Tim’s been very good at summarizing our locations and destinations over the past months. We’ve seen the gorgeous and the bland, sat various pets with their myriad quirks, and have very much experienced a cross-section of UK life. That’s what we set out to do, in hopes of finding a place to settle that serves my love of urban life and culture, and Tim’s love of walking through the hills.
We’ve sat in cities and in the countryside both, and it’s been an interesting experiment in both ego and personality. Tim is an introvert by nature, happy to spend time in his own company. He’s used seven months on the road to write a book about the Wellington property scene, of which he’s an expert, and to build an attendant website. It’s very cool stuff, and a great use of time.
I, on the other hand, am an extrovert, and gain my energy from engaging with people. I nurture great ideals about being that writer-about-the-world, working from exotic (or not so exotic) locales. I’ve taken a few cracks at it, but have found myself hitting the proverbial wall. What is going on here?? I’m a good writer – if I may be so bold as to say. Intellectually I can do this exercise, yet it has so often been a real grind, where forcing myself to do it eroded the love of doing it.
It turns out that serial house sitting can be a very isolating activity. We enjoyed three months in Glasgow, which gave us ample opportunity to get to know the place, and to start friendships, meet neighbours, become involved in community. Edinburgh was a brief sit, but I have some personal history and connection there which makes it instantly feel familiar and inviting; it’s very easy to connect with people there, and to find interesting cultural things to engage in. The countryside sits posed a different and surprising challenge: where it was impossible to reasonably walk to village shops or cafes, and where I found myself either house-bound or dependent on Tim to drive me someplace, I struggled to feel happy. I’m very much independent: I like to get myself to where I feel like going, and I especially like to feel I have the freedom to do so. (It is, perhaps, time to look at lessons for driving on the other side of the road!)
Chiddingfold, in Surrey, was a beautiful location with a stunning house, but with very little to walk to as people-bearing destinations go. We drove to some of the surrounding towns and villages, some of which were charming and buzzy, and some of which were very much small and sleepy. We enjoyed trips to Godalming, an historic market town replete with sights and shops, and there took in a great outdoor music festival. Guildford gave us a high street experience, and we frequently drove to Haslemere for coffee and cake at a funky independent cafe. But there was no regular interaction with neighbors, or a church, or any other place where we might participate in community.
Bingley might have been a hopping town at one point, but the decade-old motorway that circumvents it surely has siphoned off much of its historic traffic. Many shopfronts were empty; many more inhabited by letting and betting and charity shops. A stop into one of the pubs was rarely inspiring, as many in the crowd, it seemed, was happy to start on a pint even before noon. (I wish this were not the case, but there were many stories of young people having nothing to do but visit the myriad evening establishments and pretty much get wasted. The village green had a weekend drunk tank set up for the under-18s).
Now, Yorkshire is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I did enjoy the drives and walks over the moors and through the country. The Five Rise Locks was fascinating, and I loved the Salts Mill in nearby Saltaire, now a mix of art gallery, book shop, cafes, and other public spaces. When we took the sit, we were especially enticed by the train to Leeds, which stopped near the house. We thought this would allow us to explore the city and to catch up with friends who live outside its opposite edge. However, on arriving at the sit we were presented with a contract that instructed us not to leave the dog for more than four hours at a time. By the time we’d paid for the train and gotten into the city, we’d essentially have to turn around and go back, without getting a real sense of the place. I again felt house-bound, in a down at the heel place, with a dog who was incredibly trying. We hadn’t been told until after arrival that she hadn’t been trained; nor were we told about the major extension works on the neighboring semi-detached. On the whole, I was depressed: Isolated, uninspired, and having the racket of hammers and the constant barking of a loud dog banging around my head all day long.
The Bingley sit didn’t last. We make it 2.5 weeks, which was the half-way mark. We reached out to the owner to try to find a workable solution: perhaps her family could take the dog one day so we could get out and see Leeds, or some other such solution. Her response was, in short, “just leave.” The family picked up the dog, and we packed up and went to Milton Keynes, where I’d found a sit of perfect duration, in a detached house, minding guppies. Surely this would be better.
