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{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Anchors aweigh

A sudden awakening at stupid o’clock. Feeling panicky. Heart racing. Struggling to breathe.

Something was wrong.

She sat up in bed, a tingling feeling of pins and needles running down her left arm.

Her husband lay sound asleep on the bed beside her. Flat on his back. Head back. Mouth open. Snoring loud enough to shake the windows. A trickle of drool staining the collar of his pyjamas.

As she reached out to wake him, her chest tightened, feeling like it was gripped in a vice. She fell out of bed. Toppled the nightstand. Smashed a lamp. Landed, already unconscious, on the floor.

45 minutes later, her husband’s alarm went off. Time to wake up. Face the brand new day.

Staggering bleary-eyed on autopilot into the bathroom for his daily “triple s” routine.

Only noticing his prone wife on the bedroom floor when he returned to get dressed.

A momentary panic, and conflicting emotions. Relief that she was still breathing. Alarm when she failed to respond to conversation or gently trying to shake her awake.

Ambulance called. Help was on the way.

At this point in the story, our protagonists could be living anywhere in any developed country. Possessing access to an ambulance service, electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing.

However, at this point, their choice of rustic rural living location begins to have real life or death consequences. Implicitly accepted, but not anticipated. Predictable, yet unforeseen.

The ambulance crew arrived within minutes. Sirens blaring. Lights flashing. Skidding to a dramatic stop.

Vitals checked.

Oxygen administered.

Heart monitor attached.

But there was a problem.

The family home had been frequently extended over the years. Expanded to accommodate a growing number of children, then later, visits from a tribe of grandchildren. Resulting in a rabbit warren layout of awkward angles and inconvenient corners. The ambulance crew were unable to get their wheeled gurney anywhere near the bedroom. The patient would need to be stretchered outside.

Which revealed a second problem. A big one.

She was obese. Morbidly so.

The culmination of a lifetime of unhealthy choices. Limited dietary options. Poor education. Inadequate exercise, as everything in their rural locale was a drive away from home.

Her living location was a choice. So too was each meal. Each portion size. Each bite. Each commute.

No judgement, just demonstrable cause and effect.

Decades worth of lifestyle choices compounding to yield this most unfortunate of outcomes.

The ambulance crew called for reinforcements.

Two more crews were dispatched from neighbouring towns. Even with six able bodies, plus the husband, they unable to pass the heavily loaded stretcher through all the doorways to the outside.

The fire brigade was called for. More sirens and flashing lights to wake up the neighbours.

While they waited, the heart monitor suddenly went berserk. Well-trained ambulance officers sprang into action. The husband winced as his wife’s favourite nightie was cut open. Defibrillator paddles zapping her prone body with sudden jolts of electricity.

The heart monitor calmed down once more. If only it was so easy to calm the husband.

Two hours after the first heart attack, backlit by the early dawn light, eight strong men carried the stretcher bearing the unconscious and now nearly naked patient towards a waiting ambulance.

The worried husband went to join them, but was turned away.

Covid restrictions.

No family in the ambulance.

No visitors at the hospital.

In times like these, the patient goes it alone.

Siren blaring, the ambulance raced for the local hospital, only for the dispatcher to wave them away en route. It was a small hospital, only 20 beds, ill-equipped to deal with patients of her ample proportions or complex medical needs.

The driver headed for the highway, bound for a larger regional hospital located an hour’s drive away.

Medical staff at the regional hospital swiftly got the patient stabilised before making the call that she needed to be moved to intensive care. A medical capability the regional hospital did not possess.

A vigorous debate took place over the best way to transport the patient to the nearest hospital with an available ICU bed, a couple of hundred kilometres away. The fastest route was via helicopter, but her vast weight exceeded the safe carrying limit of the medevac helicopter.

She was loaded back in the ambulance, which retraced its path to the highway for the long drive ahead.

Nearly six hours after her first heart attack, the patient was safely under the care of specialist doctors and ICU nurses. The lengthy delays in accessing the required medical care almost costing her life.

A bit over a week later she was discharged, wearing a hospital issue nightgown and a shiny new pacemaker. Her husband waited outside, ready to chauffeur her home.

On the journey, she incredulously recounted some of the dietary, lifestyle, and physical fitness advice she had received while in hospital. Many of the recommended foods were not available in their town, nor were the swimming pool or exercise facilities it had been recommended she start to use.

It was a half-hour commute each way to the closest pool.

A 90 minute round trip was required to visit the nearest large supermarket or fresh fruit and vegetable store.

Each was possible.

Each required advance planning and incurred non-trivial transportation costs.

