Firsts…

So last week had a ‘first’ experience for me – you know those showers in motorway service stations that you pass momentarily wondering who uses them, well that’s me now. In between my 4 days at Cwmnewidion Isaf and camp there was a need in social health terms for me to wash. Crocs particularly come into their own in motorway service station showers, mmmm.

Tried to buy a woolly hat in Narberth (Pembrokeshire) which is now so twee that linen cupcake doilies are more prevalent than woolly hats. There are 3 different shops selling cupcake making tools on the high street. Surely we have reached the nadir of consumerism when in rainy west Wales it’s easier to buy cupcake accessories than outdoor clothing.

I left Jo and Rui’s last Monday (30 April) after a joyous weekend chez eux dodging some brutal weather. It was lovely to hang with them all and the girls who are all gorgeous. We get on very well as I swoop in, do fun, then leave before the novelty wears off so can cultivate a bit of a guest celebrity status.

Rui and I recced an abandoned farmhouse with lovely outbuildings and some fields and woodland, perfect. But probably unobtainable with Monmouthshire prices but he’s on the case of finding out who owns it…

On Monday I wended my way up to Cwmnewidion Isaf to help out with the Fire in the

Joe, some pork burgers and Buirski’s bbq

Mountain set up. The crew grew throughout the week and we dabbled with cold and some

rain. We cleared, built, dismantled and remantled and ate more home grown organic pork from the farm than is strictly recommended but my was it delicious.

we built a bridge

I left early Friday morning to wing my way to near Swindon for 3 days FSC camping with 50+ kids and 40+ adults. If only I hadn’t had such a long journey I would have stopped to investigate a pretty intriguing sign which read “Giant Baby Rabbits for sale”… Vic and I discussed the best van pet and both got slightly freaked out by a baby rabbit growing to the size of my van. Maybe a normal sized one.

A beautiful weekend of energy, enthusiasm, mud, rain, cold, singing, campfires, food, fun and general joy.

firelighting

It’s always a pleasure to come together with the special folk of FSC who pour their everything into making camp just as much as it can be for the kids and for ourselves. Nice. A huge joy to share this with my neice and nephew who camped for the first time and though found it challenging had a ball.

I’ve spent the past couple of days at their house de-mudding, washing and visiting my Grandmother and being serenaded by their unique renditions of camp classics. Ed is particularly enamoured of a pretty dark song dealing with workers rights and health and safety in the chemical industry (Process Man) – it does have a stonking tune.

how to hold a meeting FSC style

I hadn’t wanted to come back to London before June but being so close it seemed crazy not to take advantage of some warm and dry before I head off to my next wwoofing destination near Welshpool at the end of the week. My lovely grandmother (who will be reading this as she’s a very competent silver surfer at the age of 90) had a bit of a turn a week before I left so a visit when close to the big smoke was an important thing. I found her in fine fettle which was lovely. I also had a bit of a London tourist moment which was good – I’ve been meaning to visit this museum in Notting Hill for ages but it’s taken me leaving London to make it. It’s very nostalgic seeing crisp packets from when you were 5…

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Into The Wild…

Thursday 26 April 2012

Something about the design of the van’s roof reverberates at a weird frequency in the wind (which is pretty constant here) and it sounds like a hardcore drum and bass sound system a field and a half away.

There are three mystery knobs under the driver’s seat of the Fridge which both Honest George and the RAC bloke who checked the vehicle out for me had said weren’t connected to anything and that I should ignore them. They have been partially identified and one, rather vitally, switches on the charging for the leisure battery. As with all revelations about this van this was great news for roughly 32 seconds before the auto electrician said, “Well we’ve identified it, but it’s a bloody stupid design.” But I’m slowing whittling down the list of van kinks and at the moment there’s just the gas ignition on the fridge and the mystery blowing fuse left to solve.

