This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Finding Contentment

Whoa! That sounds a bit deep doesn’t it? But it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while – prompted no doubt by the seismic shift in my life last year. It was rather long journey on a bus back to a camp site last week that had me pondering the possibility of a blog post on the subject. It’s been swirling round in the large open spaces up top ever since and has ended up as another itch that needed to be scratched. So here I am – scratching!

Right, first and most importantly, this is in no way intended to be a ‘how to’. It’s about me and my thoughts, how I’ve tried to shape things and how things are panning out. If it ends up helping someone who reads this then great, all the better but that’s not the point of this blog post.

So, what is contentment? Well I’ve deliberately not looked it up in the dictionary but these are two definitions that come to mind:

  • happy with your lot

  • satisfied with current circumstances

The first one is perhaps not quite right – happy and content are different things of course but it does suggest an overall, well, contentment! The second is perhaps nearer the mark for me.

At the start I said I’d being thinking about this for a while – and that’s true but it was the six month anniversary of Trev’s death that prompted me to take a look back at how I’ve managed, how I’ve coped with life after Trev. How I’ve adapted to a single life in what I consider my third chapter – the first being childhood and adolescence, the second being adulthood and our time together, which up until the 1st August 2018, encompassed my whole adult life.

And my conclusion? I am content. Very. I miss him loads and there are dark moments, dark hours and sometimes dark days and they will continue to come. I know that and can deal with it. It was a sign of what we had and I try and focus on that.

Grief aside though, the three definitions above pretty much sum it up for me, but what have I done to achieve that, to find that contentment? Well, the answer is – not a lot. You see, partially by accident Trev and I seemed to have nailed this contentment malarkey. The combination of work and play seemed to slot together so well and our love of caravanning – which we only came to relatively recently – played a big part in that, but so did our work at the college. What started as a stop gap came to give us the perfect – for us – work/life balance. Sure, we both compromised – that’s what couples generally do – but in truth there wasn’t that much I wanted to change.

I’m going to divide things up into three – you’ll see why – and look at each element more closely and this might help explain why I am where I am.

Firstly, work:

I think myself very fortunate because I love my job. For those that don’t know, I drive a minibus for an independent school here on the south coast. The job itself is notionally part time – five hours a day divided into the morning and evening school runs – but thanks to the schools location and facilities it has become pretty much full time with all the overtime that’s on offer. I enjoy the environment and I like my colleagues – particularly my fellow drivers in Transport. We have a great close knit team and get on well. But the happiest I am is driving the minibus – getting the kids too and from school safely, as quickly and smoothly as possible. I enjoy the added challenges of driving a bigger vehicle and like that – in my opinion anyway – I do it pretty well. I like the kids and they seem to like me.

The early starts and late finishes are more than offset by the long holidays and to be honest I wouldn’t want to go back to a ‘normal’ job. The long holidays and relatively unskilled nature of the job are reflected in the pay packet but I’ll talk about that more later on.

Secondly, home life:

During term time we didn’t do much evenings or weekend, saving our loot for trips away in the caravan. We were happy with a meal and a couple of pints at some point and evenings in. That’s changed little. Conscious of the early starts I’ll do little more than have dinner then look for something to watch for an hour on the telly. The tablet will be to hand and I’ll join in the chat, usually on Twitter, and play online word games with friends and colleagues. I’ll often have an early night and read for an hour, the radio on quietly, the under-blanket ensuring the bed is toasty warm and welcoming if a little empty. I love reading – always have done – and have done so much more of it since. Simple pleasures.

I miss, and always will, our Friday meal washed down with a couple of pints where we dissected the week. But I do enjoy my Friday evenings now – I rarely go out and certainly not on my own – more chat on Twitter, word games and maybe some comedy quiz show on the telly, all accompanied by a beer or two, or sometimes wine, or both, and some cheese and biscuits. With slightly raised cholesterol I have to go easy on things like cheese but I figure once a week wont hurt. OK, maybe twice because I’ll often do the same Saturdays nights! The music might go on later and almost inevitably I’ll end up on ‘those’ songs, the ones guaranteed to bring a tear or two. I don’t mind that, in my mind it’s just like releasing the pressure, the safety valve opening.

Most Saturdays I work in the morning but am home by lunchtime and the radio goes straight on for an afternoon of sport, with final score on the telly a bit later. I’m happy enough listening to that with a book and the tablet close by. Again, simple pleasures but it works for me. Easily pleased I guess and maybe I’m fortunate in that.

Occasionally I’ll go and see the real thing – take the Saturday off and take the train up to London with friends for a match. We used to go to football a lot and I still enjoy it but to be honest it’s more about the company of friends. Mate-ship I think our Australian cousins call it. There’s a beer or two involved as well of course.

Saturday evening’s I’ll look for a film or maybe a drama series and if it’s twenty years old it doesn’t matter. As long as it entertains me.

You’ve not yet seen housework mentioned – the boring domestic chores with which most of us are burdened. Well, the nature of my job means that although I start work and finish late there are various gaps during the day when I can pop home and get stuff done. I make a point of doing this to keep weekends clear – and if I want to spend all weekend on the sofa doing nowt I can without feeling guilty about it. Housework is out at weekends – that’s my time.

Thirdly, going away:

Trev and I loved caravanning, you all know that and I have found that I can love it on my own too. I am still at my happiest – well, most content anyway – in my little home from home. Yes, it’s harder work but I still love it. I enjoy getting out and about on my own but am equally as happy in the ‘van, feet up, radio on with a book in hand and a glass of something nearby.

