The Story of Losing One’s Bearings

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The morning after the wheel-bearing fiasco I woke up early and waited for the grease monkey.  His name was Alan, a thick-set character who, like all mechanics, wasn’t inclined to start with good news.  “Problem is getting the bearings for this model,” he said, gloomily.  But after a nifty phone call he said he could get them by 2.30 and have me back on the road “while 5.”  This was good news, though I knew it would cost me and I’d have to go to the Bank of Podge.  Anyway I hastily planned a day in Bridlington to kill time and write.

After a hearty breakfast in a town centre cafe I enjoyed a five-mile walk down the prom tiddley-om-pom-pom then felt I deserved a pint.  Many years ago Jayne switched on the Christmas lights here and I remembered it well.  I chose the Harbour Tavern where I was delighted to get a pint of bitter for £1.90.  38 bob!  You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.  Cheap round here, I thought.

The bar was quiet at first; just an old couple sipping drinks in complete and bored silence, a retired gent with a good head of hair moaning to his friend about a non-regular who scooped the jackpot on the machine.  “Twice!” he added, more than once.  And a jovial barmaid grumbling to a vaping barfly about her dog; “He’s a little shit,” she said.  And finally the most amazingly hilarious mullet I’ve ever seen.  Oh how I laughed to myself… until I realised I’ve got one!

As the bar filled up I thought I’d chance my arm with one of the locals over a cigarette outside – a retired fisherman called Tom, a wiry old gent with forearms like Popeye, who told me his tale that ended in tragedy.  He’d worked at sea, fishing for cod, haddock, lobster and crab, all his life and his sons followed.  Up at 2 and braving the tides for twelve hours was tough work with never any guarantee of a good catch.  One night a storm brewed and the twenty-foot waves engulfed his coble, causing one of his sons to slip.  Desperately, Tom grabbed his hand but couldn’t hang on, so he watched helplessly as his son slid away and got taken by Neptune.  Bereft, Tom thought he could carry on till retirement, but after a few more trips he realised he’d have to call it a day, too powerful was the trauma.  His remaining sons still fish and every time they go out, Tom can’t sleep, till he knows they’re safely ashore.

I wondered how many matelots have similar tales of woe, and frankly I marvelled at how they do it.  I pictured myself on a boat, slipping and sliding on deck in all weathers, and shuddered, knowing I’m not man enough for it.  Like coal mining it’s one of those jobs people do, as we consumers take their rewards for granted.  I felt ashamed at how many times my computer has crashed and I term it a peril of the job of writing.  As my dad might’ve said, we don’t know we’re born.

To clear my head of sadness I took another brisk walk until Alan called to say the bearings were replaced.  As I headed for the garage, impressed with their turbo performance, I thought all was not so bad.  I was expecting (stupidly) a bill of about thirty quid, then nearly dropped dead to be told it was over three times that!  I think I said the word bollocks out loud, and added it wasn’t so cheap around these parts after all.

One of those things I guess.  At least I had my home back, and my life.  But I still couldn’t help feeling down as I pulled up next to Flamborough Lighthouse.  Yes this time there was a trigger as my head filled with orange and I broke down and wept.

These are the times you feel the loneliest, and that the project is utterly pointless or even impossible to complete.  It wasn’t so much the Ottermobile as me who’d lost his bearings.  But what can you do but carry on?  What can possibly go wrong now?  At least I did find some solace in a kind new friend and fellow-vanner called Trevor from Worksop (more on this next time) but you can’t vent your anger on a new friend, can you?  So I just had to get my head down and forget about the whole thing, cry myself to sleep.

Trouble was, the bloody lighthouse kept flashing!  If they had any consideration for travellers they’d switch it off at night-time.  I managed a chuckle as I thought that one up, but knew that Sailor Tom wouldn’t.

