Saturday, 5 October 2013

Time To Surface

Any day now we will have to force ourselves to leave our little corner of Shropshire. We had thought about venturing out there before now, but haven't been able to prize ourselves away. Apart from the effortless and understated welcome we find here, there's the peace and beauty and our continued education concerning all things rural and farmy. We are like wide-eyed aliens here. And the acceptance, or tolerance works both ways, miraculously. What must the beef-farming family have made of us, arriving here for the first time four years ago, with our pet bunnies and our vegetarianism? Whatever they thought, we were entertained, accepted and fed veggie curry!

There's been a lot of rain this week. Perhaps we'll be stuck here. Hey ho.

Plus, the arrival of a new Springer pup might just be the cure for my cynophobia.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

More Reflections

I just found, and made usable in editing, another  couple of images from this year's Rockhill Rendezvous. I can't let this one go to waste, especially since it might be the only one I took when the sun was shining. We had all the weathers this year, but Airstreamers are ready for anything!

I've also posted some more (but possibly similar) thoughts on the weekend on Pete's and my other blog, over here.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Airstreams In A Field

Some of the Airstreamers described to us how they can feel the excitement rise as they travel to Rockhill Rendezvous, and how they feel themselves unwind the moment they enter the farm. What a wonderful reward for us, job done, as they say. We know the magic of this pocket of peacefulness in Shropshire, this is our fourth year of being welcomed here, and we love to see our fellow Airstream enthusiasts soak it all up.

I find it hard to describe why I think these gatherings work. We are after all a disparate bunch of people who get together and mostly get along, simply because we happen to like and own Airstreams. And Rockhill Rendezvous is uniquely laid back. Because we're lucky enough to have been invited to host it on this beautiful farm, far enough away from neighbours and civilisation, we can enjoy ourselves as noisily or peacefully as we like, into the wee hours. The only rules are, enjoy yourself, leave your watches at home, stay up way past your bedtime.

Some of our regulars couldn't make it this year, unfortunately. That meant that we missed out on some impromptu folk music, and a video of the event, for example. But we did get to adopt the Rockhillbillies as our new house band (that's not official, by the way, and Carl had to be bribed and cajolled over a long period!). And possibly my favourite sight of the last two years' events is when people get just tipsy enough to really let their hair down and have a dance. There's nothing more spontaneously joyful than someone who has kept it together finally launch themselves into a boogie, reel or a do-si-do.

Monday, 9 September 2013

With a Little Help...

Three more days until Rockhill Rendezvous kicks off. Yesterday Pete and Carl went to pick up the Airstream stage that is being loaned generously once again by Vintage Airstreams. It always makes a cool and shiny feature in our lovely, old-fashioned marquee. We feel pretty well prepared this year. We always have to work around the weather and Carl's commitments on the farm. He has some very useful heavy machinery that makes lighter work of heavy lifting and  banging in of the giant iron pegs for the marquee. We have also been lucky this year to have some volunteers from the UK Airstreamers community. More are arriving early this week, and some are staying on to help with the clearing up. It's a  lot to ask of people. Everyone has their own stuff going on, we know that, so we count ourselves very fortunate that people have rallied around this year.

So, the stage is in place and getting wired for light and sound. We're having live music on both the Friday and Saturday nights - something fairly gentle and Hill Billy-ish on the Friday, and the return of the popular Cellar Boys, who got us all stomping and making merry fools of ourselves last year.

Now, it's an odd thing, perhaps, to be proud of your loos. Or is it? A couple of years ago we transformed two sheds into beach hut-style features, with actual flushing toilets in them. Every year they get a fresh coat of paint and look as pretty as a pair of outdoor loos can look. A bit incongruous in a field in Shropshire perhaps, and shamelessly using gender stereotyping by painting one pink and one blue. Who cares? Like I've said before, it's just a bit of fun.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Great Start

Well here we are again. It's that time of year when we get welcomed back to the farm and start preparations for Rockhill Rendezvous. There has been quite a lot of Airstreamy travels and gatherings this year, and we like to top it all off in extremely cool style with our long weekend of the most relaxed and friendly camping you can do in a field full of Airstreams.

So we kicked off the prep. with a very efficient team of volunteers and got the marquee raised on Saturday. One couple who came don't even know if their Airstream will be ready in time for the event, but came to help anyway! Those of us who were staying on the farm got to finish off the day with a very scrummy Indian takeaway, eaten in the garden, followed by a visit to the local "workshop bar", which just happens to be at the end of the lane. All extremely civilised and fun and just a day spent with the loveliest and most helpful people you could imagine. We're well chuffed.

