No Sleeping Bag and No Down Suit

Sadly, after our fun little holiday in Wales, I’m not seeing the lovely architect anymore. We didn’t have any argument, in fact I’ve never had an argument with a girlfriend before; it’s just that we want different things from a relationship, and neither of us is prepared to compromise. She is a beautiful girl; beautiful, kind and compassionate, with a heart twice the size of her body. She is definitely unique. I miss her warm hugs, but we’re still friends, and I look on the bright side: I get to spend a lot more nights outdoors in the Autumn and Winter, so I can test out different sleeping arrangements.

A month ago I described how I was planning to sleep outdoors without a sleeping bag by wearing lots of clothes stuffed with goose feather down. These clothes included a pair of trousers, a pullover and a vest all filled with the highest quality goose down and made by Peter Hutchinson Designs in Cheshire. The vest was worn under the pullover.

As documented in previous blog posts the down suit kept me very warm but I got frustrated because the weather wasn’t cold enough to test it properly – it only got down to about 4 degrees Celsius – and I wanted to know if this arrangement would be warm enough for the whole Winter.

So I decided to make my experiment more extreme and try sleeping out for a night without the down trousers and without the down vest. They’re not the most practical items that I’d wear during the day, I only bought them to see if they’d be warm enough to be able to sit outside and read or to sleep on the coldest nights of Winter. If I can sleep warm enough without them, at least for most of the year I won’t need to carry them around.

Lets look at all the clothes I carry with me inimage the late Autumn. To the right you can see how I currently dress to cycle around. Stiff SPD shoes, running leggings (because the padded cycling type take too long to dry), a thermal long-sleeved top (black), a bright yellow cycle jersey, a balaclava in neck-warmer configuration and the rest of my possessions in a backpack. It’s my attempt at combining practical thermal clothing with aerodynamic cycling. This is what I wear for most of the day.

 

 

Then I switch to evening configuration:

image

The running leggins are still under the wind-blocking trousers and the long-sleeved thermal top is still under the down jacket; the balaclava is now put to good use. The yellow cycle jersey is now in my bag. I’m not using any gloves because I’d like to find out if they’re really necessary – they’re such a pain to pull on and off all day especially when all I want to do is wash my hands. And getting them wet is really annoying.

The only items of clothing in my bag that you don’t see in the above two photos are a pair of lycra shorts used for cycling/running in warm weather and for swimming, and a pair of thin synthetic cycle socks identical to the ones I’m wearing.

It was about 5 degrees Celsius when I tried this new sleeping arrangement, in the above clothes on my inflatable mat in my bivvy bag, lying by some council flats in Clapham:

image

You can’t see in the picture but I’m actually up on a narrow walkway on the first floor, quite hidden from an empty back street. The only people who had any reason to pass by were whoever lived in the last two flats on the walkway. It was 01:00 and they were all fast asleep, I assumed if I got away before 08:00 nobody would ever know I had slept there.

It’s funny how certain ideas escape us until the need arises. I realised that not only could I put my spare pair of socks on at night, but I could also put my feet inside my yellow cycle jersey pockets for extra warmth and as a means of guiding it to the bottom of my bivvy bag to use as a light blanket for my lower legs. Cycle jerseys normally have pockets on the back because it’s not efficient to cycle with pockets full of stuff in your trousers or shorts, it’s better to carry your wallet and phone on your back. The studio in the gym was empty today so I took the opportunity to take photographs to describe how I sleep. Almost ready for bed: putting the jersey on my feet:

image

At about 03:00 I awoke shivering – not too cold, just a bit chilly. I needed the loo anyway, so I decided to make the effort to get out of bed and go for a brisk walk to warm up. I left my bed where it was, taking only my little backpack – who would steal a black bag from this quiet corner at 03:00 on a weekday morning?

For the first time in my history of mobile phone ownership I thought I’d try the FM Radio that comes installed on my android. While I marched through the maze of alleys I put my earphones on and was delighted when the radio worked flawlessly, tuning into each station at the press of a button. I started with a pirate station playing old school jungle music; alone in the night I did a bit of dancing and felt warm again. Then I switched to Radio 3 just in time for a complete rendition of William Walton’s cello concerto, which I’d never heard before. It’s a ghostly, beautiful work and was just perfect for my walk around the dimly lit Georgian and Victorian streets and squares in the depths of Clapham and Battersea.

It was then that I remembered an article a friend recommended me on the BBC news website called ‘The myth of the eight-hour sleep‘. Scientists and historians have uncovered some evidence that humans naturally sleep in two chunks of three or four hours each, and in between these chunks, in the middle of the night we get up and do stuff. Indeed historians point to literature describing midnight activities as diverse as writing, having sex, smoking tobacco and visiting neighbours. It was quite normal to refer to one’s ‘first sleep’ and one’s ‘second sleep’ But about 300 years ago, starting with the upper classes and filtering down to the rest of us, improvements in artificial lighting meant that people began to stay up much later and had to sacrifice their midnight waking hours.

How convenient! thought I, in the Winter I could use this natural waking period to get some exercise and warm up before going back to bed! And so after nearly an hour’s walk through empty historic streets, having listened to all four movements of the atmospheric concerto, I found my bed exactly where I had left it and quickly dropped off to sleep again.

At about 08:00 a young lady came out of the flat next to me and walked past with a slightly concerned expression on her face. This is probably because when I pull the drawstrings tight on my bivvy bag it looks more like a body bag, the type they put corpses in! I only recently realised this, it must explain why so many people stop to ask if I’m OK. I quickly got my face out to reassure her and said good morning. She said nothing and quickly walked off to work.

I didn’t care. I felt well rested but it wasn’t as warm as I’d have liked. However I was delighted with my discovery of the midnight exercise thing – it had felt so natural, and now I knew the reason why. Indeed, perhaps sleeping eight hours solid is unnatural!

Whenever I awoke shivering I paid close attention to which part of my body felt cold, to learn where I should think about including more insulation. Of course it was my legs that were cold, especially above the knee, because it was only my upper body that was wrapped in down clothing. Inside the two pairs of socks and the cycle jersey my feet and shins were OK.

It is important to note that the cold was only coming from above; from beneath me all I could feel was warmth, almost as if I was sleeping on an electric blanket! This Thermarest Neo-Air Xtherm inflatable mattress really is the dog’s bollocks!

I tried the same arrangement again at one of my more frequented sleeping spots on some wood decking in an adventure playground in Rotherhithe. It was a mild night of about 8 degrees Celsius so I didn’t really feel cold anywhere. I only awoke when Mr Fox came to say hello, as usual he prodded me a few times with his paw. Mr Fox doesn’t like flash photography, but I managed to capture him just as he was slinking away.

image

One day I felt tired mid-afternoon so I had a nap on a roof in Westminster. Conveniently, there’s a ladder up the side of these council flats in Pimlico, so it’s a relatively safe climb.

image

Once again I felt the cold from above on my thighs and knees, and began to think of a solution. The down trousers keep my legs warm because the down lofts out, trapping air inside it and lifting the bivvy bag 2-3 cm off my legs. My down jacket does the same job for my upper body, and a sleeping bag would do the whole body. But with no sleeping bag and without the down trousers, I had to find a way of lifting the bivvy bag away from my legs. This would create an air space in between myself and the bag to provide an extra cushion of insulation. The way things were, the bag was resting on my trousers and I could feel my warmth leaving me wherever I came into contact with it.

