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The Best Stories Arent Written They Are Lived.
He was a man, take him for all in all,I shall not look upon his like again.
campsite in France......
The tent up and all my luggage thrown somewhere
inside I crawled over to the tree, propped my back against it and
rewarded myself for the effort by rolling a cigarette. I had only
had two or three drags when.......oh no. I turned my head slowly
to one side. Had I heard it? I turned it back again with hushed
breath. Yes. There it was. Still out of sight somewhere on the
track that lead through the camp sight but there was no mistaking
it now as it slowly came closer. Someone was riding through on a
Above all else when it comes to a Harley Davidson there is something about the sound. OK they all have a look of their own too. That great big V twin engine almost giving a two fingered salute to the modern world but for me it was the sound. Many bikes have copied the Harley look but none, not a single one has captured that almost primeval beat. It has always stirred something in me seeming to reverberate around inside my chest like years before the big bass drum of the scouts church parade band had done.
I winced a little and tried to lie a little flatter on the ground. I was not in a mood for company and I had seen the type of people that were on the campsite. Definitely a family campsite. Details of favourite plots passed down the generations and vied for each year. Not another bike in sight. If the rider of the Harley was just arriving chances were if he saw my bike he would head straight for it and set up camp right next to me. I didnt need that right now. I lead as low as I could with the cigarette clenched between my teeth squinting against the sun toward the track. It occurred to me how pointless was this behaviour since my bike was feet away and was in clear view, but I was too determined not to be seen to make a move.
As the bike continued along the track and up the slight incline it came into view. First of all I could only see the handlebars and the arms of the rider. It wasnt a stock Harley that was for sure. Those were serious apehangers. "Shit!". The word crept out from between my lips. He had pulled off the track onto the grass and was heading straight for me albeit at a leisurely pace with the engine at little more than tick over. The grass wasnt that bumpy but the rider was getting as rough a ride as I had got when I had taken the same route. It had to be a hardtail too. I put on my best don't mess with me Im cool look behind my sunglasses and took a slow drag of my cigarette, trying to appear uninterested. As the rider pulled up in front of me I could see between his beard and moustache a broad, white toothed smile. I hardly noticed. The bike was amazing. A hardtail, sportster tank, fatbob rear mudguard, alloy wheels, slab yokes, high apehangers, evolution engine, loads of chrome and painted white!. It was perfect. I couldnt believe it.
When I was a young boy my grandmother had found some old motorcycle magazines in some of the jumble she was sorting through for the church collection and since they were going to be thrown out she gave them to my father to give to me, if I was interested. I had a look and wasnt particularly, until all of a sudden amongst the pages of Japanese racing bike clones, there was a feature on a chop. I had never seen a bike look like that before. It was an old Knucklehead Harley, hardtail, with a car tyre on the back wheel and the most incredibly long type of forks on the front. Long straight pieces of steel and springs and incredible cantilevers and all chromed. It was painted white with red pinstriping. I pinned it to my wall and lived with the dream until the next time my parents decorated the room. By then I didnt need to see it any more. It had become a part of me. As the years passed and I began to ride and learn to build motorcycles I formed a vision of what I would build and ride the day I had the money. That dreamed of vision was in front of me. Someone had already built my bike.!!
The rider casually pushed the bike backwards so that it was lined up with mine, kicked down the side stand leaned it over and gunned the engine once before flicking the key beneath his right thigh and letting it stop. I blew smoke toward him emptying my lungs as I realised I had been holding my breath. Quiet returned except for the ever present rasping of far off crickets and the metallic clicking from cooling exhausts.
"Hi. I guess Im a bit late." He was English. There was a hint of an accent but I wasnt sure. Maybe Cornwall? My cool act had fallen apart. My half-finished cigarette was going out in my hand. My mouth was open in a surprised expression as I quickly tried to assess the image of the man before me. The first thing I noticed with some relief was that there were no club patches on the black leather cut-off he wore over a black leather jacket the zip of which he undid in a single swift motion as if to cast of the heat within. He was wearing seasoned scuffed boots inside the legs of his black well-worn jeans and on his hands he wore a pair of intricately stitched black leather fingerless gloves. Between the smiling bearded face and the bottom of his matt black open faced helmet he wore a pair of dark wrap around sunglasses. As I squinted toward them through mine I could see no hint of the eyes beneath. Just a miniature reflection of the scene before him.
"Helloo" I spluttered, "nice bike." My voice had betrayed me. The tension in my throat had to my ears reduced my voice to that of a child's. So much for my confident image! To my amazement he didnt burst out laughing. I had got away with it.
"Thanks" he said politely, taking off his helmet and hanging it from the higher, throttle end of his handlebars. He nodded towards mine. "Yours looks good too. Thats an XS isnt it? I like the colour." His smile broadened as though laughing at his own joke. I got the impression from his tone that he was just being polite. He knew exactly that it was an XS1100 despite the fact that it was now hardtailed and looking very different with the teardrop tank, apehanger handlebars and pearl white paintjob.