Friday, 30 August 2013

A Bumpy Ride

Recent travels have had me on edge. The roads in England have been allowed to become potholed and patched-up and it can make for a bumpy journey. It takes the thrill out of taking to the road, and it gives the impression of a nation letting itself go. Five years ago we travelled around Ireland and found the roads to be in a poor state at the time. When we returned to England you could almost hear the car and Airstream sigh with relief. Now I think ours are even worse. We have spent a lot of time near Cheltenham and I have a mental map of many of the crappest roads in and around the town, but when you move on you have a whole new set of obstacles to avoid. And you can't swerve out of the way with a trailer on the back!

A trip to Wiltshire last week had the added headache of a flat tyre on the car whilst towing along a busy, rural, two lane A road. We had passed a lay-by on the other side and had to reverse back, inch by inch, during any gaps in the traffic. Once we had managed to cross over we then had to empty the contents of our boot in order to release the spare wheel that is fixed below the car. What can you do but grin encouragingly at each other and get through it?

The rest of the journey was one of those south of England routes that keeps passing through little villages, narrowing regularly and twisting its way around the countryside. These roads might be fun to whizz around on a motorbike or in an un-hitched car, but to tow an Airstream along them is slow and requires constant and prolonged concentration. The speed limit keeps dropping for all the bends and the quaint villages. It took us three hours to travel 100 miles.

I thoroughly enjoyed being somewhere completely new, once we had arrived, but the travel itself was not a pleasure, at all.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Summertime Neighbours: Part 2

These neighbours can turn up at any time of the year. They do full-timing in a fully committed and old-school style. They spend most of their time outdoors, and I don't just mean going for lots of walks. They cook outdoors, they craft and work outdoors as much as possible. Part of the year is spent in a teepee next to a stream. This isn't the glamping version with proper furniture and pot-bellied stoves. It can be cold and damp, the ground is a bit hard to sleep on, the smoke from the fire-pit doesn't always rise out through the top. It's pretty basic, and it sounds like they might be ready to build in some comforts before long, but it also sounds as though the challenge of constantly adapting is part of the appeal, as well as living with the senses constantly stimulated by the natural environment, plus the ability to move on when it feels like it's time to do so.

I tend to think I'm lucky to be hardly separated from my surroundings. Even when I'm indoors I see the sky through the skylights, and we have a wrap-around view through wrap-around windows. But I'm such a lightweight compared with these guys.

We just spent a lovely evening in their cozy, green caravan, hearing about their adventures with unconventionality, and eating some intriguing Cotswold cheeses with a smoky chilli paste. On the way back to the Airstream we were enchanted by the Perseid meteor shower.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Summertime Neighbours

These are our neighbour's flowers. We have neighbours in the summertime. During the winter full-timing can be more quiet and solitary, in the summer we meet more long-termers. Well, that's around here anyway. We have found this friendly site with its incredibly accommodating and laid back owner, and due to the projects that Pete has been involved with recently our travels have been short, and usually starting from this same spot.

So it would appear that the combination of a really nice 'landlord', relative peace and quiet  and lots of green scenery brings people back year after year. Our opposite neighbour has been coming here for years, stays for a few weeks and then pops home for a bit to keep and eye on things there and pick up her post. A couple who spend their winters in Spain return here for about three months each summer to catch up with family and friends, attend weddings, that sort of thing.

And I've got used to seeing them. My hermit tendencies have receded just enough for me to pass the time of day, and so when Pete returns from a day of fixing up Airstreams I can let him know that after three years I have learnt somebody's name, they are 71 years old and in training to run a marathon, their next-door neighbour back home just won the lottery, and I've been asked to water someone's plants while they go away for the weekend.

Our clever Gerbera that just keeps on flowering

Hermit tendencies is a slight exaggeration, but when you live in an Airstream you can spend an awful lot of your time explaining what it is, where it's made, admitting that it costs  more than any other caravan, and why. And sometimes that's a lovely thing to do, other times I might just be trying to do my chores quickly and efficiently so that I can get on with my day. So you develop a way of making fleeting eye-contact and giving a short, friendly greeting, just enough not to be rude but brief enough to be able to move on. Often, someone will say, I didn't know they still made them. That happened yesterday and, when I offered my brief explanation it clearly wasn't brief enough and the chap who had started the 'conversation' cut me short and started to walk off. Suits me.

