Skipton Castle taken some weeks ago
The photo isn’t part of the story, but it’s pertinent in terms of my being an Englishman and my Ottermobile my castle. And when his castle is attacked, the Englishman will defend it. Which is what happened to this Englishman the other night…
I’d travelled north via Teesside and Tyneside and needed a break as tiredness can kill. Before hitting the A193 coast road I found a countryside lay-by – not much around but a couple of farms. Wasn’t the most picturesque I’d ever chosen, it was very darkened by tall hedges, but it would do. It was a narrow lane and I was a little worried lest a heavy farm vehicle needed to get past. But it would do. I kept telling myself that. I’d come to rely on intuition with all things stealth-camping, and this time intuitively I felt something amiss, so was not altogether relaxed. I should’ve listened to intuition…
Just as I was prepping my bed and drawing curtains etc, a car’s headlights lit the gloom. Nothing odd about that, except that the driver seemed to take an exceptional interest. As he crept by and disappeared up the lane behind me, I thought that was that, and resumed my ablutions.
About five minutes later, another car, this time behind me, but as it passed I realised it was the same car, an Audi I think, and I could pick out that there was more than one passenger within. Again I thought, I hoped, that was that… except it soon returned the other way, and this time there was the obligatory peeping of the horn. It’s a joke I’d heard many times and usually bored me, but something nagged me.
Taking the precaution of leaving on my shorts and T-shirt, I eventually bedded down in my mummy bag. Nothing more happened for maybe half an hour, and as the moments ticked by, my mind and body allowed themselves to relax and I must’ve drifted into an uneasy slumber.
God knows how long later, I was woken by a violent rocking of the van, hands thumping against my windows and much shouting and laughter. It’s not easy to get out of a sleeping bag quickly, but I knew I had to.
“Fuck off!” I shouted.
“Fuck off!” came the mocking reply.
Shaking with fear, I pulled back a curtain and could pick out the faces of two young men, maybe twenty years old, grinning back at me.
“I’ll call the police!” I said.
“I’ll call the police!” came the mimicry.
Realising the law posed no deterrent, I tried reason. Winding the window down an inch, I said “Look lads, I’m homeless, I’m just trying to get some kip. Fuck off, yea?”
“You fucking cut me up!” one of them proclaimed.
“No I didn’t! When?”
“Back there. You coulda killed me and me girlfriend!”
In retrospect I would know this was absurd. My Ottermobile can only do 50 and I can’t remember overtaking a single vehicle, let alone cutting someone up, especially a car as powerful as his. But in the heat and the ludicrousness of the situation I could only deny his claim. And as he continued to remonstrate, the other man chipping in his support, I knew this wasn’t going away.
Anger boiling now, I struggled into my boots and prepared to disembark. “He’s getting out!” I heard the smaller man say.
“Good!” said the other. So now I knew this would be tricky. Somehow though, through a mixture of anger and fear, I managed to collect some thought – opening the side-door would give them an in, whereas the driver’s door would mean they’d have to move back, giving me vital room to manoeuvre.
As I emerged, fearing a beating, I quickly realised the smaller one was disarmed to see I’m a big bloke. Knowing I had to seize the advantage, I sent him backwards and to the ground with a violent shove. But I wasn’t quick enough for the other one and received a smack on the nose. As I reeled back into the side of the van, I now saw the two girls in the back seat of the car, grinning spectators at the ringside, and knew this was the sport of impressing the lasses.
But I wasn’t prepared to go down. As the smaller man was now on his feet and coming at me, I swung out at the bigger one and cracked him on the jaw. This caused the smaller one to retreat again, allowing me to grab the crowbar I keep in the foot-well. Brandishing this, I said “Come again and you get this!”
“Fuck off!” said the bigger man.
I would later wonder where this came from, but quite honestly I went a bit mad, flailing the bar at the dark air between us, lashing out and not caring if it cracked a skull or two.”He’s fucking off his head!” I heard one of the girls say, “Leave it Tize!” or some such monicker.
“Alright mate!” said the smaller man. Without a word, the bigger man gave me a sign that it was over and retreated to his Audi. And seconds later they’d gone, and it was over. Or was it?
Bewildered at what just happened, panting and shaking like a dog passing the turd of its lifetime, I put the bar down and climbed back into the van. Never more did I need a drink, but the Ottermobile was dry. A coffee then? But my hands were too shaky to pour from my water bottle. Making sure the doors were locked, I opened all my curtains and got fully-dressed, knowing sleep was now impossible lest they came back. Would they come back? Would they return with their mates instead of girlfriends? With their brothers, their fathers? All this was churning around my head. Would I call the police? Did I want the attention? I’m a vagrant, a traveller and stealth-camper, I’ve got enough problems getting through each day, did I need more?
And so I just sat, smoking chains of my last tobacco, finally managing to make coffee, going over and over the events, dabbing the cut over the eye with cotton wool. The whole thing must’ve lasted maybe two minutes, but though I’m not one for cliche and hyperbole, it felt like a lot longer. And why did it happen? What did I do to deserve it? I’m just a normal bloke down on his luck, wanting a quiet life, a quiet night’s kip. Why pick on me? Because I’m vulnerable, a guy on his own, in a country lane conducive to a punch-up? And could this have been worse? What if they too were armed? With a knife? A gun? Had I come close to serious injury or even death? What if I’d cracked them with the crowbar, injured or killed them? What if I ended up in prison?
“Something needs to happen,” Podge said all those weeks ago, and we talked about it, knowing this kind of thing was what was meant. This kind of thing that I always expected, feared, but hoped would never happen. Now it had.
And where did my anger and violence come from? I’m not a violent man, never have been, so why was I suddenly brandishing a lethal weapon? Why did I even have a crowbar to begin with? Was this some deep psychological flaw? Am I really a thug? Could I live with that horrible thought? Why do I hate myself?
But of course all this is not rational. As the hours and days have ticked by following this incident, and as the cut over my eye has scabbed, I’ve been more balanced in my view. It was down to chance. The young men were trying to impress their lasses, it was nothing personal, I just happened to be there, and seen as a bit of sport in a boring rural arena. The big one had got his punch in and would brag about it to his mates. Perhaps they both got laid that night as a trophy for their valour. Perhaps one day I will laugh about the whole thing? Perhaps I’ll embellish the tale, telling friends there were half a dozen of them? Maybe even ten of the fuckers?
I probably won’t, because it was an episode I don’t want to see a repeat of, an episode that left me thoroughly depressed, seeing orange rather than seeing stars. And it left me knowing the real reason for my paroxysm of violence:
I’m fed up of the world dishing its shit. If I’m sickened by the injustice and the affront to liberty, there will inevitably come a time when I say enough is enough. Whatever is my “castle”, be it a mansion, a posh apartment in Salford Quays, a clapped-out van with dodgy bearings, a bundle of rags in a shop doorway, I have every right to defend it. And finally I’m left with the realisation that though in the scheme of things I have nothing, I will do everything to keep it.