‘You don’t buy and sell idiots. You don’t buy and sell chavs, like you do here.’
– conversation in a Trebetherick boozer.
The dawn light suffuses into the open cottage living room where I’ve slept. As it creeps across the ceiling wall, these dusty dressers and dining tables seem to shriek and recede, shrinking from incongruously large shapes to something more everyday. This cottage has been uninterrupted for many decades. The walls could crumble into nothing in your hands, but are strong and robust, like the hives of termites. It breathes an aged air, exhaustedly occupying the intelligence of its years like a hyperthymesic savant. The carpets and furniture have been preserved in tea and tapioca pudding, board games and bridge, and quiet disagreements, stiffly stewing the atmosphere as lips are chewed, from the christening of a child’s name to the executors of the selfsame will.
Cast open the curtains. Today, the sun has risen without an email alert. No alarm clock stirred the cattle from the warmth of their grassy-belly-beds. The songbirds flittering over those hedgerows had no automated reminders or morning emails to motivate them from their slumber. Tammy’s doggy, still coy from the kick of a malicious horse, has not been reassured of his existential importance by Facebook or Twitter notifications. This delightful late-summer morning is not trending. Such losses, theirs!
‘I’d read something in the news, something I knew about, and I knew it was untrue. It gets you thinking, what about this other thing? What can you believe?’ – Tammy, over dinner, Weare Giffard.
Seasons change, sadly they must, and as I twist around in this thin little sack under a polythene sheet, camped out on some faraway hillside in the middle of nowhere, my mind’s pacing back to the journey that’s taken me here, and the good people I’ve met. Chaotic and times crazy, it’s true, but I wouldn’t’ve ever dared imagine that I’d encounter so many kind, wise and generous people. I’ve been fed, sheltered and watered by strangers. In the supermarkets and pubs, harbours and farms, community centres and chippies, and in so many little street corners we’ve talked politics and ethics, love and loss, friendship and family. And could I call all those people now friends? I think so. Everything I would’ve cynically ruled out as a possibility has instead been proven true. And all these people who’ve helped me have been modest, politely laughed, seeing it as just their nature, just the course of things. No bother! And I realise how common and wrong it is to underestimate our equals.
‘We just sell things, we don’t make them.’ – Andy, Bridgwater.
I awake at Ellie’s after a good night’s sleep. I’m up early in fact, but the bright morning’s dedicated to the mundane business of emails arranging accommodation over these final weeks. By the time I’m up Ellie’s in the kitchen making tea and porridge. The sun is out, and she shows me more of the garden her and her mum have created from nothing in a mere nine months. There are few pleasures simples than the contemplation of life growing, thriving, in whatever form it takes.
It’s a perfect day for a bike ride – is every day not? But this September has been unusually hot, a fine relief after a rainy August, and today is especially sunny. So we cycle out to Glastonbury town. It’s bustling with an abundance of cafes, people leisurely sitting outside, and buskers in the background singing the counterculture hits of yesteryear. Middle-aged men and women share a unisex style of long-hair, tie-died clothes and leather waistcoats, and gently wander up the high street, past African art stores, esoteric bookstores, shops honouring the Goddess and the Green Man, and Glastonbury’s classic ‘Burns the bread’ bakers. We peer into the ruins of the abbey, sacked by the knights of Henry VIII, but don’t feel inspired to pay the charge. Then we head up to Glastonbury Tor, where many have come this sunny Sunday noon to watch the surrounding Somerset Levels.
‘We’re all being treated like sheep’ – future self to younger self; or, a conversation with an eccentric enemy of English Heritage, Stonehenge.
I awake at around eight, weary and cheated of restful sleep. The previous night’s intoxicated visions have left me with a headache, though reaffirm my scepticism about the divine origins of prophecy that so many mind-fugged messiahs have purportedly possessed.
Sheltered by a huge sarsen stone, I ensure that no damage or sign of my stay remains, and push my cycle out into the misty morning. In the village’s local shop I’m told a little more about the area, which the friendly shop-owner tells me should be called ‘Kennett’. My fuel for the next sixty miles is water and granola. Fortunately I have enough of it, and chew my gruel by the public loos. Inside is some graffiti that sums the mood: ‘the stones make me hungry & tired. 2012 AD’.
‘It’s just intuition’ – Jason, with his girlfriend, besides an ancient stone around midnight, under the stars, Avebury.
To hell with alarms, or lack thereof. Mine’s not gone off, so the morning is like a firefighter’s scramble out of bed, leaping into a set of the nearest clothes, licking toothpaste round my mouth and hobbling out, half-shoed and hungry. Outside Pat’s place, I look on as a strung-out fella attempts to sleep whilst riding his bicycle. In his hand is a large sports store bag with his belongings. He stirs for a second, talks to himself, curses, wheels ahead a few steps, then dozes off again.
We’ve all been there, eh, victims of our misjudgements, an inability to say no… but sleeping on a bike?
Liberal attitudes towards drugs legalisation struggle when faced with situations where a person indulges in risky behaviour or becomes dependent on getting out of it, more than dependent on any particular drug (and alcohol’s one of the worst). He wheedles down an alley where I’ve locked my bike, then inexplicably reverses and returns to the street, where a phone drops out of his hand and shatters.
‘This is my lifestyle. Work work work then go home.’
– conversation among strangers, Bristol Harbour.
I wake up in Jackson’s front room in Easton, north-east Bristol. It’s been a warm and cosy welcome from the city so far, a distinctively laid-back, liberal place that stands out for its cool, calm bustle and plethora of ambitious street art. It’s a vision of what British cities could be. Much of its built environment is similar to other cities, from the terraced townhouses of Victorian family life to the technocratic Austin Maxi utopias of car-centred road planning. The malls like Cabot Circus could have been built in any other city south of Aberdeen and north of Southampton, and the regenerated harboursides with their cobbled paths, hipster boozers and art galleries are lovely but, in fairness, nothing unusual. No, wandering around Bristol yesterday as the afternoon became the evening, I encountered a city that charmed me with its ambience and mood. Music, art and conversation felt not simply possible here, but inevitable; freely created, exchanged and shared. There’s life all about the place. It feels like it would be a very hard town to be parochial, bigoted, or just plain dull in. That is wonderful.
Jackson dashes out after improbably little sleep to help a friend decorate. I’m realising that the older I get, the less I can tolerate less than six hours’ kip. There was a time when I’d go to work with little more than five, ready to hit the high-stress coalface and attempt to prove some kind of validity and worth in places where having no personal life or weird anxiety tics were positive signs of personal commitment. You get em! Now I can sleep in ‘til nine or eleven if I choose. Bristol’s my business, and my CV’s so chequered that I’m no longer burdened with the delusion of aspirational employment. These travels are taking place in a hole in time, sustained by small pots of money that come with conditions whose implications I’m ignoring right now, as I climb into my least-smelly clothes whilst sipping a herbal tea. Untethered to a deadline or obligation, to a pressure to pay an inflated bill or appease a miserable boss.
‘Come up with a solution, any solution, and I’m gonna agree with ya’
– two Jamaican men in an Easton street, Bristol.
It’s my last morning in Wales. The sky hangs heavy over this steely, stunted, security-shocked city. A few more clouds and military helicopters and the whole cumulus’ll come crashing down under the great burden of its own greys.
‘And other spirits there are standing apart
Upon the forehead of the age to come;
These, these will give the world another heart,
And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum’…