Danni

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A party in my old flat (think there were 5 of us there haha)

I took my van to her first festival last weekend and I vividly remembered what (or who) pushed me to actually buy it. I have wanted a camper since I was around 9; I would go into the tiny studio apartment spaces in Ikea and decide “this is all the space I need” the bed on top of the couch, the couch that is also a desk. A little while later a family member bought me a VW money box and that was it, I decided one day I would do it. One day I would have a tiny house on wheels. But knowing that I wanted it and actually finding the guts to do it are two wildly different things. What day is one day? When do you actualise your dreams?

I met Dannielle when I started working at the Jacaranda in Liverpool (before the toilets got done up). I was almost scared of her she was so vivacious. Her eyes lit up and she would laugh and scream no matter who was listening. She had this way of furrowing her brow and saying “NUH” in her Northern (West coast) Irish accent and her head wobbled as she danced with a perpetual grin. I didn’t stay scared of her and soon we were swinging around poles, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble (mostly) and put the world to rights. She was my running partner, and like everything with Danni you felt like you were always just catching up, panting behind her as she skipped energetically off ahead. She went to Australia, Bali, Nepal, Goa and so many place in between. She shucked pearls, fed hammerhead sharks, hiked, swam, drank and connected and inspired people all over the world. We saw each other the night before she left to go travelling and I told her I was going to do it, to finally buy the van.

What happened next is scary. What happened next is something you imagine but never expect. She didn’t come home. It wasn’t an accident but it was a mistake, because nobody who really knew Danni would ever want her to leave. I attended her funeral, still not believing she was gone, sat with her friends, my friends, expecting her to saunter in saying “ahh have youse all been waiting on me yeah?”. But she didn’t, and she won’t in this lifetime.

So I bought the van.

That’s it, this is it, that one day, this day is the day because she didn’t get all of hers and one day will turn into tomorrow that will turn into when I retire that will turn into never. I have written and rewritten this post so many times because I didn’t know what sentiment to convey, it is sad and it will always be sad but in a lot of ways it hasn’t made me sad. It has made me wake up and take action, it has made me realise that whatever job I get I will always be in debt. Whoever I vote for I might end up living under a government that doesn’t look after or understand me. Whoever I meet might not be with me forever.

So buy a van. Become a golfer. Learn to scuba. Speak Spanish. Play chess. Run a mile. Climb, cook, DJ or play the French horn. Whatever you closed your eyes and wanted to do when you were little, whatever makes you feel like you might never stop smiling, DO IT. Even just a little bit, even just once a week or on the smallest of scales.

Danni didn’t wait for life, she ran in front of it. Once one dream is attempted you will find a new one, and another one, and another one. One might turn into another one you didn’t realise. You don’t even have to be good at it. You might not even like it. But try it. Give it a wee go.

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Mumma shez on the right, Danni on the left. The sun never sets on that smile x

This post is dedicated to the unwavering friends and family of Danielle. There has been so much support and love that it has kept the essence and attitude of Danni around. This is for your sisters, and of course for you Danni. You didn’t care about people who didn’t care about you, you wasted no energy on holding a grudge, and you were right – yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Without knowing you I would have taken a lot more shit without standing up for myself, without you I might not have ever bought this van, without even just the memory of you I would be totally fucked. My cider sister, my leggy running coach, you are and will always be a fucking legend.

Whatever you are up to, KEEP WINNING

I have a confession

***Please note this post was actually written on Sunday, I just didn’t want to post it so soon after my brief commentary on millennial guilt and FOMO***

Until today I had never driven my van. I had never driven any van. I know it is a bit (a lot) crazy to buy a van and start converting it without ever having put your foot to the pedals, but I was fucking terrified.

Like stupidly scared.

I once had an interview to be an ice cream lady, sorry ‘person’, a job I didn’t get because the man (who was a bit of a wanker) had no confidence in my driving abilities. I last drove a car three years ago in Martinique for about an hour until my passengers voted to swap drivers. And, I was repeatedly scolded by Margaret – a lady I looked after in Hawaii who taught people how to drive in the war – for my poor efforts in her automatic. You could say that this has left me with a few insecurities about driving…

So yesterday after it was all taxed and insured I steeled myself and went down to have a go. Until the battery was dead. Completely dead. Oh and the sneaky leak in the ceiling had returned.

