Like most Irish love stories, ours began in a pub. Striking up a conversation about a brand new tattoo still raw on my forearm, it was the usual case of guy meets girl, guy winces at the blood and buys girl a drink regardless. Except it wasn’t a creamy, stereotypical pint of Guinness (I’m a vegetarian and they still use fish eggs in brewing) and it wasn’t in Beaumont or Ballina or Bundoran or any of the many Bally-Go-Backwards rural townland in our wide green countryside, this love story happened to take place (only 4 years ago) on the little semi-tropical island of Bermuda. The local rum there is called Goslings, a delicious sticky black treacle which in all honesty goes down a little too smoothly, is a little too freely available and a little too easy to imbibe by the litre. Realising we had our nationality in common first and, in spite of the ten year age gap, a million other things too, one rum led leisurely to ten, my raw tattoo sealed itself and healed itself in the hot August beer garden sun and the rest, as they say, is history.
We bought our little 1997 Fiat Ducato van in August 2017 in County Wexford, from the very man who fitted her innards out to this fine living space. That man was named Dixie, hence we labelled her with the same moniker in memory of her original converter and creator. Everybody we meet asks the same question, why Dixie, and so we tell that fact a lot and the next query is usually why The Backwards Van? We laugh and mumble some half-reasons about being utterly directionless, always going backwards, never sticking to any route but the truth is the blog, the website and the van were named long before we clapped eyes on the Ducato herself, after something so annoying, so frustrating and so common that you’re probably well aware of in life, the Law of Reversed Effort.
I’ve been so thirsty lately, water just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I feel like one big saltlick. Unfortunately, takeaway coffee on the road is a big no. One of the first lessons we learned in vanlife is to avoid the unnecessary cost of coffee and as difficult as it has been to resist the temptation to pick up a fresh, steaming cup of joe at the petrol station, we’ve managed to travel some 30,000 miles over 14 months without giving in. Going there would obliterate our finances in no time and we would pay sky high convenience costs for our own laziness, personally I couldn’t handle the associated guilt on budget day. So I reach for the fizzy carbonated stuff to quench my thirst instead, it’s so much cheaper and it even works to satiate my sand tongue temporarily but choosing soda is actually even lazier, full of sugar and not much else, and single use plastic is something we try to avoid. We have water filters and dilutable cordial in all flavours imaginable but nothing works, I may well be thirsty forever.
I mentioned last time that we may have found a suitable shed for sale, for a suitable price and in a suitable location and it’s true. If all this sounds a little too… suitable I suppose, that’s because it is. Ridiculously so. I’m almost afraid to talk about it, it hasn’t really hit home yet. The property is a small chunk of land on a long sandy peninsula in north west County Mayo, near a very interesting and historical little place called Blacksod, and is less than an acre wide, facing into the wild grey Atlantic Ocean but hunkered down in a sheltered cove. The wind whips across the flatland daily and every thing trying to grow is forced bent and crooked while every thing inanimate is sandbagged into place with huge gravel sacks and secured with thick canvas straps. We saw the listing online on Friday and by Sunday morning Dixie was dawdling down the long deserted laneway and parking up by the gate and off we went for a thorough snoop. Nobody answered at the house next door, it appeared from the outside to be unoccupied so we sauntered down to the long stony beach to spy on the place from the shore, impossible. How perfect. Back to the white gate which swung open with a squeak and invited us in, we already knew we would try to buy the land. The tiny house, a bright whitewashed rectangular box glaring in the sunlight, was empty too. We peeked in two front windows but couldn’t see much behind the thick net curtains, it didn’t matter what was in there anyway, we were already in love. An old shipping container sat between the tiny house and the amazing shed space, that wasn’t among the buildings listed online and we got excited again. Of course of the container we saw a future guest room or a workshop or maybe one day, a fully equipped house in itself. The massive shed has skylights, electricity and plumbing and more space than we ever thought we would own. The real bonus is the dwelling, it has three bedrooms and all mod-cons, water, an electric shower and power at the flick of a switch, of course none of that mattered that sunny Sunday in Blacksod, we were going to go for it regardless. When we set out to look for a place to base ourselves, we really didn’t think we’d find what we were looking for so soon, or maybe at all. Maybe we were just dreaming in our silly shed hunt, we knew that and we didn’t mind that much either, having so much free time to ourselves we can dream all we like, right? We didn’t try to buy a house. It just happened.
You know when you try to do something well and that just makes things harder? You know those personal goals you set yourself, be them financial, educational, career driven or otherwise (like learning a new language or to play an instrument) that seem to somehow get further away with every attempt to achieve them? That’s called The Law of Reversed Effort, a.k.a. The Backwards Law. The harder we try, the less we succeed. The more time, care and focus we put into attempting to achieve, the more distant our chances sometimes become, take it from me, I’m almost 40 with fingernails bitten to the quick and at least a hundred failed attempts to quit that particularly disgusting habit. We all know this law. We lived it in our former marriages and in past situations, we understand that life, the universe and everything in it will find many cruel and unusual ways to sabotage anything good and it can be hard to keep picking up and carrying on when all seems lost, again. Maybe an extended period of having absolutely zero expectations, no plans whatsoever and no goals or targets to achieve would reap some positive results? Maybe we could buy a van and drive around having fun and living the way we want to until something else happens?
