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The inner and outer, Svengali!

Traveling in my van I continued experimenting with my day, my ‘what happens if …‘,  sitting in silence to reflect and writing in the early morning. My physical journey was also an inner pilgrimage.

I wasn’t unique in doing such a journey. A number of the 60s generation had chosen in the 70s to join overland expeditions and go East: Afghanistan and India. Yet, there I was in my old green Renault Traffic van going overland in Britain! Maybe not so adventurous, glamorous or risky but no jabs, no malaria tablets, no Delhi belly or Dengue fever! (My eldest son Simon had the former and I the latter when we went for a month traveling through India in 1989). 

Why do we do it, take off? Is it a restless spirit, a need to find a physically safe place as well as an inner one, dissatisfaction with our surroundings, head full of dreams, a breaking fee of social constraints?  Most probably it may be more than one of those things or possibly even none just a hedonistic adventure. My reason was to find my name and in doing so, I hoped myself.

I set off in my van emotionally very vulnerable (a new clay pot shaped but not yet fired). Because of this and having given up all forms of drugs both legal and illegal I had decided, for my own protection, especially after some of things I had seen and experienced in my pre-breakdown  hedonistic life, to avoid many of the ‘New Age’ packages on offer. I was especially wary of visiting places where New Age philosophies were expounded and further adapted by a single strong charismatic figure, generally a man, and used to build communes or communities. If I was to visit communities I tried to stick to ones based on more traditional practices and beliefs such as Buddhist Monasteries. 

On my way to one such Monastery, another Theravada Monastery in Northumberland, I also visited a group of Quakers who lived as a community in Derbyshire. If I recall correctly, I spent a couple of days there, sleeping in my van but helping in the garden and chatting to some members who lived there about their faith and if what I’d heard – that some Quakers used Buddhist meditation – was correct. As it turned out it was, for some Quakers not all, as they found it an additional tool to ‘recharge their inner spiritual ‘batteries’ ’. 

This inner and outer picture of faith was a curiosity to me. I was beginning to feel quite strongly that for my own life to improve and, if I may be very bold, for the world to also improve, that there  had first to be an individual inner change/growth/healing which then had to be reflected out into the world through love. But, what was and is love? That, I wasn’t sure about at all. That was where my confusion and if you like my pain, my brokenness was rooted.

I knew how much Quakers had done, and still do, to create peace in the world. In very crude terms, I saw the Quakers as ‘those who put their faith into action’ – the outer reflection of faith.  In comparison I saw Buddhism as developing practices which focused on developing the inner ‘self‘.  But I couldn’t see where I completely fitted in either. If you’re wondering why I chose to be a Buddhist and not a Quaker; it was because I felt I was not good or clever enough to be a Quaker. Also, I was a late child of the 60s so Buddhism seemed more attractive, different, at that time, than any of the traditional Christian Faiths. But something was to happen that made being a Buddhist questionable for me personally.

I continued to Northumberland, to the Monastery via Yorkshire where even the road signs had a Yorkshire accent – ‘Mile’ not ‘1 mile’! 

After leaving the retreat in Wales, my van and the gear box worked well.  I thought at last the van troubles were behind me, I could relax and enjoy the journey for its own sake.

I had decided from the beginning to avoid motorways, to take the longer routes between an A and B, or C and maybe a D! The world was my oyster. It has been said many times how lovely the English country side is and it is true, especially if you have the time to take it in.

I meandered along and eventually arrived at the Buddhist monastery by which time I had also collected my WWOOF list of ‘Hosts’ and their newsletter with general advertisements, from a post office ‘en route’. As it was a Monastery with Monks and no Nuns I continued to live in my van just joining the community for their meditations, meals and chores. I planned for the next stage of my journey to go over the border and into Scotland. The search for my name was on!

Looking through the WWOOF advertisements I came across one from a woman who lived alone on her Croft right up near the top of Scotland in Sutherland. She explained she had a disability and needed assistance with her sheep and the Croft. ‘Food and a bed supplied in return for labour’. There was a phone number.

I asked a monk if I could use their phone after clearing away the breakfast things and completing my chores. I called her.

“I’m calling about your advert in WWOOF, I have my own accommodation as I’m travelling and living in a van and I’m willing to come up there and help”

“I’m sorry I’ve just taken in someone to help”

“How long are they staying, I could come up later as I’m travelling around?”

“All right, give me your name and phone number, you never know”

I then explained my situation about having no phone but that I called my brother weekly.