I tried not to cry. I actually went to work and stayed pretty cheerful, but after that I cried LOADS.

This is the point where you give up right? This thing you bought with all the money you had is sat dead on a driveway. You probably can’t drive it anyway. Even if it starts working the leak has probably caused mould and the whole thing will crumble apart. This thing I want to live in and drive thousands of miles in might not be viable.

But I didn’t give up. I rang the AA and Alex turned up, who was amazing (amazing Alex from the AA couldn’t make this shit up). He reminded me what a good base van it is (pre 2006 sprinters are known as one of the most reliable vans going) and assured me that apart from needing a new battery and clamp I was good to go. We also discovered the leak was because I had drilled the vent I was so proud of wrong.

Vent fixed. Battery in. I WENT AND DROVE IT!

So lessons learnt – if you are scared do it anyway. If you are thinking about quitting don’t. Don’t keep your foot on the clutch round corners. Basically everything it says on those motivational fridge magnets is right. Granted there probably aren’t loads of fridge magnets about clutch use but you get me.

 

SAFE MONEY

DANNI THE VANNI IS TAXED AND INSURED!

You can’t see me but I am doing one of those stupid happy dances at my (my parents) desk. This is a big deal for me, not only have I achieved my dream of getting a van and converting it, I am actually going to drive it.

What this whole process has done is made me look at why I want to leave in the first place. Why do so many other people want to leave too? I tell them about my van and they exclaim in envy and ask “is there room for one more?”. We are lucky middle class (majority white) people with “the world at our fingertips”; why do we all want to escape so much?

During my masters we looked the perception of history and the passage of time. Cultural Anthropology studies how we as humans narrate and historicize ourselves, one particular theory is that history (arguable the measuring of time in historical events rather than a human lifespan) wasn’t really “felt” until after the significant events of the French Revolution. Previous to the epic bloodshed people could live whole lifetimes without something extraordinary happening, to live and die with no great change in government, no great war, just the seasons and the cycle of life and death (albeit with well more disease and little to no medical intervention). Fast forward to now, where on any given day we can absorb global political change, climate change, new discoveries in outer space and in our oceans from a 5 minute scroll on a news app and you see how we are hyper exposed to history. There is an expectation that we educate ourselves on all of this information, process it, yet still reserve enough time in our brains to emotionally mature and orchestrate a successful career (oh and play instruments and learn languages and look nice and stay healthy and keep in touch but not be too attached to our phones).

The world shifts in a second.

So where are we when the world shifts? A lot of the time we are sat doing pretty mundane things, I am at my (my parents) desk checking Facebook or researching leisure batteries, you are sat wherever you are reading this. But we feel like we should be doing more, a lot more, in fact a lot of the time we narrate our lives on social media so it looks like we are doing more. This leaves us in a weird position of guilt, this fast paced life is asking us to keep up, but most of the time we pretend to keep up while behind closed doors feeling bad about it. My generation – our generation – have been left with an unresolvable guilt for not doing enough. One job is not enough, one good photograph is not enough, one holiday is not enough, one set of clothes is not enough.

This is why I want to leave. I want the pressure of never feeling successful enough to go. I want to wear the same clothes for weeks on end (obviously still washing them) and not feel inadequate. It is my belief that once I stop feeling bombarded with societies lofty expectations of multilayered success, I will find one or two things that fully satisfy me. Rather than spinning the plates, I will just pick a few plates and eat from them.

Every person I speak to has anxiety. Ranging from a small amount surrounding our uncertain financial and political futures to full blown existential crises once a week. I believe our focus on an automatically updating feed of information adds to this exponentially and I want it to stop.

