Feature, UK

Why I Can’t Talk About Money (Ever!)

(Image/Josh Appel/Unsplash)
During my early thirties, I made the stupid mistake of completing a Masters degree in Creative Writing. I thought I was doing myself a favour, instead I just got into debt.

After I’d finished, I started writing small ads for a local newspaper in Bristol while the bills mounted up. I occasionally changed jobs, but my wages couldn’t keep up with the payments, so I filed for bankruptcy. Then my father found out.

‘Why didn’t you ask?’ he inquired. ‘I could have helped.’ He wasn’t rich, but generous enough to help out when someone in the family needed it.

‘Because I can’t talk about money, Dad.’

Still can’t.

Only last week during a job interview, I couldn’t get round to talking about money. And because my prospective boss didn’t mention it either, the matter seemed closed.

When I got back home and my wife asked me about wages, I just stood there like a dummy. ‘I don’t know,’ I mumbled. ‘I didn’t ask. The minimum I guess.’

This wasn’t the first time. Years ago, I’d worked for a guy selling Christmas trees. And yet three weeks into the job, I still didn’t know how much I was getting paid for standing around in a freezing cold car park selling half-dead conifers.

As time passed, I became more terrified. Each morning I wanted to ask, but as soon as I saw him thumping about the yard like a bulldog with his equally terrifying son, the fear overtook me, and I got on with the job.

I mean, who does this? What loser works for three weeks without knowing how much he’s getting paid? True, my boss was a fierce bastard you wouldn’t want to be up against in a bar brawl — unless you wanted your arms and legs broken. But was I always going to be the coward hiding under the table?

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around (it’s amazing the number of trees sold on the 24th), I still hadn’t asked, and the matter was only resolved when he palmed me a nice roll of twenties. ‘Bet you thought I wasn’t going to pay you, eh?’ he ribbed me.

‘Ha! Not at all,’ I laughed it off, practically fainting from exhaustion and mental fatigue.

When I recovered and started looking for another job after New Year, I vowed never to let the same situation happen again. And yet here I was, almost ten years later, doing exactly the same thing. Attaching no more worth to myself than a man walking up the thirteen steps to the gallows. Even killers had a price on their head — I didn’t even have that.

I had to fix this situation. The thought of starting another job with this kind of uncertainty would kill me — I may as well start knotting the noose myself. Which was why I was standing outside my new employer’s office the following morning knocking on his door.

‘Come in,’ came his reply.

I waited a few seconds, then walked in. He was at his desk, looking straight at me as though he’d been waiting for me all night. I hadn’t slept a wink either due to the worry, so I told him why I was here.

My boss eyeballed me. ‘I’m sorry, didn’t I mention it? It’s the minimum hourly rate. Is that OK?’

I was about to say, ‘That’s fine.’ When a thought opened up in my mind. Was I meant to wrangle here? Was this what normal people did? Negotiate?

On the few occasions I’d bought something at a private sale, the vendors had always looked shocked when I’d paid the asking price. I once bought a van for 900 quid. It was a total wreck. I knew it, the seller knew it, everyone in the entire world knew it. But I paid the owner anyway. Four months later, I sold it for scrap.

‘Could we go for twelve?’ I asked my boss. I was sweating now, this was new territory for me.

‘I could do ten fifty,’ he proposed.

I breathed in. ‘Eleven.’

The boss paused, then shrugged, then pretended to look at some data or chart on his desk, which I saw was actually a blank sheet of paper. ‘OK. Fair enough. See you Monday.’

As I walked home, I felt elated, my pride restored. For once I wasn’t walking into a job with a rope around my neck. And even though I’d only negotiated £1 more, it felt like a million. As though all my numbers had come in at once. I’d overcome something big. Some error in my programming that I’d been carrying around with me for years, had been miraculously rectified. Just like that. Just by being bold.

I’d even enjoyed it and was secretly looking forward to the next interview. Which, if my past job record was anything to go by, wouldn’t be too far away. What would I say? Something like this perhaps:

‘Hi, thanks for inviting me in for the interview. Look, I don’t want to be rude, but before we start, can we please talk about money.’


