the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!


Trois, deux, un, allez!

Finally, we are off! (in two days time). Keen readers will know we have been semi-thwarted with various obstacles- the V5C logbook/registration document being sent by the DVLA not once, but twice (!), with spelling mistakes in Digger’s name. Leo’s insurance being cancelled with no notice as our island driving licences were deemed ‘irregular’, which then led to other companies not wanting to insure us as we ‘had had insurance cancelled’ and therefore were clearly tainted and downright suspicious. The insurance company not paying back the full payment as promised. Fair to say, I have spent quite a lot of time being passively-aggressive on the telephone recently.

Meanwhile, getting off my high horse. Ferry booked, Leo loaded, and even (due to Granny Westcountry assuming we would have been gone already, meaning she has booked B&B guests into the rooms we have been using over the last few weeks) we are now living in Leo. This isn’t I’m afraid as ‘on the road’ as it sounds, instead rather ‘on the driveway at Granny’s house’. This has serious perks though as we can get used to the rhythm of campervan life, moving around each other in a (sometimes) beautifully choreographed flow of sidestepping each other, waiting for a cupboard to be closed, and passing things through multiple hands. It also means we are still popping in for cuppas whenever we feel like it, full board in terms of food and meals supplied, and Tiddler still gets the run of the house and garden. But this is all the equivalent of ‘playing dens’ as children.

Until we wave a farewell to the Westcountry at Silly o’clock on Monday morning we won’t really know how prepared we actually are. Digger has been poking around with the gas bottle all morning before going for a haircut, clearly feeling the need to make a good impression on the local Cherbourg populace when he arrives, regardless of whether we have a working cooker. I’ve been researching campsites and swotting up on my GCSE French, and packing plenty of teabags as you just know the continental ones won’t taste right and some things are sacrosanct. Tiddler has been finding more snails and trying to smuggle them into the van. I’m not sure if EU regulations have anything about that in the small print, but clearly it’s a no from me.

In terms of how we are feeling then, it is a mixture of anxious enthusiasm. I feel I have been neglecting Tiddler, which defeats the whole object of taking this time out from work, and normal life as we know it. I have been on the internet researching, or in the van packing, or in the hardware shop purchasing. I haven’t sat down just the two of us, to make a craft or play a game for days. She isn’t worried of course as has had cousins and auntie and grandparents to fawn upon and be entertained by, and I accept that this is really part of the overall goal too, and a great bonus for her. She will be stuck with just us soon enough, but I realise how easy it is to ‘miss’ my own child, even when I see her all the time. I’ve perhaps got a little too used to island life where I was without doubt the most important person to her. I’m very aware that this is of course just the beginning of the transition into her being her own person, and it is a a journey best not to think too much about at this time.

The bonne voyage of course to consider right now is this- the very roughly hewn plan is head through Normandy, down the west coast of France, and then along through the southern regions. Cross into Italy, where we shall try and visit two sets of island friends- one couple taking a year out to work in a school near Parma, and another couple who will be holidaying for a week, destination as yet unkown. Ferry across to Greece, amble our way through there and arrive in Bulgaria at Baba and Dyado’s house sometime in November.

Sounds good.

Please feel free to post any advice, comments, places to visit, things to see……



Pimping my ride : Leo

The latest on Leo’s overhaul- Digger found both a flat battery and a leaky water connection when he wired Leo up to the mains, but all now resolved (we hope for good). I finally had my maiden voyage in The good ship Leo (only down to the petrol station and back) and then we carried on getting things ready.

Digger has tried out the sleeping accomodation, spending a night on the driveway while Tiddler and I were tucked up asleep in the house.

Verdict, comfy but cold. The second week of September and that is the UK weather, unless we wrap ourselves in tinfoil in there it is going to be cool at night. 9 degrees he said, at silly o’clock when he got up to christen the porta potty. Thank goodness we are going south, but we do need to get going, and note to self: hot water bottle. I also realised that all my white bedlinen is not the most practical thing to be heading off in a campervan with, but it is what we have got, and no point in buying new.

He has also finished Tiddler’s bunk, in the end without the ‘stolen’ chair legs.  It is more satisfy that it is all in wood, though now with a hinged support is is heavier, but still will sit flat under the side seat during the day.


We realised however that by the time the mattress (a sun lounger cushion borrowed from Granny (Hoarder) and Papa (Snoozer) inside an old sheet sewn up into a sort of giant pillowcase) is on the bunk, plus pillow, Tiddler, and duvet, she is fairly high up from the double bed below. As Tiddler is also ‘Wriggler’, we now needed a solution to keep her in the bunk.

