From the novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can” – Malcolm’s campervan journey.
ii. A Blast in Manchester
Having kissed and said emotional goodbyes to Imogen and a third of my budget to get the brakes fixed, I’m travelling east on the M62 from Frizinghall towards Manchester. I’m going slowly, fifty max because the max is fifty, testing both my nerve and brakes, which seem for now to bring me to a halt a little quicker than when I was 350 quid richer.
I lived in Manchester for ten years – Castlefield mainly. I love the place and always will; happy memories of success and sombre reflections of failure in the place where I had my share of ups and downs and did more than my share of fucking between marriages. I guess I’m needing to retrace some steps, tie up emotional loose ends, see people I need to say hello again and goodbye to. The motorway keeps telling me to expect delays due to a recent ‘major incident’. I know there’s been a bomb at some concert and lots of kids have been killed.
I park up as pre-arranged in the compound of an apartment block I used to live in on Broadway, Media City (a friend of mine whom I’ll see tomorrow still lives here, she gave me the code to the gate) then take the tram to town. It’s too far to walk and my legs still wobble from a nervous drive. On Deansgate my first impression of the aftermath of the blast doesn’t surprise me; people going about their business, determined not to let the monstrous extremes on the dubious grounds of religion get to them. Of course they’re talking about it, about the atrocious cruelty of such an act, there is armed presence here and in St. Ann’s Square, where the aroma of flowers put down in remembrance softly permeates through the stink of dust; otherwise people are going about their daily routine, deference not an option for a tough and proud town like this. Like the Beetham Tower that monolithically dominates its skyline, the whole town stands tall and says a robustly-girdered fuck you to those who try to knock it down.
Back in the tin can I prep for my first night’s stealth camping in the compound. I used to pay £1000 a month for a posh apartment here, now I’m in a clapped-out van worth about the same as two months’ rent or the amount I once thought nothing of pissing up the wall in a single night. I open the papers I bought in town and use the sinking sun as a bedtime reading lamp – bits of kids excitedly visiting this great city to see an Ariana Grande concert and never going home again. The columns mourn the blast but I’m sorry to say I smell hyperbolic rats scurrying through the debris. There are reports of Manchester United’s victory over Ajax, and claims that it was won for those who lost their lives. Pogba said “We did it for them.” They did not. I’m not for a second saying he doesn’t care, but win a trophy for them he did not, and that depresses me as I fall asleep.
Depression. I’ve suffered all my life. I’ve taken pills, I still take pills, but they are mere M&Ms without the sweet taste of chocolate. So I’m wondering if this life-experience all new to me might help in some way, to quell the anger at being put in this place, managed out of the rat race, skilfully nudged off the course. But it seems churlish to walk the dog today, when parents are mourning the loss of children and the weather is so beautiful. I’ve woken to birdsong and bright sunshine through my windscreen. I decide to shower nakedly in the open-air, using a watering can I’ve adapted deftly for this very purpose. It feels invigorating, amazing, though I’m not sure those at the Bupa offices over the road would agree. I see a woman in the window and she beckons her friend and they both look down at me, grinning. I want to disclaim that the water is cold but instead wave sheepishly at them and they wave back, then I go back inside my tin can to dry off and laugh to myself, hoping I might’ve brought some unexpected cheer to the white-collared monotony of their working day.
The Tin Can boasts a toilet and though it’s a tight squeeze as it were, there’s space to move my bowels and get clean afterwards. Though I shouldn’t get bogged down, if you’ll pardon the pun, these things are important in finding rhythm in my new home. Not a routine, I leave that for the Bupa office, a rhythm, in a 4metre square house on wheels.
I slept well I ponder, Mirtazapine-induced, and didn’t wake with an erection but muse that’s perhaps a good thing given space is at a premium. Yet I hope it’s temporary limpness, nothing more sinister than getting used to its new surroundings rather than because it’s a member of the over-50s club.
I have another remarkable realisation, that I’ve stopped banging my head on cupboards. That’s good too because I need to keep my wits about me; I finish The Guardian Cryptic Crossword in 30minutes, a sure sign of that being so. I smile in self-satisfaction that I’ve given Maskerade a good match. The man is a former teacher of mine whom I never liked with his desperate, petty and cruel cling-on to the archaic Grammar School discipline. It’s good to smile, even smugly I guess. And I’m smug to know I’m going for a glass of wine with friends in this beautiful city, this brilliant sun, and to know that others will be planted at offices in a soil of agendas and routines. And it’s even better and indeed preferable to think I’ve opted out of that to find a different garden every day.
All these memories and reflections seem to fuel-inject my plan, because if there is ever a day to leave behind the rat-race and the bad things that happen around every corner, this one is as good as any. Time now to meet my friends and we shall have a blast, the last supper before my journey to a new life begins for real. Just like those poor kids and their parents who were going to a concert, I am excited. And just like them, how can I possibly have any idea what will happen to me? Yes the life I had is going to be far away, Imogen and everybody and everything left behind. What and where for I have absolutely no idea, yet that’s kind of the joy of it all.