My novel Le Glitch - a story about getting lost - is out now! Click here for details

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Feature, UK

A Holiday Inside the Mind: Ten Days on a Silent Retreat

Not particularly excited at the prospect of taking my Spring holiday this year walking in the rain in Wales, or boozing it up on the Canaries, I decided to do something totally different: a 10-day silent Buddhist retreat. A holiday inside my mind.

I walk up the road to The Vipassana Meditation Centre with a terrible fear I’m entering the unknown. I’ve done some pretty harebrained trips over the years, but walking up this lane in rural Herefordshire feels like one of the scariest. On my mind is a snippet I read somewhere describing this type of meditation: ‘Like a surgeon performs an operation on the body, here we perform an operation on your mind.’ I shudder and walk in.

It’s certainly not what I expected. During the weeks leading up to this I envisaged a damp, ramshackle farmhouse tended by a couple of shaven-headed monks preparing huge pots of porridge for their unsuspecting guests. But as I follow the signs through to the registration area, it feels more like an upmarket rehab clinic than the monastic dwelling I expected.

The dining room is airy and I count at least thirty other men waiting for their turn to register. And even more women in the adjoining, yet separate female dining room. Judging by the apprehensive faces, it’s obvious everybody is aware of the seriousness of what they are about to undertake.

I’m not sure whether to join a table and say hello, or just keep myself to myself, bearing in mind that in two hours time we’ll be sworn to silence anyway for the next ten days.

I walk across to the noticeboard on the other side of the room and pretend to read it, even though I’ve read all the information before on the website. All that grabs my attention is a sign telling us which day of the course we are on. Today simply reads ‘Day Zero’.

I decide to make a cup of tea and stand looking out of the window cursing the friend who got me into this.

‘You’ll have a wonderful, relaxing time,’ I remember him saying.

Relaxing yes, but I’m not sure about wonderful given the terrified faces gathered around me. I drain my mug and quickly make another just in case the builder’s tea is replaced by some non-caffeine herbal tea when the whistle blows. Twenty minutes later and after two more cups, I’m called to register and shown my room.

Along with the shaven-headed monks and decaying farmhouse, I also envisaged fifty men crammed into stark, high ceilinged dormitories. So it’s a surprise to discover I’m only sharing with one other, and while the room is hardly lavish, it’s certainly more luxurious than I expected.

I sit on my bed. This is going to be hard and I know it. No books, no writing, no drinking, no meat, no sweets, no cheese, no profiteroles, no coffee, no phones, no internet, no films, no photos, no sex, no smoking, no talking, no gestures, no nothing. Although I know the rules are there to maximise the students’ ability to learn, I feel  nervous about whether I can cope without even a book or a notepad – or a glass of wine or a lovely cold pint of beer. Mmm…

But as my friend pointed out, it’s hard enough to meditate in the first place, imagine trying to do it with a hangover.

We have a light dinner of lentil curry at six o’clock and then are summoned to the main hall by a gong for our first meditative experience and to take the vow of silence. This is where the relative comfort of my short stay so far evaporates when I have to sit cross-legged.

I haven’t sat cross-legged since primary school and hear my knees splinter as I settle down on the thin bamboo mat. The female contingent on the other side of the hall I notice are all calmly sitting in lotus positions as though they were born that way.

Luckily, just as my knees are breaking and I’m thinking of whether there is a last train home, the course leader tells us we don’t have to torture ourselves and can use some extra cushions to prop ourselves up if we like. I kiss him – not really – and grab three cushions to make a nice comfy seat, then plonk myself on it like a gnome, ready for the course to begin.

As it turns out my Indian roommate arrives late. (“Train strike,” he tells me 10 days later.) He can’t tell me at the time because we’ve already taken our vow of silence. And as the vow also precludes any visual or bodily gestures, I have to ignore him for the next ten days. I don’t even know his name and it’s like sharing a prison cell with an inmate who hates me so much he won’t even acknowledge my existence. And vice versa. Or sharing a room with my own shadow. Say what you like, it’s never going to answer back.

That night I’m in bed by nine and asleep by five-past; a miracle for a night owl like myself, but this is my routine for the next ten days: total mental exhaustion on a scale I haven’t experienced since writing my university dissertation in a weekend.

