I remember when life was so simple… we used to get up in the morning surrounded by wildlife and wonder whether to spend the day beach-combing; varnish the woodwork of the boat on which we lived; or pootle-about in the bay, offering our sails to the breeze. We were forty – yet we lived like children; on a summer holiday.
After seven years of blissful uselessness we moved back ashore – back to what most people know as ‘the real world’ (though it seemed unreal to us). In towns and cities everywhere people were in a hurry: They were first off the lights; fast into the parking-space; ran into shops; jumped the queue; talked quickly; got annoyed; ran out; left the door open; made a call; filled their boot; selected the wrong gear; had a minor collision; pretended not to notice; roared off into the traffic; jumped the lights; and then disappeared from our lives forever. They seemed so familiar with that lifestyle, and went about it with such industry, that it made us ashamed of being simple.
Have you ever read Life on Walden Pond? In 1845, abnegating the comforts of industrialized America, Henry David Thoreau walked a couple of miles out of his town and into the woods in Connecticut, built himself a shed, and lived on the tranquil shores of a sixty acre lake for two years. ‘Men have become the tools of their tools’, he said, 160 years ago.
We all know people who long to live a simpler life… long for it ourselves; but fear it will spoil our chances of something… ‘we’ll downsize’, they say, ‘when the kids have left home’ – as though what’s killing them is great for their kids.
We found that living on a boat was similar to Thoreau’s experiment, and even had an advantage over it: he went to prison – willingly, and as an act of civil disobedience – for not paying his community charge (and was livid when his Aunt paid it for him, securing his release); yet on a boat you’re not expected to pay community charge because you’re not part of the community. All of which is as refreshing as it sounds – though, like Thoreau, we recognised (and avoided, I hope) the dangers of that – of becoming stigmatized… of allowing suspicion to grow about us newcomers when we dropped our anchor in someone’s shore-side paradise.
In all ways a simple life is easy, we found, if we worked hard at it; and so inexpensive that two or three months work a year – short enough to avoid becoming embroiled in the inevitable ‘work politics’ – kept us in luxuries which went far beyond a generous allowance for our needs. So attractive was our lifestyle aboard that as I sit here, in a house, ashore, even on this remote island, that I can’t think why we don’t go back to it. Yet there is a reason… somewhere. Perhaps I don’t want to spoil my chances of something?
The story of seven years aboard – and of the quirky people who choose that life, is told in Justin’s book: Phoenix from the Ashes