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‘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.

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