I wake up to the sound of a gong somewhere in my unconsciousness. Even though it’s the middle of summer it’s still dark, so I assume I’m in a dream and roll over. But as the gong gets louder I realise the nightmare is real. I really am at a silent Buddhist retreat in the middle of nowhere! It’s four o’clock in the morning and it’s time for the day to begin.

Explaining meditation is like trying to explain what sex is like to a virgin. You have to experience it, and like sex, it’s a slow process. For the first three days you simply learn how to observe your own breathing. Once you have accomplished this, you can turn your attention to observing every pain, ache, itch and sensation on your whole body.

Every emotion we have – whether good or bad – creates a biochemical response in the body. If you observe this response you’re observing the emotion. The important element is to simply let the emotion rise up and pass without attaching either a negative or positive label to it.

For example, if it is an itch, you try to resist the craving to scratch it. The same idea could apply to a cigarette. Equally, should you experience a negative emotion, such as guilt, fear, jealousy, anger, or hate, then likewise, you try to observe it objectively and let it pass. The idea is that over time you gradually learn how to divorce yourselves from the past and future, and how to observe reality as it is, rather than how you want it to be.

What’s so appealing about this type of meditation to many people, is the absence of worship, blind faith, tradition or ritual. There is no scripture or commandment to obey, no god, deity or idol to worship, and no religious rite, initiation or custom to undertake. And this ‘striving for liberation’ is what I did for the next ten days: up at four for meditation, breakfast at six-thirty, more meditation until lunch at eleven, further meditation from one to five, then tea followed by more meditation until bedtime at nine.

Counting down the days is inevitable, but due to the early starts they tend to roll into one massive meditative blob. You have wild dreams and even wilder visions coupled with personal memories, good and bad, erupting out of nowhere. And this is the hard part, as without the comforts of modern life, you are forced to deal with these sometimes unpleasant memories alone as they filter up through the subconscious. Perhaps one important note is that there is no real fun. People expecting some sort of happy-clappy holiday camp will be extremely disappointed. It’s pretty damn serious, partly due to the silence but also due to these deep seated emotions rising up from the bottom of your mind.

Copyright © 2018 Philip Ogley

For more information about Vipassana Meditation and how to join a course see: http://www.dhamma.org

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237 – Four Years of Blogley

It’s been four years since I wrote my first post. Which started like this:

After a two-year break, I’ve ended up in France. I’m watching the Algerians below my window holding hands and the Senegalese watching football through the windows of a bar. I live in Guillotiere, which is part of Lyon. A heady mixture of Arabs, Africans, Vietnamese, Chinese and me, crammed into a couple of blocks south of the Rhone. It’s good to be back in France. I have fond memories of my time on a farm 20 km east of Avignon when I was nineteen.’

For those who have never read Blogley, it goes on in the same vein for the next four years. It’s all pretty self explanatory. The only thing that baffles me though about the entire blog is the very first line.

After a two-year break, I’ve ended up in France…’

A break from what? A break from travelling? A break from teaching? A break from working? A break from living? It’s curious, because I’ve never done anything continuously for two years, so how could I be taking a break from it. Whatever it was though must have been worth it, because the blog has grown to 150,000 words covering 237 posts.

In truth, I don’t know why I write it, or even what it’s about. I simply enjoy it. It takes time, but it’s time well spent. Sometimes it gets frustrating because I can’t get down exactly what I want. But that’s another reason to do it. After every post I’m a slightly better writer even if some of the posts are intensely boring, I say that myself. I mean who cares about pool cleaning. Remember those ones?

I could question if the time I give over to the blog is worth it. But then I would start questioning a lot of things. Like watching films, or listening to games of football on the radio. The hours spent cooking meals, worrying about work or being angry about politics. Talking to Elizabeth about story ideas for books and films that will never be  made or written. Running from point A to point B for exercise. Drinking red wine in the evening because it tastes so damn good with Stilton cheese.

If I questioned all of the above, I’d have nothing left except to go to sleep every evening. And even though I enjoy sleeping, I’m not going to make it my hobby. Golf is a hobby. I like getting a bath, but it’s not my pastime. I write because I enjoy it and I think about it all the time. It’s not a hobby.