I’ve gotten even thirstier since I started writing this and perhaps I should explain why. We decided to give up drinking one stormy night in late November 2016. We had attended a big rugby final and drank ourselves silly on delicious free rum in the VIP tent before stumbling from the stadium into a taxi and heading home to where lots more rum was usually awaiting. Celebrating an event with a few glasses of bubbly is one thing, but for whatever reason (is it in our DNA?) neither of us have an OFF switch when it comes to booze. We were gradually learning over 2 years together what terrible influences we are on each other and that’s not good, you can imagine the damage we were capable of creating together given when I was single I could (and would) drink myself under the table. The worst thing with alcohol is it is a thief. It steals your time. One evening in a bar, again, that is no matter socially but if you allow it, alcohol will steal every single evening from you and leave you with nothing but the long receipts and the almighty hangover, the ultimate self-martyring killjoy and thief of your time. Hiding behind sunglasses, even indoors, light sensitive, noise sensitive and extremely anti-social, you’re completely paranoid about what happened the night before, maybe you became argumentative (guaranteed I did), and now wasting hours feeling like you’ve been hit by a train or chewed up and spat out and your mouth feels like you’ve been licking the floor… Money was the best motivator for kicking the bottle but in reality we quit to prove there was more to life, there are better ways to spend our time and it was time to face up to the fact that booze was controlling our days more than we would ever like to admit. We quit to prove we could actually enjoy life without the crutch. It’s an addiction after all.
Buying the land (which we have affectionately named the Little House on the Peninsula) was a whirlwind, the price was agreed, hands were shaken and the deal was sealed between two Mayo men long before the realtor had a chance to do his job. The owners then took us inside for tea and cakes and we spent an hour learning about the area, the house and the various utility points. I was suffering from mild shock at the time so I’m unsure as to what else we talked about but as I sat munching on a cherry bakewell the call was made to take the property off the market and I burst into tears. I couldn’t help it.
The worst thing about alcohol is that it is everywhere. Every event you go to, every get together, even every meal seems to have alcohol and giving it up means dealing with that fact. You can’t hide forever (although I did, after work in my warm bed with books and chocolate and herbal tea for about four months until I stopped feeling so bad) and sometimes saying no is a very difficult thing. We once shared a sunset in the company of a jolly motorhoming Englishman who invited us to taste his bottle of expensive Scotch, turning him down was taken almost as if we had just insulted his mother. The man resorted to gulping alone, getting drunker and redder in the face as the sun disappeared and every so often exclaiming his amazement at meeting an Irish couple who don’t drink alcohol, as if we were the strangest beings, aliens, as rare as mythical leprechauns and he’d just caught us. People huh?!
After I climbed out from under the covers and back to the real world, bars were difficult to stand sober. The temptation is real folks, no matter how long it’s been and living in our van we have successfully managed to avoid a large percentage of events that take place in bars. Last week at one such unavoidable event, I ordered a diet coke and was served instead a Southern Comfort, a huge gulp burning it’s way down my throat before I realised. To add insult to injury I had to then pay for a non alcoholic drink as the tokens provided with the price of the ticket only covered booze. Talk about your Law of Reversed Effort! All I can say is I’m extremely glad it wasn’t a Goslings he poured for me or I might still be standing there drinking, propping up the bar, wasting my time and nursing the same old never-ending hangover.
The gentleman whose house we just bought (and that still sounds so strange to me, so exciting and new and a tiny bit scary) is a part of the community, no matter how small the little town on the little peninsula might seem to most and we want that too. We want to travel as much as we can but feel connected to something when we come home as well. The idea of a base for Dixie was never for life, but this absolutely is. The house will be named Abhaile, pronounced Ah-wall-ya, Irish for home and it will always be waiting when we get there. Nomadic life is so very random and living in a van is such a novelty, we had many bizarre, inspiring and hilarious times together that road tripping in Dixie will always be a huge part of our lives. We didn’t mean to buy a house, we simply couldn’t refuse!
Giving up alcohol isn’t an easy thing to do and it doesn’t really fix anything. Actually it makes things worse at first as you start to understand how often we as a society reach for the bottle to begin with, birth? Drink! Wedding? Drink! Got a job, lost a job, hate your job? Drink! Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Drink! Someone died? Definitely drink, and more than ever then. It fixes nothing and it just delays our emotions. We can’t learn to really process anything if we’re half cut all the time, grief and depression and anxiety and loneliness and any other fairly normal and fairly common state of distress is only compounded by the stuff. Its been two long years and we are still learning to deal with our own moods and our own insecurities. Life goes on around us only now we are crutchless, when things go backwards we have to learn how to stand on our own two feet or lean on each other for support.
Alcohol isnt immune to the Backwards Law and it has been a huge struggle sometimes but it’s one worth continuing for both of us. Funnily enough we didn’t drink the house dry that night we decided to change our habits forever. I poured away a half bottle of Goslings the next morning into the sink. I’m not sure of the significance of that but it felt like winning already to me.
Like most Irish love stories, ours began in a pub. But it doesn’t have to end there 😉