Lost in Lockdown

We have just completed another month in lockdown (69 days to be precise and counting) and it has been, well, uneventful really. Sunshine has been endless, day after day of clear blue skies, occasional fluffy white clouds and light breezes, it certainly has convinced us that the South has better weather than we are used to hailing from half way up the Country in the North Midlands. Living our life 90% outside that makes being on the South coast a definite bonus. Considering there has been three Bank Holidays since the lockdown started its been hot hot hot here, a most unusual occurrence in British weather history. Steve is chasing the shade between the awning and the kitchen/bathroom pods, and I’m bobbing between one chair in the sun and one chair in the shade when it gets too hot even for me. Can’t even begin to imagine how different lockdown life would have been for us so far if the weather had been typically British, and we had been confined to the caravan and awning listening to wind and rain on the roof. Not half as pleasant is all I can say.

Empty pitches ready and waiting for members return

As we look around us surrounded by all the empty pitches, reading on social media how fellow caravaners, motorhomes and campers are missing out on being able to use their outfits, we are aware of how lucky we are compared to those who haven’t been able to enjoy the freedom of being away in their treasured home from home yet this year. The site should have been full to bursting this week with us run off our feet ensuring every blade of grass was in its rightful place and with a cheery smile and wave being dished out to all. Instead we have a very quiet back garden, we can hear every bird’s song, every fox’s bark and owl’s hoot – of which there are many. It is so quiet we even heard a nightjar calling which was a first for me. There is a lot of wildlife on the site that wouldn’t normally be so brave at showing themselves if there were people around. A family of deer are enjoying living in the copse right in the centre of the site, rabbits and hares are basking in the late evening sunshine nibbling the daises and buttercups on the play field, moles have claimed the tent area showing their presence by the many mounds of earth hills that appear overnight, pheasants stalk about the ferry pitch area and strut their stuff along the service roads. There are three species of woodpecker hammering in the trees overhead, Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted and Green. Blue tits, Great Tits, Finches of all descriptions, Thrush, Wren, Jay, Robin to name but a few that visit the bird feeders and of course Rooks that give the site its name sit on the fences keeping watch over their namesake. The glorious sight of Red Kite and Buzzards soaring overhead waiting to swoop down to catch their prey always makes you stop to look up and watch, mind you with Belle now living on their patch the rodent population is seriously scarce so they might be going hungry.

I have always had a fondness of wild flowers, seeking them out and learning their names from an early age whilst exploring during caravanning weekends in Devils Bridge Wales. When your parents caravan only had electric in the later years, never had any tv signal, mobile phones weren’t invented and books were the only source of information, many evenings were spent looking up the days flower finds, copying and colouring in the drawing and cataloguing where it was found. Oh what a simple pleasure that kept me occupied for hours, now I just take a photo on my mobile and within seconds its filed away on a ‘cloud’.

We are still crafting to while away the time, I’ve had a go at quilling, inspired by Kirstie’s Carry on Crafting program, Steve has moved on from drawing sailing boats to trying his hand at perspective street scenes and outlines of the female form – we shall say no more on that subject, just that I haven’t had to be a life model yet thankfully! He is now learning French and Spanish so our conversations may get a bit limited in the near future if I don’t keep up with him. He does grasp it quickly to be fair so that will stand us in good stead for our adventures in Europe once we are allowed again.

Quilling projects

Following the easing of lockdown to enable us to travel further afield we made the 340 mile round trip journey to home and back in a day. We needed items from home that we originally thought wouldn’t be needed for a while as we planned to be going back home plenty of times to collect them. Summer clothes weren’t initially even on the ‘leaving home list’ as it was February when we left with no glimmer of warmer days on the horizon, so when lockdown arrived along with the sunshine we were totally unprepared clothes wise. A trip to Tesco, being the only shop open to sell clothes alongside food, and being lent items by the other site managers got us through for a few weeks but we longed for our own favourite summer attire. Steve was also desperate for his bike and I wanted my mini sewing machine to have a go at various little projects. It was a flying visit to home to see Mitch and Chloe and the house. It still has a roof on so we are very proud of them for managing that! Neighbours were a bonus to see on the drive (you know who you are!) and a great socially distanced catch up was had. A socially distanced visit was then made to both Dads, then onto Jess, Simon and grandson Harry. Very strange and sad not to be able to hug our family but a necessity to keep everyone safe. We had a good journey back to site with a car packed to the roof of more ‘essential stuff’ and arrived back weary but very glad we had been able to get to see our loved ones even if it was for just a few minutes each and from the end of the driveways.