I know this all makes me sound pretty antisocial. But it's a common experience. Ultimately I am trying to avoid a situation that has happened too often, which is when someone, typically a middle-aged man (that's just a fact, not a judgement on age or gender) comes up to me while I'm busy, makes an opening statement like, I bet it takes a lot of cleaning. I say, no not really. He then tells me all sorts of facile misconceptions about Airstreams, or worse, tells me all about his caravan, not noticing that I am not actually asking or agreeing with any of it. He just goes on and on. He might tell me stuff I already know, but he hasn't got the perceptive skills to realise that I know stuff too, or he doesn't care, because he's a crashing bore!

There, that's what can happen. That's what has happened, a lot! And that's what I'm avoiding with my dark glasses or shifty glances. On the other hand you don't want to miss out on genuinely interested and interesting people, because there are plenty of those too, and it can make your day to have an unexpected friendly encounter. And having vented and ranted, I'll just go back to our lovely neighbours and point out that the long-termers and full-timers know about all of this and mostly respect each other's space. So you get a friendly little chat about the weather or a trip out somewhere, then move on. I know that they would help me if I needed it, and vice versa.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Happy Airstreamy Day

The Little Tin Hut website has been through a bit of a transformation recently. It is now the home of information about our mobile Airstream servicing, as well as our shop for Airstream-related goodies. We are aiming to find the most lovely and the most useful of Airstreamy accessories and gifts and I think that we have got off to a good start with these gorgeous cards and some genuine Don Featherstone pink plastic flamingos.

It has been quite a steep learning curve for me, building a website. But it has been pretty interesting. I just had the software that came with my laptop to work with, and it has a lot of frustrating quirks. But in the end I enjoyed that feeling of mastering it sufficiently to achieve what we needed. Of course I wouldn't even have got started without my 'technical advisor' and capable other half, Pete.

I have still been stitching and crafting. Sometimes, a crick in the neck will tell me that it's time to step away from the laptop and I find that making something quietly allows my brain to work in that pleasingly productive and contemplative way. And I have been working on something that will make its way into the shop soon, so watch this space.  

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Airstream Road Trip

One of the main Airstreamy events this summer, so far, has been a trip to Germany with a convoy of British and European Airstreamers. Back in June the destination was a big gathering of Airstream owners in Weilburg, organised by the team at Airstream Germany. As a group we had decided to take our time getting there. Starting with a meet-up in Kent, we gave ourselves a week to get to Weilburg, with two stops in Belgium, meeting and picking up more Airstreams along the way.

It's an interesting experience to travel with others, especially since, as full-timers, we travel a lot, but usually by ourselves. We have become very used to our way of doing things, it's our way of life, and for the duration of a group road trip you have to compromise and try to adapt to the consensus. Well that's the theory anyway. The trick, if you're comfortable with your own company and used to your own space, is to try to strike a balance between doing your own thing and doing group stuff.

I'm not usually a big fan of group excursions, but I do love evenings spent with other like-minded people, catching up on the day's events, lubricated with some wine and beer, and preferably outdoors. We found that 'Happy Hour', or Beer o'clock, got earlier and earlier as the trip progressed. Actually, this was the best rhythm for me. We'd had a lot on our minds before the trip, and knew that we would have a lot on our plates when we returned, so a routine consisting of a bit of travelling, a couple of days of gentle tourism and plenty of al fresco evenings was just right. And after all, the main event was coming at the end of the week. I recall in my previous life as a dancer, our artistic director's advice when we embarked on foreign tours was, "Don't peak too early". It pretty much covers everything, and it still applies.

The Euro meet in Weilburg was a big success. It was lovely to reconnect with friends from the previous Euro gathering that took place two years ago in Venlo, Holland, as well as friends we have met since then. The European community feels like it is starting to gel. We are quite dispersed, but if we meet up every now and then we just might become one big, international family. Airstreamers are meeting up in small and large groups in the UK, The Netherlands, France, Germany and probably beyond. And with blogs and social media you sometimes feel that you know people before you've even met.

Of course the extended family, who we hear from but rarely see, is in the USA. That's where Airstreaming began after all. Right from the beginning of mine and  Pete's travels, back when we were just taking a year off from the crazy, one of our early well-wishers was Rich Luhr, editor of Airstream Life magazine. He and his family have spent several years full-timing on and off in America. Well, we finally got to meet Rich and his wife, Eleanor at the big Euro Gathering. Putting a face to a name doesn't really cover it, we had plenty in common. Comparing stories of Airstream full-timing and organising gatherings, I really felt the difference in scale. It's a cliche that we Brits think that everything is on a massive scale in the US, but it's true. They now have four massive gatherings, all with an "Aluma..." theme. Obviously there's already over 75 years of Airstream love to work with. Rich also gave a slide show about travelling to the National Parks, which he described as the true America. I could see his point. That is natural beauty on a huge scale, which apparently could take you ten years if you embarked on visiting all of it .