When I was at the farm in Queaux, I wrote a novel and it was the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done. Getting up at seven every day to sit in a cold room looking out over desolate French countryside writing about a character called The Mighty Quad in a book entitled The Return of the Mighty Quad. I haven’t done anything with it – it’s still in front of me here – but it was worth a year of my time. And I would do it again. The Return of the Mighty Quad II is a real possibly.

Me and Elizabeth are off back to France at the end of October. Best thing that’s happened to me in four months of being in England. Where exactly is still in the pipeline, but there are a number of options under consideration. If things had worked out differently, this would have been Blogley in Milan. But things went wrong at the last minute and so the next destination for year five of Blogley is undecided. Naturally when I know, I’ll write a blog about it.

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Film, UK

236 – A Four Day Walk Along The Avon Kennet Canal For Absolutely No Reason Whatsoever

There is a gap in my summer posts. In July I went for a walk along the Avon Kennet canal. I was going to write about it after I got back but forgot. Only to be reminded of it a few days ago when I found the shaky film footage of the trip on my camera. Prising the half rusted memory card out of it, I ruthlessly edited it down in a vain attempt to make it look exciting. Which was hard, as nothing happened during the entire four days. Except for a brief run in with a canal boat owner over a dog, sheltering under a bridge from the rain for two hours, and visiting a Long Barrow. The rest of the time I walked, ate, drank a few beers, and slept. Below is a short film of this epic trip.

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235 – Blogley in Marrakech

This week I find myself in Marrakech teaching English to engineers at a phosphate mine 10kms north of the city. It’s hot. About 35 degrees, but it doesn’t seem to bother me too much. I’ve camped out in enough shitty English weather to appreciate searing heat, even if I have to work in it.

When I got back to my apartment at the end of my first day, there was a selection of dried fruit and nuts laid out for me that I wolfed down in seconds. This was despite eating a massive plate of salad, grilled lamb, steamed chicken, poached fish, gratin dauphinois and crepes for lunch.

My apartment has two floors, three bathrooms, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a lounge, a courtyard, and 41 lights switches. Which is insane, and is like having a small hotel to myself. When the security guard showed me in on the first night I asked him who else I was sharing with. Thinking of course that I would be sharing with other students or teachers.

He looked at me. ‘It’s just for you, Sir?

‘But,’ I said pointing at the stone steps. ‘Where do the stairs go?’

‘That’s your lounge, kitchen and veranda.’

‘Oh, yes,’ I replied trying to look unimpressed as though I stayed in luxury Arabic villas every week.

He left smiling and I ventured upstairs stepping out onto the veranda area which was bigger than the flat I had in Lyon. I then wondered if they had got me mixed up with a company executive, the teachers’ quarters being in a ditch in the desert where the camels live. But clearly not. This was all mine.

However, I didn’t have time to admire my bedrooms, or lounge, or the ludicrously thick cotton bathrobe. It was nearly half past two in the morning and breakfast was at 7.30. Teaching started at 9 and I hadn’t prepared a thing. I showered, dived into bed, set the alarm and then dived out again five hours later shaking the clock.

‘Are you serious?’ I said to it. ‘Morning already? I’ve only just gone to bed.’

It was a tiring day, but nothing fifteen espressos couldn’t fix. And a swim afterwards in the pool was a nice reward for arguing with 15 Moroccan engineers for six hours over minuscule (and irrelevant in my view) elements of the English language. Back in my apartment I was looking forward to dinner.

The food at the residential teaching college in Wiltshire where I work is good, but this is a step up. It’s the top of the ladder, the bit where you reach the roof and are knocked to your death by a sudden gust of wind. It’s that good. Fine Moroccan lamb, beef, chicken, fish, salads, cakes, sweets, plus hot soup for breakfast.

Yes, hot soup for breakfast, when the temperature is already 27. Great idea. The same concept as drinking tea in hot weather and not cold drinks. The body starts cooling itself down when the soup hits your stomach, so when you go to work you’re feeling cool. And if you’re wearing beige chinos and light brown slip on shoes like me, very cool. In fact if I got lost in the desert, I would never be seen or found again. Just effortlessly blend into the scenery like a camel. Found four years later, the sun dried remains of an Englishman still holding a folder marked English for Mining Engineers.

