If you haven’t read Memory Dump (1) and would like to, the link is here
J moving his tin box into my caravan did not immediately result in Happy Ever After. Nothing like it. We still lived on the moors in a tiny space with little money and no facilities in a culture which valued getting off your face above all else. J, like most people on site, was a very heavy drinker. The men would stash cans of Special Brew away so that when they passed out pissed each night, they would have something to drink straight away the next day. Also, we hardly knew each other, and none of these factors constitute the ideal start to a relationship. We were dysfunctional as hell, and I was pretty unhappy without really realising it. J wasn’t. He was mostly pissed.
The other day I interviewed J about all this, trying to remember the details. Here’s how he describes what life was like on site:
“It was damp and miserable. An air of barrenness I suppose. Used to get drunk lots. Talk shit. Mend broken vehicles. Try and find firewood. I suppose that was a major thing, wasn’t it. There weren’t any trees so you always had to go out looking for things in skips etc.”
Winter was approaching, and we knew it could get harsh in Yorkshire, especially on the moors; so we managed to upgrade the caravan to a bigger one which felt like luxury to us. Which is funny, because it was so obviously total squalor. Here is a picture of our entertainment centre.
The black and white TV is run by the battery of J’s tractor (which we will meet again later in the tale). The cat is watching Wildlife on One.
Here’s J reading.
Life gradually got a bit better in the new caravan; we adjusted to each other, distanced ourselves slightly from site life and he drank less often. But the relative security didn’t last long.
That winter, when it started to snow, I thought it was wildly exciting; it muffled all the noise and cleansed the filthy site, but we woke a few mornings later to more snow than I had ever seen in real life before. The half-mile track to the site had completely drifted over and was indistinguishable from the flat plain of white that was the rest of the moor which now joined seamlessly with the flat white sky, as if someone had erased the world while we were asleep. If I’d have taken a photo at that point it would have looked like this:
Aesthetically, it was a great improvement, but practically it was a significant problem. We were completely stranded; the track was impassable and the only vehicle that would miraculously still start was J’s tractor which fired up after being buried right up to the seat with snow. But even that could not negotiate the track. After a few days of this, people were running out of food and certainly of firewood. Here’s J’s description:
“We couldn’t get wood, so we had to burn furniture and parts of our caravan. Everyone in benders had to squat with someone with a vehicle and we burned all the bender poles. It was bitterly cold – as you imagine polar cold would be. We were reliant on wood – major thing. You can only burn so much of your home. Pooing was a problem because you couldn’t dig a hole in the soil so you left it on the surface to be eaten by dogs or did it on newspaper and burnt it. Sounds barbaric but it’s actually sensible when you think about it.”
This was all a particular joy to me, 6 months pregnant and needing a wee several times a night. It became impossible to go outside so I had to do it in a saucepan and chuck it outside in the morning. Bang went any dignity I had left – and things got worse.
Another problem was the plight of the bus-dwellers next door. I forget why, but they had no windscreen – the hole was covered over by a torn tarpaulin. Here is a picture of that tarp, complete with hole and some of the residents.
The night the worst blizzard hit, our neighbours awoke to find their tarp had fallen off and their bus had filled up with snow.
I wish I’d taken some photos of the interior, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for thinking of things like that. Their bed, they said, was covered in a soft layer of snow, and they had a paraffin lamp hanging up which had a little dome of whiteness on it like some sort of perverted Christmas card.
And so it was that I came to be sobbing silently under a blanket every night while snowed into a 25ft caravan on some remote moorland, 6 months pregnant, lost and wildly hormonal, with 4 adults, 4 dogs, a cat and a pack of puppies.
To be continued…