The end of the weekend, always sad, was typically melancholy. Some of the Brits left separately, either to return home or to continue their travels in Germany. Our convoy buddies, Dave and Jean had to zoom back for work and the imminent arrival of a new grandchild. We had spent a lot of the trip together and like a soft ninny, I felt the separation. We needed to get back too, but had decided to break up the Weilburg to Calais journey with a stop off in Belgium.

Our site, about 30km south of Brussels was in the grounds of a stately home of sorts. As usual, it looked more impressive in the guide book! I was somehow able to conjure up some rusty French to book and communicate on arrival. Actually, our first choice of site had failed to confirm my attempts at booking by email and phone, which we had interpreted as a laid back way of doing things. On the way there though, as we stopped for a break, it occurred to me that the guide book we'd found them in was two years old and they might no longer exist. A quick check online showed that they were not a touring site any more. So, it was one of those lay-by map-scouring, campsite guide book sifting moments. And that's how we found this odd site with its faded glory that led to an almost deserted array of permanent caravan plots and a collection of tatty facilities. But the sun was shining and we had plenty of Belgian beer to keep up the Happy Hour tradition for two more nights. And, as it turns out, it's good to have a bit of quiet time by ourselves at the end of a gathering. It sort of allows all the buzz and happenings to settle and digest.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Not Cool

The fields around us have been blueish recently. It's a delicate hue. Apparently they are linseeds. I had no idea we needed to grow so much linseed. Up close, the stems dance dreamily in the breeze. I, meanwhile, try to capture the breeze by extending my arms at shoulder level, like an over-heated bird.

Maybe I am an over-heated bird! 30 degrees is not my optimum temperature. Not complaining, I'm adapting. Today I made dinner at 10am while the trailer was still relatively cool. I felt like a Stepford Wife and it really screwed up my day.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Atomic Appliance

My Atomic stove-top coffee machine makes a perfectly strong espresso base for an iced coffee. Yes, we are experiencing heat, finally, and the challenge is how to stay cool and refreshed. Bring on the iconic equipment. The ZipDee awning provides a shady space and the Atomic provides the caffeine stimulation to prevent me from slipping into a siesta-loving languidness.

I nominate this chunkily elegant 'objet' as my full-timer's non-practical indulgence item. For what would life be like if we were ruled by the head alone, without influence from the heart? Well, we wouldn't be living in an Airstream for a start. It isn't impractical, the Atomic can make great coffee once you've mastered some variables, it's just not the most compact coffee maker you could find. But it is the most beautiful. I should know, I have a thing about coffee machines. And, it's aluminium and curvy. Ring any bells?

Recipe for staying cool and alert: 2 teaspoons brown sugar in a sturdy glass (maybe leave the spoon in to absorb some heat and prevent your glass cracking!) Add a shot or two of perilously strong coffee. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Top up with milk and leave for a few minutes to cool. When you can wait no longer, add ice cubes and stir some more.
The result is so sweet and milky that you hardly notice it kicking you in the head. Enjoy.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Sunshiny Blues

We just had a quick jaunt to Spain. We did more driving than anything else, but still had time for absorbing those blue hues and eating muchas de patatas bravas!

I remembered these roadside bull silhouettes from earlier travels. A quick Wiki search has taught me that they started life as a logo for Osborne Sherry (not very Spanish-sounding). Roadside advertising is no longer allowed, but the bull has become a symbol of Spain and has survived. We saw him standing proudly at regular intervals along the A1. You can't tell from this picture, but he has plenty to be proud of.

I have never spent more than a couple of hours at sea and I was curious about the sense of waiting that came over me on the twenty-four hour crossing. Friends recently went on a cruise and informed us that it is common for people to put on a pound in weight per day. I can see how. Eating and drinking is the main occupation. And people start drinking before the ferry has cast off. As a normally queasy sailor I was thankful for the almost freakishly calm sea on the way home.

All the Food Groups!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Glamorous Nomad

One of the charms of moving your home to a different place is noticing the path of the sun in relation to your windows, and how that differs from your previous location. But after the first two days on our present pitch, I hadn't seen the sun, I had no idea how it might be tracking across the sky above a grimy, monotoned gloom. And then, ta dah! Another promise of Spring. I remembered my theory about my perception of the length of winter. At the moment I am convinced that this has been the longest winter ever. Then I applied my theory: It's because we were robbed of summer. The winter after a rubbish summer feels extra long.