“Well, what’s his number”

I gave her the number

“What about your name?”

“Johan”

“How are you spelling that?”

“J.O.H.A.N”

“Well, that’s funny, were you from here originally?”

“Why?”

“Well, you see, its a very old name, used to be very popular here a-bouts, not so popular now with the younger folk, mainly find Johans in the graveyards now!”

So there it was, my first communication into Scotland and I had found where my name came from! I told her my reason for going to Scotland and we chatted for a while. Our conversation ended with her inviting me up to visit, WWOOF or no WWOOF.

Can you imagine my utter excitement, shock even. Surely that was a small miracle. One phone call!  My first attempt! And bingo! I was buzzing with happiness. I had to tell someone. I accosted the first monk I saw: “Guess what has just happened …blah blah…” I ranted on. “Isn’t it amazing, a miracle even!” Looking at me as if I was child in need of calming down he replied: “No, it is just what it is and nothing more” and walked away. Bump! Surely, Buddhists believe in miracles, blessings, the mystery that is in the world which can’t be explained, that I was convinced existed and I was out to find the truth of? A crack had appeared in my love of Buddhism.

I tidied up my van and pointed it North. I had my destination but decided to take my time and re-visit places in Scotland I had been to as a child. My first stepfather was a Scot and each summer we would go to the East of Scotland for our holidays either staying in a caravan or a cottage. I also had found another WWOOF host up above Loch Ness near to Inverness, no phone but WWOOFers welcome. So it was settled – I was on my way!

Going over the border felt significant at the time. A combination of happier childhood memories and a sense of purpose. I revisited Kingussie, Newtonmore, Aviemore in the Cairngorms and stopped at lovely quiet peaceful places overnight. I slowly made my way up the infamous A9 towards Inverness where I also stopped briefly for supplies and a shower. I left Inverness and drove down the A83 along Loch Ness towards Drumnadrochit to find my WWOOF host. Finding my Host was no easy task. I seemed to drive up and up, the road ever steeper turning from a road into a track. I’d lost all views of the loch and was travelling through woods of pine trees. The going was rough and I feared if my van make it.

Eventually the track ended and turned into an opening in which stood a large Tepee, a series of sheds and a large partially derelict house. Pieces of machinery lay around but there was not a person in sight. I found a suitable space, parked and turned off the engine. Through my open window not a sound passed through, not even the chirping of birds. I admit, I was suspicious there were ‘symbols’ of what I associated with my past and ‘New Age’ things lying around, so I was on edge.

I decided to get out and see if I could find anyone. As I walked around the sheds I was intrigued by all the art work and crafts I saw, there was much to admire.

“Hello” 

I turned around and standing there greeting me was a woman with a beautiful smile, dressed in a long skirt, a blouse with her hair flowing.

“Can I help you?“ she asked.

I explained why I was there so I was directed to a more permanent parking space behind the house.

“When you’ve parked up come into the house for a chat and tea”. She was so welcoming I was instantly reassured. 

It transpired she was one of 3 very lovely women who lived there. All talented, all stunningly beautiful. They were in their late 20s early 30s, and one had a small child. The house was chaotic, and colourful, but mainly used as an eating space as there were holes in the walls and ceiling. There was an upstairs, reached via a makeshift ladder, where they slept. It was also where ‘the man’ of the house slept too. I was told I’d meet him later when it was suppertime.

She told me her story of how she came to be living there, much of it resonated with my own. Broken childhood, running away, men, drugs and festivals. She was on her way to a festival on one of the Hebridean Islands when she met ‘the man’. He was older and charismatic and they paired up for the festival. He had apparently been one of original founders of the famous Findhorn Community but had left due to a disagreement. She decided to stay with him and then in a similar manner two more women with similar backgrounds joined them. They did most of the work as he was older but in return they felt he had taught them many things. He let them be free and encouraged their creativity. 

She and the other two women were intoxicating. They talked with such enthusiasm about how he, ‘the man’, had ‘saved’ them. I began to envy them. Hadn’t I spent years trying find such a man and a place to be creative. I loved their enthusiasm – it didn’t matter there was no hot running water or proper bathroom or toilet, that the house leaked and was cold, that they did everything. They were wonderful! There were a sisterhood! And, they liked me too!

I was shown where I would be working the next day, weeding a patch of ground. I helped make the supper, laughing with them and feeling I may have actually found my perfect place!

