I think I should write shorter entries on this blog, more frequently, but after a day or two I think to myself, nothing much has happened so I won’t write anything. Before I know it a week has gone by and there is much to talk about, so I start writing, but before I’ve finished writing more things happen and the post just gets longer and longer. Oh well…
I went further east along the Thames Path to Rotherhithe, Southwark to escape the Olympic tourists and get a day of peace and quiet.
Since I’ve always lived west of Central London I like the feeling when I get through the busy central area, pass Tower Bridge and come out the other side – east of the bridge it’s still heavily built up but it’s all residential so it’s kind of surreal how quiet it is.
One reason I decided to stop renting a flat and sleep outdoors was because I wanted to have more free time. Rent used to eat most of my earnings, so now that I don’t have to pay it I don’t feel compelled to work all the time. I’m self-employed so I can control the work flow. I still depend on money for food, gym membership and a few other luxuries but it’s just a fraction of my earnings instead of the majority – I can save the rest to invest in my future. With my current living costs I could easily survive by busking on the high street for a few hours each day.
There were times when I used to rent a flat that I would stop earning for a few weeks, just because I felt I needed to push everything aside and get some free time. I would go away, for example when I went to Dorset to do a few boat building courses, or just stay to concentrate on some research and think about something important – like how to get out of paying rent. It paid off because eventually I did find an escape route – I stopped paying rent and started sleeping outdoors instead. But at the time I was still a tenant so after a few weeks of the rent and the bills going out, the bank ran dry and I was forced back into work regardeless whether or not I had finished what I was doing.
Now it’s different – I’ve made my lifestyle so cheap that I’ve managed to pay off all of my student debts and now I only work when I want to. Of course I still need some money but with rent out of the picture, the amount you can earn in this country compares very favourably to the cost of essentials like food. So now I go to work because I enjoy it. I haven’t saved much, but still, at my current spending rates I could continue living as I am for about eighteen months without working before the bank runs dry.
Many people in rich countries like the UK would say that I’m sleeping rough and living in poverty, but in contrast many people in developing countries would say that I live in luxury. There are ten times as many people in developing countries as there are in rich countries.
I just bought a one year Better Health & Fitness UK membership. Better is run by Greenwich Leisure Limited, a company who have taken over management of most of the public gyms and swimming pools in Greater London, and some of the ones in the rest of the UK. All the photos in this article are of their facilities in London.
Not only do I have access to all the Better centres, but my membership also entitles me to use any sports facility that’s part of the UK Fitness Network, a charity that aims to bring together all the not-for-profit sports facilities in the country. That means I can also use some pools and gyms in London that are run by other companies such as Nexus and Aquaterra, plus a few leisure centres in the Home Counties, Oxfordshire, Glocestershire and other places. Below is a map from their website showing the member centres in London:
This is incredible news for me because it means that I can get access to hot showers, toilets, shelter and drinking water in hundreds of locations around London seven days a week. Basically everything I need.
It’s everything I need because I’ve discovered that sleeping outdoors is really easy, and there are plenty of places in London to get food and drink, so the annoyance was finding a place to have a hot shower. I was using gyms and pools on a pay-as-you-go basis, but on days when I didn’t want to do more exercise I didn’t feel like paying five pounds just to have a shower.
I like sleeping in posh town squares because they’re very pretty, they’re situated conveniently in central locations, and they’re locked at night so nobody disturbs me. I’ve just spent several nights in private residents’ gardens in Balham, South London, and in Pimlico, Westminster. It has taken me four days to get from Balham to Westminster – not very far, I know, but that was the whole point – after my monster cycle rides through the gulleys of West London and the North Downs I wanted to slow the pace and relax. And why not – after I finished tuning a piano in Wimbledon I decided I might as well live there for a bit, since I didn’t have any appointments for a few days.
I wanted to keep it that way because I have a lot of reading, writing, and research to do, after which I also want to get in touch with my friends and let them know I’m back in town. So after sleeping under Wimbledon Magistrates Court and spending the morning in a Starbucks and in Wimbledon Library I went to the Edwardian Wimbledon Leisure Centre where they have a thirty metre swimming pool. Curiously, when they refurbished it a few years ago they built a new swimming pool, and converted the original pool into a gym!