"Yeah. Well.... it was either that or black. Know what I mean?" I replied as he began to unstrap the luggage from his cissy bar. Crouched by the back wheel he paused for a moment looked over at me and replied with another broad smile on his face. "Yeah. Ive been there." I returned his smile as he carried on releasing the hooked ends of the intricately woven bungee chords in the slow and deliberate manner of someone who knows how painful a sudden release of the wrong end can be. It seemed obvious that conversation was suspended until camp was made. I had learned from a camp site only a couple of days ago occupied by what seemed like hundreds of German teenagers wanting to practice their English, how difficult it was to follow the routine of unpacking and setting up the tent when someone is trying to make small talk. No matter how practised you are at it, the right order of things can be disturbed and the whole process can take twice as long and make you seem as though youve never done it before. When you travel alone appearing experienced at least, seems to matter.
My new neighbour was experienced. His well-packed luggage seemed to expand effortlessly into a sizeable domed tent and all the equipment needed for a comfortable camp, within minutes.
"Youve done that before." I quipped, as he sat on the ground in front of his tent, complimenting him on his expertise.
He hesitated, looked over at me for a moment, took off his glasses, squinted across the grass into the distance around us and then replied "Ive never done it here before. Would you care for a cup of tea?"
Id been chain smoking since he had arrived and with the heat of the afternoon was developing a dry mouth and definite thirst. I had nothing to drink and quenching it would have meant exploring across the field in the direction of the nearest building, which I presumed, was the toilet and shower block. With the sun scorching down the idea of not having to move until later was most appealing. I told him with a genuinely surprised tone in my voice, I would love one. I shifted my position so that I was lying on my stomach, propped up on one arm in front of him so that I could see how he was going to perform his miracle. He leaned backwards, reached into his tent and pulled out a large plastic container of water and a square metal tin less than half the size of a shoe box. How he had managed to stow the water container in his luggage and then without it leaking I could not imagine. The metal tin captured my attention. He carefully opened it and revealed the neatest gas stove I had ever seen, all brass and chrome packed in tight by a supply of tea bags. He disentangled the stove, attached the metal supports and set it on the ground. Like a magician out from behind the wall of the tent two handleless metal cups and a small neat kettle were made to appear. In no time at all the kettle was filled and placed on the stove which was lit with a gas cigarette lighter that I was sure could have doubled as a welding torch the quarter inch flame of which could have endured the strongest wind. In the afternoon sun the flame was invisible yet the hiss of the gas and the shimmer of the heat beneath the kettle seamed to fill the moment. We both sat seemingly captivated, staring at the stove until in what seemed no time at all steam began to gently hiss from the bell shaped spout. In a manner that would not have shamed a Japanese tea ceremony he carefully warmed the cups by pouring a little of the boiling water into one, swirling it around and then pouring that into the other and repeating the process back and forth. The cooled water was discarded on the grass once it had given up its warmth to the metal of the cups, which were placed neatly side by side between us. It was then the tea bags were put in and finally the boiling water was added, the kettle emptied and placed back on the extinguished stove to cool. My host sat straight backed and cross-legged with a satisfied smile playing gently on his lips. For just a moment I imagined that I had seen a slight bowing motion before he leaned forward and passed me one of the cups.
"Lets drink" he said obviously relishing the prospect. I however was a little put out by not being offered milk or at least some sugar. It was clear that wasnt going to be an option. Nevertheless after all the trouble this stranger had gone to, partly on my behalf, I felt bound to drink the greenish brown liquid no matter how bad it might be. I slowly lifted the cup to my mouth pretending to concentrate on the contents of the cup and what I was doing but pacing myself so as to ensure that I hadnt made a horrible mistake and that milk might yet be forthcoming. As my host took his cup and sipped his brew my lips met the edge of my cup and I carefully did the same. The first sip was one of relief. It wasnt bad. The second one of surprise. It was really rather good. The third was that of someone making something last for as long as possible by taking as little as possible at a time.
"This is great," I said intending to ask what sort of tea it was but he held out his free hand and narrowed his eyes indicating that I should remain quiet until the ceremony was over. As I continued to sip fleeting senses of different tastes were brought to mind but I could not quite work out what the tea was made of. Certainly nothing I had had before, that was for sure. The pleasant taste, the sun on my face and the unassuming and peaceful manner of my generous host brought to me an unaccustomed feeling of warmth and security. The paranoid voice that had stood guard at the gates of my mind for as long as I could remember had been somehow gagged. Oh, he was still there protesting at my carelessness but quieter and somehow further off. I was comfortable, dare I say that I felt positively happy and that for now, right this minute this was where I wanted to be. Time slipped by unnoticed with effortless ease. Before long the early evening air had begun to cool as the sun raced towards the horizon changing its colour to the deepest gold and only sharing its riches with those that turned to pay homage to its generosity and passing. I was captivated as though seeing a sunset for the first time, again. It was as though I could not open my eyes wide enough to take it all in. The lightest covering of high cloud turned golden red across the sky. Unknown birds in flocks all urgently calling and flying toward the same roost as if to warn the earth of the coming dark. Long shadows cast by not so near trees and bushes across the red shadow textured grass. The white paint of our bikes reflecting the colour of the sky as though afire themselves.
