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Ditching the High Life
September 4, 2005 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Hugh Sawyer is an Oxford law graduate. He wears a Gieves & Hawkes suit and works at Sotheby's, London. He also lives in a ditch.
posted by Blue Stone (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
ah, the joys of recreational slumming. i wonder how wonderful the experience would be without the knowledge he can quit at anytime and return to comfortable suburbia.
posted by brautigan at 8:44 AM on September 4, 2005


And has a blog. Cool guy.
posted by mediareport at 8:44 AM on September 4, 2005


brautigan, he's doing it to raise money for woodland conservation.
posted by mediareport at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2005


and?
posted by brautigan at 8:48 AM on September 4, 2005


On sleeping rough over the winter:
He admits to nerves about it. 'It will be dark when I get up and go to sleep and it will be miserable, wet and bleak.'

The art of the understatement's alive and kicking! I'll give him until December when he'll nip back to mum and dads place with the money he's saved.

I'd be a little more sympathetic if he was raising money for a charity like Shelter..
posted by Nugget at 8:56 AM on September 4, 2005


oxford has the highest level of homelessness in the uk outside of london and here we have a self righteous city gent waxing lyrical about the joys of living rough, preaching about consumer consumption (all the while wearing bespoke suits and showering at his local gym) and proudly raising a grand total of £389 to plant some trees. pardon my disdain.
posted by brautigan at 9:01 AM on September 4, 2005


The guy's a lawyer. You expect him to show up in shorts and a wife-beater A-shirt?

I don't think he's trying to say he's better than everybody else. Rather, he's showing that even with a class-conscious job, he can manage to live in the woods and keep up appearances. It's more of a statement on other people's suburban consumption than "look, why can't these homeless people do better? I certainly can."
posted by Happydaz at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2005


Funny how different initial reactions can be. But brautigan, I do see your point.
posted by mediareport at 9:07 AM on September 4, 2005


I don't see the "self righteous". He's not walking around saying he's better than anyone else because he's sleeping in the woods. He just seems like a guy who took voluntary simplicity to an extreme, something that is not the sole domain of those who have been forced into such a lifestyle.
posted by cmonkey at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2005


It's been done before. Still, interesting post, especially some of the links to downshifting, which I hadn't heard of before.

Brautigan, the shift key is right under your pinkies.
posted by LarryC at 9:12 AM on September 4, 2005


i like the blog entries where he goes shopping for a spiffing new sleeping bag on kensington high street or his review of the new space-age hennessy hammock, oh and the one where his lynx shower gel leaks on his teabags and the praising of his gore-tex tarp and poncho and his thai chicken and lemon grass soup, his stay in gleneagles hotel (didn't GW stay there a few months ago?), the hawaiian pool party...yeah, i'm radically reassessing my evil consumer ways.
posted by brautigan at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2005


THIS KEY HERE?
posted by brautigan at 9:18 AM on September 4, 2005


but he's, uh... sticking it to the real estate industry! right?
posted by Silky Slim at 9:20 AM on September 4, 2005


It's been done before.

Funny you should mention that. Because, much like this guy, Thoreau waxed poetic about the simple life while living only a stone's throw away from the safety of civilization.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2005


Eh, naysayers, why don't you go do it?

Obviously there is a benefit, personal and social by consuming less. Who cares what is the base motivation for this lifestyle. Meanwhile, we'll keep consuming in an unsustainable manner until there's nothing left for anyone.
posted by iamck at 9:31 AM on September 4, 2005


The 32-year-old has given up every luxury to spend a year living outdoors

...he is always spotlessly turned out in a Gieves & Hawkes suit, a stylish tie and polished shoes. The Oxford law graduate is a regular at the gym and often meets friends for drinks in the capital's bars.

I don't think the word 'luxury' means what the writer thinks it means.
posted by haqspan at 9:36 AM on September 4, 2005


Because a warm bed and a roof over your head is a GOOD thing.

