FOUR CANS OF SCRUMPY

It’s Tuesday, early evening, and I’m in the supermarket. It’s just gone six and most of the shoppers weaving up and down the aisles are irate and moody – stress is emanating off them like steam from your urine when it’s half-time in December up at Goodison Park; hitting freezing; it is nil-nil and it’s grim and the pre-match pints are flowing out of your system like dirty bath water spinning down the plughole after a weekend at a summer festival without a proper wash. Unlike these shoppers though, I’m not irate or moody. I push my trolley eagerly to the booze section and triple check the WhatsApp group I’m in for this Friday’s get-together. Tommy’s having Estrella. Seagull decent red wine. Smiffy bottles of Becks. Big Chris Desperados. Nev’s bringing his own rum and Coke Zero. And Paul loves his cider. I messaged him asking if Scrumpy was okay, and he replied yeah, so I select four cans of Scrumpy Jack for £4.00, placing them in the trolley with all the other lads’ orders.

It’s Thursday, late evening, and I’m in bed. It’s just gone eleven and the Doris and kids are asleep – me, I’m even more elated regarding the next forty-eight hours – anticipation is rising like a brightly coloured balloon bobbing in the summer breeze – the thread of material attached to the knot is dancing as it goes across towns and villages and over fields of red poppies and green hills – I’ve got four days off work – and the weather forecast is perfect – I sleep soundly, I awake early Friday, I fill the kettle with water and fish the coffee percolator from the top tray of the dishwasher – I rub sleep from my eyes and try and piece together the dream I had about balloons of all colours filling the sky as they floated where the wind blew them. At 08:30 the kids get picked up for school, Kerry takes them every morning – a God send. I fill a rucksack with a water bottle, my book, my tatty Willian T-shirt, a pair of boxers, a pair of socks, a bag of crisps and an energy bar. I close the front door behind me. Worthing Pier is about eight miles away. I decide to go for a run, attempt 5K or so, and then walk a bit. I’ve got four hours before I meet Seagull Si who is arriving at Worthing train station at 12:36 with a map to guide our walk to take us to our camping destination. We’re gonna walk to the site where we’re staying tonight. He reckons it’s six miles. We’ll see. It means I’ll be completing at least fourteen miles today, and I can’t wait, I need it – I need this.

Back in April I ran about 2K, then 3K a few times, then 5K, then 6K. Inspired by the focus of Nice Guy Kenny I decided to build myself up to 9K then join him on the 15/07 to run 10K in solidarity with him. He’d run in West London. I’d run on the South Coast. His determination to raise money for Leukaemia research is admirable. Like anyone in their forties who hasn’t exercised properly for a decade, I’ve had groin strains, migraines, lower back pains and sweat stains. I stopped after 5K last week because my right calf felt like it was on fire. For three days I compared it to a hundred elastic bands stretched into a tight ball and then my Doris told me to stop being so dramatic. Earlier this morning, I covered myself in factor thirty Piz Buin. The scent of the cream took me back over twenty years to a holiday one August in Tenerife with Jervo the Pervo and Ravishing Rachel. (She swore by Piz Buin.) I could feel my toes in the pool. I could see my fading football shorts. I could smell the disinfectant. I could hear the ice clinking in glasses. I could taste the rich fruit in splendid Sangria. I can remember the lady swimming up to me one morning and asking if I was English and when I said I was, she told me Princess Di had died.

I set off in twenty-degree heat. It felt hotter. After running less than 1K my calf was screaming at me. I thought sod it, I’ll just carry on, what’s the worst that can happen, I’ll get a bus to Worthing. I thought about Kenny and his family. I thought about their lion-hearts. I thought about their courage. I thought about a lot of things, and I kept running. I ran for one hour and fifteen minutes, all the way to the end of Worthing Pier, where I took a photo. To my left I could see Brighton. To my right I could make out Bognor Butlins about sixteen miles away. I’d run eight miles, nearly 13K, the most I’d ever done. It felt amazing. But I felt bad I’d done over 10K before the 15/07 – the whole point was that I’d build myself up slowly to 9K, and then do 10K on the fifteenth. However, I’m sure Ken won’t mind. I lay down on the beach, looking up – it was as if God had thrown a rich, blue blanket over the South Coast. I ate my crisps and my energy bar. I drank a 500ml bottle of water. An Irish lady walking past me asked me if I’d had a nice swim. I realised the sweat was dripping off me like I was on my honeymoon. After a brief chat, (I don’t think she paused for breath), the friendly Irish lass with a straw hat and cut off jean-shorts directed me towards a caff she recommended. I struggled to get up. Calf and groin screamed at me. I hobbled to the caff and sat in the corner, it was shadowed and cool. I resisted the temptation to have a pint and had a de-caff coffee instead – I’ve still got half a day of walking with Si – plenty of opportunity to have a drink later. I opened my book and immediately got lost in it – ‘A Rose for Winter’ by Laurie Lee. It made me pine for Spain – which was stupid because mentally, I’m in the most adequately serene place here.

My one mile walk to Worthing train station was a painful one. Slow. Coming off the promenade and into a side street was as if I’d crossed a boundary. Dog-ends and discarded rubbish abounded. It really was a line – a line in the tarmac, not a line in the sand – or like the white lines on a pint glass where the froth left its declining marks after a quickly-necked lager. It mirrored the top of the shingle after high-tide – you can trace where the sea advanced to and peaked – froth from the lager, froth from the sea. Where the road meets the promenade, the line is drawn. The beach-cleaners sweep up the promenade but go one step further and you can see the tarmac, kerbs and paving stones are littered with cigarettes butts and crisp packets, newspapers and sweet wrappers. The double-yellow lines are faded and patchy like old dust-cloths; the paint on front doors are flaking with tiredness and exhaustion; inside the abodes, the kitchens are weary with damp and neglect. High up supporting the roofs, guttering is desperate for a pointed shovel to dislodge weeds and leaves, twigs and detritus, mulch and mould.

Seagull Si texts me that his train is running twenty minutes late. It’s gone midday. I duck into The Grand Victoria Hotel bar opposite Worthing train station. I feel shaky – slightly faint, even. I order a coke. My anxiety rises because of my giddiness. It’s like a slap across my cheek. I imagine waking up with tubes in me, my family by my side, my arteries clogged from years of fry-ups and smokes and having to look into the eyes of my daughter and the eyes of my son and tell them I don’t know if my heart will pull through – I say sorry for the grease and the fat, the tar and the chemicals – I snap myself to attention and I ball up these thoughts like an old piece of paper to toss into a fire – I select a table in the corner and sit down; pulling out my phone I open up the memo app and type away to describe my surroundings in the saloon bar of the Grand Victoria Hotel and it takes my mind off utterly ridiculous thoughts about doom.