Pete is on a course for a few days, which takes place in a suburb of Birmingham. We are staying on a farm several miles further out to the north east and I am amazed to find that there are acres and acres of clay-hued farmland, 14th century castles (privately owned and not open to the public!), and tiny red sandstone villages. Who knew that you can drive the overpass over the M6 and within mere moments you are in rural Warwickshire?

My previous knowledge of the Birmingham area was pretty limited to the dauntingly massive series of motorway junctions and ring roads that seem to surround and engulf the city, separating north from south. Or, as the road signs call it, 'The North' and 'The South'. Birmingham seems impenetrable and sprawling and constantly circled by a sea of motor vehicles. I'm still avoiding it this week, but I have discovered the peaceful contrast on its doorstep.

Our campsite this week is called something Hall Farm. I'm being a coward/diplomat and not naming it properly but you might see how one could have high hopes of a name like that. You might, like I did, imagine a grand estate with a charming little paddock set aside for campers. In fact this whole area is clearly a series of estates with halls and castles, woods and farmland. A search of the history of the area shows ownership of the estate dating back to the 15th century. And I will concede that this is not the time of year to see a basic campsite at its best. An adjacent strip of woods is going to burst with daffodils very soon, so that will brighten things up. But it is basic, which we don't mind at all, but I am judging the site by the fact that it is costing us £5 more per night than our last place, offering us no more, and by the awkwardness and unpleasantness of the black waste point.

It is an enclosed, above-ground tank. You have to climb two steps to access the wooden hatch on the top, once held on with two hinges, long since rusted and useless. And if you are 5ft 3in tall as I am, you have to lift your full black-waste cassette to chest height, rest it on the edge of the opening, carefully and with a very firm hold. Also treating the cap of your own tank as if it were part of an unexploded bomb, lest you drop it into the liquid hell below. Then to rinse, step down to ground level, reach several feet to the other end of the tank to grab the hose, rinse, climb back up, etc. Glamping my arse!

Apart from that, it is indeed peaceful and remote-yet-handy. And money for old rope for the farmer.

Mini moan and griping aside, it has been tingly and exciting to move to a completely unknown area again. Out of necessity we have been staying in one area for weeks, sometimes months at a time, and it has been lovely to make friendships and connections and to get comfortable with the familiarity of the roads and day to day facilities one relies upon. But there was a time when we moved every four or five days and got used to never really knowing our way around. After almost two years of exploring the country we were surprised to find ourselves in one spot for two whole weeks. And there are still places we haven't seen, which is great. For some reason we missed out Yorkshire completely.

We had a tricky time getting to this site. The junction we thought we wanted didn't have an exit on the bit of motorway we were travelling on. It took a couple of rethinks to find a way off! But finally here and set up, fairy lights on, cup of tea in hand I said, "Wherever we go, we're always here." You know, after all that, we are still at home.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Seasonal Musing

So far this winter has been a bit more challenging than previous ones in the Airstream. When we were still in self-imposed sabbatical mode there was a touch of charm and romance to most aspects of living in a trailer, and being nomadic to a greater or lesser degree. And I still relish a less conventional lifestyle. I never did aspire to an average existence. But I have found that, when life becomes more laden with serious or emotive diversions it is a little bit harder to engage with the charms that had previously shone a glow over everything. They can become time-consuming extras, chores. I'm talking about stuff like the fetching and carrying of water and waste, the need to put stuff away and not always have it instantly to hand. Little things really, that can eat into your day when you're just trying to get on with something.

Weather matters too, and the length of the days. I don't mind the snow, and I don't mind too much having to thaw the taps and negotiate icy tracks to get to them, as long as it's just for a couple of days. Plus, our 'landlord' Dave has recently built a unique little heated wooden structure around the fresh water tap so that we never have to do the traipsing thing with jugs of warm water again. But like many parts of the country, the ground here was already saturated, and the thaw and subsequent rain has made everything muddy. And 'Wet Keep Off' signs are multiplying on the campsite. Not that you would want to walk on the grass, the ground beneath it has the consistency of room-temperature butter.

I can project forward in time slightly and envisage a lighter, warmer Spring when the prospect of enjoying a view across a pine covered hill, or a rocky coastline can be savoured from outside rather than in and behind glass. It's only just February and those days are a way off yet. But the merging of indoors and out, and the changing view on your doorstep is something to anticipate.

And by the way, the picture is not of us. It's a nearby farmyard with a vintage Airstream awaiting some TLC.