I glanced across to where my companion had been sitting. He was still there and had hardly moved himself. His face glowed red as though he had seen the best of the sun all day. His eyes were fixed and wide, following its motion into retreat. He turned his head and caught me looking at him. He smiled briefly, almost reassuringly then returned to his study. Without speaking I felt that he had told me that this was good and that, yes he understood what it was to feel this way and to feel this way when all those around him did not. This man I felt was my friend. I didnt know his name; I had hardly spoken a dozen words to him yet I somehow felt I knew more about him in that short time than I knew about others after years of acquaintance. There was something of myself, something fundamentally me that I could see in this stranger. The feeling of kinship was unexpectedly overwhelming. I looked back to the sky quickly. The sun sank further until it was just a memory marked by golden clouds.
The spell seemed to break with the onset of darkness. My legs were aching, my back was aching and above all I needed to see if that was a toilet block nearby. I straightened and stretched my legs and tried to touch my toes in an attempt to flex out the pain in the muscles of my back. I clumsily rolled onto my knees. As if the effort had earned a rest I took the tin from its leather pouch on my belt and placed it on the grass in front of me and started to roll a cigarette. My companion hadnt moved but was watching me.
"Would you like one?" I asked as I gestured with the half-finished cigarette. He looked thoughtful, took a deep breath through his nose, held it for a moment and then blew it out gently through his mouth as if making up his mind. "No. Im Ok thanks."
I finished making the cigarette, lit it, took a long deep drag and laboriously struggled to my feet. I took a moment to survey the scene around me in the half-light and paused, perhaps hoping my companion was going to suggest something. He remained seated and silent. I put on my leather jacket, picked up my cup leaned over and picked up his and then also picked up his near empty water container.
"Ill go sort these out. Ok?" I said with the intention of finding somewhere to wash the cups and refill the container in a clumsy attempt to somehow repay some of the kindness he had shown me.
"Thank you" he said quietly, slightly nodding his head. His seating position and manner suddenly brought to mind memories of watching the Kung Fu series on TV. I smiled at the thought and set off in the direction of the nearby building.
I walked slowly across the grass enjoying gently swinging the container so that the little remaining water inside would slosh to and fro.
Someone had turned on a light which was shining from above the doorway of what was now clearly the toilet and shower block. As I approached closer I could see a dark patch of water was staining the light grey of the cement floor and had cascaded over the three steps that lead up to the doorway. Wet barefooted prints lead off into the growing darkness to left and right. A standpipe with a shining chrome tap perched on top seemed to snake like hiss its leak at me as I dared to pass so close. From inside the doorway echoed the voices of children babbling away excitedly as they took their evening wash or shower or whatever it was that people here did in this strange land. As I climbed the steps a
Don't try to force anything.
Let life be a deep let go.
I sat as still as I could, concentrating.
Ignoring the uncomfortableness of my position and trying to cut
myself off from the aches and pains that were calling out to me
demanding my attention no matter what else I wanted to do. Trying
to stare into the redy blackness behind my eyelids as though if I
stared hard and long enough something tangible would become
"I think perhaps you will get a head ache!" he said quietly close to my left ear making me jump and open my eyes. He was screwing up his forehead and closing tight his eyes in what I assumed was a mocking impersonation of me.
"Im trying..." I replied impatiently.
"E-x-a-c-t-l-y." he said, slowly, drawing the word out as though to make it said even slower still. "You are trying." He took up a stance, feet spread, fists clenched, slightly crouched as though he was about to fight someone. "Try not to try and the trying will be less trying for you. Must you always try so hard at everything?" He turned and began to walk away. " I do find you very trying at times" he muttered.
"Hey now come on that isnt fair" I called after him trying to defend myself. He whirled round pointing at me as though he had caught me out.
"There. Dont you see? You are all set up and ready to do battle. Who with? With me? With the rest of the world? Or with yourself perhaps?"
I tried to explore what I was feeling. Why had his words so immediately made me defensive?
"Ahhh you begin to see perhaps" he continued "there is no point in setting out to fight yourself over this. Not here. Not now. If you do surely you cant lose or is it you cant win. Perhaps its both since it is yourself on both sides. So...." he stopped as if expecting me to finish the sentence for him. I was going to disappoint him yet again. "Carry on" I said slightly shaking my head. "So dont fight.," he said sharply. "Youre fighting to see what cant be seen. I can see that from here. Ill tell you, you will see nothing. How about that? And what about the way you sit. That cant be comfortable I am sure. What about you're back? Are you feeling those feelings of pain or are they massed on the battlefield of your mind ready to engage you? Ill tell you, feel the pain in your body. Dont try and turn it away, embrace it. Welcome it into your camp as a constant companion. Of that company be accepting and in that acceptance be released from doing battle with the pain."
