This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
- TS Eliot
Regular readers of this blog (assuming I have any left given how sporadically I’ve been writing it of late) may have noticed a scarcity of recent posts. This isn’t because of the sheer mediocrity of The Walking Dead currently. Well, all right, it is, but it’s not just that. There’s stuff going on in my life which, while I know I’m far from the first to experience it, is new and traumatic for me. So I’m going to break with tradition, and actually write about myself rather than TV shows, or politics, or cars. If that’s not what you signed on for, fair enough, you can stop reading and nobody will think the worse of you.
In the last six weeks or so, my relationship of the last seventeen years has come to an end. As I say, I’m far from the only person this has happened to; but it’s new to me, and I’m not sure I’m coping with it all that well. This is really the only serious relationship I’ve ever been in, and it’s taken up more than a third of my increasingly long life. I’ll try not to make this too much of a screed of self-pity (I know I have a tendency to do that), but I hope writing about how it makes me feel, and where I go from here, will help. So be warned, some self-pity may follow. But maybe I have a right to that, now if ever.
It wasn’t my choice. My partner made the decision, and wants it to be as amicable as possible. And so do I. He’s quite right, we’ve both changed in the time since we got together; perhaps not for the better in my case. He was always tidier, better organised, more focused on getting on with his life than I was. I, by contrast, was (and still am), a slob, a shambles, someone who likes a drink rather too much, and would rather be out having a good time with good people than focusing on my career, my reputation, or even the future.
Both of us have, over the years, grown even more like this than we were before; it’s fair to say that we’d become more flatmates than lovers. We had been through rough patches before, and worked through them; this time, he didn’t want to do that. About a year ago, we finally bought a house, but given Cambridge’s insane property prices, we came up with the novel wheeze of combining our household with that of three friends, who, it’s fair to say, are much tidier, better organised and (mostly) sober than I am. My partner seemed to be far happier with them; I think I may have stuck out like a sore thumb. And so he finally decided enough was enough, and he didn’t want the burden of coping with our increasing incompatibility. And fair enough. I worry that he’d been putting up with the aspects of me he found infuriating for too long.
But (self-pity alert), it came out of the blue to me, and it hurt. It still does. I don’t know how to deal with the person you’ve loved for a huge chunk of your life suddenly telling you they don’t want to be with you any more. And so I may have taken to boozing even more than before, and in the aftermath found that drunken me was vastly more horrible than I’d thought. I can be a melancholy drunk, but it seems I’ve also become a genuinely nasty one now. That’s not me (I hope), and I was shocked. And guilty. And ashamed.
So, despite the initial attempt to carry on living in the house we’d all built, I’ve conceded it’ll be healthier for all of us (myself included) if I move out. Find my own place. And try and work out what to do with the rest of my life, in the absence of a future I’d (probably selfishly) taken for granted, that will no longer come to pass.
It’s fair to say, I’m a bit terrified. I’ve never, in 48 years of life, lived on my own. More pertinently, given my shambolic approach, I’ve never taken the responsibility for organising my life. Never signed a leasehold, never had my name on a utility bill. Always taken the path of least resistance. But since that’s brought me to my present situation, I guess it’s time I grew up. At least a bit.
Remaking my life
So, in the words of the Buffy musical, where do we go from here? Well, I’ve already found a small bungalow to rent in my price range, though my suspicious mind is worried that this was a bit too easy. More usefully, I’ve given up smoking. Well, I actually had to – I’ve been quite a heavy smoker, and it costs a shitload more to live as a single person than in a couple. So I can’t afford to spend £350 a month on cigarettes any more.
That’s all a bit similar to what I was already doing though. If ever there was a time in my life when there was room for a radical change, it’s now. I live where I live, I have the job that I have, purely because I was in a relationship with someone. That relationship’s gone. That’s scary, but it’s also exhilarating. The world is my oyster. I can change my life, and not have to worry about anyone besides myself.
So, time to re-evaluate. What do I actually want from life? I’ve always liked to consider that I’m not unquestioningly bound by social convention; career ladder, mortgage, 2.4 children, a dog and a couple of weeks holiday in the Algarve were never things I craved. Not that I can afford those things anyway.
And yet, I’ve come quite close to that. Perhaps my partner was more conventional than I in that sense. We’d been together so long that buying a house and having a comfortable future surrounded by material things seemed the obvious next step.