In the end we came up with what I explained to the others as ‘the windbreak design’. This gave me the chance to make another thrifty item at no cost to us – a piece of old window blind fabric, an old broom handle (that Digger had brought with him from the island- goodness only knows what he was thinking he would use it for at the time!), and the chance to use my mother’s lovely old Singer sewing machine, complete with a random box of sewing paraphernalia as part of the hygge factor. The final picture show it before I sewed in the last baton, but hopefully you get the idea. The broom handle pieces can just be pushed down into the holes in the main bed board after she falls asleep, so we still can do goodnight stories, but she isn’t going to attempt to crowd surf us in the middle of the night.

While this was going on, Digger took a break to fashion something else out of wood. My parents have a bit of a seagull problem. The tealeaf-ing gulls get in through the chicken doors to the sheds, and peck and eat the hens eggs. Friends have suggested nets or awnings overhead but the seagulls will still land and walk in, a dead gull hanging up (!), and blowing eggs and filling the empty shells with mustard or chilli sauce as a decoy, which sounds pretty epic but fiddly. So Digger put together a little roosting box with a double slope so in theory the eggs should roll down and under a second board, so the gulls can’t get to them but we can. In place this evening, so will have to see whether it works, and whether even the hens will take to it as a place to sit.

My next job has been carpet fitting. Again using an old off cut we had, with Papa in the background back seat directing with ‘measure twice, cut once’, and Digger extolling the virtues of the correct way to cut with a stanley knife to avoid impaling myself,  I then had to get my head round the reverse maths of cutting on the back to then flip over to fit.Not exactly a perfect job, but given the wierd shape of the floor space I’m pretty darn chuffed with my attempt.


In non Leo related news, Tiddler and I have been playing playgroup roulette, trying out various groups in the neighbourhood to give her a bit of ‘other children’ time.  Tiddler has tried out the local pool, and managed full immersion for the first time, albeit while laying on her tummy underwater on a shallow step. She has learnt to say ‘ramsbottom’ and ‘bonzo’ and other random sayings of my father. I have had emails from work colleagues asking how we are doing and telling me that the start of the new term is pretty much like always. Digger and I hold hands on the sofa and smile a quiet smile at each other while we are watching TV with my parents. We are busy, but not tired. We are planning, but not stressed. I ask Tiddler in the morning what she dreamt of. ‘It was you Mama, dancing.’



[Motorhomers out there- still open to suggestions and ideas you may have of things we should take, or things we should know before we set off. Particularly any legal requirments for Europe we might not be aware of? Any comments welcome please- thank you!]




Hop on the bus, Gus

No need to discuss much? What was Paul Simon thinking when he penned those lines? If Digger and I, with the added matured-with-age input of Granny and Papa Westcountry are anything to go by, any attempt to hop on a bus needs plenty of discussion, pontificating, and generally going round in verbal circles. Hopefully Digger and I will still be speaking to each other when we finally do hit the road otherwise it’s going to be an awfully quiet journey all the way to Bulgaria.

Update needed I think on where we are at. We have welcomed into our family a new addition. Hello to Leo!


Leo (named by the previous owners and we didn’t bother to question why- reasons no doubt lost in obscurity) is a converted minbus. The chap we bought it from scavenged and stripped an old caravan, using all the fittings to kit out Leo with a fridge, oven and hob, sink, double bed, toilet and all the expected storage units. It is clearly a DIY conversion, but that makes it a little bit quirky. We hestitated handing over our hard earned and saved cash, considering whether Leo would have any re-sale value, but in the end we decided better to buy now and get going, rather than sit and wait for the perfect motorhome to turn up for sale while we may still be drumming our heels here at Christmas. So we now have Leo, possible warts and all.

In order to seat Tiddler safely, in a three-way seat belt for her car seat, we have had to lock in an additional minibus seat into the floor, which unfortunately blocks access to the fridge. Digger and the previous owner conferred and have worked out a system where the whole seat can be slid backwards and forwards, at least allowing us to use the fridge when we need to, but looks like we’ll probably end up storing random stuff in there instead of food!

Next on the hit list of upgrades is a bed for Tiddler. The original conversion has just a (smallish) double bed, and while we could squeeze Tiddler in with us no-one will get much sleep with that option. So Digger (he is so excited as now has a genuine reason to get his tools out and tinker around in the garden with a pencil behind his ear!) is trying various plans to make and secure a raised bunk. This should go above our bed, but still needs to be dismantled and ideally store flat so it doesn’t clog up our limited space. The two benches/sofas that become the double bed are here in this picture, with a plan for a raised bunk on the right hand side.


Inkeeping with our thrifty ways, we managed to find a suitable board to take Tiddler’s weight jammed in the roof space in Papa’s garage, and then found a couple of old dumped chairs in the corner of a carpark. I’d spotted them abandoned a few days previously and walked past without a thought, till Digger mentioned he needed some sort of stand to support the bed. Guerilla chair stealing moments later, Digger is chopping them up on the lawn, taking the metal legs as bed supports while Tiddler steals the brown seat and sets up an impromtu musical concert with herself as the star performer.