Days blur from one day to the next and we lose all track of time, day and date. How hard are things going to be to conform once again to a structured day of work life? Very I think. We are having a taste of retired life but we know luckily with the bonus of still being paid – although currently furlough pay- but a full wage is still a necessity for a good few years yet. Some days we quite like being semi retired but other days we really need to get back to a new normality and get on with what we came here to do.

Catch up with us next time as we go into our third month of furlough and semi-lockdown. Hopefully we will have some news about site openings and life resuming in a new normal way.

Lockdown Life

As you know from the last blog the majority of the CAMC sites network were closed on 22nd March, we waved the last member off site on the 23rd but as we were paid up to the 31st we were still duty bound to work our allotted hours until the last day of the month. So even though it was a nailbiting few days and many hours were spent running through various scenarios as we didn’t know quite what was going to happen to us come the 1st April, we carried on with the groundworks, cleaning, painting, office work and generally keeping the site looking its best. It was a strange sight after all the hustle and bustle of the last 9 days to see the pitches empty with no-one to wave and chat to as we went about our daily duties.

Empty pitches

Confirmation came that we were going to be furloughed and we had the option of remaining on site here or going back home for the duration. It was an easy decision to make which was to stay put here, this was now our home and we love it. We felt it wouldn’t have been fair on Mitch and Chloe for us to descend back on them and interrupt their daily routines just as they are beginning their life living together, and we are perfectly happy in our own little space with less housework, less cooking and less washing to do! So at the end of the day on 31st March we hung up our boots and uniform not knowing when they would be worn again. However long lockdown was going to be in place for the Club had already given us a date of the 30th June that the sites network would be closed until, so currently 1st July is our target to reopen. We watch and wait every day for a further update on this.

1st April, April Fools Day, and it wasn’t a joke – we really were sitting here in our caravan looking out at a deserted site and not allowed to touch a blade of grass, sweep a pitch or even answer the office phone. The gates were closed and locked top and bottom of the entrance drive and we were in effect cut off from the outside world, our ‘household’ consisting of the 6 of us, being Steve and I, the 2 other site assistants and the 2 site managers, who had all elected to stay here aswell. It was the first day of a new normal that didn’t feel very normal at all to any of us, this certainly wasn’t how we expected our first year of our new life adventure to be panning out, but we are in the same situation as most people in the UK and worldwide and in fact feel we are a lot better off than a good many. We have a safe haven where we can isolate but still be immersed in the surrounding countryside and appreciate nature and all the therapy it has to offer.

We have been able to explore the immediate surrounding area of the site on foot, which is something that we probably wouldn’t have had the time to do during the normal open season, any time off and we usually head to the coast. Rookesbury Park is situated in the middle of Hundred Acre Wood which is part of the larger Forest of Bere. A gate leads out of the site into the wood which is currently carpeted in bluebells, I have spent many hours strolling through the trees and exploring the pathways in the quest for the perfect bluebell photo. Through the wood a path leads to Wickham village via an approx. 40 minute walk down onto the Meon Valley Trail, a disused railway line. The original 22.5 mile railway was opened in 1903 and then closed to passengers in 1955 and freight in 1968. Its most significant place in the history books came in June 1944 at Duxford Station (just a couple of miles North of us) when Winston Churchill met with his war cabinet, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle in a secluded station siding to finalise plans for the D- Day landings. Tens of thousands of troops were camped in the area and the Leaders went on a morale boosting tour before returning to the Station to reboard the train. The 11 mile section of the railway from West Meon to Wickham was transformed in 2015 into a multi user route for walking, cycling and horses and connects with the South Downs Way. It passes under several bridges, through tunnels of over hanging trees and opens up into sunny open stretches to views of surrounding fields and villages. Butterflies flutter along beside you as you walk, busy bees buzz, all manner of birds attempt to out-sing each other and patches of bluebells, celandines, primroses and wild garlic are glorious in the grass at the sides of the trail. We have walked a few miles both North and South on the trail so far, and am building up to the whole stretch!

