The camper van bug.jpg

The camper van bug

By PAUL McKAY

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Teacher Paul McKay left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Saturday November 8

I’VE HAD a wonderful week doing the bins. Before you label me as a hobo type, delving in among the detritus for the odd sandwich, let me elaborate.

My first find was at our local bin while chucking in my own black bag. Proudly sitting on top of the weekends’ refuse was a cardboard box, full of pristine books.

Upon investigation, I discovered a collection of W. Somerset Maugham short stories, some Thomas Hardy novels and a book of Philip Larkin poetry. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, also on offer was a book on Mediterranean gardening and various historical tomes. Next to the bins was a robust, push along lawn mower, which brought back memories of Percy Thrower.

A week later, after having flogged half the books to a book store, while driving on a winding country road, I stumbled across a lonely green bin, surrounded by a massive pampas grass, a collection of yuccas, a few pot plants and some ivy. The pampas split into twenty five plants and along with the rest, all are now in the ground waiting for some substantial rain. There is little in life as rewarding as digging in new plants. When these plants cost absolutely nothing it is even more satisfying.

Wednesday November 12

I visited a green-fingered friend today and together we ooohed and ahhhed over the Mediterranean gardening book. One garden pictured in the book shows a wonderful idea with low maintenance perennials planted close together in old orange boxes. The robust plants had spread and tumbled over the side of the boxes disguising them, resulting in a wonderful mobile garden.

Monday November 17

I have been making hay while the sun shines. A huge terrace has been dug over, weeded and cleaned. I have planted mange-tout peas, broad beans, a selection of cabbages and some winter lettuces. This is all on virgin soil, not cultivated for at least twenty years so I am expecting good results

Martyn has been making cosmetic improvements to the pig and duck terrace and made the pond more accessible, with a pretty stone border.

Tuesday November 18

We awoke this morning to find a guinea fowl at peace, serenely drifting across the new duck pond, clearly not the best of swimmers. Dinner consisted of drowned guinea fowl served in a tomato and wine sauce.  

Thursday November 20

I had to do an airport run this morning, for Martyn, who is making a lightning UK visit. After dropping him off, I had a couple of hours to kill, so did what any normal forty-something year old would do and headed off to a garden centre. What a joy. Not only did this garden of Eden have an immense range of beautiful plants, it also had internet access and free coffee. This reminded me of Sundays in Ikea. Why bother making your own home comfortable when you can simply go there for the afternoon, snuggle up on a leather sofa in an orderly tidy room and pretend it’s your own?

Friday November 28

Quite inexplicably, every few years I get hit by the campervan bug. I know spending more than a day in one would be just about as frustrating as life could get, but periodically, that logic is suspended as I picture myself circumnavigating the globe in a Winnebago. As with most things in life, my parents are responsible for this personality disorder on an account of a few childhood holidays in a campervan.

When I say campervan, I am being a little generous. It was in fact a Bedford minibus converted by my father. The seats were ripped out and replaced with hardboard beds on one side and a formica kitchen on the other. The outside of this dream machine was hand painted in what appeared to be creosote and the passenger door flew open on sharp bends. This did not deter us from discovering the hidden treasures of the English countryside in it.

One memorable holiday was spent with my mother, my auntie Jean, my brother and my two cousins. The dads simply dropped us off at a third world campsite in the middle of Kent and returned home for the week to demolish a load bearing wall. As well as the camper van, we had an awning (a tent that attaches to the van) and a separate two-man tent.

The first hiccup came when the torch would only work when flashing red. We had no means of escape as the ladies could not drive in those days, so disco dining became the norm. After a couple of days the flashing red light was attracting a little undesirable attention from some male campers. The next incident involved a swarm of bees. Unfortunately the dads had parked and pitched us on a bees nest. The helpful attentions of a (male) fellow camper overcame that problem with a can of some noxious substance but caused a little friction with his wife.

Next came the good old English weather – torrential day and night. Within hours all of our clothes were damp – wet through. I clearly remember having to put carrier bags inside my wellies before venturing out every morning. As a means of escape, we would bus it to local beauty spots (usually a castle) and shelter for the day before returning to camp.

Many of these return journeys were achieved by us children hiding behind a hedge, while the ladies hitched. We had to time our appearance when the unfortunates behind the wheel could not back out. We travelled in all number of vehicles including the back of a potato lorry and in a post office van surrounded by the Queen’s Mail.

Nonetheless, time is a great healer and the campervan bug still strikes from time to time.

Sunday November 30

The rain has arrived – at last. Monchique is awash. The peas I planted a few weeks ago have emerged from the soil, floated to the surface with no sign of imminent germination. The lettuces are bright green and looking proud. On the animal terraces the pigs are wallowing around happily, the ducks are swimming merrily and the guinea fowl are giving the pond a wide berth.

Merry Christmas!