Facilities that many of us take for granted simply did not exist in their idyllic rural village, located far away from the busy fast-paced life of the big city.

A hidden cost of their low cost of living locale.

A choice made long ago. One with long-tailed consequences.

True grit

Recently the outside of the house I live in was painted. An attempt to restore some faded grandeur to an ageing mass-produced period house, located on a long street full of identical-looking buildings.

Part of the colour scheme is white. The rest is an unfortunate shade of brown.

Not a fashion choice.

Nor a personal preference.

A century ago, the colour scheme was determined by whatever paint the developer had been able to procure large quantities of at lowest cost.

Today, that colour scheme is forever preserved under the neighbourhood’s conservation area status.

Proof once more that humans unthinkingly celebrate things that are old, rather than things that are good.

Within a couple of days, that shiny white paint was covered in a fine layer of black dust. Resembling the fingerprint powder liberally used by police forensic technicians when investigating serious crimes.

Exhaust particles.

Grit.

Pollution.

By week’s end, the white paint no longer looked shiny or new. Coated in yet more black dust.

A reminder that the quality of the air we breathe every day is a product of our choice of living location. So too is the quality of sleep, for those who living near a busy road or beneath an airport flight path.

As I examined the soot-covered white surfaces, an Amazon van cruised to a stop at the curb. Moments later I received a parcel containing a last-minute purchase I had ordered late the previous evening. Across the road, a uniformed driver unloaded a home-delivery grocery order for one of my elderly neighbours. Meanwhile, my son sat on the doorstep watching Tiktok videos on his phone via the 4G mobile data network.

Access to services is another product of our choice of living location. Facilities I take for granted. These were all services the obese wife and her husband may have read about, but living where they do, they are unlikely to experience them first hand.

I remember a trip to Bermuda many years ago, where I chatted to the proprietor of a small store near my hotel. She had patiently explained to another customer that virtually everything sold on the island had to be imported from the mainland. A process that had a six-week run-up. The spontaneous gift the customer wanted to purchase today needed to have been planned out over a month ago.

As tourists, all we saw was the beautiful views, idyllic location, and relaxed lifestyle. We were oblivious to the “real life” realities faced by the locals. Relentless mould. Accommodation options constrained by the very finite supply, changing the equation from the luxury of choice we enjoy in the big city to having to accept whatever happened to be available at the time it was required.

Anchors Aweigh

That night I found myself idly playing around with a couple of online “where can I live?” toys provided by property portals.

Each asked the users to begin their search by nominating one or more anchor points. Perhaps the address of their workplace, school, or loved ones.

This was followed by the modes of transport they were willing to use and the maximum commute they were willing to endure.

Only then did the tools ask for the traditional property search criteria: budget, bedroom and bathroom numbers, type of dwelling, and access to features like car parking or gardens.

The results displayed were what you would expect. An area of the map highlighting where properties matching the supplied criteria could be found. Little pins indicated potentially suitable homes for sale or rent within that area. Some tools also displayed a diminishing trail of satellite circles along the main commuter train lines, centered around stations further out that also met the search criteria.

What I found fascinating about the process was the question of anchor points. Having to think about, identify, and nominate those few addresses that above all else determine the outcome of where we choose to live.

How many of us consciously think about or choose our living location in such a way?

Come to think of it, how many of us live in a locale we have consciously chosen? As opposed to drifting along in the currents of fate, letting an employer’s choice of job location or an already established loved one determine those anchor points for us?

That gave me pause.

Growing up on the other side of the world, my imaginings of London were driven by postcard tourist attractions, the Monopoly board game, and old episodes of The Bill.

The neighbourhood I currently live in is one I had never heard of until less than a decade ago.

A location bourne out of compromise. Trading off qualitative aspects such as school catchment areas and public transport links, against quantitative factors like cash flow and value for money.

As is so often the case, a result that ticked most of the boxes, yet made few of the decision-makers happy. Human nature focussing on the few things we don’t have, rather than the many things we do have.

The obese wife and her husband had consciously chosen their anchor points. Long ago making the decision to uproot their lives and transplant to an idyllic rural locale. Trading access to services and proximity to family for a beautiful view and greatly reduced cost of living.

A decision that made sense while life followed the happy path, free from drama and the unexpected. Now, as age and cumulative health concerns start to catch up with them, the downsides of their remote existence were beginning to outweigh the benefits.

The Bermudian shopkeeper living in an island paradise would have readily traded places with many of the tourists who frequented her store. Swapping the hidden realities of raising her young family on the proceeds of her struggling small business, while living in a country with one of the world’s highest costs of living. Wanting more opportunities for her children than an island with a population the size of a medium sized commuter town could provide.

