All about me

I was born at the tail end of the sixties.

I am Australian.

I have lived in England since 1997.

I have two undergraduate degrees.

I have worked in public health, research, banking, finance, insurance, retail and hospitality.

I have volunteered my time and effort for various causes.

I have travelled on every continent except Antarctica.

I am a bit overweight but otherwise healthy. I have access to healthcare.

I like to read. A lot.

I do not like reality TV.

I do not like people, as a species. Some of their behaviours baffle me.

I try to make choices based on what I want rather than what ‘society’ expects.

I am married but we are childless by choice because we like to travel.

In order to travel we have managed to avoid the yoke of a mortgage.

Since we travel and rent we cannot have a dog.

I can obtain anything I want with minimal effort, usually by buying it.

I have a bit of a struggle with avoiding consumerism and managing materialism.

As I get older I appreciate the benefits of living a simple life.

I try to practice mindfulness and minimalism.

I like the idea of being a free spirit but I am quite conservative in practice.

Is it possible to be a conservative free spirit?

I am a wannabe writer and photographer. ‘Wannabe’ because I to need more practice in order to ‘be’ a writer and photographer.

I want to record my thoughts so that I can look back and remember. Or perhaps, to look back and be proud?

Perhaps I want other people to like me? Do they like me? Will other people appreciate my efforts? What is there to appreciate?

I can get a bit paranoid.

I am forgetful.

I procrastinate.

I am impatient.

I have the attention span of a goldfish and get distracted easily.

I spend time writing notes in my diary and compiling to-do lists.

I embody first world privilege.

I suffer only first world problems.

I hope that I am more than the sum of my parts.

My husband says that I am too hard on myself.

Despite my age I am still trying to find my purpose in life.

I am hoping to discover a passion that will burn brightly.

I have everything that I need to be happy – except a dog.

So when will I feel happy?

Time is short.

©SD Wheelock

Planning & organising a GAP YEAR

Let’s take a year off work, he said.

Mmmm…OK, I said.

When we started discussing taking a gap year in Central and South America, hubby and I thought it sounded like a great idea, imagining all of the amazing places we would see and the many experiences we might enjoy.

Planning and organising a gap year soon sapped our excitement for our expedition. Closing down our lives in rural England would require lots of thought, planning and organisation.

We decided on a do-it-yourself gap year, without a structured itinerary. We would land in Mexico City and head south when we were ready, moving from town to town, then country and country for about 12 months.

We allowed six months to save some money and organise ourselves. After choosing a departure date and buying our tickets, we started to think about what else might be required. There was soon a whole pile of decisions to be made. Choices were not as simple as we might have hoped.

Money – looking for information about daily budgets for travellers in Central and South America was fruitless. Books and websites had out-of-date information. We decided on saving as money much as we could (just in case) and set about shutting down regular and wasteful expenses. Goodbye Netflix, Kindle Unlimited and Starbucks.

Guide books – there are so many guide books available that we couldn’t decide what we wanted. Budget travel? Air-free? Camping? Volunteering? In the end we just looked for information about distances between cities and tried to get a feel for how to travel safely.

Packing – deciding on essentials was difficult as we sat in our living room in Sussex. All of the things we thought might be essential – sleeping bags, wet weather gear, tin plates and cups – were rarely used while travelling. It turned out that camping was unsafe so we stayed in hostels where bedding and kitchenware was available. We visited museums on rainy days. Unused equipment was eventually given to people we met along the way.

Clothing – we had one backpack each, so deciding on clothing for four seasons on an unfamiliar continent proved difficult. How may T-shirts? Trousers or shorts? Spare shoes? Toiletries? Cosmetics? We decided to pack for every eventuality but then had to dispose of heavy toiletries, books and food as soon as we arrived at the airport because our bags were overweight.

Paper-free – moving towards a paper-free existence was time consuming. Sorting and scanning documents and old photographs. organising on-line billing for utilities. Cancelling subscriptions.

