Waking up to my garden in Saltburn a couple of weeks ago
Before picking up on my stay in Saltburn I thought it apt to record another important landmark for me – 100 days and nights of living off-grid. In preparation for this I looked at my copious notes and turned them into bullet-points, then got bored of their formality, so decided to put them into some sort of narrative or stream of consciousness. So a potted summary of the trials, tribulations and adventures from the Ottermobile…
I’ve supped in lots of pubs to get my stories and characters: I heard the life-story of a sobbing Hell’s Angel in Leeds, I made a friend in nonagenarian Jerry Eccles in Lytham, fancied Bet Lynch in Bridlington, got given a less than warm greeting in Prestatyn, ate a salty haggis in Dumfries, had a piss-up reunion with Tiddle-eye-Po, my brothers and sons in Nantwich, played pool with Gary and met a fellow Stoke fan in Beeston, had a brief encounter with Ann in Scarborough, heard the story of Sailor Tom losing his eldest son to Neptune, and listened to a tale of woe from a bloke who’d got “managed out” of his council job in Carlisle.
I’ve trodden the ground from my childhood. I put flowers on my parents’ graves, visited my first ever home, retraced my steps over the village where I grew up, reminisced about losing my virginity, trekked the Golden Mile of Blackpool, recalled happy memories of holidays in North Wales, researched my family tree.
I’ve diced with death on several occasions. The brakes went in Halifax, the back wheel bearings burnt out in Thwing and according to the grease monkeys 100 more yards and the wheel would’ve overtaken me, I nearly burned myself alive with a dish of pasta, in Leeming Bar I drove the wrong way up a duel carriageway, I got challenged to a bare-knuckle fight in Appleby and had a fight with a couple of fuckwits north of Tyneside.
Funny things not life-threatening have happened in the Ottermobile: the passenger seat collapsed in Burwardsley, the roof leaked in Penrith then mysteriously sealed itself, I found £100 in my pocket, and during an invasion of mosquitoes I got bitten on the dick.
Stealth-camping has been a varied experience: I’ve slept rough on a garage forecourt, in someone’s garden, in lay-bys all over the north, in rural retreats with beautiful views, country lanes flanked by tall hedges, fields with cattle in the next bed, outside remote cottages and in town streets under the nose of sleeping residents. And in Salford Quays I’ve kipped for free in the grounds of the posh apartment I used to pay through the nose for.
I’ve made friends or renewed acquaintances outside of pubs too: Rachel from school and her lovely husband Stuart in Filey, Kay and Adam in Sandsend, Mark and Ruth in Rigg (and their dog and a haggis) Mandy in Nantwich, the Ashtons in Wistaston, a homeless chef who spent the night in my Ottermobile, imaginary friend Mystery who came to dinner, and a smashing bloke called Trev in Flamborough…
I’ve driven thousands of miles in three countries: I fell in love again with Beeston, I travelled up the west coast, struggled to park in Rhyl, enjoyed a few days in the beautiful Lake District, got applause from Japanese tourists as I busked Simon and Garfunkle in Pooley Bridge, chugged my way up through Cumbria and into Gretna where nobody would marry me, on to Dumfries and back down to Derby to see my son Charlie graduate. And best of all, I reunited with my daughter Gabriel after ten long years then later got to meet my beautiful grandchildren for the first time.
So it’s been a journey of adventure and catharsis: I’ve seen good and bad, met people good and bad, heard stories happy and sad. I’ve felt happy and sad myself. There have been many moments of loneliness and depression, many times I’ve either laughed or cried uncontrollably. I’ve contemplated climbing a Cumbrian mountain and jumping off, throwing myself over the cliffs of Bempton, walking into the sea at Formby, drowning in Ullswater while having a wash, or allowing the quicksands of Glencaple to drag me under.
But many things have stopped me: the unfailing help of Jayne, the support of my brothers, kids and friends both new and old, the beauty that’s our kingdom, the wildlife it offers, the osprey in Caelaverock, the barn owl in Tarleton, the nearly-sighted otter, the seaside towns we shouldn’t allow to crumble, the thought of falling in love.
And many things have driven me: finishing my novel, a TV script by correspondence with two co-authors, a stage play that’s been burning for years, and weirdly this blog, which for me is an entirely new and alien thing. The thought and love of my friends and family, the thought of all things positive in the world and the walking 500,000 miles to keep me fit and sane.
But life as a homeless nomad isn’t easy. Yes I’ve basked in the sun like a happy lazy tramp, but I’ve tramped through the woods in torrential rain. I have loved it and I have hated it, I’ve felt up and I’ve felt down. I’ve been called a lovely and kind man in Scarborough and a paedophile in Scotland. I’ve nostalgically wondered how those less fortunate have faired; how Aline and her siblings are doing in Rwanda and did they ever get to America? I’ve championed the underdog. I’ve searched my soul for ways to right the wrongs I’ve done and I’ve pondered how to right the wrongs of terrorists and bullies, or how to take a metaphorical crowbar to those who’ve shat on me.
I’ve come through it all unscathed but for a small cut over the eye. I feel good that I’ve achieved 100/365 of my project. How much further I get in terms of mileage depends not least on the Ottermobile, which depreciates with every revolution of its wheels. As for me, who knows? But as long as I’ve no choice I’ll bat on, 100 not out, still living and learning.
So what have I learned? That I am a fighter who won’t be beat, who won’t run away. I can be down but will never be out. That I am still alive and fecund, that while I’m poor in terms of money I’m rich with ideas, imagination and creativity. Oh and a lot of love in the bank.