The Lady in the Van: Alan Bennett

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The Lady in the Van

This is the title of a wonderful book by British author, Alan Bennett. The story is true and will make you laugh … and maybe cry a little. It tells about the woman who was his neighbour for many years. Not just any neighbour, Miss Shepherd lived in her small van. And she parked it – for fifteen years – in Alan Bennett’s driveway.

Now when I’ve told American people about this and used the word ‘van’, they tend to imagine an RV – something that is quite sizable, has a fold-out bed, cooking facilities and  – um – other facilities necessary for life. The sort of place, in other words, where you or I would be perfectly comfortable and willing to spend a couple of weeks.

But no. You’re familiar with the size of a London taxi? Well, that’s about the size of Miss Shepherd’s home. Here’s one, below:


Pretty tiny for a home.Well, maybe just a little longer. I checked it out for you – the van was 70 inches wide by 154 inches long. Not only did Miss Shepherd live inside, she also had a lifetime of accumulated possessions. Some were inside. Some were pushed under the vehicle. Others were on top.

You could describe her as eccentric. (To say the least).

Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett

She liked her van to be yellow and painted it from time to time. The problem was that she had no conception about the difference between auto paint and the stuff you’d use on your interior walls. So just a drop or two of London rain soon reduced her paint jobs to something that was less that ‘showroom condition’.

The van was no longer roadworthy. It had been pushed into Bennett’s garden. One of the reasons, Miss Shepherd suspected, was that he had tried to make homemade fuel. She’d read the instructions somewhere and created the fuel from memory.

However, she hadn’t been quite sure that her memory had served her correctly. Chances are that it hadn’t.

During the fifteen years that Miss Bennett lived in such close proximity with Alan Bennett he found out little about her. She wasn’t a young woman and as time went on, it was obvious that she really should have been in some better home. But she was adamant.

She passed away in the driveway.

Find out more about Miss Shepherd here.

If you’d like to read the book, which s a bonus has another  (but fictional) story about ‘possessions’ please use the link below to go to Amazon. You’ll love it.

The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van (Today Show Book Club #5)



Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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