Extract from the forthcoming novel “Here am I Sitting in a Tin Can”
Autumn – 1. Vladimir & Estragon
My stars for October read well. I’m going to be moving house. I guess as long as the Tin Can’s wheels go round that’ll be true. They also say I’m coming into money and that will mean a sense of freedom. Perhaps that translates as a few quid to buy a new pot to piss in. If I’m lucky.
After two days in Saltburn I want a long walk, so I pack a lunch and set off up the sands to Redcar with a rucksack and hot sun on my back. It will be another tick, another postcard for the mosaic and another sunny lungful of fresh sea air. It’s a fair old trek and by the time I get there I’m gasping, so decide to get a bottle of water in a cafe.
It’s a bustling little prefabricated place and as I queue for my beverage I note one of the ladies serving has two black eyes. There is undoubtedly story here, but I dare even the most intrepid reporter to ask how she got them! It would be insensitive and intrusive, right?
“You’ve been in the wars,” I say.
“That’ll be a pound,” she says, unsmilingly. As I cough up, knowing I won’t get any change out of her, I leave the premises and find a bench seat on the prom, known locally as The Stray. As I sip my water and roll a cig, mulling over the possible scenario behind the woman’s black eyes and just a little ashamed of my rudeness, I am joined by a man of about forty, dressed not unlike me in combats and T-shirt.
Bidding me good afternoon, he asks if I mind him joining me for a smoke. I am not apt to say no and, though I’m a little wary of his shaved head and ruggedly handsome yet tough, leathery muscle, we soon fall into conversation. Therein, I mention the woman with black eyes.
“Yea I’ve seen her,” he says, “Shouldn’t be surprised if there’s an husband handy with his fists.”
“I thought the same,” I say, “but when I asked I got nothing.”
“You asked her?!”
Confirming, with palpable diffidence, I explain I’m writing a blog and there was in the woman’s eyes a glint of story.
“You’re a writer?” he says, “Well if you want a story I’m your man.”
It always amuses me that when someone learns you’re a writer they want to give you material. Like if a comedian reveals his profession, the listener wants to tell him a joke. So how come it’s not the same with other professions? For example would a carpenter be offered a piece of planed four-by-two pine?
But I digress. My new friend does indeed give me his story, which I’ll boil down. Hailing from Doncaster, he never married but for many years lived with his girlfriend and her two sons, he thought happily, until the day she told him to move out. He’d suspected for some time that she’d got someone else, then glimpsed her driving by with another man in the passenger seat. She confessed and said it was over. He had a job on the railways at the time but spiralled. One day he went into work and they smelled alcohol, sacking him on the spot and that was just the start of it.
“I come off the tracks as it were,” he says, beneath a furrowed and beady brow, “I pleaded innocence. Told ’em what had gone on and asked for compassionate leave. No dice. Even Human Resources turned their back.”
“Human Resources are only as resourceful as the humans in charge of it,” I say, seeing my gloomily embedded experience rise and surf the waves in front of us.
“I said exactly the same,” he says, unconvincingly.
I confess that while I listen with interest, I can’t entirely focus because throughout this exchange there is a bogey dangling from his nose. This has happened to me before and I remember not knowing what to do. Does the intrepid reporter tell the person? Does he try not to look and find it impossible? Or does he just wait for it to drop to its death of its own volition? Anyway, his story goes on, bogey or no bogey, and I am moved to hear he’s fallen into debt and now just drifting like flotsam.
“Are you homeless?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “I live in my van.”
I am amazed – at last I’ve bumped into someone very much in the same boat as me. Or at least the same van. Shaking my hand, he says exactly what I am thinking; it’s nice to know you’re not alone, it’s nice to know there’s some normality to this, reassuring to know you’re not completely barking. Plunged into this newfound camaraderie, I open up my snapping.
“Just cheese and bread,” I say.
“You’re a gent,” he replies, “I’ll return the favour some day.”
So here we are, a couple of strays, a pair of tramps, the Estragon to my Vladimir or vice versa, it doesn’t matter. What matters is we each found a kindred spirit, someone to bounce ideas and story off, someone in whom to confide the bouts of loneliness, depression, laughter and hope that there could be more to life than this, more freedom on the off-chance and brightness in our stars. And amid the shared lunch and halved optimism, the bogey finally drops into his lap and bounces like a tiny rubber ball, to where I’ll never know. I can only hope it bypassed the sandwiches.
He is a nice guy Peter, as I learn is his name, and we swap numbers. Like with Steve last night in Saltburn I am doubtful this will happen, but in this journey of uncertainties you can never know. Peter is certainly genuinely grateful for a bite to eat with me. And he is genuine when he says I am a nice bloke and I’ll be OK. We’ll be OK.
When we part company I return to the cafe and sit outside to order another bottle and write up my notes. I guess deep down I am planning an apology to the lady with two black eyes. I see that she is still working, and now laughing and joking with a colleague. She even smiles at me when taking my second pound. Realising any apology might reopen a can of worms, I keep my counsel. I hope Peter and I were wrong about the violent husband handy with his fists – perhaps the door she walked into was true.
As I sit, writing about a couple of strays on The Stray, I begin to reflect on their strange freedom. Given Peter’s circumstances that brought him here are similar to mine, I wonder if it’s freedom at all. Are we not victims of life, vulnerable lumps of fleshy wreckage that now just drift along on ebbing tides? Or are we just claiming we are free, if only to ponder the meaning of what we’ve become? Is there a cry for help drowned out by the sea’s rough corrugation, a silenced appeal for chance of rescue?
Just now on the council-mown expanse of lawn in front of me, a couple of women begin a demo of how to train dogs. I watch, fascinated and admiring, thinking how wonderful an animal it is. I’ve never been a doggy person but have met a few on my travels, and even wondered if I should consider a canine companion. How obedient are these collies, how responsive, loyal?
“This one was a stray,” says one of the women, “She was starving when we found her. We fattened her up and trained her. She’s very happy now aren’t you, Lucky?”
“Woof,” says Lucky, and comes to heel.