Charlotte of York

Charlotte Castle

Riaz and Charlotte.

I was messaging my friend Charlotte. She knew how low I felt after my previous weekend and invited me up to see her. North Yorkshire is a long way away from Avebury and I knew that financially I had little hope of scraping together the train or coach fare.

“We can do the touristy thing,” she said happily (insofar as happiness can be ascertained via messaging through the strange digital world of social media).

“I’d love to visit, but…” and listed all the obstacles in my path, including lack of finances, a strange skin tag that had developed on my right cheek, and my concern about the fluoride content of toothpaste.

I had met Charlotte through Facebook a couple of years ago. It’s how I make most of my friends these days. I turn my nose up at actually chatting to strangers in pubs, gyms, clubs or Waitrose. That’s way is far too dodgy. It’s much safer to interact with someone on social media, hoping that they are who they say they are and not some forty stone bald-headed man in a string vest sat in front of a computer somewhere near Barry Island.

In a tent bought from Aldi’s.

Our friendship formed sometime in June 2014. She was a writer too – her book Simon’s Choice is still available on Amazon – and was and still is intelligent, beautiful and funny. She had visited me in November 2015, a rather spontaneous visit in which we had great fun and since then, had spoken several times of meeting again.

So here was an opportunity but I just could not afford it – until another friend intervened. She offered to send me money to go and visit Charlotte as she knew how much of a knock I had taken regarding my encounter with *name deleted*, and the money she offered was a lot – enough for me to get the train and to have a little spending money too. I ruminated over this for sometime, torn between accepting the offer and the weight it would bear upon my shoulders, knowing that I would not be able to repay it easily. But I also knew that visiting Charlotte would be good for me. A healing visit, where my mind would be able to repair itself a little. Because us sensitive folk have fragile minds. And it’s funny because Charlotte herself is very similar to me, her sensitivity creating conflicts in her mind, both of us fighting battles, some imaginary and some real, with our hopes and dreams.

So in the second week of July, six days after returning from Leicester, I set off on my travels again.

Bloke in reflection doing a facepalm. Oil on canvas. £765

Bloke in reflection doing a facepalm. Oil on canvas. £765

I love train journeys. Coach journeys aren’t bad either, but there’s something about being on a train. That huge feeling of throbbing electrically induced motion between your legs. There’s nothing in comparison. Except maybe Marmite on toast.

I changed trains at Bristol Parkway and then began the three hour journey to Leeds, where I would have to change once last time to reach Harrogate. On arrival at Leeds I took this photograph.

Leeds Train Station

Leeds train station. The last bastion of hope for all mankind.

And then, shortly thereafter, I arrived at the beautiful town of Knaresborough. I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of the town as the train trundled across the viaduct, for the vast expanse below me not only revealed a green and lush valley, but also an undulating vista or roads and ancient houses, all rickety and twisted, that looked as if they had been drawn on to the landscape by an artist of prodigious imagination and an impressive cellar of wine.

Gosh, I’m quite pleased with that previous paragraph. I’ll be a writer yet. Just you see.

So the train arrived at Knaresborough and there was Charlotte, with her two children, waiting to meet me. I was expecting her to run towards me, maybe shouting “Daddy! My Daddy!” just as in the closing scenes of The Railway Children, which wouldn’t have made any sense but boy, it would have been a funny sight for the onlookers. We smiled, laughed, hugged and chatted amiably as we walked slowly into the town. After a brief stop for some provisions, we arrived at Charlotte’s house.

That afternoon and evening was wonderful. Relaxed, comfortable and serene. We watched a movie or two, chatted, drank wine, enjoyed a take away and laughed and chatted some more. It occurred to me that I felt comfortable with her, more so than I did with *name deleted*, and that all of us give a little and take a little something different from each friend we have. For each friend that has passed through our lives, we gain something and lose something.

The next day we visited York. Well, what can I say. York is truly beautiful and I absolutely loved our stroll around this ancient city. It was, apparently, founded in 71AD, making it nearly two thousand years old. Nearly as old as Swindon.