Health – making appointments and allowing time for delays and follow-ups took more time than expected. Some travel jabs were available from our GP, but others were available only from a specialist travel clinic. Dental appointments for check-ups and then treatments – hygienist and fillings for me. Repeat prescriptions for one year. Haircuts.

Household bills – after bills were moved online they had to be finalised when we were ready to leave. Some utilities needing more of a notice period than others. So many bills – landline, gas, electricity, council tax, TV licence, changing mobiles to pay-as-you-go, organising to automatically pay the credit card minimum payment each month. Refunds and final bills that weren’t paper-free had to be posted to our friend’s house.

Storage – Next up was deciding how much storage space we would need for our belongings. Would we want our couch and dining table on our return? Probably. Bed? Yes. Bicycles? Yes. Kitchenware? Some of it. Books? Don’t make me decide! Whatever did not fit into the storage locker we rented would have to be discarded. The arguments were long. The decisions were not easy. In the end it came down to costs. Storage for a year was not cheap, so minimal storage space would be available…about half of our furniture and half of our clothes and books went to charity.

Moving – our rented flat had to be emptied and cleaned to a standard that made our landlord happy. A moving truck was required to move our belongings into storage, involving telephone calls, quotes and identifying convenient dates.

With so much to think about we were glad that we had six months to get organised. In the end we managed it all in a relatively stress-free manner. ‘Relatively’ because there will always be some stress when making radical changes.

Our planning and organisation enabled us to enjoy our gap year without having to think too much about the life that we had left behind. Wi-Fi access throughout Central and South America allowed us to take care of just a few things that had to be attended to as we travelled.

The experience of planning and undertaking a gap year started my journey towards minimalism. I appreciated the travel experience and began to understand that I did not need ‘things’ to be content. I am now far more grateful for the opportunity to travel than the opportunity to buy things.

As we start to plan another long trip I am reminded of the long To-Do list, but since we have done it before we know that we can do it again.

©SD Wheelock

Simplify

I like the simple things in life. I do not like to be busy. As I approach my 50th birthday I am trying to disentangle myself from society’s expectations and the associated stressors.

Let me tell you: stepping away from ‘everyday life’, as most people know it, is not easy. Little-by-little I am trying to move towards a lifestyle with fewer and fewer responsibilities which can  be managed easily and are unlikely to have a negative effect on my overall well-being.

To make my life a bit simpler I have resolved to:

Stop shopping – a quick stop at a shop for essentials, like food and toiletries, is the most time I spend ‘shopping’. Shopping as a leisure activity is not on my list of things to do. I actively avoid shopping by raiding my wardrobe regularly in order to ‘wear out’ my existing clothes. I try to have a ‘Buy Nothing Day’ at least one day a week.

Watch less TV – I can binge on catch-up TV when I have a bit of time to sit and watch something that I really want to see – anyone else love rainy days and Doctor Who marathons?

Think ‘little and often’ when it comes to household chores – household chores are completed on a specific day of the week to spread the workload – for example, ironing is done on Wednesdays.

Let it go – if I don’t get to complete chores, like ironing, on the allocated day then I let it go until the following week. Trying to catch-up defeats the purpose of having a schedule and causes me to feel stressed and resentful of the tasks that encroach on my free time.

Remember what works for me – cooking from scratch, commuting to work, having a fancy new phone every year – none of these things worked for me. For a while I tried to cook from scratch and bake my own bread, but I did these things because it seemed like other people were doing it and I thought that I should too. All of the time, effort and money spent on these pursuits seemed to have little positive impact on my well-being so I stopped cooking and baking. Now I eat simple meals that need little cooking and buy fresh bread from the local baker. My current job pays less than my previous job, but since I can walk to work I am OK with that. My phone lives at the bottom of my handbag and is largely unused (I send the occasional text) so I won’t need a new one for a while. My choices work for me because my lifestyle far less demanding.

Relax and enjoy – Set aside time to relax. I take time to enjoy my breakfast everyday and I go to bed with a book by 8pm every night.

