Things Lost Lost Things

My Vanlife History

First truck, Kent fruit picking circa 1989

In the 1980s and 90’s, ‘van life’ was not a thing but live-in vehicles and ‘new travellers’ (or ‘new age travellers’ as the media called us) were. We lived in an eclectic mix of old buses, horseboxes, trucks and ambulances and we stood out; there was no concept of ‘stealth’. Vehicles would sometimes be elaborately painted and have stained glass windows or wonderful wooden drop-down porches, it was an aesthetic movement as well as a political one. With roots in hippy culture, free festivals and the ‘peace convoy’ it was defiantly non-mainstream, politically anarchist and always searching for a better way to live. We often moved as a group, squatting land for days or months at a time, usually council owned property but there was a good few weeks on Richard Branson’s country residence one Christmas and the old Victorian mental hospitals offered good winter standing before they were all sold off for new housing. As well as a political ‘movement’ it was also a practical choice, if not necessity, for many. The UK in the 1980s was Thatcher’s Britain, jobs were scarce, housing was expensive and it was hard to get by if you weren’t wealthy. My partner and I lived in a 1970’s Leyland FG for several years at this time, it was a beautiful thing with little round side windows at the height of your knees. I can still smell it and remember the exact sound of the door closing. It was a site of ordinary life: we lived, laughed and argued in it and also a place of drama: we roared away one night after a farmer approached with a shotgun, we were forced by the police onto a traditional traveller site, I set my hair on fire in it, went into labour in it and it became my daughter’s first home; born while on the road.

My newborn daughter in the truck, 1991.
Parked up on Bodmin Moor, 1991
a friend’s bus parked in woodland.

Fast forward 30 years and here I am on the road again, the van is not as beautiful maybe but it’s smarter and less noticeable. Paraffin lamps and candles provided light in the old truck, now a 100w solar panel gives both light and power (for LED lights, charging my mobile and other devices). One continuity remains, the wood burner, a feature of both vehicles and a symbol, to me, of this kind of life. The journey begins once more.

My nowadays home

This online diary is documenting one particular journey of my current ‘van life’, one motivated by a desire to escape the British winter as well as seek adventures. Driving from the UK to Greece was the plan, originally going via Germany through Croatia and Albania (both non-Schengen) to maximize time away in the Mediterranean warmth. But a hold-up in leaving due to covid-related admin delays, plus a new lockdown in Austria, meant a change of plans and I decided to go through France and Italy instead, avoiding as many snowy mountain roads as possible. I booked the early morning ferry and spent the night on the Dover coast. There is a wonderful Swedish word for the way I felt right then on the dock, Resfeber, which translates as ‘the restless race of the traveller’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and excitement are tangled together’. Perfectly described.