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I’m surprised at how busy the pub is. I try and stretch my calf. It hurts. I bend my knee. I circle my foot clock-wise hearing clicks of bone. I observe widowers sipping pints and reading newspapers. I try to stretch my calf again. It’s tight. Like Sellotape on a Christmas present that you can’t get off; sealed too tight. I picture brown parcel tape wrapped firmly around a second-hand jiffy bag. I smile. The tape is sealing a book inside that I recently packaged up myself – a novel sent to my friend Julie. A hundred and twenty pages or so of treasure. The book is titled, ‘I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’, and I think that I walked out one midsummer morning – this morning. Now here I am, looking at a fruit machine positioned behind an old boy with white hair neatly combed. The machine has a name; a title – Baking Bad (instead of Breaking Bad) and it’s such an awful play on words it makes me smile. Its multitude of buttons are flashing like a hundred zebra-crossing lights; blinding orange; a thousand car-indicators with their hazards on; a New Year’s Eve party down any boozer you can think of; disco beams twisting and turning as another year ends and another begins – it might be your last year, who knows, live generously; keep the peace; cloak yourself in wisdom; put on and button-up a garment of praise.

A song comes on the big screen – the intro to a Tears for Fears classic, Everybody Wants to Rule the World. The barmaid is nodding her head in time to the beat, her left hand on her hip, her right palm clutching a pint glass that fills up with swirling amber liquid; she sings the opening lines: “Welcome to your life. There’s no turning back.” I wonder how old she was in 1985 when it was released. I was ten. There’s no turning back – only going forward. The lead singer has a coloured polo on – it’s dim in this pub, plus the TV is on the blink – I can’t work out if it’s peach or salmon or whatever and then I realise it doesn’t even matter because there’s no turning back – only going forward. I don’t want to rule the world. Everyone would tweet me what a bad job I’m doing; there’s no way I’d sleep at night.

I study the red leather seats in this bar – The Grand Victoria Hotel. I look at the carvings on the legs of the tables and the World Cup promotions on offer on a card on top of the tables: Five vodka shots for a tenner. I admire the large windows and the pillar in the middle of the pub with a stained glass – a sign simply saying BRANDY in a wild-west style font hangs on the wall. A chandelier catches my eye; I wonder if it spins in the wind when the pub door opens on a stormy day; the light from the bulbs catching the coloured panes; shards of reds and yellows like lightening zig-zag on the walls, the tables, the carpet, the bar-top; the widowers taking in the show; getting sentimental; pining for yesteryear; longing for the loneliness to cease; wondering if there’s an after-life where they’ll greet once more their lover; shaking the pain away; offering a stiff upper lip; shuffling to the bar and ordering one more. Glancing at my phone, I realise it’s time to meet Seagull Si. I pick up my glass of coke; I notice that all the ice has melted.

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(Simon and I walked 8.8 miles (mostly countryside) to a pub in Findon. It was 9.8 miles for me, as my tracker included the stroll to the station from the pier. Around 3.45pm, Big Chris picked us up and took us the few miles to our campsite for the evening. Smiffy had cycled down from SW15. Tommy and Nev came in their cars after work. Paul came with the tent, the BBQ, the food, the booze I’d bought and dropped at his earlier in the week.)

The tent went up on the lush, green grass by a quick-running stream. It was a delightful spot, as if someone had placed traffic cones to seal off the pitch with a sign saying reserved for Walts’ birthday camp. Paul passed me a large white plastic container where I fitted in as much of the booze as I could. Bottles of Estrella, Becks and Desperados – and of course, four cans of Paul’s Scrumpy Jack. I lowered the container into the stream and wedged one corner under a branch that had fallen over the water to the other bank in a storm from back whenever. Nature had positioned it in such a way that it served as a gymnast’s beam to balance on to cross the stream. Our outdoor fridge was in place. I took a photo.

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The cool running fresh water would in turn cool the drink. Paul was saving his cider for later because he was driving in a bit. The pub we go to every year, a five-minute walk away, was seemingly shut for good. We only found out that afternoon when Smiffy had cycled there and sent the group a WhatsApp that is had closed down. A drive to nearby Storrington to the pub was in order (Paul offered) to watch Serbia v Switzerland and then back to camp for the fire-pit, conversation and drink. By the time we returned, Paul had been longing for his Scrumpy for hours.

I was getting logs for the fire while someone went to the stream-fridge to pull out a bottle for everyone. The cans of cider though, were missing. Had some kids nicked them? Had the cans risen to the top and floated away? I grabbed a torch and went upstream, hoping they’d floated along with the current and got caught in a snag. Nothing. The sound of the water was soothing; the quickness of the current caught me by surprise. Paul, who’d been waiting for a long time for his ciders, tucked into Big Chris’ Desperados. Big Chris, who had been swaying since half-time during the football, was wedged in a tatty blue camping chair, arms folded under his armpits, head down and eyes closed – the flicker of the yellow flames reflecting off his cheeks and nose as he dozed. He was wearing a pair of glow-stick ears that Nev had given him. It was a magnificent spectacle.

On Saturday morning, a couple of the lads went in search of the Scrumpy, again hoping that the cans of Jack had been trapped in foliage or roots, nice and cool ready to be swept up out the water and cracked open – but it wasn’t to be. As we sat eating breakfast and reapplying sun-cream to arms, torsos and backs, we mused over how far the cans might’ve travelled. We fell into silence, chewing on crisp bacon, squirting ketchup onto spicy sausages, slicing egg yolk with a blue plastic camping knife and watching the rich, yellow yolk spill onto over-buttered bread; mixing in with a purposeful over-abundance of fried mushrooms and baked beans.

I’m guessing that the source of the stream flowed from the Downs near Amberley. The water would then make its way, along with many other similar streams I suppose, to the River Arun near Pulborough. If the tide was going out, the water would flow for approximately thirteen miles, weaving through villages to Arundel, and then onto Littlehampton where it collides with the English Channel. I pictured teenage boys out fishing early on a Saturday afternoon – they spot a can and then maybe another, maybe another. Cautiously one boy wades in, sweeps his net expertly to capture his prize. I look around at Nev, Chris, Paul, Smiffy, Si and Tommy. I’m about to break the silence by telling them about my thought of lads fishing and finding the cans when Big Chris pipes up: I hope whoever finds the missing cans has a blinding afternoon on us. We all nod in agreement.

God Bless the cider drinkers, especially those that sip a surprise find of four cans of Scrumpy.

Walts books all on Kindle a few on paperback

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SHINGLE ALL THE WAY

 

Today’s weather forecast (12/02/2018) is sunshine and blue sky, a high of six degrees, a low of zero. It’s half-past eight in the morning. Yesterday was full of rain and grey misery – tomorrow’s weather will be the same. This means that today, we know we’ve got well lucky. We’ll have just under ten hours of sunshine sandwiched between two days of cold, horizontal rain thanks to wind-speeds of over fifty-miles-per-hour – and me and five others are walking approximately eighteen miles from Bognor Regis train station to the Madhu Ban Tandoori in East Wittering, West Sussex in the best weather you could pray for.

