The clouds and rain of Hereford clinched it for me last Sunday. Only half a week back in the UK and I was lying in a pool of water in a tent in a field cold and wet. Proof if I needed it that I was back.
I had a hangover as well. One of those treacly thick ale hangovers that can only be shifted by bacon and eggs and strong Yorkshire tea. The one thing Blighty does well, I’ll give her that. Doling out X-rated hangovers that simply don’t exist anywhere else. Like fish and chips.
The seven or eight pints of HPA plus the cider I’d drunk at my old buddy Nik’s 40th were telling me I needed to pee badly or else drown in my own urine. That’s the other thing I miss about the UK: the clarity of my thoughts.
After untangling myself from my sodden sleeping bag I looked outside the tent to see nothing but impenetrable cloud and that all too familiar English landscape of sheeting rain and rubbish. Burger boxes, nappies, chip wrappers, drinks cans, rotting clothes, cider bottles, carpet warehouse leaflets, sodden newspapers, whirled around my aching head spelling out in gravy stained letters: GET OUT OF HERE! QUICK!
‘Yes I will,’ I said to myself as I gathered up my belongings and headed for the filthy sanitary block that doubled up as the rowing club. ‘Just give me a minute to pee and shower and I’ll be on my way.’
I’d been in Bristol the night before staying with my old bookselling buddy Barks at his flat in Southville. It had been a pleasant time. The weather was good. The city atmosphere relaxed and welcoming. Bristol is different from most places in the UK and the simple fact was I wasn’t prepared for a Welsh border town on a Sunday morning. I should have been. I grew up in one. Only I’d forgotten how utterly desolate and dreary they were.
I’m now in Chesterfield at my parents and the weather has gone arctic. The outdoor thermometer currently reads 14 degrees. I thought it was a joke, but my father said it’s accurate to one millionth degree. ‘NASA technology,’ he said putting on another winter jacket.
This isn’t my weather. For the past four months I’ve worn shorts and not much else. Taken a cold shower under a cold hose and dried off on the deckchair by the pond in the baking sun. It’s a different world here I realise that. I’m British. I understand the climate. I lived in Nottingham for nine years for God’s sake and it rains there pretty much all the time (it’s true). I didn’t even bring a jacket either, except the one I made from the rags I found on the campsite in Hereford. A metaphorical one fashioned from the mindless optimism found in these towns for reasons I have yet to understand. A cloak made from Welsh beer bottle tops and English cider cans that protects me as I tramp on through the ruins of 21st century England.
From here I go to the Wirral on Thursday and then to Portsmouth on Saturday. Leaving for France a week on Tuesday. There I will be greeted by peaceful roads and rubbish free campsites. Which brings me to the cusp of the post. The rump steak of the prose. The filet mignon. SHUT UP OGGERS! GET ON WITH IT!
OK, I will.
As I lay awake a few nights ago mulling over the day as one does when you can’t sleep. Trying to recall in minute detail every action I’d made over the day. Placing each event into hours and minutes in the hope sleep would carry me away, I suddenly started trying to remember every address I’d ever lived at since I was born. This is an extract from my mind last Tuesday at about three-thirty in the morning.
Durham: Devonshire Road (born).
Leeds: Calverly Lane.
Chester: Tudor Way
Belper: Holbrook Road.
Chesterfield: Chatsworth Road
Nottingham: Holme Road, Goldswong Terrace, Loughborough Road, Beauvale Road, Holgate Road, Addison Road, Sedgley Avenue, Mapperly Road, Gladstone Road, Gregory Boulevard, Forest Road West, Sherwood Rise.
France: Les Vigneres (Provence), Grande Rue de La Guillotiere (Lyon), Rue Laurencin (Lyon), La Jouachere (Queaux).
Spain: Calle Halcon (Granada), Carretera de Ledesma (Salamanca).
Poland: Białobrzeska (Warsaw)
Bristol: Upper Perry Hill, Allington Road, Radnor Road
Exeter: St. David’s Hill, Blackall Road, Staplake Road
Plymouth: Tothill Ave.
Falmouth: Broad Street.
Bracknell: Inchwood Road.
I felt quite shocked. My gran was born and died in the same house. I felt schizophrenic. Unable to distinguish where I wanted to be or where I was from. A quasi hobo existence that for ten minutes led me to despair and intense contemplation. Can one just keep on moving indefinitely from place to place? When will it end? Does it end? Or is this the path I put myself on a long time ago. An oil tanker careering towards the rocks.
And then at about four o’clock, I concluded that it was quite normal in this plug-in-and-play world we now live in. Furthermore, I’ll write a blog about it. Then I fell to sleep.