Although I had never followed his case particularly closely I was always under the impression (because of the amount of coverage he receives in the naturist press) that his cause was about the right to walk naked wherever we went.
But as I watched I realised this wasn’t the case at all. That his nudity has caused offence in some quarters and provoked the wrath of the authorities is not the be all and end all of his protest. It is not the reason why he does it.
Stephen Gough comes from a small town in Hampshire. He became a Marine, then a hippie and then a father. His lack of stability in his adult life thanks to his wanderlust, suggests he is a free spirit of sorts and that he is a protester, the kind of person always willing to stand up and be counted.
But I wondered, had his nudity not provoked the response it did, would he be persisting in walking his way round the UK ‘eau naturale’? If painting himself orange and wearing a deerstalker hat got him arrested, would he be doing that instead? Was it purely the fact that nudity got his cause for freedom noticed that kept him stripping for all the world to see? And was he doing it for his own rights, or those of everyone around him or purely for the attention? I found it telling that he only ever stripped naked when he was out and about, never at home, or in between protest walks. And I wondered if this was his mechanism rather than his cause.
To some it won’t matter. Certainly he is publicising naturism as a way of life so to speak. Whether you see that as good publicity or not is your take on it. But what if one day he got up, left his home naked and noone took any notice of him. What if the police stopped arresting him. What if noone cared anymore. Would he persist? Or would he find something else.
More and more what I saw in Stephen Gough wasn’t a freedom fighter or a naturist (ie someone who doesn’t have any hangups about the naked body) but a lost soul. A fragile creature looking for that ‘thing’ that justified his existence. No doubt his past experiences have had an impact on how he sees the world – from military restriction to the responsibility free life of a hippie commune.
I thought about other people who’d had that same aimless wanderlust and particularly of Christopher McCandless who first turned his back on the world he knew at the age of 18. He went on endless road trips in silent protest at what he saw as the materialism of society – a backlash against his privileged middle class upbringing. There was never any press interest in him however. At least, not until the end.
McCandless never quite found whatever he was looking for. He eventually died of exposure and possibly poisoning in the Alaskan wilderness at the age of 24.
I wondered what would happen to Gough if people stopped taking any notice of the fact that he was naked. Would he find something else to represent, or would he go back to Hampshire and try to pick up the pieces of the life he abandoned 7 years ago? And would that break him and his belief in who he was. He looks as if that at any point if the cause for his existence was taken away he would not know what to do.
We all need a purpose in life. Whether it’s just to raise a family, fight for animals, write a book, run a business or thrill seek by putting out lives in perpetual danger. We all need to have that something that keeps driving us forward. Because if you don’t have that ‘something’ what’s the point? Why are we here? What is our job on this planet if we simply wander around clogging up the environment and eating our way through the last of the world’s natural resources?
What if one day you woke up and that drive was gone? What would you do? It’s a terrifying thought because I don’t know what I’d do without my belief in who I am.
Without it, why are we here?
Historically, art careers do not pay well and employment opportunities themselves aren’t that inspiring. Despite this, a huge number of students enrole in, and graduate from, art based subjects. If art is your thing, that’s just the way it is.
Today’s graduates are realising their years at University may be the last time they get to enjoy their career ambitions without having to worry about how much money they are making from their skills, having the funds to simply be creative and the time to endulge 24\7 without additional pressures.
Once Uni is out the way and earning money becomes the main focus of attention, artsy careers may go on the backburner. If you’re planning to do it your way and start your own business you could potentially have to wait several years before you see a profit. That’s ok if you love your artsy work and of course you’ll be used to living on a tight budget because you were living on a student loan for the last 3 years right? But unless you’re living off the bank of mum and dad you’ll probably end up having to get a real life job to cover your ass.
If you’re employed by someone else in the industry your job might have the loosest possible connection to your career ambitions and may well be paying you a pittance. Artsy careers are a labour of love. You really have to want it despite the odds. But that’s okay because what you are learning as an intern working a ten hour day for your travel fare will of course be invaluable to you once you start climbing the ladder of success.
The truth of the matter is you’ve got to have a pretty thick skin to be an art graduate and still be nurturing your career ambitions 12 months later. I’ve seen so many art graduate colleagues in completely irrelevant jobs or retraining because Uni failed to tell anyone about the odds of getting a job in your chosen industry in that first year.
Because up until the point you finish uni you still feel invincible. You know you’ll be the one that’s going to make it.
The truth is there were 12 million graduates in the UK last year and there just aren’t that many career jobs out there.
Last Thursday I left the house for the first time since the previous Saturday.
Having the freedom to do exactly what I want 24/7 is great. And I have thrown myself completely into my design work with so much enthusiasm it surprises me. It’s the thing I love doing the most and it’s my business. I feel like I’ve been given another chance to make this work. Escaping from office work after 5 months has been liberating for my creative soul. I’m not going to lie, I am loving it.
But working from home is a solitary business. It is the fate of many of us who live and work under the same roof. And it’s a fine line between working from home and never leaving the house. I have to make a very conscious plan to build going out into my weekly schedule. It’s remarkable how quickly you lose your social skills when you’re not meeting people so it’s important to bear that in mind. I also have to factor in exercise time because my job doesn’t involve much physical activity.
And even though I’m working on average 6-7 hours a day, 6, or sometimes 7 days a week, I still feel guilty when I put my feet up in the evening. I keep business separate from the rest of the house but it’s still not the same as commuting and leaving the house. Especially if the other people in the house do commute every day and enjoy their own space when they are at home. It’s a fine balance.
Even the simple act of popping out to post a letter can be a major change of scenery when you work from home and it never quite feels like you’ve accomplished something if you haven’t left the house for a couple of days.
I will feel less guilty when paid commissions are coming in and I am going out to more photoshoots. At the moment I’m clearing a backlog of personal designs, responding to enquiries and scheduling shoots which begin this Friday.
I just hope things kick off before another office job turns up and I feel obliged to take it on.
I have read this article ‘Sex, love, work: inside the world of twentysomething women‘ on and off with more than a hint of jealousy.
When I was in my twenties, although I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I was never strong enough to stay focussed because I always put other people before me and always felt as if I was tied to an emotional millstone that wouldn’t let me put myself first. I would get entangled in undesirable relationships and then struggle to get out of them. I was bad at confrontation, wracked with guilt whenever I left someone high and dry (because ironically I was always the main earner and they often ended up in dire financial circumstances once I’d gone) and then annoyingly I’d go and make the same mistake all over again.
I am now in that place (finally) where I am in control. But it has come late and at a high cost. Although I have never been afraid of being single, it just never happened. I lived alone once for a year, and I loved it. But I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t keep up the place I rented and ended up back with my parents. It was a failure, a regression that was worse than anything I could have imagined.
And I think that was the added attraction of my younger days ‘attached’ – it meant independent living. It meant having my own place and own rules. I lived all over London, Buckinghamshire and into the Midlands. I was an independent person even though I was living with a partner. It was crazy really. I had no intention of ever really settling down, so why relationships have been such a centre point of my life I have no idea.
Had I been single in my current situation I’d have been stuck living at home well into my 30s. And if it happens again I will be back on houseshare status. But equally it was my relationships and those emotional millstones that held me back at crucial times – accepting university places, moving away for jobs.
My partner status in my late teens and twenties held me back. More than anything else, that is the regret, and I firmly blame my inability to take control of bad relationships and put myself first early on for that.
Unfortunately those things are done and I am now in a different place. Choices were made and time wasted. All one can do is make the best of new situations and keep pressing on. Because regret over the past is a useless waste of energy.