As we sat at the table, only joined by one of the other women, ‘the man’ descended the stairs. He was tall, pot-bellied, peppered should length hair, disheveled,  wearing baggy jeans, shirt and no shoes. He must have been very handsome in his younger days and was still striking even then. To look at he was my type!

He didn’t look in my direction, spoke to the woman making the meal, walked over to the table and sat down next to me without a word!

Once we were all seated he started to tuck into his food. The 2 women lovingly serving him. There was no please or thank you. 

I started to feel uncomfortable as knowing looks are exchanged between the women and himself, but the silence continued. I felt I was being tested. “Why are you here, what’s your story?” He suddenly said without looking in my direction. I looked at the women, they nodded, encouraging me to speak. So I did. I told him why I had left London, what I was looking for, my experience of God up to that point, and so on. I was off guard and in fact told him far too much! He then turned pinned me with a sharp piercing look, with his face a few inches from mine and told me: “You’re kidding yourself, you don’t love God you’d never surrender to him”.

I was stunned and felt as if I had been struck in the chest. The women could see my reaction and tried to offer some diversion by asking him to tell me how they had come to their understanding of God and their creativity. Never looking at me again, he spoke of his philosophies and explained that they used Ketamine, a drug used on horses, to enhance their experience.

I had actually landed in my worst nightmare! Suddenly, all beauty of the women and place slid  away and I felt very insecure and unsafe. 

We finished the meal in silence and it was time, thank goodness to escape to my van. I was invited to take some ketamine which I declined. That was a big thing for me to do as I had previously been willing to try any drug!

I locked my van that night and as soon as it was light drove away. I can’t deny it was a battle not to turn back. A strong male, lovely creative women, freedom and space to be creative myself. Had I become a prude? Was I being stupid leaving that opportunity? Wouldn’t my friends think I was mad not giving it a go and staying longer? …

I did call a friend to tell him about it and he felt I had done the right thing to leave. I just kept driving until I found somewhere quiet, to be alone, to reflect and write, till I felt settled internally again.

I never did get told his name.

Next time Sutherland and beyond.

‘The frog’, garages and WWOOF.

Whilst I may not have taken a mobile phone I did do a couple of sensible things; I had taken out AA road cover and I had taken a bicycle with me in the van. The latter being incredibly handy, if not essential, to get to phone boxes to call the AA! 

Of course, at the time breaking down was annoying. Yes I did curse and kick the wheels – who wouldn’t, but:

  1. I was getting used to it and if I had had more ‘suss’ about me I could have tried selling an analysis on the consistency of the AA service throughout England and Wales.
  2. I had time on my side as I wasn’t rushing to get to any appointment.
  3. I had started my trip in the spring so if my van wasn’t kind to me, the weather was.
  4. They have also led to some amusing experiences, if not enriching ones.

Just before one of my more long-term and more expensive van’s mechanical tantrums I had a rather interesting encounter:

I was heading to Wales, making my way to stay at a retreat house run by a lovely couple and their family. I only drove during the daytime so I could look and admire the scenery.  For overnight stops I avoided campsites and sought remote spots as far away from the road as possible… until a shower was necessary or my loo had to be emptied. On the day of my ‘encounter’ I needed neither and found a beautiful spot along a forest track not far from a stream. Once I was parked up I went to explore my new surroundings. 

The weather was dry, but it must have rained earlier because as I stepped out of my van and took a deep breath I was enveloped by the heady aroma of fresh moist earth, bracken, mulch and trees. Instance peace! 

I walked along, following the stream, when I heard the faint sound of melodic thumping. It was lovely but simultaneously unnerving. I thought I was alone so I felt rather vulnerable at thinking that maybe I wasn’t alone after all. I should add here, I had stopped watching horror movies years before due to an overactive imagination. It was so bad that even if I heard the start-up music of such a movie, and I needed to use the toilet, someone had to stand outside the loo and talk to me or keep whistling! Imagine, then when I said I felt ‘unnerved’ what I actually meant was ‘OMG run!!’  But, I braved it and continued.  The sound grew stronger, not really louder, just more intense. I knew then it was noise made by a human. More worry … or to cheer myself up: Was it a blunt beaked woodpecker?

I approached a slight bend in the stream where the water became shallower and wider. I continued and there sitting on a log in the middle of the stream was no woodpecker but a very handsome young man, smiling, hair flowing, beating a small drum held between his knees. Maybe he had been a frog and been kissed by a passing princess. Well you never know for sure! As it turned out he was as surprised at seeing me, the princess’ grandmother, as I was at him. He too thought he was alone.

