Today is my 29th birthday and for once, I am spending it in the countryside of rural England – where I grew up. On my last birthday I was swimming with manta rays on Australia’s west cost – 8,444 miles from where I now am – and getting horribly sunburnt. Despite the grey skies and a maximum temperature of 13*C today, I do quite like being in the place of my childhood, walking familiar paths.
I first left England for an extended period of time over ten years ago. For six months I explored aimlessly, depleting the savings I had accumulated over several years of working in supermarkets and on building sites. Getting outside of the small bubble I had grown up in got me very excited and I only wanted to see more of the world. I came back to the UK to study at university, but jumped at the opportunity of an exchange to Canada for a year, and when school was over, I left England once again, heading for Uganda. That was around the middle of 2010, six years ago.
For six years I have lived largely outside the UK and I have not lived in one building for more than six months during that whole time. Often, I lived in my tent and carried my worldly belongings upon my back. For many months at a time, I have moved almost daily, sleeping in the homes of strangers / friends / relatives, or sneaking around in the wilderness to find a place to pitch a temporary home. It has been wonderful – it truly has – and I am grateful for the many experiences and people I have encountered along the way.
Six years is a long time, however, and sometimes things don’t always go right. In fact, they often go quite wrong. For the most part, I consider myself extremely lucky. I try to have a positive outlook and things seem to work out OK. Call it karma, call it chi, call it whatever you like, but I largely consider it to be a simple issue that concerns itself with focusing upon positives rather than negatives – bad things do happen, but I try not to remember them. I think this line from my first book, The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, sums up how I try to adapt my mental state to situations I encounter and things that happen to me:
Everything will be OK. Everything is always OK. Until it’s not.
It’s a simple thought, but I wanted to convey the idea that whilst we cannot help it, worrying does not achieve anything. Thus we must do whatever it is in life that we wish to do and deal with negative situations when they arise, instead of avoiding doing something for fear of what may happen. When the negative things do occur, we deal with them. I have tried to live my life in this way for several years and I feel that my life has been better for it.
My last year was tricky at times. I worked in Australia for the majority of it, choosing to live in places for work rather than for pleasure, and found it to be a bit of a struggle. Apart from a brief foray into Indonesia and a month of road tripping in Australia, my explorations have been limited largely to reflecting on past journeys (I published a book about walking across Iceland and launched a Youtube Channel – check it out). After leaving Australia, I had a very unsuccessful bike ride in New Zealand and found myself frustratingly stuck in a very expensive country with over a month to kill – I already had four onward flights booked and the cost of changing these would have been very high). It’s not often I feel stuck like this, but after so many years on the road, it was inevitable that this might one day happen.
After six years of constantly moving, I have decided that I would now like to (for a little bit at least) take a break from sleeping in other people’s houses. People have been very kind when I have visited, but it would be nice to have a space where I live by my own rules and a space where I can invite friends to visit. After moving so much, it is hard to stay in touch with other nomadic people when you don’t have a place to meet. This isn’t to say that I want to give up my outdoor adventures – quite the contrary. I simply want to have a place to go back to after my journeys, a place where friends can come to stay, and a place where I can work from when needed – both on creative pursuits and for myself in new ventures that I am currently planning.
Sadly, it seems society is not so forgiving of me leaving it. I am hoping to live with Leah, my partner of the past four years, but we are finding ourselves restricted to where we can live because of the pieces of paper assigned to us at birth. In order for Leah to live with me in the UK we need to show 2 years of cohabitation. In truth, we have been together near constantly for almost four years, but due to our lifestyle, we don’t have the pieces of paper to prove it. A UK immigration lawyer recently replied with the following message after we asked for legal assistance:
As I think it would be very hard to prove that you have been living together for at least 2 years, unfortunately we would not be able to assist you with your application on this occasion.
In essence, because we do not have housing contracts covering the last two years, our relationship is considered insufficient. This makes me rather sad. And frustrated. It feels that I am being punished for living an unconventional life over the past few years. If I could just show them this video, I think they would understand:
Sadly they value legal contracts over real stories. I live in hope that we will find a way around this problem – that there is a reasonable immigration official who will deem our relationship sufficient (as it should be – we have been together despite the difficulties for double the required time). But at a time when the UK is considering leaving Europe (which disturbs me greatly), it seems our timing is quite inopportune.
I hope this upcoming year brings more success.