C and I are in our 50s (I’m 55 as I update this and I wouldn’t dare disclose C’s age) and three years ago we decided to be impetuous and push off into the sunset in our Van. It’s been a long time getting here and we hope there’s a good slab of time before we enter the dribbling stage of our lives. I hope this page explains why we are doing what we are doing, how I became a novelist and how we got to where we are today.
I joined the Army at 18 and after 26 reasonably successful years I had an epiphany. I was a Team Leader at Abbeywood buying guns and stuff – it was taxing, but fun. No day was the same and I worked with some really good people, although with a team of almost 100, one or two were tricky. Looking forward I had a good career with very reasonable prospects. However, although I had not spent as much time away from home as many of my friends, I was tired. Tired of the 7.15 starts, the 6.30 finishes and the work and emails that surrounded and plagued the time either side of the working day. I found it almost impossible to switch off and, whilst often a centre of morale at work, I was more miserable at home. And then one day……
…..I was cycling from our quarter in Emersons Green to work when I passed, as I had done numerous times before, a man walking his dog. Hold on. Why aren’t I walking my dog? Why am I rushing about making things happen (ok, getting paid well enough and promoted accordingly) when others actually take time to enjoy and get more out of their life? Of course, for me with my inability to unpick work from home, the only answer to that was to start again. Expectations (and hold that thought for a little later) were so high that not delivering as I had done hitherto would be impossible. So I, pretty much on the spot, resigned and decided that today I was going to be a maths teacher. [Actually the man walking his dog is just one facet of the complexities surrounding my choice to leave, but it’s a very apposite metaphor.]
I resigned on a Monday and whilst this sounds grand it in no way paints the whole picture, I was offered a job at a school in Somerset as a maths teacher the following Saturday. In retrospect I was very lucky to be offered the job as a full time teacher with no teaching qualifications nor experience. And I will be forever in the Head’s debt. I was 44.
We bought a house just up the road from our quarter in Emersons Green and I spent the next 4 years struggling to be a good teacher whilst C, bless her, was offered and accepted the post of Housemistress at one of the School’s girls houses. She then spent 6 and a half years being a quite brilliant lead in the house (they still miss her now) and I worked hard accumulating roles so that after 4 years I was offered a job on the Senior Team at the school. So whilst I guess I probably could have applied for top positions in the school and elsewhere, I had another epiphany…….although this was a more gradual affair.
Politics seems to plague schools. I guess it’s all those well educated people working together without a really plausible and discernible hierarchy. I was getting things done by sheer force of personality (even if I say so myself….) and, as is my want, the whole affair was becoming all-pervasive. C retired when her energy levels dipped below a workable point and it was becoming clear to me that to stay at Wells would require a level of commitment akin to where I was just before I left the Army. Our wider family really needed more of our time and, all-in-all, the enjoyment levels were dipping. Don’t misunderstand me: there is no better place to be than the classroom and, as such, I am very proud of our elder daughter’s choice of career. Having a hand in young people’s education is immensely satisfying. But outside of the classroom for me, expectation was high. And I was, once again, tired of trying my best to meet that expectation.
There were other accumulating factors. We had been left a little bit of money and had managed to become property moguls (I jest, but our surplus rent created an additional (small) useful income). And we had bought Doris, our 2008 Dethleffs Van II, which turned our holidays from camping into glamping. For the first time we could both see ourselves living together in a small space for months on end without resultant violence. I think we had always seen ourselves taking off for an extended European tour in the latter stages of our lives. But Doris seemed to, in an instance, provide a vehicle for such an adventure.
And so one Sunday in June 2013 whilst we were in Weston pottering about, I received an email from a member of staff whining about something which I had had a hand in. At that point, at the very crux of a plethora of issues building up outside of the classroom and impacting upon our days off, I threw in the towel. The decision to leave at Easter or the following summer was a difficult one – but with 4 exam classes planned for the next year the summer won (I am writing this in early May whilst one of those classes are working through exam papers).
That, I guess, is the historic part. The choice of future is a mystery to many. What will you do? Won’t you miss having a proper bed? Can you really see yourself living together in such a small place? What about work? How will you live without a base? Isn’t divorce the only probable outcome?
These are all good questions. And I suppose we don’t really know the answer to them. We have spent 6 weeks away in a smaller van on the continent and loved it. It is fair to say that we have always been happiest away in the van. Certainly life is very uncomplicated; our carbon footprint is tiny and we really enjoy eking out an existence. We wild camp when we can, but enjoy the luxury of campsites every so often. I love foraging in Morrisons, finding water when we need it and fixing small things that break. We both love the freedom and the ever-changing views from our bedroom window. We have stayed in and seen some amazing places and walking/running/cycling becomes central to our lives. We hope (and suspect) that doing this full time will be a good thing.
But for me it’s the removal of expectation that drives me. I want, no need, to wake up in the morning and not feel driven by external forces. I want to be free from the needs of others and the responsibility that that brings. I need a break. A clean break. I freely admit that this is my fault; that I am the one, every time, building up the expectation. But, as when I left the Army, the only solution is to move on. And, as at now, the only viable solution is to move on to nothing.
Doing nothing? Mmmm. Well I did try that for about 6 months and realised that, whilst I cannot imagine working for anyone else, I did need to do something. There is a separate tab on the blog which describes my route to ‘novelist’, so I’ll leave out the details here. In short, I’ve sort of expanded the maxim that everyone has a good book in them. And have written three, starring the fab female Sam Green. They’re thrillers and have been well received – I am currently writing a fourth (hurrah!). Anyhow, dip in with Unsuspecting Hero if you like. It’s inexpensive in Kindle format and should give you the chance to become a raging Sam Green fan.
How long will it last? I have been keeping track of a number of souls via their blogs and websites (see Inspirations). Some have been doing this for over ten years. Some of our friends give us 3 months. The only important point for me is that there is no planned end. It has to be open-ended. If we announced that we were taking a gap-year, I would know that I had to find employment in 12 months time. It just wouldn’t be the same.
So that’s that. As you will have picked up, this has almost exclusively been about me. My choices. It’s easy for me to add that C is with me all the way. But I do believe she is. I’d like to think that the major decisions we have made in our lives have been joint ones, even if it’s been me who’s put the idea forward. Let’s hope so……otherwise it might be a short sojourn.