Beachy Head, but I see a Shark’s Head
To continue with the theme of contradiction (see Postcard from a Traveller) here’s a story about my next journey, which isn’t via Ottermobile but is indicative of my eccentric existence over the past 180 days.
I’ve written copiously in these pages about homelessness and poverty and the fruitless search for work and the sickening ignominy of refusal. But at last I can fill some inches with word of a job, a temporary job, a job for a day, where tomorrow ITV are sending me by train from Nantwich to Eastbourne and there I’ll once again stand onstage sharing storytelling expertise.
I’ll be great at it, I’ll go down a storm as I always do, and it’ll make me me feel ephemeral self-worth, goodness and to boot euphoria. It sounds arrogant, pompous even, but I don’t care because I just know it, and after all I’m an expert and experts are supposed to know and experts are expert at knowing.
Before the event they’ll put me up in a wedding cake of a hotel a stone’s throw from Beachy Head, in which I’ll digest posh grub, drink expensive wine (if it’s on the house) and sleep in crisp white sheets with my head on huge marsh-mallows. In my room I’ll make coffee from the kettle I’ll have to keep on the floor because the 6-inch flex won’t reach the socket above the dressing table-cum-writing bureau.
I’ll marvel at the prices in the mini-bar and resist the urge to down the whisky and replenish the bottle with tap water. I’ll watch TV from my giant bed and channel-hop because I can. And while I’ll leave the mini-bar shut, I’ll naturally (and with equanimity) nab the toiletries which I’ll reckon are there for the taking. The trouser-press, however, will be left well alone. As will The Bible.
After a hearty breakfast, my first in months, I’ll go to work and, as I say, be good at it. Then, before heading back up North I’ll saunter to Beachy Head. There, before the rolling tide, I’ll mull over how it went just now, how good I was, how receptive were the guests and how pleased ITV will be with my brief moments in the ambassadorial spotlight. But I’ll also ask myself some questions:
If I am so good, why am I so bad at managing the black dog and holding down a full-time job? If I am such an expert know-all, how come I’ve no idea where the next wage will be coming from? And if I’m so wonderful, how can I only wonder why the hell I’m living in a van? There will be no answer from the Bible I left behind in the wedding cake, no manual from Neptune, no rhyme or reason from the sea and no explanation from anywhere for the most profound of all – why did I come to Beachy Head?
Some twenty people a year, statistics say, come here to end their days. In order to stop them there’s a telephone box, a Samaritans sign writ large and surveillance teams on hand. But of course while all these are worthy and brilliant, I’ll look to myself as I always do for responsibility.
No matter how bad life seems at times, and how powerful the temptation to jump, there’s always something to cling on to. In my life I have many things: my friends, my family and my loved-ones who’ve been so unfailingly charitable to me over the past long months when I’ve needed them most. And while I’m standing there with my questions blowing unanswered in the wind, I’ll be remembering them.
I’ll also remember the talents given to me, and that I’m a man on a high from what I’ve just accomplished, for myself and my beloved ITV. A penniless man with a £500 Mont Blanc pen in my pocket, one of the few things I’ve clung on to as a beacon of wealthier times. And I’ll see myself as a man deciding positive-thinking is better than jumping, because he’s a man who knows his expertise might come in useful again in the days to follow.
So as for the black dog, he’s the one that’s fed to the sharks.