Caz and Gerald and the view from the veg field

I’m on a slight tilt in the van today as I haven’t tried the levelling wedges yet. That wasn’t a psychological metaphor. I’m fairly stable in my sanity. A bizarre coincidence was revealed today though; my uncle Anson is actually in partnership with Gerald who owns the farm, they have recently formed a hemp growing cooperative together. So I’m more connected in the wild, wild west than I previously thought.

In a city with everything at your fingertips, your fingertips quickly become tentacles as they get excitedly drawn into lots of pies, (a cobbled hotch potch of metaphors there). This is both a wondrous and an exhausting thing. The simplicity of the rhythms of this life are good. Whether it is sustainable for someone so city centric we will see. At some point we may reach peak Kate where the reserves of energy I’m tapping into run out. It’s a challenge to be so self contained but this is the end of my stay at Caerhys, for now, I’m sure I’ll be back, Gerald and his passion are very inspiring, so hopefully some recharging with feisty Fire in the Mountain folk ahead.

Mally

CAMPER VAN TOASTIES! I bought this gas ring sandwich toaster in a car boot about 10 years ago and it’s been waiting for it’s debut which I’m excited to announce was tonight. Smoked cheddar and home grown green tomato chutney toasties are mighty fine.

sandwich toaster

Today’s Tally:

1 bowl of porridge

1 puppy tickled (quite a lot)

3 auto electricians scratching their heads at the inventive wiring in my van

4 mini sausage rolls and a big lump of fudge (all local and sustainable so definitely good for you)

281 onion sets planted

10 rescued Escallonia shrubs planted

2 toasties slightly burnt but lava-ously melty

Saturday 28 May

Was hoping to meet up with a friend of Andy Prag’s yesterday evening but it didn’t work out and I had a bit of a bereft moment. I’d focused on the evening as a fun and sanity respite. These 2 very independent weeks at Caerhys have been hard. I’m entirely capable of it and I really enjoy my own company but input and stimulation from others is my fuel. There have been some brilliant moments but it’s just that bit too isolated for me.

rocking the jean pantsuit Pembrokeshire stylee

Was this my Into the Wild moment? The realisation of the tortured protagonist that community is essential and it can’t be done alone. At least I wasn’t on the wrong side of a swollen wintry Alaskan river when I realised, just the wrong side of Haverfordwest.

My port in this storm was Tessa and Nick’s. They fed me spag bol and tucked me up in a real bed after a proper hot shower (I had hot showers in Caerhys  but they were in an unheated stable block with horse shit on the floor so not that relaxing after a hard day in the field).

Anticipating that the Fire in the Mountain work week might be quite tough in this weather I’m stalling slightly in my ascent up country to Aberystwyth and stopping off with Jo and Rui in Tregare, Monmouthshire tonight. A couple of days of smiley folk will recharge the self sufficiency batteries I hope.

It’s a weird old thing I’ve set myself up doing. When I was a freelancer I never liked the new kid in school bit when starting new projects. Having to establish yourself both professionally and socially within a new group of people each time was hard and it made me construct a carapace that I’ve spent a good few years dissembling. So I’m curious as to why I’ve created an adventure with this very feature at it’s heart. I’m hoping that my own levelling wedges are more proficient than in the bad old days of grumpy Kate.

the modern farmer on his iPhone

beautiful 'black russian' kale

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week one of the rest of my life…

Saturday 21 April 2012

That’s a terrible title but it sort of fits the transitional nature of this week. After a frenetic, busy week packing up, saying goodbye and leaving London, the pace of life on a small Pembrokeshire farm has brought me firmly down to earth, literally and figuratively. The planting of 4000 onions and a full day potato picking has emphatically earthed my body physically and the mind is slowly adapting to the pace of this new phase.

It’s been a slight culture shock and I don’t have the best Wwoofing companion in Anne who isn’t chatty in French let alone in broken English so there’s no banter or exchange to help me through the work or play… The hosts leave the Wwoofers to their own devices after work which can be great but also means in this quite isolated spot, my only company of an evening is Anne the monosyllabic one.

