Ups and Downs

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Bouncy Castle – Sea-front, Filey

I mentioned my new friend Trevor.  I was just about to pay for parking at Flamborough Head when he hailed me from his lovely V-Dub and gave me an overnight ticket as he was about to leave.  We got chatting about all things campervanning and life and he told me he and his partner Karen were from Worksop.  He used to be a screw (can’t remember which prison) then took early retirement, went back on the plumbing tools for a while and finished up in catering.  I hope he wouldn’t mind me saying he looked like he’d eaten a few of the pies.

But he was a great character, talking a mile-a-minute, full of joie de vivre and passion for travel.  He showed me pics of some of the stealth-camping hot-spots.  “Sorry to keep you,” he kept saying, then kept me.  But after the shit day I’d had, his kindness, friendliness and wit were breaths of sea air.  I’d found solace in a kindred spirit and one I know I’ll keep in touch with.

Nevertheless I still woke up next morning feeling down, so had a long walk on Bempton Cliffs, watching gannets soaring up and dive-bombing down in their avian cod war, then drove up the coast in search of more friendly faces.

My real friend Gaz had put me in touch with an old Grammar School mate called Rachel and I’d seen that she and her husband Stuart had started following my blog.  He said they were up in Filey, running a seafront mini-fairground, so that’s where I headed, hoping my bearings both mechanical and cerebral were in order.  I parked up, walked down the Ravine and spotted the bright yellow bouncy castle, which I later learned is visible with the naked eye from Bempton (on a clear day, which this was).

Unsung and overlooked Filey has a beautiful coastline with grand Victorian villas and bungalows nestled into its cliffs; I’d been here before in happier times and was hoping for cheer this time around.  Even though I hadn’t seen her for 38 years I spotted and recognised Rachel immediately, approached her, and asked how much for a bounce.

“It’s you!” she proclaimed.  After exchanging hugs and how d’you dos, we chatted about old times and I recalled that her tribe were legends, having appeared on TVs Ask The Family with Robert Robinson.  Yes her family were world-famous at Nantwich & Acton Grammar School.  She asked if I were staying over and though I’d planned to get up to Whitby, the offer of dinner, wine, music and chat was too good to turn down.

After a pint at the Cobble Bar then a very long walk down the beach in the sun, I drove to Rachel and Stuart’s place, a lovely rural semi.  Getting reacquainted with Rach and meeting her husband was a pleasure, and their story of how they got together was the stuff of brilliant romance.  Frankly I won’t waste it on this blog, but to summarise, the two of them fell in love notionally before they’d even met, then realised it on a long haul flight.

As we shared stories of travel and life, filling in the 38 years since school, it transpired there were lots of connections; both Rach and Stuart knew my brother Tez and there were mutual friends in Big Steve, Wakey and many others.  To my shame it was clear that Rachel is much better at keeping in touch with old friends than I am.

Two other things struck me that night, a) though I’m not a doggy person, I made friends with their ten-year-old pooch called Poppy, who also took a shine to me, b) how I miss having a proper home and garden, and c) how lonely I’d been.  It was such a pleasure to spend time with a wonderful couple so deeply in love, and enjoy a delicious meal in the power-house which is their state-of-the-art kitchen… it even had something called an Amazon Dot called Alexa, who would play any music you told her to, gave a weather report, up-do-date news, and if you went away for a week no doubt she’d feed the fish and water the begonias.

But of course all good things come to an end and, seeing they were knackered after a hard (yet no doubt lucrative) day at work, I retired back to the Ottermobile which I’d “stealth-camped” in their ample garden.  It was a fabulous night, so welcome after a miserable couple of days, and I bedded down feeling up – people are so kind and just when you need them, there they are.  Just like Rachel and Stuart’s bouncy castle, I am up then I am down.  As I said to a barmaid in York the other day:

When I am up I am up

And when I am down I am down

And when I am only half-way up…  ah you get the picture.

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.

