“Gabe’s a practitioner of perpetual motion – move forward at a steady pace: don’t stop or you’ll fall – kind of guy; whereas Harry only puts one foot forward if he’s absolutely, positively certain that it’s the right foot and the right direction. I’m a bit like that myself… What you should take from this is that we’re all moving forward; at varying speeds.”
“There’s always time for fairy lights…”
I booked for Vanwest months ago, just after losing Nige. It was uncharacteristically spur of the moment and definitely against my better judgement. But Nige would’ve loved the idea of me going so I clicked ‘Book Tickets’ and instantly felt part of the crowd he always wanted me to be part of. This past week however, has been one of extreme, mixed emotions as the reality of not one, but two nights away hit. Thirteen years ago I went to Glastonbury without him and cried each night… and he was on the end of the phone back then.
On Friday evening, 5.30ish and with limited preparation (again), the dog and I set off. Wendy guided us brilliantly through the roundabouts, onto the M4; off again and then onto the M5. Dare I say, I’m actually enjoying motorway driving! Though I wouldn’t do it without Wendy’s Sat-Nav showing me the way. Off the motorway and it was all country lanes until Warren Farm, our destination for Vanwest. I felt optimistic as I drove through the site to get to field 12 though the enormity of the area did make me a little anxious.
Gin and Death Proof
Typically, the rain began as Django and I set off to explore our temporary surroundings. I asked the guy in the van next to us if he knew how to get to the main arena and he pointed me in the direction of a handy stile just 200 yards away. The bouncy pup bounced all the way past the Fishing Lake and into the Vanwest event. There were a few stalls already set up so we checked out their wares. Such a lot of stickers to be bought though I was more drawn to the flag guy. I’ve been meaning to sort out a pole and flags and this was the perfect time; he wasn’t busy, there wasn’t anyone really about so I had his full attention. I came away with quite a tidy setup and a very wet, muddy and smelly puppy!
Back at the van I stowed away my new purchase (I really should’ve put it up; despite the downpour and lack of hammer). Django hopped into the van and made himself comfortable whilst I poured myself a large Gin and Tonic. I tried to play Death Proof on the TV but, for some reason, it wouldn’t play. Luckily I had my laptop. So, after much prodding to get my DVD back, I finally settled down. Another drink, the dog and Death Proof then – what could go wrong?
The above photos were taken on the first night… The first one I remember taking; the rain was hammering down and Django was oblivious as he watched Death Proof with me. We cosied-up, a girl and her pup. And a bottle of gin. As is the problem with drinking whilst alone, the glasses become too many. You have no way of really knowing when enough is enough because you’re not conversing with anyone or walking up to a bar – there’s no barometer, no slurred speech or wobbly legs. Needless to say, at some point it got too much and I only have the second picture to tell me that. Oh, and an almighty hangover the next morning… ahem. I’ll not go into the whole furry-tongue-light-head-vomit-breathe thing but, oh look, I kind of did!
Pups and Kids Don’t ‘Do’ Hangovers
It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that pups and kids don’t stop because you have a hangover. Quite right too. So it was up, toilet (such fun squeezing into a Portaloo with the world’s largest puppy) and a long walkies – to find coffee. We ambled back to Wendy, via the beautiful Fishing Lake, where we stopped a while to watch the Canada Geese with their goslings and so I could mutter, “Oh my head…” a few times. Once my head steadied itself, we set off again. Django said, no, bounced, “Good morning!” to every dog we met (there were a lot) whilst I made an oath never, NEVER to drink more than one glass when on my own; it never ends well and only serves as a tap to my emotions. Besides which, it’s bloody sad. I don’t mind being the enigmatic lady in the van with the Airedale but not the alcoholic lady in the van with the Airedale… and I can see that becoming a possibility. Back at the van I forced Django to have a nap with me – the old, “Mummy’s got a headache,” routine. Bless him, he did manage a full 5 minutes before demanding my attention.
