I had not learnt my lesson on the first occasion, when from the life as a seasonal barman on the Mediterranean coast and skiman in the Alpine resorts, I was thrown into the fashion trade, an industry designed for its viscous life style. You had to be part of the team, a member of the club, integrated into the delicate network held together by chain e-mails and bi-annual trade shows. I had gone off the boil after living seven years on the road; my body had had enough of the faceless hotels, their starch clean sheets, the same “Euro breakfast”, the good mornings of the staff, all a constant reminder that you were not at home but on the highway again.
Over the years the industry had changed from the exciting times of development; sprouting catch words which have found their own place in our society, to a machine where money was the be all and end all. The accountant’s had arrived, the fun had ended. The retail end had changed; the small customer orientated surf shops found in each village a product of the past, eaten up by the multi national machine, the supermarkets of our global times.
The original owners had seen enough. Life must have needed new boundaries; they made the logical move, sold up and left. Leaving with them, a void, a car with its spark plugs mixed up, the company continued to run, but she would not accelerate the command arrived but not in the right order. We were left to hold together the miss firing machine, not sure of the plugs correct order. The company with its new out look to the sportswear market, did not mix with the old skhool, the story happens all over the world, the managers from the old set up leave and a new breed takes over. With the added confusion and their own new goals, the pressure is placed on the staff, giving everybody a problem that they would rather live without. The new manager has the problem of keeping his own head afloat, while the team adjusts to the new rules in a fragmented manner.
I had that overpowering feeling that it was time too move again, the company had been changed by the never-ending internal wars, which were splitting its soul; it was time to look for new openings.
It was the easy way out, the door had been opened and all that I had to do was to take the step. The next day I moved away into another world, away from the office, where in the mornings, I had spent my time shifting paper as the new managers placed their own soldiers in the line. The drifting afternoons would follow the same tune, the old team being left for dead in the field, the years of information lost with the signing of the redundancy check. The end result of seven years building a product came to an end. I walked out of the office confused with what I had been manipulated into doing by the higher powers seated in an unseen bureau half way across the world. What would be the next development in life, only time will tell, but one thing was sure I would not be getting a new company car.
I was lost, looking for a friends house on the edge of the Thames, which I seemed unable to locate after one hour of searching, so much for my natural gyro! I was going the wrong way again, so I backtracked to Lambeth Bridge for the second time that night.
The light rain was making it difficult to read the road signs, which in their turn seemed to be hiding behind the spray of the cars. The road was clear with no with cars or taxis on the receding horizon, so I u turned at the next crossroads and backtracked towards the bridge checking the road names once again while looking for the exit.
The first object that came into my vision were his eyes locked onto mine as I was catapulted out of my seat, missing my bike and his car as I was thrown into the air away from the impact zone. The time had been too short for me to react, his approach invisible to any of my senses as he crossed over from the inside lane on the other side of the road. The rusty aerial was my only direct contact with the car as it cut into my jacket, leaving its own trace of my passage.
He had not seen me in his rush to get home. Above his car was the only possible way out and luck was on my side, my path was clear. I still remember the abnormal sensations of looking down through the streetlights at the locals waiting out side their pub for the door to open. They were talking with each other, as I flew through the air forming an elongated elliptical curve down the dotted line. I came back to earth hard with my shoulder taking the first impact. It was well shielded, armed by the protective shoulder pads; this unnaturally powerful action sent the impact to my head. My helmet with me inside rebounded off the tarmac, doing what it had been designed for and dispatched the main energy away from my brain, the force of the impact knocking me out in a microsecond.
While flying through the air above the accident scene, I had decided that I was walking out from this world, the impact of the car too quick for me to understand; a gap in my visual understanding. The crowd who had been waiting to get into the pub had gathered for a closer look, the noise of the impact a call sign for everybody in the neighborhood.
“Don’t move him, his head bounced on the road like a ball,” were the first words I captured, as I regained my shocked senses lying on the floor. The Cockney accent was clearly breaking up the fuzzy messages that were sweeping my now slowly regenerating brain cells.
”I’m back down” were the only words I could muster from my own semi-consolidating world. They said that I had rag dolled it for over fifty metres after the first impact with the car. Then I had taken off again, landing on the tarmac protected by the Carbon and Kevlar body armour which had then propelled me ten more metres before coming to land on my back. I had lady luck on my side mixed with the chance of a cat that there had been no other vehicles or badly placed road signs in my flight path that damp evening in London.