He lived not too far away in a barn belonging to some friends and apparently he would often go  to the spot I had found him to use his drumming as a meditation. Well that’s what he told me. So what happened was … I invited him to my van for tea and we swapped stories. I’m going to disappoint you if you think this leads to a romance. That comes much further into my story with another person.  But, that meeting, sharing of meals and thoughts did lead to a mutual appreciation. He appreciated that though I was living in a van and not at all interested in following the music festival trail, we were both searching in our own way for some truth. He also liked my artwork which at the time was a bit of a boost. In return for the tea I had given him, he cooked me a meal back at his barn and in return I gave him a piece of my art work. It was a lovely meeting and after the rocky start in the van, it came at the right time to encourage me to continue.


The frog who was a prince

I spent 3 days in that idyllic spot. Then it was time to go, if for no other reason than to top up my supplies and maybe try to find a shower. Of course, as often can happen after an ‘up’ there is a ‘down’! 

I drove back along the track, slowly in 2nd gear, got to the road, stopped, tried to go into first gear and nothing! Just a horrible noise. Out came my bike and thus begun the hunt for yet another phone box!

My whole journey and each experience in my van from beginning to end, was punctuated by vehicle hiccups. If it wasn’t road side repair it was being towed to the nearest garage or limping along till I got to one.

On that occasion the AA took me to the nearest garage where I spent a week! It may have been even longer. The van needed a new gear box (gosh those guys who sold me that van must have had a really good belly laugh) !

At first, the garage tried to fix it without the expense of a new gear box as I had explained to them my situation, that I was short on money (I’d stopped using my credit card long before I left London). They, the guys at the garage, were great. They let me stay on their forecourt at night, and hidden by the van door and their garage shutters I used their hose as a ‘make do’ shower. That wouldn’t be the last time I had a ‘make do’ shower in an unusual place.

Sadly, they weren’t able to fix the gear box so it had to be replaced. They found a reconditioned gear box which would take a few days to get delivered. They also said that I could contribute towards the cost of the repair by painting display signs for their garage. I was then promoted, as their trusted freelance sign writer and moved into the garage where my new residence was the ramp! 

My new living space plus trusted bicycle.

It was one Sunday in that small town whilst living on the ramp, that I went looking to see if they had a Quaker meeting house. Instead I came across a Kingdom Hall, a Jehovah Witnesses church.  “Well”, I thought “this will be different, so why not?” 

So, what happens if … I, a complete stranger, walks into a Kingdom Hall for Sunday Service? Answer; they were more surprised than me to see me there, unsolicited.

You mean you came in alone, no one brought you or told you about us?’ 

‘No, I’m just noisy’ I replied. 

They were very welcoming and when they found out  about me ‘living’ in a garage they offered me accommodation and meals in their homes. 

The reason I didn’t take up their kind offers was because after I had sat through the entire Sunday service and experienced their questioning and answering session, (this is when a leader stands and tests the knowledge of the congregation on their version of the Bible), I felt, rightly or wrongly, as if I was being indoctrinated, told rather than asked. This is only my opinion and nothing more. There are a lot of negative or amusing things said at the expense of Jehovah Witnesses but I have always found them kind, but for me, just too fixed in their ideas and teachings. Of course, you can find this in any religious organisation. 

I now have my own response to any person ‘selling’ me a belief or philosophy. I ask ‘tell me how it manifests itself in your life, what does it do for you and those around you, how has it changed or affected you?’ It has been said before, but I can’t recall by whom and I’ve added the female element to it “you can better know a man/woman by what he/she does rather than by his/her words”

Try it next time when someone tries selling you a belief. I’d like to think that maybe that is what I am trying to do with you; showing you my life, how I lived it, how it has changed for me and for others in my life, what changed it, who helped me on the way and who still helps me now. 

Anyway, back to the van. 

I eventually made it to Wales and the retreat house. It was such a relief after the week or so I had had. Staying there too was a lovely man called Neil. He was in his 60s and spent his time going from one retreat centre or community to another in his Vauxhall car, in the boot of which, neatly packed in boxes, he had everything he needed including his slippers and dressing gown! 

One of the highlights of my stay there was going badger spotting and being taken, with Neil, by the Red Kite warden for the area, Ralph, to see a red kite nest and being allowed to hold a red kite chick. Badger spotting wasn’t as successful but we were compensated by watching a pack of fox cubs playing in the fading evening light.