Milton Keynes was fascinating, as a civic experiment. I understand it’s meant to be inspired by New York’s grid system, save for the veritable explosion of roundabouts across its horizontal and vertical road system. It’s treed and green, yet features very Soviet-feeling modernist concrete structures throughout. Neighborhoods are self-contained, siloed. Each has its collection of shops which serve basic needs, and there is little reason to cross the motorway into the next neighborhood. Ours featured a chain pub, a Morrisons grocery store, a Costa Coffee, a library, a couple of myriad small shops and chippies, a charity shop, Boots pharmacy and three (three!!) pound stores. There was once a bookshop, but the space was sadly vacant. Some the shops and services were, of course, useful, but it wasn’t an inspiring lot; again, in wasn’t something to belong to or participate in. We did enjoy patting the exotic-looking cat that came around the pub garden a few times.
The house in Milton Keynes, it turned out, did not have the gas connected to the heat. Being as it was September, this led to a few chilly days and some added motivation to get out of the house. We went into town a few times, where attending the Job Fair was a particular bit of fun. We saw Oxford and Bletchley Park. We sat very close to the little block heater that the wonderful neighbors had lent us. Still, it was a struggle. It had been three months now since we’d left Edinburgh, where I had a sense of connection, exploration, and things to get involved it. I felt like I was in atrophy, wasting away spiritually and intellectually. Something had to change.
We were slated to spend two days in London in between the Milton Keynes sit and the subsequent one in Bath. I contacted a recruiter I’d met previously and asked if she would meet for coffee. She invited me to come to her firm and register. I met with her on a Thursday morning, whence she asked if I could start a job the following day. Friday? Why on a Friday? I took a gamble: I asked if I could go in Friday morning, catch a ride to Bath that afternoon as originally planned, and then start properly on Monday. So we did. Friday evening and Saturday were a veritable flurry of searching for two weeks’ accommodation during my two-week work stint. A friend who had just landed in Sri Lanka for holiday replied that he had an empty house that was just about to undergo renovation, but had water, heat, and a bed in it. Perfect. Tim looked after the lovely dog Sasha in Bath, and I went off to work in London, commuting back for the weekends. Although it was a temp role doing mostly data control and a bit of research, it had me around people, and it had me doing something, feeling a sense of purpose. I was also enjoying a bit of income into my now-empty bank account, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The blues began to abate, and I realised that I need to stick close to the city and keep working, at the least.
We were scheduled, after Bath, to sit in Portsmouth for two weeks. There was talk of extending my contract, and although I was prepared to commute from Portsmouth if I had to, we received a message from those homeowners to say they no longer had need of care for their dog. At the same time, I found a sit in Watford, in the north-west London commuter belt. We enquired of Portsmouth whether they wished someone to stay in their home despite there not being a pet to care for, as a security measure. We also asked whether they felt beholden to us, having promised us a place to stay for two weeks. They very graciously replied that we were not obligated to them, and were free to go to Watford.
Watford, interesting in its own right, allowed me to keep working, interviewing, attending galleries, and participating in some of the things I love and missed. We had a new mandate: Could we organise sits in and around London so as to keep me working, amongst people and feeling well?
It’s been working so far. From Watford we went to Putney, then Hemel Hempstead. We are in Bristol for the holidays, a visually fascinating city that’s been great fun as we start to explore it (I’m very interested in the Polish shop around the corner, which will supply provisions for Ukrainian Christmas Eve; but that’s another post). From here we’ll go to a three month sit in south London. This is fun again, and I realise that it has everything to do with being involved with projects and people. This is the mixed blessing of the extrovert. Of course, I love time alone in a day, but I cannot be alone all day, every day.
In my travels I’ve found a lot of literature to support and educate people about introverts living in an extrovert-oriented society. I have found very little at all about the challenges faced by extroverts living in an introvert space. If you know of any interesting references or resources, please post in the comments below!
That said, it’s good to see you again. Let’s do this more often, shall we?