I’m back!

I’m back! It’s been a long time since I posted, and with good reason. I have been van-less since the early autumn. Without getting rant-y and blame-y (not very Zen, man!), turned out I’d been sold a van that wasn’t really “fit for the road” (hashtag understatement). Despite attempts to keep it going, a very definite MOT fail in September meant Daphne was off to the scrapyard quicker than you can say ‘broken heart and empty purse’. Sob.

However, my lovely flatmate provided wine and we worked out that it wasn’t the worst thing ever – having gotten £140 back from the scrapyard, it was kind of like I’d rented the van for the summer which made it not the financial disaster it initially felt like. I hadn’t done any of the structural work in it like insulating/lining it or putting in the bed frame, so there wasn’t loads of time wasted.

I learned some lessons too. This has really helped when buying my new van. Oh yeah… I GOT A NEW VAN!!! Here are the things I learned with the first van disaster and was able to do better the second time around:

  • I knew little about cars and nothing about vans. So in order to ensure I never got d***ed around again and tricked into buying a piece of junk, I enrolled on an evening college course on basic mechanics. There I basically learned how to service a car or light van. This skill is useless seeing as I have no tools BUT it has meant that I know what questions to ask about the brake pads/disc/fluid, and where rust is a structural issue or where its okay if you keep an eye on it. Going into a buying situation and not sounding like a daft wee lassie made me feel a lot more empowered and able to trust my knowledge.
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Me with the ‘Baby Hammer’ at mechanics class back in October – you can call me Thor.
  • The first van needed a lot of work which realistically I don’t have the skills or time to do well. Lining and insulating the back. The seats. The holes in the roof. The new van cost a bit more, but a lot of this stuff is already done for me, which seeing as I work full time in an office, makes a massive difference.
  • I insisted on a proper test drive. Didn’t do this the first time round as I was too nervous of looking like an idiot, so I bimbled around the car park and said ‘yeah that goes’. This time, I managed to feel the engine was going as it should, and also when it didn’t sound right, ask for the appropriate checks and work to be done before I paid the full amount of money. Having experience of driving a van in between times has helped, but I just felt braver and again, more confident in my own knowledge.
  • I did some measurements. In the first van, there was not enough room for my boyfriend to lie flat in the back. It was too short by about 5cm (short for him. It was fine for me). This is fine if we are simply crashing out after a few bevvies at a festival, but we are hoping to do a lot more hiking this summer and the idea of folding oneself up like origami after a long hillwalk was too much to contend with. So I measured Jordan’s height, and did some research online of the maximum load length specification of various small vans. Then I only looked for ones that were long enough to make the shortlist. I was lucky enough to find a Ford Transit Connect (one of my shortlist vans) with a higher roof, so we gained a bit of living space by accident!
  • At the viewing, I went and messed with stuff. Van #1 had so many issues that had I played with it, I’d have known. The biggest one was that we couldn’t open the back doors from the inside (hilarious discovering this trying to get out for a pee in the middle of the night at Knockengorroch festival last summer…!). So this time, Jordan and I went and did all the stuff. I got in the back and closed the doors and opened them. I did planks at the side so I could look under the van (too wet to lie down!). We tested out the folding passenger seat mechanism.

Basically, I’ve actually been given a chance to change things. I’ve read so many vanlife blogs that are about ‘things I would change if I did this again’. Well, I’ve been able to start over without too much financial, labour-based or emotional waste. Soon after I got van #1, I felt like I wished I had gotten a van with a sliding side door as well as just back doors. So this time, I just added that to my list of criteria.

I’ve been able to cut my list of tasks right back to a few key things:

  • Put underlay and carpet/vinyl on the floor.
  • Wire brush and WD40 on the folding passenger seat mechanism so it works smoothly and properly even when we are at a festival and possibly not our most sober…
  • A curtain for between the back and the front for not flashing at strangers while getting dressed in the back (I am considering some way of making this be a covering for the side sliding door too, but haven’t really thought about the logistics or design yet so…)
  • The bed/storage/seat frame – I’ll still be enlisting the help of a pal who can do stuff with wood, but will make a design first.

That’s it! And then make it pretty.

Okay, so a bit of a long post this time, but long overdue! The next one will likely be shorter, but might not be for a few weeks since I’m moving flats (again) in the meantime. No rest for the wicked, eh?!

