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Published: August 9th 2007
Motorhome News from North America 45 29th June 2007
Home at last.
Immense shocks awaited our return to England with the realisation that our memories of this land had not faded nor our worst fears abated with time. Traffic swarmed the M25 from Heathrow, aggressive and impatient, travelling at high speeds we were unaccustomed to, too many people, hurrying, scurrying, in too small a space, all bound with the frustration of congestion and too few hours in each day for both work and play. Out on the fringes of London’s arteries, traffic slowed a knot or two, the roads narrowed perceptibly and the lush green of England’s new summer filled the air with its own brand of beauty: of broad-leaf trees, voluptuous hedges bounding tiny fields, small compact towns and villages, houses of brick and tile, deep cumulous clouds white on a soft blue sky. This is England.
It is much as we feared - little changed. Costs are still exorbitantly high compared with much of North America: an astronomical £13 for two ciders, two fruit juices and two packets of crisps (chips) at the revered English pub, £2.50 for one flapjack and one small cup of coffee with
David and Janice
High in the mountains of Northern Scandinavia
a vicar’s collar, indifferent service and a hard to find smile on the waitress’s face. There’s a three-week wait to see the doctor for a check-up by which time I might either be still alive or very dead - hopefully the former, and the travel insurance company is still playing games, trying to find more ways to wriggle out of paying for my camera lost in Key West in December last and hoping, erroneously, I’ll get fed up with their continuous demands for ridiculous information and give up. This is England.
Our house had been well looked after in our absence. The furniture turned up on the removal lorry in four containers on the 5th June and the telephone worked. The first call came from Toucan, the Internet and phone supplier contracted in our absence. Our friend who had looked after the house for us had clearly overlooked their recent bill - of the 28th May, and Toucan threatened to disconnect the line - that’s a friendly approach to a new customer, but we’ll persevere for the moment, the BT alternative could be worse! Murphy’s Law kicked in just there and they did disconnect later that day to compound
the issue, and only reconnected when I called from another phone, raised hell, and paid the bill by card. The stress of all that and moving back into our lovely house might have got to lesser mortals! The furniture still doesn’t fit of course: the lounge sofas are still too big for the lounge (or is the lounge too small for the sofas?) and the oak tables are the wrong shape, but most of the boxes are now unpacked and it’s like Christmas all over again, finding long-forgotten treasures wrapped in tissue and bubble-wrap.
A number of friends have enquired what it is like to return to the ‘home comforts’ of living in a proper house. By this, I’m inclined to think of things such as irons and ironing boards (Janice has rediscovered this particular strange implement - we used an iron twice during our 17 months in North America if my memory serves me as it did when I was young, many years ago), a dishwasher (with careful planning it’s possible to cook with one or two pans and wash up the few things used, once each day in the motorhome), a vacuum cleaner (we had a tiny
hand-held thing purchased for $10 and used once a week), and all those ‘things’ filling a dozen or more cupboards in the kitchen we’ve done without all this time - things you might use once a year: a Christmas plate, a round pudding maker, that awful piece of china Auntie Whatsit brought back from her visit to Outer Mongolia in 1974, eleven baking trays, a food processor, ten various bowls, sixteen mugs, thirty-two glasses and twenty-seven dinner plates in case somebody turns up for dinner. The word is need - or not. It’s a wonderful feeling when your whole means of living can be encompassed within a space of 24ft by 8ft 6inches - and there’s still room for a teddy bear or two, a dream catcher and a clock if that can be justified in a world without the walls of time.
Around every corner there’s now another job to be done when there’s a house as old as this one instead of a robust motorhome: the gutters are overflowing, the lead flashing on the garage cupola has come away, a ridge-tile is cracked, the windows need painting again, (they also need cleaning), there’s moss on the roof
- there’s a list of ‘jobs to do’ as long as a Costa Rican boa-constrictor, getting even longer by the day as you might expect after three years away. And four weeks after moving in we are still without Internet (Toucan failed to send us the correct forms at the first time of asking - and the second - then compounded it by failing to forward the necessary software - twice). But then, they seem to be operating out of Ireland somewhere. ‘What day comes after Sunday, Paddy?’ Welcome home!