It got a bit deep there,

signing off to go dance some more

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YOU GOTTA WERK GIRL

So today (now the other day because I didn’t finish this post) I was low. Really low, like when you think despite being a lucky, loved person that all the walls are caving in? Thats how I felt today (the other day).

HOWEVER I went and collected my bike from work (it had been sitting there for three weeks while my lazy ass got taxis) and rode to MDL timber. I collected 6 battens (strips of wood that will help keep the plywood walls strong and stable…) and the lovely man gave me some slightly damaged ones for only £7 for the lot. Then I realised that riding home with 6 2meter long battens attached to my bike would be tricky. Tricky, but not impossible…

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I worked out a contraption that got a few stares but I was so proud of myself!!

I then went to buy lino off an unenthusiastic man in Waterloo. I settled for some pale imitation wood which was an off-cut he assured me would fit. It didn’t. Whatever way I worked it and not matter how many times I told it to “fuck off” the lino left me with at least 40cm of bare floor. I was so ridiculously mad, I cried. I grumpily went over and over in my head about how much work I had to do and how little experience I have.

But worrying is like grieving before someone has died. What is the point? Just stop doing it (I know this is easier said than done, but I am trying to uplift myself).

So today is take two. I am cycling up to a different floor place and I will be getting ONE PIECE of lino to fit the floor, this will mean it is sealed to spillages and I don’t have to fanny around with a stanly knife and a ruler too much.

If you are still reading for advice on your own van I would say trust your gut. I knew that guy was an ageing cynic who really didn’t give a crap if my lino fit, but I still bought from him. Don’t give people like that your business! Also know your measurements completely, in and out. And don’t cut anything until you have double checked.

The lino was not as successful as the wood on the bike. This is it after flinging the whole shabang onto the floor about 50 meters down from the shop, so I called my mum to come and get it.

I have successfully done two coats of varnish on the ceiling, and I will be covering this in another layer of yacht varnish to discourage condensation. I did this on my birthday. Because I’m so rock and roll.

(That is the best omelette I think I have ever made)

 

 

WE WERE ON A BREAK

So I have not been to see my van in a week.
Me and a really good friend (get it? Friend…friends…we were on a break) Roberto fitted the Fiamma Vent 28 Rooflight last week which went amazingly and here is a short guide to what we did;

  1. Remember the roof light. We headed off to the van with our tools and enthusiasm only to discover we had left the vent at home on the kitchen floor. So yeah, don’t do that.
  2. Clean the roof.
  3. Put everything you will need (masking tape, scissors, extension cable, drill, angle grinder, measuring tape, pen, phone for taking annoying hipster blog photos) on the roof so you don’t have to keep getting on and off the roof. I had to slide down the windshield like a fat seal because the ladder wasn’t long enough…
  4. Measure your area.
  5. tape it off and decide if you are cutting inside the tape or outside.
  6. Measure your area again.
  7. Get Roberto to measure your area.
  8. Drill holes along the lines (less angle grinding, less sparks, potentially makes it more accurate).
  9. Angle grind along your guidelines until you have a lovely square hole
  10. Get confused about how you will then cut through the wood panel underneath. Panic because you didn’t think about the sparks from the angle grinder setting the insulation on fire (so if doing again I would put a damp cloth up in there).
  11. Ask next door neighbour Derek for a jigsaw and cut the wood from inside of the van.
  12. Sand off the edges of both holes.
  13. Use silkaflex UV and heat resistant sealant around the edges of the top part of the vent (the bit that will be on the outside of the van). After some unsuccessful and messy application Roberto informed me to create little beads, so one long squeeze into a little blob, then move on.
  14. Squish it on.
  15. Screw in both parts of the vent with the screws provided and cheers yourself and Roberto for being so boss.
  16. Return jigsaw to Derek.