 

Happy Endings – A Story in Three Parts

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Image by Jayne Bickerton

Part One:

Depression manifests itself in many different ways, depending I suppose who you are and how you’re made up.  Because I do think it’s genealogical; I never got to meet my granddad, but if my mother’s tales were anything to go by, he was an alcoholic.  And though I think the word was never used in those days, depression was what he suffered and died from.  Depression is not easy to describe, but with your blessing I’ll attempt to do so, at least from my own perspective…

Like a human drama serial, this thing comes in episodes.  They’re not time-specific though, they can last for a day, a week, a month…  And each one finishes but you know there’ll be another instalment – as for when, you’re kept in suspense.  I’ve had many episodes in my life, and while they’re always similar in terms of the physical (because it is a physical illness) the mental side can vary – from hopelessness, apathy, despair to the far end of the spectrum, suicidal tendencies or even an attempt to “end it”.

Let me first take the physical side.  The body aches, it doesn’t want to get out of bed, it doesn’t want to be dressed, it refuses to exercise, it’s seized-up, it’s blown a gasket, it’s just conked out.  This I admit is a simplistic portrait, but to me it is that simple; your body has just packed up.

The mental side is far more complex and I repeat, varied.  This won’t make for merry reading but I offer two examples of either end of the spectrum I outlined above.

Part Two:

The first example is triggered by nothing in particular but it can trigger something life-threatening (see my previous diary entry).  You wake up with a strange feeling that the hours are going to be dark.  It takes a while to get up.  You run a bath.  It goes cold because you go back to bed.  You finally get up and let the water out, and you hate the waste of a commodity we in this country take for granted while others are gasping for it.  You run another bath.  But the tank is cold now.  You sit in the freezing water for ages.  Your mind goes orange, you’re feeling nothing except hopelessness… What are you doing here?  Why were you born?  Why have you made your life a mess?  Where are you going?  Why does nobody love you?  Of course you know that people do love you, but that’s how it feels.  It’s not as simple as just feeling sorry for yourself, which is why it’s irritating when people tell people like you to “cheer up” or “get a grip” or “pull yourself together.”  Because the hopelessness makes that impossible, the hopelessness is overpowering and oppressive to common sense.  Some people say it’s like being strait-jacketed and you know what they mean.  But to you it feels like someone’s poured sand in your ear, making your head too heavy to function, blocking the ability to think straight, to appreciate what’s good about your life and the world itself.  So you have to wait till you sleep on the right side and the sand runs out.  But when the days go by and there’s no sign of the sand on your pillow, only tears, the only way of coping is to drink, find some escape, and drink, and drink… and nearly burn yourself to death.

The second example is work-related.  You have a great job, demanding and tiring but great.  You’re doing well, riding high.  Then one morning it goes orange.  Again no particular trigger, just everything turning orange in your head and your body shutting down.  You try to soldier on but the more you do the less you get done.  It’s the curse of the strong – you’re a strong man but you’re losing control, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to someone like you.  It’s time to get help, you know it, from your loved-ones, from your boss, but to ask is to betray your weakness so instead you bottle it up, the dog is mauling you but you conceal the teeth-marks.  The reluctance to show weakness is compounded by the fear that nobody will understand, your boss won’t get it, and the very real fear of losing your job or being “managed out”.  The fear of your talents slipping away or being ignored.  So you neither turn to others nor help yourself, you do yourself no favours which means you turn to drink.  Before you know it you’re on a spiral that only goes downwards and the self-loathing kicks in, you hate yourself so much that the very idea that anybody can love you seems ludicrous, and life itself seems impossible too, so what choice do you have but to weigh up how to do it… a rope, a hose-pipe or walk into the sea?

Part Three:

But there is always another choice, and there’s always the fact you have a responsibility, to yourself and your loved-ones.  If you didn’t turn to them for help, you only have yourself to blame.  It seems incongruous but you’re in a privileged position to be in the abyss, but looking up at the sun or stars.  The sun warms your face, and the stars say you can fight, you can fight both your circumstances and your dog.  Your reason to live is right there.  Your loved-ones, the things in life that give you pleasure.

Your pleasure happens to be travel, so what better way to leave this thing behind?  It’s not running away, it’s running to something new.  It’s not displaying weakness it’s showing you’re in control again.  And finally, you’re not hopeless, you’re full of promise, full of joy and full of knowledge that the fucking dog is no better than you.  You are the master.  And now the master heads for the sun, on his merry way.