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A large, raised front garden to my right is a blur of activity as blackbirds attack a tree with bright red berries on. Breakfast. I slow my pace and watch them, taking in their excited twittering. As I pass, I compare their delicate wings to the power of a Great White attacking the blubber of a whale carcass. I have no idea why this comparison occurs to me. As I stroll through town, I push my negative thoughts about niggling reoccurring injuries to the side – sciatic nerve in the back; historic strain on the right side of my groin; an issue with my right Achilles that flared up last July – and I haven’t been running since. A zombie walks towards me with a giant can of Monster clutched in his gloved palm. I study him as he drinks it. It’s robotic. His elbow doesn’t move. Can to lips, glug, and back again. His eyes are fixed ahead, I swear he doesn’t blink.

I wait for the automatic doors to open into the train station and shift the rucksack on my back full of a litre of water, packed lunch and snacks to the side. There’s no queue at the ticket office because all the kids are on half-term. As the Southern Rail employee prints out my tickets, I wonder how long he’s got in a job – it won’t be long before it’s machines only – no need for human interaction. It will be the same in supermarkets too – all self-service and nothing else. There’ll still be a human in a bright, branded uniform you can moan at though, when all the bananas on the supermarket shelf are green, and none are yellow. (Just let them ripen in your bowl, Sir.)

I step back outside to wait for Royal Paul who lives a good mile away, he’s on his bike. A lad to my left lights a cigarette and he nods at me. His name his Carl. When he was thirteen years old, back in 1998, Royal Paul and I took him (I came down from South London to help Paul run the trip) and about eight of his peers on holiday to Switzerland for five or so days. We drove there. They’d all been referred by their schools or social workers as lads who needed some support, for whatever reason. We reminisced about the trip – puking on the ferry; going for McDonald’s in Paris; a day out in Berne; trying snowboarding; staying in chalets in the mountain when the snow started falling; fondue; inflating lorry tyre inner tubes as toboggans to rush down sections of the snowy mountain in. Incredible stuff. Paul arrives and we all get the same train. Carl says he’s never been abroad since. He’s taken annual leave from his job, but he’s never left been out the country in that time.

We go our separate ways at Barnham train station. There Big Chris is waiting, his huge frame covered by his XXL Chelsea waterproof coat which was, allegedly, designed for the purposes of coaching football outside in heavy, driving rain and no doubt layered too to lock in the warmth. We cross platforms and clamber into a carriage that is Bognor Regis bound. Since 2004 I have been walking sections of the South Coast – a minimum of thirteen miles and a maximum of twenty-four miles in a day. Sometimes I’ve walked West to East (like today), other times East to West. Once today’s chunk has been wandered, I’d have walked from Dell Quay in Chichester, West Sussex to Camber Sands in Kent. (The section from Eastbourne to Seaford is covered in a chapter of my novel ‘Stuck on You’.) In this time, I’ve also walked Hadrian’s Wall in five days (nutters were running it with one stop), the majority of the River Thames (where I was inspired to write ‘The Red Hand Gang’); the River Mole; Hayling Island and several sections of the South Downs.

At Bognor we meet up with Seagull Si who has got the train in from Brighton. We head for the SYRUP CAFÉ – I’m ravenous. I go for the SYRUP 4 special: x2 bacon; x2 sausages; x2 hash browns; beans; tomatoes; black pudding; burger; mushrooms; toast. Wallop. Nev and Smiffy soon join us – they drove down from SW15. Today will be a doddle for Smiffy – he’s in training to cycle from his house to Africa. Yes – Africa. He’s raising funds for the on-going work of REGENERATE in Roehampton. After demolishing the biggest breakfast I’ve ever eaten, I sip my coffee and think. In plenty of places on these walks, the coastal path is so intermittent, you either have to find roads that run parallel to the beach without going too far off track or walk on the stones. This section (after the Bognor promenade) is renowned for the rambler to have to endure the pebbly terrain. I’ve read up a lot on this section – due to the Pagham Estuary you trudge a five-mile detour around Pagham Nature Reserve (this is factored into today’s walk) – I knew today would have shingle written all over it – and fifteen-miles of that ain’t fun. If the tide is high, then the Selsey section especially is gonna be a nightmare. Imagine my surprise when, in the days leading up to the ramble, the tide-table said that low-tide is at 14:50. This could be perfect – we’ve proper lucked out with the weather, and gravity. The pull of the moon around the sun. Monday 12th February. Sun and low-tide at 14:50. It’s like a winner in injury-time.

Once fully fed, we set off. Mercifully, the wind wasn’t a nuisance. Its bite would come much, much later. A mile in, the path turned to shingle. We had three miles to Pagham Nature Reserve – I walked as close to the waves as I could as it was easier on the feet. I stopped to fiddle with my phone to take a picture of some small birds with distinctive tangerine beaks, black wings and portly, white-feathered bellies. They flew away as a wave crashed over my feet. What is happening to me? Not only am I stopping to take pictures of birds – I’m not even three miles in and my boots and socks and ankles are soaked in cold sea-water. Brilliant.

Pagham Nature Reserve is a load of old flannel. It was boggy, cold, grim and marshy. Due to the small estuary, you had to walk the five-mile circuit of the Reserve to essentially cross only thirty metres of river flowing into the sea. It was my worst part of the day. But I suppose you have to experience the lows to enjoy the highs. I spotted a few keen ornithologists en route who were spotting things of their own – all this did was remind me how soggy my socks were and how cold my feet were, and I still had about fourteen miles to walk.

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Once we’d completed the Reserve, we sat on the beach staring out to sea and had some lunch. The first thing we observed was how the wind had picked up – we noticed this purely because Smiffy’s Tesco bag blew away and he had to chase it, and its contents, down the shingle to collect it all. Somewhere, Benny Hill music was playing. Nev thought he got it all on film, but later realised he’d actually just filmed himself laughing. As the minutes ticked by, the tide was rolling out. Paul pointed out the Wind Farm far out to sea. Then we set off again. We walked past Selsey and nipped into a boozer to fill up our water bottles (can’t remember the last time a pint looked so inviting) and pushed on. We climbed over rocks that we weren’t allowed to, (the signage told us so – rebels), and Si slipped over on one of them. If the tide had been high, it would’ve been about finding a path onto a road to take us in the right direction. I’ve done this plenty of times before on other sections, it certainly made it more adventurous being able to walk it this way right by the sea, defying public notices – and only Si’s pride was hurt but he got on with it anyway.

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After walking around the tip of Selsey, there’s a long section of approximately two-and-a-half-miles that ticked all the boxes. As individuals, and as a group, we had no idea the scenic beauty that was about to unfold. We’d passed Warner Farm / Bunn Leisure – a huge caravan and camping holiday spot. Major works were clearly underway (new pitches for caravan homes being developed) but there wasn’t a builder in sight. (I read later that Bunn Lesuire have invested £17m in the area.) As we made our way through the quiet site and back onto the beach, it was if we’d come out of a tunnel. The beach dropped down twenty foot beneath us (we’d have to climb down some more ‘KEEP OFF ROCK’, rocks) and vast sand spread out ahead of us with streams of water running between lumps of clay which separated the sand from the shingle and then heath and marsh. The clay looked like it had been sculpted by hand just for us, with the water running in and around towards the sea. I suppose in some ways it had – sculpted by the hand of the Creator. To our left, we could clearly make out the Isle of Wight. Above the island was a cloud – and falling from the cloud was rain. (See above pic.) Above our heads was blue sky. We all took it in. It really was a breath-taking sight. I couldn’t stop looking at the view. A drone flew above us, struggling in the now stronger wind. We weren’t alone. I spotted a shadowy, hooded figure where the fields met the shingle which met the clay. I made a mental note to check out YouTube later in the week to see if I could find any uploaded footage.

