In the Event of My Death

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Earlier this year I became homeless and contemplated suicide.

But then things changed.  I took to the road in my Ottermobile, met some amazing people, got told great stories, had many adventures, diced with involuntary death, wrote lots of things, learned who my all-weather friends are, met my grandchildren for the first time, made some self-discoveries, and fell in love.

Yesterday, in the spirit of remembrance I walked eleven miles to my parents’ graves, reading epitaphs and cenotaphs bearing the family name.  All this led to the most profound epiphanic discovery of all – that these people gave their lives to me and I have a lot to live for, so to throw myself off Beachy Head would be to throw it back in their faces.

While losing a job and a home broke me in two, I had many friends and family who were there to glue me back together, and though for months on end it was just me in the van in the middle of nowhere, I was never alone.  So I have a duty to all those wonderful people to see this thing through, and a duty to myself to prove to the fair-weather friends and contortionists that I won’t be giving up.

I won’t for a second pretend it’s easy.  Being a gypsy is tough, just about managing is just about getting through each fucking day.  It’s a battle, not a world war I grant you, nevertheless a battle.

Back in March when I lost my posh apartment in Salford Quays I relied on friends and family to store the few sticks I clung on to, which means everything I own, if it isn’t on the van, is strewn around the country like so:

  • Boxes of books and scripts and things in Jayne’s attic in Yorkshire
  • Dining table and chairs and my beloved plants at Kimbles’ in Salford Quays
  • Wardrobe and African carvings at Dominic’s in Sheffield
  • My best suits in case I get a job in Mandy’s spare room in Nantwich
  • CD’s at Charlie’s in Derby
  • Antique rocking horse (I kid you not) at Emily’s in Preston
  • Not quite sure but I think there’s a box of something in Bubble’s house in Crewe
  • A van that sits gathering moss at Gary and Janet’s in Willaston
  • And finally, somewhere or other, my will

As I’ve said before in these ramblings, all this existential nonsense serves either to make me weep with sorrow or piss my pants with laughter.

Talking of which, last night I chatted unmorbidly with Mandy about the school reunion, and in posing the question “why?” we agreed it’s more than just for fun, it’s really about mortality – we’re doing this because we’re still alive (despite the odds in my case) and thinking really about how much time is there left?  And in these uncertain times when poundland terrorists want to mow us down at Christmas markets because they haven’t even got the guts to wage a proper war (if such a thing exists) it’s good to do nice things and show them we won’t be beat.  We stand together against the enemy, at Christmas markets or anywhere.  And most important of all, making sure we make the most of what we’ve got left.  And even more important than the most important of all, making sure we have a laugh.

So as we were laughing, she asked if I’d made a will, to which I replied yes but my life and death is in boxes all over the country, so I wonder where it is?

“Well,” she laughed, “sounds like it’s either in Jayne’s attic, Dominic’s cellar, Kimbles’ airing cupboard or Bubble’s back bedroom.”

I was naturally tickled by this alliterative summary, then got to seriously thinking it’s such an important document and I must dig it out.  Things have changed.  I’m not ready.  I’ve survived all these months on the road, I’ve laughed in the black dog’s face and I’ve managed to eat on the breadline.  I’ve realised the less I have the more I want to give and the more I want to show the world I’ve more to give.  I will battle on till time, the greatest enemy of them all, takes me.

So as for my will, fuck knows, but whoever’s got it, I just hope I manage to find it before you do!

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The Curse of The Strong

At the time of writing they’re still deliberating about what caused the Fire of London.  Can’t blame me for jumping to the conclusion it was a terrorist act, can’t blame me for questioning.

Talking of which, Jayne phoned last night and asked, not unfairly, what is the point of this blog.  The point is I don’t even really know what a blog is!  I’ve never read one and I never thought I’d be writing one!  So if it’s not a blog is it a travelogue?  I suppose not, not in the Bill Bryson sense anyway.  I never set out to record historical facts about the various places I’ll visit, unless they particularly interest me or they’re pertinent in terms of a hook to hang these scribblings on.  I’m a traveller, a gypsy, not a historian.  Anyway in the end it was agreed that it’s really a diary.  That’s fine with me, so I suppose I should really address what’s the point of the diary?