The motorbike was another matter, the front forks had been pushed up into the motor, the front wheel following their route, had taken on a new shape, lining up the aluminium spokes against the engine sump. Scattered across the four lanes, pieces of plastic and fibre-glass could be seen reflected in the on coming car lights producing a warning to all new arrivals of the dangers of riding a motorbike.
The car had not got off lightly; the ageing steel had been crushed in the 60 mph crash. The resulting action was a motor and fan mixed together across the now badly distorted engine bay and a new palette of colours thrown hastily across the redesigned front wing.
I was checked over by the police who had arrived quickly on the scene with the full fanfare of lights and sound. They were helpful in their investigation. After I had passed the drink drive tests they guided me all the way, from collecting the compacted bike lying in the middle of the road to signing the insurance papers. The most blown away by the ordeal were the locals, who I had first seen as I flew through the air. I offered to buy them a beer in the pub as I waited for the recovery of the bike. The look in their eyes was of wonder, not a surprise considering the unusual circumstances in which we had met.
I was lucky that Anna, who’s house I was trying to get too, arrived on the scene and vanished me away to more comfortable places than a Brixton pub. After a few more phone calls and stiff drinks, I crawled my way to bed where I spent the night floating on the edge of pain, as the numerous knocks started to crawl their way to the surface of my body.
The next morning, with my grazed remains sticking to the blankets, I was given painkillers and coffee, the result getting me onto my feet. I hobbled around the house, checking that all of my body parts were still correctly attached and not left hanging on the bedclothes. I had been lucky the night before. Only minor damage to me, a few new friends in the back streets of Brixton and a crushed bike now sitting in the back of a van with the Friday night collection. Anna stepped out of her bedroom, a look of concern in her eyes as she saw me trying to do my shoes up, the scab from yesterday had started to dry, leaving me the limited movement of an aging man. The joke seemed to be on me, as the days proposed activity involved easing my body into a fast sports car and driving to Henley-on-Thames to watch the boat race and spend time with a group of Anna’s friends; the Cambridge old rowing colours.
“Are we still going to the regatta or do you want to watch it on television?”
”I’ll be ok, my body seems to have bonded it’s self together during the night with a few extra pieces of fine Indian cotton and fluff.”
”Good, I’ll get the ironing board out, you’ll fit into the car more easily”.
”Very funny, if you heat me up too much I’ll stick to the seat and you will never get me out of the car”
”Don’t worry I’ve got an ice scraper in the glove compartment, that should do the job when we get to the regatta” was her cheerful reply.
The drive out of London was painless; the congested weekday traffic had given way to the weekenders, leaving deserted streets and control to the speed cameras. We pulled into Henley-on-Thames in time for the racers and spectators lunch break. In the car park behind the beer tents of the regatta, rugs had been laid out on the grass verges. With hampers full, Champagne and Pims flowing, here was English society at its best on a day out.
Finding the cars belonging to Anna’s university associates was the best way to stop my throbbing body giving pain messages to my brain. That problem was deciphered with the telephone and a placement next to the river was the address. Half an hour later the alcohol was doing its predestined work and after the second pint, the knocks of last night had at last been put to a temporary rest, only the memory was still there, appearing when the dampening effect of the Pims started to wear off.
While sitting on the grass next to the diminishing hamper watching the river’s aquatic activities, my attention were drawn towards the live-on barges navigating up and down the centre of the waterway. My thoughts locked onto what were attached to most of them; bicycles.
”Anna, have you ever been on a barge?” Was the question that came from my wandering thoughts.
“I’m going to have to buy one”
“Come on, what will you do with it, you will not stay in England for the winter, all of your joints will stiffen up and you’ll be on the first plane out to find some hot in Morocco”.
“No, not the barge, just the concept of it, my life needs the security of a home base for it to develop into the adventure that I’m looking for.”
The consequences of the evening above the street lamps had left their mark; I was going to have to make a few active changes in the way that I got about. The initial plan of using a motorbike as my method of transport was going to have to be thought through again with the squashed machine now being broken for its pieces, I had reaffirmed to myself that the bike was realistically too light to live on. “I know all Himalayan attempts start from a base camp before driving for the summit” was Anna’s reply to my Champagne induced thought pattern “but what’s the concept?”
My answer to the dilemma was on the water, an arrangement that had been used for generations, the marine tender. Mine would be the barge of the land.
I smiled as the idea developed into a vivid picture. “A camping car with a light motorbike slung on the back, that will give me the comfort of putting my bags somewhere and the mobility when the house was static.”
I had found a new address. A Camper.