Getting back on the road

Saturday 19 April

Well here we go then.  My time in the UK has finally come to an end.  What have I learned?  Not much probably, save that this country is a total rip off and I hate London.  But I knew that anyway.  Matters of the heart will be given some more time to settle before judgement is called on my decision to return.  Only in the coming months will I know if it was a wise idea, but then again; you should have no regrets.  Except maybe for the time I pee’d my pants at a motorway Happy Eater circa 1985.  Someone still has the pictures.

On the morrow I fly to Estonia.  Now I’m trying to be upbeat regarding the word “fly”, and I’ve bored you all to tears already banging on about my deeply ingrained fear; but I’m sorry – those fucking things are not meant to be up in the air.  Sitting in beer gardens on the Heathrow flight path hasn’t done me any favours.  You can read the writing on the damn undercarriage.  Hopefully this will be the last flight I ever tak…no wait…take in a long time.  Jesus.  Nearly jinxed it.

And yet there is still the fleeting hope of a movie scene reprieve.  That moment when (usually a boy, but this time a girl) barely makes it to the airport in time to stop the guy from leaving.  Hurdling bags and knocking over grannies, she tearfully apologies for her stupidity, begs him not to board, and stammers her glaring error in letting him go in the first place.  Alas, dear readers, no such scene will take place, and our young hero will have no choice but to buckle into his seat, glance wistfully out the port window, and with a solitary tear rolling down his cheek, contemplate what might have been; before the onset of his impending doom at 38,000 feet.  Ain’t life a bitch.

So once again one door closes and another opens.  This time tomorrow I should be in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and I’ll be doing my best to immerse myself once again in the thrill of adventure.  No doubt such exploits will come to the aid of my rather wounded heart, especially when I’m surrounded by a load of Estonian chicks who look like Rivendell extras.  But you know I’m only joking right?

 

 

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Broken in Brighton

Sunday 06 April

I don’t feel the driving rain as I cut a lonely figure negotiating through revellers in Brighton streets, unfazed by some pretty girl trying to dance with me. Singing the same song lyrics over to myself, using the downpour to camouflage glassy eyes. Sitting alone nursing an ale surrounded by empty seats. I ghost to an unwelcome bed after time is called. It takes a lot of balls to take a risk when it comes to love. Sometimes it pays off and you get your just rewards. Sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately it looks like once again I’m falling into the latter.

I didn’t come back here for friends, family or to “sort stuff out”. As horrible as it sounds, it was just a front. A smoke screen. I was really doing the one thing that I swore I’d never do. Follow a girl.

After a whirl-wind anti-romance and intoxicating times together, the obstacles are far too great for it to continue. She was the first girl to visit my parents graves, the first to see where I used to live. The first to see a side of me I didn’t think I had. The first to truly make me laugh. I’ve never met anyone like her. But between perfect birthday gifts, beautiful dinners, stunning vacations and an incredible intimacy I’ve never known; I was just too damn overconfident I could change her mind. That’s time at the bar darling. Last orders.

Yet many a friend would scoff at such declarations. They’ve “heard it all”. “No I assure you it’s different this time!” “She’s not like all the rest!” Actually it’s no different. Nothing has changed. Once again I’ve failed to find what I’m looking for. Once again groans of familiarity wail from close pals. Stuart’s heart ripped off his sleeve, smashed onto the floor and stamped on. Then a dog has chewed it up, crapped it out, to be abducted by aliens, given an anal probe, slapped down onto the street to be pissed on by a homeless man and shat on by a pigeon. I really haven’t learned any lessons.

I’ve not slept, eaten or showered in days. Actually I’ve had a chicken and mushroom pot noodle and bowl of crunchie nut cornflakes. There’s more Gin in me than blood, and I’m rattling through a pack of tobacco a day. I’m trying to put a band-aid on cancer. But fear not dear readers, for I will be alright. I will drag my stinking carcass out of this black hole of remorse to a brighter tomorrow, or die trying. Please don’t call Social Services; I’ve simply fallen in love with the wrong girl. Or the right one at the wrong time. I’m not sure which is worse.

It’s not through any fault of hers or mine. Time, age, distance, and circumstance are all contributing factors. Yet I get the impression (as with so many girls who say “they’re not ready for a relationship”) that if the right guy came along they damn well would be. If I was Rob Stark they’d be throwing themselves at my feet. “It’s not you it’s me.” I’ve heard that one so many times before you’d thought I’d be used to it by now. I’d move mountains to make this work, but never do anything for someone who wouldn’t do the same for you in a heartbeat. People who are meant to be in your life will come in and stay there. If only we’d met at 26, perhaps I wouldn’t be an old dog with old tricks. The reason that it’s such a bitter pill to swallow, is that she is totally right. I can’t fault her wisdom. But it really hurts. It’s something she has to do, something she can’t ignore. She’s different. If you love someone set them free.