What are your anchor points? Are they time bound, or an anchor for life?

Were they of your own making, or did circumstance and family ties make the decision for you?

For me, these questions provided an interesting perspective on living locations. One I hadn’t considered before.


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18 Comments

  1. Fire And Wide 16 September 2021

    Hey Indeedably. An interesting concept / approach those anchor points. So many people don’t ever seem to stop to think about why they live where they do beyond the obvious.

    For so many years my work was our driving anchor – our self build house plot being picked by a combination of cost and being able to commute in to London.

    I know most people wouldn’t consider Norfolk as ‘commutable’ but it worked well for us. We even get all those services up here in the middle of nowhere so that family must have been really remote!

    But now that I’m FIRE’d and no longer need to work, the whole question of where we want to live is both far more interesting – and harder to answer. No major anchor points any more except family and friends, who all live at a distance anyway.

    I find my thinking driven by a whole bunch of new criteria than when we were plot-searching. Weather, life-style, a house with a proper view, language. All feature much higher now that we have more freedom of choice.

    And as ever, the downside of all that choice and flexibility – way too many places to choose from! A good problem to have, I do realise…

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Michelle.

      The anchor points idea struck a chord with me. Early on, I lived where I lived because it was near my family, affordable, and a viable commute to work. Later, I followed a pretty girl overseas, and we ended up choosing to live somewhere affordable that was a viable commute from her work when she was the first one to land a job.

      Roll forward a couple of decades, and my choice of living location today turns out to be based largely on commutes to jobs we have long since left! However, in the meantime schools had been chosen based upon where we lived, forming new anchor points.

      Looking at the experiences of colleagues a decade or two older than I am, upon retirement many of their anchor points became the locations of their children and grandchildren. It seems all to easy, common even, to drift through an entire lifetime without ever consciously choosing where we live.

      Neither a good thing or a bad thing necessarily, but something I find fascinating.

  2. Liz 16 September 2021

    Interesting! We live just by Z1 London in a small flat, and we have kids in schools nearby. It’s a perpetual question whether we should be like the rest of our peer group and move out to the beautiful 4 bed house in the suburbs (for us. that would be Z3 and beyond!). But I like living near amenities. Your detailed scenarios are very helpful.

    Also WHERE do you get these (very handy) scenarios? Are they are real life experiences?

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Liz.

      You face an all too familiar scenario, balancing space versus proximity. In my case, we realised after our second child arrived that we rarely visited many of those amenities we once regularly frequented and valued being near. Department stores, theatres, museums, galleries, concert venues, etc.

      Our two bedroom flat was traded for a four bedroom house with a yard. The commute was slightly longer, but the reduced pressure provided by extra space and the daily fun on a trampoline proved to be priceless.

      Funnily enough, now my kids are older and the option of visiting those old haunts once more is once again viable, I find I have little interest in doing so. Not sure if that is growing up, getting old, or just evolving tastes!

      As for the scenarios, I write about whatever happens to be in my head that day. Could be a personal experience, a conversation I’ve had or overheard, or just something I read about that seemed worth thinking through in the structured way that writing helps me do.

  3. ryangibsonclever 16 September 2021

    Really enjoyed this post again.

    Having sold my business and my wife stepping away from work currently to be with our children we have absolutely no anchor point to our specific area. We love it but we sometimes think we’d like a place a little more rural (when I say rural I wouldn’t suggest the extreme like in this article). Just somewhere we could have more land and self sufficiency. We always come back to the part that they come with their own drawbacks (as you’ve nicely covered in the article).

    Ultimately, we come back to the point we live in a great area, with a lot of greenery, well accessible and close to a city centre should we ever need it. Our main issue is the usual in these suburban areas (traffic and large SUV’s everywhere). People are desperate to live here but the grass can sometimes seem greener!

    Our primary reason for staying is friends (both ours and our daughters) as well as accessibility, we’ve just completely renovated the house and it’s walkable to both a primary and secondary school.

    We have a very small mortgage remaining in our early 30’s, 5 bedrooms and neighbours to one side. It was our ideal property (bar a little more garden) when we moved in but pandemics and business sales change things right? I sometimes feel guilty for looking elsewhere but perhaps Rightmove browsing is my favourite hobby?

    What perspective did you see on the basis of the questions you didn’t see before? I always assumed it was clear cut for you in terms of location.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Ryan.

      The grass is always greener, the Bermudian shopkeeper is a great example. Many of us dream of living in a holiday brochure, she was doing so and would gladly trade places.

