The Reality Check

Reality Check. Check

Here, sitting in the community centre foyer, on the floor, swollen face from crying, damp hair from my shower at the gym across the road, stolen wifi from the library in this building although its currently overrun with loud men speaking Gujarati, perhaps, and a few young men passed out; heroin, maybe. I’ve just spent an hour sucking on one half of a Snickers Duo in the Ladies changing room before washing my hair and scrubbing crud from my face, then finishing the other half. Ah, the snickers duo. Today was the day of the almighty reality check and it sucks!

It appears that my tolerance and stamina for enduring new things- new relationships, new places, new jobs, have decreased from three months to 10 days. Yes, just ten days! I am physically and emotionally exhausted after the excitement of starting a new, demanding role. Completely ruining most of my own clothes before being given some second-hand uniform, in a role that, after today, I’m worried may just be that of a glorified bin-man. Yes, a bin-man, not a bin-woman. Not that I want to be considered different or inferior, and of course not that being a bin-man, or bin woman is bad, I just didn't apply to be one, and get paid less doing so, however there are certain facts that cannot be denied. For example, women’s hips, I have them, I am sure of it. Men’s clothing, and the only clothing offered by my work, especially the hard wearing personal protective equipment, is not suitable for women- laden tool belts and heavy trousers sit on my hip bone instead of my waist-cutting through my skin, coats and jackets even in the smallest available size are far too big and baggy, gloves that start in a size 8-huge on lady fingers and shoes that start in size 7-too large for most lady toes.

Within ten days of starting my new job, I’m already bored. Hopefully, this disillusionment is a result of just one particularly bad day at work. I am often quick to form opinions and get swallowed up in my own depression, real or imagined. There are clearly greater things to come; boating season begins with the warmer weather on the way and larger boats available to drive, towpath festivals and fundraising and community initiatives to organise and implement, but today, I’d just like to acknowledge that I really hated today. Phew, now I can move on.

Van dwelling in London is just as difficult as I imagined and worried about. I have found only one other van-dweller although he is the other side of the city and London is huge city, bigger than I was mentally prepared for- you know it can take over four hours to cross east to west?! There are a lot fewer spaces to park safely-be they residential areas, industrial estates or quiet roads near the canals towpath or rivers edge. Finding somewhere to enjoy the view or leave the doors open to air-out the van is next-to-impossible, especially where I am based this week. I hope to have formulated a list of suitable park ups in London which I will be sharing soon. However, London is difficult not only due to its lack of parking space. There is a widespread fear, and hatred of the Travelling Communities; mainly the Irish Travelling communities and Roma people, sometimes known as Gypsies. London, a city that prides itself on being so diverse and tolerant, has a collective hate of various communities bundled together under false ideas and sweeping generalisations. And because of this there are height restrictions at around  6ft 4inches into most public car parks, so just going to the supermarket is a trouble, and many entire estates have height and width restrictions. My Mazda Bongo Friendee is a narrow vehicle, and small in comparison to many other self-converted campers although measures 6 feet and 10 inches tall, about 210cm, and therefore too big for anything. I can not park at the gym (another thing I want to rant about) I can not park at the Tesco, I cannot access vast areas or the London Boroughs of Harrow, Ealing, Brent and Hounslow, so far. Tomorrow, I am working in central London although refuse to drive there so will be leaving the van to pretend to be a rat scurrying around underground in the capital. The delights of the tube! I joke, I am actually in awe of the complex and historical nature of London’s Underground, although today I am thoroughly peeved!

And another thing, before I crumble into a quivering mess and return to the van, walking through this district of men I sometimes doubt have ever seen a woman before, is the total disregard people of London have for the local community. The litter I deal with daily (hence the glorified bin man feeling of today), the fly tipping, the shit, piss and drugs but most annoyingly the mobile phones, the destruction of children’s play areas and the obliteration of wildlife for the sake of Londoners. Clearly, I too, am now guilty of making huge generalisations about the city. Of course there are gorgeously maintained areas of the capital although this week I’ve seen the worse you can offer. Poorer areas such as Hayes and Southall, near Heathrow Airport, are known for its cheap heroin, and all the problems that come with the drug. Rough sleeping, burglary and muggings are commonplace. Coming from the happy West Country where people smile, share and help each other, to Greater London where I am the only women that uses the local gym, the only woman to use the library and the only woman to walk alone has been a huge culture shock. I crave the peace and quiet of the forests and the beaches, the cliffs and the fields. Whilst writing this I have had men point, stare and shout at me as I sit on the floor near the door to the library; the study area and library are filled with older men watching movies on the computers, having a congregation of sorts in the corners of the room, addicts laying on tables and in the aisles  or just in the middle of the floor. Right now, there is a man crawling around my feet, pissed and high, mumbling sweet-nothings to himself. There’s another man, sat with the congregation of testosterone, wearing a hi-vis jacket and I assume he works here, on paper. Other than the librarian, clearly an overworked and petrified woman, I am the only female here, but most sadly, I am the only person using the building for its intended use; I checked out a book called ‘The ORG How the Office really works` which I intend to read tonight as I try to sleep under the whir of aeroplanes. Perhaps, I will learn how to better cope working for a large organisation, although I doubt it’ll have the answers to trying to breathe in this smog.

And so, my negative rant is over. I already feel better for expressing my frustrations Hopefully, I have not deterred any prospective London van-dwellers. If you are a vandweller in the capital city or are thinking of coming do get in touch as I would be honoured to help. I’ll be honest, its not easy, and it is not always pleasant; London is a loud, congested and dirty city but it does have some of the best museums, galleries, attractions and city views. I’ll begin uploading photos with locations to Instagram regularly and adding to park4night for safe park-ups. And, I will endure another ten days, and really do want to make this work; spending a year in London (with free days spent getting far away!), a daunting prospective when my limit is now ten days but my personal best has only been three months!

UPDATE: I wrote this on Wednesday evening with the intention of posting it immediately however that local library has a bizarre policy of switching off the wifi twenty minute before closing time- a logic I can not be sympathetic to. Nonetheless, I did not get to read 'The ORG' last night but instead laid my head down for a much needed long sleep in the cosy van in preparation for another day at work, sadly moving more rubbish around. I was, however, delighted to receive an encouraging phone call from my supervisor and am currently working through the night to scribble down my ideas to make positive changes at work-starting with tackling London's huge rubbish problem! You wont often find me working late, or working unpaid; I'm a Fudgeller remember, but now that my negative rant of yesterday has been washed away with the scolding hot chemical shower I gave myself earlier (and maybe something to do with the fast bike ride I took myself on this evening, laughing at the London folk stuck in the traffic) I'm filled with a  new energy to transform this grey place. Watch this space!