The city of Marrakech itself is hard to comment on at this point. I had two hours free one evening and was driven there by one of the company chauffeurs and had exactly one hour to look around. I pelted it round the old Medina ignoring the snake charmers, spice sellers, tour guide pushers, watch makers, jewelry vendors, English Premiership replica kit sellers, and took in as much as I could. Then I waited by the main Mosque for the driver to pull up and drive me back to the compound. I’m leading an odd life at the moment, I admit.

Tomorrow I return to England. To Bath. Where I’m told it’s cloudy and rainy. Great.

blogley in marrakech

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234 – Blogley In Wingerworth

Remember the first blog post I ever wrote. Blogley in Lyon. I’ve come a long way since then. To Wingerworth in fact. A place that to my knowledge has never had a blog post written about it. Certainly not a Blogley blog post anyway.

Where is Wingerworth and why is it here? Wingerworth’s Wikipedia entry tells me that it’s three miles south of Chesterfield and 150 miles north of London. Why London has anything to do with it is probably not that baffling when you consider that the capital is ‘only’ two hours away by train for those unfortunate souls who choose to commute every day. There are lots.

Nothing has ever happened in Wingerworth – or in Chesterfield for that matter, apart from that FA Cup semi final against Middlesbrough in 1997 (lost!). But it’s peaceful enough and reminds me of Horsforth in Leeds where I grew up. Both once separate villages that were gradually enveloped by the expansion of their larger neighbours in the post war years. The 1950s, 60s and 70s housing estates slowly forming a concrete corridor between the rural farming villages and the town and city whose wealth and success were derived from mining, steel, textiles, farming and warfare – Chesterfield was once a Roman garrison. If I sound too much like a geography or history teacher, I’ll go and shoot myself immediately.

But before I do that, just let me tell you that the old lanes and paths that once connected the old farms are still here. And provide an idyllic counterpoint to the endless modern estates. Estates that are incidentally still being built. Tetra-Pak shaped houses complete with ten pence sized lawns and bedrooms as big as Ryanair toilets.

Wingerworth was mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1086 as Wingreurde meaning King’s Land, and was a community of fourteen freemen. Now it has a Spar, a Chinese take away and a hair dresser. That classic retail recipe for anybody wanting to replicate modern England in their own country. Saying that, I’m actually quite enamoured with the place and the Chinese takeaway isn’t that bad either, considering it looks about as inviting as Trowell Services near Nottingham on the M1.

(I should know, I once had to wait there for five hours trying to hitch a ride to Exeter, finally getting picked up by a guy who took me as far as East Midlands Airport. Which if you know the East Midlands (i.e. Nottingham and Derby) is a distance of about five miles. I said ‘Thanks’ when he dropped me off, but it wasn’t very sincere. I got to Exeter Cathedral Square two days later and two stone lighter: I remember walking most of it.)

So have I fallen in love with Wingreurde? Probably not. Enamoured is probably too strong a word. But it’s a nice place and the countryside south of the village is lovely and within ten minutes you can be on the wilds of Beeley Moor where I used to roam as a teenager, sneaking cans of Fosters from my father’s beer supply, wandering across the purple heather moors wondering if there was any place as beautiful as here.

Since then I’ve travelled a lot and seen many marvellous places. However, even though I’m not from Chesterfield, and have little connection with the area apart from it’s where my folks happen to live (the reason I’m here at the moment), there is something special about the moors that surround it. Whether it’s pure nostalgia from my younger years, or the natural bleakness of the place that I like, I do sometimes think that there are a lot worse places to live than Chesterfield. London for one.

*My fee from Chesterfield City Council tourist board can be paid into the following Swiss bank account. Geneva Bank, Monsieur Blogley, A/C number: 0000001. Thank you.

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233 – Loch Swimming, Canal Walking, Russian Oligarchs, Cardiff Castle and Teaching in Marrakesh

Since my last post I’ve swum in a freezing cold Scottish loch, visited an utterly drab Cardiff, camped out in sub minus temperatures in North Yorkshire (in August), walked along the Avon Kennet canal for four days and four nights for no reason, read the first three Knausgaard books, taught English to Russian oligarchs who live in Geneva under Cypriot passports (très intéressant!), and been brought to my knees with a cold virus from another planet.