I do like the fact that I can tally the week up in quite simple terms – the number of; things planted or picked, episodes of 30 Rock watched on DVD, potato crates mended, loaves baked, market stalls run, conversations had…

For muppet fans out there can I just go a little wild for the 30 Rock scene (season 3) when  Kenneth’s (naive, country boy in big smoke) view of the world is illustrated by everyone else being a muppet. I love the muppets and am starting a campaign to reclaim the word from the current negative conatations out there. “You muppet” should be a compliment.

I fixed my water tank which rocked pretty highly on the self sufficiency scale and also got a nice man from Pembrokeshire Caravan Care – a mobile service – to say useful things like, “I’d never buy one of these” and ” one of the worst vans VW built”. He was helpful on the subject of my leisure battery; it’s either not getting or not holding charge, a job for an auto electrician to determine. He also didn’t know leisure batteries that small (45 Ah / Amp hours) existed or were of any practical use and that there was absolutely no way a bigger one would fit in my van. A raft of opinions on offer that were helpful on the overall knowledge scale but also played directly to some basic fears I still have about this vehicle. Which I love of course, but in this transitional phase, learning about the van is one of the character building things that I haven’t quite got the objectivity to look back on with fondness yet.

It will be very good to spend some time at the Fire in the Mountain work week and then on camp. Both are communities of folk who work together in such a vital way. It’s all about cooperation and interaction. It’ll be a good recharge of people energy, while exhausting other reserves.

Gerald and his son Caz who run the farm are fantastic. Funny, friendly folk who approach life with a grin. Gerald has created something special here, a community organic farm model created after he sold off his dairy herd. The members share the responsibility and the risk of his farm, often this model is used for communal growing space. And Gerald’s being very inventive with diversification – he’s hoping that this will be his first year for a hemp crop.

So it’s 6.30pm on Saturday night in Haverfordwest and the Friars Vaults (only place I could find with wi-fi) is starting to fill up a little so I’m beating a retreat. Got a leek and mushroom risotto on the menu tonight and might try to find a little wild spot to camp up in, thought I don’t really know how… Do you just try and be unobtrusive and hope no one notices you? I’m in a moving fridge, how can they not notice me?

Well we’ll see. It’s very nice to have my house on my back though. I think I just did my final part of stage one sorting of stuff in the van today. When I got the van, my mum said not to move anything once I’d put it there or I’d never be able to find it again and I panicked and left everything in boxes. It now all has homes and I’m not entirely sure where anything is. Apart from the large bag of coins from the car boot 2 weeks ago that I’m still lugging around. £15 in 5ps anyone?

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Monday 16 April 2012

Pics at the bottom – can’t quite handle wordpress formatting after a day in the field.

Official day one of Kate’s trip comes to you thanks to the generosity of the following corporate sponsors:

  • The Colour Flooring Company (Lena) for the donation of kick-ass tangerine vinyl flooring which is now protecting, well hiding, the original 80s nylon carpet

And…

  • The People Speak (Mikey and Rick) for the donation of a massive roll of the best gaffer tape in the business (MagTape ‘professionelle klasse’) which I used to mask the edge I bodged when cutting the vinyl. Just one of many uses to come I’m sure. Thanks also for the microphone windshields, which will be of great use here.

So yeah, as feared I’m teetering on a Pembrokeshire cliff in the rain with a bitter wind coming off the sea. A few miles north of St. David’s just outside the the village of Berea at the Caerhys Community Supported Organic farm.

I’m staying in the van and finding my groove (I thought I might be in a caravan this week but it’s occupied). Each bit of her I get to know a bit better seems to be paired with something I discover I need to get fixed. Yesterday revealed a mystery (unlabelled) fuse that keeps blowing, so something is shorting – probably to do with the gas ignition on the fridge as that’s not working. But I’m hooked up to the mains here so the delicious organic untreated milk for my morning porridge is beautifully chilled.