What could I do to lift it off? If the bivvy had loops on top I could pull it up with bits of chord, but then I’d need to sleep under a tree, or something to attach the chord to. Some bivvy’s are like mini half-tents in that they have one bendy pole to lift the bivvy off the face and upper body. The problem I have with these is that they’re designed to be completely closed - you exhale inside the bivvy making the condensation problem worse than that of a small tent.

Maybe some kind of springy support bands around the circumference of the bivvy bag would lift it up above my body. Hmmm…

The great thing about UK Winters is that it’s rarely wet and cold at the same time. I mean, not really cold. On that day it rained and temperatures went up to about 10 degrees Celsius so that night I had a nice warm sleep under a shelter in a children’s play area in Jubilee Park, Southall, West London:

image

The park was locked at night but I climbed in. Since it was raining I had the whole park to myself all night. Early in the morning lots of Indian people came to the park to exercise – they always greet me with a lot more smiles and enthusiasm than the English, and they don’t seem to think that my choice of sleeping area is in any way strange.

I went to visit my Argentinian friend called Ezequiel who lives in Ealing. He studies biochemistry at Imperial College and all his flatmates are also scientists – you can tell by looking at their salt flask:

image

The excuse for my visit was Eze’s offer to store my down trousers and vest for me because I didn’t want to store them compressed in my bag in the bushes in Battersea Park – they’re expensive and must never get damp. For several days I had been carrying them around when I wasn’t using them at all. Such was my confidence that I could sleep outside in the cold without this extra clothing.

He also cooked some salmon; after dinner I told the young scientists about my problem with the bivvy bag. The Alpkit Hunka XL bivvy bag does its job admirably which is to block wind, water and dirt but I’m just wondering if it couldn’t do even more. After watching me inflate my mattress with the inflation sack (a rubble sack), Eze was full of bright ideas.

“What if you include three inflatable sections inside the top of the bivvy?” he suggested. “You could devise a way to inflate them using the inflation sack. That would create an air space between you and the bivvy.”

“That’s a great idea,” I said, “I had thought of an inflatable sleeping bag, kind of like this mattress but completely surrounding my body, because that would give a very warm but very light bed that packs down small. But it would have to be air tight so it might get sweaty and clammy inside. Your idea is better because there need only be a few inflatable strips to lift the bivvy up, with plenty of breathable fabric in between.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I had in mind.” He said.

“Come to think of it,” said I, “the easiest way to test this would be to get three of those long modelling balloons, inflate them and lay them on top of me after I get in the bivvy bag. Is there a party shop around here?”

“There is but it’s not open on a Sunday.”

Nevertheless I was keen to test this idea. I left to head back in to Central London; the warm down trousers and down vest were now hanging in Eze’s wardrobe. My pack felt even lighter, but was I going a bit too far with this ultralight business? The Met Office forecast colder nights to come so I was soon to find out…

That night it was 4 degrees minimum with no wind. On these kinds of nights there can often be a temperature profile where the cold air sinks, so it’s warmer to be high off the ground. What’s more on clear nights it’s nice to have some shelter or at least sleep right next to a wall to avoid waking up covered in dew or frost. So I walked in to an open staircase and up to the second floor of these council flats in Pimlico, Westminster:

image

I made my bed just before the last door on that level in the hope that only the residents of one flat might walk past me. It was after midnight and I intended to move on before they awoke.

image

Not having any balloons, it occurred to me to wrap my shoes in my mattress’ inflation sack and put that on my legs to lift the bivvy bag up a bit and create an air space. After all, the bag and the shoes were full of air, and that is what insulates best.

It worked! I slept warm and felt no chill on my legs. Maybe I didn’t need three baloons after all? What’s more, with my backpack as my pillow and my shoes on my legs, all my possessions were now inside the bivvy which meant that nobody could pinch them without first waking me up.

This seemed too good to be true so I looked forward to colder nights to continue the trial. The next night was warm because rain was forecast so I climbed on to a water bus in Little Venice near Paddington that had a big canopy for shelter, and made my bed behind some stacked chairs.

image

image

I was a lovely feeling to be asleep floating on the canal before I even owned my own boat, and to sit up and look out over the water. It was a relatively warm night. In the morning I had just finished packing when a grumpy bloke marched up and demanded:

“You been kippin’ ‘ere?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, I will leave immediately.”

“Good. We don’t like that sort a’ thing round ‘ere.” And he marched off into the drizzle. By the manner in which he had come out of nowhere and walked straight towards the boat he must have been given a tip-off by someone – what kind of heartless person would kick homeless people out into the rain if all they’re doing is sleeping? Fortunately I’ve discovered that my down jacket can shrug off a bit of drizzle so long as I find shelter quickly.

That night I got a few hours’ sleep in the corner of a council estate car park. It was a bit exposed to passersby, but in the end only one person walked by while I was there, and it was a Westminster council estate near the cathedral, a relatively safe area, so I risked it. In such places I often twitch when I hear certain noises, open the bivvy bag a little and have a peek to see if anyone’s there. But nobody was there.

image

It wasn’t sheltered and some unpredicted drizzle woke me up at about 04:30 so I went to Victoria Station and got a hot drink from the first cafe to open.

I was back in the station twenty hours later, reading about bicycle gearing on the internet. I got carried away and forgot to keep check on the rain radar. By the time the station closed and they ushered us out, it was raining heavily. I waited, and it was still raining heavily. It was a constant downpour. I looked at the rain radar on my phone to get the bigger picture:

image

The red stuff is heavy rain, and at the rate it was moving in from the northwest I estimated it would continue for about another two hours. If I’d have had waterproof clothing it wouldn’t have made any difference – there was no way I was going out in that downpour just before sleeping outdoors. Staying dry at night is crucial. I could either stand around for hours and wait for it to stop, or just go to sleep in the sheltered station entrance with all the other homeless people.

I had never slept amongst other homeless people before because I feel safer sleeping out of sight, so I was a bit apprehensive. This was a very public place – the weather can be predicted accurately, not so the actions of other people…

I saw the middle-aged woman who sleeps there every night – she was waiting in her favourite alcove for the place to quieten down before she made her bed. She keeps herself well and always looks sober. I thought to myself, if she voluntarily comes back here to sleep every night, it can’t be that bad, can it? I asked her:

“I need somewhere to sleep. Is is safe to sleep here?”

“Yeh, it’s safe here,” she said, “I always sleep here anyway… when the station opens around 5 am they move you on; I go down to the station toilets and continue sleeping – it’s really warm down there.”

“Thanks! I was going to sleep somewhere out of sight, but I’m not going anywhere in this weather…”

“Just make your bed over there.” She pointed at the entrance to the London underground. “That’s a nice warm corner, that is.”

