In short, yes. Fucking cold.
But since my first, extremely naive year of soapbox dwelling, I’ve come a long way.
I hadn’t anticipated the winter of 2012 to be such a savage one, otherwise I probably would have prepared far better than I originally did. One sub-par, synthetic sleeping bag and a tatty wool blanket were the sole contents of my anti-freeze kit. All I can say with 20/20 hindsight is naivety really can be a life saver.
I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, nor did I know that 2012 would drop to -7 degrees celcius. That meant frozen hair, ice-capped balls and perma-stuck windows. Oh, and zero company because no one is going to sit through that with you just because you’re fun to hang out with.
I stupidly thought I could beat Mother Nature, that somehow I was tougher, more resilient than what she could bring to the british, winter table. Well, she served me and served me good, because I suffered like a bastard that year. Fluid started to build on my lungs, with regular, staccato coughs slipping into my sentences to replace what used to be punctuation. My bottle of olive oil became my thermostat. When that froze, which it has done on numerous occassions, I knew I was in for a tough ride. Silly boy. Nature always wins. Do you recall a time she has ever lost?
It wasn’t a complete thrashing, though. I was working in a rock climbing centre at the time and in their car park, outside the front of their industrial building, they had a large transformer-type unit, presumably owned by the National Grid. You know, the ones that say ‘Danger of Death, Keep Out’ on them.
After a bit of snooping around one day, going past the prescribed boundaries of life and death (a hobby of mine) I discovered the nomad’s equivalent of gold; two shiny, white household plug sockets! They were mounted inside the death unit but to my amazement, were accessible. Without a second thought of voltage conversions or potential explosions, I ran to my van and parked it in the centre’s car park, unravelling my 3-pin electricity cable faster than a horny Repunzel.
A deep Eureka moment struck within me as I flicked the on switch and my van remained in contact with the earth, as I knew for now, I had a power source. It wasn’t on the centre’s bill either. This shit was straight from da Grid.
After some conferring, it appeared that this power source supplied the industrial estate with electricity for street lighting and was not measured on a unit-per-unit basis. I.e. Harry can power his van and no one would ever know.
I could barely see, my eyes were so full of dollar signs. This was a pinnacle moment, as I knew I could now survive the worst of the next three months with the assistance of a battered, charity shop fan heater, combined with a table lamp for morale.
I pushed it as far as I could, parking the van in the centre’s car park until the management literally told me to fuck off and park elsewhere on the industrial estate. Well, I only had a 16m power cable, so naturally I parked just opposite the centre’s car park boundary, within reach of my new found life force. My orange cable ran straight across the road, getting speed-bumped by hundreds how many vehicles over the next few weeks.
That little fan heater saved me from death that winter, although there was one incident where it did nearly kill me. I fell asleep with it on and as anyone who owns a consumer electronic item from the 70s well knows, the one thing you do not do with these pieces of shit is leave them unattended for any period of time. I figured I must have been out for at least 3 hours, before awakening to a smoke-filled cabin, combined with a rather putrid smell of burning dust. Turns out, the heater had slipped off of the raised surface that I’d left it on before passing out, falling face down on to my carpet and proceeding to melt the brown rug into what resembled a viscous mess of a 1970s opium kitchen. I ejected from my slumber rather quickly, as you can imagine, thankful that I too, was not discovered in the remains of a molten leisure vehicle, still plugged in to the country’s leading industrial energy source.
The van’s insulation is diabolical at best. The rate of heat dissipation is phenomenal; I don’t know the precise terminology but let me tell you that twenty minutes after your heat source stops during winter, the van goes back to fridge status almost instantly. With the fan heater, I used it to take the chill off, a few times whilst reading a book but mostly in the mornings upon getting out of bed. I thought I’d really cracked it when I could stretch from my bed to turn on the heater, wait ten minutes, then exit my bed without fending off cardiac arrest, instead entering a nice warm bubble of combusted dust whilst I clothed myself.
That was a short lived pipe dream, though. After 3 months the centre freaked out and thought the National Grid were not long coming after them, so as part of my continued employment terms they ordered me to unplug. I concurred. By this time it was coming into spring and I knew my grind was over. I’d made it, for another year at least.
In part 6, I will answer the oh-so-common follow up to to cold question, “How do you heat your van?” and no, the answer does not involve raiding more ‘Danger of Death’ units.
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