You see them everywhere. Baby boomers in mobile homes.
They mark their individuality with special names emblazoned on the front and back like Wanderlust or Takin’ It Easy. Dad is hunched over the wheel with an intense expression on his face. The wife sits grimly beside him. They haven’t spoken since he misheard her map-reading directions just out of Masterton and took a circuitous detour along the beach at Castlepoint and back over the Rimutakas.
Mobile homes and more elaborately equipped buses have an overwhelming fascination for baby boomers. Perhaps they are a last desperate attempt to re-live the Volkswagen Combi Hungarian camping tour they did on their OE in 1967. Being trapped in a Combi or caravan with fellow teens of both sexes can be exciting, but sharing a single room on wheels with your spouse of 40 years could be a recipe for divorce.
As it happens, we’ve spent the past 12 months living in a bus. My wife sensibly opted to stay in town three nights a week to limit her 30-minute commutes to work in Hastings from our block of land north of Napier, leaving me with the dog, three chooks, countless rabbits and a dozen morose steers who congregate over the fence from the bus at daybreak and bellow for windfall apples that my now-absent wife obligingly gave them the day before.
At nights, away from city lights, I have enjoyed breathtakingly star-sprinkled heavens, spectacular thunder and lightning displays and watched a meteor explode silently overhead, scattering glowing fragments across the western sky. From the bedroom window I have watched the shimmering lights of container ships out in the bay waiting for a berth at the Port of Napier.
I drift off to sleep each night to the comforting sound of the sea, occasionally interrupted by the rasping, blood-curdling sounds of a possum trapped up a tree by McIntyre, my Jack Russell terrier. As I have no firearms, I can only try to dislodge the possums with large stones from the driveway until, after being struck a number of times by stones ricocheting off the branches, I usually apologise to McIntyre for my incompetence and return to bed.
The bus, a 40-foot leviathan rented from a neighbour, has withstood all that nature has arrayed against it. Ferocious westerlies on dark winter nights that bent our fledgling poplar trees horizontal, left the chook run and its terrified occupants in tatters and sent the long drop cascading down a bank, could only hurl themselves ineffectively against the bus’s unyielding steel body. Had I been in a light caravan, I would have flown second-class to Chile.
One of the unexpected bonuses of our Year of the Bus has been the total absence of television, because hills block any reception. I’ve yet to experience the wit and wisdom of TV1’s Seven Sharp, and at the rate its audience is fading, I might never do so. Instead, I have feasted on books, haunting the libraries in both cities and ploughing through a couple of books a week. And my wife and I are up to Game 46 in Scrabble.
A bare 300 metres away, our retirement home has literally risen from the ground. For eight months, a succession of builders’ vans, concrete trucks, diggers and plumbers has rattled past the bus. And the long wait — as well as the long drop — is finally over.
Ideas sketched on sheets of paper 18 months ago have been transformed into heavy macrocarpa trusses, polished concrete floors and a wonderful cast-iron woodburning oven designed and built in Whangarei. It is the heart of the house, providing heat that can be ducted to other rooms, cooking with its twin ovens and hotplates, and hot water from its wetback.
Among the eclectic mix of furnishings and fittings that give the house its character are doors salvaged during the demolition of the County Club in Hastings early last year. We have stripped, sanded and oiled them back to their lovely original rimu and cedar finishes. Brass knobs blackened by a century of gentlemen’s hands gleam with new life, and a section of the club’s macrocarpa bar has been incorporated into the kitchen island. Reliable sources tell me that very same bar has had more than its usual share of spirits with several caskets being given pride of place on it during fond farewells to recently-departed club members.
It has been a long bus trip, but at least the end of our journey was always in sight. And it has cured us both of contemplating driving into retirement sunset in our very own Lay-Z-Days mobile retirement home.