Now For Something A Little More Upbeat

There is little pile of poo sat on the paving slabs right outside the front door of my sister’s apartment building.  It has been there for five days, and has long since dried up.  It bears an imprint of the sole of some poor sod’s shoe.  Every day I note its presence and carefully step around it, as I’m sure the other residents of the building must be doing (except for the unfortunate soul who stepped right in it).  I’m guessing it’s fox poo. I really hope it’s not dog poo.  If it’s dog poo, Brexit or no Brexit, I fear for British society.

Why am I going to such lengths to describe animal faeces?  Well, I looked at the little shit this morning as I carefully avoided it for the umpteenth time, and had a disturbing thought that I could probably use it as an analogy to open this post with.  Eh?  Let me go on.  I figure that turd on the ground could represent all the crappy things in life which we know are there, but rather than deal with we choose to step around and hope that the filth with go away eventually, without our intervention.

For the past two days I have woken up feeling fairly refreshed and clear-headed, which is quite a relief, for that is not something I have been able to say for a long, long time.  Just four days ago I was in a complete state of physical, and thus also mental disarray.  If you read my last post (link here) you’ll know it wasn’t exactly happy reading.  Having said that, I’m quite proud of it, I reckon it was some of the most articulate written material I’ve produced, and a number of people have commented similar.  Reading it back this morning, however, I appreciate it’s basically self-indulgent ‘pain porn’.  I was in a dark place and it shines through in the words, as well as darkness can shine…  A friend of mine told me that reading it made her both happy and sad, which felt like a compliment.  Today’s post is more upbeat, for I am feeling positively good, about everything.

Sharing my inner thoughts like this, it should probably feel strange, except it doesn’t any more – I now experience something approaching comfort when describing and sharing my stories and emotions with anyone who chooses to read.  In a world of stiff upper lips, bottling it up, saving face, and creating curated, desirable images of our lives on social media, I’ve found myself gradually seeking to do the opposite.  Anyone who follows me on Instagram will note that I’ve thrown away any sense of portraying myself in a curated manner.  Weirdly, it feels damn good, even when it feels bad.  I get that some people might find this ‘openness’ uncomfortable, or undesirable even.  I’m sure many will think it’s self-indulgent twaddle and have stopped reading a long time ago, and that’s fine.  Were my father to read my blog, I’m fairly sure he would be cringing all the way through.  His response would probably be something along the lines of

“Pull yourself together, son, and get back to work, you lazy so and so”

I love my Dad, he is a lovely, albeit stubborn man.  He ex-police, and for thirty-plus years he excelled at catching bad guys and keeping the streets safe.  However, his career undoubtedly took a huge toll on him, and that is where he invariably sunk his focus and emotional energy as our family fell apart in the mid-90s.  It is my belief that since he left the police he has become a calmer, funnier and inherently more likeable chap.  Admittedly he would still rather watch a Formula One practice session than have a real conversation with his son about “any of this nonsense”.   The fact of the matter, however, is that as I allow myself to be more expressive on the page, I’m increasingly opening myself up in person, and as I open myself up in person, I appear to be slowly, but surely, uncovering an inner peace and contentment that wasn’t there before, which can only be a good thing, for everyone.  The funny thing is, that if I look back to five years ago, I didn’t know what I was missing.  I just knew something wasn’t right, so I ran away to Australia.

I published ‘The Fiery, Humbling Power of Zeus’ on Sunday morning, having suffered an unexpected and entirely unwelcome relapse of an illness I’ve been battling.  My body was in meltdown, my immune system was raging like an out-of-control Aussie bushfire, and my mind appeared to be swiftly following suit.  Fortunately, I now know what triggers these episodes, and I have the knowledge of what to do to turn it around.  When mould strikes I have to get myself into a clean environment, I have to take a bunch of supplements such as clay and charcoal to pull it out of my body, and I have to sweat a lot.  Saunas, salt baths, movement, rest and sunshine are the required prescription.