We climbed down the rocks and cracked on. Chris and I pushed forward. We came to sections of running water – my feet were already wet (did I mention that?), so I just waded through, Chris followed. The others took off their boots and socks. Nev had a micro-towel (no idea) in his Berghaus ™ rucksack. The others dried their feet and put their socks back on. Rumour has it that Si had some talcum powder hidden in a side-pocket – but I was already a quarter-of-a-mile away. IMG-20180212-WA0012

The temperature had clearly dropped significantly. I looked to my left. The ball of cloud that had a few minutes earlier been over the IOW, was headed straight for us. I reckon we had fifteen minutes to try and out-pace it. I rang Nev who took a while to answer because he was packing away his micro-towel. I told him to look to the left. He’d seen what I had seen. I told him I’d put my hood up and he pointed out to the others the incoming storm. The race was on. It really felt incredible – this rain-cloud could have blown in any direction – yet it was headed straight for us on a mission to soak six pals just for a laugh, because it could.

Not only did the cloud win the race – it was only a bloody hail-storm. The hail was about the size of the polystyrene balls you get in beanbags – but to say they stung your face was an understatement. With my hood pulled tight, I had to look down to my right to keep my exposed face away from ice-globes which were machine gunning me relentlessly. The wind was smashing down. Ahead of me was blue sky – I’d never known anything like it. This mental low-flying cluster of cloud was pumping out hail at me yet at the same time I was looking at clear sky ahead! I ran for a bit, exhilarated; invigorated. I was tired and soaked, but I was laughing my head off nevertheless.

And just like that, the cloud passed. The others were probably ten minutes behind me. I took in the scene – the Isle of Wight no longer had any clouds over it; the blue sky directly above me was deeply contrasted with this mass of low cloud literally hovering above the shingle. It was one of those times when photos or videos just won’t cut the mustard. It reminded me of a scene in a novella by Stephen King called ‘The Body’. The character Gordy temporarily leaves his three friends (or maybe he leaves them as they sleep, I can’t quite remember) and sees a deer in the woods. They both freeze. They study each other until the deer legs it back into the woods. Gordy doesn’t mention it to anyone else, but he does write it down. In the film adaption (‘Stand By Me’) the scene from the book is kept in, and beautifully acted and shot.

Big Chris explained to me about the cloud hovering above the beach: “Obviously when water is heated, it evaporates. When it cools it turns back to water. The first stage of this is the formation of clouds. When the air is hot, this cooling happens a mile or two above the surface of the earth. When the air is cold, vapour can turn back to water even at ground level. Fog is essentially clouds at ground level.”

Now we were at Bracklesham. We came off the beach and into the residential area. It was a private estate, but rebels like us don’t let that bother us. In three miles, maybe less, we’d be at the curry house. The plan was, after eating, to go to the pub to watch Chelsea v WBA and sink a few ales. I was so cold, I just wanted to get home. I could watch it on my phone on the train anyway. By the time we’d demolished a curry and some Cobras, I told the lads I was happy to call it a day, if they were. They agreed. Five years ago, we would’ve ‘soldiered on’ to the pub for the football, no matter who was playing and treasure more time together. But the thought of our homes, a hot bath, a warm bed and the love of our respective good women was too much to turn down. Not one of us wanted to stay out and it wasn’t even 8pm. Mate. Seagull Si, Royal Paul and I collapsed in a cab to Chichester train station to get our carriages home. West Ham Nev, Smiffy and Big Chris took a taxi to Bognor; returning to Smiffy’s car where he’d drive back to the best City in the World.

Hope you enjoyed these ramblings. Live generously and keep the peace. Walts.

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#WaltsFacts from t’internet: Low tide was at 14:50. There were nine hours and fifty-five minutes of sunshine. Weather: high of 6 degrees, low of 0 degrees. The Wind Farm (observed at Pagham) is eight miles off-shore. The solar transit was at 12:18. To watch a brief clip of a representative of #GeographyFacts’R’Us explaining interesting stuff, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Xc4ZqumGaQ&feature=youtu.be

My Low Cloud clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGOG4KbHsN4

Sponsor Smiffy if you want: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/regenerate/london2africa

Walts’ books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=WALTER+OTTON&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=WALTER+OTTON&sort=relevancerank

 

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PHONE HOME

(I started reading Flash Fiction a few weeks ago after a seeing a piece on my timeline. I’ve been reading pieces every day since and began following a few new people on Twitter. I researched that Flash Fiction can be 50, 150, 300 or 500 words. After taking a photo of an intriguing looking property in an estate agent window, here’s my first ever effort. It took discipline to edit it down to 500 words!) 

PHONE HOME

The girl would be eighteen in the New Year. She anticipated a decent enough gap between cars and cut across the road in the rain, undeterred that the green man was red. It was early December; the rain was cold, and the sharp wind was horrid. Yesterday there wasn’t even a breeze. She recalled smoke from the chimneys hanging in the air – the scent of burnt logs mixed with coal. Pinching her hood over her exposed throat she cursed her forgotten scarf and imagined pulling a duvet over her head in her box bedroom to keep snuggly. But Mum was angry with her for dropping out of college, (she didn’t return after October half term), and was nagging her to get a job. In bed she dreamed of driving lessons – saving for a car to take her out of these clusters of villages she had grown up in. Clothes and trainers were important to her, cigarettes too, and playing cards. She understood, on detailed reflection, she was getting a sense when one of her big brother’s pals was bluffing. She just needed to have the bottle to re-raise even with a weak hand. To represent. She stopped outside an estate agent and looked up the High Street. She couldn’t apply for a job in the pub until after her birthday. She squeezed her hand over the phone in her pocket and paused her music. The High Street had three banks. She was good with money, she had a quick brain. She wanted to win the lottery, buy a big house to call home. A transit van sped past, it’s balding tyres generously transferring the puddle of filthy water from the gutter to the pavement. The splash snapped her out of her daze and she found herself examining the properties in the estate agent window. Her gaze settled on an aerial shot, (probably taken by a drone, she pondered), of a country house. She was drawn firstly to the funny looking turret, then her eyes focused on the swimming pool. She imagined kicking away trainers, struggling to claw socks from cold toes, then finally stripping the rest of her clothes off jubilantly. She saw herself from high up – the drone filming her launching herself out of the freezing, pissing rain and into the heated sky-blue water to swim as far as she could underwater. She’d slip into a front crawl; tumble beneath the surface; somersault; push off; start a new length. Stroke, stroke, breathe. She was far too self-conscious to swim at the local baths. Unplugging her headphones, she took a photo of the property with her phone, wishing it was home.

