The Summer of 198?? Ch. 01

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There was a summer in the eighties when my life just seemed to disintegrate and then reassemble, and the autumn found my life in a place that I never would have believed.

May was a bad month. I had been under a lot of stress at work, and my colleagues and I could see the writing on the wall. Mrs Thatcher’s Britain could be a ruthless place, and the company for whom I worked was slowly sinking in a very competitive market place. At the same time, I became aware that Mary, my wife of five years, was becoming more and more distant. No single reason for that, she had her own career and we were both working crazy hours and only seemed to connect at weekends, as we rushed through our domestic chores to make sure that we had clean clothes and a supply of frozen dinners for the next week. Sex was a thing of the past, as we were both too tired to even think about it.

We spent the Mayday Holiday weekend together, and even managed to find time to sit down and have a home cooked lunch together on the Monday. Mary was a bit distant, and after we had loaded the lunch things into the dishwasher, she suggested that we take a bottle of wine out into the garden, as she thought we needed to talk. As we drank our wine, and went on to a second bottle and then a third, we cleared a lot of crap away. We dissected our relationship, and realized that it was heading nowhere. Mary had been feeling this for a while now, though I had been too tied up in my own problems to notice this, and had decided that, basically, she wanted to bale out. She had already found a small flat near to her office, as one of the things which she found so tiring was the 20 mile drive to and from work every day. The cottage which I had inherited from my grandparents seemed ideally suited, as being in a small village near the Fosseway in Somerset it was nearly half way between her job in Bath and mine in Yeovil; in the early days we had great fun in doing it up. As we both got busier, we found less and less time for housework, and we now had a cleaning lady and a gardener who each did a few hours a week.

We spent the holiday afternoon getting quietly drunk together, reminiscing about the good times, and then getting maudlin about the deterioration in the relationship. Eventually, we staggered inside to bed, and whilst we were both too drunk for anything beyond a hug, we held each other as we drifted off to sleep.

The next day Mary started to make the arrangements to move out, and we both found time to consult lawyers. The separation would be straightforward, and as amicable as these things can be. The cottage was mine, along with my Grandparents’ trust fund which still held enough to keep me in my old age if invested well. Mary had no claim on that, and there was very little that she wanted to take, as the flat to which she was moving was furnished and all she wanted were a few family heirlooms and similar items. She moved out on the Friday, without having really told me that, and just left a note saying that she was sorry that things hadn’t worked out, and asking me not to contact her as it would be too painful. Looking around the house, it was as though she had never been there.

I got through the weekend, as usual a frenzy of shopping, laundry, bill paying and catching up with personal correspondence. This was before the days when email was a common means of communication, but I had a computer with a word processor and was able to send out a sort of circular letter to our friends to let them know what had happened.

The next week in work was hell on wheels, with various senior executives entering and leaving the building with facial expressions that grew grimmer and grimmer until Thursday, when suddenly they lightened. Naturally, the place was abuzz with rumour, the most popular being that the company had been sold. Sure enough, we were all told to attend a meeting in a nearby community hall, there being no space in the building big enough for such a meeting, at 5:30 that evening for an announcement. All the Big Wigs from Head Office were there, and as the Chairman approached the microphone, the room went quiet. He announced that the company had, indeed, been sold to one of its major competitors, and that whilst the Yeovil location would remain open, there would be some redundancies, as the new company didn’t want to duplicate staff. I knew this was likely to mean my department, as the area of duplication was bound to include the administrative department which I headed.

Sure enough, next morning, I was called in to a meeting with my boss, one of the senior managers from head office, and, more ominously, a lady from the personnel department. They told me what I had already guessed, and went on to lay out the terms of the separation package, which weren’t at all bad, in the circumstances. Since they wanted me to go straight away, I was to be given 6 months “Gardening Leave” on full pay, during which time I was debarred from making any approach to the company’s clients, competitors or suppliers, together with a tax free lump sum equivalent to esc 2 years salary. Glowing letters of recommendation were given to me with the cheque, and I was escorted by a member of the security staff as I cleared the few personal items from my desk. I was not permitted to access my computer, but had taken the precaution of copying a lot of useful stuff in the preceding weeks, just in case, and the 5 ½ ” floppy disks were safe at home containing – you’ve guessed it – all the contact names I needed at the company’s competitors, clients and suppliers!

