What’s in a name?

Sometimes it’s tricky deciding what to call something.

What's this?

What’s this?

A dead one of these!

A dead one of these!

“A building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys”

This is the dictionary definition of a house. Our new place of habitation doesn’t have any upper storeys so I guess it isn’t a house. It’s not a bungalow either. So if we don’t live in a house or a bungalow, a flat or a maisonette, what do we live in? What do we call our new home?

The problem started as soon as we began negotiations with the vendors and it’s still going on now three months after we moved in. Obviously you don’t buy a new home without constantly referring to it and we quickly found that we didn’t actually know what to call the thing we were buying. I don’t mean we were struggling to choose between ‘Dunroamin’ or ‘Att-om-ere’, I mean we just kept using different ways of describing it. Park home, Mobile home, Caravan, Static Van, Unit; we tried them all out but they all felt a bit awkward. We are not alone in this either. When people come to visit for the first time they are genuinely complimentary but they always seem to stumble when reaching for the correct descriptive noun. “It’s bigger than I thought”, they say, “I’ve never actually been inside ‘one of them’ before”. That’s the giveaway isn’t it? “One of them”. There is something about that phrase that says, “Well it’s not a house is it?”

It's mobile but it isn't going anywhere.

It’s mobile but it isn’t going anywhere.

I think I have worked out what is going on here now. Everybody is really supposed to live in a house aren’t they? We all have this pre-conceived idea of ‘the family’, ‘the home’, ‘the job’ etc. and if we are confronted by anything that breaks the mould in any way it makes us a bit uncomfortable. You hear phrases like; “Oh they’re not married”, or “They work from home” suggesting that ‘they’ are actually not quite normal.  Perhaps that is why we are all struggling with what to call the place where we live now. No matter how you dress it up it’s not a house in a conventional sense and in reality it’s a plywood box sitting on a steel chassis with a fake tiled roof made out of aluminium. By any stretch of the imagination that is not a conventional house as described by the dictionary. Of course no friend wants to describe it like that for fear of being rude but the plain truth is; Park Home, Mobile Home, Caravan, Static Van and Unit all describe it much better than ‘house’ does. This is why we all keep stumbling when we grasp for the right name to use. I have experimented with referring to it as a house from time to time but it just doesn’t sound right. Calling it a house won’t magically make it sprout another storey and it feels phoney. A bit like the well-dressed lady in Lidl’s who answered her mobile phone and announced to the caller, “Oh I’m just doing a bit of shopping in Sainsbury’s”. Who does she think she is kidding? (That’s a true story by the way; thank you Elaine.)

The official UK government website has settled on Park (mobile) Home, thus hedging its bets by putting the potentially offensive word in brackets. Use of the word mobile is a bit misleading anyway. It’s got nothing to do with the thing having wheels or being towable, it’s doesn’t and it isn’t. The mobile word refers to the fact that in theory at least, we could, should we choose, load our house onto the back of a big lorry and take it somewhere else. In that sense it is mobile. In reality these things rarely move anywhere unless it’s really, really windy.

I suppose it’s fitting really that if you choose to live somewhere a bit quirky and unconventional then it follows that it might be a bit tricky to refer to it without mortally offending the owners. Just for the record I should point out that we really don’t care what people call it. To us it’s just home and you can call it anything you like but “Gill and Tony’s place” sounds quite nice. It’s going to be a whole lot easier if we stick to our plan of buying a narrow boat at some point in the future. At least that is what it says it is; nothing more, nothing less.

Do you have a junk room?

Do you have a junk room? Or an attic, box room, garage or spare shed: whatever form it takes I mean somewhere that you can chuck all that stuff that won’t fit anywhere else. Or maybe you rent storage space to hold the possessions that don’t fit into your regular home anymore. Apparently the latter trend is growing rapidly and 11% of self-storage is used by people who are de-cluttering. That’s not de-cluttering. That’s moving your clutter somewhere else.

I’ve spoken to lots of people who have boxes in their attic that they put there the last time they moved house and they have never opened them since. (Me included at times) Even more intriguing is if you asked them to list the contents of those boxes they would struggle.

I wonder how many people have gone through the process of packing the contents of their house prior to a move without using the phrase; “I can’t believe how much stuff we have.” I’d love to hear from you if you are one of those rare individuals.

So, you might think that since Gill and I have gone to extremes to reduce what we own to the bare minimum we wouldn’t suffer from these problems but you would be wrong. Even though we don’t now have an attic, a spare room or a garage we have still managed to squirrel away about ten boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in the two months since we moved into our park home. I am beginning to wonder if anybody is truly immune from this need to hang on to things no matter what.

My own weaknesses are bits of old bikes, off cuts of timber and knackered Ordnance Survey maps held together by brittle yellowing Sellotape. The idea of throwing a map away is such an anathema to me that I even have more than one copy of some maps and I still hang on to them. When we cleared my Dad’s shed out we found old tobacco tins full of broken and rusting screws. Maybe its genetic. As I type I am looking at a leather clock that used to belong to my Mum and Dad. It sits proudly on our mantelpiece and you know what? I don’t even like it!

When we went cycle touring for a few months we whittled our belongings down to just what would fit onto the bikes. We put a lot of time and effort into it until we felt confident that we weren’t taking anything that was superfluous to our needs. We more or less got it right too, but then we did something really strange.

