The idea of living in a wagon appealed strongly to me. And if I’m honest, it was the romantic instinct which was the prime driver. For people of a certain sensibility, it is easy to be drawn to such a life: the tug of leaving the mainstream, the apparent simplicity, the obvious gypsy associations. I was also not immune to posing, the narcissist in me enjoying the idea of leaning inside a wagon’s doorframe, clay pipe in my mouth, trying to look dark and rakish.
But this is so much guff. Our fantasies of a life lived on wheels are so limited, so fatally dumbed-down by cliche. Of course there are certain freedoms that go with such a life and a great deal of happiness to be had, but eternal summers do not exist and our mental shorthand does not include the long, dark nights in small spaces and the heavy reek of paraffin lamps; neither is there room in our imagination for the fires that smoulder and the chimneys that refuse to draw; we don’t for a second consider the freezing mornings or unwanted visitors in the middle of the night.
As with everything, there are two sides to wagon-living and just like the romantic image of a gypsy’s patchwork skirt, underneath there was probably a pair of dirty knickers. Forget the easy cliches, it is the practical hardships one has to wrestle and the new rhythms one must master, which give the most satisfaction. It is those moments of quiet purpose, done slowly and freely given, which have the enduring beauty.