Days later when studying the photograph again, she noticed her hooded reflection. That was after she’d located the property four miles away, climbed up and over the huge gate, walked up the long winding driveway, jogged over the grass, stepped over the wall, folded her clothes neatly to the side and gone for the swim she’d pined for.

 

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Click here for Walt’s books.

Supermarket Samaritan

Published in GLOVE MAG issue 2 @GloveLitZine

I’ve only done a small shop. I decide to sit down and wait for Edith. Edith and I always come shopping on a Friday morning. I shuffle towards the bench that faces the checkout I’ve come through, so – for people like me – once my shopping bag is full of my purchases I can relax for a bit and park myself. Oh, in truth – I’m not even slightly tired – it’s just that by my own admission I do like to watch the world go by, candidly observe the hustle and bustle. I see some customers smile, others with deep frowns. I listen to the check-out staff repeating to each customer, ‘have you got a loyalty card?’ How they must tire of that by the end of a long shift! I might be approaching another birthday milestone, but there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. I don’t need to take the weight off my feet, but I will for a few minutes. I’ll be turning eighty next week – I’ll enjoy a wonderful celebration with all my family and of course my dear friends.

There’s a name engraved on the wooden bench – a dedication – like you get on benches in the park or at viewpoints by beaches or on hill sides – inscriptions to somebody loved and departed. However, I can’t read what it says because a lady is sitting down covering up the majority of the carved message. This bench warmer is younger than me, I estimate by about twenty years. Her shoulders are hunched forward, her hair greasy, her skin smelly like she hasn’t washed for several days. A big black jacket too large for her frame is zipped up to her neck and I’m not exaggerating when I say it is hugging her knees.

I sit down. She doesn’t glance at me. She doesn’t shift away, she doesn’t draw closer. She just looks at the floor. The aura coming off her is pure dispiritedness. About a minute passes and I feel compelled to ask her,

– You all right, love?

She turns and looks straight at me, tears in her eyes, shaking her head, resignation in her voice.

– I’m suicidal, she whispers. And then she looks away again, back to the floor.

I think about her words. Hollow. Desperate. My eyes follow a teenage lad as he struts with a crate of alcohol to the self-service area. I listen to the noise of the supermarket as it carries on. I mean, it never stopped – it never stops – it’s just that I’m aware of its sounds – the beeps and the packing and the conversations and the shuffling seem more acute, more prevalent with her words, the clatter accompanies this scene like a film directed by Hitchcock.

– You could ring the Samaritans?

– One-one-six-one-two-three. I’ve got them on speed-dial.

She answered me quickly. I believe her. I could fill the silence, but I don’t. After half a minute or so, she pushes her glasses up her nose a jot, wrings her hands together edgily and tells me:

– I can’t leave him, though.

I imagine her cowering in a corner. Sobbing in the dark. Blistered skin from lit cigarette ends after being force-fed his diseased manhood. Is she really that trapped, has she really got nowhere to run for shelter – for sanctuary? I ask a risky question.

– Have you got any hope?

She looks at me and smiles. I see broken yellow teeth. She tells me all about her Grandson – his name, his age, his hobbies, where he goes to nursery, what he likes to eat, what he likes to drink, how he fills her with joy and how she looks forward to seeing him with all her heart. She is taking him out next Tuesday. I think to myself that she now realises and believes that he is her intermittent saviour. Then she gets up and starts to leave, but she stops and turns and stretches out her hand from under the sleeve of her black jacket that hides all her secrets. There is earth under her finger nails. We hold hands. Her palm is cold.

– Thank you, she says faintly.

– God Bless you, I respond firmly.

I squeeze her hand a little tighter. She returns the grip. Then she releases, and again goes to leave. I watch her trundle with fragility towards the automatic doors. I wonder where she lives, whether home is within walking distance or whether she catches the bus. I shut down images of rape that quickly invade my thoughts – just for a moment I pictured a blacked out monster of a man beating and humping, turning her over like a rag doll, cracking her head with the back of his hand. I wonder how she washes her shame away – baby wipes or a bath or a shower, or simply a cold tap and her fingers, or maybe toilet roll and tears. I suddenly realise I’m squeezing the silver crucifix that hangs around my neck, its edges are digging into my palm. I release my grip, instead I begin turning the cross gently with my fingers.

I think about my own Grandchildren – they have grown up fast. With my free hand, I shuffle in my side pocket. There are mints and toffees and my handkerchief, but I ignore those and fish out my shopping list, all the items I’ve neatly ticked off as always. I turn the envelope over to the side that has no writing on, except for my name and address. I hold its edges and I close my eyes. I imagine making myself a new shopping list, the things I need to sort to get the job done. One hand continues fondling my silver cross, my other strokes the side of the envelope, my mental shopping list is taking shape – imaginary items appearing on the crinkly brown page.

I haven’t been caught yet. And I never will. This will be my last one – though I did say that last time. All I need to do, is to decide whether to put her permanently out of her misery, or kill her husband. I open my eyes. A little girl sits in a trolley holding a bright swimming costume. She is chatting excitedly away to her Dad as he packs their shopping in large, orange bags. He hasn’t packed the costume, he is letting her hold it. I’m transported back in time to the beach on Hayling Island with my Father. He is standing next to me. We are holding hands and together we are jumping the waves. He laughs as I scream with excitement as a big wave finally knocks me over and splashes me from head to toe. I remember the surge of water, my excited gasps, him helping me up and we jump again. I can picture the vibrant colours of my costume with its yellows and oranges, and I can taste the salt on my lips.

I’ll need patience to plan the job – that goes without saying – and a little bit of luck. From the moment she told me her Grandson’s routine, the ball was rolling. I look up as Edith calls my name. She’s finished her shop and is waving her coupons at me and gesturing with her head towards the exit.

I stand up and turn to study the engraving on the bench. It’s inscribed with the name of a supermarket colleague who recently passed away. I say a swift, silent prayer for her and her family before turning towards the exit. I follow Edith with my shopping trolley in tow past the busy checkouts. The electricity is in my veins. My mind is clear. All I have to do is conveniently bump into her Grandson, build the quick rapport that I always can with people, and then ask him who he’d miss more if he moved away – his Granny or his Grandpa. The Grandson will decide. It will be my seventh murder. My father would be so, so proud.

THE END

z glove submission blog

(Note: I tried to find the copyright source for the photo; sadly had no luck. Link:)

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Continue reading Supermarket Samaritan

Held at THE ATLAS SW6 – ‘POPPY’ book launch and fundraiser for ‘the Feel Good Bakery’ run by Regenerate in SW15.

After GATE17 published ‘Poppy’, @gate17marco suggested having a book launch, but I wasn’t really up or it – especially as the book isn’t about the football – though one chapter does feature a row between Chelsea and Tottenham on the Seven Sisters Road before our FA Cup game in March 2002 and, as a result, in the story, the twins in the book (Frank and Harry) end up with a football banning order. I sent Marco and email which said, “I don’t want to blow my own trumpet.” The following day my mate Joe asked how the book was doing and without knowing about my email said, “you should blow your own trumpet.” So I laughed, and the gang at The Chelsea Supporters Trust suggested contacting The Atlas on Seagrave Road, West Brompton.