I'm sure I've got a spare spoon in there somewhere

I’m sure I’ve got a spare spoon in there somewhere

While we were on the road we actually began to accumulate stuff. We bought a three pack of plastic Sporks because they were on offer, (combination spoon and fork that are supposedly unbreakable) and a five pack of toothbrushes despite that fact that I only needed one toothbrush to clean the chains on the bikes. We ‘forgot’ about food that we had bought and stored in the bottom of the panniers and I even carried a ‘handy’ sheet of polythene that somebody gave me even though it was ten times bigger than what I needed. Well you never know when it might come in useful do you? In other words, even when cycle-touring, and with such limited storage capacity, we still weren’t immune to the twin problems of ‘acquiring stuff’ and ‘hanging on to stuff’.

Maybe it’s all a matter of space. After all, how many people do you know with an empty garage that they put the car in each night? If I am right and the only way to avoid hanging on to stuff that you don’t really need is to limit your storage space then that would suggest that our 35’ x 12’ home is too big! Maybe a narrow boat is the only answer. I would miss my shed though.

I looked up the definition of Junk on Oxforddictionaries.com. It told me that is was “Old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value”. When you put it like that it seems a strange thing to dedicate a room to doesn’t it?

Then again, there is another definition of the word junk. It also means: Worthless writing. Hmmm?



A narrow escape?

First of all, apologies for the complete lack of blogging over the last few weeks and thank you to those of you who noticed my absence. (Both of you) I’m very flattered.

The plain truth is, I haven’t had much to write about and even less motivation to try. I think that despite having found work and a nice place to live, we are both still a bit down in the dumps, wondering where the next adventure will come from and when. Life has become too routine in precisely the way that I promised myself it wouldn’t following our big trip last year. You know that feeling when you leave the house and you just know that something isn’t quite right but you don’t know what. Then half an hour later you get to work and find that you’ve left your phone at home. Well it’s a bit like that but on a bigger scale. Like we are getting things sorted but there is some undefined element that is missing. Yesterday however, I think we may have made some progress in finding that missing link. If was a funny sort of day all round really. We only had plans to go for a gentle walk but all the best plans end up in tatters don’t they?

We started by making an offer on a static home on a residential park close to where we live. Five hours later the offer was rejected but what happened in between was amazing. We sailed somebody else’s narrow boat down a canal, made two new friends, viewed another boat that was for sale and considered living on it and finally drove home with our heads whirling and the possibility of a whole new life ahead of us. Let me explain.

Lovely day for a stroll

Lovely day for a stroll

One of the consequences of having so much freedom last year is that we are both finding it rather difficult to settle back down. We don’t want to go off and do the same or similar type of trip again, at least not at the moment, but at the same time we find ourselves doing a lot of foot scratching. (No it’s not a fungal infection, just a bit of wanderlust.) My job working for The Canal and River Trust as a fund raiser has brought me into contact with a lot of people who live on board narrow boats and I think I may have infected Gill with my enthusiasm for the lifestyle. We have been doing a lot of walking on the tow paths and narrow boat envy doesn’t take long to take hold. Some of them are just beautiful. At about the same time we have been considering our financial future, retirement and what we want from the remainder of whatever allotted time we have left. With this in mind when a cheap property came up for sale on a local residential park we started to consider the possibility of getting out of rented accommodation and taking a big step towards making work optional rather than essential. Ok, it wasn’t a boat and nor was it on a canal but it was cheap and it was narrow, so it kind of fitted the bill.

After putting in a cheeky offer on the property we went off to take a stroll along the Leeds Liverpool canal on what turned out to be a glorious sunny day but not quite as forecast. A couple of miles down the tow path we came across Carol, sitting in the sun, alongside a narrow boat and looking more chilled than a frozen chilli. It turned out that Carol and her partner Roy had sold their house last year, bought the boat and moved onto it and had been in a state of euphoric relaxation ever since. We found ourselves pouring out our life stories, desires and dreams to each other and before we knew it we were sailing down the canal towards Parbold, our original walking destination. We had a good look around the boat, had a go at sailing it without going aground or destroying any other boats, spotted a kingfisher and generally fell in love with the whole business. After saying goodbye to our new found friends we began the walk back to Burscough unexpectedly discussing chemical toilets and boat licences. A phone call from the estate agent shattered the park home dream for now but by then it was only one option and we were already moving on to other possibilities.

Saying goodbye to our new friends Carol and Roy

Saying goodbye to our new friends Carol and Roy

Earlier in the walk we had passed a boat that was for sale and after our brief but wildly successful careers as skippers we now looked on it in a completely different light. The owner kindly showed us round and in our imaginations we were already managing locks, fishing for our supper and toasting the moon reflected in the perfect mirror of a midnight canal.

Seems like we might be at a cross roads

Seems like we might be at a cross roads

All of a sudden it feels like the rut we were in danger of getting stuck in is full of opening doors. Over the last forty eight hours we have discussed other park homes, motor homes and narrow boats. Maybe we are trying to find a compromise somewhere between the tent and a house, I don’t know. Whatever the motivation it’s exciting to experience all these potential options opening up before us like a glorious flower blooming. I do believe that we are heading for our next adventure. We might not know what it will be yet but there is a tangible feeling of it’s inevitability. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. It might be the daylight at the end of rather dull period or it may be the light of a narrow boat coming towards us. It’s the not knowing that makes it exciting.