Article – Interview – Arts & Literature

Article, Arts & Literature, Interview

“I geek out all the time in circuses,” says Nell Gifford, her turquoise eyes glittering under a crown of red roses as she pulls a little jar of sand from the pocket of her fluffy coat. “This is from another circus in Paris. That’s the kind of thing I just find in my pockets. I had to bring this back because I wanted to find out what it was but, you know – walking around with a sample from a French circus in your pocket – that’s sort of the epitome of geekiness.”

It is the interval of Gifford’s Circus 2019 show ‘Xanadu’ and Nell and I share a bench in the bustling tea tent, which is alive with excited chatter and sparkly bunting. In the middle of the tent stands a display table decked out with crisp new copies of Nell’s recently published children’s book ‘Nell and the Circus of Dreams’. 

Although it speaks of dreams, the book draws its characters very much from real life. When I ask Nell how much of herself is in the lead character of the book, she responds with a disarmingly straightforward “Pretty much all. The dream of running away to the circus has been my life story. I wanted to tell that story for children.” Even the chicken who leads young Nell to the circus comes directly from Nell’s own childhood: “When we were little we actually had a really sweet pet chicken called Rosebud, who did sleep on our bed and all of that. She’s a real-life character.”

The story also speaks directly to the very real experience of being a child with an ill parent – something Nell experienced with her own mother and is experiencing now as a mother herself, who was very ill at the time of beginning to write this book: “The central character’s mother is ill. I wanted to write about the boredom – how boring it is for a child to have an ill parent.” 

The illustrations for the book are also drawn closely from real life. Nell’s publishers at Oxford University Press brought her together with illustrator Briony May Smith, and together they translated the art and the heart of circus life into vibrant images which tell the story of little Nell’s visit to the world behind the velvet curtain. Nell tells me it was tricky trying to fit all of the circus into one book, and so she has more books planned for the future!

I ask Nell what is the gift that she had received from writing this book: “It made me more aware that the circus is quite a simple story,” she tells me. “I’m always trying to overcomplicate things, but now I’m starting to understand that magnifying a simple idea is better than complicated ideas that are hard to follow.” The idea for Gifford’s Circus this year comes straight from a sixties summer of love. The performers present a love-drenched, technicolour spectacle of song, dance, acrobatics, horsemanship, juggling and clowning – all decked out in long hippy wigs, glitter galore and even doves!

At the end of the show, I am lucky to catch the weekly Q&A session with performers. The line-up features famous faces like Tweedy the clown, returning favourites such as Emmanuel the Italian acrobat and new stars like Lil Smith, who grew up watching Gifford’s Circus. Following the theme of the book, I ask the performers about their earliest memory of feeling inspired to join the circus.

“When I was young I really loved monkeys,” begins Nell, “I wanted to be a monkey trainer in the circus, but it wasn’t really to do with the circus so it’s strange in a way how it’s worked out.” For Lil, her earliest memory was watching her aunt Nell ride an elephant in a circus in Germany: “I was really young and I remember thinking that must be the coolest job ever,” she tells us. Emmanuel shares the story of his childhood as part of a family of acrobats who ran a circus. 

Not everyone who performs in the circus is born to it, and for children who dream of joining Nell has the following piece of advice: “If you want to join the circus the best thing to do is learn dance, gymnastics and languages. Everything else will follow.” Nell explains that, in her experience, people tend to bring to the circus whatever skill they have naturally and then to train and exaggerate that skill until it becomes a performance. 

Nell’s skill growing up was riding horses. She began riding at the age of 6 and has since ridden horses – and elephants! – in several circus rings around the world. In the first half of this year’s show, Nell appears in the ring on a showy grey stallion alongside her daughter Red riding a beautifully dappled rare Eriskay pony. Mother and daughter float around the ring in a dreamlike harmony to the dulcet tones of the house band performing Kirsty MacColl’s ‘Days’. It was in this moment that Gifford’s Circus truly touched my heart and I confess I cried real, salty tears into my popcorn as it did. “I love doing the act with my daughter,” Nell tells me as I gush at her about the beauty of it, “and I hope she loves it too, I think she does. It’s a really special thing.”

