When we left camp, I would cram my family into the Defender while the RV people would pilot those massive beasts from the comfort of a cockpit which included cup holders for both hands and feet, more plump leather chairs, climate control, stereo surround sound, a huge navigation system, bum warmers, lumbar support and cruise control. Wankers. My legs are heated by the gearbox, my seat has one position, my arm hangs out the window, my shoulder rubs the B pillar, my heater is broken, I have no cruise control, when it rains my feet get wet inside the vehicle and my right knee cramps so badly that I have to stop for a walk every fifteen meters.
I picture the RV people, barreling down the highway at 100 mph, listening to Seinfeld on the sound system while missus makes papa bear his fourteenth mug of fresh coffee. I eat my bottom lip to stay awake.
Luxury for me is a cold drink or, even better, a hot drink. We have gone through our fair share of flasks but have never found one which actually did what the label promised. Until Luisa found me a little gem. I must have been a very good boy because, one fine day, I was presented with a present. An all-in-one Stanley flask and coffee press. At first I thought it was just a flask but then Luisa boiled the kettle, poured some ground coffee, a tablespoon of honey and some milk into the flask before adding the hot water, stirring, waiting a minute, then using the Stanley press to extract the good stuff. She closed the lid and gave it to me. Hang on a second. She had just given me the equivalent of three mugs of coffee. I was sure it would be tepid within half an hour, it was not. Three hours later I still had hot coffee. Praise be!
This was luxury! To be able to drive down the highway, reach over and grab the flask, pop the top and slurp some delicious coffee elevated me. I now had 10% of the luxury those RV people enjoyed, but, I could still drive through the Amazon and over dunes and up the side of mountains, while staying awake. I was now a god.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. We shipped the Land Rover from the USA to England and flew over to meet her. I clutched my Stanley press/flask every step of the way. While in the UK we found a housesitting gig, one of many.
A little square lady in blue welcomed us into her home and introduced us to an amazing little animal. His name is Paddy and he is the hero of this story, everyone else is a villain. Once we were convinced that the neighbor was the devil incarnate (that the neighbor was always watching and listening and would not hesitate to phone our little blue friend no matter where in the world she might be) and that little blue was born of pure blood and of incredible means we were given a tour of the house and property. It was suggested that one of our children might want to sleep in a shed with a bed at the end of the garden. We were instructed to walk little Paddy an hour a day and we were briefed extensively on the particular do’s and don’ts. Not once were we told that her bedroom was off bounds, or that her coffee was grown, ground and sourced from a Colombian messiah, we were also not told that the house was held together with sticky tape and strategically place little nails which held everything from ornamental plates to shopping bags to towels. The house was so full of wonderful books that the building seemed to be sinking into the ground. One of the shelves, held together with sticky tape and small nails, eventually committed suicide shortly after we left and we were held accountable for murder.
Little Paddy was walked an hour every day and brushed every night, his teeth were brushed and we were sure to take care of the inflammation between his toes, caused by all that walking in the meadows. At night he lay next to me where I and my wife slept, upstairs in a loft made for small, blue people while my son slept in the spare room and my little daughter slept in the main bed. I slept with my hand on Paddy’s ribs and he would not leave the house until I was ready to walk him in the morning, come rain or shine. I, being a villain, first had to have some Colombian Jesus coffee, of which there was plenty. I would fill my favorite Stanley flask and after walking Paddy and having a shower, using our soap, our shampoo and our conditioner, I then brushed my teeth with my toothbrush and, coincidentally, my own toothpaste, before settling down in a small chair made of balsa wood, by a small Thai girl with arthritis and a tube of paper glue, to work on our third book. An arm broke, we tried to fix it. For 25 days we ate our own food, using mostly our own pots and pans.
We kept the house clean even though housecleaners arrived every Monday to push a broom around. We were told not to wash the sheets as our little blue friend has them dry cleaned. The dryer broke and we were accused of its murder through negligence, a large glass water container cracked when my daughter filled it with hot water and an ornamental plate, regretfully, also broke. Our little blue friend arrived home an hour early on the last day, while we were packing and rushed us out the door, we told her about the broken water bottle and said we would replace it, “don’t worry”, she said, “breakages happen”. We quickly took most our possessions and left the house in the condition we found it, albeit with less but still plenty coffee and a few of our possessions, including my beloved flask!. A day later we read a review which summed up our family as, “Just no, not with a barge pole, contact me for more information”. What on earth did little blue think we were there for? We were house sitters for the love of, not once was it ever discussed that we would be engaging in any activities which required poles, large or small. I immediately phoned little blue who cheerfully asked me how I was. Strange. I asked about the review and she explained that she was tired and frustrated and that we had used all the coffee. I told her that we had already bought a replacement water container and that it would soon be delivered to her. I then asked, calmly and repeatedly, what we could do to rectify the situation with the words, “what do we need to replace or repair?”. “No, no, it is fine” she said. “Ok then, will you consider changing your review, it will definitely not help when we apply for future assignments?” “Um, ok, bye bye”. I thought that was that. She changed the review to “Just no, not with a barge pole”. Wonderful. Over a few emails we were told that our possessions would be posted to us. They never arrived. When we enquired we were told that we should not go to her house or contact her again. Amicable, civil. We sent two new water containers, the first mysteriously disappeared and the second she refused to accept.
Among the list of grievous infractions were the following;
We left food in the food refuse bin. God forbid. When we put the bin out for collection we were told by the waste company that little blue had not paid the collection fee, we told little blue, she said ok. In hindsight perhaps we should have reheated the food and consumed it to spare our new friend inconvenience.
We left cardboard boxes in the waste area. When we arrived all of the waste bins were full after what could only have been a convention of little blues. Ugh. The boxes we left were flattened and neatly stored ready for collection.
We used all the tea bags, toilet paper and salt. We used all the toilet paper (animals) and left dirty frying pans in the cupboard. Lies! Fabrication! If only we had spent some time doing a hand over when little blue returned then we could have addressed this litany of charges, but instead I am forced to try and convince you, dear reader, that we are clean and considerate people who have only had very good reviews and who have always gone above and beyond to ensure that all parties are satisfied (without the need for barge poles or other such phallic devices).
It is all just too bloody frustrating and what kills me is that, when we were rushed out the door I left my beautiful Stanley coffee flask on the impeccably clean kitchen counter and it is now pressed to the livery lips of someone who does not deserve it. My only consolation is that the person who now uses it a true coffee connoisseur, someone who loves coffee so much that she would insult an innocent family and concoct a plan of character assassination in order to keep a very nice coffee flask, Bizarre.
In review: The flask was superb, the dog was outstanding, the house a nightmare, the owner an asshole and the neighbor lovely. Poor Paddy.
Overlanding in the USA made me jealous. Almost every day we would camp surrounded by people in massive RV’s, vehicles with granite counter tops, fake fireplaces and full bathrooms. Their comfort made me feel uncomfortable, squished with my family in a very large but relatively small rooftop tent. We would struggle to cook outside while the RV people would whip something up in their large kitchens before settling down in a plump leather chair to eat while watching a football match. I sat in an uncomfortable camping chair trying to gulp down my food, served on a plastic plate, before the wind blew all the heat out.