These are weird times. Hope you’re okay.
Here’s a thing I’ve now learned about a pandemic lockdown: if you don’t have a home to lock yourself down in (because you sold a house last summer and intended to spend a year renting your way around Europe) – well, you have to rethink your plans very quickly.
My plan for this summer was Greece: find a cabin, live a simple life, learn Greek, go for long walks, write thousands of words every day until enough of them were good enough to publish, and build the stuff that I hope will become the framework of my business going forward.
Instead, I found myself in a hotel in York with no way to travel abroad and nowhere else to go, I scrambled for a new plan – and got very, very lucky.
With British Airbnb rentals drying up along with non-essential domestic travel, I contacted my previous hosts in Scotland. Was the cottage still free, the one I rented in February? It wasn’t – but they had a shed.
Hello from a shed in Scotland.
Well, it’s a cabin, really, and a lovely one – but it’s at the back of a house belonging to my landlords. It has a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom, a study area with a desk, and a big, plushy armchair. There’s central heating for when it’s a bit cold, there are windows for when it’s a bit warm, and there’s an electric blanket to warm your toes if you remember to put it on ten minutes before bed-time.
It also smells overpoweringly of wood – like a proper shed should.
I’ve always lusted after sheds. (Don’t lift that as a quote and use it against me.) The tiny-home movement has always appealed to me, as has the lack of space to store things that quickly turn into clutter.
When you have basically no storage space, you can’t fill it with things you quickly forget you have.
Right now, I still have little more than the contents of my 70 litre rucksack as I packed it when the house sold last July, and a few things in a new daypack, plus groceries, a few notebooks I got from Poundstretcher last week (still open in Scotland!) – and a small bag of plant food I’m using to revive a dried-up Convolvulus cneorum, laying sadly on its side in the back garden when I arrived.
(For the last year, wherever I’m renting, I try to either give my hosts an idea to help them reach new guests, or I look after one of their plants so it’s healthier than when I arrived. The idea is to leave something behind other than a good review and, if we end up chatting, a look of complete and utter confusion on their faces about what the hell I’m doing with my life.)
I am Mike of Shed.
I am also Mike of Beach, because this little housing estate is right on the western Scottish coast.
For my daily government-allowed exercise, I’m walking along the sand, jumping over rivulets, picking up shells and golf-balls (this town is best-known for the massive golf-courses just outside it), and occasionally trekking to the somewhat-nearby Morrisons to load up with groceries.
Thanks to the goodwill of my landlords, I’m renting this shed month to month until movement is possible again, and so far, life is steady.
I’m well aware of how incredibly lucky I am (or I hope I’m aware, anyway). With accommodation, my most extreme Plan B was sleeping on the beach or in the woods (not even kidding – and I doubt that would have gone well).
But I’m in a shed, and that’s working nicely.
Meanwhile, some people are keeping me going by showing up for work every day (thanks, staff of Morrisons) – and others are working in dangerous conditions to help alleviate suffering and keep other people alive.
And other people . . . are dying from this thing.
These are not fun, carefree times – and certainly not times for smugly patting yourself on the back for how lucky you’ve been as you bumble your way forward.
So instead of doing that, I’m trying to do what I was planning to do, by looking after my health, writing some things that I hope will provide a welcome distraction for anyone interested in them – and provide what little national service I’m capable of providing by keeping my lumbering meatbag of a presence out of the way, so help can go to those who truly need it.
(I’d say “come visit!”. But, you know. Yeah.)
And I’m talking to people every day.
Not on those massive, exhausting kinds of Zoom calls with dozens of people talking over each other – which can be fun, like a trip to the pub with your mates, but rubbish for actual conversation. Instead, I’m mostly going with 1-to-1s.
We know that virtual chats are an inferior alternative to the real thing – and we’re only just starting to understand the effect they’re having on our brains – but they’re a lot better than nothing in times like this, as long as you’re actually talking to someone occasionally.
(That said, if all group Zoom calls were this awesome . . . but no, they’re not.)
Anyway, the people I’ve been chatting with are a mixture of friends I haven’t seen for weeks, months or years – or they’re complete strangers. I put an open invite on Facebook and Twitter, and a link to my Calendly page – and every resulting conversation has been delightful.
A friend saw me doing this and said, “You’re an idiot, Mike. What if a total nutcase books a call with you? And – every day? Do you have no life?”
All excellent questions, and I’m not sure I’d enjoy the answers if I really thought about them.
But having now done this, as opposed to talking myself out of it beforehand, I can confirm that it’s enormously fun, it’s making me really focused about getting things done in the morning, I haven’t talked to any actual lunatics yet, and it’s feeling a lot more sociable than times I’ve not been in lockdown. All in all, this experiment is a success.
So. If you fancy a chat sometime, how about it?
While I can’t currently go anywhere else, I’m keeping moving in other ways.
First and foremost, I’m continuing the mind-&-body-rebuilding work I started last year in Greece, and on top of ongoing work commitments, I’m doing a few things as practice for bigger work later:
– a 3-part podcast with a friend (to learn how to make and launch one)
– a short book on rain (to learn how to self-publish the two bigger books I’m pecking away at)
– the second half of a limited-series paid newsletter experiment that I’m long, long, long overdue with (to, um, address the embarrassment and guilt around not finishing it until now, and to fulfil that promise to everyone who was kind enough to sign up to it).
All this relies on a lot of luck and privilege.
Putting it bluntly, I’m doing this because I have savings in the bank to support me for a little while, I don’t have kids or dependents, I’m not working in the critical industries that are keeping my locked-down country going, I currently have the luxury of choosing what I’m working on, and I’m in a quiet corner of Scotland where my only real distractions are noisy seagulls fighting over something they’ve stolen from a nearby bin, and the way the entire cabin shudders and groans and threatens to collapse when I turn the washing machine on.
Otherwise, things are pretty zen here – and I’m taking it gratefully.
There’s a lot of this kind of thing on social media right now:
“If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either:
1.) a new skill
2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business
3.) more knowledge
You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline.”
File under the category “I Think I Know What You’re Trying To Say, But Sod You For The Way You Said It.”
If, friends, you are struggling to stay positive, if just going shopping (above, at my local Morrisons) is making you feel anxious, if you’re trying to get a handhold on your dread and it’s taking a while, if you’re still working while 90% of everyone else is off work, if you’re in a house with kids 24/7 and you haven’t even had the time to discover how you feel . . .
Well, I am sorry that you also have to contend with shouty productivity-bullying nonsense as well.
Managing is everything. Keeping it together is everything. Sure, if you have energy to spare, doing something with it might be a good move, and help take your mind off what you can’t control right now. There are lovely, smart folk doing many excellent things online right now and it might help your mind and body to get involved.
Or, you could just turn that extra energy inwards and have a good think about stuff that matter to you – maybe near an open window, because the air is unusually sweet at the moment.
But if you’re completely maxed out with trying to deal, and aren’t learning Urdu, Esperanto and Klingon while sourdough-baking your way through a burpee-equivalent ascent of Everest, don’t feel bad. That stuff is optional. And anyone who says otherwise is a self-important pillock.
Anyway. Hope you’re ok.
These are weird times.
Images: Mike Sowden