COR BLIMEY It's been ages since I wrote here! These last two weeks have taken us from countryside to townside and through a fair few despairs. Here follows a tale of moving on, the sour particulars of which will be familiar to travelling folk across the centuries.
We were quite happily enjoying our as-long-as-we-like stay in the orchard and pottering away at work, barn clearing for the owner, trying to keep out of the rain and even meeting some kind locals with whom we shared soup, when we came across a nasty little knot of hostility which has forced us to leave. However romantically one thinks of this life it never pays to forget that the hostility is always bubbling there under the neatly trimmed hedges and behind the carefully arranged net curtains everywhere we go.
On a sunny January morning on heading out for a walk down the lane, we were rushed at by a snarling neighbour who greeted us with not a hello but "how long are you going to be living there?" .. "it's not very nice for us to have to look at you milling about!" (with extra spit on the italicized words and a dismissive wave of the hand)
Well! Said we.. that isn't a very friendly hello! Who are you? I don't think we have met before. And sorry that you have obviously been harbouring such anger, ("I'm NOT angry" said she)
Could you not have come over and had a chat with us, and talked about your concerns?
"No" said she, "you might have come out raging at me... I mean you just don't know do you... I mean, you might have had DOGS!" But said we, have you seen any dogs? We have been here for a month! We have not made any noise and we take all our rubbish away, we are quiet people, and don't want to bother anyone. It seems that our very presence bothers you very much. "Oh NO" said she "I mean don't get me wrong, I haven't got anything against you personally, I mean I have friends who are gypsies! And I like vintage vehicles" ...
But have we disturbed you in anyway? said we ...
"No" said she ... "But this is the winter.. who knows what you might get up to in the summer!"
And on the discussion went.. she gradually softened as her fear subsided, realising we weren't all she and her fellow gossipers might have imagined, and perhaps feeling bad for her initial attack.. I gave her this blog address and we jokingly told her to watch out because she she might well find herself there!
And so we walked on down the lane with knots in our bellies, feeling very much affected by this blatant dislike.
We had offered to move down to the other end of the field where we could not be seen "milling about" and were hidden by trees, but had to wait until the muddy ground hardened a bit before we could attempt it.
Then next morning we sat with our coffee and the back door open in the cold low morning sun watching the friendly blackbirds hop about our wheels. And we noticed a man, suited and bald, with a notebook, standing perhaps 200 yards from us, staring, staring right in our open door. And talking on his phone. And writing notes. And then he got back into his car and drove away.
Later that day we heard that there had been a phonecall to the kind orchard owner from the council. It was a second complaint which they had had to follow up. (The first had been on the day of our arrival).. Now the orchard owner could have said: they are my friends and this is my land, I gave them permission to stay there for a while. But he is in the early stages of applying for that strange thing that is planning permission. He plans to do up the tumbledown barn that stands in the orchard, and because of this he has to keep his neighbours sweet.
So we had to go.
But we were stuck in the mud.
And we had to wait for a frost.
And all the while we waited, we imagined nasty words, fears and shakings of heads behind all the curtains that twitched towards the orchard. And we felt unwanted. The kindness of our one soup-sharing friend meant all the more to us and by that we were warmed. (Thank you Kate!)
When we eventually did get all our bits and pieces packed up and any toppling items stowed carefully on the floor, the engine started with a worrying judder and billows of black exhaust smoke.
We manoeuvred our house gently between the apple trees and juddered to the church car park just down the road to assess our situation. The juddering was worrying and of course the hole in the radiator is still corked with a bolt. There followed a hearts-in-mouths journey avoiding the motorway to a garage who told us when we arrived that they wouldn't and couldn't work on this size of vehicle. So we limped on to the good old park and ride. And there we remain.
For £2.50 for 24 hours we can be here and bus in and out of town whenever we like... From here we can hunt for garages who will work on our juddering engine and we can sell pictures when we run out of money. I have even jumped on a train to visit my family and left Tui beneath the snowdrifts. It's not as picturesque a spot as we like best, but there is beauty here nevertheless, hidden between the railings and ticket barriers, and nature gloriously singing and unaware of its island-like existence in the middle of a ringroad.
When we were last here we heard from the friendly carpark attendant that there had once been a woman who had lived here for a year. And what to our interested eyes should be parked here on our return but an anonymous looking mercedes camper with a sock stuffed in for a fuel cap. Perhaps this lady might be a different sort of neighbour? Perhaps she has a story to tell? She is a mystery to us... she spends her days and nights in there with the curtains drawn, only emerging to rev her engine at all hours, for some unknown purpose. We have glimpsed her outdoors now and then staring at the sky, or visiting the dustbins, but a hello from us results only in a wordless grimace and a turning away of the head. I wonder about her living in that van alone and in her 70s. What is her tale?
It is easy when you are sensitive like we are for scowls and disapproval to affect you negatively, and make you feel that the world is a dreadful place full of people who should largely be avoided. We have taken great strength from those folks who come and chat and are kind. A lovely blog reader who I did not know presented me with a book on Somerset Folklore the other day whilst out selling! (Thank you Alice!) Such kindesses as well as the cheering ons left by all of you in the comments section here really make a difference. And we also happened upon a spirit-lifting book about off-grid living that is full of interesting tales of folk living gently and cheaply and lightly and invariably getting up noses of neighbours. How To Live Off-Grid by Nick Rosen is an interesting and informative exploration of all manner of ways to escape the rat-race. (It sports the most dreadful jacket cover I have ever seen, but don't let that put you off!) The experiences detailed in this book show that many of the Neighbours Who Complain are in fact moneyed second home buyers from cities who believe that they have bought the view along with their house and anyone altering it by stepping across it is not to be tolerated.
So we are here. Trying to get on with work and other essentials. Tui has been up on the roof today painting sort of rubbery tar stuff over the sneaky leaks and I have been sewing curtains (rather late in the day but there we go) out of old patched trousers and decorators' floorcloth. Whether or not these curtains will be twitched remains to be seen!
We are planning our next trajectory too. I think to combat the inevitable hostility which we will find in every corner, we must be quite forward, which is not in our hermit-like natures at all. We must knock at potential complainants' doors to give them an opportunity to meet us and to allay seeds of fears. We have spotted a secret little leafy lane somewhere which would be a delightful spot to stay awhile, but we feel sure that a dogwalker would report us to the council within a day.. so I plan to make a big sign to hang outside the truck saying THIS IS WHO WE ARE, we are travelling artists, here for a short spell, you can see what we do here at this website, and please feel free to knock with any concerns for a cup of tea and a chat. Perhaps this might weed out the wondering waiverers .. no doubt there'll still be the odd sour-faced narrow-minded person who will not be moved, and sooner or later the council will come. But I have read up on the council's policy for gypsy and traveller encampments and hope to be able to talk openly and sensibly with the council too about our way of life. And maybe, just maybe, they'll leave us for 28 days. And then we'll move on.