Barley Hall is just one of the many museums in York. It was originally a medieval house, the earliest parts dating from around 1360. They have turned it into a delightful exhibition of life in the 15th century, when it belonged to William Snawsell and his family. Like Avebury manor, visitors can interact with everything – from the fake food on the table to dressing up in replica costumes from that period, as this delightful photograph shows!

Marc Bolan and Jennifer Saunders

Marc Bolan and Jennifer Saunders

After leaving here, we strolled around some more, making our way merrily through the streets, becoming slightly lost, becoming slightly found and just having a swell day. I’ve always wanted to use the word swell like this, but without the ‘gee’.

We also visited a street called The Shambles. Surely this was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books!

The Shambles

The Shambles

And that was York. I had nowhere near the amount of time to see everything but I know there will be other opportunities in the future.

That evening, my last evening, we chatted some more. I sipped on a vodka and cola and Charlotte drank wine, and she listened patiently as I spoke about my fears and insecurities regarding my previous weekend with *name deleted* and how that had all gone terribly wrong. Sometimes, all you need is just to talk to someone and then the answers to your problems come from within. I had a few light-bulb moments (and I’m not talking about how my 6’4 frame occasionally collides with ceiling fittings) and realised that actually, I’m an alright person. Like anyone, I have my flaws, I struggle with my doubts and lack of confidence, but I’m pretty much okay and mean well. It made me realise that the loss of a friend that I felt so acutely just three or four days ago, didn’t matter as much as I thought it did. It made me realise, as corny and cliched as it sounds, who my real friends were.

Here’s to you Charlotte. Thank you so much for your kindness and hospitality. May we meet again soon X.

 

Market Harborough (part 1)

Waiting for the train to Market Harborough

Waiting for the train to Market Harborough

“Let’s start at the very beginning,” sang Julie Andrews once upon a time as she sat by a lonely goatherd.

Well, sometimes beginnings are boring. Sometimes it’s fun to start in the middle and then work backwards (or forwards) as your whim dictates.

So this is just another memory snapshot. In the course of writing my memoirs, I can refer back to these posts and reproduce them and expand on them as I write about my life. I feel a bit like Marcel Proust! If I can replicate just some of his success, I would die happy! Instead of the six volumes of his In Search Of Lost Time, I would run to seven volumes. Just to, er, show my competitive spirit!

So this is just a little reflection of my brief but happy friendship with Amphelia Strange, with me wrestling with my thoughts, making sense of what happened and just pondering over something that was loved and lost.

On the Saturday morning we weren’t sure what to do or where to go. Leicestershire is a gorgeous county but without transport – and neither of us drove – then our choices needed some forethought and planning. We both liked castles and stately homes and so initially I did a little research into nearby attractions such as Belvoir Castle and Rockingham Castle.

“Rockingham!” Amphelia smiled. “Just the sound of that one makes me think…of rocks!”

I nodded. “Right.”

To get to Rockingham was tricky but doable. It involved a bus to Leicester, then a train to Corby followed by a taxi to Rockingham itself. Sorted. We could do it. Amphelia was still pottering around upstairs and so I was doing my usual thing of pacing up and down her living room, going over the plans in my head and the timing of it all. Then, something made me think of actually ringing them. I don’t know why. I think just to confirm the opening times. So I tapped in the number and waited.

An answering machine and a recorded message began.

“Thank you for ringing Rockingham Castle,” the female voice began. “We are open Sundays, Tuesdays and Bank Holiday Monday’s…”

What? Hang on a minute. This was Saturday! I listened to the message again and, with a frustrated air, passed on the information to Amphelia, who was now in the kitchen, making wooden spoons dance on the worktop.

“Oh well,” she said. “Market Harborough it is then!”

We had spoken of Market Harborough a few times and I was certainly open to the idea as I love small rural towns rather than large cities. Then again, Leicester city centre was quite nice, full of nooks and crannies and wonderful shops. Basically, what I’m saying is, I’m easy going and love everything!

So we got a bus to Leicester and then a train to Market Harborough. Amphelia had been there before but briefly, so I understood, and she did not really recall much of it. We arrived and started walking towards the centre of town. It was one of those sunny showery mornings – bursts of hot sunshine followed by brief smatterings of rain. Oh and wind! Quite a breeze was blowing and it was something else I discovered about Amphelia – she wasn’t too keen on the wind, bless her!

