Moving house

life in a motor home
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Indy Lifestyle Online
We are off to see friends Harry and Jaana, outside Helsinki. "Do their children speak English?" Tallulah asks hopefully.

"I expect so. They're half English, half Finnish."

"Yippee!"

It was April when she last saw an English-speaking child, and like any sensible (and endlessly talkative) three-year-old, she is bored stiff with her parents. Tallulah climbs out of the van and sighs: "Now I'll be able to play in a real house, one that doesn't move." I explain that we will only be staying a few days, before heading for Lapland, and her lower lip quivers. "But I don't want to go anywhere. I want to stay here for gallons of days."

Unlike my daughter, I want our gypsy life to last for ever. Driving, driving, Scandinavia slipping by. The denseness of the pine forests has a pleasantly soporific effect, and diverting to look at churches or towns simply interrupts the rhythm. While on the road, Tallulah climbs the ladder "upstairs" to her luton, above the driver's cab, and here she draws and plays. Baby Xanthe sleeps in her car seat; Richard drives; I map read. What better way can there be to travel? In fact, what better way can there be to live?

It's on days like these that I marvel at the versatility of our Motor Caravan. Not only is it our car, and our home, it is also our Mobile Guest Annexe. Harry and Jaana are restoring a wooden house and have no spare room, but no problem! We park in their garden, and sleep there. This means that we don't have to collide in the bathroom, or make conversation over breakfast.

Another use for the van is as a Mobile Bird Watching Hide. Last week, by the Baltic, we sat at our window, binoculars trained on eider duck and their young a few feet away. Earlier, in the Camargue, we were eating a tin of cassoulet by that same window, when along came a flock of flamingos. They nuzzled through the pond weed until dark, unaware of us behind our matching flamingo-coloured curtains.

I can't help envisaging a future in which nobody stays in one place for longer than a few days - the ultimate in the free movement of peoples. Our cities will be deserted; all the ex-inhabitants will be out roaming in their Motor Homes. Our descendants will hardly believe that once there was an era of "state living" when people were shackled to one place, often for their entire lives.

There are other days when this existence seems, well, a bit like hell. Harry and Jaana took us to a log cabin for a sauna, followed by a dip in a beautiful lake. It was midnight. I swam out to the middle of the lake, and around me stretched an expanse of black water and mist-hung fir trees. It was idyllic - one of the highlights of our trip. That night, Xanthe decided to yell until 4.30am. Xanthe sleeps in a cot across the driver's seat, separated from us and Tallulah by nothing more than a blanket. Not for us the luxury of a door to shut, or baby monitor to switch off: our children are with us 24 hours a day. Once feeding Xanthe had failed, the only solution was to put pillows over our heads and try to sleep through it.

When the weather is fine, we have the Great Outdoors as our playroom, but since the Scandinavian summer is being described by locals as a mild winter, we do get on top of each other. Richard once almost threatened to go home. Tallulah was having a tantrum; it was raining; I then had the temerity to complain that he was sitting at the table with clods of mud and leaves dangling off his shoes. He stormed out - but fortunately came back again.

Space is limited. Changing Xanthe's nappy this morning on the seat, I turned to speak to Richard, Xanthe rolled off, I grabbed her, flung the dirty nappy at Richard, sat on a mug of water, and spilt the water over myself and the carpet. Richard then announced that the contents of the nappy had disappeared. We searched high, we searched low. Eventually, we found them in the nappy packet, as if they had found their rightful home.

But it is a joy to abandon our useless possessions. There's nothing I miss. What gives us particular pleasure is when we discover extra uses for some essential item. Richard glued strips of wood to our bed extenders, transforming them into trays, and with non-slip plastic backing one of them trebles as a play board for Tallulah to use at the table while we drive along. The oven doubles as a cupboard for the foldaway draining board, and - my favourite - the miniature loo brush holder which is fixed to the bathroom wall makes a perfect flower vase.

"Isn't this fun?" I say to Tallulah brightly, as Harry and Richard rush naked from the sauna, and plunge yodelling into the peat-dark lake.

"Yes," she agrees.

"Isn't it better than being in boring old London, and going to school?"

"Yes. But I miss my English friends. I want to see them right now."

"But you've got these new friends," I say.

"I like my own friends best. And, anyway, they aren't playing with me."

This was true. Harry and Jaana's daughters were up the track behind the sauna, having the time of their lives in our van

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