 

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The reason I then haven’t been to the van is because I’m terrified I’m doing things wrong. I didn’t put a vapour layer/barrier in-between the ceiling panels and the insulations. I did put foil bubble wrap up first, but a lot of things I have read say to put a vapour barrier (just some sort of plastic membrane) over all of the insulation. I have consulted, and now I feel like if I treat the wood (paint and or varnish) this is going to work as a seal/vapour layer. So I’m gonna quit hiding from my van and get going finishing the floor and the walls next weekend. Or I will take down the ceiling, put up a vapour layer, and then put up the ceiling again. Fuck I don’t know. If anyone can tell me exactly why I need a bloody vapour layer, and explain how it will fuck me over if I don’t have one, or tell me I don’t need one and that I’m sound please please do.

An Ode to Phil

Phil is my dad.

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Here he is wielding his drills after basically completing the ceiling on my behalf. Okay actually that isn’t true, I helped measure, fix the insulation and held things in position. But it really is my dad who deserves all of the credit.

When I first went to look at vans I had a bit of a meltdown. I stormed out of the car (Phil’s car) and went to get the train because I felt inadequate and ill prepared and scared. I didn’t know a whole bunch about vans and thought of garages and second hand dealerships as machismo spaces that I would be laughed out of. Phil ran after me with one of my shoes, apologising for something he probably didn’t even do.

He then kept alert when I was buying the van, triple checking things to make sure I wasn’t being mugged off (it did get a bit tedious at times like but it helped). He drives me to B&Q, Wickes, Screwfix and MDL. He looks after my savings so I don’t fritter it all away on Tesco meal deals and taxi’s.

This one is for you Phil.

THANKYOU

Happy fathers day etc.

 

For anyone reading who is actually fixing up a van, or wants advice. I used recycled loft insulation made from glass bottles for the ceiling because it was cheap. HOLY SHIT DON’T DO IT. Cutting it to size is like shearing a fat sheep, the material itself makes you itch for days and it’s a nightmare to fix anywhere because the tape inevitably gets fluffy. Use insulation board if you have the cash. The only thing it was good for was for shoving into the hard to fill holes around the edges. mmkay.

If you are based in or near Liverpool choose MDL timber for your wood. They have lots of good cheap wood. Much better/cheaper than B&Q – and it’s an independent!

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Dancin’ on the ceiling

I am writing this while the ceiling isn’t done, in the hope that by the end of day I can say that it is done. I am about 3 weeks behind the original timeline and I was really hoping by now to have all of the walls/floor/ceiling insulated and cladded by now.

So I will return and probably delete the shit I posted about my job and hopefully have finished the ceiling…

The ceiling is not finished. Also I deleted the shit I posted about my job.

MISTAKE ALERT – I stupidly assumed that the sections of the ceiling were equal in width so bought wood accordingly;

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However the middle three sections are like 18cm wider, meaning my wood is far too skinny *cough cough*.

I did however remove all of the wood cladding from the floor and manage to put thick hairy insulation onto the first and last sections and the wood panelling.

I used loft insulation on top of the foil bubbles, secured it using Gorilla tape, then screwed 1inch self-tapping screws into the ribs (the yellow metal bits going across the roof horizontally). I also spent about an hour posting furry insulation into all the little holes in the side panelling. I was supposed to take a boomerang of this but I forgot because I was mad at myself for buying overly skinny wood.

 

“It’s getting hot in here…”(please note there is no nudity in the following post)

Commencing insulation

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I started with a very hungover trip to Wickes and Screwfix with Big Phil (my dad) where I spent a lot of time laughing at the terms panhead and ironmongery. I was sporting the same clothes as the night before plus a big red wine stain on my new work uniform and vino breath.

As usual I made a few small errors; I bought screws that were too short (½ inch self tappers for anyone who cares), and insulation that potentially might be shit because it isn’t double sided foil bubble wrap (I got cheaper single sided foil bubblewrap) . I also bought expanding foam insulation which someone has since said might give off toxic fumes that will make me feel sick.