I hadn’t drunk in the Atlas since 2013 before getting a coach to Basel with Tape Mix Tim, Mince Pie Banker and The Squadron Leader for a Europa game. They couldn’t have been more helpful, hospitable and accommodating. Hilde, the assistant manager, even printed out flyers and put them on the tables, and wrote on a blackboard outside to help promote the event. We had the upstairs room, with a bar, and they didn’t charge us a booking fee as it we were raising money for “The Feel Good Bakery” (TFGB) – an arm of @RegenerateUK run by Chelsea supporter Andy Smith (Smiffy) based in SW15. Hilde passed over an envelope with fifty notes in – all donated by the bar staff who work in the pub. She said to me, “We don’t want raffle tickets, we just want it to go straight to TFGB.”

Regenerate supports three feeding programmes overseas. One in Soard, Romania, one in Nairobi, Kenya and finally SURE24 in Nakuru, Kenya. An ill-informed accusation that has been directed at Regenerate, suggest they should forget what is happening overseas and concentrate on helping those on your doorstep. One answer to this lies in the heartbeat of TFGB. Young adults leaving prison (often due to gang related crime) are offered the opportunity for training and work. They learn how to make and package top notch decent sandwiches, and sell them in and around London. 30p of each sandwich sold buys a hot, nutritious meal for a child in one of the feeding programmes. TFGB staff also have an opportunity to travel to the feeding programmes to see how their work and dedication to address issues in their own lives are in fact saving lives of kids in desperate conditions.

You can read more here:  http://www.thefeelgoodbakery.com/about/index.html

In 2008 I went to SURE24. There were six bunk beds housing twelve orphaned boys off the streets. As the two tribes in Kenya clashed and hundreds died, thousands of kids were displaced all over the country. In Nakuru, SURE24 has grown from twelve lads in 2008 to 174 children now. The school adjacent teaches 250 pupils. Every Saturday they are all fed. In the Kaberi slum in Nairobi, a fella Anthony runs #morethanjustameal and feeds 400 kids every Saturday. In the village of Soard where I took my own kids to visit in the summer, 100 kids are fed every Saturday. Smiffy says they budget for 800 meals each Saturday, at 30pence a meal, it means it costs £240 to feed the lot.

Now I’m shocking at Maths, but I think this is right. Sunday’s raffle raised £520. This wedge goes directly to feed the kids. I received a message today from a donor topping it up to £800. There was £20 donated online. So that’s a total of £820 – add in the online gift aid and, together, we’ve paid for 3000 hot meals. THREE THOUSAND. Smiffy text me today, to say the nuns in the convent in Roehampton just donated a grand – this will go towards mentoring and training and salary of a local young adult turning their life around and working for TFGB.

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Thank you to our special guests the Chelsea Pensioners Walt (no relation) and Dave who came along and drew the raffle tickets out. Dave also performed some of his heroic poetry to entertain us. An empty pint glass got passed around and over £125 was given to them to get a cab home and go out for a slap up Christmas meal next week. Happy Christmas Walt (left) and Dave (right), and God Bless you. A huge thanks to those who contributed Chelsea related prizes to the raffle which generated so much interest and cash – especially ‘Urry Up Dave who worked his magic and got a signed shirt from Cobham, a signed JT photo and signed Darren Barker boxing gloves.             Thank you to Tape Mix Tim who had his playlist running from his ipod. Cheers to The Altas, especially Hilde plus Anna, Ali and Jesse who served the thirsty hordes. Thank you to everyone who came and dug deep, I thought about 10 would turn up and I reckon there were over 80.

Thanks to: the players at Chelsea Football Club; @onlyapound; @MrBridger1905; @eddiemacbawa;  @DarrenBarker82; @BlueBaby67; @Millhaven_Curse; @goalie59; @gate17marco; @tim_rolls and John King. (I am so, so sorry if I’ve missed any raffle prize donors out.)

I should add that my little speech always says you carry on doing what is close to your heart. Whether that’s Help for Heroes, Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, Battersea Dogs Home, Shelter – whatever it is – you keep going and you keep giving. I was never asking for any cash for the TFGB, people are already stretched at this time of year – it’s just that by buying a raffle ticket in the hope of a prize, together we’ve fed 800 kids a decent meal every Saturday for the next month AND given Dave and Walt Chelsea Pensioners a slap up roast. Happy Christmas.

@WalterOtton on behalf of @RegenerateUK / @thefeelgoodbkry

Nairobi, #morethanjustameal

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SURE24, Nakuru

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Soard

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Thank you for your generosity.

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay you for your deed.”

Proverbs Chapter 19, verse 17.

Walt’s Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

MINUS ONE

THE LADY I sit next to on the train is doing a crossword in the paper. I glance at it. I can’t help myself. She’s filled in loads. Black biro letters make words that take up the majority of the answers, but there is a gap. I notice the word FABLE. I reflect on it. FABLE makes me think of stores involving heroes and baddies, ice and castles, creatures in the dark, escapes and happy endings. Each word I read makes me think of something. It should trigger a reaction in you, too. Words like TURIN, LORDLY, TEENY. When I read TURIN it makes me think of The Italian job and Bobby Di Matteo, Ariston and that bent berk Platini. She’s got a gap on her crossword though. Nine down I think it is. It’s AS_EN. I haven’t seen the clue. I look away. I contemplate. I study passengers. Headphones and wet hair, scarves and leather gloves, bodies and delays, train cancellations breed over-crowding and over-crowding invades personal space which in turn births prickles of claustrophobia. I turn back and nod down at her paper. I mean, why not. It’s cold outside and feels frosty inside.

– You stuck then? I ask.

– Yeah, a bit, she replies.

– Is it ASHEN?

– No, the clue is simple, it’s TREE, she says, moving her hand away from the paper and motioning to the clue.

– Ah, ok.

– ASPEN! She suddenly says.

– Aspen, I concur.

She writes a capital ‘P’ with her black biro and I think of an old TV show called Blockbusters with Bob Holness. ASPEN.

– Oh, just you mentioning it made me think – Aspen! Or is it? I’m having second thoughts now! Aspen is a place in Switzerland, no?

She opens her palm up to reveal her mobile, she swipes her screen to unlock her cheap Android phone. She googles ASPEN. She shows me the first hit, and I read it out loud back to her:

– ASPEN ALPIN LIFESTYLE HOTEL GRINDELWALD SWITZERLAND.

– Oooo, sounds nice, there.

– Yeah, I say. Cold!

– Colder than today? She smiles.

– Yeah – minus five here last night, though, wasn’t it? Minus one now.

 

I think about my trips to Switzerland. I’ve been twice, once for the football and once with work. Took a minibus full of young people for five days. Mountains that leave you speechless, fondue, snow like you’ve never seen before, lorry tyre inner tubes inflated to sledge on, a trip to Berne, a long drive back to Calais and then a ferry home.

