(INDIVIDUALS No.1) Richard, the houseless, jobless, vegan nomad...
Meet Richard, self-described "houseless, jobless, vegan nomad"...
Richard travels all over the UK (and further afield) house/pet sitting and generally doing a great deal of exploring! Richard is the first interviewee in Sochal's new series, Individuals - where we talk to people with interesting or inspiring lives/lifestyles and find out more about how they got to where they are now.
Keep reading to find out more about Richard!
-Tell us something unusual about yourself / something that we wouldn't be able to know just by looking at you
Years ago I would have said that I have two, quite discreet, tattoos on my ankles but, these days, that is rather underwhelming. (In some cities I think you can get arrested if you don't have a minimum percentage of your body "tatted"!) I have a veritable encyclopaedia of trivia mashed up in my brain. I don't smile much but I laugh a lot: thus I may seem rather detached and cynical on a first encounter.
-How did you fall into your alternative lifestyle?
My family left the UK in 1971 to move to SA. About 15 years ago my (middle of three) brother emigrated to Australia, then, about 10 years ago my youngest brother returned to the UK, both because of traumatic incidents related to crime. After a few years "alone" I decided to return to the UK too. I was a teacher in SA for 30 years and attempted to get a teaching post here. This proved difficult, as the system in England is inflexible and chaotic. After waiting 45 minutes beyond my appointed time to meet with a headmaster because "We don't know where he is", I thought "Sod this for a lark!" and decided to give up on teaching, here at least.
So, I thought, "What do I love doing most?" and the reply came "Discovering new places".
"How could I do that without incurring enormous accommodation costs?"
"I wonder if "house sitting" is a thing?"
I googled "house sitting" and up popped "trustedhousesitters.com". I registered with them, applied for some sits, took the first one offered to me in Brighton and things snowballed from there. (On a whim I applied for a teaching job in Sweden after one year of house sitting and taught Maths there for 18 months. The headmaster of the school where I was teaching was a snake and I ended up in dispute with him and the company he represented. The teaching union - still very strong in Sweden - became involved too. The upshot was, I was offered 4 months severance salary, which I took and splurged on a 6 month trip to visit my brother in Australia by way of South Africa, South-east Asia, Vanuatu and New Zealand.) Upon returning to the UK I started house sitting again and have been doing it for 4 years straight now. I have no dependants and no property, so it is ideal for me. I get to travel the country and beyond, discovering new places, cycling and hiking around. I meet wonderful people and their animal companions. As I love dogs, I get to have them vicariously!
-Tell us the most interesting house or pet sitting jobs that you've done (so far!)
I looked after two rescue greyhounds in a Grade 1 listed house in Brighton that had been King George VI's "Party house". The couple who own it now are having it restored to its former glory. These clients were incredibly generous and I found myself sipping champagne whilst on a balcony overlooking a gloriously blue English Channel. Very swanky!
I fell in love with a little Tibetan terrier called Norbu in Pudsey, outside Leeds. We went everywhere together visiting ruined abbeys, walking the moors and generally having a good time. I have sat for him twice now and look forward to doing so again. He is just the most good-natured, fun-loving canine!
I have sat for two rescue mutts on the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Ireland. It was my first time on the Emerald Isle and I loved it. So much history and wild beauty. The area was where the sitcom "Father Ted" was filmed, so I managed to do a lot of fan-inspired travelling there.
In France I stayed in an apartment built into the walls of a mediaeval town. Although it was quite cold I loved practising my French on the (very) tolerant locals and taking Cato (another rescue dog) on long walks through the mountains.
-How long have you been vegan and why did you become vegan?
I became vegan the long way round. In uni I had a friend who was vegan and it was not a good time to be one in SA, a notoriously meaty country. One night I had a lurid dream and decided I could no longer eat meat. I did, however, continue to eat calamari, as this was, generally, the least meaty dish on the menu of South African restaurants! This "quasi-pescatarian" phase lasted about a year before its hypocrisy became obvious and I became ovo-lactose vegetarian for a long while, eventually dropping the "ovo" after becoming aware of battery hen practices. Then, about 20 years ago, a fellow teacher (not veggie in any way) jokingly asked me 'Why do cows give milk?" ...It suddenly struck me that this had never suddenly struck me before! And I became vegan the next day after the realisation of what that question implied had sunk in. I started making vegan cheeze (as none was available) and vegan ice-kream, as that too was not available. I also did a lot of baking, testing out my products on my students, particularly my year 9 girls class. (Boys will eat anything. Girls will too but they'll also give you their opinions.) When I returned to the UK 7 years ago, being a vegan was not easy outside of London & Brighton. Now the whole scene has exploded and as I travel around a lot, I get to see what's new and happening. (I seem to be good at spotting the wave but not so good at catching it.)
-Name your top three vegan dishes
I think Indian cuisine is particularly suited to vegan interpretation and you can't beat a good Dahl. It's the ultimate comfort food: easy to make, filling and tasty.
Before the great vegan explosion, about the only thing you could generally rely on was falafel. And I still think that a good falafel wrap (with loads of hummus) is hard to beat. Luckily I have found a few excellent places on my travels.
I love pizza but sadly, I have found none to match up to what I remember "proper pizza" tasting like... except for the ones my brother makes. His wife makes the dough from scratch but his secret tomato sauce base is the kicker.
-What does a typical day of meals look like for you?
I am afraid that my typical vegan day is quite uninspiring. I don't generally eat breakfast. If I do it will be cereal with soya milk; whatever is in a client's cupboard. If I've remembered to get the ingredients my favoured breakfast is toast/crumpets with peanut butter and bananas. I also have a weakness for Coco Pops, though I don't ever buy them. I don't always eat lunch either, as I am generally out travelling and exploring. (I don't know how people eat a full lunch and return to work: I would feel too drowsy.) I find the English habit of 'grazing' (walking and eating) quite strange. In Africa you sit and eat: it's a sociable thing. If I am going to be out the whole day I take granola bar type snacks. (A cyclist tipped me off to fig-roll biscuits: the biscuit gives you immediate carbs and the fig part is low-GI.) So, my main (only!) meal is in the early evening. (I rarely eat past 6pm. A friend jokes that I am on "The Sumo Diet".) This will comprise of whatever is at hand. As I am (thankfully) not gluten-intolerant, I do eat a lot of bread and grains. You can't beat a good club sandwich: layer on leaves, fried tofu/tempeh, cheeze, tomato, broccoli, kraut etc and layer on the hummus! Otherwise, I will whip up a Dahl or a spag bol, stir-fry, curry... It really depends on what's available. I rarely eat out - it's too expensive and unless it's a fully vegan place, the food is usually uninspired. I save my pennies for desserts, especially cake. I make a mean black-bean brownie.
-Name one thing that makes you truly happy
History! Standing where generations have stood, I feel the pull of history and get the feeling that if I could just find the gap, I could slip into the past. Britain is alive with history and so many people are unaware of it. I have crouched in Neolithic tombs, alone in a winter landscape and watched the sun set. I have stood on the ruined ramparts of a once mighty castle in a full gale and imagined the pennants of rival armies come to lay siege. I have tracked through ancient woodlands, often with a dog at my side, and envisioned them stretching, as they once did, the entire length and breadth of this island. I have cycled along river banks and marvelled at our incredible industrial heritage: thought of the power and will that drove the navvy armies to gouge out canals and roads across the land. The UK has so many layers of history and it's everywhere. Feeling a part of it all makes me very happy.
Thank you Richard!
...Such an interesting read to kick off our "Individuals" series with!
Keep your eyes peeled for more!