However I did manage to get stuff to insulate, ply to clad the ceiling and some other stuff that is quite boring! So today I cleaned and insulated (layer 1) the roof of the Vanni. BTW I did this completely solo, Big Phil was at work so I just steamed ahead and succeeded apart from the clump of spray glue stuck to the top of my head…

Instructions from a clueless person in case you’re still reading

  • clean the area – I used normal soapy water, then sugar soap, then plain water, then dried the whole thing with one tiny bit of kitchen roll (I would have used more kitchen roll if I had remembered to bring it)
  • cut foil to size
  • stick the middle of the foil piece to the middle of the corresponding section of van with tape
  • spray glue one side and stick foil
  • spray glue the other side and stick foil
  • take off tape
  • have a realisation that the glue you bought will not withstand the (hopefully) high temperatures of the sun, so use white Gorilla tape around the edges of the foil because it is made to withstand high temperatures and is weirdly cheaper than the black Gorilla tape and hope this is ok
  • smooth down and feel amazing

 

The next step will be to do this same thing to the walls.

***Things I learnt…(1)wear a hat – you have to start with the ceiling so the walls look flush, and also so you don’t ruin your new floor with all the glue that drips onto your clothes, and scalp, and floor, and chairs. (2) Don’t use your teeth to rip Gorilla tape***

Mistake #2,3,4,5….

 

So this was the first weekend actually working on the van. I mean, old Psychfest Tee, shorts from a second hand shop in Kosovo, dust until I looked grey type of work.

First day went OK. Got all the existing panels out and took off the rusty roof rack, which needed an angle grinder, which we broke. Sanded a few of the panels and figured out most were re-usable. Yay?

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Not so fast.

  • Mistake number 1 was not having a clue where I put fuel in. I mean, I bought a van without having a single clue where you put the diesel in. If I was using emojis it would be an emoji with the straight line mouth because my god that is mega dumb.

Then came the BULKHEAD… dunnn dunnn dunnnnnnnnn

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  • Mistake number 2 was thinking that the bulkhead (bit in-between the cab and the back of the van) would come out fairly easily. NOPE. Not at all. Since it used to be a DHL van carrying tons of parcels, in total the van had 31 stainless steel rivets with steel reinforcing pins holding it in (I only know this now after asking on various super helpful camper van Facebook groups, needless to say I did not know this at the beginning of the18558664_10158742365385565_2467260919659840271_o weekend). After a bit of research we decided to drill through the rivets with a 3mm JCB drill bit. The drill bits lasted about 3 seconds before wearing down into nubs, little useless nubs. More research, more questions to the wisdom filled Facebook groups and we (being me and my dad) tried some 5mm ultra strong drill bits designed for stainless steel with some WD40. I mean, it feels obvious to go for drill bits designed for stainless steel, but previously me and my baby brain had only known them to be “some sort of metal”.

 

  • Mistake number 3. I thought that because all of the rivets were out, the bulkhead would just come out. WRONG AGAIN. It turns out the bottom of this huge hunk of metal was below the flooring so we would have to take out the wooden floor panels. This proved even more difficult that you would imagine. Due to its sordid past as a delivery van most of the screws holding the floor in place had worn away, meaning that we had to chisel away at the wood, then use pliers to widdle out each nail (of which there were about 15) before the floor would come off. 18556528_10158742351385565_7500520637967509923_o18449543_10158742359275565_8379550936454863985_o
  • Mistake number 4 – thinking that after removing the floor the bulk head would then come out. No no no my good friends, it turns out that I would then have to hammer and kick the bulkhead angrily for about 10 minutes until it finally pried loose.

 

Lessons learnt… Rome wasn’t built in a day, and bulkheads in ex-delivery vans are little fucking bitches. It took 3 days, 2 people, sweat, swearing and perseverance. Any one wanting tips from someone who doesn’t have a clue what they are doing (firstly what are you doing getting tips here?) but also, get the right drill bits for the material you are using. Secondly realise that whatever you do it is gonna take some effort, this isn’t Instagram, or MTV – Xzibit ain’t gonna pimp your ride for you.

 

***OH AND YES MY DAD IS THE ONE IN ALL OF THE PICTURES BECAUSE I DIDN’T THINK IT WAS APPROPRIATE TO TAKE PHOTOS OF MYSELF USING POWER TOOLS. DEATH SELFIES ARE NOT A THING***

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