Nell and her circus of dreams have now taken to the open road for the summer season. Tickets are available from the Gifford’s box office or through the website and copies of ‘Nell and the Circus of Dreams’ can also be purchased online at

Article first published July 2019, Good on Paper


Travel Writing – Health & Wellness – Matador Network

Article, Travel Writing

6 underrated Nordic wellbeing practices you need to try

IN RECENT YEARS there has been a surge of interest in lifestyle and wellbeing trends from Nordic countries. With their commitment to decent parenting leave and almost spiritual devotion to the afternoon coffee and cake break known as fika, it’s unsurprising that the rest of us look up to our Nordic brothers and sisters when it comes to wellbeing. Most people will have tried, or at least are familiar with, mainstream Nordic wellbeing practices like saunas and Swedish massages — but there’s so much more to discover. Here are six less well-known Nordic wellbeing practices you need to try.

1. Birch beating

The practice of beating and scrubbing your skin with birch leaves during a sauna originates from Finland, but has been adopted across the Nordic region. Birch beating is said to aid circulation, relax the muscles, be good for your skin, and create a lovely smell inside the sauna. 

A great place to experience this practice is at Stockholm’sHellasgården — a wooded sport and leisure park surrounding a lake just 15 minutes from the city. Here you may be lucky enough to stumble across the weekly birch scrub sauna. Local sauna aficionados gather to lather themselves — and each other — with a mixture of birch leaves, salt, and butter before squeezing into a super hot sauna to sweat it out. An officially appointed sauna meister stands in the center of the sauna, pouring birch infused water onto hot rocks and whipping the air around with a towel, a practice known as aufguss or loyly. People then make a dash for the icy cold lake and leap in, before heading back into the sauna for a second — and perhaps third — session.

2. Hot pots

Iceland lends itself beautifully to treatments involving extremes of temperature. The ancient therapies of bathing in different water temperatures to boost health and wellness are known as balneotherapy and have long been practiced in Iceland. With around 800 geysers across the country, Iceland is blessed with an endless supply of volcanically heated water reaching temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius.

Reykjavik has several thermal pools, known as “hot pots,” where locals and tourists can enjoy bathing to reduce stress, release muscle tension, and improve sleep. Interchanging between hot and cold water is said to boost your blood flow, circulation, and metabolism, and is deeply relaxing. To get the maximum benefit from the practice, take a short swim, shower, and rest after your final cooling off period. 

3. Flothetta

Flothetta is a relative newcomer to the Nordic wellness scene. It involves putting on an inflatable cap and knee pads and floating serenely around a swimming pool. Icelandicproduct designer Unnur Valdis came up with the concept, which allows total relaxation of the body. The benefits for your body include melting muscle tension, lowering blood pressure, and overall stress reduction.

You can purchase the kit and float solo wherever you fancy, or attend a Flothetta gathering and float with others. Several pools across Iceland host regular mass Flothetta sessions — known as samflot, meaning floating together — and some are even accompanied by yoga stretches, healthy snacks, and sound healing for a holistic experience.

4. Sisu

Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for several years, so there’s no doubt that we can learn from the Finnish lifestyle. The Finnish ethos of sisu — meaning courage, grit, or guts — is the latest aspect of Nordic culture to be celebrated. In the book Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, Finnish author Joanna Nylund defines sisu as a blend of qualities, including courage, resilience, tenacity, and cheerful determination.

Nature can be your accomplice for cultivating sisu; challenging yourself outdoors is a great way to develop your grit. In Finland, winter bathing is a popular accompaniment to a sauna session and involves plunging into a frozen lake. Many Finns start the morning with an icy dip in the lake for an energizing boost that lasts all day — they say there’s nothing better!

5. Summertime hygge

When we think of hygge, the Danish ethos of cozy living, we might think of cashmere cardigans, cups of hot cocoa, and an evening by the fire. Hygge, however, is a year-round philosophy. Summertime hygge is about getting out into nature to enjoy intimate, laid-back time with friends and family.