The Story of Booze and Depression

IMG_2279So this is Salford Quays, Media City UK, where some time ago I was drunk and nearly burned down an apartment block.

I make it clear that I’m not proud.  I’ve told some people the story and laughed and made them laugh, but it’s time to face the shameful truth.  My eldest brother Podge was a firefighter, proudly decorated and making the papers for heroically saving a little boy’s life…  What have I achieved?  What kind of hero am I?  I’ve never been an aggressive drunk, on the contrary I’ve always been a merry one, but certainly idiotic and irresponsible, decorated in this instance by only shame.  But it’s part of my story and if you’ll bear with me you’ll see the reason for my recounting it.

Not for the first time in my life I was in a bad place, not financially or romantically or geographically – I had work in TV, I had a lovely girlfriend and I lived in a beautiful location – but mentally the location wasn’t so lovely or beautiful.  I loved my apartment and all the chattels I’d built around me.  It was my Sabbath and I set ready for Gillette Soccer Saturday, bent on blowing my mind on a cocktail of football and booze.  Come half-time I was tanked-up.  I’d prepped a curry the night before and all I needed was to heat it up and boil some rice…

Just to put this in some more topical context, Grenfell Tower had cladding which was seemingly the main cause of its devastatingly tragic loss of life (apologies incidentally for jumping the gun in an earlier post and presuming it was terrorism).  The place I lived in on the Quays had no such cladding, but the windows didn’t open.  I don’t mean they were stuck, I mean they were designed that way, I believe because of the dust from the timber yard nextdoor.  In fairness, the lettings agent made me aware of this before I signed, but I was desperate to get a roof over my head and be close to work.  I built my nest and the windows weren’t an issue until my first summer, when I realised just how hot it was, and how even as much as breaking wind brought me out in a sweat.  Some dear people I know still live there and I wonder what they feel about all this post-Grenfell.

… So the curry’s in the oven, the rice is on the boil, and I am on the piss.  Some time later, well past full-time, I was woken by the piercing scream of fire alarms and opened my eyes to see nothing but dense fog.  Still under the influence, it took a few second to realise a) where I was, b) what the din was, and c) that the pan on the hob had burst into flames.  Knowing I had to stay low, I crawled to the sink, reached for the tea-towel, drenched it and threw it over the pan.  Now the flames were doused I became aware of the frantic hammering on my door, the corridor alarms also screaming and voices shouting “what the fuck’s he doing in there!”

Unable to breathe properly, I was forced to evacuate along with all the others, and though there was no fire, the fear among my neighbours was palpable, as was the annoyance of the fire officers who were quick to tell me how much my carelessness and stupidity had cost – in pound sterling if not in loss of lives.

I repeat I don’t record this with any attempt to sensationalise or even entertain, I do so to illustrate what depression and alcohol can do to me if given half the chance.  I diced with death, it could’ve been full-time for me.  I was ashamed.  I am ashamed.  It’s not a good idea to go cold turkey, I have that on good authority, but I can’t use that as an excuse to keep drinking to excess.  It’s a constant battle to be moderate , and that’s another reason why this adventure has helped – getting legless in the privacy of my own home is one thing but when I’m on the road it’s absolutely taboo.  That day taught me a vital lesson and just as when I was at school, I was slow to learn it…  However, yesterday I said I’d find a pub to watch Gillette Soccer Saturday.  I didn’t in the end, and that’s a start.

Of course with no paid work coming in I don’t have the money to indulge so that helps too.  But the most important epiphany for me is that there’s no fun on a vicious circle, no pride on the alcoholic’s ring-road, no use in getting up to get down again.

Coping with mental illness can be achieved in other ways too of course… last night I was lucky enough to get a signal on the Ottermobile and watch Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.  Billy Connolly has always been a hero to me – my friend Ash and I once saw him at the Hammersmith Odeon and we laughed until we cried.  The portraits in last night’s show were amazing, but not more so than Connolly’s indomitable stance against his Parkinson’s Disease.  I admire him as ever and can look to him for inspiration.  I can also make it my mission to trek around Scotland and finish up in his home town of Glasgow and see the portraits in the flesh.

