Each month, I offer a piece of my current writing on this part of my website. Sometimes, it will be a short story, a longer or couple of shorter poems or a comment piece. Some of these will be about to be published but by coming back, each month, you can try different flavours of my writing…
'The Call of the Open Road'
My, partner, Janice and I have recently become the custodians of an ancient camper van (H reg). It is small and perfectly formed, and sometimes these particular campervans are referred to as the Bedford Bambi. They even (like many other motorhome aficionados) have their own vehicle specific owners club. I kid you not!
All of this coincided with our own domestic removal to our new hillside home, on the edge of a village, with a greater amount of garden. Oh – what a choice. Do we head off for the open road, even if only for the week-end? Or do we sort out the greenhouse’s broken panes to help grow tomatoes for summer salads and autumn bottling as sauces? Such choices forget the boxes which need still to be sorted out, the potato patch still to be dug over or the potting shed’s imminent arrival and erection on a yet to be levelled site.
Yet all the time, work calls us away from the things we want to do to help create the quality of life which we are seeking to achieve. With another book contract happily agreed this past month, the pile of tomes for research wait, piled-high, to be read. The next book is taking shape on this same laptop as I type on this glorious spring day. I am blessed that I can choose the pattern of my days, accepting so much pro bono work, finding a quiet corner of the garden or warm armchair to read in, whilst determining the writing hours at the desk. For Janice, her life is still regulated by ‘the suit’, who says we need you to be here (well, actually there) on certain days between certain hours over which she has no control. Like all her work colleagues, they have just been told to submit their next full year’s holiday requests or they will just “have leave allocated to them as the company wants”; I shall not mention that company’s name.
The call of the open road is freeing and lives in antithesis to the demands of ‘the suit’. No wonder that Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, the Happy Truckers and countless hippies since rejected the latter in favour of the former. Timothy O’Leary’s 1960’s call to “Turn on, tune in and drop out” may have been fine in southern California, Arizona or New Mexico, where one could crash out in unheated squats or live in a decaying RV in a remote mesa. Those of us with acquaintances from Greenham Common, the Newbury bypass, the Beanfield or any of several New Age convoys know of this hardship in surviving the tougher months when battling the weather, the biting cold and the ongoing social opprobrium.
But in the UK, given the growing number of RVs, more ancient campervans, summer surfing communities and the propensity for increasing urban van living (to counter the high costs of housing rental), the call of the road impacts upon many. One cannot just ‘drop out’, when one has mortgages or rent, household bills and/or family responsibilities. Post-modern western living is about balancing priorities and making choices – whatever tugs at your heartstrings. That ‘call of the open road’ cannot be romanticised – it can be tough. My webmaster earns his daily bread, by ‘tramping’ a 32 ton commercial truck each week across Britain, only returning to his home and family at week-ends.
As we take our small campervan (which is in great mechanical and physical shape) on some short journeys to explore its limitations, including the occasional overnight away, we realise its age and our plans mean it is more for byways than the highways. We shall see the country in our forays across Britain (initially), whether going to festivals, or meandering to and fro friends in west Wales, Cornwall or eastern England. Yet, it will also find itself as a temporary home for me as I journey on short teaching tours across northern England or as I string together a few dates of my ‘An Evening with Charles Causley’ (a presentation of this great poet’s life and work) programme. The open road has several calls and many guises.
Fortunately, we live in a country where we are free travel almost unhindered, except for weight of traffic or slower vehicles (potentially us or others in their older campervans). We look forward to our various travels, festivals and the places we shall go. Unlike some, unless we are in Scotland (where statutorily ‘wild camping’ is permitted), we shall be happy to overnight or stay on designated sites, or other places. The call to go where we please and visit new towns or old haunts is now much more alive. We are no longer dependent upon that inexpensive B&B’s availability. What will be or even how much is our thirst for adventure or to pitch up with others for the music, that sense of community or just the craic of conversation, good music and some shared beverages (but only tea on our driving days).
No doubt, we will tell you some more in occasional future ‘This Month’s.