Wellness blogger Kayleigh Tanner suggests summertime hygge activities, such as barbecuing fish on a campfire, lazy picnics by the river, collecting shells on the beach, or enjoying a glass of wine and a good book in the garden. Hygge simply requires us to slow down and savor the sensory delights of everyday life. 

6. Melankoliad

In the long darkness of Nordic winters, people naturally seek out ways of warming up and cheering up. However, there is more to winter wellness than cinnamon buns and keeping cozy. Sweden’s Happy Friends of Darkness and Cold is an association with an aim to develop positive experiences in those parts of the world that have a prolonged period of darkness and cold. 

The group organizes a series of events named the Melankoliad, which embraces the extremes of winter. It includes bathing in frozen lakes, as well as walking and sitting in quiet reflection in cold temperatures. The organizers state southern tourists often come north during winter to experience the deep peace of the cold and darkness. The Melankoliad reframes the melancholy of long, harsh northern winters as a chance to dig deep inside and find inner strength and peace.

Article published June 2019:

Article – Event Preview

Article, Events

Stroud Shakespeare Festival – Good On Paper – May issue 2019

When Kate Raw starts speaking about Shakespeare her eyes flash and dance with wicked humour and passion. Pithy and pertinent quotes tumble out of her mouth with all the clarity, gaiety and force of a mountain stream in full flow. As our conversation progresses and I learn about Kate’s background as a self-confessed “Shakespeare nerd”, independent researcher at The Globe and Royal Shakespeare Company, creative director of open-air theatre company, designer and musician; I find myself thinking there can be no-one better equipped to bring Shakespeare out from behind dusty pages and into the park in an accessible and exciting way.

This is exactly what Kate and her team have set out to do with this year’s Stroud Shakespeare Festival. The intention behind the festival is to change people’s experience of Shakespeare from something alienating or difficult, to truly accessible and engaging entertainment. Of the 13 productions on the programme, under half will be in the original Shakespearean language. The rest will bring Shakespeare’s magnificent storytelling into the modern voice – and even multiple languages. The companies who make up this year’s programme will seek to retell the timeless tales of The Bard through a spectrum of unexpected – and at times hilarious – performances.

The festival was successfully established last year by Five Valleys Productions – the student production company from SGS College who are now known as Space Productions – under the leadership of Alan Mandel Butler. Kate performed songs from Shakespeare at the festival last year with her musical trio ‘Sounds and Sweet Airs’ and approached Alan to be part of organising the festival in the future, whereupon he encouraged Kate to take over the leadership role for 2019.

This year’s event will be held in the stunning surrounds of the Museum in the Park. As well as the ticketed performances (which will be priced at no more than £10) there will be a cornucopia of free events and Shakespeare-themed creative activities for everyone to enjoy – kids very much included! The event takes place during half term and will offer crafts and theatrical workshops for children, face painting, flower crowns, a children’s trail through the museum and a costume cupboard!

Kate will be directing the Stroud Shakespeare Festival Company in a production of The Tempest, in which the cast will perform as a group of fishermen – complete with sea shanties and Ariel playing accordion. There will be a 1940s rewrite of the famous ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ from StormCloud Arts (think land girls and much laughter), as well as scenes from Twelfth Night by the International Actors’ Ensemble, who will be performing in multiple languages at once!

Thornbury-based Downpour Theatre company bring one of the bard’s lesser known plays – the Comedy of Errors, a farcical comedy with 2 sets of twins and lots of mistaken identity!and of course the Impromptu Shakespeare company will be offering their uniquely off-the-cuff approach to performance, improvising a live production for your entertainment. Last year’s organisers Space Productions will be bringing a production of Macbeth to the festival this year, as well as supporting as volunteers with some of the running of the festival. Finally, do keep an eye out for special guest Queen Elizabeth I – a great supporter of Shakespeare who is rumoured to be making an appearance at the festival this year!

In between workshops, films, and theatre productions you will be treated to performances from local musicians and have the chance to enjoy coffee and a cake from Grouch Coffee and The Canteen and or grab a meal on the go from culinary pop-ups dotted around the venue. Musical highlights include the Shakespeare Heptet – a trio who perform the sonnets in a variety of styles, including folk, blues, punk, jazz, and more!- and Nailsworth’s own Sotelo Singers who will perform operatic numbers from Shakespeare-inspired musicals such as Kiss Me Kate. To top off the local line-up, established local artists such as Dennis Gould and Phillip Kingsbury will have Shakespeare themed work for sale during the festival.

