It’s my son Dominic’s birthday today and it’s scary that my second-eldest is pushing thirty. Doesn’t seem that long since we were playing football in the park, my teaching a three-year-old toddler my silky skills. Now he’s in Omagh with his beautiful girlfriend Zoe and I wish I were there too… but I’m stuck in my lay-by waiting for a welder, and I often told him you should always respect your welders. Sorry I can’t be there son; I love you and here’s wishing you many happy returns.
Talking of landmarks, it’s now 75 days and nights since I started my off-grid project. Yes I’ve treated myself to the odd pub steak or burger or haggis, and more than the odd pint of best as I’ve chatted up the locals. And yes I’ve been called a paedophile by teenage thugs, been tooted at by tossers in white vans assuming I’m getting laid, or ran the gauntlet of fist-fighting gypsies… but on the whole it’s been a peaceful 75 days and I can’t help reflecting that the most stressful times have been at the mercy of bureaucracy and mechanical law. The same problems everyone has, or at least every motorist – how do I get my car through its MoT? How do I find a reputable, reliable garage? How do I get a welder? In other words, it’s more stressful on-grid than off.
When I’m off-grid it seems to me that by and large folk aren’t aware or don’t care who’s sleeping in his van in a lay-by or across from their house. Is this because they’re too busy worrying about their MoTs? Or their job, or whose arse to lick in order to keep their job, or who to befriend on Facebook because there’s a chance it might help keep their job…? Or is it because actually people here are laissez-faire; they’re happy to let people get on with their life, however alien, as long as it doesn’t infringe on theirs? I truly hope it’s the latter. So anyway finding a lay-by and making sure I eat, I’m safe, and I get a good night’s kip has been far less stressful than I anticipated… so far at least.
The second point I’d like to make is that though I’m only a fifth of the way through my project/experiment/adventure, I’m finding it really helps manage depression. This is because I live with the freedom to be where I want when I want. I’m seeing some beautiful places and meeting some fascinating people with stories to tell. I’m learning about them and I’m learning about myself. I’m walking hundreds and hundreds of miles of the beautiful British coastline and countryside. I’m making a cathartic journey through my past, writing what I want to write with freedom and without constraint. I’ve seen friends and family I haven’t seen in ages due to my selfish and blinkered ascent of the career ladder in order to be pushed off it. And most importantly and profoundly of all I’ve reunited with my beautiful daughter and met my grandchildren.
In short I’ve journeyed to what’s important and much of this, I believe, has been made possible because I made an alternative life-choice, went to “another place”. And to the doubters who asked “what could possibly go wrong?” I say that so far nothing has gone wrong, bar the ball-ache of red-tape that you have every single day. There’s a long way to go, both in time and in mileage… but so far, my friends, so good. On this important day I reflect on all those years bringing up my kids. And how quick time marches and how vital it is to make the most of it and make the right choices.