That’s gone, now. No chance I can do it alone (unless I suddenly win the lottery which is unlikely given that I never buy a ticket). But the upside is that I asked myself, is that what I actually want? I’ve never been all that attached to material possessions, but I’m also a terrible hoarder. My life is full of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years which I’ve never had the heart to get rid of.
I never really grew out of dressing up, so I have a lot of clothes. I still have clothes I bought twenty years ago, before I’d even moved away from my home town. Being slightly more financially secure meant that I could indulge this fetish even more, especially when it comes to jackets. I have 53 jackets. I counted. Every time I saw a character on a film or TV show wearing a nice one, I went out and found a replica from Abbyshot or eBay. There are costume departments in London theatres that have fewer jackets than I do. Plainly, most of this stuff can go, and I’ll still have as many clothes as normal people do.
I also have a ridiculous amount of CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays. In fact, media containing music and films has always been the millstone I’ve dragged from flat to flat, house to house, for more than twenty five years. First it was videos and LPs, then it was CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays. And I don’t need any of it any more. My 2000-odd CDs have been digitised in high quality on my hard drive; I have the vast majority of my music collection, over 30,000 songs, in compressed form on the phone I carry in my pocket every day. Most of my films and TV shows have been packed away – any time I want to watch them, I cue up the massive NAS hard drive they’ve all been stored on. Any new stuff I want, I invariably download (sometimes even legally). And increasingly, anything I might want to watch can be dialled up in an instant from Netflix, YouTube or Vimeo, as long as there’s an internet connection. So all of that can go too.
What does that leave me with? Well, I’ve still got a lot of books – ebooks are one bit of new media I’m too old-fashioned to embrace. And yes, some of them are irreplaceable and cherished, like my Virgin Doctor Who New Adventures collection from the 90s. But they’re in the minority. Many of the rest were purchased from charity shops, and can probably go back to them as there’ll never be any problem getting them again if I want. Let’s face it, are Stephen King or Raymond Chandler ever going to go out of print?
Thing is, once all that’s gone, you start asking yourself whether you need a house at all. OK, I’m not saying I want to live like a monk in a spartan cell; but if you’ve divested yourself of all that material stuff, why shell out two-thirds of your monthly income on rent for a place that won’t have much in it?
By a serendipitous coincidence, I’d long wanted to build myself a mobile home from a humble panel van as a project. So I idly did some googling, and found there’s actually a thriving subculture of people who’ve taken to living their whole lives in homes on wheels for most of the same reasons. Not old-fashioned gypsies or travellers (not that there’s anything wrong with those either), but ‘normal’ folks who’ve rejected the conventions of living as being too restrictive, too unimaginative, or (like me) just too damn expensive.
So here’s the plan. I’ve signed up for a twelve month tenancy on the bungalow. While I’m in there, I’ll buy an old panel van (as good condition as I can afford), and over the months I’ll build it into a home. And let’s be honest, with the broken state of the modern housing market and my increasingly advanced age, it’s likely to be the only home I’ll ever own. So I’ll make it good.
It’s a big step, and I don’t know yet if I can commit myself to that big a change. So I’ll spend a few weekends away in it after I finish building it to see how much I take to it. But all being well, I’ll then start living in it full time, while still working at my job but this time keeping almost all my monthly pay. A year of that, and I should be able to put aside a tidy sum. And then, who knows? Maybe I’ll like it so much, I’ll take that money and move to living off grid permanently.
Now, all this may seem (especially given my current situation) like the very embodiment of a midlife crisis. And maybe it is. But hell, if not now, when? Right now, I feel like a ghost haunting somewhere I used to live, spending my days putting on a brave face whenever anyone says “all right, mate?”, and wondering how the hell I got everything so wrong (there’s that self-pity again). Something radical is definitely required.
I will continue blogging. Probably about TV shows as well – after all, I started this blog specifically to review Doctor Who, and that’s one thing I intend to continue. I may even stir myself to write something about this week’s Walking Dead, as perhaps they’ll pull something interesting out of the bag for that much hyped mid-season finale.
But increasingly, I’m going to write about rebuilding my life. It’s early days – this may turn out to be a midlife crisis, or a project I don’t finish, or my (so far, controlled) alcoholism may turn me to full-on Father Jack. Whatever happens though, I’ll try and write about it, perhaps on this blog, perhaps on another. It’ll be helpful for me, and maybe other people will find it interesting too…