If you are still on the fence about coming to the Stroud Shakespeare Festival and think perhaps that Shakespeare is not your thing, Kate has the following invitation for you:

“At the end of the day, Shakespeare was an entertainer, and his plays were meant to entertain. Sometimes the language feels like a barrier, but one of the best things about him is that he was a genius storyteller. So whether they’re told though the original language, or retold in contemporary English, as quite a few of this year’s productions are, just come and experience the storytelling! Shakespeare was writing for the masses, for everyone. That’s what we want to bring out with the festival – Shakespeare is for everyone.”

Kate tells me that what she is really most excited about is the chance for people to experience Shakespeare in a new and joyous way. In the words of the man himself, Kate invites the people of Stroud to: “Frame your mind to mirth and merriment”- so come along to the festival, experience something new and above all have a jolly good time!

Stroud Shakespeare Festival takes place at The Museum in the Park between May 30th and June 2nd. Applications to perform at the festival are now closed and the full line-up has been confirmed. Tickets for the festival performances are available now through the website and don’t forget there will be plenty of free events throughout the weekend – so just turn up and enjoy!

Article – Brewery Launch


Stroud Brewery Launch – Good On Paper – March issue 2019

If you have ventured along the canal these sunny days you may have stumbled across the new Stroud Brewery bar. The people of Stroud can now stroll or cycle down the tow path and roll on in to the Stroud Brewery to sample premium quality, multi-award winning, organic  beers – brewed using Cotswold grown barley traditionally malted at Warminster Maltings – along with the famously delicious sourdough pizzas. What could be finer?!

Amidst the recent boom in craft brewing, Stroud Brewery have thrived as one of only a handful of 100% Organic UK brewers. Receiving (generous) notice from their previous landlords provided a nudge for the fledgling business to take a leap and expand their operations. After a two year hunt around the area, the ideal location turned out to be under their very noses!

The brewery’s new landlords – who also happen to be such fans of the brewery that they have taken the opportunity to become stakeholders as well! – are Howard Tenens logistics. The company purchased a parcel of land behind their Brimscombe offices, adjacent to the canal, in order to develop a purpose-built facility which is leased to Stroud Brewery as their new centre of operations.

In 2018 the Brewery launched a crowdfunding campaign with Triodos Bank to raise £300,000 to help fund the relocation and expansion plans. Members of the public were offered the opportunity to buy bonds in the business  for a minimum of £1000 and become Stroud Brewery Beer Club members of the for the period of the bond. The bonds sold out in a matter of days, becoming one of the fastest crowdfunding campaigns that Triodos Bank have ever done.

Speaking about the move, Managing Director Greg Pilley tells us: “This is a significant development for Stroud Brewery and will provide us with the platform to take the business to the next stage.  The new brewery will allow us to ensure we retain and enhance our quality reputation and also to develop a range of new beers.”

While their core range of beers – which looks set to expand with the new capacity – is available throughout the year, the brewery are always releasing innovative seasonal brews to intrigue and delight their customers. In fact, the bulk of the big move took place over just three weeks in early December, all in order to get the brewers established in their new surrounds just in time to get a festive brew on for Christmas!

The brand new building houses an expanded brewing capacity, storage facilities, larger offices, the tap room and a number of event spaces. This purpose-built facility will accommodate the brewery’s growing needs as they move closer to their long-term goal of becoming the number one organic brewery in the UK. Greg tells us: “We are recognised for our ethos of sustainability and for producing a nationally recognised range of organic beers. When we first started talking about this project we wanted to ensure this was at the core of the brief, we needed a sustainable brewery with a strong identity, that would be a vibrant community space and a visitor destination.”