 

As I get off the train someone calls my name. It’s one of the bar girls from my local. She’s with her Mum, they’re going Christmas shopping, they’re both all wrapped up, it’s sweet to see.

 

– Ain’t seen you for a while, she says.

– Two months since my last pint, I say.

– You’ve lost weight.

– I’ve had a few wines and that, but no pints. A health kick, and all that. Who’d have thought it?

– Yeah, who’d have thought it?

– See you both soon, enjoy shopping.

– We will! They say in cheery unison, as if they were sisters.

 

I walk around. And I walk around some more. Nowhere is really open yet. There’s bustle, but no hustle. A tiny fella with a big parka on offers me a Big Issue, I put my hand in my pocket as he tells me it’s a bumper Christmas edition. His face is all weathered and wrinkled, his smile all gums and tongue – I tell him to keep the change and he twitches with gratitude. I walk away and look at my phone for the time, and I see that the temperature still says it’s minus one.

 

I walk around. I walk around some more. I pass down Sydney Street. I think the shop I want, the one I’m looking for, (which I haven’t been to for at least eighteen months), is no longer there. I swear it was on the corner. The shop on the corner is now a bag shop. They have a sale on.

 

So I walk around and I walk around some more and I see a coffee shop with plenty of room, so I push in and I see a sign saying TOILETS ALL GENDERS with an arrow pointing right, I order a latte, I sit down, I look out the window, and I get a heart decorated in the froth on my coffee – yeah I’ve still got it lads, served by a geezer though, innit, oi oi. I’m reminded of an old joke from yesteryear, probably Tommy Cooper or something – “Did you hear about the man who fell in love with two school bags? He was bi-satchel!” I laugh to myself, then I sip my coffee, just like that.

 

Brighton has a mental mix of people, it is what it is, a mash up blend of colour and charisma, character and effervescence, stag do’s and hen do’s, pink rock and punk rock, pebbles and sea, the Southdowns a barricade of beauty, sloe berries and blackberries, badgers and deer, cask ale from Sussex breweries – all flying in the face of smack and hopelessness, broken lives and suicide solutions, waves wash up, lives washed up – apathy shining like the sun in the gutters, make-shift allotments on roofs, addictions and veganism, the spirit of death in sleeping bags, kerbs and shingle, but I’ve got a heart on my frothy coffee, it was minus five last night, it is minus one now, I finish my drink and visit the toilet and go back onto the street.

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I walk around and I walk some more. A skinny kid in a black hoody stands outside a door waiting for it to be answered. He has LEAVERS 09 written on the back of his hoody, and the names of the 2009 students who left that term are arranged and printed in such a way that they make up the shape of the 09 numbers. I wonder what his name is – and I wonder about all the other names. Leaving in July 09. That’s over seven years ago. I wonder if it’s his only hoody. I go back around the block to Sydney Street, coming from the opposite direction this time. I see the shop that I’m looking for – “IMMEDIATE” – I step in and chat to the fella and select a Fred Perry long sleeve shirt, medium. That’ll do. He asks me how my morning has been, and I tell him I had a day off, so I took the kids to school and then on a whim I jumped on the train to Brighton with my phone, a biro and a notepad. I ask him if he buys, and he says he can issue a credit note but it depends on the gear, I tell him I’ve got Ben Shermans and Lacostes and Gabicci’s I’ve fallen out of love with, a Penguin zip up I’m too fat for and a quality white Ellesse polo with a navy blue collar that makes my neck itch. He tells me to bring them in, and I say maybe I will in the New Year when I’m on a whim again with a biro and a notebook and a day off.

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I stop and eat a Christmas sandwich from the Co-op. 8/10 I reckon.

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I decide to walk around some more. A lady runs past me in black and purple lycra and I notice one of her shoe laces is undone on her running shoes, they are coloured purple too. I see a thirty something bloke with a serious face pushing an over-priced buggy with forceful determination. I pass bookshops and vinyl stores, stickers for the sound of the underground and I think of stag do’s and strip clubs, whores and disease. I pause opposite The Heart and Hand pub and check the time, it is 11:15, still been two months since my last pint, this could be perfect, like when I read a walky / boozy blog by @DulwichRaider or @jeffreyjohnbell – there’s an obese cat in the pub doorway (the door is wide open) so I step over it and think of the cat in Shrek – FABLE – I step into the pub and the kind face of the landlady looks at me and smiles and apologises and says they don’t open ‘til 1pm. I do the step of shame back over the fat pussy and turn right, game on, thirsty now, I’m opposite a backpacker hostel, I bet that is grim, the 3 Jolly Butchers is shut and a woman half-cut stumbles off the kerb but keeps her balance and then a yell resounds over the noise of the traffic and hustle that has slowly yet noticeably embraced the bustle – as a bloke screams:

– SHA-MON MUVVA-FUCKERS!

I get my head down and walk some more. I stop by a shop. Geezer is a sculptor. Looks like he belongs in Erasure. The sculptures in his shop window range from a few hundred notes to two and a half grand. I turn away. A smiling lady in red with piercings on her face and short curly hair rushes past me, her curls are bouncing and flamboyance vibrates across the concrete with her every step. A skinny lad wearing bad tracksuit bottoms and flip flops is running for a bus. I watch him. The bus is a number six. He’s waving as he runs, aware if he goes too quick his flip flops might fly off. I should be at home sorting out the budget for a mortgage. I’m watching someone in flip flops in minus one weather trying to run for a bus. He makes it.

 

I decide to walk down the hill, dunno if I’ll get as far as the beach. A horn beeps in the road to my left. A disgruntled painter and decorator to my right jumps up yelling FOR FUCKS SAKE WHO’S BEEPING and then goes back on his knees to white wash the walls of the estate agents. I look at the road. A learner driver nearly stalls. The car behind no doubt hot and impatient, even though it is still freezing. It’s mad that people start fuming like their exhaust pipes at learner drivers, because once they were one themselves. The state of it.
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I walk on some more. I’m a nobody on a busy street observing everyone else. There are pubs everywhere and not one of them open. I only want one drink. I stop by a man in a green bobble hat with a baby snuggled to his chest in one of those baby-carrier-harness things. It makes me miss my kids when they were babies. The spell is broken by two fellas yapping dramatically in Italian outside a coffee shop, gesticulating over their expressos how only Italians can. TURIN. I walk on.

 

There’s a wide boy on his phone saying he won £3700 on roulette in the casino last night. I stroll past him. I can see the ocean at the end of the 20161201_114041street, but I won’t walk that far, I look at the horizon for a few seconds and then a few seconds more. I can’t imagine living in Brighton myself, but I find myself imagining a wealthy man who goes around the world, living in a place for a year at a time. Monaco, ASPEN, Copenhagen, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Province of Cádiz, and now Brighton. He grows a beard and dyes it to look part of the furniture, laces up cherry red DMs and a guitar case strapped to his back like a rucksack. I look up and see The Evening Star pub. It’s shut. Then someone crosses the road and walks in! Yeeees….. then they lock the door behind them. Parked up is a black BMW with the boot open – it is FULL of boxes of tomatoes.  They wouldn’t look out of place in Nelson Mandela house, Peckham. I do a full circle and nip to the train station. Everything is delayed. Trains to London Vic are cancelled. People are everywhere. Two lesbians are groping each other goodbye and I can’t help thinking one of them looks like a proper nutter.