“Thank you,” I said, “good night.”

image

In the photo I’m sleeping on the right in my black bivvy bag. The person on the left is in a standard issue military-green bag, the type given out to the homeless for free every Saturday morning near Westminster Cathedral. The friendly young couple who took this photo for me made for an interesting conversation – they were experienced squatters. They were also high on drugs…

They took the photo for me at 05:00 after I was woken by staff who were opening up the station. The staff didn’t say a word to me, they just opened all the shutters and the noise woke me up. I was pleasantly surprised by the nice warm rest I had had – nobody had disturbed me, not a word.

I went down to the station toilets to brush my teeth and freshen up. I can’t speak for the ladies’, but the gents’ was indeed very warm, and quite clean. At 05:00 you can see all sorts of homeless people there. This was the scene as I stood there scrubbing:

image

The man sleeping at the back is also charging his iPhone. One chap is washing as much as of his body as he can without fully undressing, and the other is casually reading a newspaper to pass the time. There were several more people asleep, sitting down in locked toilet cubicles. I frequent the station and this is the norm on Winter mornings.

image

Next night was a cold one with no wind – once again I remembered what my brother had taught me about temperature profiles – that on still nights it’s much colder close to the ground. Also I didn’t want to get covered in dew or frost in the morning, so I thought I’d go up the stairs, which are always open, of a tower in Churchill Gardens, a large post-WWII council estate in Pimlico, a conservation area part of which is grade II listed.

image

I was planning on sleeping outside on the top floor balcony, but the further I went up the stairs, which were completely enclosed, the warmer it got…

image

I decided to sleep inside the staircase, just below the top floor, where the temperature must have been in the low teens. I reasoned that the people on the tenth floor, the only floor above me, would never use the stairs – they’d use the lifts instead, so they were unlikely to spot me.

image

I slept solidly for about eight hours, from 01:00 to 09:00. In the morning I felt really well rested, but I was desperate for a pee, so desperate that I knew I wouldn’t be able to pack all my stuff, walk down ten flights of stairs, unlock my bike and ride five minutes to the nearest toilet. There was no way I was going to do it on anyone’s property, especially not after they had accommodated me so well for the night. Fortunately somebody had discarded an empty milkshake bottle on the floor. Very soon it wasn’t empty any more, and I felt greatly relieved. I removed the bottle when I left. I’m not proud of what I did; I am ashamed, but I feel it’s only fair that I write about it here on my website to give an accurate account of what it’s like to live outdoors. I don’t intend to do anything similar again. I must make a point of not drinking anything in the hour or two before bedtime. And maybe I should set an alarm to go in the middle of the night or something.

Oh well… at least there was a nice view of central London:

image

Before I had gotten out of bed I had counted Big Ben chime seven times. I was really relaxed about getting up because my work appointment was at nine o’clock. After lazing around for a while I casually looked at my phone – 09:08! I hadn’t heard two of the chimes… I rushed off to Vincent Square to tune a piano.

I had heard of homeless people sleeping in the hallways and stairwells of blocks of flats, but I had never witnessed it or tried it myself until now. Here was a free place to sleep that was warm and where I was not disturbed. As a bonus there was a lovely view to wake up to. This building had two stairwells; there are several buildings like it on the estate, and God knows how many tower blocks and estates in London. I could probably sleep on a different staircase every night of the year without repeating myself.

That evening I visited my friend Antoine in Holloway, North London. He’s from the famous area of Le Chartreuse in the French Alps and three of the things he can do well are snowboarding, web design, and cooking delicious food. He whacked up a hot spicy noodle soup – it was really good, especially after my cycle ride there.

image

Because I had been in a hurry, and the rain radar had shown that the weather wasn’t going to let up, I’d had no choice but to make a dash for it in the rain. I was quite damp to say the least. I was offered a towel and a change of clothes but I was concerned that my clothes must be dry by nightfall because I wasn’t sure where I was going to sleep. I was also aware of a lot of heat coming from my body because of my fast cycle ride, so I thought I’d dry the clothes out with that. I’m not sure if it was wearing damp clothes, or something that I smoked later that evening, that gave me mild symptoms of a cold – blocked nose, sinus and a numbness of the forehead.

We went to the pub with his friends and flatmates, the kind of group you can only hang out with in a cosmopolitan city like London: myself the half-Argentine Brit, the Frenchman, a Pole, a girl from the isle of Reunion, and an absolutely crazy bloke from Andalucia in the south of Spain. I was invited to spend the night on a camp bed in their flat. I was grateful for the roof over my head but decided I preferred to use my comfy mattress to sleep on the floor there, and save them the hassle of putting the bed together.

It was a convenient night to be staying with friends because there were very strong winds outdoors. The following day on the news I read that the gales had been quite severe in other parts of the country, and a girl who had been sleeping in her tent in Exeter was crushed to death by a fallen tree. I wondered if the poor girl was out on a similar adventure or living a similar lifestyle to myself. May she rest in peace.

What rotten luck – if it was really windy and there were no buildings around I would probably have chosen to use trees for shelter myself. I’d never expect one to fall on top of me! It’s much easier to what I’m doing in the city, where there’s plenty of shelter from buildings - especially in London where the wind rarely ever picks up.

I spent that evening in St Pancras International, that beautiful 24-hour train station, where they’ve put up a special gold medal Christmas tree to celebrate Britain’s acheivements in the XXX Olympiad.

image

Well done to the incredibly fit athletes! There was also an incredibly good pianist from Italy performing classical music, jazz, ragtime and other classics on one of the Street Pianos in the station.

image

I’m completely blown back by how many people stop and play the two pianos in the station. Sit near the piano on any afternoon and you’ll hear a constant stream of live music that never stops. And so many of the pianists are really good! I feel so sorry for them because the pianos are in such a sad state. I emailed the organisers of Street Piano a couple of weeks ago but have had no reply. I offered to do some tuing and repair for free – I thought it would be quite fitting that the piano tuner who lives out on the streets ends up tuning a couple of street pianos. Besides they’re in my giant lounge, one of my favourite living spaces which is also the home of the Eurostar. I can come and play these pianos myself at any time of day or night.

I was so upset to hear the badly-kept pianos again that I emailed the station managers instead – hopefully I’ll be able to sort them out soon…

There were several places in the area that I had thought of cycling to for a peaceful night’s sleep, but in the end I thought it would be fun to see if I could get away with spending the night sleeping inside the station, behind this Yo! Sushi bar:

image

After all, the worst that could happen would be a security guard saying “Excuse me, you cannot sleep here,” to which I would simply apologise and move my bed elsewhere. I paid close attention to all the CCTV cameras, just in case the guards were watching the live pictures, found a blind spot and crept behind the bar to make my bed. I slept very warm, and very well, until about 08:00 when a Yo! Sushi man was standing over me.

“I am so sorry,” I said, with the most sincere expression of regret that I could muster, ”I just needed a place to sleep. I will pack my bed and leave immediately.”

“Yes please,” he replied, sternly, “we need to get ready to open up.”

So off I went to the station toilets (which are also very clean and open 24 hours) to brush my teeth, and to the station Marks & Sparks to buy wholemeal bread and brie cheese, and to the station cafe to get a nice hot latte. What a convenient place to hang out.