It is with a heavy heart that I get back on the road. The hitch to India will continue with my return to Bucharest as soon as possible. I will remain in London another week or so, while I spend a small fortune on sorting out my broken glasses (again). It’s ironic they break literally, while I’ve not been able to see figuratively. Perhaps somewhere down the line she will be ready, and maybe it won’t be too late, but you’d better believe she’s going to regret it. In an ideal world I would wait for her, but until then, and until further notice (and when I get my sight back); I’m still Looking For Stu.

Hopefully so is she.

 

 

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Wetherby

Friday 28 March

It’s been about ten years since I last set foot in my old home town. Ten years since I saw my remaining friends here. Ten years since I wandered past the house I grew up in and chanced a peak over the garden fence. It was time to put that right.

Taking the bus from Leeds to Wetherby was insightful. A journey I used to know so well, I found much has changed. So too the little market town I used to call home. New things here, old things gone, some things that have stayed the same. Carrying a rucksack and booking into B&B accomodation, where usually I’d phone dad for a lift back up the road. Usually I’d munch a steaming plate of super noodles and eat an Oxo cube in front of Gamesmaster on a Monday night. I felt like a stranger in my home town.

As I stroll through the streets and alley ways I frequented in my youth, I hear the echos of the past. Conversations here, incidents there, a kiss, a fight, urinating in a bush, that first taste of booze. Hiding from mum on the walk from play group.  Tomato soup and jumpers for goalposts.  Trying to catch a peak at the first girl to get breasts changing in her bedroom. Times I’d laughed and cried. A solo trip down memory lane revisiting things only I know. Personal experiences and an angle on the past that nobody else could share. Days I’ll never see again.

Meeting old friends in old haunts and I’m glad to see that somethings never change; they’re still a bunch of wankers. Apart from the usual suspects, there isn’t a face I recognise. It’s as if the whole town has changed hands. Such safety in the familiar has gone. We’ve passed on the mantle to another generation. A generation that prefers partying in Leeds or Harrogate to getting hammered on ten quid on a Friday night and still having enough for fish and chips on the walk home. Times have changed in very sense of the words. Mates have lost their hair, some have kids, some have managed to steal a BMW, while others are still shit at pool.

There is a certain comfort I take in walking the streets my parents walked as somehow a return here brings me closer to them. I wonder what my dad would have thought of the total reconstruction of Wetherby Methodist Church, a centre of worship so dear to his (and our) heart(s). I wish they were here to see it. Something makes me wish we’d never left.

But such is the way of the world, and time and tide wait for no man. Once again I buy that one-way ticket out, and leave 19 years behind me. I think it’s going to be a very long time before I’m back here again; but when I do, someone will be at my side.

 

 

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Memories

Tuesday 18 March

I’ve always felt a bit funny standing and peering over a fence at a house that isn’t yours anymore.  Imagine if a woman inside on her own was to catch sight of me staring into her backyard for no apparent reason.  The police would be called.  You’ve got to be subtle about it.  Move position regularly and pretend to be taking in the country air.  It just doesn’t seem right tiptoeing around a house you spent over 10 years in.  Once your home, now somebody elses.  And my how it has changed.

Foresters House always had so much potential.  It sat surrounded by a jungle of a garden at the back, and an overgrown vegetable allotment at the front.  But sitting in the middle of nowhere, it was a paradise of peace.  A perfect place for my parents to retire to.  Alas dad did all he could, but with failing health in twilight years the promise of a new Eden was left to wrack and ruin.  I always wanted to write a letter to one of those garden make-over shows and get them to create some kind of Japanese Zen thing where the nettles had taken over.  It took me weeks to get the place anywhere near presentable to a potential buyer.  Now, with the zest of the new owners youth clearly apparent, our old home is on its way to achieving domestic greatness.  I just wish mum and dad could have seen it.

Standing by their graves in light rain and I’m pleased with myself for making a passable arrangement of flowers in the little jar thing.  I don’t have a picture, save on a disposable camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I’ve got some mad flower arranging skilz.  I’ve never been one to linger long in such a place, as I don’t need to stand in front of a headstone to talk to them.  They’re always with me.  But there are many times I catch myself with the thought; “oh I can’t wait to tell mum and dad about that”.  Then I realise that isn’t possible.  I wonder what they would have thought of all this change?  Of the girl standing beside me?  Of my world travel?  Of Liverpool in with a shout of winning the Premier League?  I guess I’ll never know; but I reckon they would have been happy.  I know I am.

 

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Going home

Wednesday 12 March

It feels somewhat strange as we board a 10 hour bus to Glasgow.  A wonderful few days in sunny Twickenham with my sister behind us, it’s now time to take that long road North.  Ella has had the pleasure of meeting my delightful twin, who’s literal opening conversation was about the various sizes and extent of her dildo collection.  “Hi Ella, nice to meet you.  I’ve just ordered a new dildo.”  Never before has the ice been so vehemently broken.

