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Man in a van
He had travelled all over - rarely spending more than a couple of nights anywhere. He enjoyed the short trips - keeping the van ticking over and putting the miles on...
He lived in the van. This was his choice. He had enough money, and enough experience to find work and have a property and live in comfort, but had decided that this was not the right path for him. The impression is always of some kind of ‘end-of-luck’ hobo who lives out of a van but in reality, it made things simple for him. No rent to pay, a new place to stay every night, if he wished, a constant change of scenery. No ties. No bills. The van took upkeep and it was awkward if it needed any extended work - but he’d managed, in the last three years, to spend just four nights out of it.
It had toughened him up. The first year, in the UK, he would wrap himself up in multiple layers of sleeping bags but still felt cold - but since that time migration to warmer climes was the routine - spending winters in Spain, the South of France or Portugal. The money he had from a lump sum of his pension, with money from the sale of the family house, had given him many years of freedom ahead - as long as his health held up. This was his greatest fear. To be ill, away from the UK ( especially now they were no longer part of Europe ) and unable to look after himself. He kept a permanent address at a friend’s, this helped with things like doctors and benefits.
He had travelled all over - rarely spending more than a couple of nights anywhere. He enjoyed the short trips - keeping the van ticking over and putting the miles on kept it lubricated and running well. He had gone around the UK almost three times, the coast, inland and then side to side. He stayed in picturesque places and sometimes in the middle of cities, in car parks or on domestic streets. He loved the variety. He would sometimes ride around at night to see what was happening when the lights went down. He tried, as best he could, not to keep to any form of regular timetable. This, he felt, kept things fresh.
The constants were his writing and his photography. He would make small books of his travels, now numbering almost 100 and sell them to a subscriber list he had managed to collect over time. This topped his money up, but really, he only did this so as to keep himself in touch and on course to make something that he would be able to leave behind.
He was happy. He was content. He felt that he was finally doing something with his life. And then the virus hit and everything changed. Freedom of travel was curbed. International borders closed. Lockdown prevented any form of travel. He had to find a spot where he could stay and not arouse suspicion, which proved almost impossible. He could not stay on a street or in a camp. He could not just park up in a beauty spot. There was little he could do. In the end, a friend came to his rescue and allowed him to stay - but even here he could not leave his beloved van and would spend his time there rather than indoors. But this, as he had suspected when he started, was the downfall. The whole purpose of the van was to afford travel, to allow him to have a subtly different view and emotional connection every day (if possible) by mixing his times and places and environments so much he was able to achieve this, but now - stuck in his tiny van all day and night, he was starting to grow bored of it and his work was drying up.
Was it worse to be in the van or in his friend's house? His friends said he could stay if he wanted - but it seemed to him that that would be the final liberty lost - the freedom of being on your own and having your own peace and living your life according to no one’s rules but your own.
He was found one morning dead in his van. He had not died of any medical condition, the virus, or old age. The only conclusion that could be made was that he had just given up - without his passion and variety he must have seen no reason to carry on.
Sydenham, London. 2006. Nikon fm2
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