Later I went back to Yo! Sushi and offered a second apology to the chap who had woken me up, who by now was busy chopping fish and veg.

“I don’t normally sleep here,” I assured him, “I travel all over London.”

“No, don’t worry, it’s no problem,” he said, “we get people sleeping here all the time! We just need to get on with our work, that’s all.”

I think instead of getting annoyed with people who wake me up in the morning, it’s nice to meet them properly and get to understand what they’re about; likewise for them to meet me and appreciate that I’m not causing any trouble, I’m just a piano tuner who sleeps outdoors (or behind a Yo! Sushi bar).

Yo! Sushi!

The folowing night found me back in Pimlico looking for a place to shelter from the rain that was forecast. I went for this ramp under a block of flats:

image

I could see that some of the ground was wet from surface runoff but that there would be no rain falling directly upon me. I slept well but in the morning discovered that even though it was only light rain, more water had run down the ramp and under my bivvy bag. Fortunately it is waterproof so this was not a problem. Still, it’s more convenient to sleep on a clean, dry surface so I don’t need to pack away a dirty soggy bivvy bag. I wiped it off with some tissue and fully dried it out later the next time I stayed with a friend. The inside was still dry.

I stayed in Pimlico for another night. I went back to the same stairwell I had slept so well in a couple of nights previously, but it was a bit messy because a group of kids had been smoking there and spitting on the floor. So I went to the other stairwell in the building, and stumbled upon the group of kids smoking up. I abandoned the building and walked to another, where I made my bed right at the end of a balcony, right at the top of a ten-floor council tower block. As usual I looked on the bright side – all the stair climbing had warmed me up and now I had a chance to explore a new building.

image

Ony the occupants of one flat would see me if they walked out of their front door between 01:00 and 07:00. They did: a bloke stood there for a while, scratching his head and looking bemused, perhaps because he could only see my nose. Then he went off to work.

So did I – I went to a studio in Wandsworth to look at a nineteenth century John Broadwood cottage piano.

image

I don’t know much about pop music but apparently some of the artists the studio has recorded or signed to their label are well known – they include The Cult, Prodigy and Adele, and many gold and platinum discs adorned the walls. A band that was coming in to record had requested an antique piano for that unique tone that only an antique piano can give, so they got this one for £20.

The problem was that the tone was a bit too ‘unique’ – it obviously hadn’t been tuned in decades. Every note was at least four semitones flat, many of the tuning pins were loose and to top it all, the tuning pins were an obsolete oblong shape that don’t fit my tuning lever. One of the BBC’s piano tuners had already checked it out – he had taken one look and said “sorry, can’t do it.” But I have a reputation for bringing broken old pianos back to life, so I wasn’t going to give in without a fight.

image

I went to get an oblong adapter for my tuning lever, which I keep hidden in my bag in the bushes in the trees in Battersea Park, but this one also didn’t fit – these were big oblong pins. In the end I bought a new tuning lever from Heckscher Piano Parts in Camden Town, and cycled back to Wandsworth to sort the piano out. This lever was a bit too big for the pins! But not so big that I couldn’t tune it, with a bit of patience.

A bit of patience is an understatement: after a few hours of fiddling with tuning pins I decided that I would give it a go. It was late so I had to continue the following morning. Unfortunately the studio staff didn’t have permission to let me sleep on the studio floor but that was no problem because I found a nice spot just 100 yards away:

image

It was the entrance to some kind of community training centre, again, not sheltered enough for a rainy night but just enough to avoid dew and frost; a clear night was forecast. It was 3 degrees Celsuis and breezy, but the walls sheltered me. I was keen to find out if my new sleeping arrangement would work at this temperature.

I’m not going to say it was really warm and cosy, but neither was it too cold. I got up once to go to the toilet on some nearby absorbant ground, to fertilise the plant life. The great thing about sleeping fully dressed is that it doesn’t feel any colder when you get out of bed. I awoke a couple more times shivering but this warmed me up and I quickly fell asleep again. By 06:00 I felt refreshed and went to Clapham Leisure Centre for a swim and a hot shower.

Clapham Leisure Centre is brand new (only one stone remains of the old centre) and it really feels like luxury to me. The swimming pool changing rooms have under-floor heating! What a brilliant idea; it means the floor is always dry, and I could feel the warmth in my bones. They also have private shower cubicles, the showers are hot and have good pressure. To top it all they have about five large disabled toilets, a great place for an outdoorsman like me to get some privacy, wash and dry my socks in the blow dryer, or to shave. Of course, that’s so long as there are not any disabled people wanting to use the toilet!

After going to a cafe I went back to the old piano and set to work.

image

I had to remove a dozen or so loose tuning pins and hammer them back in with sandpaper bushing, a trick my old man taught me (thanks Dad!). The tuning pins were very tight after this, and after tuning the whole piano four times I managed to get it to hold tune at concert pitch. Concert pitch is the international standard pitch where the 4th A on the keyboard produces sound waves at a rate of 440 hertz – if all instruments tune to this they can play together and sound harmonious. This took about seven hours in total, needless to say I charged the client significantly more than what they had payed for the instrument. There was little else to do because the piano was mechanically sound.

So many piano tuners say this kind piano is no good and should be taken to the tip to make way for new pianos to be manufactured. I disagree, strongly, for two reasons. Firstly because we have discovered that our planet’s resources are limited and are being depleted much faster than they can be regenerated, therefore it makes more sense to recycle an old piano than to mine the iron, cast it in to a frame, and cut down hardwood trees to make a new one. Not to mention the huge number of man hours involved in piano manufacture, and the fossil fuel burned to transport them. There is also the effort and expense that the current owner has made to buy and transport the piano, carrying it down the stairs into a basement studio. Secondly because most of the new pianos that are being produced are of such poor quality that they ought to be taken straight from the factory to the tip. There are some really lovely pianos still in production, but the clients I deal with are normally on a budget and would be forced to buy the worst pianos on Earth.

This ancient cottage piano should be thought of as a different kind of intrument with its own unique sound – precisely what the studio was looking for. I was very pleased to have helped rescue the little piano, it’s now in tune and has a warm, sweet, woody tone.

I sprinted off on my bike, cutting swiftly through the back streets of South London because I had offered to help my friend Shama set up for an event that evening. I found myself riding though Brisbane Street in Southwark, so I took some photos for her friend who happened to be visiting from that city.

image

There was nothing that could be described as Australian on the street, only council flats and a pub called The British Queen.

image

image

The British Queen is also the Queen of Australia so perhaps they should rename the pub? I wouldn’t knock them for the recent prank call to the Duchess of Cambridge – most of them were appalled by this, indeeded most Aussies love the Royal Family just as much as we do. I feel they are still our brothers down under, and I’m really keen to visit one day. Instead of a bivvy bag I’ll take a bug net.

The problem is that the pub sign portrays the warrior Queen Boudicea who was not Queen of the Commonwealth, she was queen of the Iceni tribe in Norfolk just over two thousand years ago.