Alas we must temporarily part ways for a trip home.  I’ve not been back in nearly three years, and I’m quietly nervous about what awaits me.  As usual and as expected, the journey is an utter nightmare.  Megabus can do one.  With little or no sleep achieved, Ella and myself fall out into surprising Glasgow sunshine and stagger to the nearest hotel.

There was a time when all you’d have to do is walk down certain Glasgow streets and you’d bump into someone you knew.  Those days are long gone.  I scan faces for recognition, but time moves on.  So too has the face of the city, which is almost unrecognisable in parts.  My old acting school, RSAMD, is now called “The Royal Conservatoire”.  There’s massive new shopping precincts.  Posh new hotels.  Construction where familiar buildings once stood.  But still that old hippy dude playing the same crap riff on a crap guitar.  Good to see somethings never change.

And indeed as reliable as ever, friends come out for a few catch-up ales at an old haunt.  Naturally this turns into utter debauchery, and we find ourselves waiting for the off licence to open at 10 am the following day.  Welcome (back) to Glasgow.

 

 

 

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The madness of flying, London and women

Friday 07 March

While I stand in line with a boarding pass and passport, I’m looking around at my fellow passengers and thinking; ‘these are the people I’m going to die with’.  Such is my fear of flying, which gets significantly worse each time, as my brain is convinced that this is the one that’s going down.  This is my ticket.  I’ve actually considered the possibility of flying after a recent air disaster, because surely the statistics are in my favour and the chances of a repeat catastrophe are slim?  What the hell am I doing at an airport?  What the hell am I doing getting on a plane?  A plane that is flying to the UK?!

Wedged into a middle seat and strapping myself in I practice the brace position.  I like other people around me to know that I’m shitting myself.  I’ve tried everything to calm my nerves; drugs, booze, sleep deprivation and all night benders.  Nothing can get me out of that panicked head space that this behemoth of a vehicle is going to take off into the sky and stay there for three hours, before coming to land safely and without incident.  The usual clanking sounds strike fear into my heart and I whisper an audible “fuck” as we lurch down the runway.  Little do I realise I’ve dragged the guy to my right down with me, and he starts freaking out too.  But once at cruise height, we settle into conversation, and it does much to pass the time.  His name was Stuart too.  I made a plane buddy.  He’s a lifesaver when about an hour to go I get the irrational fear that the fuselage is going to break in half.

A short time later and I’ve set foot in the UK for the first time in forever.  I’m standing at the baggage drop and I feel a remarkable phenomenon.  I can understand everyone.  It’s like that movie What Women Want, where Mel Gibson can mind read all these girls and they’re all in his head.  After two years and six months in foreign countries, it’s like someone has translated my ears.  They’ve been unclogged.  It’s something I’ve just never thought about.  You become numb to the conversations around you because you can’t understand a word.  It’s just a noise.  Now everything is clear and it’s right inside your head.  Everyone is speaking my language – and it’s weird.

Negotiating the tube is a nightmare, but even at the height of rush hour, I’m getting a certain kick out being able to read signs, listen to people, and cross the city with relative ease.  It’s nice when you know where to go and how to get there, even if it is London.  I’ve bundled myself into a McDonald’s (for the wifi I assure you) near Holborn, and I discover my laptop has died.  I’ve got maybe an hour to contact my sister before she leaves for Newcastle and I’ve nowhere to stay.  I reach to plug my machine into the wall socket, and discover it’s for a British plug.  Obviously.  I race to find a WH Smith.

Up and down the street I run, with time against me.  There are far too many people in this city, and all of them are getting in my way.  Eventually I locate a Boots, buy a travel adapter, and make a bee line back to McDonald’s.  Of course the socket there is locked and the manager refuses to allow me access.  Apparently they’ve lost the key.  “Don’t you have a phone?”  He incredulously asks.  No I don’t have a fucking phone.  Do you think I’d be doing this if I could call her?!   He directs me to a sushi restaurant across the way.  I narrowly avoid death on the London streets as I zip over the road, buy a token bottle of water and set up my net book.  Plug sockets yes, wifi no.  Screaming bloody murder and sweating like a rapist, I once again rush out into the night to try to locate power and wifi in one place.  We put a man on the moon, surely it isn’t too much to ask.

Failing miserably and as a last-ditch attempt to locate my sister I wearily fall through hotel doors.  The kind receptionist takes pity on my sob story and allows me onto the lobby computer.  Within minutes I’m in contact, and I discover my sibling has been sitting in a Costa Coffee on the corner, the exact same one I’ve been running past several times.  I’ll forgive London when I’ve supping a pint of real ale.

With her flat keys safely in pocket, an hour or so later and I’m making my way to meet the reason I’m back here.  My heart is in my mouth and my stomach is turning knots, but this has to be done.  Alarm bells have been ringing for days, warnings ignored, and better judgement cast asunder; but it’s all worth it when I finally see Ella.  After days like today I’m convinced I need my head examined.

 

 

 

 

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