He pulled off the road to the right through a wooden frame that marked the entrance to a square gravelled parking area. There was room for only perhaps a dozen cars at most with a couple of waste bins on one side fixed to the wooden rails of the surrounding fence. There were no cars and I followed Johns lead and rode the bike carefully across the gravel into one of the furthest corners shut off the engine put the bike on its side stand and got off. Trees surrounded the car park. Great old tall trees that spread their branches above where we stood reaching out greedily for any bit of sunlight they could find casting a deep green shadow over us. A light breeze gently caressed their leaves with a rustle and brought some little respite from the clear heat of the day. Bird song rose all around us and here and there an urgent sound and rapid movement betrayed the presence of birds in the shrubs all around us startled by our arrival. Despite the heat a rich damp smell of the woods filled our nostrils. Looking around I noticed that gates had been made in the fence and little worn paths lead off from the car park in several different directions.
John had taken off his helmet and had perched it on the rear view mirror on the throttle end of his handlebars. He was busying himself moving some of the bungee chords on his luggage, apparently trying to make a space so that he could reach into one of the pouches without having to remove everything.
"What are we up to?" I asked as I too took off my helmet and hung it by its neck strap on my throttle.
"Were gonna go for a walk in the woods if youre up for it", he replied looking at me as he thrust his right arm into one of the bags through the gap in the chords he had finally managed to make.
"Ok" I replied with a smile looking into the green canopy overhead as if to test the idea. With a grunt John managed to find and pull out of the bag what he had been looking for. A smaller lightweight canvass bag rolled up into a foot or so long, three-inch diameter role. Hooking his thumb through the carrying strap he let the bag drop unrolling as it did and then with a quick wave of his arm put the strap over his head so that it hung effortlessly at his side. A small cloud of dust shook itself from the canvas into the air as he did so revealing the khaki colouring was in fact more from a layer of dried mud than by design.
"Right. Lets go." said John and then as if sensing my thoughts adding, "the stuff will be fine here. Its safe." I took a long look at the bikes and all their luggage just in case it would be my last, patted my cut-off over the pocket in which I kept my credit card, money and passport just to make sure it was all still there and turned and followed John who had already Jumped over the fence and started off up a trail. I struggled to catch him up walking as fast as I could without actually having to break into a trot.
"We turn left here," he said peering intently into the undergrowth alongside the path. There was no sign of a path in the direction he was facing and the rising undergrowth betrayed the side of a steep hill. Pushing past the branches of a dark green waxy leafed bush John disappeared out of sight. Taking a deep breath as if preparing to dive beneath the surface of the waves of foliage I lunged in after him. Once off the path and past the curtain of leaves that fought for the sunlight that reached there to the ground we had entered a different landscape. No direct sun reached the ground here. Long sinewy branches thrust out in clumps from the ground up into the air searching for what little light passed through the dense canopy of leaves held up by the trees high above. There was no profit in nature spreading leaves here in this twilight and it wasnt difficult to climb and push past the bare branches. I followed John at a suitable distance that ensured I didnt catch a hit from one of the branches that had to be pushed or bent to one side to allow us through. The rich humus laden, sandy soil beneath our feet soon steepened into a more compact and treacherous slope as we left the smaller bushes behind and emerged into a more open area beneath slender yet sky tall trees. Loose earth strewn with large flat rocks and fallen branches from the towering trees was the next obstacle in our way that John seemed to attack with relish. His movements were quick yet calculated and rarely met with a slip or poor footing and showed that his slim figure belied a considerable strength. His expression was that of great concentration but yet with a hint of a smile about his clenched teeth and taught lips. I would start to lose ground and lag behind when John would stop mid stride and study the hill before us looking almost animal like as though he were sniffing the air allowing me to not quite catch up before once again striding ahead. I was sweating heavily now, had a clinging dry throat and was beginning to regret having blindly followed this man into who knows what. It occurred to me that if either one of us were to have an accident here we would be in big trouble. The little voice of doubt and paranoia drank of my confidence in my fatigue and began to warn that perhaps John was tricking me and was actually up to no good. What defence would I have here in the middle of the woods against a man I hardly knew if it was his intention to turn on me? And if I were fast enough to run away, where would I run. I had no idea where I was. What on earth was I doing here? For goodness sake what on earth.......
"There it is," he said in a half whisper with excitement dancing across his face. I stopped trying to pick my way through the stones and branches strewn across the treacherous slope behind him and took time to see what it was we were aiming for. Just above where I stood, invisible from only feet below, the slope suddenly eased off into a hollow, and there in the middle of the hollow facing me was a small opening in a bare rock face. The hole looked little more than two feet square and was black as the darkest night contrasted against the sandy yellow of the rock. John scrambled the last few feet up the slope and relaxed as he reached the ledge of the hollow. He turned and looked back at me and then over my head surveying whatever view there was to be had once the anguish of the climb was over. I slipped slightly and he reached out grabbing the collar of my coat hauling me up. I crawled up over the edge on all fours and collapsed onto a ledge to the right of the hole panting.
"You Ok?" said John frowning with the genuine concern of a friend.
"Im fine now" I replied with a tired breathless laugh. "I could do with a cigarette though". He half smiled shaking his head slightly in disapproval or disbelief and turned away from me to look again at the view. I looked out past him as I reached for my tobacco tin. There far below through a gap in the trees to the right snaked a little of the path, along which we had come, back toward the car park. The tops of trees cascaded over each other as if some gigantic green waterfall plunging down into the fields in the valley below.