As I continued riding along on this chilly evening of less than five degrees, wearing only my leggings, thermal top, and cycle jersey, I realised that I didn’t have a cold anymore – I think all the swimming and cycling got rid of it before it properly set in. I normally find intense exercise to be the fastest cure for a cold – it really clears the sinus. I was well chuffed that I had caught a cold and made a completely recovery, all while sleeping outdoors in the late Autumn. I’m very skeptical about whether the illnesses they call ‘a cold’ have anything to do with the temperatures I experience at all. Maybe it’s just contamination by microbes in the air.

Anyway my friend Shama put on a fascinating event called Jugular with the tagline ‘joining the head and the heart’, a curious mixture of art and science. After organising many successful live music nights over the years, it was her first experiment in this kind of venture. It was held in a dark warehouse in a dark industrial corner of South Bermondsey, and involved theatre, dance, live music, talks by expert scientists about astronomy and quantum physics, circus acts, and a bunch of people dressed in boiler suits who thought they were aliens.

image

I was in a lab coat and remember this was Movember.

That night I was invited to stay at Shama’s and the following evening we went to the Barbican because she had tickets for a performance by Hugh Hughes called Stories from an Invisible Town. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Hugh Hughes, together with his brother Derwyn and sister Delyth and supported by two sound engineers, tell the story of their childhood through theatre, music, film and sound recordings, as recalled by the three of them at the time when their mother fell ill and they had to resolve their differences and help her move out of their childhood home in Llangefni, Angelsey, North Wales. It sounds like a boring story, but that’s the whole point of the exercise – helped along by lovely Welsh accents and Hugh’s brilliant sense of humour the whole experience is surprisingly entertaining, whilst being endearing and a bit challenging at the same time. It reminded me to spend more time with my own parents and brothers.

After another night at Shama’s, followed by another piano tuning, I was outdoors again; this time zero degrees were forecast for the early hours of the morning. I had a pint of strong ale in the Weatherspoons pub in Victoria Station which closes at midnight most days. I bought some flapjack for energy and encouragement in case I woke up cold during the night. When I left the station I started psyching myself up for a chilly night’s sleep. I tried to reason with myself:

“This is ridiculous! It’s literally freezing and you want to sleep outside with no sleeping bag!”

“You can do it, it’ll be fine.”

“But my last night outdoors was three degrees, this… this is freezing!”

“Freezing eh? It’s only three degrees colder, can the human body even feel the difference?”

“But from three to zero is, mathematically, infinitely different!”

“No, it’s not the same as comparing three with zero. Think of it in degrees Kelvin – the other night was 276 degrees and tonight will be 273 degrees above absolute zero. That’s only a 1% difference in temperature – doesn’t sound so bad anymore, does it?”

“Hmmm…”

Only half convinced by my own logic, I looked around the Churchill Gardens Estate in Pimlico for a place to sleep, excited about trying my new sleeping arrangement at freezing temperatures. Surely this time it would be too cold to sleep dressed only in my outdoors clothes? I wanted to push the limits of the Winter bivvy, and the only way to find out the minimum amount of insulation I need to carry with me is to push it too far – to feel too cold for one night. If I sleep comfortably I haven’t found the limit.

This is a huge advantage of learning to live outdoors in a heavily populated area – I can afford to experiment without worrying too much. Because if it does turn out to be too cold, or if I end up getting soaked in cold rain, there are places I can run to – family, friends, 24-hour stations, airports, and hostels with 24-hour check in desks. And loads of random people around to whom I could shout “help!”

Thankfully I’ve never had to do that, and I’m not superstitious so I won’t ‘touch wood’. I wasn’t intending to get in trouble tonight; I knew if I was too cold I could just do some exercise before going back to sleep. In addition I was near the warm stairwell where I had slept the other night, that was my contingency plan.

There was a full moon. It was a clear, still night so I wanted to sleep high above the ground to cheat the temperature profile, but also somewhere partially sheltered from the frost. I didn’t want to sleep in a stairwell because I wanted to be truly outdoors to test my sleeping arrangement. I’ve noticed that when kids want to smoke weed they like meeting on the top floors of the tower blocks for an inspiring view over the city, so perhaps I should sleep a couple of floors down from there. Cruising gently along on my bike, I looked up at a ten-storey tower and noticed that on the eighth floor there were no lights on in the flats.

image

I ignored the lifts as usual and climbed the stairs both to save electricity and to warm me up. At the end of the eighth floor balcony there was a bag of items for recycling: lots of mineral water bottles and an empty pot noodle, the type you can only buy in specialist East-Asian supermarkets. This was reassuring for three reasons: the people occupying this flat must care about their health and drink a lot of water, they care about the environment enough to recycle their plastic bottles, and they’re probably Korean because the estate is very popular with students of that nationality. Koreans are generally pleasant folk.

So I made my bed next to their flat.

image

One person walked right past my ears and went in the flat, their hard heavy heels made them sound larger than life; I couldn’t see who they were because I had pulled my bivvy bag tight around my face. But they didn’t utter a word, I just heard them close their door and quickly double-lock it.

As usual I woke up shivering a few times and went back to sleep. It was not cold enough to cause discomfort, just not very warm. But warm enough because I slept well. In the morning I checked the latest weather observation on the BBC website: it was -2 degrees Celsius in St James’s Park.

I was over the moon! I felt so happy! I had reached the nirvana of urban camping! For I knew that -2 is pretty much as cold as it ever gets in the London Winter. Indeed, the average minimum temperature in the Winter is +2 degrees, and anything below -2 is a freak of nature only likely to last for a couple of nights.

I concluded that I don’t need a sleeping bag; nay, I don’t even need the down trousers and vest! I can just sleep in my normal everyday clothes, provided I’ve got my four-season inflatable mat and my bivvy bag, a combination weighing less than 900 grams and packing down to the size of a two litre drinks bottle. And also provided I find a sheltered spot. Well, that’s guaranteed in a city like London, in fact in all the UK towns I’ve been to.

Elated, I watched the horizon slowly brighten as rumours of sunrise turned the riverside buildings into silhouettes.

image

I munched on the delicious flapjack. A morning star… could it be Venus, where the average surface temperature is 460 degrees Celsius? I’m glad our planet is cold! Or perhaps Mercury, where the temperature swings from -190 to +430 Celsius? I’m glad I live in England where the temperatures stay in between a reasonable -10 and +30! Suddenly our lovely planet seemed like such a cosy place.

I was high for the rest of the day, enjoying the view from my bike as I leisurely rode from Victoria Station, where I brushed my teeth and had breakfast with an extra hot latte, to Chelsea Sports Centre, where I had a dip in what must be the warmest pool in Central London.

imageimageimage

It was the first of December, which I felt was rather symbolic – Winter was right on cue. As far as I was concerned my experiment was concluded. But a couple of interesting days have passed since then, so briefly…

That evening I hung out in St Pancras International station to read about bicycles. I was determined to make final decisions on the specifications for my dream bike, which I have already put a deposit on and will be the subject of another post. Multi-speed hubs, ‘eccentric’ bottom brackets, disc brakes… all these things were new to me and each component required hours of research. I sat up all night trying to finish an email to the folks who are designing it for me, and must have nodded off for a few hours in the comfy sofa of the 24 hour Nero cafe. I wasn’t the only one:

image

That was the picture at 06:00. Some of them were also homeless – I had a friendly conversation with one of them, a pleasant chap from New Zealand who’s been sleeping in the station because he’s having a spot of relationship trouble.