As I’ve said before, I just wanted to put down my feelings, about me, my life and about things as they happen to me and this beautiful but in some ways fucked-up world.  At times it’s self-indulgent I know, but isn’t that a diary?  And this entire trip is self-indulgent.  For once I’m writing with the freedom from bits-of-kids telling me I’m doing wrong.  I’m doing it for nobody else but me; if my writings gather interest and give entertainment that’s great.  If they don’t I really don’g care.  Because I am selfish.

I define depression as inherently selfish – in that it’s an illness that can only be helped by oneself.  It’s haunted me all my life and nobody, friend or loved-one, can with the best will in the world, really help.  Certainly they, like the drugs, can’t cure it.  In his excellent and recommendable book The Curse of the Strong, Tim Cantopher describes depression as a physical illness, like a machine breaking down, blowing a gasket.  It’s a fair analogy except no other person can be the mechanic but oneself.

There’s no blame for the illness, no reason, other than the genes that make us.  Circumstances can obviously change things, get you down or conversely cheer you up, but it’s always there this black dog, it never goes away, and so complete happiness is impossible.  At times in my life I’ve ostensibly had everything, but this dog has barked and driven it all away, meaning that I have driven away people, material wealth, and very good jobs.

Which leads me to another question: do employers ‘get’ depression?  Do they understand?  I would like to say yes.  But I can’t.  So I won’t.  Something should seriously be done about that.  Depression is a terrible illness as potent a killer as cancer, and from experience I can only conclude that employers’ views of the latter are different to the former.  It’s a generalisation perhaps, but as I say, this is my experience, that employers’ ‘treatment’ of depressives is unfair, misguided and far more damaging than those who dismissively and simplistically tell us to pull ourselves together or cheer up.

Things are changing, I read, the more this is talked about and examined openly and frankly.  I hope so, but will not hold my breath.

Anyway, as I say, this illness has to be handled and managed by myself.  So that’s why I’m doing this blog/travelogue/diary/journey/project; it’s a test of endurance, a self-imposed challenge to see if I can do it, if I can do it alone, achieve my goals such as they are, without breaking down or blowing a gasket (that goes for myself and my clapped-out Ottermobile!)

My self-diagnosis is that these ramblings, both written and walked, are helping; I do enjoy cramming down my thoughts for cyber-eternity.  They make me smile and if they can occasionally make you smile too then everyone’s happy.  If not, I’ll please myself.  If my posts aren’t bursting with Brysonesque wit and knowledge, they compensate me.  I’m visiting nice places, meeting a mixed bag of people or indulging my own agenda.  Nice places are to found in every bed of my enormous garden so far – from Yorkshire to Willaston, Nantwich, Bickerton, Peckforton, Burwardsley, Tiverton, Tattenhall, Delamere, Blakemere, Alvanley… and there’ll be many more nice places to come as I tootle slowly and desultorily towards The Lakes.  That said, at the time of writing I’m heading for Liverpool.

The Sex Pistols and me (Willaston) 6/6/17

After two nights of kind Ashton hospitality and a bloody good shit, shave and shower, I’m heading for Nantwich via Willaston, where I was brought up and spent twenty happy years.

Circle Avenue is a 26-strong council estate and I’m pleased not much has changed, given most of the dwellings are now privately owned – which generally means a modern uPVC front door and off-road parking.  Across from the ‘Green’ on which we played football using the No-Ball-Games sign as a goalpost and where I scored some worldies, is my old family home, No20.  When my parents bought it (arguably one of Thatcher’s good policies as it afforded them a nice nest-egg) they had built a front porch, which still stands – testimony to my brothers’ carpentry and bricklaying prowess.  Sadly though there’s a carbuncle of a garage growing in my mum’s beautiful garden.  Seven of us lived in this 3bed end-terrace – mum, dad and five sons, and I remember smoke-filled rooms and lots of laughter, especially at Christmas.  I find myself wanting to go inside, knock on the door and explain what I’m doing, but decide against in case the current occupiers think I’m a nutcase.  Which I quite possibly am.