As I lit my cigarette and blew the first lungfull of smoke out in front of me I saw that a swarm of mosquitoes was hovering in front of the hole and there was a coolness about the atmosphere there. The sun was now high in the sky and was peeking through between the branches of the trees and what with the strenuous climb up it had become positively hot and humid. Yet here cool air seemed to be flowing out of the ground as though from the source of some invisible stream. I pursed my lips and blew quite a reasonable smoke ring through the cloud of mosquitoes and watched as some passed through and others danced furiously to get out of the way.
"Come on then. Let's do it" said John kneeling down and unrolling the canvas bag he had been carrying, on the floor in front of me. Once unrolled, out of the bag he pulled first one black rubber torch and then another. He held one out for me to take.
"Were not going in there!" I said half questioningly, half in disbelief pointing at the hole with my cigarette held between my fingers.
"Of course" he said as though I should have known all along, still holding out the torch for me to take. He wasnt joking. I made him wait and took a long hard look at what seemed to be a shrinking hole in the rock. It hardly seemed big enough to even contemplate going through and the ground in front of it was a wet muddy puddle. At the very best it seemed to me we were going to get very muddy! I put out my free left hand without looking at him and felt the rubber of the torch as he passed it to me.
"Check its working ok, " he said as he clicked his on and off and shook it about a little, "and then follow what I do."
He thrust the bag into his jacket, got up off his knees and stepped towards the hole. He stood with his feet either side of the puddle and then suddenly crouched down feeling behind him for the ground as he leant backwards. At the same time his hands met the ground, he thrust his feet forward and into the darkness of the hole. Somehow he managed to ease his body forward and surfing his heels along the stone in the darkness he walked his hands forward as though the very hillside was dragging him in in hunger. Just as I thought his chin was going to meet the rock he dropped his back to the floor and in an instant was gone from my sight. I squinted straining my eyes, willing them to ignore the brightness of the rock face and instead zoom into the blackness of the hole when suddenly there a couple of feet in was Johns smiling face. He looked very pleased with himself.
"Come on. Feet first and walk in on your hands until you feel the edge then flat on your back and let your knees bend and your feet drop down. Ill place them for you."
How could I possibly refuse? I checked the torch, by staring into the lit bulb and then edged toward where I thought the hole was or at least where it should be when the bright multicoloured spots had cleared from in front of my eyes. As my eyes began to clear I was already straddling the mud puddle and had already lost half my legs to the rock face. I inched forward trying not to put too much weight on the torch in my right hand but at the same time making absolutely sure I didnt end up sitting in it.
"Ok youre clear now onto your back and feel for the foot hold Ill give you". John had grabbed my feet and was guiding my right foot onto what felt like a small protrusion in the middle of a sheer rock face that dropped away from the stone ledge upon which I was now lying face up. My left foot was left dangling. John continued with his instructions. "Right now bring your torch in and find the roof above you and youll see that if youre careful youll be able to sit up. Dont try grabbing any of the rocks above your head. Just sort of roll to one side and sit up."
I was still seeing the spots in front my eyes and couldnt see anything at all.
"I need to wait a minute for my eyes" I protested. I closed them for as long as I felt I could and then reopened them with the torch switched on and pointing upwards resting on my stomach. I could now see that less than a foot in front of me the rock above me rolled upwards and way from me so that with a slight roll to my right and with John pushing on my foot to keep it in place I could sit up on the edge of a ledge. I explored with the light from the torch and could see that John was stood on the top of a slope with his chest level to the entrance we had come through.
"Stick your heel in and jump down, but carefully cause its a real slippery just here," said John waving his torch so that the light fell on the ground at his feet to show me what I was getting into. I stuck my heel into the little foot hold and launched myself down hoping that my feet would bed into the muddy looking floor and not ski off down the slope into the darkness. Johns left boot acted as a buttress for mine as I thudded into the sandy mud and was safe.
Now with my back to the brightness of the daylight outside the hole my eyes began to adjust to the twilight zone we had entered.
Rejection Of Ideals
It was childish. I knew it but still I had to leave. It was as though I had no choice. No. That wasn't right. I did have a choice but some part of me was compelling me to leave with such overwhelming force the better part of me had not enough will to resist. I picked the bike up off its side stand and flicked the stand out of the way with the side of my boot. The frame clanged its resentment at the force I had put into the action. Damned if I was going to stay. I turned the key and pressed the starter at the same time as grabbing a handful of the throttle. The engine sprang into life and immediately raced up to five thousand revs with a roar from the twin slash cut exhausts. I released the throttle pulled in the clutch and stamped on the gear lever. With a little more than the customary metallic thunk from the gears meshing, it jerked into first. With another handful of throttle and a hasty release of the clutch I spun the back wheel in the dust as I raced to get away. In seconds I was up into fifth and winding on the throttle to bring the speedo needle up to eighty miles per hour. Eighty was good. Fast enough to get gone but still reasonably comfortable in the wind with the apehangers if I pushed my back into the step of the seat and kind of rested the edges of my helmet on my shoulders. And at eighty the bike knew what it had to do. The needle in the speedo pointed straight ahead as though that was the way it would take me, the way we were going for as long as I wanted.