The original Stroud Brewery bar developed organically by necessity and function – becoming a well-loved social space for the immediate local community, as well as folks from farther afield. The new taproom maintains the laid back community vibe and rustic decor, with a dose of industrial chic. This industrial look and feel remains as honest as can be, with the steel-framed building housing the brewing operations which even provide waste heat to keep everyone cosy through the winter months.

I ask Greg what excites him most about the new building and the opportunity it presents to Stroud Brewery: “The reason we all brew beer,” he tells me, “is creating something to share with other people. To enjoy the pleasure with other people. Having a venue – a space to bring people together- is very exciting.”

Greg hopes to see the local community, as well as visiting groups from across the region, making good use of the generous canal-side rooms set out over three floors for events such as film nights, musical gigs, workshops, creative groups, parties, weddings and even business meetings! He believes that it will be the people of Stroud and the local area who will help shape this new building to evolve for purpose, and in his view this is the best contribution people can make to support the brewery at the beginning of their new chapter.

So head on down to Stroud Brewery to check out the new taproom and event spaces, and to enjoy the same delicious beers, yummy pizzas and buzzing music nights as ever! “We are really pleased we are going to be able to continue this tradition at the new brewery with our brand new taproom onsite. We hope to capture the unique, laid back atmosphere we have always had but this time with a scenic view and more space” says Greg.



Article – Event Preview

Article, Events

The vibes are high on Nelson Street these days. There is something in the air this month that will bring a whole lotta love to the street, drawing the culturally curious and open-hearted from all over town and even beyond the five valleys.

The Donnelly Sisters, Kirsty and Katy, have made a sparkling splash with their curated art parties in the last 18 months and are devoted advocates of local artists. Last summer their ‘Lust’ exhibition at The Pink Cabbage coincided with the launch of The Diner and saw revellers flitting back and forth, sampling the tantalising delights of both venues and creating a buzzy street party atmosphere.

Inspired by the good vibes of the first event, the sisters decided to go a step further and get the whole street officially involved, curating a full weekend event to celebrate the vibrant community of independent businesses that make up Nelson Street. One Love Nelson Street takes place on the first weekend of June and will offer a cornucopia of love-themed delights while raising funds for The Door charity, who provide vital support for young people in Stroud.

“We feel passionately about independent businesses in Stroud and know how hard everyone works so we wanted to join forces and all support each other to make the weekend a success for everyone” says Kirsty, “We hope that everyone will be feeling the love – whether they buy a romantic novel from Ruth or get love ink’ed at Q’s tattoos.”

Lust 2 will take place once again at The Pink Cabbage, celebrating the work of Stroud artists including Alex Merry, Lorraine Robbins, James Green, Soozy Roberts, Abigail Fallis, Marcus Walters, Tamzin Malleson-Mason and many more.

The sisters have also secured pieces from The Connor Brothers (big love for the sibling teams!) whose work has been sold at Christies and Bonhams and showcased from London to Los Angeles, as well as from Sara Pope who recently became the first female artist in more than 70 years to have a piece accepted into the Vatican collection. The exhibition will be open from 6pm Friday and Saturday for all to enjoy.

Cirencester duo Bethany Irving and Jamie Blackburn will perform at The Pink Cabbage on Friday evening and DJ Neil Wilson will be cranking up the vibes from 9pm. On Saturday evening Sarah Phaedre Watson will take to the decks and get the Stroud glitterati wiggling. Cocktails will be flowing and costumes will be fabulous. Entry will be £3 on the door.

The Marshall Rooms continue the live music love-in on Friday night from 8-11pm, with ethereal indie rock artist Bryde. Saturday sees the venue open early for luscious daytime vibes on the terrace, a lovely social drinks party and further good times still TBA.

The Diner will be showing their love for Nelson Street with a celebration of all things Prince. Glam Slam Lovesexy will see the venue all dressed up in paisley and hearts, with a menu of Prince inspired ice cream sundaes, cocktails and hard shakes such as Raspberry Beret Slushes and Under the Cherry Moon sundaes – all with plenty of cream of course! You can sing along to “Sign of the Times” Prince karaoke and there will be a prize for the best “U Got The Look” prince look-alike.