After the rain last night, the sun shone brilliantly on all us Vee Dubbers so I braved the main arena. There were so many more stalls than last night and people, of course. Everyone noticed Django, especially if they had a dog. He insisted on bouncing, “Hello!” to all of them, often accompanied with a wet nose on their behind! As you can imagine, this didn’t always go down well and my arm was fair worn out from pulling him away from angry, confused and damn-right indignant mutts by the end of the day. Other than that, I sailed through the whole event as if on another plane. I spoke to people when spoken to, smiled as they smiled and seemed to have to try so hard to just be there, you know? It was exhausting. I bought lunch – noodles. I got to be honest, they were a bland mess and the spring roll was pure grease. I ate it in the picnic area, by the lake. Django got quite a bit of the spring roll but I wasn’t about to let him have the noodles – all those vegetables and egg; I had to sleep in a van with him later! No, I used the box with left over noodles to carry Django’s first pooh of the weekend. And the fork came in handy too.
“Don’t scrimp on the luxuries”
Before leaving for pastures new in France, a good friend of mine passed on the above advice when camping. She also added, ‘There’s always time for fairy lights!’
As I sat by the lake, later that night, I thought to myself (and probably said out loud), ‘This is awful. I’m not here, it’s all too much; too many people, too much laughter, too long…” I realised that two nights without conversation and company was too hard for me. Then I said, “You should’ve put up the awning and the fairy lights. Oh, and the fucking flag pole you bought.”
You see, if you put nothing in you get nothing back. I really felt that by rolling up, I had already put everything in – I was reluctant to go and could feel my emotions running amok before we’d left the house. But the truth is, I’m fine at that bit: I couldn’t wait to get back on the road this morning; me and my dog in the van… on the road. No, what I’m rubbish at is what Nige was so good at: socialising, belonging, smiling and I spent this weekend remembering that sparkle and missing him like crazy.
If I’d put in more – the awning, the lights, the stove then I would’ve had my sparkle. Django has the over stuff covered anyway.
“One more night. You can do this.”
We did have an early night. The TV worked so I watched a bit of that. Django was absolutely shattered and proceeded to lie diagonally across the whole bed. I managed to squash myself in somewhere and there we both stayed, until 7am this morning.
Up, up and away home! Once the bed was put back I had room to connect the stove and make my own coffee. I’m making it seem easy, in actual fact it was anything but. Over the past year I have put too much in the boot that the seat struggled to find its shape… With much jiggery-pokery and to-ing and fro-ing, the seat was up, the coffee was bubbling and Django was making a nuisance of himself to everyone else. One last walk to the toilet and beyond gave me (more) time to reflect. I had the Polaroid camera set up perfectly to capture the VWs and flags (I had tried twice before but they were rubbish). I pressed the button – nothing. No film left. There’s a poetry in that; the last morning, I finally got it. But it was too late to save this weekend – there was no more film. As I said goodbye and wound my way back down the country lanes, I cried and cried.
I know Nige wanted me to go but I completely missed the point and now it’s too late. What a waste of a weekend. And just look at that sunshine…
At home, talking to Gabe, he said, “It’s not a waste mum, you have to push yourself otherwise how do you know what to do differently?” He’s right, of course. I can be subjective and take away lessons learnt and with each adventure comes a new group of Polaroids. They’re not all going to be jolly are they, because life isn’t is it? But they will tell my story and that was the point.
Next stop; Postern Hill xxx
Just to get things off my chest; here we go.
Firstly, I am not brave. I mean, I’m quite brave but not as brave as you all seem to think.
Brave adj. Ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
‘Ready’? I’m not ready! I had 16 months to prepare, am almost 4 months in and I am still not bloody ready. I was thrown in to this ocean of grief and, really, when landed with a choice of ‘sink or swim’ what would you do?
By making that decision to battle through the waves, I am merely making the decision to survive. But for every frantic swim forwards, there’s the inevitable need to be still and tread water; the moments where the amount of tears that flow from my eyes, become the salty ocean. It’s during these moments that my head feels heavy, as if I could just close my eyes and let it sink beneath the grief. Is it brave to not give in to that emotion? I suppose it does show a certain amount of courage. So why do people label suicides as cowards when all they really are is lacking a little bravery?