Meon Valley Trail

Immediately to the right of our entrance gate off the road is a Forestry Commission area of the Forest of Bere known as West Walk. It has picnic areas, a woodland adventure play area, den building area, off road cycling trails and miles of walking paths through open spaces, heathland, farmland and woodland. It also connects directly with the Meon Valley Trail so we have several accessible options to access the area. We have explored 2 routes of this Forest so far and look forward to finding many more in the coming weeks/months.

Plenty of trails to explore in Forest of Bere

The weather has actually been amazingly good since we stopped working so the non walking days have mostly been spent sitting in the lovely sunshine. Can’t believe how quickly they fly by when really we are doing very little other than reading, watching tv and snoozing. The first week Steve was a bit unsure what to do with himself, he spent the time milling about and frustrated that he couldn’t cut grass, which had become his favourite job on site – nothing to do with the power of being in charge of the ride on tractor of course! I have hardly ever had time just to please myself without having to sacrifice something I really ought to be doing, so this was quite a revelation for me and I am enjoying every minute! Thankfully I had brought some of my crafting kit back with me from the 2 days we went home just before the lockdown came into force so I am in my element having now got the time to devote to this. Had I known lockdown was coming I would have loaded up with alot more bits and bobs from home as now I’m frustrated that i’ve got all the kit I need for more projects but its 200 miles away and I just can’t get to it! Thank goodness for Amazon and Ebay, they are delivering practically on a daily basis to the site as we all turn our hands to new crafts, ideas and projects to keep us occupied. Steve has now settled down into daily furloughed life and is spending his time running, reading and learning to draw. Ships are the current subject matter and I must say he is doing very well, I have commissioned one that can be framed so the pressure is on to get it just right! I have been making cards from handmade paper which is what I used to do for my @gallery12 previous life, the subject matter of those has changed to caravans with the hope I might sell them in the site shop at some point. Also I have had a go at felting which is something that has been on my ‘stuff to try’ list for a while, and am quite happy with the progress on that craft so far. I have made flowers with needle felting and a little bag, and a seascape and landscape that I will embroider on at some point when further supplies arrive from Ebay! I also had a bash at crochet but have to report at this current moment its not something I have mastered, I can do the stitches ok but just cant get my fingers coordinated to hold the wool correctly, and it actually must be quite painful for a practised crochet-er to watch me! Still there’s plenty more time to get to grips with that one – hopefully practise makes perfect or at least an average attempt.

Papercraft cards
Felting makes so far

Belle has settled into caravan life easily and enjoys coming and going as she pleases in and out of the awning. Even when we batten the groundsheets down thinking we have her contained she manages to find a way out of the smallest spots to escape and go on her explorations. She happily follows Steve around the site and even up the driveway to the top gate and back just like a dog would travelling for miles on her little legs. Sadly the rodent population of Rookesbury will be very depleted whilst Belle is on site, she is an ace mouser and loves to bring her catch back to show us. Most are still alive and are carried in her mouth back to the awning unharmed so we are able to confine Belle and release the poor little creatures back into the undergrowth, hopefully they do survive and their little hearts don’t give in due to the fright! This is a daily occurrence usually just as we are sitting down at teatime, so everything turns into chaos as we chase Belle, chase the mouse/vole and return it to freedom to live another day, and stay out of Belles way in the future.

Belle keeping an eye on her territory

After a month of blue skies and warm sunny weather it has now turned showery, windy and much cooler so we are spending our time in the awning rather than outside, and occasionally in very windy wet weather retreating inside the caravan. Thankfully we have a great space in the awning and its set up to be a very comfy and roomy lounge and eating area. It has led us to think that you don’t actually need a lot of space to live comfortably and wonder why the majority of the population (us previously included) crave bigger properties, more rooms, vast areas of floor space, bedrooms that are never used except to store an excess of shoes and clothes, and one for “just in case anyone comes to stay” -which they never do. It has certainly changed our outlook on life as we can now see that living simpler with less clutter, less possessions and the stresses that come with it is the way forward, and at this moment can’t actually see ourselves wanting to live in a conventional house again. Oh dear, as I write this we can’t actually hear ourselves think for the sound of hail on the roof and thunder in the distance! Not to worry, the blue sky will be back again in a minute and serenity will return, we’ll be able to hear the birds singing, see the leafy trees gently swaying and the sun will bathe our little piece of heaven again right here.

Catch up with us next time as we go into our second month of lockdown and furlough.

Bluebells in Hundred Acre Wood

(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…..