On Sunday morning I wrote that previous piece in a burst of inspiration, driven by my frustration and desire to cathartically explode it onto the page.  Sunday afternoon, however, was rather different.  Two mates and I trekked across London to a park in the city’s East End for a electronic dance festival.  To be honest with you, dear reader, I was physically in no fit state.  My legs wobbled unsteadily beneath me, my head hurt and my heart flip-flopped between fast and slow.  Mentally, it was a different story, I was determined to let none of this deter me, and actually felt surprisingly upbeat and ready for some fun with my friends.

Seven thousand experienced ravers descended upon ‘Three Mile Island’ for the Anjunadeep Outdoor event.  I say “experienced” because from what I could tell almost everyone was over the age of 25, and plenty were (incredibly) even older than me, proper old.  It was a fantastic crowd; full of smiles, absolutely zero attitude, some outlandish clobber, and banging tunes full of bass.  After several hours of willing my body to play ball, dragging it along for the ride despite its protestations, I finally won out and the shakiness in my legs and numbness in my toes subsided.  I spent the final few hours of the gig in blissful, ecstatic peace, my mind silenced as my body, free of its shackles, let loose.

I’ve known this for some time.  That I can out-think my body.  Especially since I completed the barefoot walk across scorching hot coals (link here), it’s become very apparent to me that the mind can literally triumph over matter, and whilst I cannot out-think toxic mould if it sits heavy in the air I breathe, I do know that the human body is capable of incredible feats when the mindset is right.  My first dabble in ecstatic dance (link here) also opened my eyes to what was possible when, conversely, the body ‘out-bodies’ the mind.  When the mind is silenced and I step fully, completely and vulnerably into my body, that is when the true magic occurs.  The pairing of MDMA and dance music is so popular because it allows people to enter this state without effort or thought.  However, such states can be entered without mind-altering drugs, I’ve seen it, but it takes work, and guidance.

Originally I started attending yoga classes to ease troubling back pain.  Eight or so years later and yoga is still an important part of my life, but no longer do I primarily employ it as a tactic to deal with aches and pains (although I’m sure it helps with that too).  Instead I find the most alluring result of the practice is the stillness of mind it can bring me, and the unique sensation of my body flowing through the asanas (positions) in time with the inhalation and exhalation of the breath.  For me there is not really anything like it, except perhaps, dancing to trance music.

For a long time now, as my body has struggled with illness, and my mind has fought in vain to find an equilibrium, yoga has provided brief, merciful respite.  However, I have been unable to access that ‘flow state’ frequently enough.  My life, as a result, has been harder than perhaps it need be; my sleep broken, my thoughts scattered, my smiles curtailed.  As I sit here today, my body appears to be coming back online.  As I stepped out of the apartment this morning, and breezily avoided the darkening patch of poo, I felt a lightness in my step, and my spirit.  I walked up the hill singing and humming, smiling broadly at anyone who had the misfortune of crossing my path.  For too long my being has been in turmoil.  For too long I’ve been avoiding that steaming pile of shit outside my front door.

I ended the last piece with the somewhat sombre “May my suffering be your light”.  Today I say FUCK THAT.   No, today I finish with a quote from Carl Jung that I adore:

“That which you most want will be found where you least want to look”

Sometimes you have to enter and embrace the darkness in order to find the light.




Was #Vanlife All It Cracked Up To Be?

I’m currently sat in Taipei airport, waiting for my connecting flight to take me back to London, whilst listening to the relentless, seemingly never-ending PA announcements whining above me in Chinese.  With a heavy heart I flew out of Sydney last night, sad in the knowledge that I won’t be back for at least a couple of months, remorseful that I’ve left poor old Vinny holed up in a mechanic’s yard in a tiny rural town near the NSW/QLD border.  ‘Lucky’, the Indian mechanic with the scariest and stinkiest dog I’ve ever been repeatedly licked by, assured me he would take good care of him, but I still worry.

