Last weekend we were standing in a queue for an ATM in the small market town of Hay-on-Wye. I was convinced to go to the small market town of Hay-on-Wye because it is a pilgrimage for bibliophiles. What is it about the suffix -phile that still makes me feel a bit dirty? I love books. I love every kind of books. Oh my god I’m thinking about books again. I really love books.
We were standing in a queue for an ATM in the small market town of Hay-on-Wye because I was desperate for money for books. It turns out that Powys is yet to catch up on the flash-in-the-pan fad that is card-based transactions. While in the queue, giving the licking of a lifetime to a two scoop from Shepherds Ice Cream Parlour, we heard a woman in the queue behind us comment (loudly) on my girlfriend’s calf tattoo – a calligraphy-looking quote from the (confusing to me at least) world of DragonAge. Specifically, the comment was derogatory towards us but addressed towards her young daughter. “Don’t ever do anything like that to yourself when you’re older” we and the rest of the queue heard her say.
Now I’m all for people saying what they want but only if it isn’t to belittle the appearance of another. There are any number of reasons that people get tattoos. There could be something they are celebrating, something they are covering, something they find inspirational or something they just wanted for the sake of wanting. It isn’t for anyone else to decide whether it is appropriate. Here is my open letter to that rude woman.
Dear rude women in a queue for an ATM in the small market town of Hay-on-Wye,
I do not appreciate your attitude. When I was a young Schierneckerling, my brothers and I were given a series of similar life lessons from mother dearest. She has since come off the boil a tad and now just worries about me getting murked by killer bees in Arizona. She would see someone with a mohawk, someone with a neck tattoo, someone with a pierced nose and instantly condemn them openly to us. She worried we would become a motorcycle gang full of rent boys or something. There are much worse things to be, like a politician. The problem was that each time she pointed one of these people out, someone who had decided to make a mark, stand out, be brave, be different, it only served to warm them to our little hearts. They say girls love a bad boy, well, so did we.
When you (loudly) told your young and highly impressionable daughter that you didn’t approve of my girlfriend’s tattoo, which is neither unsuitable or vulgar to have on display in any way, shape or form, you gave your daughter a way to rebel. One day that little girl will be a teenager and she will be overwhelmed by a desire to do something to royally piss you off, even if you have only ever done well by her and served her food from M&S. I hope she invests in whatever sub-culture is kicking about in a decade. I hope she realises that you’re a fallible human being like the rest of us and can make her own opinion on things.
My brothers and I all have tattoos. They mean something to us. They show where we have come from. Yes, even that one on the back of Edd’s arm of a spider being sick on itself. I’m not going to go into the reason for all of them. I know I have the least (currently six).
We also all have piercings.
We have broken bones.
We have broken laws.
We have made mistakes.
All I am saying is that it goes both ways. You have a lot of responsibility as a mother but don’t expect to not have to change. You are going to have to question the things you have thought and your expectations. Your daughter will no doubt do amazing things but that doesn’t mean she won’t be doing it without a bunch of shit pierced through her face.
This week I have started redrafting my book about my time trekking in Peru. It is between titles at the moment. I was shocked to discover the level of exposure I had given to how poorly I became on my trek. I’m concerned it might be a bit much for a travel journal but wanted to share it and get some feedback now. Here is an excerpt from the Peru Journal…
I awoke sweating in the darkness. Something was terribly wrong. I started to take off layers of clothing. Each direction I moved in made my stomach churn. I had been in such a deep sleep it took a while for me to recognise the symptoms of what I was going through. I unzipped my sleeping bag and lay in my boxer shorts in the mountains trying not to think about it.
Believing makes it so.
I could hear the ache in my guts. I was in a bad way. I worried the noise would wake Matt. I scrambled out of my bed, kicking down the sleeping bag, threw a t-shirt and my trousers on and wandered out into what I took to be approximately four am. The air was cold but felt good against my skin. I was prickly with sweat. My entire being was pulsating. Realising I had left the safety of our womb with just my iPhone for company, I switched the flashlight function on and gave the whole camp a cursory once over with the beam. Not a creature was stirring except for a turd. I walked straight across the camp in search of salvation. Eddie had said the toilet tent was shaped like a rocket. It stood just behind the row of tents and was easy to spot in the half-light. I didn’t fancy my chances given what I figured I was about to expel. I decided to test out the toilet tent in the next field. That way it would be the problem of another group when the sun rose on a new day. I realised I wasn’t in the desert anymore and couldn’t refer to it as the happy room. There was nothing happy about the situation. On the top of a hill were two fixed toilets belonging to the campsite. I opened the door on what looked like a barn from a low-budget Nativity. I was ready to deliver my own immaculate conception. When the iPhone flashlight caught on the stained plastic of the toilet and the brimming activity within I knew it wasn’t to be and continued up to the outhouse-looking motherfucker at the top of the incline. Here I hoped I would find my tranquillity. I opened the door and discovered there was just a hole in the ground with two risen feet shapes above a tray where the goods were to be delivered. The system was filtered by a garden hose running up the hill, under the door and trickling water into the hole. It was a McGyver job at best. I closed the door and lowered my trousers without letting them become victim to the mess of ground-in shit left on the floor. I gagged on the remnants of the last few occupants and then squatted back, trying to make sure I wasn’t about to unload into my own pants and let the bullets fly. The scattergun effect my body returned for the favour of finding somewhere nice and serene for a shit was not natural. It was real horror show. It was both barrels of a shotgun being blasted through an arse. I was a brown Jackson Pollock.
