The end of the Spring chapter of the novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can”.
“Bit of a comedown from working in television,” Tiddle says, looking around my tin can.
“Thanks for that,” I say.
My oldest and best friend has caught the train from Stoke to Leeds, where I’m parked on a bit of wasteland along the canal at the back of the station. He’s come bearing gifts: a bagful of pies, toilet roll, plonk and tobacco, all the essentials for the off-grid traveller.
Tiddle is a big bloke now, thickset from years of manual labour, and if I were to search his face for any length of time I’d find it still brushed with youth beneath the thinning hair. We’ve been friends since 1969 when he was four and I was six and living four doors down on a council estate. We were pretty boys back then and close; loveable and mischievous little urchins in short pants. Vis Unita Fortior was our mantra but if the word bromance had existed at the time it would’ve equally sufficed. He lost his mother when he was nine and ever since, any woman who’s fallen for him has wanted to mother him, meaning that at times he’s been tied down and rendered absent from our friendship. But whenever we reacquainted we had misadventures, one of which left him with only three fingers and was my fault, and probably put paid to one of his relationships. At this time when he’s sitting in my tin can he is single.
“No luck then?” I ask.
“No,” he says, “I can count on one hand the number of women I’ve fucked since we last met.”
“Three then?” I say.
“Fuck off,” he says, “I’m on Plenty of Fish though.”
“Any luck there?”
“I met this girl from Leicester. Got the train down there and waited in a pub. She looked fit on her profile but when she walked in the door she was about forty stone. The fucking place went dark.”
“So how does it work this Plenty of Fish?” I want to know.
“You make a profile and try to get matches,” he says.
“And you put your photograph on it?”
“And you’ve had no luck?”
“Not apart from the one in Leicester who was forty stone.”
“Perhaps you should try it without your photograph,” I say.
“Fuck off,” he says.
It’s about eleven o’clock now and we’re ready to hit the town, where our beloved Stoke City are going to be playing and probably losing on TV. He says he can’t drink much on account of the tablets he’s on for diabetes, and when I argue that it’s not going to be much fun he caves in and says he can have one or two, but first we’ll need to eat.
I’ve never been to Subway before, but this is one of his haunts he says, he works away a lot and always finds a Subway to fill his belly. I’m not really one for chains but have to say the prices look reasonable for what you get, and after last night’s tomato and garlic pasta I could do with some meat. Hence, we’re sitting in the window chomping on sandwiches the size of a family sofa and having a conversation stuffed with nostalgia, the kind of reminiscences that begin with “And when…” and often end with “It was your fault.”…
“And when we made a camp fire in that barn and burned it down and got caught by the police because we left our school books behind with our names on…”
“And when we walked thirty miles after a night game at Gillingham…”
“And when we stole that train…”
This was one of those mini steam trains they have in garden centres, pubs and things, and we stole down there at night and nicked the loco and a length of track, which we rigged up in my back garden and which led to the police coming and making us return it to where it came from or else we’d go to prison.
“It was your fault,” Tiddle says in affectionate peroration.
By now we’re in a pub called Shenanigans which is packed to the rafters with football fans of all colours and several Sky Sports screens. On one of them, Stoke are 3-0 down and Tiddle’s in danger of losing count. Both of us have already lost count of how many beers we’ve had to fuel the exploration of ghosts of the past, but let’s just say sufficient to make us turn to spirits.
“I shouldn’t really be drinking vodka on these tablets,” Tiddle says, not for the first or last time.
“Just one more and we’ll move on,” I say, not for the first or last time.
So by the moment the final whistle has blown we’ve turned our back on Shenanigans and had the same exchange in Whitelocks, Head of Steam, Tapped, The Cross Keys, The Midnight Bell and The Stew and Oyster to cite but a few.
By the time we head back for the tin can it’s dark, and Tiddle is worse for wear. In one of the pubs, I don’t remember which, there’s been a band playing and he’s come back from the toilets plaiting his legs and nearly sent the speakers flying which has caused the landlord to refuse us any more drinks.