Later I met my cousins plus their daughter and her newly-wed husband, who were visiting from Argentina and staying at a Premier Inn hotel in Leicester Square. Out of curiosity, I asked the receptionist:

“How much is the cheapest room for one night?”

“£120. Shall I reserve it for you sir?”

“No thank you, just curious.”

I’m not interested in staying anywhere at that price but I often ask just to feel good about how much money I’ve saved by sleeping outdoors. One night, £120!

They were flying to Spain in the afternoon so I accompanied them for some souvenir shopping.

image

I hope to see them all again soon in Argentina.

That night I was in the 24-hour Asda supermarket near Clapham Junction. There are 24-hour toilets there and a convenient shelter in which to lock bicycles that is protected by CCTV.

image

The forecast for the night was freezing temperatures and precipitation towards the morning. I was just about to leave my bike there and head to a nearby outdoors shelter when I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to see if I can get away with sleeping inside the supermarket?

So I went for a leisurely stroll around Asda, getting a feel for the place, learning what the CCTV cameras looked like and where they were positioned. There was a security guard at the front entrance keeping an eye on the live images they delivered.

I found an isle of the upstairs clothing section that was a blind spot for the cameras, with some nice long woolly jumpers hanging on a rail that I could hide underneath. The clothes rail had protruding feet but I thought I could sleep with my knees bent over them. I just had to count on the staff, who were sorting through clothes in other aisles, not coming to sort through the woolly jumpers.

Before I lay down I had a look around the rest of the upper floor, and decided that the in-store café might be a better option. It was empty and closed but the entrance was in another blind spot for the cameras so I briskly marched in and lay behind the coffee desk, just out of sight of two of the cameras in the cafe.

image

After dozing for three hours without being disturbed, I got more confident and inflated my sleeping mat for a proper rest. At 08:00 a cleaner walked by to get a vacuum cleaner from the cupboard, and he saw me. I said my usual:

“I’m sorry boss, I’m only sleeping here. I will get up and leave immediately.”

“Yes you’d better go, people are coming now to open up.”

He didn’t say a word to anyone about me. What a geeza! After brushing my teeth and freshening up in the toilets, I came right back to the café and ordered a full English breakfast for £5, as a reward for my gym work out of the previous day.

image

The place I had to stand to serve myself tea was exactly where I had slept. I checked the weather observations: it had been zero degrees outside, but I had slept warm as toast in a supermarket! It was snowing as I rode up the hill and over Wandsworth Common to go and see to another piano.

image

I want to learn to live outdoors, but I also want to learn to be more resourceful in the city. I want to see the city in 3D. It really is great fun to think of all the places I might be able to hide indoors and get away with a night’s sleep. The key is to keep moving, only one night in each place, so that you’re there when they least expect it.

Another -2 degree night was forecast. I felt my experiment was already concluded, but since I hadn’t yet finished writing this blog post I thought I would confirm my findings by sleeping outdoors again. This time it was a bit breezy too. I slept in exactly the same spot as photographed at the top of this page; here are the flats as viewed from ground level:

image

By the morning my toes were cold; on my right foot they were really numb. But I had still slept alright, and the cold toes are nothing an extra pair of socks wouldn’t sort out. The official observations showed -2.4 degrees Celsius for St James’s Park and -4 degrees for Ealing, so I’m not sure exactly what I experienced in Clapham but it sure was cold. I went straight to the Clapham Leisure Centre, with its under-floor heated changing room and heated swimming pool; forty lengths later I was warm as toast.

And finally last night, I went to get my bike from the shelter in Asda to look for a place to sleep. The rain was incessant so I left my bike where it was and scoped out Asda’s underground car park instead. It was very well lit, a bit bright and open for my liking, but a door right at the back was slightly ajar – it was a room housing the sprinkler system in case the supermarket caught fire.

Sweet, I thought, there are no cameras in here, and no one will see me. However I was a bit put off by what I found around the corner – it looked like an alcoholic had made their home there, there was cardboard for a bed, lots of empty bottles and fag ends lying around, piss in one corner, and food packets, many of them containing quality foods that had been left uneaten. I examined the packets of perishable food. Dates ranging from mid-November to the last one, a sandwich marked best before fourth December. I’ll be alright, I thought, he/she/it probably moved out a few days ago.

I made my bed right on the opposite side of the sprinkler room, far enough away from the mess not to smell anything. It was dusty, but dry, and I used my balaclava to filter the dust out of the air that I breathed. The marvellous array of pipes and pumps was labelled “max pressure 10 bar”; I made sure to check all the pressure gauges before getting in bed. I didn’t fancy being covered in cold water by a blown pipe in the middle of the night!

image

It was warm in there, about 10 degrees, and I slept like a log.

Now it’s 23:00 and I’m still in Clapham Junction, although I haven’t been here all day, sipping some ale and writing to you from a dingy basement internet cafe, where the first message you get when you log on is “Windows is not genuine. Click here to make it genuine.”

image

There are fifteen computers but only two other people using them, a foreign bloke and a pretty English girl, and they’re having a curious conversation:

“Ok I pay you for one night.” he said.

“A whole night?! Don’t you want to sleep at all?” she asked.

“Yes, whole night!” he said, beaming.

“I don’t do whole nights,” she said, “only two hours max. Trust me, that’s plenty of time for me to make you happy.”

“Ok I give you hundred.”

“No, it’s £140, that’s the minimum, I never charge less than that. Most girls charge more… I think I’m definitely worth that much. Honey, do you even have the money? There’s a lot going on tonight, I’m quite busy you know.”

“Yes, I have it, I have it…”

“Ok well I’m trying to arrange a few other jobs, I need to focus on this…”

“So you busy, eh? How many you do?”

“No it’s not like that, I only do one per night, that’s enough for me. I’ve only been doing this for a couple of months; I’ve got a full time job, this is just a bit extra on the side. I’m a good girl, really I am.”

“Ok, so you give me discount? We go now…”

“No, I told you I’m booked tonight and I’m not coming down on price. I’m sorry I really need to stop talking and focus on this. I feel horny tonight, I feel as though I could do a good job, and I really want to make somebody happy.”

“Ok sorry, I be quiet now. So tomorrow is good then?”

“Yes baby, tomorrow, we do it tomorrow.”