Janice’s first journey to the supermarket brought overflowing baskets of pork pies in crusty pastry, real English sausages primed for sizzling in the pan, best-back bacon, pickled onions, Branston pickle, brown eggs, and treacle pudding and custard ripe for the microwave. Now, that’s good living! Welcome home!
It’s good to be back. But what of the future here in this crowded multicultural country that no longer bears any resemblance to the Land of Hope and Glory I was born to? It is rumoured that more English people are now leaving the country for the shores of France and Spain than there are immigrants arriving each and every day
from Eastern Europe, India, Pakistan, The Middle East and Portugal put together. Has anybody thought to ask why? ‘Excuse me, constable. Which way to the boat for France?’ Am I getting (more) cynical in my old age?
A new car now stands on the drive. It’s a small VW Golf, right-hand drive, 2-litre diesel with a manual gearbox (being European), but it does have cruise control and it’s quite powerful and economic enough for us at the moment. Economy is important with gas at 96/98p per litre, up from 89p when we left - an increase of around 7%.
It’s a very different story across the pond. Gas (petrol) in the USA increased from around $2.00 per US gallon when we arrived in Phoenix in January 2006, to $3.36 when we left Colorado at the end of May this year, an increase of 68% - and more in some States! There is either some good reason for that, (can someone out there explain for us please?) or it’s justice by any other name for all things controversial in the Middle East. Any American will tell you gas at the pump is expensive, but by my reckoning it’s still
less than half the UK price. At 10mpg it was not an option to bring Winnie home with us, in case you’re wondering!
The Dollar has had a rough time of it in recent months too; running in our favour from $1.86 in January ’06, to a smidgen off $2 to the £UK when we departed those shores a week-or-two back. It made it a good time for us to visit the States, but that can only be part of the oil equation.
As much as Americans seem to love our Tony Blair for his likeable character, his charisma and his articulate brilliance (it’s comparative of course), his recent affair with the United States is clearly seen as a mistake by many we have spoken to at home here, and his passion for stealth taxes and petty law-making will see his party buried when pen meets paper at election time if I’m not mistaken. The timing of his departure is as impeccable as his suits: leaping off the pedestal leaving Gordon Brown, (up for Prime Minister of Scotland in a minute?) to take a brief stand at the end of the skittle alley in his place.
is already back a work; a walk-on part you understand, as stand-in for the Deputy Head’s class whilst the school awaits a new headmaster; with her previous class back at the old school for a term. She tells me her return to school is as though she had never left. But we have noticed how much our garden has matured - and the forest around our home had changed indeed: with great swards felled to the ground across the road and young plantations burgeoning rapidly. Me? I’ve accepted (with a certain reluctance) the part of gardener, painter and decorator, carpenter, plumber, bricklayer, window cleaner, admin manager, cook and bottle-washer, and part-time writer of things miscellaneous with dreams of one day publishing something or other.
Our journey around North America would not have been complete without a focus; some potential for personal growth: be it history, geology, art or culture, photography, or even wildlife and birds! We were fascinated by all of those, but birding, particularly, helped to give us direction and purpose throughout those fleeting seventeen months. We took a little time out of our final day to complete our birding experience, en route to Denver. A very brief
stop for a walk at Dinosaur National Monument threw up yet three more new birds: a Yellow-breasted Chat, a Grey Vireo (sorry, Gray Vireo) and a Lazuli Bunting. A Blue Grouse rattled the aspen branches overhead in the woods where we stopped for lunch near Rocky Mountain Park (our third time in this area) and Janice spotted a Williamson’s Sapsucker for good measure! Our North America list ended up at 453 species, subject to a recount - very satisfying and deserving of a bronze medal at the very least!
Winnie, the Winnebago motorhome, served us well throughout the whole experience. It proved good sense to buy a ‘recent’ model, reliable and proven, though diesel would have been preferred from a resale and economic perspective. At a guess, the depreciation for the period was about the same as we would have expected from our cars and motorhome had we not sold them before leaving the UK. That’s a fair enough deal for the experience.
We travelled nearly 37,000 miles in Winnie and a further 3,000 plus in the hire car in the last two weeks; a total of 40,000 miles and 34 states in 505 days, averaging 80 miles
per day give or take a snitch. Some might wonder how it’s possible for two people to sustain a friendly relationship in such a small space for such a long period. Our relationship is even stronger we feel, but we have to say, it takes considerable patience, ample compassion and compromise, a lot of common interests and well-disciplined habits - all essentials for a lasting relationship, to make it work; and we had ample time and motorhoming practice in Europe before tackling ‘this big one’.