Keeping kool at Kelburn (sorry!)

I’m still here! It’s been a jam-packed few weeks, I was at Kelburn Garden Party 29th June – 2nd July, sleeping in the van for three nights, and spending the gloriously-sunny days running around dressed as a mermaid in the Fungasm Gameshow. If you haven’t heard of it, you should. It’s mad!

Then I had three manic days in the office before flying to Portugal for a week’s yoga retreat at Omassim, Ericeira. It was absolutely perfect! If you haven’t heard of it, you should. Veggie food, massage, seaside, yoga, meditation, wonderful people…

So while I’ve been a Hippy For About Three Weeks, not a lot has happened to the van. However, since it was absolutely frickin’ roasting the weekend of Kelburn (high 20s?! in Scotland?! More people in the medics tent for sunstroke than alcohol-induced mishaps?!)

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The van gets super hot when parked in the sun. This makes for sweaty sleeping conditions. I’d been wondering what contraption I could come up with to counteract this, then it kind of struck me to just keep it simple…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I spent £2 in Go Outdoors on these window shades, and a fiver on this foil shade thing at Tesco.

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Not particularly special but they do the job! Plus they give a bit of extra privacy so I can get changed in the van without worrying about flashing the folks in the vehicle next door, and they fold up tiny so when driving they fit in the glove compartment.

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Yes, these photos were taken on my street – I was too busy having a great time at Kelburn to take pictures 🙂

I’m aiming to be a little more productive over the next few weeks – I’ve ordered a sample of the material I’m planning to insulate with, and also have the fabric that will be my wall coverings. So hopefully, I’ll have more to report in the not-too-distant future.

Meals on wheels pt. 1

Due to being out and about with work this week, I’ve still not been able to do anything structural with the van. However, a very enjoyable (if rainy!) walk in Paisley/Glasgow green spaces, and Path Condition Surveying training in Fife made the lack of progress worth it!

I wanted to talk about one of the meals that will be a van staple. I actually make this to live in my desk drawer at the office, in case I am running late in the morning and don’t have time for breakfast at home. Because it’s all dry, it lasts for ages, and it’s just-add-hot-water, which makes it ideal van nosh!

Vegan instant apricot and almond porridge

I make this in one of those huge Douwe Egberts instant coffee jars that you get in Costco, mainly because that’s what my flatmates drink and I like that it’s big and sealable. Any airtight container would do but obviously sizes and amounts would be different!

First do your shopping: I go to Real Foods and buy oats which they put in your container for you so you don’t have to buy packaging. I got about 500g for my jar. The ground almonds and dried apricots come in biodegradable bags made from plant-based cellulose, according to the Real Foods website

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Unsulphured apricots (or any dried fruits not preserved using sulphur dioxide!) are better for the environment and also taste good!

Once home, the apricots get chopped up (all 250g), and they get mixed up in a bowl with about 100g of the almonds (I use the rest for cake!) and the oats, and then they get put in the jar.

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I put a banana for scale, but then I realised that just as coffee jars come in different sizes, so do bananas.

To eat, I just put about half a mugful into a mug, top up with boiling water and give it a stir, then put a lid or cover on it and leave for a bit. On travels, it works by just heating gently with water in a pan on your camping stove. Using jumbo oats means the oats keep their shape a bit better, the ground almonds work with the heat and water to make a sort of instant almond milk, and the dried apricots gently rehydrate and plump up, which is v. nice. Plus it’s all-natural, no nasty chemicals or added sugar, and is completely vegan.

If you have other cool breakfast ideas for either the desk drawer or the van, let me know in the comments below!

Patience is a virtue…

…apparently.

Since the last post, I have achieved objectively very little. The van is still in the exact same condition as it was at the end of May. This makes me sad!

I’ve been at work, and doing ‘life’ things like shopping for food (#plant-based!), cooking said food, attending yoga, doing the clothes- and dish-washing, cleaning the kitchen using homemade completely natural eco-friendly products, etc etc, so I’ve not had time to get any work done on the van. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never been off my mind, and on the bus I keep thinking about what sort of cushion covers I’ll make and non-perishable food staples to keep in the van. But before I do those things, I need to make and install the bed system, and before I do that, I need to sort out insulation and look at what needs to be done to the lining. And I have had neither the time nor the tools to do this in the last week or so, so I’m frustrated.

