Saturday, November 06, 2004

Ambulance Living Update

by Stefan


I'm sure you were waiting to hear an update about living in the ambulance.. Well, it's been interesting to say the least. The first week I had it, I've been living in it in Berkshire, a beautiful scenic countryside area west of London, waiting for some
stuff in London to get sorted out. I found a beautiful quiet space near some abandoned buildings on the outskirts of some tiny village, and kept coming back
there to sleep for about a week. In the beginning the transition was rough -- it was wet, it was rough, and I kept wondering whether I made the right decision. However, I quickly warmed to the life style, and learned the basic survival skills..

My parking space was amazingly quiet. All you could hear at night was the hooting of the owls, and I slept like a log every night. On day two I was half asleep when I heard some old lady outside read my registration number aloud: "L... 8... 0... 5... ". Predictably, later that day I got a voice mail message from the police, asking me to call them back because my vehicle had been reported "being suspicious". I flat out ignored it and braced myself for a visit from the Old Bill, but it never came in the following days.

On particularily cold and rainy days, I would go and treat myself to a visit to the steam room at the Reading Rivermead Leisure Centre, 8 miles down the road. It works wonders to warm you up when its cold and clammy outside and dissipates any flu symptoms at once.

Overall, staying in Woodcote, Berkshire, was a cute experience. I'd hang out in the village pub at night, drinking cider and talking openly about where I live, and apart from a few raised eyebrows I caught remarkably little flak from the friendly locals. As I'm German, I can always pass myself off as just another tourist with a campervan.. which helps.

Now, time has come to leave Woodcote, and I went into London to sell my other car, get my crap out of storage and go to Belfast. With all the kit in the amb now, it's approaching the comfort level of an apartment: I installed a 400W inverter for mains
power, off which I am running my 100W amp & speakers, a CD player and a turntable. I have 2 crates of vinyl in the van to listen to when I'm stopped. When moving, I can take the speakers into the cab and control the CD players off a long cable to the amp in the back and listen to music at blinding volume. For cooking, I have an Optimus Nova multi-fuel camping stove which is brilliant and runs on the same gas the ambulance runs on and gets re-filled from the spare canister when needed. This is a great piece of equipment -- and when it breaks, you can completely take it apart and re-build it. After fixing the pumping mechanism by replacing the worn-out rubber plunger with what used to be a foam earplug (and it now working better than
the original part), I think I'm ready to write: "Zen and the art of Multi-Fuel-Cooker Maintenance."

All the cabinets are now filled with various survival essentials -- one for clean clothes, one for dirty, one for cooking utensils, food, milk, coffee, one for the inverter, and it works out nicely. While containing almost everything I own, the ambulance still looks remarkably tidy inside. Yesterday, I wired up an internal/external temperature gauge and noticed that with 12 deg C inside and 6 deg C outside (high 30's in your temperature), I'm still amazingly cozy inside my sleeping bag.

The journey to Belfast was interesting. The worst part of this vehicle is the fuel consumtion. I get 125 miles on a tank of gas which costs me about $75. This works about to about 20l/100km or 10 mpg. This can ruin you very, very quickly in a country where unleaded gas costs 88p a litre (or about US$ per US gallon). The ferry crossing wasn't cheap either at 91 pounds ($150). At the moment, I'm looking for a room to live in temporarily in the winter while I put the amb through inspection (which is due by 12/04) and some essential maintenance -- shocks, brakes, a bit of
welding, and a bit of silicon paste on some cracks in the fiberglass shell in the back which leaks in 1 place in very heavy rainstorms.

Cool was also that while the amb has saved lives in its former life, it also saved some lives since I've had it (aside from my own of course). Check this out:
So I'm driving along the A75 in Scotland, from the motorway to the Stanraer ferry port, which is about a 92 mile journey. It's 1am and I'm driving coffee, and
driving along at 50mph to save gas and blasting hard techno through the speakers which I taped on the dash. I notice the area is aggressively policed -- I pass 2
people pulled over in 1 hour which is very, very rare in this part of the world usually.

Then, I come through a roundabout about 30 miles from Stanraer and see 3 people, dressed in t-shirts, freezing at the side of the road, one with his thumb out. Mind you its now 1:30 am and the outside temperature is a few degrees above freezing. As I load up the freezing hitchhikers, a police car passes me slowly and menacingly, but eventually pulls away. My passengers tell me that the same cops pulled them over
in their car around 9pm (about 4 hours ago) and confiscated their car because of 2 bald tires. They literally left them at the side of the road, miles away from public transport or the nearest town, to freeze to death in November weather wearing nothing
but t-shirts. What a scandal. I drove them to Stanraer and they invited me back to their house for tea.

The next day I took the ferry over here, and as I mentioned earlier am looking for a room for the intermediate period. I have some local friends who are party organizers and who just lost their dude with the van, so the amb will be doing double duty hauling around bass bins this winter while I'm not living in it. All in all, an interesting experience so far -- if it wasn't for the freezing weather, the gas
consumption (and gas price) it could well be perfect..

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