And he's still shopping! If you're going to get on your high horse about sustainable living and western consumerism at least put your credit card away.
posted by brautigan at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2005


brautigan, your disdain is noted.

Please accept some of mine in return.

I see that you list Hugh Sawyer's crimes, in typical Daily Mail fashion.

Which of these are you objecting to? Why?

waxing lyrical about the joys of living rough
preaching about consumer consumption
wearing bespoke suits
showering at his local gym
raising £389
for charity, and worst of all, wanting to
plant some trees.

You then add these horrendous accusations:
shopping for a sleeping bag
praising his gore-tex tarp and poncho
staying in a hotel where GWB once stayed


Terrible crimes indeed!

Do you see how you've used dishonest rhetoric to demonize someone for no good reason? Why are you doing that, do you think?

What makes you think he is better than you, and should be held to higher standards?

Many years ago, I lived rough for a few weeks while studying at University in England, due to lack of money to pay rent. It's an interesting experience, and while I'm not eager to repeat it, I'm glad I did it.

I have to say I respect this guy's decision. It's a brave choice, and I hope he enjoys it.

And on sunny mornings, with the dawn mist wreathing the trees, the fresh smell of earth, and the presence of the living wood around him like a mother's embrace, I'm sure he does.

I've camped out in freezing cold weather in England in winter, too, and it's not a pleasant experience, even if you have a decent tent!

So I hope he has the good sense to move indoors before December, and find a nice warm fire somewhere. Perhaps there's a squat somewhere nearby he could use?

His death from hypothermia would be a most unfortunate end to his demonstration of alternative lifestyle choices...
posted by cleardawn at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2005


You expect him to show up in shorts and a A-shirt?

It would be a far greater act of bravery in my view to live in a bedsit and go to work in shorts and T-shirt.

Eh, naysayers, why don't you go do it?

Because it would be cold and uncomfortable, because drinking polluted Thames water is unhygenic and because going to work in a Thieves and Sharks suit that ground water had "gushed over" would render me prone to a fungal infection of some sort.

I dare you to suggest that those aren't good reasons?
posted by RichLyon at 9:48 AM on September 4, 2005


For a hand-made two-piece bespoke suit (think of a Bentley, Rolls-Royce or Aston Martin) prices start from £2,250 incl. VAT with an average of £2,400 incl. VAT and £2,700 incl. VAT for a three-piece suit. There is also the option of ‘semi-automated’ made-to-measure, which Gieves & Hawkes call ‘personal tailoring’ (think of a Jaguar, Morgan or Land Rover), where prices start from £595 incl. VAT. Bespoke shirts are from £140 incl. VAT upwards, with £10 for each hand-stitched monogram letter. There is no minimum order with shirts. If you are seeking a bespoke suit or shirt, making an appointment is always advisable. The making of the suit will take around eight weeks and the shirt around three months from first measurement to the final piece. For London and the Home Counties around London Gieves & Hawkes offer their personal visiting tailor service.
I myself am partial to Anderson and Sheppard, by the way
posted by matteo at 9:50 AM on September 4, 2005


£2,250 = US $4,143.62
posted by matteo at 9:52 AM on September 4, 2005


Your invited to a party round at my place
Hugh Sawyer is an Oxford law graduate
posted by Joeforking at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2005


I bought my bespoke suits and shirts in Thailand.

Two hundred pounds for all I'll ever need!

There again, the plane ticket wasn't cheap.

If you're a lawyer in London, you can afford a couple of thousand pounds for a suit, no problem, just as you can afford to rent a nice apartment. To choose NOT to do so is an interesting decision.

As Ghandhi pointed out, "Civilization comes not from the satisfaction of material wants, but from their deliberate and voluntary renunciation".

It's fallacious to argue that someone's renunciation of one thing is invalidated by their not having renounced another.