And so we’re on the canal, heading in the direction of where I think the tin can is, having a conversation that only bromancers can have which goes something like
“I’ve always loved you mate.”
and then we fall to the ground in laughter. Gathering my senses, I try to lift him up, but he’s a big bloke and to be honest it’s a struggle.
“Come on mate,” I say, “let’s get you to bed.”
“I’ve always loved you mate,” he slurs, before closing his eyes and snoozing. At least I think it’s snoozing, but after some minutes of trying to rouse him I realise he’s actually passed out.
“Tiddle!” I cry, “Wake up!”
Nothing, just the sibilant snore of someone gone.
But now there’s nothing at all and I’m getting really worried. Remembering what he’d said about tablets and his diabetes, I realise I’m going to have to do something but don’t know what. So in my panic I dial 999.
Impressively, it’s just a few minutes before the paramedic arrives in a Volvo. I explain the situation and the guy tries to rouse my friend. When he’s got nothing he nicks one of his remaining fingers to check his blood. Thankfully he tells me he’s ok, just passed out, but to be on the safe side he’ll call for an ambulance.
I don’t quite remember the sequence of events that follow, but it can’t be many minutes before he’s in the back of an ambulance and I’m there with him, probably begging him to stay with us.
“Where do you live?” asks the paramedic who’s in the back with us.
“On a van,” I say.
“A van?” she says, and I can tell she’s amused. “So where is it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“You can’t remember?”
“No. Somewhere near the station.”
“Can you remember if you have any coffee on board?”
“Yea. And I’ve got a kettle.”
Some time later, God knows how long, we’re in my little tin can, me, two paramedics and Tiddle, who we’ve wrapped up in a mummy bag. I’ve had the four rings burning on my cooker to give some warmth and four cups of coffee on the go.
In hindsight I’ll be nothing but complementary about the diligence of these professionals on what must be a busy Saturday night. They stay with us for what must be an hour, listening to my stories as they wait for Tiddle to come round. Which eventually he does, and says where am I?
“In my house,” I say, “You passed out and these two lovely people have helped you.
“Thanks,” he says, “It was his fault.”
When the paramedics finally leave, making sure Tiddle’s had his meds, I bed us down for the night and know I’ll dream of yet another misadventure.
Next morning, when Tiddle’s left me with more I love yous, and I’ve promised faithfully I’ll see him soon, I prepare to leave the stealth-camp. I’ve every intention of honouring my promise of returning to my roots, giving up these off-grid existential meanderings.
“Why the fuck are you doing this?” he’d said, when he was sober.
“For the adventure,” I’d said, “Haven’t you been reading my blog?”
“No,” he’d said, and asked again the question why.
And I’d said I didn’t know, and that sometimes like the night I was attacked I wondered myself if I could take any more.
As I prep the van for setting off back home, I check the bag of goodies Tiddle brought for me, and see he’s slipped in a bar of Kendal Mint Cake, and I smile to myself, knowing he must’ve read my blog after all. He’s also slipped in a note which says “Come home mate, we miss you.” And I realise I do love the man, and miss him, like I’ve missed so many people, and things.
Driving over the M62, the tin can rattling and grinding at 50mph max, I flick on the radio and listen to some tunes. Pondering my night with Tiddle, my beloved oldest and best friend in the world, I smile to myself, but then my smile vanishes as I reflect on the unbearable depression and sometimes intolerable loneliness of my travels. All of my life I’ve wanted to be somewhere else, wanted something more, and sometimes paid the sacrifice of loneliness that feels as painful as the time my children’s mother finally and understandably told me she was no longer in love with me. It’s in my blood to seek adventure and in my genes to turn my back on all those who love me and all things easy, straightforward and conventional.
And that is why when I finally reach Manchester and am within an arm’s length of my home town south in Cheshire, I turn the other way onto M6 North and head for the Lakes. Or somewhere, I don’t know. “Here comes the Summer,” sings Feargal Sharkey on the radio, and I sing along. And I think so that was my Spring, when in coming down from working in TV I could’ve died, I met some interesting people and didn’t find love, I Rohypnolled myself into bed with an imaginary woman, I spent a night in with the homeless and I said goodbye to a friend. I am leaving Spring behind, I think, and am off in search of something else.