Things don’t always pan out the way you want them to. This much I have learnt over the years. Sometimes life throws a few lemons in your direction. It’s during moments like these, that knowing how to make tarts comes in handy.
From time to time I wonder how I got to where I am, and, from what on earth some of my perversions were born out of. Having no formulaic method to guide me, I became an explorer. Travel and adventure was bred into me and encouraged by very open minded parents, all four of them, and their rather left field groups of acquaintances. By the age of 13, I’d visited multiple countries in 3 continents other than my own. I guess I got lucky with my parents 2nd marriages, they chose wonderful folks from other lands, for this I’m eternally grateful.
I left home at a young age and worked. Like a dog. Ethic has never been an issue with my bloodline, it’s what we do.
At the relatively tender age of 21, I’d saved a substantial amount of money working 100+ hour weeks, whilst indulging for the remaining hours. Sleep was something you did when you were dead. Somehow I made it out of that chapter alive, some of my friends didn’t, fearing a similar fate I had the presence of mind to gather my life and cram it into a backpack with a 57litre capacity. I bought a one way ticket to Amsterdam and kissed my mother goodbye. It was the single most influential decision of my life. The ripple effect still resonates to this very day, years later.
Many months were spent riding a bicycle, and after that was stolen, hitching around Europe taking in the sites from Rotterdam to Istanbul, and most in between. Strange things happened. I was party to many amazing events. Some mind-bending, others mind-boggling. Over the course of these many months, I became a man. A wide-eyed, experimental, solitary man. Never quite comfortable in his own skin, there was far too much that I didn’t and would never understand to make that sort of judgement call. I ploughed on. Working wherever I could, doing whatever was asked whenever the opportunity arose, for whoever was kind enough to recognise in me the immediacy of my need to live and learn. These folk became willing accomplices in the formation of the person that stands naked before you now. Many nameless faces whom I reflect on occasionally, not just for posterity, with gratitude.
One such face burns brightly in my memory for a variety of reasons. Not least of all because she followed up on my teenage fascinations and reinforced in me the sublime pleasures of the infinitely seductive world of the voyeur/exhibitionist. This story is about her. Her name was Camille.
I’d been sleeping rough, in a seaside town on the coast of France. I had no money and spent my days in and around the ferry terminal waiting for my friend to arrive with our car so that we could head east. He left me waiting for 3 weeks. In retrospect, those 3 weeks further carved out my creative side, but I wasn’t about to thank him, still haven’t. Once all the vehicles had left the last daily ferry, I would retreat to the train station where I’d been told by the police to spend my nights. I’d previously slept in the park, however they deemed that too dangerous, they would take me to the train station with all the other lost souls and wayward minds, deposit me there tell me not to head back to the park, or I'd risk arrest. So I sat on the same station bench each evening and wrote. Whatever was in my head, I put on paper. Much of what I wrote was tainted with rage, directed mainly toward my friend, if not him, it ventured inward. I also wrote what I observed and of my experiences passed. I managed to write over the course of one night, a children’s book, which I’ll one day publish after it’s been adequately illustrated. It was an interesting time to say the least.
One afternoon as I sat on my bench scribbling, I was approached by a woman, in her late forties I guessed, who spoke to me in French. I apologised for the fact that I couldn’t understand and she immediately altered her speak so that I could. She asked me if I would join her for a coffee. Without hesitation I accepted the offer. She was well dressed, reasonably fit and had a lovely smile. The only oddity with regards her appearance was the fact that she wore dark sunglasses, inside the station. I couldn’t see her eyes, but that didn’t bother me. She beckoned me to follow her and we sat at a leafy table in the station cafe. Very civilised. She asked what I would like, a flat white, and proceeded to order coffee and cake. (If there’s a more delicious sounding language than French then please send me to that country, I’ll leave tomorrow).
She introduced herself. We spoke for some time. She asked if I was a writer, she’d seen me for a few days on end now, furiously penning my notebook. I told her I wasn’t, just a recorder of things. She was a print journalist it turned out, and an extremely interesting conversationalist. She told me how her husband of 20 years had recently died in a tragic accident, and how she was struggling to overcome his sudden departure. She told me how she had turned to alcohol to suppress the extreme hurt and longing that puddled and bubbled inside her. We discussed that openly. She admitted to having been in variously continuous states of drunkenness for some months now. And I empathised. She told me I seemed beyond my years, an old soul, and yet I found her way with words beguiling. It was the best cake I had ever eaten.
After a second coffee the shadows in the station drew long, like something out of a Drysdale landscape. Camille, having learned of my predicament, asked if I would like to come to her house, offering a bath, warm food and a bed. It wasn’t something I was in any place to refuse, so I gladly accepted her invitation, and we left the station to the nightly freakshow.
Camille paid for a taxi to her apartment. It seemed a well to do area and a lovely building. I could pinpoint it on a map to this day. We ascended a couple of flights to the third floor and she guided me into a small but perfectly ordered, if a little sparse, one bedroom flat. I noted immediately the double sliding doors that separated the bedroom from the living room, and was relieved to see two single beds either side of the bedroom. There was little in the way of furnishings throughout the apartment. A small dining table with two chairs tucked in the corner, two large leather armchairs dominated the space. There was no television, only a sound system. The adjoining kitchen was immaculately clean but well stocked. The fridge laden with wine, beer and cheese. I was suitably impressed. For an alcoholic, I thought, this woman still had lashings of pride to keep her house in such a state.
But things aren’t always as they seem.
But things aren’t always as they seem.