 

Big Mouth Strikes Again

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Big Mouth (Herring Gull – Bridlington)

Somebody said I don’t put enough photos in my diary posts – apparently readers today have a short attention-span.  In my view that’s a sad indictment but hey-ho.  So let’s play a pictorial game: Spot the difference between this pic I took of a carousel in York:

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… and this one of my wheel in Bridlington:

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Answer: the carousel goes round whereas my wheel does not.  Because the fucking bearings went.  The story goes like this:

I was heading to Filey, doing about 50, when I heard a loud crunch at the back and the Ottermobile was yanked violently to the left.  I immediately turned the hazards on and pulled over to make emergency calls (and change my underpants).  At first I thought the exhaust had come off but soon realised the rear left wheel was smoking and I could smell the stink of red-hot axle-grease.

Tell me this; why are some people such arseholes?  Though I’d put a warning triangle at the rear and opened the bonnet to show both directions I was in trouble, I still had at least three motorists peeping their horns, flashing their lights and making get-out-of-the-way gestures.  I made fuck off gestures back because as I say, they’re arseholes.  On the other side of the coin, one couple kindly stopped to ask if I was OK.  Not arseholes.  But I digress.

Eventually, saviour arrived in a mechanic called Ian from Beverley – a young and handsome man with a friendly face and disposition.  He jacked me up, as it were, took one look and said “It’s your bearings.”

“What’s up with them?” I asked.

“They’re fucked,” he replied.

“Right.  Is that the technical term and more importantly is it a big job?”

“You need a recovery vehicle and I knock off at 5,” he said, “It’s my lass’s birthday and we’ve got a table booked.”

In man-to-man language I knew that meant he was on a promise, and far be it from me to get in the way of a man’s conjugal rights, fucked bearings or no fucked bearings.

Ian wasn’t being unhelpful, he just didn’t have the tools to fix the job onsite, all he could do was escort me off the road and onto a safe place while I waited for a recovery truck.  So very slowly I crept some 500 yards to a farmer’s drive as Ian made the necessary calls.  Telling me that help would be there in an hour, he shook my hand and left.

“Enjoy your shag,” I quipped, and he gave me a wink that said it all.

As promised, within an hour, further assistance arrived in Rob, who deftly tail-ended me, as it were, and told me to get in the back of his pick-up because his lass was in the front.  “What is it about Yorkshiremen and their lasses?” I thought, “Are they joined at the hip?”  But anyway it turned out to be a family business owned by Rob’s father-in-law, and as we towed the Ottermobile back to Bridlington I got to know this lovely couple as best I could.  Also from Beverley, they bigged-up the town and its market, its minster (where they got married 15 years ago) and its horse racing.  And they’d be combining this job with a fish and chip treat on the seafront, especially if the famous Audrey’s was open.

When we got to the garage it was closed (or “clersed” as they pronounce it in their nick of the woods) so they dropped me on the forecourt, leaving me to prep for the night.

The garage was in a residential street and there were loads of kids running about, clearly amused at the sight of a grey old man putting his slippers on.  I fearfully expected Jimmy Savile references but mercifully none forthcame.  But they hung around for ages, causing me to wonder what time kids go to fucking bed these days!

When it finally went quiet except for seagulls’ cries, I did some soul-searching.  How had it come to this?  How had my life gone so tits-up?  Yet another depressing setback, halting my project and progress up to Scotland.  So I had to think of Aline, and Lucy, and James the gypsy hitch-hiker,  and all the others I’d met on my journey who were fucked-up but always ready with a smile.  Because we are all fucked-up in some way, I mused, just some of us are more fucked-up than others.  And some of us cope with fucked-up-ness better than others.

“Look on the bright side,” said Jayne on the phone, “You’re alive and you’ve got somewhere to sleep.”  She was right of course, that’s true.  But it’s also true that I’d had another brush with death; both Rob and Ian said I was lucky because if I’d driven 100 yards further the wheel would’ve come off – and if I’d been on a motorway…  It didn’t bear thinking about.

That’s why this one’s called Big mouth Strikes Again.  Not because I’m a fan of The Smiths and Morrissey, which I am, but because I’d dismissed Bridlington for its lacking lustre, and then I’m expecting it to put me up for the night and get my Ottermobile fixed on the cheap.  And I was bragging about my project, saying it’s helping with the black dog and all that.  Well I should’ve kept my trap shut because this was the second potentially-fatal incident (loyal readers will remember an early post about my brakes failing in Halifax).  If these things come in threes, the next time it’s curtains.  At times like this I wouldn’t care.