IMG_1522However, I’ve achieved some things that will be useful down the line. I’ve done lots of research (read: moseying around charity furniture shops and on Gumtree freebies) to find out the best options for my seat/bed system. I lined this scarf to make a divider curtain – once I’ve finally installed it I’ll do a post on how I did it. It felt pretty good to use things I already had – a scarf I got on holiday and haven’t used, lining material from my grandma’s fabric stash, thread and ribbon from my own stash – so it cost nothing and is also #zerowaste 🙂

 

 

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A demonstration of the very technical open-and-close functionality.

I used up a load of fabrics that I couldn’t find a use for to make this rag rug (tutorial here) which will form part of my seat cover when I get that far.

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This is what is will look like on a seat (improv.)

I also picked up some new headlights (one of mine is cracked) and this cot mattress (140x70cm) which will be another part of the bed system which I found on Freecycle. I took the bus for both separate pick-up trips, thinking I’d rather not get stuck in Edinburgh rush hour traffic in the van. After sitting on the bus hugging the headlights with everyone else looking at me like I’d nicked them, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson… but no, the very next day I was shoe-horning myself and the mattress onto a different bus, which then diverted, so I had to carry this bulky-but-lightweight thing across town to get it home! It’s a good thing I’m not too bothered what people think of me as I got some seriously funny looks.

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I’m finding the waiting game a real struggle as I’m the sort of person who gets stuff done sooner rather than later, but at least I think I now have someone who can help with the lining/insulation job and is happy to be paid in beer, so hopefully now a bit more progress can be made! In the meantime I’m living vicariously by keeping up with Mike Hudson’s blog Vandog Traveller and also reading his books for guidance on converting the van, as well as watching videos on the ‘Exploring Alternatives’ YouTube channel for inspiration. Defo recommend checking them out!

IMG_1536Oh and I bought this unicorn air-freshener. Jordan thinks the synthetic bubblegum smell is disgusting, and to be honest I’m not the biggest fan myself… but it’s a unicorn!

The story so far (part 2): Maiden Voyage and back to the drawing board

The weekend of 25th – 28th May was Daphne’s first big trip; we drove from Edinburgh to my hometown in South Yorkshire for a family wedding (Friday and Saturday), and then back up to south-west Scotland to squeeze in the final evening of Knockengorroch World Ceilidh on Sunday, before eventually getting home on Monday evening.  Coming in at around a 600-mile round trip, this was our first drive out in the van longer than about 15 miles, and also our first night sleeping in it!

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I haven’t yet got round to furnishing the van, so at the festival Jordan and I slept on one of those semi-inflatable camping mattresses plus a load of miscellaneous bedding we borrowed from the flat.  Obviously not a long-term solution, but fine for one night, and some valuable lessons were learned.

 

 

Small things:

  • We can’t open the back door from the inside as the handle is missing! Have a little chuckle at the idea of two sleepy and rather intoxicated people trying to get out for a pee in the early hours, discovering there’s not a way to open the van from the inside at the back, and clambering over the seats to get out of the passenger door… Hopefully Halfords can provide a replacement if one can’t be sourced from the scrapyard/free internet!
  • Ditto the driver-side seatbelt clicker (I keep getting stuck strapped into my seat) and the bar-thing that allows you to move the passenger seat forward and back!
  • There are holes in the roof where roof-rack bars obviously used to be! Long-term I think I’ll get a roof rack put on as it’ll be handy, but as that’s an expense and not a high-priority one, short-term I have used duck-tape and am hoping for dry weather (I live in Scotland, what could go wrong?!) IMG_1516
  • The cage under the van where the spare tyre should live is completely rusted to s***. I’ve been keeping the spare in the back of the van, but that was no use when I was trying to sleep – note to self, spare wheels don’t make good pillows! So at some point, sooner rather than later, I’ll need to sort a storage place for that.