Particularly when we have renounced neither.
posted by cleardawn at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2005


Gandhi. Doh.
posted by cleardawn at 10:05 AM on September 4, 2005


I'm with brautigan on this one. While what Mr Sawyer is doing is of passing interest, it's just so hard to really care at all.
posted by rhymer at 10:05 AM on September 4, 2005


cleardawn - This grates with me because five years ago I was homeless. If Hugh Sawyer genuinely gave up all the trappings of comfortable western society I would honestly applaud him. More so if he used the opportunity to raise awareness about how hugely important having a safe, secure place to live is, how every night in Oxford 80-100 (Shelter stats) people do without this.

A job, fine suits, business trips, 5 star hotels, hi-tech camping equipment, hot showers, gym facilities and a "I want to make people think about how much they consume that is not necessary" lesson as the kicker. Spare me.
posted by brautigan at 10:07 AM on September 4, 2005


Guys like this are softer versions of the Critical Mass hooligans or the people who key SUVs: giving a decent idea (reducing consumption) the outward appearance of lunacy.
posted by MattD at 10:08 AM on September 4, 2005


It's fallacious to argue that someone's renunciation of one thing is invalidated by their not having renounced another.

Particularly when we have renounced neither.


/here, here
posted by iamck at 10:20 AM on September 4, 2005


CD: ...much like this guy, Thoreau waxed poetic about the simple life while living only a stone's throw away from the safety of civilization.

Absolutely! I have often wondered how many times, in his two years of life in the woods, Thoreau had dinner with the Emersons, or other Concord friends...
posted by LarryC at 10:44 AM on September 4, 2005


Guys like this are softer versions of the Critical Mass hooligans or the people who key SUVs: giving a decent idea (reducing consumption) the outward appearance of lunacy.

I know plenty of people who attack downshifting with criticisms of it being a kind of lunacy. Sometimes, they even make fallacious references to Critical Mass or the, entirely justified, keying of 4WD vehicles when they attack the idea of downshifting. However, these people will contine to believe I'm an un-Australian* threat to all that is good no matter how inoffensive and passive I become. The idea that I might want to buy less consumer crap, not take on more debt for it or send some surplus funds to people who can use it for good is just... just... fucked in the head!

*Yes, un-Australian is part of the rightwing lexicon of slurs and whines in Australia. And it sounds as moronic to me as un-Liechtensteinian would to anybody else.
posted by Jenga at 10:56 AM on September 4, 2005


Some of you are taking it much too seriously. It's more interesting than doing a sponsored walk, and makes a point in a funny way.
posted by lunkfish at 11:10 AM on September 4, 2005


What lunkfish said. Though I have to say this reminded of the "live simply that others may simply live" bumper sticker I spotted recently... on the back of a BMW 5-series.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:42 AM on September 4, 2005


Back in the 80s there was a chap who spent the entire length of his time studying for a PhD living in a tent in a farmer's field in Wales. Saved a lot of money. Very resourceful, if you've the skill and will to do it.
posted by normy at 11:47 AM on September 4, 2005


A few years ago I spent 3 months camping-living in a very pretty and large arroyo nearby my place of employment at a university. Many years before that I had been actually homeless, but this experience doesn't count as "homeless" in the slightest.

On campus there where showers and coin-op laundry facilities. I had a cheap dome tent, a small stove, a sleeping bag and I biked my water and food in. I ran a very clean camp, and biked my trash out. At work I'd charge up my laptop, cellphone, and rechargeable batteries for flashlights, and if I really needed high speed wireless access it was a short bike ride away on campus.

I ended up living there because I could no longer afford the rents nearby, and I loved that job - even though it was only part time, and even though I was living there on the cheap to save up to move away to somewhere I could afford to live. My bosses knew where I was staying, and one of them even visited me for a drink and a chat a few times.

It was pretty idyllic. I had plenty of money, cash flow and free time. My main worries at the time were cops, getting flooded out and having vandals/kids discover my camp while I was away. There were a few cold and wet nights, but nothing I couldn't handle. The bulk of my belongings were in a self-storage facility nearby, so most anything of value I carried away with me outside of some clothes and the campstuffs.

While there I saw many deer, a bunch of coyotes and at least one mountain lion. All within a stone's throw of brand new million dollar homes, a brand new freeway and a huge university.

