They say you don't lie on your death bed regretting the things you did, but rather you regret the things you didn't do. I remember my Dad telling me this as a small child and I think that one, probably throw away, comment shaped a lot of my attitude whilst growing up. Have you ever thought "I'd like to try that", "go there" or "have one of those"? If you have, I sincerely hope you tried it, went there or obtained it.
I have had many mid-life crisis' over the last decade or so. I'm still to find out why they're referred to as "crisis'", since so far mine have included buying a BMW, having sex with a woman not much older than my children, buying numerous motorcycles, shaving my head, growing my hair long, covering the majority of my available flesh in tattoos and sporting a variety of beards. Not exactly crisis', but I digress.
Seven or so years ago I found myself single, with a decent amount of money in the bank and doing a job that, although well paid, was so mind numbingly boring I could take no more. My job involved a lot of driving around, and one night, having just finished work and on my way home, I saw an aged minibus parked on a drive with a big "For Sale" sign in the windscreen. The bus had been a school minibus in it's younger days, and more recently had been owned by a chap that used it as a sort of extended MPV for his large family.
It wasn't the prettiest vehicle on the road, but it had a tax disc, a long M.O.T. and six good tyres. Seven if you counted the spare. Almost on a whim I bought the bus for £700.00, stripped it bare and began converting it in to a luxury camper van. I spent a few hundred pounds on plastic coated chipboard, solar panels, ply-wood, caravan fixtures, leatherette and vinyl floor tiles then set about creating something that Austin Powers would've been proud of. A separate and very plush bedroom, accessed through a circular door, contained a large, memory foam mattressed bed. Union flags covered the foam seats, mood lighting and 1960s style fittings created the right atmosphere. After a couple of months hard work I was the proud owner of a dream.
I handed in my notice at work, finished on a Thursday afternoon, went home, packed and, so far as anyone was concerned, disappeared off the face of the Earth.
I drove for seven hours, north and across the border in to Scotland. I turned left just past Glasgow, carrying on up through the Trossacks before turning south and chugging my way down the west side of Loch Long, winding up shortly before midnight on the beach of the Loch in a village called Ardentinny. It was early February, about 11.50pm and, quite frankly, fucking cold.
I pulled off the road and onto the beach, killed the engine along with the twelve orange and twenty green lamps festooned across the bumper, bonnet and roof, flicked the switch to turn off the four spotlights that made my ride look like it should've been hunting kangaroos in the outback and was surprised to find I could still see perfectly clearly, even several miles from the nearest street light.
I hadn't stopped on my journey and by this point had a very pleasant urgency in my bladder. I swung the door open and hauled myself out. Being as stiff as a board and having lost the use of my legs and buttocks I almost tumbled out. Then, stretching, groaning and creaking like a man made of wood, I began fumbling for my flies as my breath froze in the air before me.
Cock in hand I stood, peeing on the beach and feeling very liberated. I tilted my head up slowly, groaning as the stiffness in my neck yielded, and froze.
I'm a city boy, born in the city, raised in the city and a lover of city living. That being the case I had never in my life before seen what I saw at this point. Above me the sky was filled with stars and planets, the light of the moon bright enough to read by and shooting stars criss crossing the whole, celestial, light show. Until then I'd never seen such a thing, aside from in Sci-Fi films, even when abroad. I stood there, hardly breathing, for what felt like no time at all but was, when I eventually looked down at my hand, long enough for the cold to have sent my penis inverted. (A condition from which I've never fully recovered.)
Back inside my beautiful new home I set about preparing for my first night "living the dream". I lit the little gas heater, closed the curtains and blinds and flicked over to the solar charged batteries for the interior lighting. I boiled kettles to fill four hot water bottles and two large vacuum flasks. I wrapped one hot water bottle in a pair of jogging pants and a shirt, then wrapped that package along with another bottle in my sleeping bag. The last two bottles went underneath this little bundle of warmth and on top of the mattress. A mug of Ovaltine, a bowl of ready-brek and a little read of a book later I, very quickly, got changed in to the lovely, warm bed clothes, dived into the sleeping bag, pulled the duvet over the top of me and, having set my alarm for 4am, went to sleep.
Having woken at 4am to shuffle around the van in my sleeping bag like some gigantic, blue, nylon caterpillar while I swapped the now stone cold water in the hot water bottles for fresh, hot water from the flasks, I slept a further three hours, as snug as a bug in a rug.
When I woke the first thing I did was reach over the psychedelic foam pad that separated me from the doors and yanked on the handle, allowing the doors to fall open slowly and reveal the most magical view. The forest of Argyll rising majestically to the left, the mountains I'd driven along the previous night to the right and directly in front of me the Loch, with little fishing boats cutting through the fine, crisp, white mist that seemed to flow with the current. The sky above crystal clear and multi-coloured as the sun was beginning it's lazy journey. For the second time in seven hours I literally had my breath taken away. Even the bitter cold couldn't spoil the experience.
I'd taken with me enough food to keep me going for at least a month. Not the nicest foods, all either dried, in cans or vacuum packed with enough salt to keep a path free of ice, and my plan had been to drive until I found somewhere I liked and stay a while, but that had only taken seven hours.
I spent days wandering through the forest, and had my breath stolen several times. I built camp fires and spent nights under the clear, winter sky smoking herbs, drinking brandy and staring in to the flames. I was in love with a place and a time, it was incredible.
I found work on one of my forestry explorations and was paid between thirty and forty pounds a day to chop up wood with a chainsaw. I spent nothing as there was nothing to spend anything on and let the money pile up. I spent days without seeing another soul and only hearing the voices of the actors on the radio plays I listened to on my clockwork radio. Had I died at any point in the couple of months I spent there I would have died a happy man. If I'm ever told how long I have left to live I will head straight there, this time with my dogs, lie on the beach and drift away.
I eventually continued on my adventures and spent almost a year living in my camper van. I visited every corner of the Union, worked a dozen shit jobs and met the best friend I could ever have. I had guns pointed at me, was involved in a car chase, did jobs I'd never have dreamed of doing and partied like it was 1999. I spent a week parked in a patch of woodland in Blackpool being spoon fed baby food by a Polish girl whilst suffering with tonsillitis (My throat was so swollen and raw she would trickle it off a spoon and through any available gaps in the mucus whilst I lay on my back with my mouth open, unable to swallow), partied at a mansion in Surrey without a penny in my pocket and helped build a Primark store. At every moment, during every day, I smiled or laughed. The obvious exception being the automatic rifle pointed at my face, although I pissed myself soon after.
It was a wasted year, basically living rough (but in style) and bumming around the country. It cost me very little, and gave me so much. The people I met, conversations I had, injuries I sustained and things I learnt are worth more to me than almost anything. Time you enjoy wasting is never wasted.
It was nothing more than a whim, and had I told people what I was planning I'd probably have allowed myself to be talked out of it. It does sound a very daft idea. But I did it.
A Chinese lad I worked with at one point said he loved to travel because "the moon is always bigger in a foreign land". Similar, I suppose, to the grass always being greener, except he went on "And if you don't like the big moon you can always go home."
Don't disregard a whim. Whimsy is good. Enjoy the little things, and just do it.
You can always go home.