Bet Lynch Lives in Bridlington

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In a Bridlington pub I settled with my Guardian and Gillette Soccer Saturday, knowing I had to make two pints last six hours.  Which is no mean feat.  Nursing a drink till the froth is dried on the inside of the glass is the pub equivalent of stealth-camping – you’re sitting quiet, hoping not to get noticed, while of course gazing upon the world as it goes by.  All fine, except that someone did notice – the barmaid, who bore an exciting resemblance to Bet Lynch.

Her name was in fact Lucy.  Somewhere between 50 and 60 and trying to knock ten years off, Lucy was blonde, busty, voluptuous, provocatively-cleavaged in red (not leopard-print) and done up to the nines.  Her towering locks were tied up and her ears were pierced with dangly numbers as big as windchimes.  In younger days she would’ve been beautiful and though three marriages, six kids, thirteen grandkids and a current torrid, door-slamming relationship with potential hubby number 4 have taken their toll, she still looks good.  And I imagine a throng of men loitering at the bar either staring at their pint or more likely her impressive chest.  I could be one of them, because I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if I fancied the woman.

I got her story when I went up for my second ale and she commented, not inaccurately or judgmentally, that I was a slow supper.  I laughed and corrected that if I had the money I’d be supping quicker and coming back more often.  I wasn’t looking for sympathy, just stating fact.  But anyway she seemingly felt sorry for me and put this one on the house.  If money didn’t change hands then life-stories did.  The bar was quiet at this point, early doors, so there was the freedom and privacy conducive to intimacy.  She’d noticed I’d been scribbling in my notebook so asked if I were a writer and as I described my project she seemed impressed, so I nervously dropped in that I’m searching human stories and characters and she reminded me of Bet Lynch.  She laughed and said she’d had that dozens of times, though in her game you don’t get much time for telly and anyway she’d prefer Eastenders.  Fair enough, I said, each to their own.

Lucy didn’t hail from East Yorkshire, she was a Leodensian, a “Wessie” as they call them here (ie someone from West Yorkshire).  She hadn’t travelled much, too many kids and and too little money, though some years ago she flirted with the idea of emigrating to Australia with her first husband… but that didn’t happen because he turned out to be a “cock”.  As did husbands number 2 and 3, she added.

I could’ve chatted to Lucy for hours but there was football to watch and a crossword to do and the bar was getting busy.  And as I sipped my ale and watched my team go down to Everton, I pondered how ephemeral and loveless is this life; you flit from place to place where love is swift arrows.  Fleeting meetings and greetings, if you like shit poetry.

By 7pm I’m walking down the prom with my guitar and a bag of chips, thinking that like other places I’ve laid my hat, there’s so much beauty while the town itself is something they forgot to bomb.  And I think about Lucy and her cleavage, her windchimes and her door-slamming husband-to-be.  I wanted to get to know her more but clearly that was impossible – inviting Tony into my campervan the other day was one thing, but saying to a woman “Would you like to come back to my van?” is a far from impressive chat-up line.   And of course she was taken.  And of course I shouldn’t assume she fancied me.  So as I stealth-camp near Bempton Cliffs I say to myself, “You’re on your own again, cock.”

Homeless – My Night with a Down-and-out

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York – The Shambles by the Author!

I always knew there’d be a first time for someone to sleep the night with me in my van, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it’d be a bloke.

To give the backstory, just like many other towns and cities, York has a real homeless problem – in recent years it’s seen a rise of 40% of those officially considered to be in that category.  I don’t include myself – my Ottermobile is my home, not in the traditional sense, but it’s a roof over my head with certain amenities so enough for me to call it that.  But yes it’s only one small step away from the streets.

Which is where I met “Tony”.  Normally those you encounter in shop doorways lie in a shambles of bedclothes with a paper cup in front of them, and they’re mutteringly asking if you have any spare change.  But there was something noticeably different about Tony – well-spoken, smart but casual in jeans and anorak, clean-looking, he politely approached me and asked for help.  Though homeless and penniless, there was something in his eyes that made me warm to him.  I knew there was a story but I didn’t want it there and then so I invited him into a nearby cafe and bought him a tea and a bun.  Gratefully he put down his bags and found a table, where I described my project and my own proximity to homelessness.  Hearing this seemed to touch him all the more so I wondered if in return he’d tell me how he came to be here, joking that he didn’t get the comestibles for free.  He laughed and begun his tale, which here I summarise.