Secondly, I will never NOT be alright when you ask me. Why? Because if I wasn’t alright, you wouldn’t see me; I wouldn’t answer the phone. For some women it’s make-up – never leave home without it, for me it’s vulnerability. Only two people call my home phone, (actually, only one now) so I know who’s on the other end and if I’m drowning in my tears or reminiscing with myself I simply let it ring. You’d assume I was out and never check because, let’s face it, you don’t really want to know. If you did you would be on my doorstep; catching the tears on your shoulder.
Finally, not all grief is the same. Most people know this and completely understand the complexities of relationships and their bearing on emotions after losing someone. I can give you an example if you like:
In 2001 I lost my brother in a tragic accident. We were all left shocked and devastated by the utter surprise of it all. Four years later, talking to a friend, we realised we had both lost a brother. But due to differences in our sibling relationships, our grieving process was completely at odds with each other. Ten years on, we were both in the same place of acceptance and forgiveness; our grief having run it’s course, I guess.
So if, when comparing like for like, grief can be so incredibly varied, why do people feel that they ‘know’ how I feel because they’ve lost someone too? They don’t, they can’t. How can they know exactly what I’ve lost when they don’t know exactly what I had? In the same way that I don’t know exactly what they’ve lost. I mean, I lost my grandma but we really didn’t have much of a relationship so my grief was minimal. I have another friend though, who’s nana is her world… you see where I’m going with this?
Basically, grief is massively personal; you owe nobody an explanation as to your feelings or emotions and you aren’t owed one in return.
My bravery is transient; it depends on you all, with your wet shoulders and understanding words. Without you, I would’ve disappeared under an ocean of tears – you are my Braves.
When you see me, I am fine. It’s when you don’t that you need to worry so, to that end, I will always endeavour to communicate somehow; be it Facebook, WhatsApp or my WordPress. I probably won’t ring you though – I just don’t do that.
Though my grief be all-consuming, I am learning to make space for others. I am starting to notice the hurt and pain that loved ones are enduring and have begun to build pathways for them to access that part of my heart not broken. It dawned on me, just today, that if there were 100 people at Nigel’s funeral, then that’s 100 people hurting at some point… If you need to talk, I am here.
“What about if I come to you? I do much better in the outdoors and in smaller groups. So does Django!”
With that one, quick WhatsApp message to my niece, my next solo doggie jaunt was born. Within twenty minutes I was messaging her back with the details of this little gem:
Bredy Farm, in Burton Bradstock, Bridport.
Anoushka, the niece, has always championed this area of Dorset yet, aside from Lyme Regis, Nige and I had never explored it. So, for that reason alone, it seemed like a sound plan.
Arrive: Anytime Depart: Anytime
I very much loved the relaxed approach at Bredy Farm. Knowing that I could get there whenever I wanted to meant that I wasn’t stressed as the SatNav continually chatted on, with instructions to ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’, ‘enter the roundabout’ every thirty seconds – I became so comfortable with the constant natter, I found myself replying, ‘This way, are you sure? Well you’re the boss…’ And apparently, she was: I found it with no real drama or trouble. Not sure that would’ve happened with just Nige and me.
I rumbled through the idyllic orchard, looking for a place to park up (noting at least another three T4s). I plumped for the far end and only as I parked up did I notice the ‘Happy Birthday’ banner. That’ll be a party later then!
I realised, as I switched off the engine, that it had been a tearless journey. Now, that is unusual. For thirty years I had Nige either in the car or waiting for me at my destination and so car trips have, up until now, been incredibly emotive. But somehow, as I pulled into the orchard, my mind was somewhere else. Somewhere completely new. Perhaps that’s it.