They made little effort to conceal their motives, speaking casually as if they were just talking about football. I had never witnessed this kind of conversation before so I found it difficult to concentrate on my writing. She left to meet a cab that would take her to her ‘job’ for the night, then the bloke left too. My internet time ran out, so I used the girl’s computer because it still had a few minutes left. She had left her email account open – curiosity got the better of me and I observed that she had only just opened the account that evening to post an ad in the ‘casual encounters’ section of Craigslist:

“Hi ALL
ULTRA SEXY ENGLISH GIRL READY FOR YOUR JUICY COCK.
27, DRESS SIZE 10, SMALL PERKY TITS, RIPE JUICY ASS.I AM YOUR CLEAN, GROOMED, YET SLUTTY SEX FIEND FANTASY
EMAIL NOW FOR A HOOK UP. NO TIME TO WASTE. NO EMAILS BACK AND FORTH – ONE PIC EXCHANGE THEN I COME AND SUCK YOUR COCK.
[her name] XXX”

In the space of ninety minutes she had already received replies from about 40 men! Many of them had included photos of themselves, mostly young men, not at all bad-looking fellows, and also very graphic photos of their genitalia. She was spoilt for choice, she could take her pick and get paid for it as well; as I glanced over her emails she was already off to meet one of them in person, whom she had only just met in cyberspace.

Oh, I am such a nosey parker

Anyway… anyway, back to the streets, and before I had finished writing the café closed. I went back to Asda where my bike was sheltered and thought I might get another night’s kip in the sprinkler room underground, but was dissapointed to discover that some idiot had since been there and pissed in another corner; there was no longer anywhere to sleep where it wasn’t smelly.

No matter, earlier in the day I had noticed a clean, sheltered porch on a quiet street off St John’s Road nearby. This was a much more scenic place to lie down.

image

I don’t mind sleeping in an exposed porch provided it’s on a quiet back street in a well-to-do area. The bright light came on automatically everytime it detected movement – a useful security feature which also helped me inspect the surface and unpack my stuff. It was Friday night and there were a couple of McDonalds and KFC packets discarded on the pavement, so my only apprehension was that more drunken revellers might walk up from the high street. But nobody came, only a fox who prodded my legs with his paws a few times until I stirred, then he walked away.

It was the porch of a Welsh Chapel which I photographed the following morning. There are a lot of beautiful old terraced streets in this area.

image

It was 4 degrees above zero that night which is the average minimum temperature for London in December. I slept comfortably. If it were -2 degrees every night of the year I would carry more insulation around with me to sleep warm, but the point is, -2 is unusual. +2 is the average minimum in January and February and those are the coldest months of the year. I’m not going to carry loads of extra insulation to sleep really warm in temperatures of -2 when I only need it for two weeks of the year. I prefer to travel light and feel a bit cold for a few nights. Not really cold, just a little chilly.

Of course I could store the extra insulation with friends and family until it gets really cold, but this will tie me to a certain area of this country, which is not what I want. I want to carry everything I need with me for the whole year, all the time, so that I feel free to get on my bike and just go, as far as I like for as long as I like. That’s the dream, and that’s what I’m working towards.

After a lovely hot giant latte in Starbucks I’m now in Battersea Library where I most definitely will finish writing this blog post.

I took some photos to show my new Winter sleeping arrangement. You’ve all seen the bivvy bag before, drawstring pulled tight so that only my nose is exposed to the cold air. It’s important to exhale out of the bag so that condensation doesn’t build up inside and get everything damp.

image

Looking at my photo, I can see why so many people get a fright and ask me if I’m alright. Perhaps they do think it’s a body bag containing a dead person. Even more so now that there are no bag or shoes lying on the ground next to me - every item performs at least two functions so that when I’m asleep all my possessions are contained inside my bivvy bag. As I mentioned earlier, this is convenient because it means that no human or fox can steal anything without first waking me up.

If you take the bivvy bag away this is what I look like when I’m asleep inside:

image

My shoes are rolled up in a blue rubble sack and lie just above my knees. I’m wearing two pairs of thin synthetic socks and my feet are in the pockets of my cycle jersey. Under my trousers I have my running tights and under my down jacket is a long-sleeved base layer. My backpack is my pillow but there’s not much left in it – only my piano tuning tools and a pair of shorts – depending which way I roll it up it can be hard, soft, lumpy or flat but I don’t seem to mind when I’m asleep.

The most important thing, the key is the inflatable mattress. The Thermarest Neo-Air Xtherm really has lived up to the hype surrounding it for so long on all the outdoors websites – it is amazingly warm!

Clearly people are making sense when they talk about the importance of insulating yourself from the ground. A look at this list of thermal conductivities on Wikipedia shows that water conducts heat twenty times faster than air, but concrete and limestone conduct heat over twice as fast as water. Of course in reality water probably takes your body heat away faster because it’s a liquid and therefore is fluid and has a much greater surface area of contact with your skin. Maybe this is part of the reason why really cold powdery snow can feel warmer than water. But nevertheless it’s clear that insulating oneself from the ground is much more important that insulating oneself from the air.

The Neo-Air Xtherm mattress provided a seriously warm base that gave me the confidence to try using less insulation on top. Any down clothing or sleeping bag gets squashed flat when you lie on it so almost half of it is not providing any insulation. This month I’ve discovered that I can use much less insulation above my body, provided I’m really well insulated from the ground and sheltered from the wind.

Air can take your warmth away much faster if it’s windy, so my minimalist arrangement only works on the coldest nights because I find very sheltered places to lie down and because the bivvy bag is blocking any air circulation.

In a weird way sleeping like this with minimal insulation actually feels almost as warm as when I was using the extra down trousers and vest. I could be aclimatising, but I think it’s also because without the cumbersome ‘Michelin Man’ clothing I’m much more springy and active, walking, skipping, cycling around and climbing the stairs of tower blocks with much greater speed and enthusiasm.

And I actually like waking up shivering. I enjoy having to get out of bed and hop and skip around for a while to warm up. I never thought I would be able to say this, but now that I’ve completely lost all fear of sleeping outside, I see shivering in a positive light. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like feeling cold, at least not for more than a few minutes, and only with the promise of warmth afterwards. Just like the folk who voluntarily step out of the sauna into a cold bath, or the crazy Russians that break the ice to go for a swim then roll around naked in the snow to rub it in. That kind of environment is far too cold for survival, there are serious health consequences after about twenty minutes. But they love the kick of endorphins they get from their five minutes of madness.

What I’m experiencing is quite different – when I wake up shivering I’m not ‘freezing’ cold, I’m just slightly below the comfort zone. A bout of shivering raises my temperature enough to feel comfortable again and go back to sleep. So I don’t need to carry so much insulation, and I exercise my core muscles at the same time. When lying there shivering’s not enough and I need to get up and do some proper exercise, it’s revitalising – there’s something special about being active in the midnight hour, when all is quiet. Perhaps it’s something to do with reconnecting with the natural ’first sleep and second sleep’ human rest pattern. It’s the best time of year to be getting some extra exercise, in the mid-Winter, when I used to become a couch potato because it was too cold to leave my rented flat; now I’m outdoors and I’m forced to exercise – now that I’ve put myself in this situation I don’t even need self-discipline to stay fit, I have no choice! The midnight exercise also relieves my body from the only position I can lie in in really cold weather – on my back, due to the need to drape my cycle jersey over my feet and balance my shoes on my thighs. On warmer nights I also sleep on my sides.