What did we miss? There were a few things we missed. We missed Crater Lake in Oregon and Sequoia National Park in the mountains of California (both casualties of snow on high roads in February), a real-life American football game, a Baseball match, a US golf tournament, a bit more time in NY, the White-headed Woodpecker in the west! Perhaps we could have ventured a little further into Mexico - and given an extra month of summer, into Alaska - though Janice has travelled that road before and we chose the Newfoundland option instead, getting us to New England for the fall on target. Next time, perhaps. It’s true to say, we missed BBC
Radio 4 until we discovered campsites with Wireless Internet and the BBC on line. Oddly enough we haven’t missed TV at all and for the time being at least, it will stay in the garage here in its box. It is clear that seventeen months was too little time in which to see it all. To do the job properly would require perhaps three years - and then start again, doing it the other way round to see it all in different seasons! Would we do it again? You betcha! But for one of my age with my medical history that’s not really an option, health insurance for the aged and needy visitor to North America now being prohibitive - but we’ve got the tee-shirt now, and, whilst we didn’t make it on this trip, New Zealand is still there somewhere on the agenda to tempt us.
People often ask if we visited anywhere in North America that we might wish to live. Janice, I know, would choose Huntsville in Ontario, her home for a year in ‘85-86 and where we were married in ‘88, still standing at the top of her list. I might support that for
its beauty and our host of wonderful friends there, but not for its winters, the spring black fly or the summer mosquitoes. At the top of my list would be a small place with a white picket fence in Vermont, green and verdant - were it not for the cost of health-care. There are other spots, all with their own brand of appeal: Olympia in Washington State, or the Oregon coast were it not for the rain, Vancouver Island, South Dakota, PEI perhaps, or even parts of the Florida Panhandle believe it or not - were it not for the hurricanes. But it’s really no contest; the best place to live in North America is in a motorhome!
It would be remiss of us to let this American foray overshadow our 18 months and 28,000miles of motorhome touring in Europe. It is impossible to compare the deeply ingrained historic past of Europe with anything, anywhere, on the North American continent. There is no comparison. Those months in Europe are memories chiselled in stone: fond memories, of countries too numerous to mention. Suffice to say, the underlying passion of such diverse cultures, languages, religions, history, art, architecture and scenery leaves
little to the imagination. Its magic is in every sense, the sight and sound, the smell and touch, the crafting of nations - recorded and rerecorded by church and state since man first put quill to paper. Many of those countries are smaller than any North American state, but the fascination is in their distinctive character. There are a few places we have yet to visit - some day soon. ‘Let’s take another look at the life planner, Janice!’
We leave behind us the United States and Canada; envious of their wide empty country roads and huge-open spaces, their National and State Parks and abundant, spectacular wildlife. Thank you, North America, for each and every day, the adventures and new horizons, simple living, low cost food, friendly people, coffee refills, squeaky-toy voices, polite people, dutiful motorists, lettuce salads, your National pride, the ubiquitous Maple Leaf and Stars and Stripes, a lower cost of living, the history (short and dramatic as it might be), huge vistas, the freedom to travel, so many new and ‘old’ friends - and the blessing of time - time to dwell on life and its true meaning. We now understand it better.
The north of Norway
Still our very favourite place
and Janice. The grey-haired-nomads.
PS. It is interesting to look back on the final blog of our European tour, 30th September 2005.
All too soon we would be back at our home in the forest. Strangely, I have to admit that I was not looking forward to being home. There is something of the ‘inevitable’ and routine about conventional living that no longer relates to our lives of daily exploration and every new day offering the fascinating or unexpected.
Smiley (our motorhome) performed outstandingly on this trip, plodding away over mountain passes, down narrow lanes and bumpy tracks, through torrential rain and dust clouds and many, many, thousands of miles. Smiley has been our home and we’ll doubtless find it difficult to settle to life in a house once more.
A record of the grey-haired-nomad travels through Europe can be accessed via: The ramblings of the Grey Haired Nomads
David and Janice can be contacted through this website by sending a message.
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