Whilst Django made furry friends, I put up the awning. The sun was shining, my jumper was off and a field full of sheep set the scene of tranquility. A couple opposite were dozing off in the sun as their little dog bounded about with my big puppy. Next to me, one lot of the party-goers had arrived and seemed really lovely – they had a puppy too, though only the size of one of Django’s legs. After smiling and chatting I conceded to the voice in my head saying, ‘Cider. Ice cold, local cider.’ I downed tools, untangled Django and set off to the farm’s Cider Shed.
Sitting in the courtyard, beautiful languid puppy sniffing around an equally beautiful 1970s Lincoln (!) Sunshine warming body and soul, with an ice cold pint of Monica Lewinsky – yeah, what a stunning start to the bank holiday weekend!
Half a pint gone and I remembered that I needed to eat. I’d brought Django’s food but totally forgot myself, and as nice as the cider was, it wasn’t dinner.
‘Just a short walk to the village… about 10 minutes?’
Any moaning I do now is utterly futile as there was no choice but to walk the mile and a half to the Texaco garage, but ten minutes it was not… The first part was a joy, as we wended our way over the River Bride, turned right onto the road to Burton Bradstock with hopes of seeing the Texaco sign in the distance. Nope. The road to Burton Bradstock is a long a winding one indeed. To shake it up a bit, I took Django on a detour to Hive Beach. Now that was lovely. Furthermore there was a cafe serving, the sign said, until 5pm. It was quarter past 4. Feeling a bit smug that my detour wasn’t foolhardy, I asked about food; ‘Sorry, we’ve finished serving.’ Oh, well, hmm. Too hungry and tired to say anything else, I retraced our steps back to the road we were on. And then error number 2: ‘Oh look Django, a footpath to the village…’ Again, it was a worthy detour; I got to see the village and it gave me a sense of where we were but also where we weren’t, and that was at the bloody garage. A quick look at the map on the village hall showed me Donkey Lane, leading to High Street where there’s a, you guessed it, garage!
Django loved the coolness of the fridges so we spent a few minutes opening them, feigning interest in perishables. Aside from the make-shift air conditioning, there wasn’t much else. I grabbed an egg and cress roll and a couple of bags of fancy crisps. The young lad serving went a bit ga-ga over Django which made me beam a bit with motherly pride. Mission finally accomplished, we left. Crossing the main road, I saw, around the first bend the entrance to the footpath I’d taken us on… For the whole walk back to camp I was muttering, ‘If we hadn’t had taken the footpath I’d be round that bend down there by now.’ That then became, ‘If we hadn’t have gone to the beach, I’d be back at the van, supping cider, tucking into this pallid egg fucking roll by now…’ All the while Django bounced ahead of me – panting a bit but he wasn’t being a moaning old dick like me. Somewhere Nige would be noting the irony.
Sunset and Cider
I bought a small carton of Lewinsky, chatted with a few of my fellow campers at the bar and then we took our leave; Django and I. He told every dog on the camp that I’d forced him on a ‘should’ve-been-a-3-mile-but-she-made-it-a-5-mile-hike’ which gave him kudos I think. Well, every dog has his day (you just knew that was coming, right?) The party goers were all there by the time we’d returned. They were extremely polite and not at all leary… though they did all have sparkly face tattoos. Fine when in a ‘sparkly’ group but I felt for the big fella who had to walk to the farm and buy the cider, on is own.
As the group sat around their barbecues, swilling cider and Prosecco, sharing tales and laughing, Django and I sat out on the grass. We didn’t have a fire because it was too warm. Lucky really because I forgot to buy anything to burn. Or matches… I did buy some pretty lights though. Anyway, none of that compares to a setting sun and a few mugs of cider. With a smile on our faces, we climbed into the van, swish-banged the door and settled down for the night with Washington Irving’s, Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.