Also perfectly chilled was the mini bottle of cava the lovely Lisa donated to the cause. Enjoyed as a cocktail mixed with home made sloe vodka on Sunday night to accompany the first meal I cooked myself in the van; leek omelette with maple smoked porcini with a smidgeon of amazing air dried pork. The pork was grown by my aunt Tessa about 20 miles away and charcuteried thanks to my brother Mark at at the award winning Trealey Farm in Monmouthshire. A pretty classy first meal I think. I’m determined to be as inventive as I can be with 2 gas rings and a grill. I brought my cast iron chappati pan with me to make stove top pizzas and flatbreads. I may be a little overloaded with kitchen equipment, I was slightly terrified it would be impossible to stop it all rattling but it was fine on the motorway. But I now understand why Dan insisted on decent sound system – a good stereo can at least stop you trying to identify the panoply of new rattles that appear while driving.

Moment of the drive from London to Pembrokeshire on Friday 13th: crossing the Severn Bridge, such a beautiful structure it always fills me with joy, in the glorious sunshine with O Happy Day blasting out.

Last week was exhausting, packing up my flat and saying my farewells, all with the vague van anxiety backdrop as I’m not familiar with it’s quirks yet so I have to learn on the way. It was very lovely to start the trip off with a teeny but important family event, my aunt Tessa’s wedding to Nick on Saturday. It was a day of 4 seasons, but was really lovely and smiley and had the full spectrum of activities from the fastest hen party ever with sloe vodka shots at 9am. A really warm and charming ceremony at possibly the least atmospheric venue ever conceived, the Haverfordwest registry office. Then back home for delicious canapés, champagne, lobster, sticky toffee pudding, and the Grand National. Some evening fishing and cheese toasties rounded off the nuptials. T’was very special to be able to celebrate with them.

A quick nod to the individual donors who sent me on my way last week with various brilliant mini gifts. Chas, the extraordinary cactus is dashboard loaded. Dan, bondage cow is strapped to the bonnet – and thanks for the stereo and speakers, A-May-Zing. Dan built me freestanding speakers for surround sound DVD action and general van disco action. She’s got pretty bouncy suspension I’m looking forward to put to work. Lisa’s miniatures make my little fridge look like a minibar, and once I’ve got the Vegas visor on, I feel like miniature cocktails might be the only way forward. And of course, Lottie’s Japanese 3 legged crow who portents good adventures for its new owner.

This week I think is about van teething, working out what I need (list includes fan heater, doormat and Velcro at the moment), screwing bits back on that fall off and making friends with the Pembrokeshire Camper Maintenance Man who is mobile and maybe able to solve my fuse problem and the fact that when I try to fill my water tank, the water just pours straight out of a broken tap… ho hum.

This week is also about adjusting to my new pace of life. After all the excitement leaving London and so many people being encouraging and lovely that this was a good and wondrous thing to be doing, I slightly bounced into today a little tigger like. The reality is that sowing around 400 courgette and squash is pretty dull and though it’s been fairly dry today, it’s been really windy and we’re very exposed here. I’m due to stay here for 10 days, which may well be enough at this time of year. It’s still pretty wintry here with a brutal wind shaking the van right now.

The farmers are amazing – Gerald and Caz, more about the community supported farming model later.

It was most definitely spring in London, I even saw some very early Wisteria out before I left but it’s most definitely not spring here yet. The plan is to head up to a Fire in the Mountain work week near Aberystwyth at the end of next week (27th) and then on to a May bank holiday children’s camp. I’m really excited about camp as it’ll be the first time I’ve camped with Ed and Rosa my nephew and niece but also nervous about how they’ll take to the unbounded reality of FSC.