I often wonder how long I could have lived there before being "caught" by the authorities. I look back on it as one of the most enjoyable living experiences of my life.


During that truly homeless experience I mentioned that happened many years before this, I lived in a field beside a freeway, and in that field amongst the tall grasses and brush was a scattered encampment that at one point numbered over 20 residents.

While my experiences there were far less idyllic, there were two fellows living there that stand out.

One went by the moniker "Two Trees" because he lived between two trees like some kind of hippy-elf. He did leatherwork for his living, and often sold his wares at ren faires, swap meets and art fairs. In retrospect his camp looked like something out of Peter Jackson's take on Lord of the Rings - but real, tangible and manifested powerfully.

Another who I can only remember as "Joe" had built himself a hobo's paradise. He had tapped into the freeway-side landscaping irrigation system for running water, he had a full sized propane grill, a battery powered TV and an enormous blue tarp "baker's tent" complete with a porch and carpeted living room which he was obsessed with keeping immaculate and leaf free. The real clincher, though? The frameless waterbed on the floor in the baker's tent. To say the least this man had developed and honed trash picking and dumpster diving to a fine art and black magic. You wouldn't believe the things people throw away.


So, I really don't care if this guy wears bespoke suits while trying his experiment. He's trying something different, and he's probably enjoying it - which is much more than most of us can say. Though, he really should get a tent or construct a proper shelter. Even many of the career homeless people in Los Angeles use tents if they can get them.
posted by loquacious at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2005


Love the girlfriends parents:
'They were a bit disappointed he wasn't a home owner and were certainly perplexed.'

hee !
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:01 PM on September 4, 2005


i agree, loquacious. but i also wonder why the hell anybody would camp out in a ditch. i mean, isn't that the dumbest place on the planet to decide to sleep? seems to me that anybody who's been camping, oh, once in a rainstorm wouldn't be that bleeding stupid. what, no high ground? no little mound surrounded by the protection of a glen?

i can't fault anyone (even someone in an overpriced suit) for trying voluntary simplicity (for a cause, for personal edification, whatever), but stupid camping just seems, um, stupid.
posted by RedEmma at 2:09 PM on September 4, 2005


And of course, he would be drawing a paycheck from a joint like Sotheby's. Not that art isn't essential to life, but still, I mean, the irony seems a little too - apt.

Unless he's doing one of those super subtle intellectual things that I never get. He seems a little old for an elaborate practical joke. And if he were a genuine eccentric, he wouldn't be gassing on about it.

Strange, but not enough to lose sleep over. And so to bed.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:55 PM on September 4, 2005


I want to live like common people.

Hopefully he'll have an interesting experience.
posted by mosch at 8:39 PM on September 4, 2005


I want to live like common people.

Move to New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.
posted by ericb at 9:09 PM on September 4, 2005


No, I think you missed the point. He wants to do what common people do. He wants to sleep with common people.
posted by galamud at 10:30 PM on September 4, 2005


You mean he wants to sleep with common people like... me?

As long as it's my place, not his.

If Hugh Sawyer genuinely gave up all the trappings of comfortable western society I would honestly applaud him. More so if he used the opportunity to raise awareness about how hugely important having a safe, secure place to live is, how every night in Oxford 80-100 (Shelter stats) people do without this.


I think the problem with this, Brautigan, is that if he "genuinely gave up all the trappings of comfortable western society" nobody would bother to listen to him, because he would be another crazy homeless person. Whereas sleeps in the woods + job + nice suit = news story, and thus = attention. Meanwhile, since he did not rip his sleeping bag from the frozen hands of a homeless person on the streets of Oxford, I'm not convinced that he has become a net negative to rough sleepers.

The more I think about this, the more sense it seems to make. Living alone in Central London is likely to cost a minimum of 10,000 pounds in rent and bills per year (about $17,000 or so at present, I think). That covers a fair few Gieves and Hawkes suits.
posted by tannhauser at 7:20 AM on September 5, 2005


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