The programme had a profound effect on me, not least because it sparked a conversation with my daughter Gabby, finishing with exchanges of “I love you.”  It’s things like this that can make you drunk with happiness, lasting happiness which can’t be found in bottles of quick-fix plonk.  Gabby said it was sad to see Billy so frail and this also impacted on me; I thought I’m a relatively young man, I should be fit and healthy.  I’m still able to walk for miles and miles and not run out of puff, but I must keep it that way.  I must make the fullest use possible of the number of breaths and heartbeats I have left.

 

The Day I Met Jeff Stelling

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I love my Saturdays, especially in football season.  I buy the Guardian, I get me some nibbles and settle to watch Gillette Soccer Saturday and get drunk.  Once I got so drunk I fell asleep and nearly burnt down an entire apartment block in Salford Quays.  But that’s a diary entry for another once upon a time.

Jeff Stelling is my hero.  Part of me was uncomfortable with buying into Murdoch’s empire but the other part was addicted to Sky Sports’ hyperbole and garish colour.  The addiction to the show, and to the booze for that matter, wasn’t always conducive to relationships but selfishly I indulged knowing that with Jeff the black dog was locked in its kennel at least for the day.  But what will I do now I’m off-grid with no Sky dish or often no TV signal at all?  Nothing for it but to find a pub that’ll show it.

Gillette Soccer Saturday isn’t everyone’s bag (neither is football itself of course) but I can find myself transfixed.  Stelling is a brilliant wit, an intelligent brain and flawless anchorman.  Merse is hilariously malapropistic, Tommo is unfortunately Scouse, Champagne Charlie is cool as fuck and Tiss thinks he’s a saint, but all four are kept in line by the consummate Jeff.

About five years ago I was lucky enough to meet him.  I was working on Coronation Street at Granada (I miss that Quay Street oasis in the heart of Manchester – I had many happy days there) and the bosses offered staff a chance to cross-fertilise ie see what other TV practitioners got up to day-to-day.  I chose to spend a day on Countdown, shadowing a runner.  It was great fun; I got to sit in a contestant’s seat for a rehearsal, I got to play a game (but could only manage a five-letter word, much to my embarrassment and dismay).  And I finally got to meet my hero.  Jeff’s immediately likeable, affable, smart and handsome – he could play Bond… if he were a little taller maybe.  I told him I’d always been a fan and had written requesting a shout on Gillette Soccer Saturday for a throng of avid Stoke City fans – myself, Dom, Charlie and my muckers.  Apologetic, Jeff confessed he can’t always find time to give shouts but promised he’d try that coming weekend.

To my dying day I’ll regret that for some reason (must’ve been something dull and unavoidable like a wedding) I missed the show, so will never know if Jeff was true to his word.  I of course like to think he was.  But in some ways it doesn’t matter – I’d got to press the flesh of a “football legend”.

Talking of making good on promises, my welder showed up!

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The best result this Saturday!  Thank God for Steven and Yorkshire Mobile Welding Services!  Here’s a welder I must respect and here’s to getting back on the road to Scotland.  The Otter will soon be mobile again so lock up your rich Scottish widows!

Selling and Selling Out

The last week has been more on than off-grid for this traveller.  The Great Yorkshire Show was some spectacle; three days in beautiful Harrogate and the Show itself with its extravaganza of agricultural machinery, horse trials, cattle sales, fairground rides and all sorts.  My role was to help Jayne sell her brilliant artwork and “crafted creatures”, which I was more than happy to do as repayment for her kindness and support with my Romany Project.  It’s great that we’re still friends after all this time.

People watching/listening has always been a passion for me, as a writer and student of humanity.  Here in Harrogate it was tweed everywhere and posh horsey accents mixed with the rag-tag-and-bobtail arriving late in the day when the entrance fee came down to seven quid.  But for all the expensive clothes and upper-class eccentricity (some of these people are absolutely bonkers) I noticed that in these times it’s still a chore to get people to part with their pound notes, however I’m pleased to say Jayne did rather well and I enjoyed engaging with the public and doing my best to peddle her wares with as much charm (or bullshit) as possible.

