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m e d i o s i g l o

[ 12:35 Sunday 24 October 2021 – MV Orlando, Thames estuary ]

I’m sitting on the top deck of Orlando under a clear blue sky, swinging slowly in the wide open estuary, with the autumn sun on my face. To the north, the windswept expanse of Rainham Marshes fills the landscape behind a sweeping bend in the river, familiar to me from many explorations by foot and bike. Every few minutes a high speed train whistles past behind the marshes, sending clouds of birds rising from the wetlands.

To the south, the muddy bank is lined with waste processing plants and cement works, with the spire of Erith church peeking above piles of twisted metal upriver. The ghostly sentinels of Canary Wharf and the City shimmer on the distant western horizon, reminders of the great city at their feet.

We arrived yesterday evening in the final rays of sun and lowered our anchor rattling into the black sticky mud, following an exhilarating run down from St Katharine Docks, skimming over the water at twenty-five knots. With the engines spent, the only sound was the sucking and slapping of the fierce ebb tide pulling at the hull, drawing the anchor chain taut like a violin string and painting a fan of tangled water behind the stern.

Orlando at anchor, Thames estuary

We planned to go further, to the mouth of the Medway, and anchor in the desolate mudlands of Stangate Creek. But a fault with the fuel gauges left us uncertain what remained in the tanks, so we erred on the side of caution and stopped here.

Ever since buying the boat in the spring and bringing it down to London, I’ve been yearning to spend a night at anchor on the estuary, entirely off-grid. This first experiment has been a thrill. Alejandro and I cooked dinner on the gas hob: sauteed haddock loin, cavolo nero and mashed sweet potatoes with spring onions. We played cards in the saloon as the boat swung on the turning tide. It feels as though we’re cut off from the world, completely self-sufficient.

Half an hour after curling up in bed there was a scare when suddenly the boat began pitching and rolling crazily, sending cups and bottles crashing to the floor. I was awake in an instant and scrambled out to the deck expecting to find a giant ship passing. However the river was deserted and after a few minutes the waves subsided, their cause remaining a mystery. We went back to sleep and the night saw no further disturbances.

Alejandro and I spent the final week of September packing up the house in Port D’Es Canonge. With a heavy heart I took final swims from my favourite places. On the thirtieth, my final day as a legal visitor in Spain under the post-Brexit regulations, we flew to London. There was still no word from the Spanish Consulate regarding my visa, so we departed Mallorca with no idea when we’d be returning.

Packing up the house, Port D’Es Canonge

Despite my melancholy at leaving Mallorca, it’s been a pleasure spending October in Britain. The first week was a riot of meetings with The Trampery and catching up with friends. On the fourth a message finally arrived from the Spanish Consulate: my entrepreneur visa was granted! Alejandro and I cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate and we stared making plans for the winter in Mallorca.

From London I got the train to Cornwall and spent a week with my family. The weather was glorious. Each day was filled with coastal hikes and swims. One especially sublime morning my parents donned their wetsuits and joined me for a swim on the Roseland peninsular. Having been without a piano since selling mine in June, I greedily ploughed through JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations on Mum and Dad’s, greatly relieved to find my technique returning after a couple of days. Alejandro joined me in Cornwall and we spent a night with Anna and Adam. Then Mum organised a magnificent dinner for all of us, the first time we’d been together around a table since before the pandemic.

Low tide at Porthtowan, Cornwall

After Cornwall our next stop was a three-days electronic music festival in Sheffield, the first time I’d been in an enclosed space with so many people since March 2019. Once I’d got used to the crowd, I loved it. The artist roster was superb and I’ve missed dancing like crazy. From Sheffield we returned to London, where we remain until flying back to Mallorca on the fourth of November.

Opening night of No Bounds festival, Sheffield

This month has been our first extended period living on board Orlando together. Ever since we decided to get a boat as our London base, it’s been a bit of a gamble how we’d find it in practice. Would we start feeling claustrophobic after a few days? Would it be unbearably cold in the winter?

To my relief we both love it, to the point where we could probably live aboard indefinitely. There’s enough space for the two of us to potter around doing our own stuff without tripping over each other. Whenever the sun is shining I take my laptop up to the flybridge and work there. On frosty nights the hot air system keeps the cabin toasty.

My new folding bike on the pontoon, St Katharine Docks

There’s something about the boat’s constant gentle movements as it shifts on its mooring that I find particularly conducive to peaceful sleep. I love being tucked up in bed when the rain is pattering on the foredeck above our heads. We’re still getting used to being so centrally located in London. Museums and galleries that were an hour’s travel from Hackney Wick are now within walking distance. Meanwhile I’ve bought a little folding bike so I can zip back and forth to meetings.