In answer to the question ‘How are you?’ I like to answer ‘All quiet’, as in my day has been quiet and peaceful, or my life has been very quiet lately. Many people seem to answer ‘How are you?’ with proud boast of  ‘Busy, busy, busy…’ but I can’t think of anything worse.

©SD Wheelock

Legacy

Did you feel shame?

For the pain you inflicted.

For the fear

You could see in our eyes.

For the trust you stole.

Your anger was unjustified –

We were children.

Indifferent to our suffering

Your discontentment ruled.

There was never a reason to smile. Or hope.

You were the father of enduring torment.

Torment that lingers still.

We are your legacy.

©SD Wheelock

My heritage

The women in my family were tough.

London. Early 1900s. Ten children. Lifelong poverty. Sickness. Death.

Having lived in crowded and squalid Victorian London, my great-grandmother married but then spent more than a decade as a casual in the workhouse – returning time and again with her young children in tow. The children were separated from their mother and put into the workhouse school. The workhouse was so shameful or horrific that the family never spoke of it. Alice lived through a war, the great depression, the death of six children – two infants, one soldier, three suicides – and the emigration of two more, who she never saw again. Alice was a widow for 20 years and 84 years old when she died.

London. Pregnant during World War Two. Lifelong drudgery.

Familiar with the workhouse from an early age, my grandmother lived through two world wars and the great depression. Following the deaths and emigration of her siblings, Dorothy was an abandoned single mother solely responsible for her young daughter and elderly, bed-bound mother. Post-war London required her to work long, long days in low-paying jobs, while navigating hardships like the rationing of food, fuel and clothes. Dorothy retired to Australia and was 81 years old when she died.

Australia. 1970s. Four children. Drunken and violent husband.

After marrying an Australian and emigrating from England, my mother was isolated in a new country. Like all mothers she tried to protect her small children. Foregoing meals so that her children would not know hunger was nothing compared to the sacrifice Joan made when she refused to cower at each manifestation of her husband’s anger. Making the desolate and wretched choice to stand as a shield, she often distracted him to keep him away from us. We heard it all. We saw the bruises. Her pain is etched on our hearts.

The women in my family were tough. They were strong. They survived.

They survived so that I might live.

©SD Wheelock

The little things

I know that I am not alone in trying to appreciate the little things that make me happy but I want write down and remember things that made me happy during the day and may have a positive effect on my overall outlook in life.

TODAY I FELT HAPPY BECAUSE:

  1. I had a day off work
  2. I was able to sit in the afternoon sun to read the newspaper
  3. I made a start on planning our next holiday

I’ll try to write down some more on Twitter occasionally @writer_SDW

©SD Wheelock

The trials of a 40-something husband

For many years my husband has not understood my appeals to ‘slow down’ or my observations that ‘it’s not so easy anymore’ but recently he has been coming to the realisation that age catches up with all of us. This realisation has surprised my beloved because he has always asserted that ageing is all in the mind.

My husband now has a few grey hairs, an expanding waistline, aching muscles and creaking bones. He is generally fit and sporty so he has been surprised to find his body has started to protest during and after his regular exercise routine. It started as a small and quiet protest, but the protest has increased in ferocity in recent months. After a recent holiday he expected to lose his ‘holiday weight’ as quickly as usual but nothing is budging, even after weeks of activity. ‘It’s not so easy anymore’ he says. It’s difficult not to say ‘I told you so’. As for the grey hairs, at first he was removing the few that he could see but now he has decided to keep his hair short so that the grey is not as visible. Still, he is unhappy because he knows they are there.

Ageing has come as something of a shock to this man. He is slowly (very slowly) becoming a little more understanding of my creaking bones and decreasing muscle strength. I have more and more difficulty doing simple things, like opening jars, but he is glad that he is still capable. He is still ‘The Man’ after all. The next few years are likely to be a time of adjustment for both of us and I look forward to slowing down together, though he says that he will fight it for as long as he can.

©SD Wheelock