Yesterday I was in London once again engaging with an audience, hosting a Storytelling Event on behalf of ITV.

ITV STORYTELLING EVENT MAXUS

As you see, I’m not entirely at ease with a microphone and cameras shoved up my nose but again I did my best to look OK (which isn’t easy with my face) and sound knowledgeable.  I was reminded by the way of a similar event some time ago at ITV Leeds, when I told the receptionist (who I knew) that I was giving a talk on what I know about television.  “That won’t take long,” she said.

Anyway yesterday’s session went well and I was very proud to once again be an ambassador for ITV and its Soap brand.  I was billed as a Corrie writer, which is obviously out of date and inaccurate, but that didn’t matter and I didn’t feel minded to contradict.  It was also nice, I admit, to don a shirt and jacket, drink posh wine and yes, travel first class!  Having said that, I had to listen to a fair share of management-speak and people talking about their boring fucking jobs.  One young salesman sitting opposite me (who neglected to wake me up when we arrived at Leeds) said to a caller that he’d make “a tweak-intervention on the price.”  I assumed that meant he’d give discount, and I also mused that it’s tossers like him who made me want to go off-grid in the first place.

So I’m not selling out for good, I just can’t.  From now I’m back on the road and planning a return to Nantwich to see some family and dear old friends.  But I need an MoT (and so does the Ottermobile) so I won’t be going too far yet.  Slowly slowly, and that’s the joy of it.  I can go anywhere I want and when I want.  As long as the wheels turn round and as long as I get to spend time occasionally with people I love, I’m happy.  Regarding the MoT I just hope there’s not too much wrong, otherwise I’ll have to ask for a “tweak-intervention on the cost.”  Jesus, I’m a celibate get me out of here.

It’s Not Unusual

To be loved by anyone.  A heartfelt thanks to all those friends and family and loved-ones who’ve sent supportive messages (plus suggestions for the other day’s A to Z of soap cliches sin-bin).

Just to summarise my unusual trek through the Lake District thus far: I bought some weed from a bloke called Ken in Kendal (I kid you not), a curry gave me flatulence in Windermere, I ambled through Ambleside and smoked a joint in Grasmere.  I could go on with that theme, and would like to say that in Legburthwaite I got my leg over.  But I didn’t, and that’s NOT unusual.  I also noted that Tom Jones played at Cartmel Racecourse the other night.  I suppose that’s not unusual either.

I’m now in the Cumbrian Mountains, stealth-camping en route to Keswick and Derwentwater and beyond to Scotland.  I spent some time in the Pyrennees some years back with my  brother Tez, Wakey and Big Steve, playing guitars and smoking dope.  This is every bit as pleasant – I have the dope, I have my guitar, but no friends.  I woke up this morning to see cloud and mist covering the mountain tops.  I seriously considered climbing one and wondered how I’d approach it… then decided the most sensible approach was to just look at it.  This Capricorn ain’t for acting the goat.

So though I’ve no friends to share this mountainous splendour, I rely on the aforementioned messages – last night I got a call from my son Chaz and a text from my daughter Connie.  I also had nice words from Jayne and a late-night call from my old mate Gaz.  My sister-in-law Gail has been kindly responding to my diary posts.  Their support is, as I say, truly welcome, and sometimes makes me laugh.  Here’s what Chaz had to say:

Hi dad, hope your minimalist gallivanting is looking after you and not catching you up. Speaking of which, I’m about to catch up on your latest expeditionary encounters.

Reading your recent posts make me wonder how you’re keeping it all together, or rather, if you are keeping it all together. I guess it comes from trotting around telling the locals (who can smell you a mile off) that you prefer being labelled an expeditionist; an exscurtionist – not convincing those who (like me) proceed to call you a “smug wanker” and a “stinky wayfaring maniac”. By the way I’ll be sure to follow you this time. Not stalk you, just the blog.

Little sod.  Please note the spelling of the word excursionist!  And this from a recent graduate with honours!

