One of the advantages of having a dog is that it forces you to talk to complete strangers.
Every morning, before breakfast, Buddy is walked – whether it be along a beach, through a pine forest or along an old railway line.
It always amazes me how many people stop to speak to you when you own a dog. Our much loved pooches provide a welcome, unguarded introduction that often leads to further dialogue – usually starting with mundane weather observations and leading on to more philosophical exchanges about the meaning of life.
I don’t know if it is the ‘pit-stop’ nature of this nomadic existence, but the conversations of travellers seem to intensify quickly, as if there is little time for feigned pleasantries. The fact that you may not be here tomorrow creates a sense of urgency. In the land of the nosey, the direct questioner is King.
Take yesterday as an example. On my morning dog walk, I encountered Mr. Portsmouth (I have no idea of his real name – names are unimportant to transient people). Before our dogs had even sniffed each other’s butts Mr Portsmouth volunteered his life story and shared his greatest fears.
Back at the campsite, Chris and I form our morning routine around these little exchanges. We call it our ‘chewing the fat’ hour. Come rain or shine, we sit under our awning with a hot pot of coffee and ponder on the conversations of our dog walk, or the latest news according to ‘King Jim’ from pitch B17.
Surprisingly, there is a curious anomaly between the people we meet on our dog walks. They are not all kindred spirits or likeminded wanderlusts with a thirst for travel, as you might expect. No, they appear to fall into three main categories;
- The Posh & Privileged (‘The Braggarts’)
- The Bucket Listers’
- The Escapees
The first give-away that you may be approaching a ‘Posh & Privileged Traveller’ is usually the appearance of a small, well-groomed, immaculate lap dog, stereotypically wearing an extravagant collar and matching lead. Their pooches are usually purchased with the motorhome in mind.
As a general rule, you can anticipate that the conversation will quickly escalate to the former profession of the owner and the age and profession of any grown children. If there is more than one home, you will surely hear of this too. They are professional, and very skilful networkers, so they can quickly establish your suitability for future companionship.
The Posh & Privileged are typically over 60, retired and ‘well-to-do’. A lifetime of hard work has rewarded them with a considerable pension and healthy life savings; which funds an ostentatious and luxurious 5* motorhome complete with matching smart-car, electric bicycles and a drink’s cabinet J.R Ewing could be proud of.
The Posh and Privileged are mostly part-time travellers, ‘wintering’ in sunnier climates for 6 months of the year. The pursuit of ‘travelling’ usually involves commuting from their home to their preferred winter destination and a favourite campsite (with preferential OAP discounts); stopping to take in some sights along the way.
They are, in the main, very well-travelled, intelligent know-it-alls (hence their ‘Braggart’ nick-name). There isn’t a place they haven’t been, nor anything you can add, that they aren’t already aware of. For this reason, conversations with the Posh & Privileged are generally one-sided. We often joke that they confuse talking with communication. They ask a lot of questions, but rarely show any interest in the answers.
It is most likely that you will encounter a ‘King Braggart’ amongst the Posh and Privileged. The ‘King’ may not be the wealthiest of the group but they assume authority through ‘time served’. Take ‘King Jim’ from pitch B17 as an example – his 20 years of wintering in Spain has earned him the right to organise everyone and everything. If you do not participate in the community leaf-sweeping event, or the organised quiz night (of which he is Grand Master) you can expect to be ostracised from the Posh and Privileged fraternity – Although they will always stretch to a polite wave or a cheery greeting. Rudeness is not their style.
‘Slumming it’ is not their style either. The Posh & Privileged are usually up at the crack of dawn (so as not to be seen in the communal shower block) and are immaculately presented. Their motorhomes are an extension of their appearance, and are polished to a high gleam, adorned with pot plants and outdoor decorations. ‘Van envy’ is rife within the Posh & Privileged community and the best van usually attracts a queue of ‘Braggart’ admirers and wannabe dining companions.
They are peacocks of the highest order.
The Bucket-Lister’s are a little more modest. Their motorhomes are typically neat, functional and compact. A walking aid or mobility scooter is a sure sign of a Bucket-Lister – but don’t be fooled into thinking that these travellers are old and decrepit…they are often spirited and young at heart!
Bucket Lister’s are here to enjoy life – every last minute of it. They have usually been motivated by a significant life event, injury, illness or just an overwhelming fear of kicking-the-bucket.
They live by their mantra of ‘Life is too short’. Conversations on a dog walk typically include a reflection of the ‘moment of awakening’ that led them to blow all their savings on a motorhome, shout ‘sod it’ and bugger off without warning.
In an ironic twist, the eagerness of Bucket Lister’s to live every day as if it is their last, tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy – the poor blighters actually end up speeding up the process!
Bucket Lister’s take chances; they live life to excess. They party hard. They drink too much; smoke too much. They exercise beyond their ability. They push boundaries. They defy the odds. Despite being motivated by impending death, Bucket Lister’s are actually the most up-beat, light-hearted and enthusiastic travellers.
We have met three terminally ill cancer patients on our adventures so far. One lady was just 49 years old. They each chose, with the support of their loved-ones, to end their days on the road. They talked avidly about their travels and how they were determined to make the next stop – or literally die trying. You cannot help but be overwhelmed by their bravery and willpower. Far from wallowing in self-pity, they are grabbing their dreams by the balls and giving them a damned good shake!
So as I watched John this morning whiz by at 20mph on his illegal scooter with his oxygen mask attached and his poor little shih-tzu hop-footing behind him, I smiled. He may be chronically ill, but as any motorhomer knows….there are jobs to do, dogs to walk…and every morning John wakes up and shakes his balls!
Bucket-Lister’s like John are a stark reminder of how short life really is. If he had his life over, I doubt he would have sacrificed his youth and well-being for a life of work and grind. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Which leads me nicely on to our final category – The extremely rare, Escapees.
Despite everybody knowing somebody who has sold up and escaped to far-away lands, the actuality is that Escapees are very far and few between. And Escapee families are almost non-existent!
Escapees can be spotted by their antiquated, well-loved, over-loaded motorhomes. Stickers from every country commonly embellish the exterior like a proud badge of honour.
These ‘runaways’ are not just escaping the general monotony of life in their homeland. They are voting with their feet. For whatever reason, they are here looking for something that resembles hope.
The Escapees are a funny, motley bunch. It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about them. We have encountered everything from an intellectual lone female with a cat on a lead, to a middle-aged hippy with a bong, guitar and bandana-wearing Husky.
They are often a quiet, solitary group, who tend to keep themselves to themselves, unless invited to participate in a conversation. Once engaged, discussions can be lively and interesting. They have curious and fascinating stories to tell.
Escapees count themselves as the lucky ones. They are proud to have revolted against the 9-5 rat race and shirked societal expectations. They pat themselves on the back for having found both the courage and the means to escape to a greener, sunnier pasture at a time when they are well enough, and young enough, to enjoy it.
The Escapee’s interpretation of homesickness – is the nauseating feeling of having to return to a life of normality. They are opportunity-seeking, self-sufficient wanderlusts, who believe that the greatest life adventures involve letting loose the anchor and drifting far, far from shore.
As I reflect on the travellers we have met over the past three months, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed conversing with many different types of people…but I have also endured a few!
I suppose it is no different from life back at home? Some people can be disappointing; others can be inspiring. Some people wear a façade; others are an open book. Some people moan; others make the most of life.
Strange though – it doesn’t matter how I feel about their owners, I have loved all the dogs I met.
Come to think of it, the more people I meet, the more I like dogs!