‘It can feel hard to escape…’ – the merits and de-merits of island life, Yarmouth.
We awake in Ricardo’s room in Bournemouth. As couchsurfing places go, it’s a little cosy, but after two days crammed into a one-person tent with my sister, the floor-space is vast and luxurious. You can even stretch your arms out, and turn over! Life in a tent has few perks, as one can imagine.
Last night we’d stayed up til really late, all of us talking, and the next morning we all sleep over our alarms. Ricardo flies out at ten am to start work on a regular Sunday Lunch at the carehome. He had a very funny take on what he saw as the typically English narrow food tastes of the residents (who are, all things considered, a mixture of ages and backgrounds). When he started work, he was outraged at the unhealthy and unimaginative processed slop that was served with punctual frequency. Each day, the same dish. So with the passion of a modern-day missionary (cue Jamie Oliver…?) he devised a new menu, filled with healthy meals, fresh ingredients and inventive combinations. Lo, the residents complained heartily about the unusual nature of the food. Of the new dishes, those that received approval happened to be either heavily fried or full of cheese. In the end, our crestfallen chef abandoned his campaign to reform the palates of the punters, and of England more broadly. ‘How can people eat roast dinners all year round?’, he asked us. My sister and I just looked at each other blankly.
‘I think boyfriends are irrelevant, because of what’s happening to the planet. This is about the planet, and it’s called ‘Foolish Man’.
– Open mic night at the Kettle and Wink, St. Ives.
The feeling from up above Greenaway beach is serenity. I climb out of my tent and into a clump of shrubbery, all that protects me from the suspicious glares of dog-walkers behind me, or an easy tumble down into the maws of the seas below. This beach is special in the memories of people I met yesterday. It was also preserved in poetic aspic by John Betjeman, the poet who died and was buried by here.
‘I know the roughly blasted track
That skirts a small and smelly bay
And over squelching bladderwrack
Leads to the beach at Greenaway.’
‘That’s what I hate about the modern world. You see kids out on their mobile phones, and they’re not talking to each other. And their parents are doing the same. And we’re all guilty of it, together.’ – Lady in pub, Malham.
Hail the morning that arrived too soon. Farewell the night that never finished, misspent in writing, and thinking, and talking too late. Tiredness and fatigue, my companions. They decorate this stage-set called ‘reality’ in the tones of grey. Everything with a tired mind feels that little bit unhinged, as if someone’s whispered into one’s ear that tomorrow probably won’t roll around. Just look at these people, with their fancy hats and shoes, their long words and their urgent obligations. Why on earth are they all bothering, don’t they know that reality’s a joke at their expense?
‘No, but where are ye heading?’ – Richard, Montrose, asks me this repeatedly and keeps forgetting the answer, over many beers in the Royal Arch pub.
Now I knew Scotland would be quite special, but these landscapes are starting to take the biscuit. Aside from the jerry-built crassness of the occasional industrial satellite town and its barrack-like social housing, the terrains and built design are unremittingly beautiful and spell-binding. There are houses and public structures built to last, not built to pass, and by some magic spell the misguided callousness of 1960s town planning has largely been avoided.
Even Dundee, a town that people on the road have struggled to report much good about, comes along with many a pleasant surprise. The previous evening I swept over the wide River Tay, immortalised in the bloody awful poetry of William McGonagall. I’m alert to distant lights on the other side signalling a harbour and a bustling town dense with life. Time in the hostel threw me against the diverse stories of Dundee’s visitors and, after a pleasant enough sleep in a dorm full of student backpackers, I get up and wander about the town’s high street.