‘I’ve got the skills to pay the bills’. – Pub talk, the Marquis, New Cross.
This is it, the last one. Reader, you too deserve praise for making it this far on our strange psychosafari through Britain’s wilderness. All the comments, likes, and emails of support have truly kept me going. I’d never expected the blog to take off in the way it has, and it’s strange to imagine a world reading about a mad night that ends in sleeping in a park near Sheerness. 1,400 subscribers and 50 unique hits each day testify to a peculiar global voyeurism. Well thanks for that. We’re almost done.
Mayflies collide and tussle among the spindly reeds where I’ve laid my head. Last night, I gazed up at the clouds hovering over this no man’s land between Minster and Sheerness. White points drifted over the violet skies, reflecting the lamps of Sheerness and the surrounding rusting hinterland, possibly stars, or satellites, or distant aircraft. Teenagers had hollered and laughed in the distance, perhaps a mile away, but the sound carrying over the flat marshland, and it took some time to drop off, too tired to move, too alert in case they drew closer and happened on this sleeping man.
‘You never know what’s around the corner’ – Adam, Portsmouth.
I wake up on the edge of a recreation ground, outside a sleepy hamlet on the desolate coastline of the Isle of Wight. This is the last Monday of this journey, and my plans indicate I should reach London by Sunday night. That gives seven days to come up with something remotely conclusive about these islands, Albion…
Because I should come up with something conclusive, right? I’ve come all this way… would it not be disappointing if I were not entirely changed, or if I could not say: this is England, that is Britain, here is the truth? Perhaps pick up and discover in some discarded object, or exchange, or moment, a definitive instance of this experience which encapsulates everything, everywhere, on these islands? Sure, I’ll need to make some concession to passing fashions, and ensure whatever thing is might be is appropriately politically correct yet still attached to a sufficient number of recognisable clichés – perhaps a non-white child dunking a digestive biscuit into a cup of tea at a royalty-themed street party. Just don’t mention institutional racism, child abuse cover-ups, poverty, ritalin, or that his disabled mum hasn’t eaten for two days because her ESA was cut off. But now I’m falling into another cliché, that of anger. The task I set myself was impossible: find an essence of life and the living in this part of the world. It is too big, too big for anyone. That’s what so irked me about everything I’d read about the British or the English, usually drawing on a heap of clichés for both, of pigeon-fanciers, cucumber sandwiches, warm ale,Wayne Rooney and the Queen.