I reluctantly turned 44 this year and this month contains the anniversary of the day, exactly half my life ago, that son 1 was conceived and the seeds of the second phase of my life were planted. This is the story of that.
I can’t remember why, but in 1990 I was at a festival in Merseyside without most of the people I was close to, so I was feeling even more lost than usual.
Another thing I can’t remember is why I didn’t have a vehicle of my own at this point – I can’t seem to remember the order in which everything happened. Maybe this was after my ambulance blew up and I lost my taxi, I don’t know. But at this point, I was basically hitching lifts on the backs of other people’s trucks with a few bender poles and a tarp. The bender on the left (above) is mine and here’s the inside of it:
My interior design skills and home hygiene have improved since then but my tidiness is more or less the same. (I think the book is Philip K Dick’s Valis. I still have that 22 years later, and still haven’t finished it).
There are three things I remember about that festival:
1. Meeting a very handsome old friend and watching his irritation as we sat by a fire chatting and hippy women gyrated around him trying to catch his attention. He later shaved off all his hair “to make myself more fucking ugly”.
2. Meeting a woman who had left her baby somewhere and was publicly milking herself. My pre-motherhood self was horrified. My post-motherhood self understands (apart from the public part). Turns out, too, that she had given birth naked on the Yorkshire moors and eaten the placenta. Raw.
3. It was my first real encounter with the rave scene. It was noisy. On reflection, this was probably the beginning of my loss of interest in festivals.
A day or so into the festival I bumped into another old friend who had come up (down? my Geography is embarrassing) from Yorkshire and suggested coming back with her to winter on Blackshaw Head. Life then was a series of random encounters and featured pretty much no deliberate, purposeful decisions, so I agreed for want of anything better to do.
I have no memory at all of the journey, but I do remember reaching the site. Blackshaw Head is part of the Pennine Way, I think. The nearest towns were Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, but the site felt as thought it was in the middle of nowhere and was accessed by a deep track about half a mile or more long, bounded by rickety stone walls and high hedges. There was nothing to be seen in any direction apart from rocks and moorland which gave it a peacefulness and a pleasing sense of isolation on that sunny day and I felt some relief as we pulled up and I saw a friend I’d originally met in Cornwall – someone I was genuinely fond of and who I’ll call S – sitting by a fire, smoking a rollup and boiling a kettle. It seemed a haven after the jiggling humans and the repetitive thumping of the sound systems at the Merseyside site.
This picture isn’t mine, but gives an impression of what it felt like on the moor. On a good day. If you ignored the traveller’s site.© Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence
Sitting next to S, prodding the fire with a stick and also smoking, was a wiry bloke with very dark hair, piercing brown eyes and a beard like a cartoon of the devil. From an evolutionary theory perspective, I reckon I was just at that very moment, aged 22, biologically primed to find a partner and reproduce, because my brain clocked the Satan bloke and went KERCHING. He seemed visually spot on. Maybe my genes were yelling at me that his genes would do very nicely mingled with mine. That’s how biology works, right?
Of course 22 years later I would probably be looking for slightly different things in a breeding partner (such as an ability to wash), but at that time this is what appealed to me. Here’s a picture of the man himself at Blackshaw Head.
I was mildly smitten – or my biological imperative to breed was, anyway – fairly quickly, and was only partly put off by the discovery that the devil-bearded man was none other than the loathsome curly haired smug bastard I had met on the bus in Cornwall (in this post: https://throbbingsofnoontide.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/girl-meets-boy/). He was marginally less of a bastard in the West Yorkshire sun than he was in the Cornish drizzle and shared his Special Brew with me that evening, which I took to be a good sign.
Long story short, etc. I built a bender to share with a female friend in the vicinity of the devil-bearded one, who we shall henceforth refer to as J, and we (J and I) were soon engaged in the types of activities people do in these sort of circumstances, although with no commitment of any kind mentioned, of course. Below is a picture of our idyllic rural community:
When I discovered that we had conceived an offspring I thought it best not to mention it and confided only in my friend E and another girl. I was going to keep the baby, I decided, but I’d do it on my own. It was impossible to imagine J having any part of it – so impossible that I didn’t even consider telling him. I don’t really know what I thought he would make of it when I began to expand. I don’t think I even thought about the expansion. As I have said before, I lived in the moment like a chicken.
Of course, living on a traveller site is no different from living in any small community, so the news got round fairly sharpish and J appeared in my bender one afternoon when I was reading. “I think you’ve got something to tell me,” he said. It was clear from that remark that I didn’t have anything to tell him, and I can’t even remember how the conversation went from there, but we didn’t decide to get married and live happily ever after, and I didn’t ask him for anything at all. I just agreed that I was pregnant and I was going to have the baby and that was that.
The next time I got my giro I spent it all on a rickety caravan, reasoning that if I was going to be pregnant it might be better to do it under an aluminium roof rather than a canvas one. A couple of days later, the door to my caravan opened and there was J with his tin box of belongings and a filthy army sleeping bag. Seemed he was moving in.
Part 2 can be found here