A couple of hours passed of country lanes and high featureless hedges and through boredom I soon began to think of petrol, a cigarette and toilets. Just before a line of cottages marked the way to a sign posted junction there was a modern looking petrol station. I pulled in and parked up next to one of the four pumps positioned on the white painted island in the middle of the forecourt.
I gradually shifted my weight onto my left leg and then with some effort eased my right leg over the seat of the bike and stood up holding onto the left handlebar for a little support. I stood motionless for a few moments as the pins and needles and dull aches danced and chased each other around my legs and back. My ears were ringing in what seemed like a deathly quiet after hours of roaring engine and wind.
We both took our cups from the counter and carried them outside to one of the white plastic tables that with their chairs took up half the width of the pavement in front.
I sat back in my chair and pushed with my feet slightly so that the front legs of the chair came off the ground and I rocked gently backwards and forwards.
-/little finger cigarette ash flick/-
"You try so very much to be different. To be separate.," he said. "I think you should look closer at that and maybe youll see that you arent. You cant be. Youre as much a part of everything as I am. As anyone is. As anything is. You cannot divorce yourself from everything any more than . . ." He screwed up his eyes and seemed to look around in desperation searching for the perfect example that would immediately clear my clouded judgement.
"Right. Thats it!" he said, "let's go." With his left hand he temporarily removed his sunglasses and with a single fluid movement picked up his helmet from the table with his right hand and put it on and pulled the strap beneath his chin. The speed of his actions took me completely by surprise. I was still sat at the table as he stood astride his bike and kicked it loudly into life as I clasped my half finished cigarette in my teeth and
up a track off the road/-
"Well sit here and meditate a while." he said as he crossed one ankle behind the other and sank to the floor straight into his customary cross-legged pose. I followed his example in a rather less organised manner and eventually managed to persuade my legs into a roughly similar position. I closed my eyes.
"Right" he said after having allowed me a few minutes to calm my thoughts. "Without opening your eyes tell me what you can hear." I focused my attention to my ears and began to make sense of the sounds that I had been so little aware of. It occurred to me that this place that at first had seemed so quiet after the roaring of the bikes was actually full of noise. Crickets were making their twin beat rasping all around. Back up on the road an occasional car would whoosh by. Birds were singing in the bushes and trees and some on their otherwise soundless flights overhead. In the distance a dog was barking, almost casually as though it could think of nothing better to do in the heat of the afternoon sun. Elsewhere the laboured moan of what I assumed was a tractor perhaps ploughing a field.
I described each in turn but John wanted more. I concentrated as fully as I could but was sure I couldnt hear anything else. I told him so.
"Ok then " he said with a deliberate, patient tone to his voice "what do you feel then?"
"Aha. The wind. I can hear the wind." I said with a little relief, feeling a little foolish. A gentle breeze was blowing so gently that it was easy to miss yet every now and then it would make itself known by dancing lightly on the sweat that had beaded on my forehead above my sunglasses. It was also gently moving the tops of the nearby trees. The rustling sound was now quite clear to me.
"Rrrright" John drawled. "Thats the stuff. You can feel it? You can hear it? Yeah? Right. Now..... try and tell me what the wind is. Dont worry too much about actually being right. Just tell me roughly what you think it is."
I was immediately thrown back to my school days. Had they taught us such things? I had vague recollections of Geography teachers telling us all about glaciers and how they can bulldoze mountains into plains and how rivers must meander before they reach the sea but I couldnt for the life of me remember being taught what wind was. Then it came to me somehow wrapped up in how rain comes to fall.
"Um.... well in simple terms its the movement of air. Yeah?" I said feeling as self conscious and nervous as I would have back in class being singled out by the teacher for maybe a bit of public humiliation!
"Exactly." said John sensing my anxiety and letting me off the hook. "Remember your physics lessons?" he asked as though he knew my thoughts were back at school. "Its all a matter of moving molecules isnt it. Air is a collection of atoms and molecules. You know oxygen, hydrogen, water and a bunch of other stuff all moving around together vibrating all over the place. The sun heats some of it up and makes the molecules vibrate a bit more and so makes that bit of the air less dense and lighter in effect. So the hot air rises and cold air moves in to take its place and it is that sort of movement of air molecules that is called wind. I mean sure, that is a very simple way of describing it but all Im trying to get you to think about is little bits of things. Atoms, electrons, molecules and the like. Everything around us is made of such little bits. Think of your hand for example. It too is simply made up of collections of different molecules but these collections we tend to regard as part of us. Something separate. Something apart. Ok.....so what separates your hand from mine over here?" John paused but not long enough for me to answer before he carried on with his explanation in a tone that showed some obvious enjoyment.
"The air. Thats what. So what we have is a collection of small things that I could call a bit of me, a collection of small things that we call the air and another collection of small bits that I could call a bit of you. So now you can see what Im getting at cant you?"
I really wasnt sure at all. Ok I could understand that we were made up of lots of smaller things like molecules, atoms, electrons and the like and that everything around us was. Yeah we had done that in physics at school but so what?