Clutching my carrier bag, I was escorted to the car park and as I pulled out past security, I handed in all my passes and headed north on the old roman road towards my empty home. That night, sat in front of the TV with a bottle of scotch and a glass, until finally I woke up watching an Open University programme at some stupid hour in the morning when I staggered to bed. I spent Saturday just pottering around. I went to the supermarket in Shepton Mallet, and stocked up on food and drink – especially drink – and then cleared out the accumulated crap from the last five years and took it to the landfill at Dulcote Quarry. As I drove out from that site, I decided to go into Wells for dinner, but as I dropped down the hill I saw Glastonbury Tor in the distance, and went there instead. Still restless, I bought fish and chips from Knights – probably the best chippy in the West – and drove home. Oddly enough, I slept well that night, drove to Shepton to buy papers, and spent a lazy morning reading them. I went to the village pub for lunch, and it was indication of how long it was since I had been there that not only did I not recognize any of the patrons, I didn’t even know the landlord. After a mediocre lunch, and several pints of quite good beer, I left the pub when it closed at 2. I staggered home, fell into my armchair, and dozed the afternoon away. I awoke at about 7, with that nasty taste in the mouth and slightly tacky feeling that comes from a mild evening hangover. Deciding that more beer might be the solution, I made my way back down to the pub. Trade was quiet, and I got chatting with a few of my neighbours and caught up with some of the village gossip that I had missed. The biggest topic of conversation was the Travelers. Glastonbury was a mecca for the New Age travelers, and the summer usually saw an influx of rickety looking vehicles and falling apart caravans. Attracted by a variety of festivals, from the respectable Glastonbury Festival (still known to locals as the Pilton Pop Festival) through an assortment of unofficial and illegal gatherings, the West Country seemed to be a traveler magnet. I was aware of their existence, having sat and fumed in the traffic jams such festivals caused, but hadn’t really given them much thought. That evening, I learned, there was a traveler site not far from the village. Apparently, a group of travelers, or “damned hippies” as one older villager, a retired army officer, called them had purchased a parcel of land which included a disused quarry and some woodland. They had managed to get mains water and electricity laid on, and the site was occupied by a varying number of itinerants. The local council seemed powerless to do anything about them, as any attempt to serve papers regarding the flagrant breach of planning regulations stumbled when attempting to identify an owner. I asked how this was possible, since I knew of the existence of the Land Registry. A local solicitor explained that not only was the land in question unregistered, “that won’t be in force here for a year or two” but that the plot had been divided up into a large number of ten yard square plots, which the travelers, plus a few local speculators, kept passing around so that any records were way out of date. The lawyer seemed almost admiring of the way this was done, and after his third pint almost wistful as he opined that the government would somehow find a way to close this loophole. Whilst the general consensus seemed to be utterly condemnatory of the travelers and their way of life, “scrounging parasites”, dropouts” and “the great unwashed” seemed to be the most popular epithets, I noticed that the lawyer seemed almost defensive of them. I asked him about this when we found ourselves in an oasis of quiet at the bar, getting refills. He explained that the travelers actually put quite a lot of work his way, not just the land deals but the various incidents involving unroadworthy, untaxed and uninsured vehicles that came before the local magistrates. I expressed surprise that they could afford him, and he laughingly told me not to be fooled by experiences. A number of the travelers actually held down steady jobs, quite a few made a living doing casual work, and a few claimed Social Security.

I made my way home from the pub at closing time, feeling very much the worse for wear, and again fell asleep in the chair clutching a glass of scotch. I woke up as the sun rose, with a splitting head, and a sticky place on my shirt where the scotch had fallen when the glass slipped escorts from my hand. For the first time in years, I had nowhere to go on a Monday morning, and feeling at a loss, I thought that perhaps a walk might clear my head. After a shower and a change of clothes, which made me feel semi human again I wandered along the lanes, breathing deeply the Maytime smells of the countryside; these seemed to consist alternatively of new mown hay, or pig slurry, depending on how the wind was blowing. Before too long, I found myself at the plot of land where the travelers had their camp, and I leaned on the gate for a while looking in. There wasn’t a lot to see; the gateway led to a rough track, which wound through a few trees. I could see what seemed to be a cliff about fifteen feet high, against which I could see a couple of buses with darkened windows. There was some washing hanging on a line, and further away the skeleton of an old bus and a couple of cars on blocks; a couple of dark haired children running around laughing happily as they played in the sunshine.

