3 – Gypsies


We found the solution to our UK accommodation problem, accidentally. Driving along a country lane we were just about to pass a Caravan Park next to Manston Airport, in Thanet when on the spur of the moment we decided to pull in. In the back of our minds for a while we had been toying with the idea of buying a caravan but our first investigations led to us being told that if we wanted an all-year-round caravan the price would be in excess of �100,000.  We immediately discarded this idea, but in summer 2002 the idea returned and we found ourselves parked in Bradgate Caravan Park. We decided that we might as well ask for a second opinion.

One of the owners, Roy, explained that he had two caravans available, a 28 foot one for �8,500 and a 35 foot one for �7,000. The longer caravan was cheaper because it was older.  The rules of use were simple, you could use them for 10 � months a year, from the middle of January to the end of February the park was closed, you could not rent them out and the fees were �2,200 per year. We were amazed. We could not imagine why we would want to stay in a caravan during January and February and the fee, which included council tax and water rates, was less than we were paying for our rented accommodation. Then we discovered that our fee also included the use of a clubhouse, heated indoor swimming pool, gym, and sauna and Jacuzzi.

The only problem, we felt, would be living in a cramped caravan. We saw the smaller caravan first and were pleasantly surprised, but when we inspected the 35 foot caravan we were astounded. It included its own small maintained garden and when we entered the caravan and saw the main bedroom with double bed we abandoned our childhood memories of living in cramped holiday caravans. There was a small spare bedroom across the hall, and a toilet with a tiny bath/shower cubicle. Maggie was not too happy about that. We moved onto the small kitchen and dining area and then to the large lounge. My financial brain quickly calculated that we were, in effect, buying the caravan for �5,800 and that as our rent and other bills came to �1000 a month, we only had to live in the van for 6 months for it to be completely free.

We paid Roy the money and then thought about what we were doing. We were going to leave our large rented 4-bedroomed detached house in February and live in a caravan from March 1st 2004. In theory this sounded easy, in practice we might have made a big mistake. The kids were very happy and almost immediately started staying there. With a swimming pool for the grandchildren to play in, and with free bingo every Saturday night, who could blame them for wanted to take advantage of regular weekend visits to the �holiday camp�.

We arranged for a very expensive but, as it turned out, very efficient removal company to ship our furniture to North Cyprus and hoped that when all our worldly possessions arrived in Easter that the villa would be ready for them. As the 20th February removal date loomed it became clear that one of the problems we had not foreseen was deciding what goes where. To make matters worse, January and February were my exam time when I had a full-time day job as well as organising my exam and the few other extra jobs I�d taken on in preparation for retirement. To make matters even worse I become ill for the first-time in my life. A very embarrassing, and painful complaint, but very common I discovered, which eventually put me out of action for eight weeks. This was not the best time to move.

It was not all bad news. It was around then that I was told that because of the college�s poor financial situation they were looking for volunteers for redundancy. I was almost knocked over in the rush, but because I had managed to become overpaid and under-worked, I was top of the list. The redundancy money made the difference in my being able to retire now rather than wait another year, or two. The pain was bearable.

We returned from Cyprus, with me ill and full of painkillers, to a freezing caravan. But we didn�t care. We felt like gypsies without a care in the world, or as Rhys would put it, we were �pikey do as you likeys.�

In the end, living in a caravan was neither as difficult nor as exciting as we imagined. We did not use the facilities as much as we intended do, we attended a birthday party with free food and 50p drinks, but otherwise we sat in the lounge watching TV. Our real home was in Cyprus and until we were there we were just passing time. Then two things happened, the local airport, five minutes away, announced a new airline was opening there. EUjet, a no thrills airline, was to fly to 27 destinations including, Dublin, Nice, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Prague. This meant that we could book online at a moments notice and off we could go for a cheap long weekend. At the same time it was announced that only a walk away a large complex of shops was to open including cinemas and several major companies. A shopping paradise was about to open on our doorstep. Shopping is one of Maggie�s main hobbies and we both love to travel.

It looked like were going to have excitement and fun in Thanet for a few months of the year, whilst visiting our family and peace and quiet for the rest of the year in Cyprus.