Sounds good so far, though Digger has come in shaking his head tonight and so the bunk may need a little rethink before I can post up the finished article. Plenty of opportunties of course for us all to have our pennyworth on the best way to do it. Don’t even get me started on the negotiations regarding the best way to fit the curtain to save anyone’s blushes (our own, or random Gallic passers by) around the ‘bathroom’ area.

In the mean time, I’m beginning to sort through our boxes, packing into Leo things we think we need. We are of course complete novices at the motorhoming lark, though I have survived plenty of kayak wild camps and expeditions, and Scouting in the past, so I am pretty handy with setting up a tent and brewing a cuppa on a trangia. But now I have a whole vehicle to pack, I’m a bit stumped. We are not sure when to cut back (I really don’t need all those t-shirts) and when to splurge (I am taking a pair of wine glasses) so that we actually enjoy the experience. It shouldn’t all be masochistic minimalism. China plates or plastic? Duvets or sleeping bags?
We still don’t have a plan for when we get to Bulgaria, so we don’t know what we need for that, let alone what we will need for the journey. My very good friend, found on her blog here, has started writing lists for me of things to consider. Carbon monoxide alarms. Washing lines and pegs. Hot water bottle. Maps.

We are now motivated for the off, to get on that (mini)bus, Gus, but we are still waiting. Waiting for confirmation that Digger’s island driving licence is valid with the insurance. Waiting for the V5C vehicle logbook to be sent back. Still waiting for Digger to be able to get a bank account.

So my philosophy for today is, that it is very true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What you need to watch out for is that someone hasn’t tied your shoelaces together before you even start.










Two steps forwards one step back

Sorry there has not been much philosophising of late or even that much thriftiness. It is all going on behind the scenes, just not getting it out to you!

I’ve managed to grab a few minutes laptop time just before dusk fall when I have to go and put the chickens to bed. Granny and Papa Westcountry have headed out for a night on the razz watching Ralph McTell at a local folk festival (of interest to you perhaps, ‘Yeah, another blogger’?), Digger and his father Dyado Bulgaria have headed off to London Gatwick to put Dyado on a plane home after a week visit here to the bedlam (what must he think of his first visit to our quirky ‘British’ family!) and Tiddler is off in the land of nod dreaming of promised jellies and cake as tomorrow is her third birthday.  I tried explaining the concept of a year, and that three had passed since she was born. ‘Papa is very old’ she says seriously. ‘My {sic} think he will be dead soon. Shall we put some flowers on him?’ Clearly the visit to the grave of Great Grandad Billy (who lived to 100) a few days ago in the old village church is still giving her food for thought. Explaining time, and death and all those sort of abstract concepts to a small child are never going to be straightforward. I suppose we muddle through as best we can, and hope it all make sense in the end.

Tomorrow will actually be a triple celebration, as Tiddler, my sister (Auntie B), and our own Aunt (Auntie K) all share the same date of birth- September 3rd. I don’t know what the probability statistics are for that, but we found the two pretty impressive even before Tiddler popped out on her due date.  Tiddler of course is still young enough to be happy with balloons, jelly and a couple of presents to open. Our thriftiness this year is logical too- we would rather spend money once we arrive in Bulgaria to replace toys and items we have had to leave behind.

Speaking of which, our offer on the cottage was pipped at the post by another vendor. Disappointed in a way, but relieved in an other. The money can sit in the bank (though I have since caught Digger scrolling through commercial woodland plots for auction like a secretive little woodmouse) and we are now back to the original plan i.e. motorhome hunting. As complete newbies, we are a little bit bamboozled by all the little fold out compartments- all very Japanese urban living to my way of thinking- and were toying with the idea of splashing out (!) on an expensive van (£25,000!!) with the logic it would retain a high value on resale. Then problems ensued with seatbelts (legality and safety for Tiddler’s car seat) so we knocked that idea on the head and our bank balance breathed a sigh of relief. Back to square one. But, we think we have found the van-to-be, in the end not five miles up the road from us. It is in keeping I think, with our hodge podge approach in general to this adventure. It is a converted minibus, a labour of love where the retired couple who are selling it have stripped out the seats and rebuilt it from scratch. It is not refined, or modern, or even with everything you might expect to find in a motorhome. We think it might do the job. Digger listened patiently and with interest as the chap in his cricket umpire hat talked him through the minutae of the gadgets. There is another empty van sitting on their driveway, which is to be the project mark 2. I sat in the seating area with the lady and talked cooking and curtains. The sun shone through the (many) minibus windows (hence the importance of curtains). We are back on Monday with Tiddler to double check seating arrangements for her will work, and then it might be time for cheque books out.

Digger smiles.’ We could be off in a couple of weeks!’
Yes, when insurance is sorted, and ferry booked, and all manner of other things organised, including all our random boxes of stuff in the sheds. Maps and guide books are in hand, and I’ve just requested the European health cards for us all- what else do I need to do? Am I missing anything obvious?
Motorhomees, and campervanners-  please share advice you wished you’d been given before you set out please?