Thirsting for something hoppier? The Golden Fleece will kickstart summer with their first annual beer festival, showcasing modern and traditional cask ales from across the country, summer seasonal specials from regional brewers, as well as tropically hopped IPAs for craft ale afficionados. They will be celebrating love from 12pm on Saturday with live bands and a pizza pop-up from master baker Dominic of Salt Bakehouse. There’s even a whole extra day of love when we need it most, with an all day barbecue to accompany Sunday beer samplings.

At Qs Tattoos you can literally wear your heart on your sleeve. They will be offering exclusive love-themed tattoo flash starting at £30 each and will be open all day Friday and Saturday for walk-ins. Attendees of the Lust exhibition will also be entitled to 20% off any tattoo over £50 for the two weeks after the exhibition

Ruth and Ron at R&R Books, stalwarts of the Nelson Street retail scene, are delighted to see the friendly community opening its arms to draw more visitors up beyond the High Street. Their eclectic book selection has something for absolutely everyone to enjoy so why not enjoy a browse and savour your purchase over a fresh brewed coffee at Black Books Cafe. The cafe will be open til 8pm on Friday and will be offering 2 for 1 hot drinks from 6pm with specially baked love-themed sweet treats on the side.

Elvers Studio moved into their shop on Nelson Street in April of last year. The father and daughter duo are keen to celebrate Nelson Street and let people know there is plenty going on beyond the end of the high street! They will be opening their doors and their hearts to all comers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday so pay them a visit for a beautiful piece of artwork or jewellery as a token of your love for the Stroud independent arts scene. The Yoga Space will also be keeping their doors open to embrace the good people of Stroud until 8pm on Friday and Saturday, so you can give your body some love and attend to your heart chakra.

All this – and more surprises in store – awaits you on Nelson Street from 1st to 3rd June. Keep watch on social media for further announcements – or take a stroll up the street and see for yourself!

Article – Interview – Travel & Lifestyle

Article, Interview, Travel Writing

As something of an on-off digital nomad myself, I’ve enjoyed curating content and writing blog pieces and interviews for Digital Nomad. This online community portal curates and creates relevant content from personal stories to packing lists for those who may be considering taking to the open road and sustaining their journey by working online:

Portrait: a digital nomad living outside the tribe

Much discussion around the rise of digital nomad culture is focussed on the hubs and tribes, the clusters of nomads finding community wherever they find themselves, in co-working spaces and deeper connections through co-living projects scattered across the globe.

What of the nomad without a tribe?

The solitary wanderers and techno-hermits tucked away in all corners of the globe, creating vast online platforms that bring us all together. The paradox of digital work finds many nomads, by choice or by circumstance, alone in their hotel room, or tucked away in a cabin, bridging continents and creating virtual communities through their computer.

So what is it like to choose this path? I made a date with Ed Dowding, creator of Represent, a digital democracy platform which facilitates transparent, non-partisan, real time peer to peer polling and generates a clear and representative collective voice from scattered and distorted political debate in the UK.

Our interview begins with a classic digital nomad scene. After shifting times around a little we connect through skype, quick hello then robot sounds… Connection drops. Battling an intermittent wifi connection in a cafe and fielding calls to the mobile office take a little time and some creative problem solving. We shift channels, I am renting a UK local rate landline number which diverts to the landline of the retreat centre I am working from in Greece, which he can call from his mobile in Bristol. Ten minutes later with a clear line and a warm “hello” we dive into Ed’s story.

Ed made the shift to a nomadic life in 2002, four years into his career as a digital entrepreneur, arriving finally at a point where he felt confident that he could do his work entirely remotely.

“I realised that I was already effectively working remotely, so I might as well work remotely from the Alps! Technology makes it possible, so why not do it? I feel the same about paragliding. Our ancestors must have sat on mountains looking out and wanted to fly, now we can, so why would you not?”

His first step as a nomad was to move into a soft-top convertible he bought in Edinburgh!

“It was horrible, a colossal pain in the ass. I knew it wouldn’t work in winter and so I would have to leave before then. It served its main purpose, which was to get me out of there ”

Over a decade later and he now enjoys the relative luxury of a ski-in ski-out apartment in the Alps where he spends about three quarters of his time with the remaining quarter in the UK bouncing between meetings for his digital democracy platform Represent.

