When I was on holiday in France recently, I couldn't help but envy the people who worked on the vineyards we visited. What a great life that must be. Well, for the owners if not the labourers, anyway. They get to live in some of the most stunning countryside I've ever seen, often on incredibly beautiful estates; they're free of the day-to-day stresses of the conurbations; they rarely get caught in traffic jams or stuck next to somebody's armpit on a stuffy tube; they chat to people who get slowly drunk during a gustation, and subsequently end up flogging the customer more wine than they originally planned on buying. So it's quite lucrative too.
And, from what I understand, the hours are good. However much I fantasise about working out in the countryside, I could never be a farmer. Getting up at 4am to toil and sweat even though machinery does save a lot of backbreaking work these days isn't my idea of a good life. And I hate dirt. Working on a vineyard appeals to me a lot. In my head, I see myself as an alcohol-based man from Del Monte strutting around in my panama hat and linen suit and giving a knowing nod of approval as and when required. Then, of course, I'd return to my Kipling compendium on the veranda, perhaps with a never-ending glass of chilled Chablis by my side.
Yes, of course I know that is a ridiculously romantic view of what a vineyard owner or manager does. But the part which really resonates with me is the not being in an eternal rat race bit. And no, this hasn't been brought on by the Olympics. Like a lot of Londoners, I haven't seen any of the predicted mayhem on public transport and anyway, I love the fact that the Olympics are here.
But inevitably, living and working in London, I have days when commuting is a nightmare. At the moment, I'm freelancing for a client near Putney Bridge. From northwest London, it takes me an hour and 20 minutes. I could quite literally run there in less time than it takes me on public transport but obviously I don't want to turn up all sweaty. So I walk it, bus it, train it and tube it. Rarely do I get a seat. There's usually someone barking into a phone nearby, someone's eating some smelly food, I'm worried that my wallet is going to be nicked and I can't read the paper properly either. Quality travel time it is not.
When I'm at work, unless I bring sandwiches (I'm usually too lazy), I then have to go out and buy a meal deal from a supermarket (or M&S if I'm feeling swanky), or risk a local cafe if I'm feeling daring (the moussaka I had last Friday was so limp, lukewarm and unappetising that it tasted like it had been dropped in a baby's bathwater).
And, significantly, this summer has been RUBBISH. It feels like autumn has had to resort to psychotherapy because it's worried it's turning into winter. And I refuse to be grateful for that one scorchingly hot day we had in May.
So I'm wondering why on earth I'm still spending my summers in England. Why not spend the entire summer abroad, doing exactly the same work I'm doing now? My wife is a teacher, so that's no problem for her. And I work at home for almost all of my clients anyway, so as long as I have a broadband connection, who's going to know where I am?
Isn't that a bit decadent, Ashley? A bit expensive spending the whole summer abroad? Well, it needn't be. We stayed in a lovely, reasonably priced studio flat in the south of France for 10 days in July and it was perfectly comfortable and had everything we needed. And I blogged from there too, of course the blog post where I slated advertising on the Cote d'Azur. We ate out only once. And if we booked a place for two months, say, we'd definitely be able to negotiate a special deal.
But also, what about a half-board hotel deal? That obviously means you have literally nothing to worry about, leaving you to focus all your creative energies on your work. You could sit with your laptop on the beach or by the pool in the nice warm sun, pausing only to raise your hand occasionally to click-click-order another drink while you wait for inspiration to hit you.
I haven't done the maths, but depending on the quality of the establishment, I reckon a fair amount of freelancers could pay for a week staying half board in a hotel for the price of one day's freelancing (minus flights). So if you could work, say, four days a week, one of those would pay for your accommodation and food, three would be normal paid work, then that leaves you three days to do whatever you want by the pool, on the beach, in a mountain cafe by just stepping away from your summer "office."
So the question is what am I still doing here?