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I turn back around and walk under the subway to The Prince Albert. It’s shut. I remember a night gone by with the lads and another day on the Guinness with Champagne Les in the summer before a friendly match versus Brighton in 2012. I walk up the hill to the Grand Central, it’s 12:01 and the door is open. I go in. There are a couple in front of me, the bloke orders two large glasses of Merlot. It costs £17.50. It’s been two months and the words have tumbled out of my mouth and the bargirl is pouring me a drink. A pint of Fullers Black Cab stout. I go and sit down. I noticed a tower of books propping up a table. Clever. I open up my live train app. My brain tells me I need a cigarette. I ignore it. Trains aplenty are cancelled but it looks like I can get the 12:33. I drink up. Nice. I leave. I get the 12:33. I take a seat. The train is full. On the table opposite a large black man is fast asleep and snoring. I pull out my notebook and start writing. I write all this.

 

I dunno what the temperature is, but it still feels like minus one.

I wonder if I’ll ever take my Doris here. Probably not:

ASPEN ALPIN LIFESTYLE HOTEL GRINDELWALD SWITZERLAND.

THE END

 

Extract from ‘Poppy’ – Chapter 10 – Harry – The Estate / Richmond Park

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I close the door behind me. In the hallway I find my trainers. I lace them up tight. I go back into the bathroom and struggle to squeeze a pea-size amount of toothpaste on to a blue toothbrush that sits behind the taps. Frank is going to need to buy some more toothpaste. I clean my teeth quickly and firmly, finally running the toothbrush over my furry tongue. I wipe any toothpaste from my lips clean away with the back of my sleeve. Again, I don’t bother to look in the mirror. I leave the door on the latch and step out of the flat onto the landing. I’m ten floors up. I kick myself into action heading for the stairs. I skip down them, my left hand grabbing the bannister at the end of each section of stairs and use it as a balance as I spin around and down to the next flight.

Skip.

Grip.

Balance.

Spin.

Descend.

Skip.

Grip.

Balance.

Spin.

Descend.

I push through the door and go out on to the dark estate. Cold air pinches my ears but I don’t put my hood up. It’s instinctive. The sides of the hood against my face distorts my vision and I don’t want to be blinkered. I like to be able to see left and right clearly without any blockages. All is quiet. The stairwells on all of the blocks of grey concrete are lit up from the foyer right to the top floor. I jog on, slowly at first, shadow boxing a little, shaking my arms out, until I reach the end of the green in front of Frank’s block. I turn left, moving past the flats deliberately, past the parked cars and up towards the end of Danebury Avenue. I quicken my pace. Up to my left is the Jolly Waggoners pub, but I hit a right and jog into Holybourne Avenue. I enjoy the darkness, I’m energised in the solace, I’m focused on where I’m going. I turn into Ibsley Gardens, the blocks of flats smaller here but they still tower above me, Chicken Shop wrappers swirl in the cold breeze, I push forward, I run on, a flapping in the trees startles me – I look up and watch a plastic bag fighting to escape, caught in the bare dark branches of a tree – I continue on until I turn into Fontley Way – another dead end, but that matters not, it is where I am headed. The estate finishes in an instant, a patch of wet grass greets me where the grey concrete path ends, the grass grows about fifteen yards in front of me up to a brick wall – and this is where and what I am headed for. I purposefully pick up my pace across the wet grass and head straight for the wall…

Straight

For

The

Wall

I jump into the wall using my right foot as a lever which pushes me up to the top of the bricks. I grip them with both hands. I pull myself up, cold brick meeting cold palm. I pull my right leg over so I’m balanced on the top of the bricks. I swing my left leg over and sit perched on the top of the wall. I stay there for a minute or two. An Oak tree growing the other side of the wall looks brittle and dying, its leaves gone, a seemingly never-ending winter has won its cruel battle. I look forward into the fields. My world is in front of me. It’s like Alice in Wonderland. No, no it’s not. That is not what this is like at all. I fucking hate that shit. It creeps me out. It’s like The Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, this is what it is like. I am leaving a room to step into a wardrobe to come out of the other end into a new land. I am leaving the estate to jump over the wall to come out of the other end into a fresh adventure. It is like Narnia.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply. I take gulps of fresh air into my lungs. I am leaving the estate behind me. The drugs, the violence, the poverty, the crack houses, the guns, the abuse, the domestics, the filth, the dirt, the animals, the pain, my past, my present, this mass of grey concrete – I’m leaving it all behind – these layers and layers of thick, grey fucking concrete are behind me where they belong.

Layers.

Of.

Grey.

Fucking.

Concrete.

Thing is, Barrington, it’s like this: I was sitting on the wall with all this green in front of me. Endless green. The estate was behind me. The concrete was at my back. I closed my eyes. It was like I was about to step into Narnia. Sounds a bit fucking weird, I know. But that is exactly what it was like. I stood up on the wall. I balanced. I spread my arms out like…. like that massive statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio – you know the one – in Rio, in Brazil – yeah, Christ the Redeemer. I was standing up there – balanced – my arms spread out – all this shit behind me – I thought of the car park at the bottom of Funtingdon House where Ron landed. I was thinking of the kids with shooters tucked into their waistbands – the crack whores with sore, diseased pussies – bodies entering withdrawal – the abusers who come home pissed and beat up their wives in front of cowering kids – the hopeless old boys cradling their purple cans of Special Brew – the six-year-old girls in mud-stained skirts buying penny sweets for their dinner – the fucking dealers with their baggy fucking jeans and a new pair of one hundred pound Air Max dropping their litter in the street when the bin is right next to them – the geriatric with a blocked toilet too lonely to know anyone to ask for help as the shit piles high in the bathroom – you see, Barry – it was like all that was stacked behind me, choking me, enveloping me like mustard gas or something – and I stood facing the rich green of Richmond Park – the immense trees that I will to magically come alive like the trees in Lord of the Rings – I yearn for them to come alive and smash down the grey concrete and rescue the six-year-old girl with the mud stained skirt – the Park holds nature in its palm – the cycle of life – birds and bees – deer in the woods and fish in the lakes – it was like I felt Aslan the Lion was out there to roar His justice and protect the vulnerable – listen, straight up, Barrington, I honestly cannot describe it any other way. I stood up there on the wall, arms outstretched with my eyes closed and it seemed to me that I was about to step into Narnia and the trees would be just like something Tolkien wrote about, and I was pining for this. Sounds a bit fucking weird, I know. But that is exactly what it was like.

I open my eyes and push myself off the wall.

I make a perfect landing in Richmond Park.

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