West Bay and the Point of the Visit
After my disappointing first visit to the Hive Cafe, I decided I’d have breakfast there. We got up about 9 I guess and before coffee I dismantled the awning. It wasn’t as hard as you’d think as Django had (helpfully) chewed right through a few of the guy ropes. The whole structure was barely hanging on… I felt quite sad to be going and could’ve done another night, I think. That said, I would need to be better equipped with food, wood, matches etc. It took barely 5 minutes to drive to the cafe. Parking was straight forward and getting seated with a dog was not a problem either. I ordered Mushroom Benedict with some home-made doggie treats for Django. My goodness, food never tasted so good! I was clearly hungry and this was just what I needed before driving to West Bay to meet up with Seb, Noush and the kids.
We weren’t meeting until midday but I was there by 11. Parking on the quayside was ample and surprisingly reasonable. Django and I enjoyed our jaunt around pretty West Bay. It isn’t a huge place but it is quite convoluted; you can see where you want to go but you have to go the long way round to get there. This was frustrating as poor Django was so desperately hot and just flagging. I decided we’d go back to the van for 20 minutes or so. I pulled all the curtains closed, open the windows and filled his bowl with water. Then we both flaked out until Seb rang to say they were here.
We spent a glorious hour on West Bay Beach, watching Grace and Ben throwing stones at each other and Django eating them (stones, not children…) We chatted a bit, though not enough I feel. There’ll be other times. Then I had to be off, back to the van, with it’s ticket near to expiration. I tried to walk cooly away, leave them with an image of serenity but it’s hard walking on shingles, when every other step is a limp…
Family are truly what life is about. If you can’t push yourself, move aside your anxieties for loved ones who are going through their own personal hell, then maybe you need to seek help. Honestly, it would’ve been far easier not to have left the house this weekend; safer to not hear the woes of others but at what cost?
By achieving this weekend I have noticed the step forward I’ve taken. I have enriched my knowledge of others by opening up to people who share my love of camping but mostly I have righted a wrong. Noush and Seb needed to see family. And I, however unwittingly, thwarted that plan and so devised this one. I am absolutely delighted that I did. Though their visit was just a tiny bit of my mini-break, it took effort and love on both sides and love should always be celebrated.
A photo full of love xxxxx
“Before Prince left Wendy and Lisa with a heartbreaking hole in their nomadic dreams, Lisa pondered how her future in the road would be; ‘I’ll be the enigmatic lady, aloof with a book and a puppy. Everyone will wonder what my tale is… I’ll be cool like Mona Lisa…’ Since reality hit, she has mostly been thinking, ‘Shit, I’m a forty-something widow in a van, with a dog… It’s all going to be sad and lonely…’
Well we’ll see. Next Saturday will be the first night away – alone – for Wendy and Lisa AND Django. What could possibly go wrong?”
With the Ostara Equinox upon us, though clearly the Goddess has fallen out with the weather, what better time for me to dip my toe in the murky puddle of my new camper van life. After all, Spring is all about rebirth and new beginnings, right?
of our design company. I had forgotten all about them until the morning of my trip. Harry found them for me and so I spent a thoughtful half hour assembling the figures and building the scene. The only relevant bit though was the two Indians so I placed them in the canoe and they are now eternally paddling across the dashboard on the passengers side. Nigel’s side. Well, Django’s side now.
I tidied all my bits away and pulled out the bed to save me having to do it later. I slipped Django onto his walking lead and took him for a stroll. Naturally we headed down to paddock 9, where Nige and I stayed on our first and last trip here together. The main gate was padlocked – I think because it’s a field and needs to ‘heal’ if you like, before the peak season begins next week. I was a little concerned as the gateway to Nick’s (the only way I know of getting to his) is through that field… Then I remembered the walkway around the outside. It’s set up as a nature trail and leads you past the Pygmy Goats. Django froze as the goats stood on top of their little houses and peered down on him. I love them! With words of encouragement and much pulling of the lead, I managed to get him past them all. Yes, the gate was still there and accessible. The Hebridean Sheep were in the far field. As I walked passed the gateway and took in the field something strange happened. I could see every motorhome, camper van and tent that had been there on our trip together. Including ours. With each step Django and I took the scene filled up with the past. By the time I drew level with our pitch from the past I could see Nige, chatting to the young couple from Calne, who were lighting a barbecue. I was lying on the bed watching him proudly as he talked optimistically about life. The tears were falling. I hadn’t expected this.
