At the moment my living arrangements are probably pretty unusual by most people’s standards – in Torquay with my wife and kids at the weekend, but living in London for work during the week. Some think it might be the best of both worlds – time to yourself and family time, kept separate. Some think it must be hard – being unable to meet up with friends and colleagues on a Friday evening or weekends, being away from your nearest and dearest during the week, and with a lot of travelling to boot. So – good or bad? The reality is something of both.
Firstly, the travelling. To be honest, to some extent you get used to that. During the summer it’s nice to watch the scenery on the coastal part of the route, and you have a nice view at Torquay station on arrival. It also gives that feeling of being done with work until returning. However, it is quite a lot of time, and unless you’re wanting to travel first class (and doing the trip weekly 1st class would cost a lot) then the seats aren’t that comfortable over few hours. If you end up standing (and on the first off-peak train on a Friday you’d be standing for about 1 1/2 hours if you don’t get a seat), then you may well find your back is complaining through the weekend until it’s time to go home. There’s really no way of making the added travelling time a good thing, and the only mitigating factor is downloading a TV series or film onto the tablet and watching a film on the main leg of the trip. The return trip on the Sunday involves 2 trains, the Bakerloo, Jubilee and DLR lines AND a train – my total journey time comes to around 5 hours, and will come to around £5k/year.
Then, there’s the time on my own. I’ve been very glad to have a lodger to talk to sometimes, as otherwise this would have seemed very strange, having never lived entirely on my own. I can return home as late as I like Monday to Thursday, but have had to cook for myself in a way that I’ve not really had to previously. Without family (or my cat) there, I can’t really say it feels like home, more a place to stay. I have plenty of space, and can set things up for wargaming, but my budget priorities being on the family home, I haven’t had a chance to really make it my own, so it’s more what’s left. There’s also significant repair work that’s been waiting for an insurance settlement and sorting out finances on other renovations, further reducing how much it feels like home. I’ve got ideas of what I’d like to do with the place – remove the partition wall and have a more open plan kitchen with a larger living area, so hopefully at some point I’ll have a chance to make it feel more like ‘my’ place. Realistically there is an assumption that since Donna lives in Torquay more than I do, her tastes count for more for the decoration and furnishing there, while I can (eventually) go entirely with my tastes on the place in London. I tend to go to bed rather late, having tried to study and learn and so on and tend to get only around 5 hours sleep a night there.
When I am in Torquay I’m trying to spend as much time with the kids as possible. This so far has meant that Donna and I don’t end up doing much together. I get to Torquay too late to do much on a Friday, so the main chance would be on a Saturday evening, and I’m generally tired from everything else and the result is just a quiet evening in. The menus are largely decided without me, and on a Friday I’ll be warming up leftovers and eating on my own because of when I arrive. With in-laws having moved in with us as well, there’s a tendency to feel that the plans are already made, and you’re just fitting in, which doesn’t tend to help any sense of feeling like you’re at home, more that you’re a guest in someone else’s family. It’s a little different when taking a longer break, but that’s not generally long enough to fully get over the feeling of being slightly alienated.
Obviously there’s also the cost of running 2 properties, and when in full-time contract work that’s not necessarily too much of a concern aside from some eye-watering renovation expenses between the 2, but any buffer you’ve built up is quickly hit by 2 lots of bills and 2 mortgages when there’s a gap, even with a couple of lodgers (my in-laws paying rent and a lodger in London) subsidising things somewhat.
So, what are the positives? Well, sometimes couples seem to feel like they don’t have any freedom or space from each other – things are too regimented, and there are 4 evenings a week which are largely my own. If I wasn’t studying and therefore filling those fairly completely, then I might be able to enjoy them more. The plan was to do certain work and then put aside some savings, after which I could reasonably look at heading out to the cinema and so on more often, which would also make these evenings more enjoyable. I do get to meet up with friends for a games night once a week generally, and the variable day of that demonstrates how much some of them struggle to know when they’re working and make plans as those nights are always fitted around when others have to work late.
Over time it means that we’re building equity in 2 separate properties, and with the way property prices are going, this will hopefully build to be a substantial sum. Similarly the renovation work that’s been such a headache should improve the value of the property somewhat by addressing various issues like wall sealing, plasterwork and modernising the electrics. While it’s not leaving much money for enjoying things, it is hopefully building a platform to enjoy things more in the future. Having kids, a lot of my focus has moved on to providing more for then, and ultimately I would like to have at least 3 properties so there’s 1 for each of my children when the time comes, and perhaps a rental income from 2 properties will provide financial independence in the 3rd long before then. In no small part, then, things aren’t necessarily that great now, but hopefully it will get better and better.
So, how is it for the kids? Well, seeing them tearfully seeing you off at the station is upsetting, so they clearly don’t like being separated from one of their parents much of the time, even when it’s for less than a week at a time. However, they’ve been breathing more easily and love their new school. They like heading to the beach, the walks along the coast, visiting the leisure centre or local historic monuments. They don’t have the chance to go to gigs like they did in London, but overall they seem to be much happier. They have space for their stuff, nobody fights over the bathroom (everyone has an en-suite), and we can all fit around a table for dinner. Looking at it for the kids, they have a much better quality of life here. They may decide to return to London later for university or work, but that will be their choice, and while growing up it certainly looks like the right choice.
As to how Donna feels – well, she drops hints about it being nice when I am around more. She generally seems a lot happier in Torquay than in London, though. Having her parents coming to live with us has its challenges, and she bears the brunt of those disputes, and does all the cooking (nobody said that my mother-in-law is a good cook – ever). At the moment we haven’t been able to made full advantage of the extra space affordable from leaving London as the renovations aren’t complete and some 3 (and a half) rooms are out of action, but even with that the living area is sufficiently more spacious that it’s a noticeable difference, and the kids all have their own double bedroom so they have enough space for their toys. The difference in size between in London and out of London is significant, so when you’ve been used to London property prices and sizes, property sufficiently outside of London looks not only reasonably priced but very spacious. While I think we could still do with de-cluttering, it’s a lot more manageable when you can have a reasonable amount of storage space and don’t feel like you’re just shuffling things around more than putting it away, and certainly we don’t feel like we need to spend hundreds a month on storage units or the like.
Overall, how do I feel about it? Sometimes happy, sometimes sad. I miss my family when I’m in London, and miss the freedom when I’m in Torquay. I think more time is needed to settle into things – finish the necessary work on both places for a start. And summer is always likely to feel better as the journey is prettier then (not just darkness out the train window). However, if fully automated vehicles were released any time soon, I would definitely be looking towards whether they would provide a solution that would allow me to travel between Torquay and London in much more comfort, particularly if I was able to sleep while it drove and stop that travelling time eating as much into time for doing other things. It’s nice going swimming with the kids, and hopefully at some point we’ll have a chance to try out things like jet-skiing. Donna doesn’t know whether to call herself a Devonian or a Londoner at the moment, even though she has no plans to return to London except for visiting my family or gigs. Me? I’m definitely still a Londoner – I grew up there, still spend more time there than in Devon, and I rather like the business of cities. I also like the quieter, friendlier environment you get out of London, though. I have my foot in both worlds and enjoy aspects of both. It’s not been that difficult to settle into the routine, but I think I’ll have to give it another year or so to work out how I really feel about the split time.