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.

228 – On the Wirral

I find myself on the Wirral near Neston, which is close to Chester, a city I lived in before I moved to the house in Chesterfield, which if you read my last post, I left for the last time last week. Two towns that begin with the letters C-H-E-S-T-E-R. A spooky coincidence, or a simple fact that I live on a once Roman occupied small island where you are never very far from anywhere ending or beginning in chester, caster or cester. Manchester, Cirencester, Colchester, Doncaster, Chichester, Lancaster to name a few.

So anyway, after my brief history lesson on Roman place names, I got a call last week from one of the language schools I occasionally work for telling me that I was going to Turin for six weeks. Brilliant I thought. I was suddenly on the move again and very excited. Italy! A place I’ve never been to except a brief visit to Venice once on the way to Slovenia. Turin! I’m thinking of religious relics, cycling in the Alps, hot weather, and lots of rich food. Until the assignment was pulled at the very last minute.

It’s normal in this job. I deal with it and wait for the next to turn up. Hence why I’m on the Wirral staying with Elizabeth’s very generous and patient parents waiting for whatever hand fate chooses to deal me next. Or perhaps more accurately, whatever lily-livered teacher in some part of Europe will soon burn out, falling hideously ill with a twisted intestine and requiring old Oggers here to fly in to complete their courses.

Meanwhile on the Wirral, when the wind eases off and the sun shines, it’s very pleasant. Walking down to the marshland on the Dee estuary just past the Harp pub is like walking off the end of the earth.

Mud, Military Firing Range, Quicksand

DO NOT ENTER (ever)

Reads the sign. Which limits human activity once you get past the coast path here to almost zero. A stark contrast to the interior of the peninsula which is a busy, crowded place that acts as a massive satellite commuter town for both Liverpool and Chester. The marshland on the other hand, is a very quiet and peaceful place, almost like a desert. And just as hot when the sun eventually peeps out from behind the grey Welsh clouds.

It’s been more difficult being back in the UK than I thought. Whenever I visited a foreign country as a child, I always felt anxious: the signs, the shops, the language, the customs, all scary and uninviting. Coming back here after four years in France, that same feeling of unease has returned. I feel foreign in my own country.

To compound matters when I went into the job centre two days ago, I had to do a Habitual Residency Test. It’s not as official as it sounds, it’s just protocol because I’ve been living abroad for more than six months. But I felt like I was no longer part of the British system. As though I wasn’t British any longer. An immigrant with no nationality or place of residence.

The fact is that after three weeks here, I haven’t adjusted one bit and that’s a worry. And the reason the Turin option was so appealing. Everything could therefore be pointing to the fact that my home is no longer here and that this summer could be my final farewell. It feels quite sad writing that down. And it’s all very melodramatic I know, but that’s how I feel. That feeling of being adrift in the country of my birth. As though something has dramatically changed here to make me resent it. The Englishness of England still remains, so does the warmth of the people. But what I craved before when I lived abroad in my twenties and thirties – that feeling of coming home to something better – no longer exists.

It’s possible that my idea of home has changed. A less rooted ideal where the home is not fixed but movable. And a concept that goes back to the fact that humans are intrinsically nomadic creatures and not people who build castles and stick flags in them. I’m not advocating that the whole of the human race suddenly becomes nomadic. I’m simply espousing the idea that home isn’t fixed. On the contrary. When I lived in Nottingham, I used to call the city home. When in Bristol, the same. Ditto Exeter and Lyon.

When anybody ever asks me where home is, I stare at them blankly, as though I don’t understand the meaning of the word. Which is exactly my point. I don’t. When I look at my passport, it says I’m British. But the more I look at it, the less sure I am about what that actually means. It means I’m entitled to the benefits and protection of The Crown offered to all British citizens. But even that is slightly blurred now. I received a letter today telling me that I’d failed my Habitual Residency Test and was therefore not entitled to any benefits of any kind for three months. It doesn’t actually matter as during writing this I’ve received an offer of some work in Bath starting Monday. But the letter does confirm – almost in writing as it were – what I’ve been thinking for these past three weeks. I’m not really British any more.

222 – A Bottle of Wine, a Piece of Meat, a Knife, and a Stove.

My contract as Pool Boy terminates in 15 days time. My services are redundant and I’m moving on again. Jobless and homeless in two weeks. But not concerned.

It’s my long held belief that there’s always work and a bed to sleep in if you put your mind to it. Ask around, see what’s going on. Chances are there’s always someone who needs something doing that they can’t be bothered doing themselves. That’s how economies work. And if there’s no work, you move on. That’s called migration. And if you can’t find work, you sleep on it and see what comes up the next day. That’s called life.

Elizabeth said to me yesterday, ‘You don’t need much do you, Oggers? A bottle of wine, a piece of meat, a knife, and a stove.’

I’m not very good at being in the same place. Too many reasons to get bored. Looking at the walls for instance, wondering what colour to paint them. Eggshell, Sunflower Yellow, Lilac, Emerald. So many options. So many possibilities.

People say that’s why you go on holiday. To have a break. But surely the walls will still be there when you return. Unless someone’s knocked them down, rebuilt new ones, moved your furniture around and hidden your possessions. All in a charitable attempt to make the next year a little bit different from the last.

I always enjoy reading Bruce Chatwin at times like this.

“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I’m not a Nomad in the traditional sense – I don’t have animals for one.  But I do understand the pull of the road and being on the move.

I was born in Durham in the north of England almost 41 years ago (my birthday is in two days) and even though it’s only 1430kms from where I am now, it feels like a million. I only stayed there until I was two, before moving to Leeds. Now 41 (almost), I’m still moving, and as normal, even with fifteen days to go, my plans are vague. Fifteen days though, in anybody’s life, not just mine, is a long time. Anything could happen.

As long as I have a stove, a good Bordeaux, some sausage and a knife, nothing can go wrong.

145 – Decision Making and Nomadism.

Time moves gently on. It’s been nine months since we sat outside on that first morning sipping thick black coffee and tucking into the full English breakfast I’d prepared as a celebration. Continue reading “145 – Decision Making and Nomadism.”