I heard a voice in with an unplaceable but slightly familiar accent from behind me, “Another one come to gawp at us, are you? We’re not another tourist attraction you know. Maybe we should charge, you know, put up one of those telescopes like you have at the seaside that you can put money in?” I looked round, and saw a smallish woman, in her mid to late twenties. She wore a loose fitting shirt and jeans, and pair of startlingly bright blue eyes glared at me through a mass of blonde hair. “I’m sorry,” I began, “I live in the village and was out for a walk. I only just heard about you guys, and I thought I would come and see what all the fuss is about. I’m sorry if I’m intruding.” She continued to glare at me. “You’ve come to see what all the fuss is about, have you? Well, what have you seen? Have you seen enough yet?”

I looked back at her stern face, with her slightly bushy blonde eyebrows lowered over eyes in a somewhat hostile frown. I thought for a moment, “What have I seen? Well, I’ve seen what looks to be a scene of some domestic harmony. Children playing in the yard, washing on the line. Almost Elysian in its tranquility.” Her frown deepened and became almost scornful. “Are you taking the piss, or what?” she asked. I hastened to reassure her. “I’m sorry, that was a bit uncalled for. I do have to say, though, that I can’t see what all the fuss is about. You don’t seem to be doing any of us any harm.” The woman’s scowl didn’t let up. “We’ve got every bit as much right as you have to be here. More, actually, on this bit, since we own it. So you’re trespassing.”

“Actually, I’m not doing any such thing. On this side of the gate, I’m not on your land. And even if I were on your land, I wouldn’t be trespassing unless I did any damage.”

“All right, so know the law. Now, why don’t you just sod off back to your comfortable little cosy middle class, cottage in the country life, and leave me to get on with my free as a bird, no responsibilities scrounging parasite hippie paradise life here. Either that, or give me a hand with this bloody shopping before the butter melts.” I then noticed that she was carrying several large carrier bags, three or four in each hand, which had obviously come from the village shop. “Of course,” I said, “Please, let me help you.”

She put down the bags, fumbled for her keys and unlocked the padlock on the gate. As I picked up her shopping, she swung the gate open, and I walked through. Somehow, I found I was till holding all the bags as she locked the gate, and with a surly, “This way” led the way down the track towards the camping area. We approached the two buses, and it was we walked towards the newer looking one, the woman called in the direction of the other,. “Lorna! Shopping!” A dark haired woman emerged from it, and followed the blonde woman into her bus. I was gestured to precede them in, and placed the bags on a table where indicated. The heat was stifling, but I was prevented from leaving by Lorna, who was between the door and me. I watched as the two women divided up the groceries. They went through the till receipt, and Lorna passed over some money before taking her things and going, calling to the two children as she went.

The woman looked at me, “You still here?” she asked. I started to reply, but she interrupted, “You don’t look too good. I’ll give you a glass of water, then you can go.” She opened a refrigerator, and took out a 2 litre cola bottle full of water, some of which she poured into a couple of glasses. I thanked her, as she passed one to me, and I surreptitiously looked around me as I sipped the water. “She saw me doing this, and asked, “Want the guided tour, do you?” I apologized again, and finished the water. Unbidden, she poured me another glass. “Drink that. You still need it. Then you can tell all your fancy friends in the village that we aren’t all bad.”

“I never said you were bad. And thank you for the water. What I would like to know, though, is why you choose to live here like this? eskort I don’t have a problem with it, but if you could explain it me, I might be able to explain it to the local Tories in the village.”