The retreat hosts knew a lot of interesting people, one being a freelance film maker, Dan. He was intrigued by my journey and when he overheard me making some silly comment after spotting a straight line of sheep, something like ‘oh look at those well behaved sheep queueing for dinner ‘ or some other nonsense, offered me the chance to earn money whilst I travelled in my van. He wanted to get for me a video camera to film my travels. Believe me, I was truly tempted. What stopped me?

Me and the precious chick

Well, during all my ‘what happens if….’ in London, the sitting in silence and the pages I wrote, I realised a big thing about how I had lived my life, especially when it had come to men. I suppose it is not unusual for someone whose earliest memories are of violence or hiding from violence, that I desperately sought, what I realise now, was a distorted and naive view of love. And, I sought it too young, too quickly and far too freely.  I often became someone else – the person I had gleaned from them through the questions I asked on the first date or meeting. 

Okay, I didn’t want love/sex from Dan, the freelance filmmaker, but how would I have had the strength to live MY journey if I had a camera in my hand and avoid wanting to try and win over not just one person, but potentially a whole audience. Instead I took the flattery filed it in my validation box and said “thank you but no thank you!”

Instead I was introduced to WWOOF – Willing Worker On Organic Farms. WWOOF was, and I believe still is, an international organisation which brings together those (called Hosts) who need help on their farms, market gardens, community gardens, vegetable gardens, fruit to be picked, animals to be cared for, with those like me (Willing Workers) who want to have a go, a sort of what happens if … I WWOOF in return for food and a bed if needed.

As the people who ran the retreat centre were Hosts/members of WWOOF they could vet me and supply  a reference to WWOOF so I could join and receive the list of other Hosts and the general news letter with adverts offering jobs here and abroad. I sent the organisation my details and application form and arranged for them to send the Host list and general adverts to my brother who would then send them on to a post office of my choosing.

WWOOF was to give me the keys to a whole new world, another way of living here in the UK and possibly overseas. It was one I had not experienced before. It was interesting, fun and at times very challenging, both physically and emotionally. 

Whilst I waited for my application to join WWOOF to be processed I headed east over to Yorkshire making my way to Northumberland where I had rung ahead and arranged to stay at the brother Buddhist Monastery of Amaravati. 

Next time, in about a week, my love of mystery, my name and beware of amazing women with a very strange man.


So why the van?

Maggie, an amazing young woman from Cornwall, did her degree whilst living in a van in the college car park. Well, most of the time. I got to know Maggie in her final year of a product design degree while I was working at the same college and studying my Art Foundation there too. We became friends and I shared in one or two of her fun trips. In addition we occasionally swapped homes, my flat for her van. 

Maggie meditating in her van

Maggie’s van was a self-converted old transit style Mercedes with a small wood burner and my first jaunt was two weeks in Cornwall. It was wonderful! Freedom, fresh air, lots of time and places to draw. As well as staying in isolated places with an occasional stop on a campsite to have a shower. Yes, I did say occasional! 

The wood burner was also a great novelty which due to my childlike enthusiasm nearly saw the end of Maggie’s home. One evening I stuffed it with so much wood that the cast iron exterior started to glow red! Doors, windows were flung wide open, blankets, anything flammable, which was about everything, were thrown outside until it was safe to get in again. Actually, with hindsight, this was a warning of things to come in my own van!

Inside Maggie’s van


What I also learnt being in Maggie’s van, was that being taller than Maggie, every action that required standing, which was a lot, meant I was stooped – resulting in back ache. Now you can see why getting a van I could stand up in was a very seductive requirement when it came to buying my own, especially as vans with the required height cost more than I could afford.

There is also something else about vans or even cars. From a young child I loved being in them, they felt safe. As a passenger I fell asleep very quickly and still do. (Actually, I’ve also fallen asleep driving only to be woken up by the bumping and rocking of the car going onto the grass verge!). I’ve had some of my most important or difficult conversations in cars, also some of my funniest. I’ve even been on long distance overseas journeys in trucks, twice going to Iran.  All the trips were with my first son, Simon, who was 4 on the last adventure. If you’re a parent, close your eyes and imagine being asked numerous times in a day ‘mummy, when will we get there?’ 

There was and still is a sense of being in a protected bubble in a car, a metal womb if you like. In a car or van I seem to relax, daydream, partly because I’m cocooned and therefore unable to do any of the tasks or deeds I feel I should be doing. 