As I sit here, bleary-eyed, hopelessly knackered, but unable to sleep because of those fucking armrests on the departure gate chairs, I’ve found some time to further (and deliriously) reflect on #vanlife.  In my last post (link here) I may have inadvertently painted the nomadic lifestyle in a somewhat glamorous light.  I realise this, because a substantial number of people messaged me to say that it sounded like a fantastic lifestyle, or how they were envious of my newfound freedom.  As such, I think it’s only right that I provide a balanced perspective by sharing a few of the downsides that I observed living this way:

A) As anyone who grew up in a large family with only one bathroom in the house knows, there is nothing good about waking up and not having access to a toilet.  Living in a van which does not have a toilet, and occasionally parking on streets with no public toilets is not ideal.  As a man, number ones aren’t such an issue, but number twos are a universal issue when it comes to WC unavailability.  Number twos don’t care if you’re a man, a woman or something in between, it’s all inclusive. #needapotty #oraspade

B) Public toilets.  Nuff said. #wipethatseat #waywardspray

C) I mentioned this in one of my Instagram stories; one night I woke up the sound of stones landing on the roof of the van.  These ‘stones’ continued to rain down on me for a good half an hour before I gave up on getting back to sleep and opted to park up elsewhere.  It goes without saying, but having a possum shit on your tin roof top in the middle of the night is less than ideal.  #possumshithappens #faeceslikerocks

D) Dating and sex – Okay, so let’s be honest, I’m not really in a dating ‘space’ at the moment; I’ve been living in a tiny van, moving from place to place, and now embarking on a two month trip to Europe, it’s not exactly conducive to developing anything romantic.  It’s not something I’m giving much thought. #celibatenomad

E) So what about something more ‘casual’?  That van is barely big enough to sleep me, sure you could squeeze another person in there, but it’s mighty snug, and the mattress is not exactly premium comfort.  It’s also a van with bouncy suspension, so if someone’s getting ‘jiggy wid it’ inside, anyone walking past outside will know about it.  Neither of these are necessarily showstoppers, but it is worth considering when you’re staying on a campsite populated almost exclusively by the over 65s, or trying not to get caught illegally camping on the road by the police. #slidetotheleft #slidetotheright #crisscross

F) Further to point ‘D’ above; 90% of the people I’ve met have been over 65.  I’m all for appreciating the beauty, grace and wisdom of an older woman, but come on, that’s pushing it.  #cougartown #denturesnogs

G) There is only so much canned fish a man can take.  I quite enjoy mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, even anchovies, but there’s definitely a limit!  Also not conducive to points ‘D, E or F’ above. #fishyaftertaste #giveusakiss

H) I lose stuff constantly, I swear I spent half of my #vanlife month looking for stuff, if it wasn’t my wallet, it was swimming shorts, or book, or the potato peeler.  It’s incredible really, I’m an organised person and haven’t lost my wallet since a drunken night in 2003 (touch wood), but there is something about living in a tiny van that makes it nigh on impossible to keep track of where you put stuff down.  #scatterbrain #thosepotatoeswontpeelthemselves

I) Closely linked to ‘F’ above; Car keys – I constantly fret about losing the key to the van, as not only would I lose access to my vehicle, I’d lose access to my home.  I reckon I check my pockets to make sure I’ve got the key at least 60 times a day.  In a life largely without stress, it’s probably one of the most stressful aspects. #whereisthebloodykey #rightwhereyouleftit

J) The authorities don’t want you living free and simple on the street.  It’s simple really, if you’re not holed up in a concrete box (aka apartment, house, etc), you’re a nuisance that the powers that be would rather stamp out.  Society has definitely created a model that says “you should live this way, only this way, any other way is unacceptable and we will not allow it”.  It’s been quite eye-opening, and to be honest, a little scary.  The old timers hark back to the ‘good ol days’, the time when you could park up pretty much anywhere and people would treat you with warm and welcoming neighbourly friendship, not distrust.  I’ve met a few people who live full time in vans, and the message is always the same; they love the lifestyle, but they feel persecuted.  It seems the authorities don’t want slightly tatty vans sat in prime spots, with their inhabitants crawling out in the mornings to brush their teeth whilst surveying the sunrise, the dirty travelling scoundrels.  I found it quite sad to hear the stories.  #blamethejobsworths #justpaytherentandshutup

