By Parson Thru
My mam and dad did everything as part of a crowd. A self-reinforcing group – bigger the better in terms of security and recognition – being one of the crowd. Latterly, when the four of us sat around the table of a country pub for Sunday lunch or a Saturday evening meal, my dad would ask what we were all having, meaning we were all having roast lamb, or we were all having steak. No expectation that anyone would be awkward and ask for something different. Of course, it got to the point where I’d wait for them to decide and change my mind once everyone else had ordered. It became an embarrassing game of cat and mouse.
They would love it here in Madrid. Families and groups of families move around the Sunday afternoon streets in small herds. On Mondays, I’m embarrassed to confess that I’ve spent the weekend by myself, so I often say nothing. As with the military back in the UK, it pays to have the friends and family card.
As an adolescent, I was never happier than sitting in a fishing hole at the bottom of the bank with nothing but the occasional dog running down through the grass, or a vole rustling through the undergrowth to plop, unseen, into the water. My mate was usually further along the bank, betrayed only by half-hourly retrievals and casts. Visits between holes were sparing and brief.
Having investigated the mysteries of the “local” at the end of the street, around which our younger lives had orbited, it was a relief to gain the freedom of a motorbike. Tiny 50 cc mopeds at first, then a 250. York had built its first bypass. Suicide missions to distant racing circuits had shown me a network of fast roads away from the estate. Initially, we rode as a crowd. Later, I’d smile with satisfaction as I rode past the bikes resting on their stands outside the pub. With a 650, a tankful of petrol and some cash, Britain isn’t a big place. The nights were long and the roads empty.
Crowds don’t trust loners. But I’m not a loner, I’m just content. I don’t have to hear what I don’t want to hear. I don’t have to say what I don’t want to say. I don’t have to go where I don’t want to go. Life’s too short for all that. Better still if there are two of you who feel the same, like down beside the river. We’d pass whole nights, only meeting up around dawn to chat and light a fire.
So, too, now.
A strange relationship to some, who might wonder how we survive – separated and living apart – but the truth is we’re not apart. We’re as together now as ever we were – perhaps more. Closer than many who lie each night in the same bed. Air routes link us in the physical world; phones in the electronic; the rest? Maybe we could call it a psychic match – soul mates – never more than a walk along the riverbank.