28 days later

That’s how long it’s been since we parked the van outside our house and put the key in our own front door for the first time in seven months. In some ways, it feels as if we were never away; in other ways it still feels new and lacking permanence.

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Four weeks on, there are still things to unpack and re-assimilate. We are shocked by how much ‘stuff’ we have. When we left, we crammed everything we weren’t taking into the garage and now, bringing it back in to the house, much of it seems surplus to requirements. Do I really need four different pairs of black trousers? Is an entire shelf full of mugs necessary? A PC, a laptop and a tablet? Dozens of pairs of socks? After having just what we needed and no more for so long, the amounts we have of things seem absurd. Equally superfluous is the space we have. Anyone who knows our house might laugh at this – it’s not exactly a mansion – but we’ve got used to living in a small space, be it a two-man tent, a log cabin or a croft. This is the first time we’ve had two floors since we moved out in July. We’ve joked about renting the upstairs out on Airbnb.

Our intention on returning home, but not yet to ‘work’ (Jeff’s sabbatical is until September), was to keep the same routine we had in Scotland, with space for creativity and nature… But it’s been hard not to slip back into old habits when all the stimuli around us are so familiar. I want to get out for early-morning walks with my binoculars and listen to the birdsong, but instead I’m marching Morris around the field worrying about my future… I want to pick up the guitar and practise my chords, but instead I’m touting for work in a panic about money. Everything seems the same but actually, everything is different.

This is not a completely-unfamiliar feeling. I’ve been ‘travelling’ before: twice actually – a year in Australia and then almost two years away in Thailand, Vietnam, Borneo and Australia. I know that coming home can leave you feeling flat and wondering – in the words of the great Peggy Lee – ‘Is that all there is?‘ But I was young then. And somehow, a few months in Scotland didn’t seem to qualify as ‘travelling’ in the same way that backpacking around south-east Asia does. So the coming-home blues have taken me by surprise.

One legacy of our trip is the increased length of the Morris’s walks. It’s led us to explore further from home (I even discovered a new running route). And we’ve started to go to the beach more often – it’s so near (we can see the sea from the bedroom window on a sunny day)

IMG-4780…and yet we’ve never quite made it a habit before. It’s hard to be heavyhearted when you reach the top of the dunes and look out across that vast expanse of sand, practically deserted at this time of year. Morris loves it.

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It feels churlish not to appreciate being home when we live somewhere so lovely. I’m getting there…I just have to wait for my heart to catch up. I think I left it somewhere along the M9.

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Commuting from under canvas

We both have three months’ notice to work at our jobs before we leave. (Jeff hasn’t quit work; he’s got a year-long sabbatical.) So despite no longer living in our house, we still have to get up and get to the office looking vaguely respectable. This entails rising at six to get in the shower before any other campers are up. We manage it most of the time but occasionally, an early bird beats us to it, unwittingly putting our tight schedule into jeopardy. After my shower I go to our van (a VW Transporter), which has become our mobile storage unit. I’ve rigged up a strap along the width of the roof to hang up my work clothes. I get dressed, swap Crocs for work shoes and we jump in the car, heading for Rye station and, for me, the 7.38am train to London.

We don’t tell our work colleagues at first. It seems a bit weird and embarrassing: ‘Did you watch X last night?’ they might ask… ‘No, we live in a tent actually, so we don’t have any electricity, let alone a TV.’ Hardly the expected response of a professional journalist (me) or town planner (Jeff). But over time, it slips out here and there. Some think it’s hilarious. Others appear vaguely disapproving. Mostly, people look baffled.

Mornings are a rush, but coming home has its own special thrill. I park the car, walk along the dirt track and unzip the tent, shed my work clothes and emerge to get the stove going for dinner or fling myself on the sun lounger to catch the day’s last rays. London seems a million miles away.

 

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