We then passed a shop. Not an antiques shop. It was a sort of emporium – a mix of the arcane, the modern and the archaic. A strange collection of cuddly, fluffy toys and these, wot we spotted in the window.

Military Deer
The one on the right she fell in love with. It was £135. We went in, had a look at it, got into a good rapport with the shopkeeper and then continued on with our day. She said it would be perfect for her online shop. She could dress its antlers with her homemade jewelry, bracelets, beads and earrings, photograph it and then those images would make great pictures on her online shop.
She loved it.
So I bought it for her.
I used my haggling skills with the lovely shopkeeper of course, and managed to get it down to £110. Er…okay, so maybe my haggling skills aren’t the best as some of you lot, but I thought a £25 reduction wasn’t to be sniffed at!
So I bought it for her.
I am unemployed, scrimp away every month, but I had fortunately come into a £500 windfall, by way of a tax rebate, and it was that amount I took with me to Leicester.
She is constantly in dire straits financially as she has no job either, for various and genuine reasons, and relies on benefits like myself. So I left her £20 for taxi fare too, to take her cat to the vet, as he is poorly and her only constant companion and she loves him to bits. So I left her taxi money to take him to the PDSA.
And I left her another £20 which I hid in a book in her living room, just for food.
And I bought her £60 worth of shopping from Tesco – cat litter, toilet rolls, food – some food and alcohol for both of us too, during my stay.
I bought us breakfast, dinner, lunch. Paid for all her train fares.
So I spent just under £300 on her, at a guess.
And you know, I think many people would be swearing at this point. Cursing and berating themselves for being so silly in spending so much on someone they hardly knew. But she was vulnerable and had led such a troubled life. I thought I could just sprinkle a little sunshine upon her, for those couple of days.

And I can’t even bring myself to be annoyed at giving so much. I feel I’m *supposed* to be. That money could have been for my own bills, my own cat. I could have given it to a friend I have known longer, and has been there more for me, whose washing machine broke down recently so I could have helped her instead. But I spent it all on someone who, within 72 hours, decided they never wanted to be in my life again.

So how come I can’t feel angry? I only feel love. I only have tears in my eyes now, wanting to give her a hug and tell her that things don’t have to be so heavy. That these differences, these misunderstandings, aren’t as serious as she thinks. They could, if she allowed, just drift away on the summer breeze and be forgotten about. Everything could be so light and easy and we could just laugh again. I guess some people find that so hard to do, for many different reasons.

I miss my friend, but life goes on. And when people say ‘life goes on’ it gives an impression of a strong, stoic stance and a hardening of the heart. ‘Oh yes!’ you cry. ‘Life goes on!’

But I think what people mean is that you can’t do anything about the hurt. You can’t make things better. For now, at least. In time? Who knows. But for now, you just have to miss the person you cared for and try your best to carry on.

TO BE CONTINUED…

HIDDEN

 

HIDDEN

 

Hidden in shade
my dreams and desires
half-forgotten melodies
hanging in the cloying air of July
as the Earth, weighed by doubt,
lets out a sigh.

Soft river footsteps
linger, unhurried memories
I seek to understand.
The sun rises over a sweet
sympathetic land.

Her silhouette, slipping
free. A cherry blossom spring
and water, blue.
I sit upon a bank
beneath the willow and stars.

Small pockets of desire
swell in my guarded heart.
I stand on the shore, listening,
second-hand thoughts
drifting.

Sometimes, everything is just scary.
Talking to people.
Touching, glancing, eating.
The brood of summer souls
lying listlessly in the stalks of sunflowers.
All about me are lives.

I offer my words as clues
And I don’t know
how the story ends.
I’ll make that up if I ever get there.

And I think about you too much.
I’m not sure why.
Maybe it’s just that half-remembered touch
and the kindness in your eyes.

But I love too quick
and too soon
like the pale milk-white gaze
of the conquered moon.

Riaz Ali.