The Great Escape by Keith Stevens

Have you ever come home from work after a really stressful day, and had that conversation with your partner about “giving it all up” and finding a better way to live?

It was a regular thing in our house, we would discuss travelling to places in this country that we had never seen and sunny winters abroad. Evenings sat in village squares, eating local food and drinking fine wine. Then we would wake up the next morning and head off to work as usual. That was until the other week, when after a worse day than usual at work my wife came home and declared she could take it no more. She had just found out that she could take her company pension in September and wanted to discuss the option of giving up work. We sat down with a really nice bottle of wine and did the figures and found that the only way that we could start our dream new life was to sell the house and pay off the debts. That would allow us to buy a caravan and travel for the foreseeable future, living on my wife pension and interest on savings. We went to bed with plans of where we would go first, excited about travels to new foreign lands.

I thought that in the sober light of day my wife would have a change of heart and be her usual sensible self but no. Estate agents were summoned to value the house and a few days later it was on the market. We reassured ourselves that it would take months to sell and in the meantime it would be work as usual, we were not committed to anything.

That weekend we decided as neither of us had been in a caravan for many years, it would be a good idea to go and visit a showroom to see what we might be letting ourselves in for. On the drive over we set our maximum price of caravan and both agreed that this was just going to be an initial visit and that there was no point in getting too excited until the house sold.

Three hours later, on the drive home, we chatted.

“I really liked that salesman, he certainly knew his stuff.”

“Yes, he was very helpful and not at all pushy.”

“Very good at his job”

So, yes, we’d bought a caravan for double our budget and had agreed to pick up in four weeks time. The house sold four days later.

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My wife gave her notice in and I closed my business. We sold all the furniture and many of our possessions. Some items went with tears, others with relief. The caravan sat on our drive and we filled it with a few clothes and essentials.

The Great Escape began.

We handed the house keys to the estate agent. Next we had to push the caravan forward three feet to connect it up and drive off. Nope, the caravan had sunk into the gravel and refused to budge an inch. We struggled for a while uselessly but then a few passing workmen jumped from their lorry and saved us. The sight of five burly workmen cheering us on our way replaced my fantasy of balloons, bunting and neighbours waving us goodbye with tears in their eyes. We were off.

Our first stop was a site in a beautiful disused quarry at Wensleydale. After setting up the caravan, we introduced our 13-year-old cat AJ to his new territory. My wife took him for a walk around the site. Well, that was the intention. The reality was she dragged him for 10 seconds before AJ entangled himself, the lead, and her round the nearest prickly bush. At that point AJ became MY cat and MY responsibility. Being a typical male, my solution was to turn him loose and let him sort himself out. Yes dear, of course he will find his way back to the caravan, I said, with both fingers crossed. Have you ever tried to find a cat at 1 am in the morning at a pitch-black site? After nearly an hour of searching bushes and under neighbours caravans we reluctantly returned empty handed only to find AJ waiting by our caravan with a smug grin on his face. Of course, when our neighbours asked us the following morning if we had heard strange noises or seen flashing lights in the night, we denied all knowledge.

The following night I was once again denied a good nights sleep, this time by my wife waking me at 2 am by hissing in my ear “there is someone in our awning.”

“Go and see who it is “I replied and then reluctantly put on the outside light and threw open the caravan door with a manly roar. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or the hedgehog. He casually glanced at the naked man standing in the doorway and then continued to eat the cat food.

As the months slip by, my old life becomes hazy. I find it hard to imagine going back to living in a house again. The freedom to walk the hills, sit by a waterfall, or simply look through the caravan window at the birds on the feeder: Life seems to be brighter and in higher definition.

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What does the future hold? I have no idea. That’s the whole point and the adventure. We’ll let you know how it goes.

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