Dropping off the grid and its' affect on cycling.

Dropping off the grid.

It wasn't intentional. I was a fully paid up member of the job for life brigade, having worked in the same industry for almost 30 years. All the qualifications, all the skills. Just that one day the industry died. Nobody wanted it any more, and it was expensive to maintain. In a few short years the budget halved. Something had to give. Where I worked where there were once 8 people in our team, now there are 1.5. I was redundant at 50.

It was a relief to be truthful. We'd known it was dying for years, and were trying to drag it out, hopeful of a recovery. You can't drag things out for years without the inner voices telling you that it was all wrong. Working in a dying industry must be the same sort of wavelength emotionally as being in an abusive relationship, or having a long term illness. It eats away at you. You become miserable, disinclined to do anything, make excuses. Alcohol and fatty foods are your friend.

I was the only redundancy. Others got demoted. They all said I was the lucky one. Really? They keep all the money whilst I got the boot? True, I felt lucky.... for a time.

What to do?

Cycle all the time, that's what. That was my plan, have some fun.

That idea lasted a day. You see guilt is a terrible thing. My wife works, we have a mortgage and children. Need money. Except I'd decided to exclude from my life the one thing I knew what to do, and had been doing for thirty years. And at the time it seemed prudent, given that the industry was in poor health. So I became an antiques dealer, one with zero experience of the trade.

It looked easy on telly.

Being an antiques dealer.

Dealers have shops, so I got a shop just outside of Dorking. It was a dumpy kind of place, shared with other hopefuls. Really from the onset it was a miserable, out in the sticks mistake. You have to start somewhere? It'll pick up, I'll get rich, move to a bigger place, employ staff, get a second home in France. Job done.

Except from the off there were no customers. The place was, and is, dead. Nothing ever sold. Everybody bigged the place up, saying how great it was. Naturally I bought into the story of greatness and continued onwards, filling it up, moving stuff about to make it look as though things had sold. Not my idea this; I was copying the other traders. Other traders who seemed to come and go oddly enough. Hmm, starting to smell a rat.

Initially I copied everybody else. Painted furniture seemed to be the thing, so all my stuff was painted. It never sold, no matter what the colour. Must be the stock. Off to antiques fairs went I, on a mission to make money. All the dealers seemed to be from Belgium. Lots of old pine at inflated prices. If I can't sell pine in my shop at £100, I'm not about to buy similar stuff from them at £500 am I? Go cheaper lad, go cheaper. Lots of them would have deer antlers, old doll parts or industrial artefacts. Not seen such in shops, so there must be an untapped market!

Yes, I invested in deer antlers, broken dolls and bits from factories or even Police stations. Bought a load of mirrors as well, made from old window frames. Spent a happy summer buying stuff.

Then I put it into my shop. The first issue being the mirrors. Exactly how thin was the glass? Each one cost me £40, each one broke. Not much of a market for broken mirrors in dubious frames.

Antlers? I now realise that no matter how many times you see them in magazines, no bugger actually wants a set. I did manage to sell one pair, so it wasn't all bad.

The industrial stuff that's all fashionable? Not in my shop it wasn't. I'd bought it all from a dealer, so there must be a market? Nope. Turns out I don't actually like it either. It's heavy and rusty. Why would I want rust in my house?

Even the furniture was a chore. My speciality was buying broken stuff, spending ages fixing it, and then trying to sell it. One problem; I have no idea how to fix furniture. If there was a problem I couldn't solve, like doors not hanging properly, or wonky shelves, I'd simply remove them. Cupboards became open larders, always. Not a huge market for previously broken furniture that is now even more broken and suspiciously bright blue.

After a year the light finally went off, and I moved out. I'd made precisely nothing, and lost everything. Being an antiques dealer at the shabby chic end of the market is no fun.

Plus in that year I'd only been out on a bike a handful of times. Too busy painting tat.

Excluding the obvious still.

My antiques dream was in shatters. Yet still I did not want the shame of looking at and applying for jobs in my previous industry. I'd tried it once, and the interview was a matter of the employed gloating at the unemployed. It really was. They couldn't have been more smug had they tried. It also seemed that salaries for those remaining were in free fall. What was being offered was the same as I got back in 1999. Actually less as they were asking for more responsibility.

Ended up helping out in a shabby chic shop for a few months, the idea being to learn how they do it. I got free coffee, and learnt that they do it exactly the same as I did it. There are no secrets. All you need is a good location, contacts and effort. 9 times out of 10 they also make buying mistakes, ending up with unshiftable stock. What they do find are the odd item that makes enough for them to just keep going. The owner of the premises often had less money than the staff. I made no money from the enterprise, but did learn to avoid antiques and shabby chic. I detest shabby chic now - it's mainly tat from charity shops painted to look like something else. Often very badly painted as well. Very little of it is nice.

Still no real riding. True I rode to the shop from time to time. That's not riding though, is it?


I'm still off-grid. Not totally idle. I did design and supervise the re-build of our kitchen and dining room. We'd needed a new kitchen for twenty years, so this was an opportunity. I've also been helping out old people in my area, doing little jobs. Again just for tea and biscuits really.

Naturally my wife is becoming less and less supportive of all of this. Can't say I blame her. One thing I've noticed - well, two really - is that gradually the constant worry over money leaves less mental capacity to actually do something about it. I spend so much time working out how to do things without money, that I have no time to actually do something about it and make some. And this in itself becomes tiresome, and makes me a bore. The second issue with being off-grid and making do is that ever so gradually one turns into a badly dressed hobbit. I saw some old guy, in torn clothing, rescuing a pallet the other day. Then there was the guy buying a £1 cup of take away coffee, and hiding in the corner of the coffee shop. Sad to say equally they could at any time look at me, doing said same things.

You can't really work somewhere for so long and walk away without it affecting you. True, I'm a badly dressed boring git now, that's for sure. However I'm far less materialistic, not only because I'm forced to be, but also because I realise there's no joy in just buying stuff because you're a bit bored that day. Who really needs a £1,000 phone and £400 smart watch? Would a £40k car - which if I was still employed be mine - make me any happier? Looking back they never really did. What makes me happy is being with my wife, children and friends.

Just that they all live in the on-grid world and view me as some kind of garden dwelling hobbit, who knows the opening times of the local tip. It's a conflict. Such that I've looked into getting back into my old industry, criminal enforcement. Actually, quite probably found work. Most likely be earning real money as somebody somewhere worked out that criminals thrive when there's nobody to tell them they're being naughty. There's a bit more money in the pot, and people actually want people like me; people not afraid to go up against the nasty element. Nobody likes the naughty people climbing out of their holes and walking into society, all free from constraint. They want people like me who will frighten them back.

And do you know what? Everybody went ballistic, saying I'm too useful at home to work. Who will look after the kids? Who will fix the house? Who will cook dinner?

Can I win this game? You know what, I probably can. A bit of money will free me up from worrying about not having any, and the low self esteem that comes from it. Free up a bit of mental capacity to have a bit of fun. And some nasty people may well go away. You know what? I'm going to get a bike out....