• Austin Birks

Cancer, Chemo and Corona: Campervan Contentment

Hello my dear chums,


I recently wrote my top ten good and bad review of 2020. It was a challenging and enjoyable task in equal measure. It also highlighted some projects and activities that, on reflection, made me realise that there was one particular aspect of 2020 that deserved a specific blog all of its own. In fairness, I did include it in the initial line up, but as I typed, I realised that there was a lot to say to try and do the experience justice.


I therefore thought that this actually warranted a dedicated blog, and this is it. I think that it would probably be fair to say that had I not been diagnosed with cancer, I would never have contemplated buying a campervan.


In a different chapter of my life, I had owned a static caravan in Borth in mid-Wales. Overall, it was a wise investment. It allowed regular escapes, and for a young family with a young daughter, the beach and the friendly community added real value to a good quality of life.


So why would I think about buying a campervan?




Well, the answer was complex. After being diagnosed with cancer in September 2018, and having gone through a two-and-a-half-year journey with major surgeries, three courses of chemo, and all that goes with it, the last thing that I would have considered was buying a campervan.


And then in 2020, COVID entered the equation, and in my case enforced lockdown from February all the way through to mid-July, when the majority of restrictions were lifted. So, what made us consider a campervan? Well, the simple answer is that it allowed independence, freedom, and flexibility.


Given my vulnerability due to my chemo-battered bone marrow and subsequent very low immune system, my access to hotels, Airbnbs etc. was effectively forbidden. As was flying or indeed leaving the UK.


The campervan provided the holistic solution, and as ever, without Yvi suggesting, researching and encouraging me, I would never have thought about it.


The thing is that when we started to investigate the concept, it became more exciting and attractive, so after several attempts and failures at capturing the right one for our needs, we came across the one that we knew that we wanted.


It was based in Portsmouth, and the simple truth is as soon as I saw it, I knew that was the van for us, so we made an offer and the deal was done.


Driving it back to Birmingham with Yvi following in the car behind, I really enjoyed it. My years of having a PSV license paid dividends, and on a hot, sunny, summer's night with the radio blaring, after months of being in lockdown, this was a complete tonic.

What I had not factored in, however, was actually driving the beast in through the only gate at Clent Towers. There were literally centimetres either side, and the first of many tests of bottle and judgement that driving a 33 feet modified Volkswagen Crafter requires of a new owner.


Truth be told, once we got it home, we could not wait to get out and about. Nerve-wracking as it was at first, so a few exploratory local tours were vital to just get used to its spatial awareness, and those other aspects that accompany driving bigger vehicles.


Our first overnight stop was a blast down to South Wales to a beautiful place called Nash Point, a beach location that was overlooking the sea. It was breathtakingly beautiful, nestling in the shadow of a lighthouse. The panoramic views across Cardiff Bay were bathed in the protective and hypnotic light of 4 lighthouses, keeping safe those who traverse the sea for a living, so avoiding as the classic hymn says, peril on the sea.



Even more poignant was the single bell that tolled all night, just off the coastline. The next morning after opening the curtains was a glorious sunrise bathing the sea and dramatic countryside in a blanket of light.


Looking back on the journeys and adventures that we have enjoyed across the UK in England, Wales, and Scotland, one of the most wonderful memories that I have made have been the truly incredible sun rises and sunsets (luckily for me, Yvi has captured many of them in superb photos).


For me, they border on the spiritual. Especially, after having had two close encounters with death, those dramatic colours, shapes, and portraits reminded me of the mortality of people. And how, in truth, whatever the generation of people, we all simply come and go, but no matter what, every day comes and goes, with a fresh beauty, and unique opportunity to live it to the full.

So, for me as a vulnerable person identified by the government to keep isolated and avoid contact with people, the campervan is perfect. It is, of course, completely self-contained, and with my unique medical needs, that was even better.


Having access to a loo and a shower was perfect, a great cooker, a good heater, and a decent bed and quite frankly you don’t need anything or anyone.


One of the things that we invested in when we got the van, was a rather super leather-bound manuscript document that we use to write down our adventures. It’s great because you forget the small details that actually build memories.


So, it occurs to me that I will write future blogs based upon just what Yvi, and I have done.


Who knows, it might even encourage others to consider the campervan life. It’s is truly the road to liberation and reflection. It helps calm the soul, and makes you appreciate the true beauty of this wonderful world that we live in.

Onwards and Upwards, and don’t spare the horses!


Austin


P. S. you can find photos from our campervan adventures on Instagram, @blackbeltexplorers


Video credits: Simon Tomlinson Media

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