Originally from Blackpool, he left school with nothing to write home about and drifted through dead-end jobs and relationships, finishing up in a fairground burger van.  Eventually he managed to save up and get himself to Brussels, where he studied catering with dreams of becoming a restaurateur.  Suddenly he heard from his brother that his parents and Auntie had been killed in a car crash.  Returning home to see to the funeral, he met a guy who’d become his lover.  They settled in Blackpool where he got a job as a waiter while setting up a bistro with his brother, using their small inheritance.

The hikes in rent hit him hard and he eventually lost the business, and when his boyfriend deserted him and he was duped by his brother, he went into financial and mental decline.  Since then he’s drifted around our cities to find work.

It was a story far from unique I supposed, and heartbreaking, but as with Aline (see Land of a Thousand Hills) there was the air of “that’s how it goes” pragmatism – Tony doesn’t feel sorry for himself, though he is at times baffled as to how this happened, how he got here, how rapid was the journey.

But don’t suppose either of us were down in the dumps; Tony was a very funny young man of 30, good-looking, bright, friendly and hopeful; all he wanted, he said, was to get a full-time job, save up and get back to Belgium.

Impressed with his positivity and warmed by his wit, I asked how this is possible when sleeping rough – isn’t it dangerous?  Does he encounter violence etc?  With a shrug Tony said this and other things come with the territory.  He’d been propositioned for sex, which he’d never lower himself to, he’d been attacked over a cup of tea, and he’d been offered drugs though he’s never so much as smoked a spliff.  Sleeping rough is a last resort, he said, he sometimes gets casual work and can afford a hostel, but finding a full-time job is difficult.

I really liked Tony and felt for him, especially when he said he’d slept rough the night before and got drenched; he’d spent his last pennies on getting his clothes laundered.  Though the weather had improved I couldn’t bear the thought of him kipping in a doorway so wondered if he’d prefer a roof over his head, just one night…

So I found myself in a lay-by near Murton, setting up stealth-camp.  Knowing he was hungry, as was I, I vowed to rustle something up, explaining I love cooking for people and don’t get the chance nowadays.  He was the chef and I was the novice but with meagre provisions I managed to make a meal which he seemed to enjoy.  Beggars can’t be choosers, he said!  There was no wine to go with the dish, but we didn’t need it because we were laughing like drains at how bizarre all this was; total strangers, sharing food, sharing jokes, playing Ludo (!) and bonding in ludicrous adversity.

Though the Ottermobile claims to be a two-berth it’s a tight squeeze, but I managed the awkward and funny manoeuvre of the seats to bed down – not before I’d declared some ground-rules:

No farting

No breakfast

In the morning he must be gone before I do my ablutions, and

No funny business.

Responding in order, he said he doesn’t fart, he’d get breakfast elsewhere, he’d no desire to see me “ablute” and as for funny business he wouldn’t touch me with a fucking barge-pole.  I said I felt a mixture of amusement, offence and comfort from that peroration.  Tony laughed, telling me I was a lovely bloke, if a bit mad, he’d had a great time and I’m crap at Ludo.

Next morning, after a quiet night’s kip he made a sharp exit as promised, with a quip that I could now shit in peace.  He also took my number and promised to stay in touch.  Whether that will happen I very much doubt, but that doesn’t matter.  He was a fine young man; he was good company, he made me laugh, but most importantly he made me think about what’s important.  “We Stand Together” went the mantra after recent terrorist attacks.  What more can we do but help each other through?  We’re human beings and that’s what we do, or most of us.  I’ve always championed the underdog, it’s in my make-up.  If I can help I will, and I wish I could do more.  I’m no saint, God knows, but I like to think and I like to know that whatever happens to me and if I end up in Tony’s shoes, someone will be there to help me.  I’ll think a lot about Tony and marvel at his cheer in dark days, I’ll hope he’ll get back to Brussels, and I’ll forever be saddened at how it got to this.  We all roll the dice I suppose, but only some of us score a six.

Right now though I’m concerned about getting to the Filey coast and up into Scotland.  Time for me, like for everyone, is running out.

Ludo