good question and one we needed to work out an answer to.

We had been thinking for some time that we couldn’t envisage ourselves staying in our current jobs until we were officially due for retirement at 67, or even longer if funds dictated. Although they were a secure, comfortable option, we always chased the idea of freedom, travel, and more time together. But what should we do? What could we do?

We still needed a regular wage to pay bills and a mortgage, and an obligation to provide a roof over our youngests head for the immediate future, so “upping and offing” wasn’t a viable option for us at the current time.

We made a tick list of requirements we wanted from our new life, and set about thinking of jobs that could fulfill if not all then most of them.

Although we have been fortunate to visit many countries and stayed in beautiful places around the globe our happy place was always in a caravan/campervan/tent, of which we had rotated through each of them a number of times in our 30 years together. So it didn’t take long before the eureka moment arrived. How about becoming Caravan Site Wardens?

Enthused by the idea we set about exploring what that actually meant. What did the job entail? what skills were required? what were the hours? pay? What did a warden actually do? We had 101 questions and we needed answers. We made phone calls, researched online, visited sites, spoke to wardens and in October headed to the Caravan and Motorhome Show in Birmingham. There we were able to speak to real people doing the real job and living the real lifestyle. It was so inspiring we came away with heads buzzing and a very real excitement that it all might be possible.

November and December was spent doing yet more fact finding, working out finances, exploring our pension options and broaching the ldea with friends and family. Mostly swinging daily ( and often several times a day) between the “shall we- shan’t we” “can we- can’t we” dilemma.

New Year 2019 arrived and what better time to decide to change your life than that. Saturday 4th January was spent applying online. It took 8 hours to fill in all the sections and after several deep breaths we hit the send button.

We had started the journey.

“…and then there is the greatest danger of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later”