How Tony survived an unexpected divorce - thanks to a campervan called Buttercup

PUBLISHED: 09:54 15 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:35 15 September 2019

Tony in Morocco

Tony in Morocco


Tony Bown, 52, from Norwich was heartbroken when his wife said she was leaving. But a campervan called Buttercup has made all the difference.


When a marriage ends after 27 years and it wasn't what you wanted, what then?

For Tony Bown, 52, from Norwich, the first thought was to try to persuade his wife that she was making a big mistake.

He made his wife 'Katharine' a book of photographs, hoping memories of times together that he recalled as happy would help to change her course.

There were many conversations, where he tried to get her to explain what had brought her to her decision.

"Each time," he writes, "there was a different reason", yet he still felt none the wiser.

Their daughter, Martha, came to help mediate between the two of them, but still Katharine remained resolute.

Tony wrote love notes and bought flowers.

They carried on shopping and walking out together.

Sometimes, he got confused, as things seemed normal in so many ways. But Katharine had said that she was leaving in February, and shortly after February had passed, she did.

Anyone who has been through a break up after many years of shared lives and children will relate to Tony's book.

If you have experienced the heartbreak and loss of being left, you will identify with his feelings of despair and hopelessness - what to do next when the future you envisaged has been taken away?

If you were the one to leave, you will recognise all the things Tony tries to do to revive things and know that he was wasting his time. Once someone has truly made up their mind to go, there is nothing to be done because that decision has been a long time in coming and has been thought over and debated a million times before the words are actually said.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote once, "A man doesn't see a woman leave". It was all about the little moments in a marriage when you gradually begin your departure in your mind. I might send it to Tony. Maybe it will help.

Tony's book, published by Arena Books in Bury St Edmunds, has arisen out of a blog he began to help him cope with his distress.

He details, he says, 'how I have been transformed from a useless, blubbing, snotty wreck of a man to an increasingly self-confident, optimistic and positive young man.' 'I use the phrase guardedly,' he adds.

A chief component in this renaissance was the purchase of his campervan, Buttercup, who took him to Scotland and on many other outings that helped to clear his head.

In many poems in the book, he pays tribute to the little yellow van who has no idea of the impact she is having on his life after she safely takes him the length of the Isle of Skye through high winds and brings him out again into sunshine:

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"I want to thank you Buttercup,

To you, I take a bow

If I didn't love you 'fore today,

I certainly do now'.

But although the book is entitled Buttercup Saved My Life, reading between the lines the reader understands that in fact it was Tony's supportive friends and three children, who did that, and, indeed, Tony himself.

Tony had been working in education, a role he found had become increasingly stressful, and so he leaves his job and devotes himself to travel.

His journey includes months working on a riad in Morocco for example, where he becomes embroiled in all the goings on in that small community and although at the time he doesn't seem to realise that living in the moment, rather than lamenting the past, is helping to heal him, as a reader, we can see that it is.

He is also forming an identity as Tony, the man who loves travel and never knowing where he is going to be tomorrow, the man he might have been once, long ago, but had forgotten: "'I feel I have taken a step off the carousel of life. I am standing next to it, but looking in a different direction," he writes.

At times, reading the book, you are reminded of friends who keep going over the same problem and you keep giving the same sensible advice, yet somehow they can't seem to see it because their emotions and fears are getting in the way.

The financial wranglings of a divorce are naturally tiresome for example, but Tony seems to put his life on hold, waiting for answers from his ex-wife before he will give himself permission to move on to the next stage.

He hesitates about getting a new job, for example, until he knows how much money he will have to live on after the settlement has been agreed. But as a reader you can't help thinking - don't let that stop you! Don't put your life on hold while you wait for someone else to tell you what you are allowed to do!

But while you feel a friend's frustration reading this, you of course understand that his reliance on his wife's opinion, is also completely understandable. He is used to making decisions as a two. His difficulty in making plans for the future where he considers only himself and his own wellbeing is all part of the process of recovery after divorce and anyone who has been there will instantly recognise how difficult it is to begin again as someone who does not feel compelled to consult on or indeed in some cases get permission for every aspect of their life.

There are dating stories - mostly unsatisfying for Tony, although quite entertaining for the reader! - and there is a rather erotic massage story too! All part of the healing process, it seems.

Of course, any story of a marriage that is told from one point of view is only going to provide half of the truth, and you can't help but long to hear what Katharine (whose name has been changed) would have to say about it all. She will have had her reasons, I'm sure, but sometimes, when somebody doesn't want to hear them, and tries to debate them out of you, it can be easier to give no reason at all,

In the end, however, Tony reaches a form of acceptance and writes of her, 'I need to respect that you have made your decision based upon your own reality, which is different to my reality'.

This book though is very much the story of Tony's reality, in all its hurt, longing and pain, and he expresses it well.

It is a brave thing to let people into your life at its darkest time but in helping others, as this book undoubtedly will, I think and hope that Tony will have helped himself a lot too. Ultimately, he writes, 'I have never known my future. I just thought I did. Now, I fully accept it...Whatever life throws at me, I will enjoy it...I know there will be little detours en route (but) I know for certain that I will get through them.'

He might have fallen by the wayside for a bit, as everyone does after divorce, but his book - and Buttercup - are a reminder that we can all get back on the road...

Buttercup Saved My Life: How to Survive an Unexpected Divorce is available from Waterstones and other good bookshops locally.

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