In the eponymous circle bit there’s another green space and sycamores still, and it was here that I cack-handedly broke my virginity in 1977 when the Sex Pistols were charting.  I was completely rubbish, and it was lucky I managed the deed at all, as my dad nearly caught me at it.  The council were doing up the houses and their workers’ hut was left outside our house.  It was about 9pm and dad was off for a night shift at Crewe Works, and he poked his head inside and said it was time I was getting in.  He didn’t realise I’d already been in!  At least I think he didn’t realise – perhaps he kept schtum about it till the day he died.

Up Gandy’s Entry is the Playing Fields, or The Oggs as we called it and never knew why.  I’m glad the football pitch (where I scored a wonder-goal in the top right hand corner) is still there, but saddened that the wall has gone and the oak tree I loved to climb has been lopped.  I got talking to a lady and explained this was the first time I’d visited in 30 years, and she pointed to the adjacent field full of poppies which has been granted planning permission.  I half-expected this, in fact I half-expected The Oggs to be built on already.  My overriding observation of Willaston is how much it’s altered, or at least crept towards Crewe and Nantwich, meaning in essence it’s no longer a village at all.  The houses they’re building are the plastic kind, semis and detached, some four or five bedroomed, for outsiders who don’t seem to care about the village identity.  I’m not normally the woolly sentimental type, but couldn’t help feeling nostalgic and wishing they’d leave the place alone.

I wander up Park Road and have a look at my old Primary School, which is now some physio place or other.  I remember the old prefab canteen and football pitch (where I once scored a wonder-goal in the top left hand corner) but these have given way to a busy by-pass to Nantwich.  I recall my first day here, spent mostly crying and asking for my mum, and the many reprimands for being cheeky and disrespectful to staff.  I remember the playground smelling of eggs, while the classrooms boasted the sickly stench of sour milk, plasticine, vomit and farts – and that was just the teachers.

From here I cross the fields to Cattle Bridge, where we used to play or do our courting.  Many of us cack-handedly lost our virginity here.  Someone had daubed The Sex Pistols on the wall, red paint standing the test of 40 years’ time.  There were initials carved in the stones, but I couldn’t match them with anyone I know.  These fields are also due to be built on, and I feel sorry that young kids are being robbed of a place to kick a ball or shag a girl.

By lunchtime it’s pissing with rain so I take cover in the village chippie.  Nice to see that’s still standing, and the legendary Mick the Chip is too.  He doesn’t remember me, and charges an extortionate £3.50 for a bacon and sausage bap.  We chat about how the village has changed and not surprisingly he has a different view to that of the locals I’d met who were up in arms about building on green fields.  To him I suppose more houses is more bacon and sausage butties and more ackers through the till.  And I leave his establishment thinking of progress, growth and expansion, and wonder if all these strangers in their posh new houses are voting Tory this Thursday.  In fact though, I hadn’t seen a single blue banner – everyone seems to want Labour in.

Anyway I eat my bacon and sausage bap back at the Ottermobile, crack a beer and drink to mum, dad, Uncle Charlie, other departed friends, and happy memories.

Put some flowers on mum and dad’s graves earlier and told them about my project.  Could hear my dad say “What the heck’s he gone and packed in Coronation Street to go off in that old thing for?”  Could hear my mum saying more supportive things, but privately thinking the same.  No she’d understand I’m sure.  She always knew there was gypsy in my soul, that I could never rest.  I always wanted to be elsewhere.  I couldn’t suffer fools and it was my wont to stick two fingers up to the system.  Anarchy in the UK.

I’m off to Nantwich now to see my real friend Tiddle-Eye-Po.  We grew up together in Circle Avenue, he four doors down at 24.  We’ll chew the fat, have a few giggles, have a few pints.  Then tomorrow my journey really begins.  My mystery tour, my crusade, my what the fuck am I doing is this a midlife crisis tour, begins in earnest.  I can’t over-stress the importance of beginning in earnest.