If I was a football manager describing his season so far, I’d describe the last three months as mixed. Mid table obscurity. No romantic cup runs. No plaudits. No prizes. No glamour. No style. A very average summer peppered with fleeting moments of joy and intrigue. Like when the Russian oligarch I was teaching told me he’s actually retired from business. A minute before charging out of the classroom on an urgent ‘business call’.

‘Your wife?’ I joked when he returned (we were on good terms by this point).

‘Ha!’ he boomed in his loudest Siberian roar, his large red mouth as big as a halved ruby grapefruit. ‘My wife never phones,’ he continued laughing. I laughed back in my loudest English roar even though I was absolutely terrified.

My return to the UK has had its moments for sure, but on the whole it’s been a big disappointment. Full of Chino Moments, referring to the time I bought a pair of new grey Beau Brummel trousers for my first school disco. And didn’t get a single dance all night. Standing in the corner for four hours clutching a flat bottle of Happy Shopper Coca-Cola waiting for someone to ask me.

Me and Elizabeth have given thought to staying here, renting a place and giving old Blighty another go. Another throw of the Britannic dice. Batten down the hatches and wait to see what the British winter brings. But after much discussion – about a minute – we’ve decided not to. (Warning: Football analogies ahead) For the simple fact that the country has underperformed. Expectations were high at the beginning of the season, but the defence has been porous, the midfield lazy, and the forward line-up greedy and wasteful. Greedy being the overriding adjective. Is there any reason the Roman Baths in Bath cost nearly fifteen quid to get in? Or Cardiff Castle,  no more than a ruin on a pile of mud, twelve. Or a three bedroom house in Chesterfield, over 300 grand. Or train tickets, 75 quid for a mere 86 miles. Or French wine in Sainsbury, 7 quid. Are you serious? Even Wimbledon was crap. And as for the weather! What was that? Summer? More like a microwaved March. Hot at the edges, cold in the middle.

The only things I’ve found cheap here are bottles of Real Ale from Aldi. Black pudding from a butcher in Aberfoyle. Two pairs of trousers from a charity shop in Neston. And a pair of second-hand Birkenstock – which I didn’t even pay for. They were given to me. I’m not the biggest shopper in the world. I try to buy nothing and spend even less, if that’s possible. Reinforcing my title as the world’s tightest man as I was once called by a university friend. Waiting around until people donate stuff to me, rather than me wasting my money buying it.

My close friend Justin recently moved to Barcelona after fifteen or so years of living in London. When I visited him in May, I hadn’t seen him so happy since the day I met him way back in Nottingham in 1997. His line to me was: ‘Phil, this is paradise!’ I replied by saying that after living London, anywhere is paradise. Talking of paradise, I’m off to Marrakesh in a few weeks time on business…

‘Business, Oggers? I thought you were a TEFL teacher. Teachers don’t go away on business.’

Well, I am. I’m going to teach at a phosphate mine for a week on a special assignment. I see myself as the James Bond of the TEFL world. A quick in and out special ops mission to teach the present perfect to a host of middle managers. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never been to Morocco and even though I’m not beating a path through the desert on a stolen camel, it’s better than walking along the Avon Kennet canal for half a week waiting for the work to start, as happened in July after a student cancelled at the last minute and left me homeless for four days. It was an interesting few days in the end, and I’m glad I did it. But I really wanted to work this summer, not stomp along a canal in the rain and cold of a British summer. I wanted to ponce around in my linen suit in a conference room full of students who each have their own bottle of mineral water and a company embossed pen set.

There are many things wrong with teaching English as a foreign language – students cancelling at the last minute for one and not getting paid. However, if there is one big advantage, it is – if they don’t cancel – there’s always work somewhere. Always some Russian Oligarch, Moroccan phosphate mine owner, German tyre maker, or some Swiss air conditioning magnate looking to tighten up their vowels.

So that’s been my summer. The blog continues…

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The Flatlands of Dartmoor

This week I find myself on Dartmoor for the first time in my life. I lived in Exeter and Plymouth for a combined total of five years and never once roamed these moors. Instead preferring the coast path to this bleak barren two dimensional landscape rolling out in front of me.

I say two dimensional because as I was walking yesterday I was unsure at times as to whether I was walking up or down. There were no visible indicators, no trees, fences, crags, or ravines, to show any change in gradient. As though the landscape itself lacked the dimension of depth. It reminded me of Edwin Abbot’s 1883 novella Flatland in which there is no ‘up or ‘down’. Just forward and back, left and right.