So today has been a gentle way in, only about 3 hours work on the farm so I fitted the tangerine floor this afternoon and started some writing. The van is cold and is being buffeted in the wind right now but is really snug and friendly and I love my new floor. Off to have a shower in Ann the French Wwoofer’s static caravan while the bread bakes. Quite excited about a sausage and lentil casserole sometime this week. All the meat and dairy is from local farms but is sold in a hokey honesty shop from our farm.

So it looks like I need some guidance as to where to head in May. Any thoughts folks? Maybe Somerset… Maybe somewhere further south or at least inland until winter ends!

And of course I forgot to give a quick mention to my snowmen friends who are joining me once again on my travels. They last accompanied me to Chile and Bolivia.

Kate x

Tessa and Nick

view of sea with 3 legged crow...

Abereiddy Beach

a stone wall in the harshest of spots with a ridiculous array of plants happily clinging on

farm grown leeks and Rose donated chopping board

a 'slava'

parked up at Caerys Farm, Berea, St David's

              

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The Fridge

ImageSo after many miles and a couple of months looking for pretty much anything but a VW camper in random and sometimes very distant destinations, I ended up buying a VW camper from a bloke about 10 minutes from my home.

I thought the trips to see vans were potentially buying trips but I was really still in my research phase, learning about what I wanted from a van and dealing with the emotions around handing over my home to others (albeit lovely others).

The reality is that the van I was looking for doesn’t exist, it’s a van I may or may not convert myself one day. I saw some lovely home conversions on the way though and got lots of ideas. The thing about a home conversion is the love, you can feel it oozing out of the conti board. The downside is that the ones I really liked had high mileage, no service history and the perennial question hanging over their high tops – how much rust is too much rust?

So I sheepishly returned to the Vdub fold, confessed my shortsightedness at overlooking the classic of form and function that is the late 80s T25 model and I visited George at Camden Campers (forever to be known as Honest George by my Dad and I). There I met The Fridge. I know I’m being mean about her looks but I’m still forming a relationship with her. I’m usually pretty puppy doggish about such things and rush in panting ‘love me’ but I’m being a bit more reserved. After all this could be the longest relationship of my life to date.

The train trips gave me some time to think about what this malarkey was all about. I’ll get back to you on that one, but the time and space to think was good. You take on board so much of other people’s excitement when you plan something like this that it’s good to have some time to mull.

I do love The Fridge but I am having to deal with the reality of no power steering (hard work in London) and my nervousness about owning an old vehicle. I spent years driving a morris minor and then a VW beetle and I went modern because just too many hours had been spent waiting for the nice RAC man on the side of the road. At least I can have a nap and a cup of tea while I’m waiting this time…

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D-Day Friday 13th

I’m quite pleased to be starting my adventure on Friday 13th, it feels a little edgy without having to make much of an effort. In reality my adventure started in 2009 when I turned tail on one career and headed out into new waters (oooh the mixing of metaphors, you can tell she’s a virgin blogger) but that’s another story.

Handing in my notice this February was a point of no return and quite frankly this morning’s nonsense hulking my new (old) VW camper around Wood Green trying to buy a steering wheel lock (I’m not going to mention the bit about the van battery refusing to turn over as that’s just tempting fate) was a bit of an adventure in itself.

Maybe it’s one of the joys of getting on a bit, in the old days my misadventure this morning would have wound me up something rotten but today I saw it as a trial run for some hiccoughs in the unknown ahead. As I start to step out of routines and schedules, or at least my own, and into a space where there’s going to be time to embrace misadventures as part of the journey ahead, who really cares that it took me 3 hours to achieve a third of the tasks I’d set myself before scurrying home.

And now to paint the bathroom ceiling and then start dissembling my house to make it ready for Luke and Clare to move in.

Will do a van blog later but to summarise, I have a van, it’s beautiful but it has no power steering and I have to relearn how to drive an old vehicle. At the moment it’s called The Fridge because it looks like one, and not in a retro chic Smeg kinda way.

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