‘Let’s be honest…’
– Jeff, Haverfordwest.
I awake in my tent next to a five thousand year old memorial to a forgotten life and a forgotten way of living. Yet the large stone still stands improbably upright despite its hulking size over the smaller stones propping it up. Though the stones are in a residential area on the edge of Newport, a tall privet hedge ensures I’m secluded. A middle-aged man calls to a woman, perhaps his wife, in the distance, as he loads up an estate car with household bric a brac. Up and awake early, I pack up furtively and sneak out.
‘That’s how all the cities are changing now. … But there’s nothing you can do. Things change.’ – Mike, Llangefni.
Snowdonia is a wonderful place. Visit it if you can, explore by foot or pedal its gentle heights, mapping with your eyes how undulating fields become forests that give way to an explosion of jagged rocks strewn up and down peaks, clustering in valleys with the heather and bracken. There’s a few sheep ensuring that the grasses are kept short, but in certain moments it’s absent of life and just lovely.
‘This might be a strange question, but tell me, what’s the one political change you would like to see in your lifetime?’
‘Get rid of all the Conservatives, all the corrupt politicians. Have a new lot. Ordinary people.’
‘Shoot the lot of em’.
– talking to two young people, Halifax.
I awake in Malham after a fine night’s sleep. All around me is peace. This is a quiet, teeny little village nestled in the south-west of the Yorkshire Dales. A stream trickles under an old stony bridge, pursuing the desire of its flow out into the tranquillity of wispy fields and cattle drunk on grass and rainwater. The St. George’s flag flutters on the outside of a pub, an unnecessary marker of a scene that could only be England: this village, this lawn, these dozy river verges, a newsagent who gazes out from his store at the morning rush, a postal van that struggles to navigate the gnarled and twisty roads. This is England, and nowhere is England like this. Here is the England of the chocolate boxes and packets of fudge, of the I heart London stores and the Jeremy Paxmans with their delusional national biographies. I rub my eyes to check the view, then prepare to depart the youth hostel.
‘Without them, this town would be shut down.’ – taxi driver, Blackpool.
Have you woken to the sound of pure electricity flowing above your head and this fragile polythene sheet that some would call a tent, and others a place of rest? If not, then strive for it, even if it means sleeping in the most exposed and strange of waste grounds in Heysham, near Morecambe. Where are either? Then you haven’t lived. These pylons sound like rain, their voltage dangerous and yet strangely tranquilising, even for all the shouting during the night nearby, as drunken kids raced up and down the road right by my tent. Thankfully I was not discovered, but it adds to the night’s strangeness.
‘You know what the difference is? At the weekends, people in Finland go out to their homes in the countryside, they exercise, they enjoy the air. In Glasgow, they just go to the shops.’
– Tommi and Michelle, Glasgow.
Warning: Glasgow is a small universe. Capturing it in an economical amount of words has proven more difficult than any place I’ve visited. As my write-up’s turned out so long (and yet I’ve omitted so much), it’s been sub-headed into days which can be read separately. But I dare not separate them into chapters. Just like the city itself, one element necessarily informs another and interweaves with it. If reading this on a web browser, I advise for the sake of time not attempting to read in one sitting. Same goes to the around 600 email subscribers to this blog.
Cherish those mornings where there’s no need to rush. When the alarm clock states the time factually rather than coercively. Get up now, or in half an hour? It doesn’t particularly matter. The pillow has taken on the texture and proportions of a heavenly cloud. Let the morning become afternoon without us dashing around, shoving on our shoes whilst hurrying out the door in a commuter’s cossack dance. The world will continue in its same majestic and ludicrous whirl without us bearing witness to it. Placing a quilt over one’s head is a perfectly respectable way of dispelling life’s demands for another day.
It’s a pleasure waking up slowly in Glasgow at Tommi and Michelle’s. Tommi I met previously in a pub in Dornoch: he invited me to stay with him when I arrived in Glasgow, and kindly lived up to his word. I met Michelle and Nico, his wife and son, the previous afternoon. Michelle’s a native of Dumbarton, but a career in business management brought her to Finland, Norway and back to Glasgow. She’s suffered from MS in more recent years, but has used her experience and skills to assist the MS Society with its campaigns and organisation. Nico is a nineteen year old tennis maestro. As can be the case with young men, he bounds away with more energy and life than life itself can keep up with, which can lead to a kind of post-teen/early twenties dislocation where what one should do isn’t clear, and indecision paralyses. Over cereal and tea – after camping, such luxury – we talk for some time about Glasgow and Scotland. There’s no need to rush, and each topic is treated carefully, without shortcutting to received wisdom or printed opinion as so often blights much discussion of current affairs.