From the novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can” and picking up from “The Boy who Went Missing”
If there are insects that want to bite human flesh, then my flesh seems to be their first choice from the menu. For weeks on my tin can I’ve been itching and scratching and rubbing Savlon into my sores. The cheeks of my backside are covered in bites that bring tears to my eyes, and even my dick hasn’t been overlooked as a source of nutrition – from a certain angle it looks misshapen from the swelling, like a root of ginger. Rubbing Savlon onto your penis doesn’t seem right so I wonder should I visit a pharmacist or a doctor? But what will I say? “Doc, I’m quite happy with the swelling but please can you rid me of this unbearable itch?”? On reflection, and after going through such pain over Diantha, I can’t bear the humiliation so I expect I’ll manage without professional consultation. How the insects get there in the first place will remain a mystery, however.
I’ve moved on from Windermere, heading north to Ullswater, which is simply stunning and should do me good in my current state of mind. It will be an amazing garden to wake up to, to just absorb the massiveness of the water and its sea-strong current. This morning, instead of performing my usual ritual of washing with baby wipes, I decide to fashion a shower, drilling holes in a bucket, soaking it in the water and allowing it to drip over me. It feels good, not only to be showering in the wild but also to be naked in it, not a soul about to see my root of ginger.
But then a strange thing happens. I’ve dried myself off and am just having a snooze when there’s a rap on the window and a male voice asking if I’m awake. At first I think I’ve been spotted naked and am about to be arrested for exposing myself.
“Are you awake?” the voice repeats.
“I fucking am now,” I say, “Friend or foe?” Then I pull back the side curtains and see a rather ugly face peering in.
“Overnight stays are not allowed on these shores,” the face says. My impulse is to tell the face to fuck off, I’ve been moved on once before this week and I’m sick of it, but instead I rise and open the door to question his provenance. But by now he’s already got into his car and driven off at speed. It leaves me feeling bewildered. Was he some official, park ranger or something? Or just some dogging maniac? I did notice he was having a good look around my van – for naked human flesh perhaps? Or was he a man with murderous intent? Or did I imagine it, given my mind’s been all over the place of late? I’ll never know. But it strikes me that sometimes it’s more problematic stealth-camping in remote areas, whereas I’ve had no trouble at all in residential streets, where the last thing people expect is to have someone kipping on their doorstep. Anyway, I shrug off the discomfiture and get dressed, before heading to Pooley Bridge for a Guardian and provisions.
It’s a lovely little place Pooley Bridge, with a relaxed atmosphere and an impressive pub-per-inch ratio. Over a pint of Thwaites in the Sun Inn I read up on its recent history and learn that the bridge is only temporary because the historic stone one was damaged in the floods of 2015/16.
The sun is shining and, after a couple more pints I’m feeling good and losing inhibitions, so I decide to take my guitar and sit on a rock by the water. Bridge Over Troubled Water isn’t really a guitar song and it’s certainly not so easy, but it seems apt. So I try to pick out the chords, leaving the words till I’ve mastered the melody. Then after a few bars I draw a posse of Japanese tourists, so begin to sing. I no longer care – I’ve busked in New York so why not here? I don’t put my cap down so it isn’t busking as such, it’s just a happy tramp singing a beautiful song that was one of my mother’s favourites and played at her funeral back in 2006. When I complete the song, or some version that doesn’t sound like musical murder, I’m afforded a ripple of Japanese applause and I’m deeply moved and gratified… I think of my mother and times past, and I think of Diantha and I think of my daughter to whom I haven’t spoken in ten years… then realise I’ve been bitten on the arse again so make a vow to stop sitting on rocks, singing with tears in my eyes or otherwise.
So once again I head for the pub, where with dwindling resources I manage to find something to eat and check emails, realising I need to get one foot back into the real world. And there, buried in with all the spam, is an email from a longlost friend called Myra whom I haven’t seen since school and on whom I had a sixteen-year-old crush. It turns out she’s instrumental in organising the school reunion that’s been mooted sometime after Christmas. It also turns out she’s been reading my blog and while some of it has made her laugh it’s also made her sad and worried about me. Appreciating her concern, I dash off a reply and tell her I’m fine, and yes put me down for the reunion. I hope to get a reply forthwith, but suddenly my wi-fi cuts out and I’m forced to close my laptop.
And yet, when I return to my tin can and find a new bay in which to rest, something strange is stirring within me. It’s like this journey, this running away from who I was, has made things come back to me, trying to help me make sense of who I am now. But there’s something more than that, and as I think back to 1974 when I thought I was deeply in love with Diantha, there was another person in the shadows, another person whom I somehow sense will at sometime play a huge part in my life. And it’s a thought that’s strangely comforting, portentous and warm.
So as the sun sets over the mountains across Ullswater and I settle down in my mummy bag, I sense the evening won’t fall too hard, that my tears will be dried, that someone is sailing right behind me, and I’ll be sleeping with a mind that’s eased. Then in the morning if someone comes knocking, it will be a friend not foe.