Living in the tardis

External dining facilities

External dining facilities

Moving to a caravan for the summer was an exercise in editing our possessions. When your living space more than halves in size, you can’t afford anything in your house that you don’t know to be useful, never mind how beautiful it might seem. It’s been an interesting experience. We’ve had a couple of trips back and forward with the car, returning stuff we don’t seem to need and (admittedly more often) bringing back things we realise we can’t live without.

The list of things we absolutely need includes quite a lot of cooking equipment, especially since we rediscovered baking bread and cakes, books (but a few at a time, rather than the walls of shelves we have at home), good walking boots, bicycles, a miniature herb garden and the sort of forgiving clothing that can be layered on or off as the temperature in our barely-insulated home fluctuates. Laptops have been essential, both for writing, working and for staying in touch with friends and the wider world via email and Twitter. It’s about practicality, eating well, travelling under our own steam and keeping comfortable.

What can I live without? Shoes with heels, make-up, suits, hairstyling products, 98% of my books, elegant furniture, paintings, house plants, frocks, a full-length mirror. But what struck me as we prepared to swap the winter coats and fan heater for a mortar and pestle, baking tins and a whisk, was how little external entertainment we’ve used. We haven’t watched the stack of DVDs we brought and hardly listened to any of the CDs. The TV has been switched on three times in five weeks. I listen to a lot of Radio 3 and 4, but I’m buying fewer newspapers and magazines than I used to.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of time strumming the ukulele that I’d barely picked up for the last couple of years in London. The under-used kite got an outing at an impromptu beach-side barbecue one evening this week – Lowestoft beach is made for kite-flying. I’ve enjoyed learning to use my new sewing machine, adapting clothes and making cushion covers while planning more ambitious projects. We’re starting to think we really need a canoe. In the hackneyed phrase, we’re making our own entertainment. It’s a lot more fun than watching TV.

The other odd thing is, the caravan doesn’t feel small. There is a frustrating lack of work surface in the kitchen, and you can touch all four walls in the bathroom at the same time, but somehow that doesn’t matter. The closeness to the outside world opens up the space. Now the temperature is finally rising, the door is open most of the time and the lawn is part of our living space.

You can hear the weather – today the wind buffeting the walls, last night the rain pattering on the windows – and the birdsong. At times a horde of seagulls land on the roof, then clatter about in hobnail boots. Having dinner one evening, we saw a barn owl swooping in long arcs over the meadow opposite the caravan. Even more exciting was the marsh harrier that landed right outside the van, with an unfortunate blackbird in its claws.

I think I’m more attuned to the lengthening days, always a delight this time of year, but even better when you can stroll around the marshes at nine o’clock, or do early morning yoga on the lawn before breakfast. Looking back on the blog to our mid-winter feast with friends in France, I’ve been inspired to propose a mid-summer party, in the caravan, for the friends we’ve made in Suffolk. I’m thinking Cromer crab, local asparagus, strawberries and some good local beers. I just hope I find space in the fridge for everything.

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