Dartmoor is very British. Nothing too fancy. Just your basic mountain. No high peaks, deep ravines, precipitous cliffs, gushing rivers. A few stones or poles to show the way. None of that glamorous Dolomites or Picos de Europa stuff with all those clever pyramidal peaks and plunging gorges.

I doubt I’ll be asked to write the next Dartmoor tourist guide. But then again I wouldn’t want to. And if I did I’d probably supplement it with extracts from Flatland. Which would make no sense to anybody reading it because it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Dartmoor, or hills in general. A fictional work of social satire, mathematics, philosophy and theology written under the pseudonym, A Square.

As I walked yesterday I started trying to remember what the one dimensional world was called in the book. Lineland, I finally remembered, where the only dimension is forward and back. Where everything exists on a single line with men the lines and women the dots. Where if a human existed they would have to eat and defecate through the same hole. Having two holes would mean splitting in two as there is no left or right dimension. I can’t for the life of me remember where I read this or if I was taught it somewhere, but I remember a diagram of a human living in Lineland. Something like this:

linelanderI say human, I apologise, more monster, but my skills of drawing have never been that good. But I think you get the point. The food and waste must go in and out the same hole – in this case the mouth. If the creature above had an anus, it would split in two.

The idea behind Lineland was to show a strict hierarchical society. The King is The King and no matter what you do, you can never be the King because you cannot get round or jump over. Like this:

lineland2After a day’s walking, I found myself back in the village where I’m staying with my friend Richard. Back in the house with all four dimensions restored, I started conjuring up a Reality TV show in my head where the contestants have to wander across Dartmoor for 24 hours blindfolded. A social experiment to see who would keep wandering aimlessly across the moor risking injury and possibly death in the blind hope of finding shelter. And who would simply sit down where they were dropped off, knowing that all they had to do was to wait, endure a day and night of discomfort and hunger, and then get picked up. It then might be possible to extrapolate the results into some kind of social demographic hierarchy based on the Lineland idea above.

The whole thing would probably be highly unethical. But then again, it is TV, plus it might kill off a few people who think reality TV is the path to stardom. I should know. I once auditioned for Big Brother in 2001. The thinking was that I could play my guitar on national TV and be noticed. What was I thinking, I have no idea? One morning in April I caught the train up to Birmingham from Plymouth, participated in some moronic games for an hour, came back, heard nothing and life went on. It seems ridiculous now – absurd even – but that’s what you do when you’re young. Like living in the shadow of Dartmoor for five years and not visiting it once.

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231 – Cloud Camping in East Prawle

After finishing teaching on Sunday, me and Elizabeth finally headed down to East Prawle on the South Devon coast for a spot of cloud camping. An oblong fog filled field with an old builder’s portacabin as a toilet block and a hosepipe as a shower. Classy England! This is what I’ve been missing. Muddy fields, piss streaked toilets, rain, blind optimism, drunk teenagers, sausage and beans, high spirits, thick cloud.

The village of East Prawle has a shop and a very good pub called The Pig’s Nose. A pub that hasn’t been ruined by fruit machines, TV screens, oversized dining tables, faux Italian food, magazine racks, muted music and pine floors. It’s how all pubs once were, when the entertainment was provided by people not machines. Wednesday night was no exception when we witnessed some grinding blues and blistering rock ‘n’ roll provided by Frankie Connelly and Ben Gittins. A performance of such intensity and power that it sounded like they had a full backing band behind them. There wasn’t. Just two young guys with two guitars plugged into their music.

The other main draw of the week was being back on the 630 mile South West coast path that winds its way from Poole in Dorset, to Minehead in Somerset. I’ve never done the whole walk, only sections of it over the years, but I’ve always enjoyed being on this thin corridor of wilderness in-between the English Channel and the rolling Devon hills. Tramping along the narrow path that threads its way up and over the headlands that seem to multiply as you walk. Conquering one only to see another fifty appear ahead of you in the distance. It’s hard work walking up and down every day as though surveying the route of a giant roller-coaster. But once the work is done and you sit down and take in the scenery, it’s one of the best places in the UK. Take it from me.