So, there I was in London, in my flat, lying in bed, determined I would do nothing to sustain living until The Universe or God came up with a darn good reason why I should. You see all the ‘What Happens If …’ I’d been trying up to then all led to one big conclusion, the way I was living just didn’t work! It was a mess, I was a mess! 

Friends were patient and very kind. My eldest son, Simon, was wonderful but didn’t know just how bad things had got in my head. Well, I think he got a clue when I bought for his future wife, as a wedding present, a place on a weekend Forum to work out issues she had about her father, as I was convinced if she didn’t my son was in for a very difficult marriage! My younger son, who I was still getting to know, with the help of Simon and friends, also may have found me a little odd. Mind you, to him, I was already an enigma based on having left him and his father when he was just two.  

The only places during that time where I found any clues to how life could be, or how I’d like to be was when I attended the Quaker, Society of Friends, meetings and the Buddhist Monastery of Amaravati in Hertfordshire, where I’d go for retreats and learn meditation. The common elements to both are Silence, Love and Acceptance.

The only certainty I had to go on at that time was this; if there was any truth in some of clues I was being shown in the Meetings and Amaravati then I had to stop the antidepressants and stop smoking marijuana in order to find out if the things I was discovering were real or just another symptom of my mental and emotional state. I described to my GP that I felt as if I was a clay pot that had just been ‘thrown’ and shaped but still very vulnerable until I had been ‘fired’ and made solid and that staying in my flat I felt at risk of that not happening. 

I also decided that this ‘new pot’ had to reclaim her name Johan. I liked it but hated that at school no one said it how I thought it should be said (phonetically JoHan) so everyone called me Jo. My mother had the same name and my father, a determined man who was a dangerously physically abusive husband when he’d had a drink, had insisted on my having it mainly, I was told, to upset my mother’s remaining family. 

Therefore, what better reason could there have been than to get a van and to leave London than to go in search for the origin of my name!  Plus, my amazing GP supported the idea, though she was concerned at my stopping the antidepressants. 

The van was bought, a Renault Traffic, and with the help of friends and my brother it was cleaned, lined with sheets of plywood, a bed built with storage, fitted with cupboards, sink and equipped with a small portaloo, essential when staying in villages or towns! Sadly no wood burner but I used candles for lighting in the evenings and a couple battery operated lamps.

However, what it also needed was an engine! 

No, it did come with one, I got the van home, just! So, again with the help of Simon’s friends a reconditioned engine was fitted at further expense. 

If this all sounds ‘easy peasy’, well it was and wasn’t. It was frustrating to the point I started to question if I misunderstood the answer I felt was given to me by The Universe or God. So who better to ask than one of the founding Buddhist Monks of Amaravati. 

The day I went was a special gathering due to the auspicious visit of this Monk. I, with many others, queued for a long time to either receive his blessing or ask his advice.  My turn eventually came. I bowed and asked: “I’ve bought a van to make a special journey to find my name but things seem to be going wrong and I’m wondering if this just a test. Should I persevere or take it as a sign I shouldn’t go?’

The answer: ‘You will know when you know.’ I leave it to your imagination what I felt.

However, that experience and many more became the seed which grew into one of my personal philosophies called ‘knock three times’. More on that much later.

In spite of this advice, or maybe because of it, I left my job (though I hadn’t been able to return to work since the morning I awoke not recognising my own hands because I couldn’t even choose what to wear let alone get to work). I told the Director of my Fine Art Programme what I had decided to do (continuing my fine art course was the only thing my GP encouraged me to stick at all through my Breakdown/breakthrough), packed up my flat and rented it to an ex-boyfriend, said goodbye to family and friends and drove to Amaravati, took my Buddhist precepts and pointed the van northwards to start zigzagging across the UK. I also wanted to explore my own country as part of this adventure.

I knew my great grandmother had the name Johan too and she was Scottish, so I chose to make Scotland the final destination before I headed back. I was convinced that once I had found the origin of my name and got to the very top of Scotland I would know exactly what I was to do, I would be ‘fired’.

One other major decision I did make was not to buy a mobile phone as I didn’t want to be contacted. Instead I arranged to ring my brother weekly to check in and see if there was any news from my sons or problems with the flat etc.

For my first stop I planned to visit my younger son Peter who by then was living in Nottingham. I got about 20 miles up the road when I had the first of many vehicle malfunctions. What did I know by then?………buy a better van! 

Next time, hopefully 1 week’s time;The drummer, garages and WWOOF…….