A Night Outdoors With No Sleeping Bag

I’m a minimalist, I think… well at least the last two years have been a neverending onslaught on all my possessions, commitments, and any other complications in life, trying to cut right back to the real me and find out how simple life can become. Doesn’t mean I’ll always live like this, but I think it’s a healthy exercise, and when it’s complete I’ll be able to think much more critically about whether I ever want to go back to being more complicated in any way.

About 21 months ago I decided to give loads of stuff away and move out of my rented flat to live in a tent. About 15 months ago I decided to give up the tent and sleep in a bivvy bag instead. This has been my sleeping arrangement since then for cold Winter nights:

My bivvy bag and my bike in the middle of Cheney School field, surrounded by icy white frost, the school in the background

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The People of The Rhondda

I’ve spent a few weeks in London, Oxford, and the Welsh Valleys. In London I slept in various places, revisiting some posh town squares and climbing onto a couple of low roofs.

But before I go on I must mention that I’ve tried to make this website a bit more user friendly – since my blog posts are so few and far between I thought perhaps if anyone’s following they’d soon get tired of visiting to see if I’ve written anything new. So on the right of this page (or at the far bottom in some web browers) you can enter your email address and click ‘subscribe’ to be notified when I publish a new entry. Why anyone would want to know when I’ve written another long rambling, I do not know…

Back to London where I saw this elderly woman sleeping in a grubby corner off Vauxhall Bridge Road near Victoria Station:

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Rotherhithe to Rotherhithe via Heathrow Terminal Five

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.

Satellite image of London showing position of Rotherhithe

Aerial view of RotherhitheSince 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.

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Slow, Lazy Days

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.

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Gym Membership and a Place to Shower

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.

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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:

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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.

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Sleeping in Posh Town Squares

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!

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Still Too Busy

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I spent a week in Oxford where I stayed with my parents and my two brothers. I’ve slept outdoors on many occasions in Oxford just to see what it’s like, and also because I wanted more independence from my parents. Independence is particularly important for me because my dad’s a minister and my parents have very strong religious views which they’re very keen to pass on to me.

Still, they’re very nice people and invite me to stay any time I want so sleeping outside near their house feels really silly and is hard to explain to others. I get too tempted to just go and sleep at their house or even at their office. In the short term it seems to make life easier, but in the long term being around them too much is bad for my mental health. So I’ve now decided to try living mostly in London and only occasionally go to Oxford to visit them. I feel comfortable staying with the folks for just a few days, but for the long term I value independence more than comfort.

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Brentford – Maidenhead – Reading – Wallingford – Oxford

A car full of youths blaring out loud music came down to the riverbank where I had just made my bed and was writing the last post on this blog. They showed no interest in me or my bed, and went off to a corner to smoke and hang out by the water. They were quite rowdy but there were two girls with them so I trusted the fairer sex to temper the madness of the others and hoped that they enjoyed their time there. In contrast to when I rented a room in a flat, I’m not entitled to occupy this outdoors ‘bedroom’ exclusively so I shouldn’t get upset when other people want to chill out there.

I locked my bike on the walkway above where I slept. My theory was that if anyone came over the walkway during the night to have a stroll by the river they wouldn’t see me sleeping tucked up against the wall.

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I’m Going to Oxford to Get My Suit

Last night was dry again so I slept in the same place as the night before, as described in the last post, on the roof of the bin shed in a council estate in Kentish Town (just north of Central London).

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I slept well. The traffic noise of Camden Road was dampened somewhat by my down sleeping bag and bivvy bag that were tightened snug around my head. Sleeping outdoors I normally wake up at first light then fall asleep again in a few seconds, blocking the light out with the sleeping bag – it feels very cosy, like when you hit the snooze button on your bedside alarm clock.

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Southwark – Watford – Hayes – Balham – Wimbledon – Wandsworth – Battersea – Kensington – Islington – Camden Town

The last few days have been really fun – so much, in fact, that despite trying to write to you everyday I couldn’t keep up with myself and this post got longer and longer… sorry about that!

It was great to relax at my friend’s flat for a couple of days. It’s in a place called Elephant & Castle in Southwark which is East-Central London south of the river. This is the view I was enjoying from my friend’s window:

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While she was out I took the opportunity to update my blog – not much had happened but I thought it’s better to write little and often. However I discovered I actually had much to say so I didn’t finish writing this post…

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