If I wanted to go north or further inland in the Winter to colder climates there would be several options to sleep in temperatures lower than -5 Celsius. I’ll store my down trousers and vest at my parents’ house just in case, because carrying them would be the obvious option that would also enable me to keep warm when I walk around and sit down outdoors. Alternatively I could get a ‘half bag’, literally half a sleeping bag made just for your lower body with the assumption that you wear a down jacket. Or if it’s too cold for that I would get the lightest full length sleeping bag made by PHD: the Minim Ultra which weighs a mere 345 g and probably squashes almost as small as my PHD pullover.

The only consideration with adding a sleeping bag to my current arrangement is that I would no longer be able to use my shoes to lift the bivvy bag off my legs – the down insulation is supposed to loft out and do that instead; the shoes would just squash the down insulation.

But while I’m still here in the mild south of England I’m delighted to discover that I can travel so light year round. This is all I have now:

The backpack is almost empty when I’m wearing all my Winter clothes. What remains inside the backpack is displayed below:

image

The mat and bivvy wrapped in the blue rubble sack that I use to inflate the mat, my yellow cycle jersey, swimming/running/cycling shorts, change of socks, piano tuning tools, swimming goggles, headlamp, phone charger, vitamin pills, razor with no handle, and toothbrush/toothpaste in a yellow box.

I hid the other contents of my bag in my dry bag which is hanging in a bush surrounded by bushes in the trees in Battersea Park: fingerless gloves, thick woolly socks, and the case for my earphones. My little can of deoderant ran out and I didn’t replace it – do I really need deoderant or can I live a more healthy lifestyle, thermoregulate better and do without it? I was told that in Korea there are many people who don’t need to use deoderant because they don’t have sweaty armpits like us smelly Europeans. Maybe it’s all the grease in our food…

Cycling around in the Winter with no gloves? Yes, although I must admit I haven’t been cycling any great distance. But for short distances in freezing weather I just pull the long sleeves of my thermal top out from under my pullover and use them to cover most of my hands, effectively like fingerless gloves, except that when I want to ‘take my gloves off’ all I have to do is pull my sleeves up. At night I just put my hands in the cosy pocket of the down pullover.

 

Burning my Bridges

I now feel that I can burn all my bridges and give up any things there might be left that commit me to a settled life. I now have full confidence in my new lifestyle: I know that, at least in my part of the country, I have everything I need to survive and be happy.

I could quite happily travel as light as I do now for the rest of my life, because once you take property out of the picture, what you can earn working in the UK compares very favourably to what you need to spend to be dependant on the city for food, drink and gym membership – the only expenses in my lifestyle.

But I want to keep learning and take the next few steps. I want to reduce my carbon footprint and start consuming more responsibly, putting some research into all the things I buy from the supermarket, or not buying from the supermarket at all. I want to learn to brew my own tea and cook my own food with renewable energy produced by myself. I want to learn to forage, and to hunt, skin, feather and cook invasive species like rabbit, grey squirrel, and Canada goose, in addition to abundant native species like woodpigeon and mallard. I want to learn to live in harmony with this planet.

I want to learn what I need to carry with me to be able to live outdoors in more remote places, not just in the big city. I want to try migrating south to the Mediterranean in the Autumn and coming back in the Spring. I want to cycle around the world. I want to sail around the world… and to enable all these adventures to happen I want to make the essentials in life, especially food and drink, much cheaper than they are as bought on the high street in London, so that I don’t have to feel committed to this country for a steady income.

But back to the present; I’ve just slept outdoors in London almost every night between the 5th November and the 9th December in temperatures ranging from -3 to +10 degrees Celsius. The sleeping outdoors in London experiment is complete; conclusion: it’s easy. But there are many more experiments to be had, so the blog will continue.

The next step is to get my hands on a frame bag so that I can begin to carry a few extra items that will make me a bit more independant from the city. A wood-burning cook stove and a fire steel to light it – not to cook game yet, just to brew tea and make porridge. I could also carry oats, seasoning, bread, cheese and other foodstuffs. I could put extra down clothing in there if I visit colder places. And of course, I’ll put in there all the contents of the bag that’s in the bushes in the trees in Battersea Park: extra piano tuning tools, a bigger tube of toothpaste, puncture repair kit, etc etc. This will mean I’ll no longer feel any ties to the Battersea/Westminster area, instead I’ll feel free to go wherever I like carrying everything I could possibly need with me.

So there’s a long road ahead, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. I have found my home at the age of thirty, and it’s all around me. It’s a beautiful home called London, soon to expand to the size of England, and eventually most of planet Earth.

12 thoughts on “No Sleeping Bag and No Down Suit

  1. Dear Richard
    What an amazing blog!
    We met in Starbucks Paddington re Debra charity
    Hope our path will cross again one day

  2. Greetings from rural Missouri, USA. Found your blog on sleeping in the streets of London fascinating in many ways; the minimalist lifestyle in particular. I found your site within a comment on a PTG thread. I hope you will continue to post.
    I wonder – do you talk with others who sleep on the streets and is their attitude quite different from your own?

    I chatted with a “street person” once on the streets of Ventura, California. When I asked him what his main challenge was, he told me “living with the disapproval of my family. This is what I prefer. I could live otherwise. They don’t understand that.” That conversation quite altered my image of the “homeless.” I suppose you and he are quite the exception. Still, I wonder who the homeless truly are …

    • Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. Interesting question, who ‘the homeless’ really are…

      I’ve stopped referring to myself as homeless, regardless how the state may wish to class me, because I don’t feel homeless, and because there are other people who do feel homeless.

      I’m beginning to think ‘homeless’ is actually nothing but a state of mind. I feel that this planet is my home and I love it, but others feel they need a house and therefore they feel homeless.

      These are often people who had no choice about ending up on the streets. This also happened to me when I was 23 years old but I made an effort to enjoy it. I had not planned it so it wasn’t so easy then but I also knew there were people I could run to if I got really desperate.

      This time it was planned and I really saw it differently, in positive light.

      _____________

      I had to post the Piano Tuner’s Guild website to defend old overdamped (‘birdcage’) pianos which can be very nice when well-adjusted. Sadly I don’t currently have the time to keep up with the forum.

      Are you a piano tuner?

      • Great read, I have often wondered about doing short bursts of well paid work in London, however the cost of accommodation is prohibitive. I am a keen outdoors person and have the down bag, therma rest etc, but I really struggle to sleep on my back which is the only way really as anything else doesn’t work. Anyway you have given me food for thought and I am so getting one of those new thermarests, just need to sell my three old ones.

  3. Excellent blog, only came across it by chance, surfing around on the CTC forum. Take care fella, have a safe Christmas.

    • Yes, it is, but I haven’t worked very much this year. However my lifestyle has become very cheap, since I’ve stopped paying rent, so even on a meagre income I can afford one-off expenses like the best outdoors gear. Perhaps I ought to work a little more in the future, to ‘make hay while the sun shines’…

  4. You are amazing. Please keep blogging! How much rent were you paying, you wouldn’t mind sharing that with us, would you?

  5. Absolutely great, total inspiration. I came across your blog while looking for a sleeping bag!, I feel a total slave to the rat race, well done you. If I was in your position I would be thinking of a more temperate climate … spain etc, anyway if you ever travel to North Wales, you have a bed for the night ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>