13 Apr 2004

I awoke on Sunday morning a broken man. As I rolled over to grab for the pint glass of water I yelped like a small puppy might, having had its little paw accidentally crushed in a ten-ton industrial vice. My brain rushed to present my mind with some reason for this excruciating pain emanating from the small of my back. It ‘ummed’ for awhile but then had other matters to contend with. My congealed eyes focused on my outstretched right hand and then on the plethora of Kenji written upon it in bright red. I held my hands in front of my disbelieving eyeballs, rotating them to fully appreciate the intricacy of the writing upon them. No, not writing, but scratches. As I fearfully exposed the rest of my body to the light it became apparent that I must have, at some point last night, forced myself on some mountain cat who had returned the favour with the five sharp ends of its arsenal of six. I was at a loss and feared for my sanity. As my mind careened off in dark directions of supposition as to when, how and why I was so dilapidated, as so often in these cases, reality arose to slowly but surely shake the facts of the matter into shape.

‘Listen mate, or shall I call you Bruce?’

‘Uh?’

‘Bruce it is then. Listen Bruce, you were very pissed last night because you didn’t eat enough and you drank far too much….’

‘Eh?’

‘…and then you drank some more. Then, if I remember correctly, you had something to smoke whilst you drank some more again.’

‘Arrrgh.’

‘Exactly. Then you popped a couple of sleeping pills.’

‘Bollocks!’

‘I’m afraid you did. You had a very good time, yes?’

‘Well, I suppose I did. I remember having a few drinks up at the Manor bar with Willem and Rene. How do you spell her name by the way? Do you know?’

‘No Bruce, not a clue mate.’

‘Anyway, yes, I remember. Drinks at the Manor and then Will’s sister Helen turned up and we had some drinks. Then I think the rest of the crew turned up a little later and then we had so many drinks we needed a tray.’

‘That is correct. Go on.’

‘Must I?’

‘Aren’t you curious as to why your back hurts when you try to fart?’

‘God! O no, I dread to remember. What happened next then?’

‘Well, I’m not too sure either, but you drank some pink tequila liqueur with Emma and then Will smuggled some Vaseline into the club for you.’

‘What? O yeah, for the tattoo in my armpit. Nice chap that William.’

‘Isn’t he just. To be honest Bruce, at this point my recollection gets a little blurry but at some point the whole gaggle of you left the bar and headed for the caravan at John Fowler’s.’

‘Yes, I remember. It was dark.’

‘No shit Bruce, it was nighttime.’

And then it all came flooding back at once, and what a sorry looking grimace of remembrance I must have had on my face as I lay there in bed, contorted and covered in crimson welts, reliving the night before.

The evening had continued until its demise as people headed to bed. I remember Will and Rene departing for the van and the others for their rooms and then I remember a brief reappearance by Emma who was dressed in surgical overalls, for some reason. As the final few flaked Helen kindly offered the couch for me to spend the night on but some reason I found that objectionable. I thanked her and informed her I was intent on walking home that very minute and bade her a good night, as my head lolled precariously upon my shoulders. She then expressed the idea that such an idea was ludicrous. I insisted that it was not. Helen then offered me directions as to how to exit the Caravan Park. I pooh-poohed such concern and insisted that I would have no trouble at all. She probably saw that she was waging an unwinnable campaign of reason against my determination and so said goodnight gave me a couple of goodnight kisses and shut the caravan door.

The night was quiet, warm, and covered in similarly looking caravans. I headed along the tarmac road in the right direction. I came to a fork in the road and turned left up the hill, past the small cabin, in the right direction. I then had to walk for some time, in the right direction, until I came upon the entrance of the Caravan Park. At some point, however, the right direction must have in fact been the wrong direction. I think it was about an hour later that I found myself outside the caravan which I suspected was the one I had left earlier in such an optimistically triumphant manner. I couldn’t be sure though, and so set off once again in the right direction. I took the left fork again, the one by the little cabin and strode on with purposeful gait, in what I suspected, but could not so sure about anymore, was indeed the right direction. All of a sudden the tarmac ended and I was standing on grass. I stood there for some time mulling on the indubitable fact that I was lost and had no clue as to where I was or where I might be going but wherever it was that I was, was not right.

As I sit here much later and write this sorrowful account of the fateful moment of drug induced decision that led me to strike out for the A39, across field and glen and the rest, rather than stick to smooth, flat, blunt, dry, animal-free tarmac, such a decision seems inane. However at the time, it made perfect sense. It must have as before I knew it, I was tramping across wet grass in the right direction of the road that would eventually lead me to Stratton, home and bed. After a while I encountered an obstacle. The moonlight revealed to me a brambly hedge of about two feet high and wide, which did not appear too densely thicketed to traverse. So, I carefully made a passage through it by lifting each tendril of vicious bramble and hooking it onto another bit out of my way. With such a methodical procedure I felt sure of my success. The road was not more than three, maybe four, fields away.