Big thing:

There is absolutely no way a futon will work in this van – it’s just too small a space for the heavy, clunky movement needed to unfold a futon. I’ve been scouting about on t’interweb and found this conversion project:  http://www.campervanconversion.co.uk/tasks/bed-system/vauxhall-combo-conversion/bed-system so Plan B is to do something similar. I’ll be sourcing the wood from the usual sites so that it isn’t new but repurposed and rescued from the bin. This should give me plenty of space to store the stuff I’m going to need, and still have a sofa-bed system. 1_1

Rant warning – Jordan and I wandered around the campsite at Knockengorroch late on Monday afternoon, and I was genuinely sickened to see just how much stuff had been just abandoned! I know this isn’t exactly a rare occurrence at festivals, but Knock is like, a proper hippy festival! There was me feeling rotten about using single-use coffee cups and plastic water bottles (in the stress to pack for the wedding I’d left my reusable ones at home), when people had just left their stuff in the middle of the field! If it’s broken or empty, at least put it in the bin if recycling isn’t a convenient option, and if it’s still in good working order and you don’t want it, then donate it, but don’t just brazenly litter the beautiful landscape or expect someone else to tidy after you! Aargh!

On the plus side, from the debris I managed to salvage/scavenge this mattress pad thing which will be perfect for part of the bed system, just need to give the covers a wash!

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It looks like a duvet in this picture but trust me, it is a mattress pad thing, it’s just been screwed up in the van and not folded neatly!

I’m going back to posting once a week now folks!

The story so far (part 1): Getting a van and a plan

I had an idea of what sort of van I wanted to go for – Ford Transit Connect or Courier, Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner or Bipper, Renault Kangoo, VW Caddy, and the like. I don’t need to be able to live in the van full-time, just for long weekends, eliminating the need for an integrated stove, sink, shower, toilet, etc. I also need to be able to park it on my street – not easy when I live in central Edinburgh! I just couldn’t justify getting anything much bigger that would use a ton of fuel just to go to the supermarket, and would cost loads in road tax and city parking permit.

I ended up getting a 2005 Vauxhall Combo for £600. What I like about it is that there isn’t a side door, which gives me more scope to use the back of it as essentially a box.

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 She felt like a Daphne, so that’s her name

It has been sat on the previous owner’s drive for the past two years, so is in need of a bit of TLC! My colleague’s partner is pretty savvy with the underside of a vehicle, so in return for me and my boyfriend spending a Saturday weeding and mowing their lawn and painting the garden fence, he worked his magic on the leaky sump pan and the back brakes.

I then had the front two tyres replaced as they had completely had it, and then had the whole thing valeted as it was dusty, rusty, musty, fusty (and other words that rhyme…!) So… ta-da!

Plan A is to get a second-hand futon facing the back doors of the van, and some slim shelves/cupboards (like slimline bathroom cabinets or super-long spice racks) bolted in on top of the wheel arch box things for storage.

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Please excuse my shoddy Microsoft Paint skills 😀

So I’m keeping my eyes peeled on Gumtree, Freecycle, and in charity shops for these things – I don’t want to buy them new as that’s not very zero-waste. I’ll use my sewing machine and stash of spare fabrics for curtains and other upholstery and it’ll be grand!

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P.S. I found this soft toy (cow? pig? cowpig?) in a bag abandoned by the landfill dump, about to be thrown away! So I rescued her named her Daisy and she is now my mascot.

Hi!

Hello, and welcome to my very first blog post! My name is Jocelyn, I’m 28, and am living in a little flat with 4-5 other people (it alters) in the middle of a beautiful city. I’m lucky enough to live in Edinburgh, and to be doing a job that allows me to frequently go all over Scotland for work.

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This is me on Anglesey where I managed to coincide a work trip and a visit to my dad for my birthday. Hi!

For a good few years now I’ve been on a minimalism journey, trying to clear my life of physical, mental and emotional *clutter*, and more recently I’ve been working to stick to a zero-waste lifestyle and a mainly plant-based diet. Phew!

I’m so inspired by the current wave of #vanlife, and would love to do the thing of quitting my job and living in my van and travelling the world. BUT I actually really like my job! So my plan is to take a small van, and convert it so that I can travel, sleep and cook in (or near!) it on weekends for escaping or for festivals.

I’ll be posting weekly(ish) updates on how it’s all going, but as with all things vehicular there will be busy weeks and quiet weeks for progress (as well as life and work too!) so bear with me!