“I could explain, but I haven’t got the time. I do, believe it or not, have a job to go to. If you really do want to know, though, you can come round later. Even better, bring a Chinese takeaway and some wine. That’ll save me having to cook”

Surprised at this sudden opening up, I agreed, and after we had arranged that I would be there at 8, I left her to get ready to go to her part time job in a small office in town.

At 8 o’clock, I found myself back at the site as the sun was going down, in one hand a plastic bag full of Chinese food, and in the other another bag holding a couple of bottles wine. As I passed her bus, I could hear Lorna’s voice as she read her children a bedtime story. My acquaintance of that morning was sitting in a folding chair outside her bus, nursing a glass of wine. She had changed back out her work clothes, and was wearing a cool summer outfit of a sort of smock, over a loose cotton sarong. As I approached, she got up, went in to the bus, and came back out with another folding chair and table. One more trip inside, as I set up the table, and she emerged with plates, forks, plastic glasses and a corkscrew. As we divided the food, poured the wine and began to eat, without either of us having spoken I realized I didn’t know her name. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. I’m Phil, if that helps to get the conversation started.” She took a sip of wine, looked at me, said, “I expect you’re expecting something all hippy and exotic like Moonflower, but it’s Judy.”

“Well, Judy, what brings you here to the depths of Somerset? I can’t quite place your accent, but I know it isn’t local. Judy smiled. “Far from it. I’m from New Zealand.” I must have looked surprised because for the first time, she actually laughed. “Most people think it’s South African, but it isn’t. I finished my degree last summer, and I came over to Europe for a year before getting into the boring routine of job, marriage, kids, old age senility and death. I wanted to live little. I got a rail pass, and spent most of last summer backpacking round Europe, then spent the winter working in London, saving a bit of cash. I bought this bus through someone I met in New Zealand House, and now I’m spending the summer relaxing. I met up with Lorna at Easter, and we’ve followed each other round ever since.” She went on to explain that her bus had needed some repairs, and that a contact had told her about this site. The two of them were staying there for a few days whilst Judy worked in the garage office, sorting out the accounting system to pay for the repairs. She had finished the task that day.

I asked about Lorna’s story, but Judy shook her head. “You’ll have to let her tell you that. It’s not my place to do it. But what about you? What do you do for a crust?” Suddenly, the last year or so caught up with me, and I found myself telling Judy all about the situation with work and marriage. After rambling on for what seemed hours, I drew breath and looked across at Judy. “I’m sorry, I must have bored you rigid.” She patted my hand, and said, “No, that’s OK. It doesn’t do you any good to bottle these things up. Come on, let’s get this stuff inside before the bugs come round looking for fresh blood.”

We climbed into her bus, and she bustled about rinsing plates and forks in a tiny sink before setting the wine and glasses on the table. I looked around a little more blatantly, and saw that the back of the bus held a couple of generously sized bunk beds, the upper one made up, the lower full of bags of clothing and belongings. There seemed to be a couple of built in closets before the living area, which consisted of a long sofa each side of the bus, led into the kitchen area, which contained a gas stove, a refrigerator a small table and some cabinets. The other side of the door was a curtained off area, which contained the driver’s seat, and seating for 3 passengers.

Judy poured more wine, and actually smiled at me. “Life’s been a bit of a shitter, lately, hasn’t it?” she asked. I nodded, reached for the wine, stared at it and drank it down in one. I reached for the bottle, but she put her hand on my arm, and said, “That isn’t the answer. Hold up, I want to try something.” She made me lie down on the sofa, face down, and kneeling at my head she put her hands on the back of my skull. Suddenly, I felt a sort of warm tingle, almost like pins and needles. “What are you doing?” “Don’t worry, it’s something I picked up along the way. It’s called reiki. Just relax, and we’ll see what it can do for you.” I lay there, as Judy put here hands back on my head. After minute, she moved them to the base of skull, and then every couple of minutes or so moved them to different positions, until she had reached my feet. She then massaged both my feet in turn – a treat which I had never experienced until then – and then quietly told me to turn over. “OK, I’m going to do the rest of you now. I’m channeling universal energy, so it may seem a little strange. You may get emotional at the end, but don’t worry. Just let yourself go. You’ll feel better.”

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