5pm. That’s about right. I grabbed my bottle of Peaky Blinders Gin, some tonic, treats and poop bags for Django and set off for Nick’s. Back to the Pygmy Goats. Yeah, Django still didn’t like them… As I got to the gate I could see the Hebridean Sheep spread out in front of me. “Shit!” Nothing for it though, he’s on a lead and I’m a country girl. Over the stile, head down, one stoic foot in front of the other. Of course, stoicism is easier without a large puppy bunny-hopping excitedly through a water-logged, rare sheep inhabited field but we got there… At the sight of the fisherman’s cottage I cried again, as I recalled the stilted conversation Nige and I had had. The whole walk was punctuated with memories akin to this; gentle, simple conversation due to his illness that filled me then with sadness now destroyed me. I guided my beautiful hound through the flooded pathway, I found myself laughing at the ludicrous situation we were in. I smiled at Django’s unending bounce no matter what was ahead. The similarities between him and my beloved man were not lost on me. Amidst all this heartache, I met a young couple who fussed Django nonchalantly yet with affection and two young girls who fell upon him with lots of ‘Ooohs!’ and ‘Ahhhhs!’ No one noticed my distress and I genuinely feel that maybe I just don’t wear it… I feel it – hugely. At Nick’s Django escaped wth him to the garden. I found myself collapsing into Shelley’s arms. You see, that’s what a ‘safe place’ is all about.
I had the best evening. Nick cooks so beautifully, he really puts passion and heart into what he serves up. Nige always adored his food too so I felt a real connection as I savoured each mouthful. Shelley kept me topped up with, first, gin and then, later, coffee. Django and cousin Amy bonded with some rather complex mouthing… Their relationship is an ongoing adventure! At about 11 Nick was ready to walk me and Django back to the campsite. We went a different way – less water-logged. Somehow we ended up on the main road to the site. I did think he’d leave me at the gate but he didn’t. He walked me right back to the van. He watched as a lifted Django up and onto our bed. Then, with a heartfelt hug, he left me to my first night alone on the van. I could not love him more.
One of my concerns initially was Django’s insane biting. I thought he’d just rip everything off the roof, that he’d chew anything else and possibly eat me alive. But I underestimated just how much your puppy adores being with you. He snuggled up next me, as I watched Guardians of the Galaxy (thank you electric hook-up!) and he came with me the first couple of times I needed a wee. After that he just sat and waited for me! We didn’t wake up until 9, and the sun was shining.
As I packed the awning away (badly) and drank my coffee, I felt accomplished. I thought about other widows and widowers I knew and felt, not superior but knowledgeable. I wanted, right there and then, to say to them, ‘Do it.’ No drama, just be. Because, yes, it’s emotional. Yes, it’s hard but, man, it’s the ONLY way to move forward. And I know that if I don’t move forward I may as well turn the steering wheel into the path of on-coming traffic… And I haven’t done that yet.
Please join me on more journeys with my dog. Next stop: Brean. Probably.
“I don’t know what to say, do or be. You were my everything – more than that – you were you.
I’m so good at boxes or compartments, places for people and experiences, for heartache and love. My head is full of them; there’s one for my childhood, firmly closed. One for my adolescence, closed but not locked, like a love-sick diary. My mum has a box that is continually being added to and Ben. Ben has a box which was locked before I even attempted to go through the contents. What a mess. You, Nige, you are not in a box. I couldn’t bear that. I decided a year ago that you wouldn’t be archived but you would stay as an open book by the side of our bed. I decided that I would embrace this tragic experience of ours and feel every second, not skip the painful bits and shut them away. I did this because to do so honours you and improves me.”
“I can only imagine how you feel…”
“Well, I don’t want to sound, you know, but I had 16 months to imagine how I’d feel and, honestly? I wasn’t even close.”