"Keep going because Im not sure where you are going with this." I replied opening my eyes and looking at him as if to convey how seriously I was taking the conversation. He hadnt moved and still had his eyes closed.
"Take the skin on the end of one of your fingers. It contains amongst the others, molecules of air and water the same as does the surrounding air. At what point does the density of these molecules mean that the air ends and you begin. If it is difficult to say where one ends and the other begins then perhaps there is no difference. Perhaps the air is as much a part of you as is your finger. Certainly your finger wouldnt survive for very long without the air."
"Now wait a minute." I interrupted. "If I go swimming or have a bath or something like it I dont end up losing my fingers because they havent got any air." I was starting to feel very argumentative and let the tone of my voice show it. I wasnt going to be told such obvious rubbish as though it were fact.
"Yes yes yes of course not because your fingers maintain some contact with the air through the blood. Now if you cut one off.... that would be different. Then it would die. But that isnt the point. Dont look so much for what is wrong with the argument, rather look for what is right. Im not in the business of giving you answers. Im not qualified to do that. All Im trying to do is suggest a path of understanding along which you should ask your own questions and seek your own answers. With luck you will find your own way along what with perseverance you will find is a well trod path."
"Now youre really starting to lose me," I said. "Id be a lot happier if you keep things simple. I like to think Im pretty down to earth and am not a particularly clever type and such talk goes straight over my head. Ok?"
John paused as if taking a step backwards before continuing. "Yeah. Ok, ok, ok. Im sorry, you got me going a bit there. All Im trying to do is give you some things to think on. Look. This is where I was going with this. I was trying to point out that the difference between what you regard as you and what you regard as everything else is not as clear as you have come to think it. You accept you are a collection of molecules. Well so is the air. So am I. So is a tree. A stone. A cloud. Each touches the other and who is to say where the boundary of each lies. Everything is connected. Nothing is separate from anything else. Now do you see more clearly?"
I still wanted to argue although I really didnt know why or how to. His explanation was undoubtedly flawed, somehow and yet I was beginning to see the logic in what he had said. He remained sat eyes closed seemingly unconcerned with whatever reaction I may be having to what he had said. I followed his example and closed my eyes and tried to remain mindful of what he had been talking about.
There was no quiet in my mind at all. Thoughts were racing around and popping up with a life of their own. I kept on returning to the image of the old favourite executive toy. The one where a series of shiny chromed metal balls are suspended on strings close enough together that they all just touch. If a ball at one end is drawn back and then released it collides with the rest with a click and transmits its energy through each to the ball at the other end which is free to swing and then fall back and the whole process repeats, the balls at each end swinging to and fro until the energy is used up. All the while the balls in the middle seem not to move at all.
So it seemed to me then that was perhaps how the universe was organised. An infinite number of balls would be like atoms and molecules all resting on each other, an action on one perhaps being transmitted through an infinite number that showed no sign of it to be finally revealed at the end of a particular line.
A person starts to live when he can live outside of himself.
My backside was starting to ache and lifting myself up on the footpegs and shifting about in the seat wasnt helping. It was time for a petrol and cigarette stop. I let go of the bars with my left hand and looked over my shoulder to catch John's attention. He was less than six feet away to my left and slightly behind in what had become his usual position. I eased up on the throttle slightly as John realising I wanted to talk accelerated to pull level. Slowing to about forty-five miles an hour I shouted above the buffeting wind "PETROL!" and pointed to the tank just to make sure there was no misunderstanding. He smiled and made an exaggerated nod with his head. He then took his hand off the throttle, leaned over to the left and patted the raised right cheek of his backside with a theatrical grimace on his face. The return spring on his carb momentarily having snapped shut without his hand to keep it open he immediately dropped back into formation with a broad grin. It occurred to me for a moment that he may have become as saddle sore as I but then it seemed much more likely that he was simply making fun of me probably having watched me dancing around in my seat in front of him for the past twenty or thirty miles.
Within another ten miles or so we had come upon a sign post, something 'ville', announcing our arrival at what appeared to be a small village of perhaps some twenty, old, almost derelict buildings all lining the main road. Almost the last building on the left was a petrol station. Without its forecourt it could easily have been the backdrop in a dozen war films I had seen. It had once been painted white but time had seen the best of that and off with the flaking paint had fallen some of the render to reveal the bricks beneath. Beneath the roof painted across the width of the building had once been either the name of the owner or the name of the petrol once sold there but the neglect of the paint signalled the long ago passing of either.
Alongside the wall was the single ancient petrol pump. A faded blue almost completely obscured by a thick layer of oil and grime. The cracked glass window to the dial had been wiped clean enough for the pointer to show roughly how many litres had flowed. A glass bowl on one side with the petrol visible and a strange
"Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon.
You come and go you come and go.........."
It wasnt pretty but it was a recognisable attempt at the song sung by Boy George. I was amazed and more than a little amused by his rasping voice wrestling with the light and bouncy, cheerful tune.
"Don't give up you're day job" I joked.
"Who knows why he did it or what it means? Maybe oneday youll write a book and hell be in it. Maybe he knows that. Maybe his is one of the wisest men you will ever meet and he has given you a gift that has become part of you. Who knows? I dunno. Look. There are more questions can be asked than you will ever have answers to so know now that one of the best answers you will have is that you just dont know and may never know so.....let it go. Just be thankful and maybe some day pay him back."
