To Be Left Alone: Living With Autism – 9

Emma’s caravan


During 2008 I had sold my campervan in the UK and had managed to get hold of a very old caravan which someone kindly donated and towed down into my wood for me; and given that this caravan was already well past its best, I decided that the way to survive the winters here was to fit a log burner in it. 

This I managed to do by trial and error, having absolutely no idea how to do it but knowing that I just had to. The result was wonderful; although I never managed to make the chimney hole in the roof entirely rainproof, that didn’t seem to matter so much, as by this time the joints of the caravan were all leaking anyway. I discovered the excellent warming value of firewood; you have to look for it, cut it up (or down), transport it, chop it and split it and then if you are still not warm enough you can even burn it! 

Emma’s tent in the woods

During the sunny days I had realised that where the caravan was parked was too shady to enjoy the sun so I decided to make a summer base in a clearing I had found in the middle of the wood. I built a tiny shed to keep food and my gas stove in and pitched a tent to sleep in. My recollection of time has become very hazy, but I believe I lived in the tent for four summers until I hurt my back constantly having to bend double to get through the door.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what sort of structure I could have that I could stand up in but that would be easy enough for me to transport in in parts by hand from the track through the wood to the clearing. Also, it would need to be technically not classified as an actual structure or possible dwelling place, as you are not permitted to build residential structures in woodland without all kinds of permissions – which I knew I would not get, even if I was brave enough to apply for them. Another consideration was that I wanted to be able to see out; there I was in a tent in the middle of a beautiful woodland, hearing creatures walking past the tent and not being able to see them! 

Really I wanted a cabin with a log burner, which would have meant I could have stayed there all year and not have had to move back and forth from the caravan every spring and autumn, but there were too many reasons that wouldn’t have been possible – costs, the red tape and the practicalities among them. And if I had got caught and been forced to take it down, what a waste of money. 

Polytunnel home

I knew that I wanted lots of windows – lots of light and sunshine – so I thought about a greenhouse but again the cost and the logistics were too difficult for me. However, I realised that a plastic greenhouse – a polytunnel – was the answer. Cheap, easy to transport, easy to assemble, not a residential structure, and easy to unassemble if I did get caught. 

The polytunnel that I got was unfortunately not rainproof so I had to take a further measure of sourcing a very large, clear tarpaulin to completely cover it like a fly sheet on a tent. I lined the floor with two layers of damp course and carpet underlay and ‘tiled’ it with wood-effect vinyl planks. I moved the food cupboard and gas stove in and had a camp bed. It was wonderful, except that it was unbearably hot on sunny days and got very damp when I was cooking in the evening. But on the whole it was a great success and I was extremely pleased with it. I think I lived there for three or four years .

To Be Continued…

Emma and beloved Twosy

Emma was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 45 when everything suddenly started to make sense, or at least the reasons why nothing made sense started to become clearer. She now lives in Pembrokeshire, working hard to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism. 

Please note that since posting this series from Emma Wishart she has been published in an anthology from Editor and writer Mair Elliot, From Hurt To Hope- Stories of Mental Health, Mental Illness and Being Autistic. @Jessica Kingsley Publisher 2021


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