“A ratio of 30 days here in the Alps to about 10 days in the UK works well for me. Sometimes I cluster meetings more and it’s 60:20 but then the balance gets out of synch and a bit unmanageable with more activity and meetings and less time for follow up. It does depend I guess on how big a team you are working with.”

Ed also does occasional month-long house-sits in France and the UK for a bit of diversity, but makes clear that he is not one of the wealthy digital nomads with an easy residual income, rather one that lives outside the UK largely to save money, as well as  investing more time with fewer distractions in an online start-up.

As a solitary nomad nested in the midst of a transient crowd of holidaymakers and lots of snow, I was curious to know if he was at all drawn to the booming community of Digital Nomads in balmy locations across South East Asia:

“It’s sort of interesting, I know a few people who are there trying to work it out, but Asian Hoxton is not my style. Chances are that if a whole bunch of people are doing something and think it’s “cool”,I won’t.”

So what kinds of communities does this independent and deeply focussed entrepreneur identify with?

“As a wilful outsider I am quite ephemeral between communities – core friends, working relationships, interest groups, local connections – and at the same time I know very few people in France, it’s a resort not a village, most people who are there aren’t there the next week.”

Unlike many digital nomads who cluster in co-working spaces and co-living communities, hungry for collaboration and cross-pollination In Real Life, Ed seems to relish most of all the sense of connection he finds with nature:

“The giant mountain beckons you to the top of it without much resistance, walking through pine forest and nice mountain parks and gorgeous views. It is incredibly uplifting being at the top of a mountain for sunrise, watching the stars fade out and the colours come across the sky, it’s glorious.”

He speaks also of the challenges and quirks of these spells of solitary existence:

“If we exist largely in the eye of others, it’s other people’s reflection of us that help us work out who we are, so unless we consciously take time to think about who we are, then that doesn’t happen so much, to the extent I can sometimes look in the mirror and realise how very different I look, compared to how I feel.”

Most important to Ed, and the focus of the majority of his time and energy is his mission, the evolution and roll out of his digital democracy platform Represent:

“I’m pretty sure this one is my life’s purpose. If I can make this work, then it will be the most important thing I ever do.”

Spending most of his time at a distance from the UK, insulated from and not immersed in the daily reality and scale of the system he has tasked himself with transforming furnishes Ed with sufficient “delusion and belief” to support his mission focus. He seems to need only his own core belief in the value and importance of what he is doing to fuel his committed effort.

His philosophical reflection on purpose is sweetly representative of hours of undisturbed immersion in a a curated and theoretically dense cornucopia of podcasts and Sci-Fi audio books – the Utopias and dystopias of “social anthropology played out”:

“It’s incredible how many people believe that what they do is the most important thing they are doing, and from other people’s perspective it’s quite rubbish. Some people go to work because of the why, and some go despite it. It’s like the people who go to war not to fight for a noble cause, but because their friends are going and they want to help them. Perfectly mad.”

The flip-side and the challenge of such absolute mission focus, in Ed’s experience, is the ever-present risk of becoming “quite annoying, mono-thematic and single-minded”. Being relatively solitary he finds it easy to forget how people think and how to communicate ideas. This is especially hard when there is no shared understanding of the topic to begin from – so perhaps a like-minded community of digital nomads and entrepreneurs has its uses after all!

It is evident that there are many benefits and challenges to the solitary path of a digital nomad, just as there are in the close knit communities and cliques where we gather and grow together.

I personally find balance in moving between the two. For the last three years I have alternated  extended periods of solitary, simple, grounded living in remote valleys of Devon, Greece and Gran Canaria,  with creative whirlwind summers amongst my scattered global community, bouncing from couch to camper van and moving every few days to a new adventure. This summer however I’ll be renting a room for six months in the city as a base to put down my bag and move around from, as the “right  balance” for me changes and I move with it.

Each person’s balance will be different, and it just goes to show there are as many ways to make the nomadic life work for your as there are nomads doing it. Make the road your own! What’s your perfect balance?

Portrait: a Digital Nomad living outside the tribe

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