Four fields later and the hedge that I found in front of me was as tall as me and had trees hidden in it. My approach to the hedges had changed somewhat between the first and fourth and now I gamely threw myself into the hedge to gain as much clearance as possible. Then it was merely a question of disengaging sufficient bramble anchors in order to stand and then stomp my way through the remainder of the hedge. I couldn’t feel the thorns, no doubt due to the carefully concocted combination of alcohol and pharmaceuticals, but the barbwire was a different kettle of fish entirely. At first I thought it was just a particularly stringent cord of bramble and so, perhaps deservedly, lost the waterproof integrity of my lovely jacket for all time. I also had puncture marks on my thighs and forearms from that cruel invention that was first pioneered to keep cattle in or out of a place, not to injure innocent early-morning ramblers. As my addled brain came to terms with this new discovery, I felt the light of hope wink out of existence. I was wet, lost, bleeding, injured, angry, fenced in, I could not hear the road nor make head nor tail out of the arrangement of streetlights that I could barely discern miles away. My will was at a low ebb.

Once I had struggled into the fifth field, through the brambles, it became apparent that there was no road to be reached in the foreseeable future. I stopped and listened for road noises, but it did not occur to me that at four thirty in the morning, these would be sparse at best. The fifth field itself was one big bramble patch. I embarked upon an internal collapse of depression. To go on was nigh on impossible and quite probably, judging by my prior adeptness at finding the right direction, utterly pointless. Yet, to turn back and surmount those four fucking bastard hedges again was just as bad. I was at a mental impasse and would quite possibly still be standing there this very day if not for fate.

You see, two days earlier I had fortuitously watched a film called ‘Touching the Void’ about a climber who had forced himself to survive odds which really were insurmountable. For my hedges, he had miles of treacherous glacier; for my cuts and bruises, he had a shattered leg; for my half mile of Cornish country terrain, he had miles of the most inhospitable Peruvian mountain available. ‘If he could do it’, thought I, ‘Then I bloody well could too.’ So I turned back the way I had came.

Things blur at this point apart from three separate incidents. I remember, in a moment of ingenuity befitting a member of the Special Air Service, finding a big knobbly stick with which to feel out hidden barb wire and to beat back the bramble bastards that littered my way forward. Then I remember coming across two strips of barbed wire, at about knee height that were placed in front of a stream which was at the bottom of a gully about two feet across and four feet deep. To such a gangly chap as myself such dimensions were of little threat. I remember thinking I would step over the barbed wire and then leap carefully across the gap. As my second leg followed my first leg over the fence, Newton ripped away the relevance of gravity for a split second and I found myself hanging in space, not falling yet, but overly aware that it was only a matter of time until I would start. Then I thought about how much I was going to be hurt and then I landed in the stream. A rock slammed into my lower back and I lay there motionless, hardly breathing. The only real sound was the trickle of water over the collar of my jacket and down into my shirt. I lay there still for sometime. Eventually, I remembered that I was not going to spend the night there and so, with the belated help of my stick, I righted myself and sallied forth once more.

The last memory I have of my ramblings in the dark was perhaps the most disturbing. I had just found an open gate from one field into another, a direction I chose so to hopefully be able to skirt around a hedge rather than struggle through it. As I entered the new field I felt a presence. It felt big and black and it breathed heavily and snorted in my general direction. I froze and slowly turned my head to look into the shadows from whence this beastly noise came. I could see nothing. Suddenly a svelte flank of some despotic demon creature sent here to torment me until my demise caught the moonlight as it leapt toward me. I may have screamed. I would like to think I managed to contain my utter terror but judging by the velocity in which I took off in the opposite direction of this foul fiend, the likelihood is that I screamed like a petrified eunuch.

Perhaps it was twenty strides, perhaps two, but at some point rationality struck me dead between the eyes. ‘It is a horse, not Cerberus, and I have a stick and horses do not attack people, or do they, fuck it, I’ll find out.’ and so I turned and the pair of jet black mares walked toward me warily but with assurance, as if to say,’You are very strange, bramble man, and you surprise us at this hour but this is our field and it would probably be best if you off fucked,’ or mannerisms similar.

Anyway, at some time around five thirty, somehow, I stumbled out onto the road that lies next to the Manor. Somehow, I had completed a circle, nay, a complex-chaos octagon and had ended up behind my starting point and with tears of relief in my eyes. As I started a gentle perambulation up the hill towards the A39 with my knobbly stick still in hand, I walked past the entrance to the Caravan Park. This fortified my belief that I had not had a normal night. Things became even more unrealistic when I heard the sound of a car behind me. I stuck out my hand, forcing the thumb into a vertical stance, feeling the throbbing numbness that coursed throughout it due to the numerous wounds it had incurred. I almost laughed when the car came around the corner and it was Shaun in his taxi. He stopped, I dropped the stick and ran to his window.

‘Shaun, it’s Bruce. I need a lift.’

‘You look like you do mate! Where to?’

‘Home.’

'No worries Bruce.'

'Thank fuck.'

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