A nice little encounter with a student today. A large, slightly battered looking van is parked further down the street, and a young man with dreadlocks and some arty tattoos is often busy doing rather vague DIY-type jobs inside it. I pass it as I walk the dog, but haven't done more than give a neighbourly smile. The word on the street is that he's converting it into a travelling home.
Well, that sounds thrilling! I thought with a tinge of envy, and very '60s! Today, seeing it parked in the back lane, wide open, with a portable CD player going, not too loudly, I stopped and spoke to him. And before I knew it, I was invited onto the electric up-and-down platform thing in order to step inside, and be Told All About It by an extremely pleasant boy, J, who was obviously delighted to be asked about his dream project. Yes indeed, he was turning it into his travelling home.
His parents had tried and failed to get to India in the '60s in a converted van, reaching as far as Turkey; J wanted to give it a go himself, also aiming for India. He was just at the stage of insulating the sides of the van, and sketched out for me with waving arms his plans for a small kitchen, windows and what he termed 'legal seats'. Touchingly, he said it was a good excuse to buy some great tools.
He thinks it will take a year to get the van ready for the trip. I tried not to think about how old the van was looking now, and how it might cope with a voyage of more than 4000 miles, followed by the pandemonium of Indian roads.
I've been on Indian roads. Nerves of steel are required, plus an updated will and a resigned attitude. In 1991 I had all of those necessities:
At the end of our rather jolly 15-minute conversation, I knew quite a lot about J, and I came away with an invitation to keep looking in on his progress, but I also received a wonderful reminder of the power and reach of youthful dreams before the harsher realities of life impact on them. I've been thinking since of how easily that happens to us when we're young, the pressures to conform, get a job, make money, steadily overtaking and eroding the dream, the wide horizon, the actual living of life in pursuit of freedom.
I hope he doesn't lose that lovely optimism and energy; I hope he finishes his travelling home, and I hope he does make that trip.
Later, I walked down the lane and left my old map of India on the platform of the van for him; a tiny contribution to someone else's dream.