On the fourteenth of September I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with Alejandro in the town of Soller, on the north coast of Mallorca. I feel nothing but gratitude for the life I’ve been granted.

: c :

o n e m o n t h

[ 19:43 sunday 26 april 2020 – old ford lock, london ]

in the month since britain’s quarantine restrictions came into force, life has diminished in almost every way. my world has shrunk to a sphere comprising the house, the garden and a surrounding radius of one hour’s cycle.

at the same time, though, life has also expanded in certain respects. alejandro and i have both noticed a heightened awareness of the natural world around us. in this most most abundant period of spring, each day brings a thousand changes; trees newly in blossom, shoots peeping from the earth, buds opening into flowers, different species of migrating moth appearing in the house. i’ve never been so conscious of it all. there is a luxury of stillness, the ability to sit for ten minutes and allow one’s mind to soak up and appreciate everything that is around.

with the closure of london city airport the usual background noise of jet engines has disappeared. it’s like an extended version of the intense quiet i remember from 2011, when the volcano grimsvötn erupted in iceland and for a few days european air traffic ceased. our location at old ford lock was already quiet. with the planes gone, the loudest sounds are now birdsong, the rustle of wind in the trees and the trickle of water escaping through the lock gates.

alejandro and i continue our daily bike excursions, progressively scouring the area for wild or interesting places that fall within range. over the past two weekends we’ve traced the path of the river roding from woodford, through the bluebell-carpeted grounds of wanstead house, past ilford and barking to the reed beds and wastelands where it finally reaches the thames. frisbee, badminton and yoga have been added to our daily outdoor routine. scrabble and trivial pursuit have become evening fixtures.

many of my friends have found themselves undertaking heroic projects in the house or garden. for my part i’ve dug out several new flower beds and planted them with twenty-one dahlias, nine peonies and ten begonias. with luck, some of them might flourish. i’ve also cleared out the small yard behind the house, which had become an overgrown dumping ground for boats and abandoned flowerpots, to create a new seating area. since it gets the late afternoon sun we’ve taken to having our tea there.

on weekdays i remain occupied with my work for the trampery. march and april have been a hectic cycle of planning for possible scenarios and responding to events. the most demanding period was the second half of march when the situation was changing dramatically from day to day. it was during this period we switched most of our team to home working and took the decision to close down the workspaces. during april things have stabilised in their new geometry. in the last couple of weeks i’ve been able to start working on future projects once again.

a crisis like this tests the mettle of any team. the trampery team, currently numbering twenty-seven employees plus eight contractors, has been magnificent. throughout the whole rollercoaster experience everyone has stuck together, calmly evaluated what was coming and adapted to each successive change. a full week before the quarantine was announced, the team had already switched most of the company’s activities online and launched “the trampery at home“. i’m excited to see what we can achieve together once the crisis is past.

since january i’ve been writing an article each month for the trampery, touching on aspects of entrepreneurship and society that interest me. the most recent one explores how the coronavirus crisis is likely to affect the future course of capitalism. if you’re interested the article is posted here on medium (the rest of them are listed here).

life under quarantine, with the house as an undifferentiated setting for work and life, and no access to mechanised transportation, is like a reconstruction of pre-industrial life; just with netflix and video calls added. in the midst of this arcadian existence, the element i find most jarring is shopping. there is something dystopian about the regimented two-metre-spaced queues, the guards at the door, the sense of pressure and the subtle undercurrent of fear. i recognise it’s all necessary, but supermarkets now feel unpleasantly similar to airports.

the single most disquieting aspect of visiting shops is routinely seeing bare shelves. i remember as a child in the 1980s seeing television news reports portraying empty shelves in eastern european cities, with images of housewives queuing to enter a shop. in consumerist societies we were brought up to view this as something alien and shocking, yet we are now confronted with it daily.

since 2013 i’ve been baking all my own bread (which alejandro refuses to eat). my staple loaf is a mix of dark rye and wholemeal with sunflower seeds, walnuts, figs or whatever else is to hand. whilst the initial shortages of toilet paper, tinned tomatoes, pasta and rice have all faded, the flour shelves remain stubbornly bare. apparently this isn’t due to any production shortage, it’s simply that 99% of britain’s population has taken up bread-making as a way to cope with being stuck at home. the flour crisis has become so severe that not only are the shops bereft, online suppliers are also sold out.

thus i now find myself, in a surreal reversal, awaiting the delivery of 20 kilos of rye and wholemeal flour from a supplier located in dresden; one of those east bloc cities featured on television in the 1980s, with the empty shelves and queuing housewives.

: c :