So, my two days up North were actually awesome. I’d packed light (Everything I needed fitted into the pockets of my leather jacket, including a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, medication, soap, a support bandage, phone, wallet, keys, passport, notebook, multiple pens and a selection of empty vials for emergency use) meaning that I didn’t have to worry about where I was staying – No need to check in to the hostel, or commit to catching the last train to Algernon’s or back home, or to staying with Sambuca, I could just see where the night ended up. One of my big fears is of being socially stuck with people for extended periods, so having a handful of options which would let me have the option of sidestepping society was an important part of persuading me to travel. Even knowing that Sambuca always has a spare bed made up for me, I’m still always going to book a hostel bed in advance when I do this again, just in case.
Met up with Sambuca outside the railway station, and immediately launched back into the same conversations we’d been having in 2006. I seem to have a damn good record on having long-time friends who are really good at taking all of this in their stride (Other than the obvious exception, who will probably get his own blog post one day). We went up to Westgate and ogled about a million bikes. I have seriously fallen for a secondhand Suzuki VanVan; 2014, just over two thousand miles on the clock, previously owned by a couple who used it to pass both of their CBTs, then their Direct Access, then sold it back to the dealership and bought two Triumph Tigers. Every review of the VanVan that I’ve seen has included the words “Squidgy”, “Easy-handling”, “Gentle” and “That back tyre is verrrrry interesting, it’s good on dust and cobbles and makes the low-speed handling really forgiving”. So it’s not just a bit of pretty arsecandy, it’s a sensible machine for a nervous novice.
After that, we got a quick curry, then retreated to our old table in our old pub and sat until one in the morning, drinking a dozen bottles of brown ale and looking at photos of Tokyo (Wow, my ability to read Japanese goes downhill fast when I’m drunk) and photos of our mutual friends’ innumerable children (All, mysteriously, ginger). It turns out that, other than me, everyone still lives within half a mile of the river and east of the bridges and other than a couple who have gone into coupley hibernation, everyone still goes on on a Saturday night. Bliss.
Anyway, by time we got back to his house I was both very, very drunk and had put about a quarter of a bottle of of morphine down my neck to try to stop my hips and clavicles from completely destroying themselves. I’d nearly passed out from pain a couple of times in the pub (More alarming for Sambuca than for me) and had struggled to manage the steps down into the cellar, so I slept in the living room in what could only sensibly be described as a morphine coma, finally being woken up at ten when, in Sambuca’s words “The house woke up”.
I went up to get a shower, and found that my towel still had the tags on it. I came down for breakfast, and there was a whole breakfast bar set out, with four kinds of cereal, multiple teas, and toast. I was informed that the family had gone out, but that all of this had been laid on entirely for me. Basically one step behind buying a hat. And we sat and had a very civilised breakfast, with toast and marmalade, then he drove me down to the far side of the river to catch up with Algernon.
Algernon turned out to be very much trapped at work (match day, in the one pub in the village with satellite), so instead I wandered down to the seafront and managed to get caught up in a massive charity drive on the main street for the long-abandoned saltwater swimming pool – Built in the 20s, used as a pool until the 80s, turned into coldwater scuba training until the 90s, and then filled in with sand and rocks in an attempt at turning it into an “artificial rockpool”, which failed miserably and the whole thing continued to gently rust and corrode into the sea. So I decided to take a walk and went down to the abandoned pool itself and had a good look at it – Amazingly, I’d never seen it before in my life (There is a massive cultural divide between the north and south sides of the river) and it was more than a little eerie, thus perfect. Two massive tanker ships loomed prow-on, turning before they came into the river, but at the moment looking alarmingly like they might smash into the white-painted metal railings. The sea lapped up against the concrete base of the structure, the odd wave crashing over the side, and more water flowed in through the old infill pipe. I stayed for a while, standing where the old diving blocks would have been and sighting along the fifty-metre stretch which was once the main tank, sitting on the concrete steps which made up the viewing gallery, and trying to work out where the old changing rooms would have been. The whole site was strangely resistant to being reclaimed by nature, and it felt more like a ship in a breakers’ yard than anything else. I bought a T-shirt from the fundraisers on the way home, shared what I knew about its long-destroyed sister pool on the south foreshore, and promised to keep in touch.
From there it was just a matter of getting back on the local train, then the regional train, then back home within three hours. The migraine was kind enough to wait until I went to bed to strike.
Today I am completely destroyed. My clavicles, which were complaining about being upright for so long, have gone on strike and crawled up my throat, my right hip is an immobile wreck, and my wrists are making a noise like a succession of bathroom sinks being thrown off a towerblock roof. But it was worth it.
And lo, that’s the end of the stressful week. Now I’ve only got two things to do in August left – Meeting up with Best Friend for his birthday, then doing my CBT on the 22nd. I think I’ve survived it.