Nearly ten years ago, I walked a section from St. Austell to Falmouth, sleeping in the heathers and ferns as I went. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous or long walk, but it had a big effect on me. It was the first time I’d walked and slept rough, bedding down where I fell as it were. Since then I’ve walked (or cycled) many times in this way.

There were only two other tents on the site this week and with no roads, except a lane down to the lighthouse, no internet and no phone signal, it was incredibly peaceful. Like watching a nature program in bed on a winter’s night with the sound turned down. In fact the only real sound I heard over the four days – apart from the band on Wednesday night – was French radio, which I managed to pick up after failing to find any English channels. It was then I had an idea. An opportunity for the local tourist office.

THE ONLY CAMPSITE IN THE UK WHERE YOU CAN PICK UP FRENCH RADIO BUT NOT RADIO TWO

I’m not sure who it would be aimed at. French people I suppose. Or people who hate Radio Two like me. Or British radio in general. Or Britain?

They used the estuaries at nearby Dartmouth and Kingsbridge for the D-Day landings and it made me wonder where I would end up if sailed directly to France from here (that is if I had a boat). The answer is – as you will have all correctly guessed no doubt – the village of Plougasnou in Brittany, which according to their website is famous for nothing. It doesn’t even have a pub.

I decided to stay put and now find myself back at the residential teaching college in non-reality Wiltshire that I mentioned in my two previous posts. Tonight after dinner, I’m taking my students to the pub in Lacock, which sounds French, but isn’t, where they filmed the Harry Potter films and countless costume dramas. I’ve never been to Lacock, or La Cock as my French student amusingly, albeit predictably, said this morning, so I’m keeping an open mind. I doubt they’ll have a pub as good as The Pig’s Nose. But if they do, never mind a boat, I’ll swim to Brittany. Backstroke.

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230 – The Continuing Non Reality of Wiltshire

This week I find myself in exactly the same spot I was last week. At the residential teaching college near Bath I mentioned in my last post. Me and Elizabeth were both packing up to go camping in South Devon for the week when the boss ran over to us file in hand begging us to stay. I say begging, I mean asking whether we wanted to spend the week in a tent on an overpriced campsite in the rain. Or a week earning cash with as many cooked breakfasts and barbecue dinners as we could eat. Mmm.

I’m all for rough camping, I’ve done it loads of times over the years, but I’m not paying 20 quid for the pleasure of sleeping in a muddy field, when I could sleep under a hedge for free. Or get a room in a Travel Lodge for £39. Needless to say we said yes to the teaching and another week of living in this non-reality of PG Wodehouse’s country house in Wiltshire.

I say non-reality for two reasons: Firstly, I’ve never been so long without ever having to prepare my own meals (all meals, coffee, beer, and wine is provided by starched white uniformed waiters). And secondly, being here bears no resemblance to 21st century England. No supermarkets, kebab shops, betting shops, louts, drunks, litter. And certainly no dogs.

I love it. Love it for the same reason people go on holiday. True, I have to work. But as the work is just an extension of the meal times – chatting to the students over paella and steak frites – I’m happy to be finally finding that elusive place where my work and my life are becoming entangled into one long meandering road. Instead of two straight roads heading in opposite directions cluttered on either side by frustration, anger and fear, both leading to dead ends and the inevitable nervous breakdown.

I’m not quite there yet, but this is as close as I’ve come for decades. For one, I’m not clock watching, or fearing my classes or students. And two, neither do I have to travel to work. It’s not the journey I’ve always hated about commuting. It’s having to deal with reality before I’ve even sat at my desk. Here in Wiltshire there is no reality. I walk ten metres from my room to a massive cooked breakfast and the day begins, finishing 12 hours later over a huge plate of barbecue spare ribs and a barrel of Argentinian Malbec.

The only problem is what on earth am I going to write about over the next few months? Except my increasing weight caused by my fierce appetite and a never ending platter of food and wine. Perhaps I’ll have to wander down to the local pub and create a scene. An episode of loutish behaviour not seen since my days in Nottingham. Pleading to the police as I am dragged away that I only did it for my art.

‘I needed something to write about officer. Honest.’

‘You said that last time, Blogley. We’re not in Nottingham now you know. Or Lyon, for that matter. Get into the van. You’re nicked.’

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