When I was a kid I used to have many pathetic and ridiculously time-consuming ideas for making money; one was to go around the streets collecting refundable lemonade bottles and them cashing them in at the local sweet shop. Just imagine for one minute how long that would take and how mind-numbingly boring it would be. And then, of course, like most things, the whole thing dried up (in this case, refundable bottles have long been a thing of the past). Back then, of course, I had big plans for my scheme – including a huge depot holding loads of empty lemonade and Tizer bottles – but had I got started, no doubt I would have been severely disappointed and – worse still – if there had been money in the idea, somebody else would have done it before me.
So, there's Andy and I sitting at the Tatsfield bus stop, munching our cereal bars, sipping our tea and looking out across a barren landscape of fields and woods, a solitary road dividing the two and disappearing in the direction of Botley Hill.
"I've got an idea," I said. "What about if I slept rough for a year and rented out my house? I'd make around £20,000 on the rent after a year and I could write a book about my adventures under canvas."
I ignored the fact that I had a wife and a child at home – where would they go while I indulged this hair-brained scheme? Well, they would have to go to the mother-in-law's (where, of course, I could go too, so why bother sleeping rough?). But that, of course, was not the point.
Women often wonder what men think about and this is a prime example: the feasibility of sleeping rough for a year and what it would entail. To be totally honest, I was getting quite excited about the prospect of putting my house up to let, finding a tenant and then heading off to Halfords to buy a one-man tent. I had it all sussed out – or so I thought: first, the big problem of where to pitch the tent, but there's plenty of woodland around.
"I could set up over there," I said, pointing towards some woodland, which was probably private property. Still, my plan (during the winter months) was to sneak into the woods in question under cover of darkness and then be up with the lark in the morning. I had no plans to give up my job, so I'd still be earning good money, plus banking the rent money. I could cycle everywhere, wash and shower in a local leisure centre (and get a swim in every morning too) and then work in a local library or business centre where there are power points for lap tops and internet connections. I only need a suit for meetings, so I could keep one on a hanger round at mum and dad's or the mother-in-law's and use it as and when.
The rest of the time would be straightforward: I'd work during the day in the library or business centre (bike triple-padlocked somewhere outside) and then at night, I'd cycle back to the woods and set up my one-man tent. There'd be no television, so I'd be forced to read books or listen to a small radio and then, in the morning, I'd head off for a swim and a shower. I'd shave there too and then make my way to work.
After 365 days – my point proved (what is the point?) – I'd simply resume my normal life, but I'd be twenty grand better off and, who knows, there might be a book deal involved. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.
To be honest, I'm amazed at my immaturity. Here I am, married, kids, responsibilities, and I'm sitting at a wooden bus shelter in the middle of nowhere, early in the morning, fantasising (and getting quite excited and inspired) by the looney idea of sleeping rough in local woods for a whole year. Where's the logic?
Well, actually, how else would I get a twenty grand raise? Is there ANY other way? Probably not as that's a lot of extra work whichever way you look at it. Sleeping rough would mean no extra work at all, although there's always the possibility that I wouldn't be married at the end of my crazy adventure and, of course, I might be attacked during the night by some local nutters.
"There's a small risk of nutters," said Andy, as if there was a real chance that I might turn around and say, "Good, well that's sorted then; I'll nip down to Halfords later on and call the estate agent too."
Sadly, of course, I'm going to do neither. Perhaps if I was single, but even then, what kind of nutter sleeps in the woods when he's got a perfectly decent house in which to kip? I would be the local nutter. People would get to know about somebody odd sleeping in the woods. In short, it's not a good idea. But for me, there was something appealing about the idea and I think it's to do with the notion that I'd still be working, I'd have much more disposable income than I have now, I could still see my wife and child most days – although every day there would be that moment: "Do you have to sleep in the woods tonight, darling? You could always stay here." But that would be to admit defeat, to give up the ghost and start on that slippery slope towards calling the letting agent and giving my new tenants notice to quit. No, I'd have to see it through, but the reality is quite simple: it's a stupid idea with no foundation in reality and it will never happen. I think my wife would divorce me if I even mentioned it with a straight face. "Darling, I've got an idea..."
I can imagine the appalled look on her face as she realised that I was serious and she was married to a complete idiot who, for purely fiscal reasons, had plans to sleep rough in the woods – for a whole year! – just to accumulate twenty grand (or thereabouts).
But what's not to like: I'd have a mobile phone (that I could charge daily in the library), I'd have a laptop, similarly charged, and if I had a dongle I'd have internet access even in the darkest of woods. I could eat in cafés – so I wouldn't have to carry food around with me – and as long as I had a radio for company, I'd be on top of things like current affairs. There's a good chance that nobody would know I was sleeping rough as I'd always be clean shaven. I'd probably lose weight through regular cycling and swimming – there are so many plus points! In fact, as I write this, I wonder how many people are in the woods now, settling down for the night in their one-man tents while their new tenants make themselves at home?
It was around 9am when I snapped out of it and Andy and I began the eight-mile cycle home. I was back by 9.30am and, it has to be said, glad to be in my warm house, reading the papers and contemplating the crossword.