People do ask me what I do with my time as a fulltime traveling pensioner. So I thought I might have a look at a couple of days when we didn’t do any of the obvious things like shopping or sightseeing.
This blog is a rambling account of those two random days.
Can’t cope without problems…
Traveling around Europe in a motorhome or caravan is a lifestyle that has problem solving at its core. It is easy enough to adapt to the limitations of living, even cooking, space. Thinking back to living in a house, we didn’t really use most of the space we had. You can only sit in one chair at a time and only sleep in one bed at a time. The fact that we now use the same chair to eat, read, “work” and sometimes just sit and watch the world go by, is no great hardship.
The difference lies in the reaction to the things that break or malfunction.
Back home, a blocked sink; a blown fuse; leaking roof or flat car battery can all be addressed by a call for the relevant “expert” if you can’t do it yourself. For the long-term camper, that is a much more difficult solution. First you have to find the “expert” and the Yellow Pages are not in English. Then you have to explain the problem in a language which, even if you can get by in, will be difficult when it comes to the technical jargon relating to your problem.
Enter the community of the camper. Most sites of any size have a collection of residents who have a life time of experience and a wide selection of skills to offer. And offer, they do!
A trip to the dustbin to empty the rubbish will almost certainly involve a conversation on the way there and another on the way back. You get to meet everyone within a few days. Here we have a farmer, a structural engineer, two teachers, a taxi driver/mechanic and a florist – just to name a few.
Not only have they their formal skills but, since most are well over 55 years old, they have hundreds of years of experience between them.
We tend to become aware of anyone struggling with a problem. Help is readily offered because they are your neighbours.
Help can be mandatory.
When we arrived in a fairly large van on to this fairly tightly spaced Sicilian campsite, we wanted to get into a pitch that overlooked the sea. But it was not going to be easy to get onto the pitch because of the many obstacles like the sun canopies etc. Within minutes, I had a team of half a dozen people watching every corner and side – all giving instructions from their vantage point! Now this might be annoying and confusing in the real world but, hey, there is no rush. No-one is hurrying you along. You can take all day to maneuver you van into just the right spot and it doesn’t matter.
Is Denmark the right way up?
Yesterday, I was wondering what I wanted to do after breakfast when there was a knock on the door. A Danish neighbour had a problem with his laptop. His screen had suddenly turned upside down and he didn’t know why or how to get it back the right way up. Somebody had told him that this was something I might be able to help him with.
Now, this is a matter that is different for each make of laptop and, of course, his machine is all in Danish. But it doesn’t really take long with the help of the internet and the owner providing translation of what the screen is saying. And within half an hour the matter is resolved.
Is Sweden switched on?
An hour later a Swedish neighbour asks for help with his electrics. It turns out that in two years, the mains fuse has never blown before so he has never needed to know where the mains fuse box was located. That one took a little longer.
Each job is an interaction that develops into a conversation and an exchange of tales from our histories.
This time, I discovered that the Danish pay 180% tax on the purchase of a car or motorhome… I learnt that you can buy a Mercedes car and run it for two years as a taxi and then sell it without the tax at a figure that means you have had the car for the two years without costing anything!
I also learned that one of the Swedish shipyards built a ship so big that it wouldn’t fit under the bridge to get it out of the Baltic Sea. The only way that it could be done was for the ship to be driven at full power that the stern went down under such acceleration!
And there are always things that you can volunteer to do.
Problems don’t have to be real.
As I sat and watched the waves breaking on this rocky coast, I started to wonder what could be done to get some of that energy harnessed. I know it is being done but various schemes but they all involve putting machinery into the sea. That seems to be asking for very high maintenance costs. So the idea came to me that it might be possible to put a plastic tank in the waves which would cause air to be sucked in and blown out. If one could bring that air movement ashore so that there were no moving parts in the sea, there might be a better sort of wave engine to be had.
On the way to the rubbish bin with the recycling, I stopped to talk to Gunther, a German Structural Engineer, and told him of my idea. He said it wouldn’t work in the Mediterranean because the waves weren’t big enough and patted me on the head!
Now, you will understand that this is a challenge that has to be met. Back in the van and a little research with the Italian Meteorology department and a lot of refreshing of memory about things like the number of foot pounds to the kilowatt-hour produced a spreadsheet that showed to my satisfaction that the average wave height of 1.2m would be enough to produce 800 watts of electricity from a 2 litre piston/tank. It might have confused any onlooker as to why I would have been standing on the rocks at nearly midnight with a torch and a stopwatch but I hadn’t thought till then to find out how many waves you get to the minute!
Tomorrow, I shall present my findings to Gunther and see if he still feels inclined to pat me on the head…
The pleasure of doing a job – just because you don’t have to do it.
Yesterday, I decided that something needed to be done about the campsite WiFi equipment.
Guiseppe had had the engineers in to fix it. I saw him wandering around the site with his laptop. I guessed he was trying to check that the signal was getting to everywhere. But I also know that you can’t really tell that way. You may get a signal which is too weak to be sustained. You may get a signal that is coming from a mast that won’t reach the same point tomorrow. T really find out what was what, he needed to a site survey using the right software.
I can do that, I thought!
A day of looking for the right software on the internet and then half a day, off and on, getting to know how to run them (couldn’t find any one bit of software that would do the whole job) and finally, half a day putting together the survey and a report to explain the findings.
I presented the report to Guiseppe, an hydraulics engineer by training, who immediately wanted to find out why the two repeaters he thought were working, weren’t working at all.
Off we set with his screwdrivers and my kit to investigate.
What we found inside the repeaters was a mass of rust! The engineers who had set the equipment up had used good sealed weather-tight boxes but then drilled a large hole in the underside to get the aerial cable in. Sadly they hadn’t taken into account that the repeaters are within reach of the breaking wave spray when stormy. This, of course, had resulted in water being driven into the boxes from underneath which they hadn’t sealed. Guiseppe used some Italian which needed no translation even though I had no idea what any of the words were! I also understood that my report would be sent immediately to the IT engineers for action. In a month or two, they should have a working system…
Dept. Of Transport Acquaintances?
I remember working with an engineer who had spent most of his working life thus far working on the Cross Chanel ferries. He had made many friends in his job but always refused to acknowledge them as such because ships move on and he never knew when or if he would meet them again. . They were always referred to as Board of Trade Acquaintances.
We said goodbye to an English couple off to explore more of the island and to the Swedish couple off to visit the Mars factory on the West coast. Both will probably be back in a week or two.
The French couple with the delightful deaf child will be away in the next day or so. And so we, too, will move on to have a look at the other end of the island.
Are they friends or Dept of Transport Acquaintances? Only time will tell…
And then there is the rest…
Bear in mind that there are books to be read; emails to read and send; forums to be contributed to and Face Book to be dealt with. And we have talked to all the children on Skype.
There is shopping to do; water to fill, waste water and loos to empty; running repairs to fix; the van to wash the Sahara off; cooking and washing up and the laundry…
From this, you will appreciate that even finding time to go sightseeing and shopping becomes a matter of careful time-management.
What should the answer be to “What do you do all day?”