Anyway it’s great that people are in favour of my unusual life.  Most people anyway – one unimaginative wag asked “What could possibly go wrong?”  That worn old line wants darning, or better still dispatched to the cliche sin-bin under W – along with “What part of … don’t you understand?”  I get that some people don’t understand this off-grid business and are maybe stuck in their ways of hustling for work or following their career agendas.  So this ain’t for everyone, but to the doubters and the sarcastic I can only say that this unusual life-choice can be fun, and it certainly is enlightening, geographically, mentally and philosophically.  As Tom would say, “it’s good to touch the green green grass.”

Mind you, the mosquitoes can be a pain in the arse… quite literally.  How do they get to your buttocks?  It’s not like I’m going around bare-arsed!  I even got bitten on the dick.  But that’s for my next post, and something for you to look forward to.

Friends and Family (7/6/17)

I’ve talked about ‘real friends’ in previous blogs.  Tiddle-Eye-Po certainly falls into that category.  Haven’t seen him since February when he came for a night out in Manchester to celebrate his birthday.  Me, him, his sister Jackie, brother-in-law Mark, Kim and Kelly – a great night dancing and finishing up sucking the lesbians’ toes in the back of a cab.  Enough said.

Last night, Tid and I had a damn good catch-up.  I gave him a ride in the Ottermobile and he completely bought into the off-grid idea, wanting to give me things useful for my explorations.  Over a pint, and very many double gins, we set the world straight.  Always self-deprecating, Tid, but he’s a sight more intelligent than he thinks.  We headed from his place to the Cronkinson Farm pub bang in the middle of the plastic Stapeley Estate.  These used to be fields we played on, and many moons ago we went missing, causing our worried mums to send out a search party, and later ban us from playing out for a week.

The Estate is where my eldest daughter now lives, along with my two grandchildren, though I don’t know exactly where – Tid and I possibly walked past their very door.  My daughter and I have been estranged for almost eleven years, and to this day I don’t know why.  I’ve only glimpsed my grandchildren once.  These family heartbreaks form the basis of some of my chat with Tid – he’s had his share of woes too and it’s odd that our lives have such similarities given we grew up together.  I hope my words to him were as wise as his to me.  But I don’t want to get down about my daughter now (I’ll be saying my piece in the darker days to come) because my aim is to celebrate the joy of life here, to entertain.

A night with Tid is like taking a happy pill.  We reminisce, we booze and we laugh, a lot, like always.  And I’m forced to make the confession that I ended up on his settee as opposed to the Ottermobile.  OK I sold out, but I just couldn’t be arsed to make up my bed.  It won’t happen again.  Still, at least I didn’t fall over this time, so I woke up with my knees intact.  And no he didn’t suck my toes.

Saying goodbye to Tid is always an emotional bromantic affair, such is our friendship, and such is the importance and value of it.  Heading for Bickerton this morning I thought a lot about friends and family – how great my real friends have been at a time when I needed them (all mentioned in previous posts) and how great (most of) my family have been, not only now, always.  And I found myself regretting the times I’ve lost touch as I’ve striven to build a successful career in TV.  It’s had its ups and downs and it’s taken me far and wide, to Africa, Europe, London, Manchester.  I always viewed losing touch as a price to pay.  Now I wondered if the price I paid was worth it.

Over the coming months then, I’m hoping these real friends and family will visit (hoping to meet my old mate Gaz in this neck of the woods soon) no matter how far the Ottermobile takes me.  Why not?  My back garden is Britain and it’s big enough to hold a party.

Talking of  parties I’m aware it’s erection day tomorrow.  It’s bluer in these leafy parts of Cheshire but I hear the polls are narrowing.  With no fixed abode I’ve lost my vote.  I couldn’t done something about it I know, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered.  Dad wouldn’t have approved, but there it is.  Whatever party gets in it will always be the same.  Whoever becomes PM I’m sure he or she will do a good job of making a balls of it.

By the time polling closes tomorrow I’ll have explored the Sandstone Trail, because, for now, the fields in around here are still green, and I am free to roam.  And if the sun comes out I’ll be wearing Tiddle-Eye-Po’s sunglasses.