~Duration of meditation~
As I sat gently wrestling with my mind over the aches and pains in my body, adamant that I was not going to move no matter how much it tried to convince me I wanted to, I had become aware of a buzzing. Insignificant at first like all the other passing insect noises that I had not even noticed and yet this one persisted. Somewhere to my right at first. Now overhead making the hairs on my head start to bristle. My mind raced and yet I was determined not to move. It was as though I had thrown down the gauntlet to myself and no matter what happened to make my mind call a halt to the meditation, I would continue.
Back to my right, louder and louder and then . . .silence. Arrrrgh . . . .it had landed on me! And yet I was determined not to move. After all, I reasoned, what possible harm could it do? At that moment in an instant I recalled a whole section of my childhood.
I had not been a particularly bad child. Ok I had my faults but by today's standards I figured I was pretty damn good. Simple pleasures like playing running games on a local piece of waste ground or reading comics in my bedroom were often how I spent my time. And yet there was a trace of something less pleasant in me. At some point I had become obsessed? No that was far too strong a word for it. I had developed an unhealthy interest in flys. Just the ones that came into my bedroom. I didnt go looking for them; it was nothing like that. It was because of their buzzing. When I was trying to read I found the distraction of a buzzing fly just too much to bear. It had to be silenced. I would roll up my comic and flail my arms around the room trying normally unsuccessfully to knock it out of the air or at least persuade it to leave the room and buzz elsewhere. As time went by I advanced. My attitude changed. Now it had to be killed. Nothing else would do. If a fly entered my room I would immediately close the door trapping it in there. I would then leisurely engage in the hunt. I didnt make it too quick and if the fly ended up on the window seeking escape to the light I would give it a chance and not try as hard as I could to kill it with the first swipe. Looking back I really can't remember if I allowed any to escape. Sort of like a Roman emperor rewarding the champion Christian gladiator. It seemed unlikely.
How I had changed. The memories filled me with waves of revulsion and guilt. It seemed so undeniably clear to me now. A life was a life no matter what its form. How dare I be so cruel as to torture and torment and cause suffering in such a way. Who was I to set myself above .....well frankly anything. Who was I to assume the role of a god? I with my ignorance, selfish expectations and demands of the world deciding the fate of those who demanded nothing save that they should be free to live out their lives, insofar as fate would allow, unmolested. I dared to consider that my behaviour had somehow given me less of a right to live a life free of suffering than such simple creatures.
All of these thoughts and more crashed through my mind in an instant. With a force of commitment that was new to me I vowed that from this point on I would where reasonably possible not consciously harm or cause to suffer any creature with whom I came in contact no matter how insignificant. Flies included. Flies especially! My body seemed to know that the job of this meditation had been done and my eyes popped open quite by themselves. As they focused I was confronted by a small swarm of mosquitoes dancing in front of my face. With a smile and a somewhat gentle wave of my hand I ushered them away from my face. Whatever had become of the fly that landed on me I had no idea. I assumed it had flown off but I hadn't heard it leave.
As I began to unfurl my aching legs and stretch my arms and neck, John who had been lying on his back with his head resting on a small grass covered mound tilted his head slightly and looked over the top of his sunglasses with a smile. "Ok?" he asked. I glanced at my watch and was amazed to see that I had been sat for perhaps only fifteen minutes. It seemed like longer. I tried to explain what I had experienced with the fly and related with some embarrassment the memories that had been dredged up from my childhood.
John made no outward signs of horror or disapproval, as I had feared he might. He simply continued to look at me over the top of his glasses until I had finished.
He narrowed his eyes a little and took a deep breath through his nose as if really trying to take in the essence of what I had said.
"It seems to me " he began slowly " that you are perhaps starting to wake up and climb up out of your pit. A little like there are parts to you that you really are unfamiliar with and that have been lying dormant ready to show you your way. Don't be surprised by anything that you find on the climb up and always be prepared to loosen your grip on the rungs of the ladder that you have reached and on which you may stand to reach up further still." He smiled in self-satisfaction at what he obviously considered was his skilful reply. I smiled sarcastically back broad mouthed and thin lipped with a slight nod of the head to try and show how unimpressed I was with his great words of wisdom.
"In other words " he said "perhaps you must lose a fly . . . " he paused briefly and then with startling speed clapped his hands in front of him., " to catch a trout" he finished opening his hands looking at his empty palms and then skyward as though he had missed his quarry. His smile got even broader as he put his hands behind his head, crossed his legs and settled back into his grassy pillow.
"Im not saying that is why it happened Im just saying ...well you dont know for sure that isnt why it happened do you?". He was right but this was starting to sound a little bit too much like believing in magic.
No Pain No Gain
"He who desires the prizes of the spirit cannot have the easiest of paths to follow."
"You cant simply reach the end of the path without having travelled along it. There are no real short cuts since each step on the path is a step that must be travelled. If you think you have found a short cut lifes irony will sooner or later show you that you have missed a step or two and must return and step there nonetheless."
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