K) If you sleep in your vehicle in public spaces in Queensland, Australia – you are breaking the law.  Granted it’s not widely enforced, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive a criminal record for doing so, but the fact remains the same, you are a dirty criminal and an outlier of society if you choose to live this way.  Late one night I had a council official wake me up by banging on the side of the van and shining a torch in through the windows.  I played dead and waited for them to go away.  In the morning I woke up to a warning that I would receive a fine for $667 if I was caught sleeping in my vehicle.  Actual WTF – I’m not hurting anyone, causing any disturbance or leaviny any trace I was even there – why is this a punishable offence?  #bigbrotherishere  #orwelliannightmare

L) Isolation – I touched on this in my last post – living solo in a van you’re essentially on your own for at least 90% of the time.  I’ve been surprisingly okay with this, I’d even go as far as saying I’ve loved the solitude, turns out I am great company.  Or at least I think so.  BUT, as I entered my third week of the trip I definitely started to feel occasional pangs of loneliness.  I’ve traveled on my own in the past, but such trips have been shorter in duration, or involved hostels, tours and expeditions that meant long stretches of being sociable.  I’ve had the fortune of meeting up with friends along the way on this trip, which has kept me sane, but long term it’s definitely not enough, I know myself to know that I need way more community and interaction in my life than this lifestyle can offer. #oohvanfriends #whereforartthou

M) When your car breaks down you get towed to a garage and then head home, hopefully with a replacement courtesy vehicle.  When your van breaks down, as Vinny did, you lose your vehicle and your home.  It’s very inconvenient to say the least. #getwellsoonvin #Iwillbebackfor you

N) Here’s the kicker… ambition.  I’ve probably glamourised #vanlife in my instagram posts, and yes, it is a steady stream of golden beaches, epic sunsets, national parks, wildlife, bbqs, and early nights.  It is a VERY instagram-friendly experience.  There is a rich sense of freedom to be had from living this way, and I’ve loved every minute, HOWEVER, it is a very distinct form of freedom.  It’s the type of freedom that says ” I can do whatever I want to do”, but in reality that means you wind up doing very little, mostly just satisfying your most basic human needs.  Trust me I know, I’ve done remarkably little this past month.  I think to be truly free you need to work hard at it.  I’ll explain this a bit further: to have the freedom to play a musical instrument really well; in the way that Elton John can play the piano; or Phil Collins can play the drums, you have to place restrictions on yourself to obtain such freedom.  You have to spend thousands of hours practicing that instrument before it becomes second nature.  The same could be said for financial freedom – in order to obtain financial freedom, unless you get lucky on the lottery or inherit a large wad of cash, you’re gonna have to work bloody hard to achieve it.  Maslow’s famed ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ places self-actualisation at the very top.  A painter must paint, a singer must sing, a teacher must teach, a doctor must save lives, etc.  Now I guess a #vanlifer may place living in a van as the thing that realises their life’s ambitions, but I’m not sure that’s me.  Personally I know that I could not spend the next 40 years living in a van and then lay on my death bed and state “well, I gave it the best crack that I could”, there has to be more. #vanlifeisnotforlife #gimmegimmegimmemore

In summary, it’s been bloody great.  #Vanlife is perfect if you’re in need of a long break to check out for a while and reset.  I only did a month long stint, but I could definitely go for a longer period and adequately maintain my sanity.  You ease into the slower pace after a while, and start to appreciate things you would normally ignore.  I have spent hours watching bird politics as they fight for territory and protect their own, this lifestyle provides you with something that many of us are short of: time.  With the increased allowance of time you suddenly have the space necessary to truly observe the incredible world that surrounds us.  It’s a wonderful thing and I loved this aspect of the trip, it’s second only to my newfound love affair with the sun #offtosleeponthefloor #cantwaitforaproperbed