      Sounds like you have a nice setup there, but are discovering contentment is a moving target. The exact same house can feel perfectly sized with little kids, too small with teenagers, and then far too large when empty-nesters.

      What perspective did you see on the basis of the questions you didn’t see before?

      We consider location when we are making a move, but rarely take the time to revaluate why we live where we do in-between moves. For example, perhaps our living location was largely chosen to service a commute we no longer do, or a school our children no longer attend.

      The anchor points concept forced me to think about what those addresses would be today, as opposed to what they had been in the past, overcoming that “because that comfortable/familiar/how it has always been” default perspective. Potentially opening up new towns or neighbourhoods to consider that previously might not have worked.

  4. weenie 16 September 2021

    I’d never heard of the concept of anchor points before but in considering where to buy my house, the things I deemed important included proximity to family/friends, city centre (for work/social life) and supermarket. If these boxes were not ticked, I could have probably found a much cheaper property.

    Unusual that the lady in your first story was so unhealthy as in my mind, I equate rustic rural living to being far healthier than urban/city living!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Weenie.

      That’s a very practical wish list, including a few anchor points. Given your early retirement plans with the next decade, I wonder if you would have landed in the same neighbourhood had work commute not been a factor? Sounds like you might well have done.

      Your mileage may vary, but my experience has been people ate more likely to be overweight the poorer their socioeconomic area is (eg more fried chicken/fish & chip shops in a poor neighbourhood but is hard/expensive to find a decent salad). Regional and rural areas tend to be poorer than suburban metropolitan ones, a case in point is the many disadvantaged coastal towns in England. Cities also often offer public transportation (and the associated walking), while more remote locales are wholly dependent upon driving cars.

  5. [HCF] 16 September 2021

    As I recently saw on a tattoo “Familia ante omnia”. That was our only anchor all along and it seems it remains, just the focus shifts over time from parents to kids. I wouldn’t say our location was a cautious pick but more like “choose something what works in a visiting range to the parents’ place”. We ended up buying a house at the outskirts of the 6th biggest city of the country, still 45 minutes of driving from parents’ location and (even bike) commutable distance from local amenities/services. Having a good local hospital is a big plus as in your story. I think family restricted our choice to a 100km radius. I can see this changing in the future when our turn for being gnadpa and grandma comes, only I plan to approach it differently. If we can make it work I wan’t to follow my kids wherever they go. Not living at their doorstep just close enough to be part of their everyday lives. Of course if they will still feel nice having me around. Time will tell if we will be able to afford that luxury. Who knows what will the world look like in 20 years.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks HCF. Great to hear you have found a place to call home near your family.

      That living near the grandkids plan can sometimes be a trap, if the experiences of my elder colleagues has been anything to go by. Retire and get established near their adult children and grandchildren, only for them to subsequently move away in search of advancement or overseas adventures.

  6. AJP 17 September 2021

    Great post. This is something I always bring up. Especially saying to my friends that if they weren’t born in there town they’d never choose to love there.

    Also a good time for some thought about it because of the pandemic. I’ve followed my wife around the world and where we live now is only because of her job…and she hasn’t been in the office for 18 months. Is this still a relevant anchor point, will she every go back to the office. Would we be better off anchoring around my friends (2 hours away), my family (4 hours away) or picking a beautiful area with a cheap cost of living miles away from anywhere.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 18 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks AJP.

      Doing things because we’ve always done them is the path of least resistance, requiring little thought or effort. The positive thing this shows is we can be happy and find friends or potential life partners pretty much anywhere.

      I wish you the best of luck with your anchor point discussion. Those can be tricky, particularly where one half of the couple is a clear winner (i.e. “her” job, “my” friends/family).

      Those cheap remote locations raise some interesting questions. I’ve often found they can be nice places to holiday, but I wouldn’t want to live there permanently. Your mileage may vary.

  7. Nick 18 September 2021

    This struck a chord. My parents are empty nesters in their early 70s looking to downside from a handsome five bed detached family home to something more suitable.

    They first chose a very rural location — their dream — but after much consideration they’ve drawn a circle of one hours drive from the best heart hospital in the South East. Dad had a triple bypass 15 years ago and potential access to healthcare is now their primary anchor.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 18 September 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Nick.

      I hope your parents find what they are looking for when downsizing, and they have no need further need for the heart hospital!

  8. Dividend Power 20 September 2021

    We picked our town based on criteria which I guess are anchor points. But we would do things differently as we age I guess. The driving forces when younger with kids is different than when older and the kids are on their own.

  9. Fresh Life Advice 23 September 2021

    Wow, you are an incredible writer! Your detail really captures the reader and puts them in the scenario. Keep up the great work!

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