I took a fresh pack of Kleenex from my pocket and started a clean up job equivalent to clearing a dead body from the train tracks with tweezers. There was a carrier bag in the corner full of discarded tissue because when in the mountains, you can’t be flushing shitty toilet paper down the system. It would be an underestimate to call it full. It would have been impossible to fit another tissue in without touching the others. I wondered how much hand sanitiser I had. I worried I would never feel clean again. One sheet at a time was applied to my pulsing anus as I tried to conduct the kind of damage control you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. I was reminded of when Vince and Jules have to clean the dead body out the back of the car in Pulp Fiction. We are talking Tarantino levels of excrement.
When I turned around to inspect my hard work, feeling a refreshing wave of nausea in my throat and creeping sweat on my skin I discovered it hadn’t been the neat departure into the hole I had been hoping for. They had a smaller target when they blew up the Death Star. Here I was shitting on womp rats in my T-16 (niche gag).
There was no way I could leave things in the way my bowels had intended. It was the definition of everywhere. It was almost impressive. I was one Roy Castle short of being a Record Breaker. I knew I was going to have to do a rush clean up job, like a battered spouse attempting to mop up the blood after bludgeoning their partner to death with a household object. With the light in one hand I bent down and picked up the hose supplying the only flow of water in what was fast becoming a tomb dedicated to the memory of my shit. I expected to find mourners outside laying flowers. I started trying to spray down the back wall and pipework I had recently decorated. Each time I moved the hose there was a drop in water pressure and it dribbled out. I yanked a further couple of feet in from wherever the source was and draped it over my head. I was getting desperate. Every second I remained in that shitty outhouse was another second I was about to be discovered. The water, thankfully, started to flow. I cleaned up as best I could in the light I had available, swinging my iPhone torch around the space and then weeping internally, I returned to my tent.
The problem with having the shits of course is that it’s never over. The best comparison would be the death of Michael Myers at the end of every Halloween film made for over twenty years. You know that fucker will return. It doesn’t matter how dead you think the matter is, how final the score, it’s coming back for another sequel.
This week I was asked to go and see a new production of a play with my friend. I have noticed that recently I struggle to find the time to fit in good time with my friends and I know I’m mostly to blame for it. As we get older, people are harder to draw together and track down. I feel like I’m still in the loop because of the constant feed of their social media but it just isn’t the same. At a friend’s party in February I tried to do the catching up thing with an old friend and we both realised, over a couple of gins, that we already knew the trials and tribulations of each others lives because of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and our blogs keeping us in touch. FaceTime can’t compare to face time.
We met in the pub, the best meeting places for friends, particularly when one is stuck in traffic and the other is me and has a healthy supply of literature and lager to hand. It was then he confessed the play wasn’t on until ten. Bloody thespians, we both had work the following morning. What was this 10pm nonsense. The arts should be confined and curfewed to meet my demands.
We eloped to a nearby Italian restaurant and for the next two hours we caught up on everything that had been happening in the couple of months since we had last seen each other. It is crazy to think how much my life has changed in the last three months. How I have gone from questioning what I was doing and who I was doing it for to feeling in the best mental spot I’ve been in this year at least. I’ve written at length in the past about my history of anxiety and depression and to be in a moment of clarity like the one I am enjoying at the moment is blissful.
We sat and we talked and we laughed. We tried to work out whether the waitress assumed we were a couple. We both ordered tiramisu and coffee and I realised that it didn’t matter how long the time in between us seeing each other was, we were still able to jump in on the friendship. I’m fortunate to have that capacity with a number of my friends. What was there stays there.
After the play, which was excellent, and watched from behind a bassist, we joined two of the cast for a quick drink and then high-tailed it out of Islington for the long drive home. This was where things became interesting. There is something beautiful about two friends with a common destination (home) bearing down upon it in a great car. Train journeys are best railed solo. Planes need entertainment but you sit me in a car with a good friend and just watch us fly. It explains why there are so many great stories which take place between buddies on road trips – The Puffy Chair, Little Miss Sunshine, Easy Rider, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Stamp Collective.
With nothing but the strobing streetlights, the long A13 ahead of us and one another we started to tell stories. They would meander and overlap and we would get caught up on stupid details and then come back to the crux of the matter but when we pulled up outside my flat I wasn’t ready for it to end, even if I did have to be up for work in around four hours. There’s a lot to be gained from putting yourself in close proximity to someone you truly enjoy the company of. I’ve done what I can to preserve to anonymity of our conversational content because we would both be for the high jump but I’m glad I got to be that particular navigator.