It is nine months since we abandoned south London for the road. Nine months since we left the hillock of dog mess by our gate, and our dreadful neighbour. Nine months since I stopped being a mum stuck at home with the kids, and Richard left his unsatisfying job.
Nine months is over half Xanthe's life. She knows no bed but her cot across the driver's seat, and no playroom but the 11ft strip of crawling space between that and the door. Her home is no longer a steep Victorian house, but something resembling the hut we built in its garden.
This hut, however, has wheels. It goes places. Converted from a Mercedes 308D van into a motor home, its rear is inscribed with the word "Corsair", and as this implies, it is able to tackle anything. It has rocked up French vineyards, through Finnish mud, over Norwegian granite, and is now boldly parked by a beach in the Basque country.
We had always dreamed of taking off, and before Tallulah reached school age this was our chance. We also wanted to explore the Europe that she and Xanthe will grow up in, a Europe not of nations but regions, not of nationalities but people. With infant daughters, how better than in a van? They have the security of home, but an ever-changing front garden. We are on the move, but never need hotels. Xanthe sleeps behind a blanket in the cab, and Tallulah sleeps in the Luton at the top of a ladder.
If this were a Barratt show home, its decor would be described as "Streatham". The interior is padded with dusky pink velour, which shimmers beneath four brass spotlights and a ticking brass clock - very Cynthia Payne. After nine months, we are fond of the dusky pink. It's the perfect environment for Xanthe to learn to walk in, since almost every surface is padded. We have also grown fond of the cocktail cabinet with its plastic "leaded" window, and the flushing "Porta Potti" in the lino-tiled shower cubicle. As we never stop saying to each other, we love our van.
I write this having consumed a vast Basque lunch of bacalao (codfish) and txakoli, the local wine. When I sober up I remember this morning's Tallulah tantrum about the lack of Special K, Xanthe yelling in protest at another nappy change, while Richard was searching for a discreet ditch in which to empty our Porta Potti. "Why are you always so cross?" Tallulah asked me. Why indeed? She answered the question herself. "I do love you, Helena," she said, "but I'm bored of you."
Aaah, Tallulah, what about the nine months we still have left to go?
Helena Drysdale's column appears fortnightly.Reuse content