When I’m out and about I try and focus on the now – taking in what’s around me rather than constantly looking at the phone. Enjoying and absorbing the surroundings – that’s the point of sightseeing after all. Sure I’ll pause for the occasional catch up and I could never ditch social media as it’s been such a source of support. It’s the same when meeting friends face to face. Talking, and more importantly listening. I try and keep the phone in the pocket. Updates will keep.

Whilst in the last few years we focused almost entirely on caravanning for our holidays, I have already been doing others things. I think Trev grew tired of flying and all the hassle that goes with it – and that was fine, we enjoyed what we did – but I’ve really enjoyed getting on a plane again and catching up with friends. I’ll be doing it later in the year too although I’m yet to book a holiday abroad – I think I might encounter some emotional turbulence – pardon the pun – going it alone, and it’s not something I’m in a rush to do anyway.

Across all these spans friendship. Whether, meeting people here when I’m at home or away in the ‘van or even chatting on Twitter, the importance and having friends has become so much more important and I am truly blessed in that regard. It makes so much difference knowing that there are people out there who take me for who I am, will listen and will understand. Priceless.

So, that’s an outline of what I do and how I live. Yes, it’s a simple, some might say unexciting life, but it suits me. It works and I want to explain a bit further why and for that we have to talk about money.

I mentioned early about the job. The pay is not great for a number of reasons but that – to me – is not that important, although I’ve had to make a few changes since the household income was effectively halved, to do what I want to do.

I’ve obviously screwed down costs where possible for utilities, insurance and so on, but that was something I did anyway quite frequently as many do. I’ve made subtle changes to how I do things at home to save on water an energy. LED lighting was perhaps a long term investment but it’s yielding immediate results. I rarely use the dishwasher – there’s only me to wash up for and besides I’m paying to heat water again when there’s already hot water in the tank. I hang washing up in the morning in the bathroom and finish it off in the dryer in the evening, drastically cutting down electricity consumption but still ensuring the towels are fluffy! Savings doing stuff like that are already adding up. There’s more but I won’t bore you.

I don’t pay for extra TV. For the amount I watch there’s more than enough on the basic channels and catch up services to keep me entertained. The exception to that is an occasional day or week pass for football.

Food costs have gone down, not only because there is just one of us but because of the way I’m batch cooking. That’s not to say I always buy cheap because I don’t. I’m mostly happy with own label stuff but will buy the leaner cuts and look for low fat options. I’ve had it up the here with heart disease.

The next thing is ‘stuff’ - material possessions – and again I count myself quite fortunate here. I’ve never been one for stuff, be it a new car, caravan, the latest phone, humongous flat screen TV and so on. None of it interests me. Sure when I have to replace things I do but while they’re working OK, they stay. A twenty year old TV drama, which I enjoy watching, looks the same on my old telly as it does on the latest 4K job.

We’re bombarded with adverts from all directions encouraging us to buy stuff, implying that not only will our lives be better with it, but unbearably worse without it. We can’t be happy without the latest stuff apparently. I ignore all that and have unsubscribed from so many email lists for news letters and the like that are little more than advertising flyers.

For anything that appears in my radar I ask myself, do I NEED this, will it significantly make life easier or more enjoyable, will it make me happier or more content? The answer is almost invariably no, but when it is yes, I’ll purchase happy in the knowledge that I can afford it because I’ve been careful elsewhere.

I use the library rather than line the shelves with glossy and expensive hardbacks. For me it’s what’s in the book, not the book itself. On my recent trip to London I went out most days with a rucksack containing not only my camera but a flask of coffee and some lunch. I could happily sit and enjoy that somewhere of my choosing rather than a packed and noisy coffee shop. It also meant that I didn’t feel guilty about paying over the odds for a pint with a view somewhere If I wanted.

A good example of want, not need is a turntable. My ancient one recently went tits up – it’s not been used since I archived all my vinyl to the computer before we moved house. I ditched most of it but some remains and for a while I’ve had a yearning to listen to some vinyl again. I got as far as ordering a new deck before cancelling it – the cost of a new one would pay for several nights away in the caravan. And whilst I love listening to music, that was more important. One of the harder choices to make but I made the right decision.

These are just some examples and whilst all this might sound a bit miserly, what I’m saying is, I’ll save money on things that are NOT important to me so I can spend money on things that ARE. Things that make me content – that is the goal after all.

Whilst I feel I am getting ‘there’ there are a couple of areas which still need some work and the first is health. I refer of course to my knee. Trev was never one for walking but I have always enjoyed it and love the idea of packing up my rucksack and going out wandering for the day camera at the ready – you get to see so much for a start. I currently can’t do that but I’ve just started physiotherapy again so here’s hoping that yields results. Sleep is getter better thankfully, although slowly.

The other is a desire to ‘do good’ or ‘give something back’ - whatever you want to call it. Helping others I guess. I enjoy my job as I’ve said and have no intention of giving it up, but driving privileged kids around is hardly worthy and I would like to do something that would make a difference. As yet, I’ve no idea what form that will take but volunteering of some sort is perhaps something I could fit into my working week. I wonder too whether my recent experience could be put to good use – some sort of counselling role perhaps. It’s still far too early of course but something to consider. I’ll be honest – doing ‘good’, helping someone, would make me feel good too I reckon.

So, there it is, my six month report if you like. I understand of course that contentment can be fluid and what suits me now my change as time marches on and I get older. Different things may come to interest me.

There may well come a time too when living a single life may not be as fulfilling as it is now and I’ll want to begin to share my life with someone else again. I don’t see that happening any time soon but it’s a possibility at some point and I’ll have to adjust accordingly. I’ll never forget Trev of course, he was the best thing that ever happened to me and he’d want me to be happy. But right now, I’ll take what I’ve got.

And to think this all came about from a late night ride home on a bus!

Cheers

Rich