At Home in the Bushes is about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping and busking around the north of Britain. Following on from the last preview post this chapter finds me back at my woodland spot outside Hull, just about to set up camp…
I WAS always careful not to let anyone see me entering through the foliage and into my camp. Although this was not always possible. It is a game of chance that one must look upon realistically. Who would ever think to themselves that there is someone inhabiting that scruffy looking bunch of trees just beyond the roadside? Who would even glance that way and wonder such a thing? And even if they actually spotted you out of how many of them would be daring enough to investigate? The odds were in my favour. As long as I was quiet and flickered none too bright a light my whereabouts would never be considered, I would remain safe and completely hidden. I just tried not to snore too loud! It felt safe being tucked away, crammed in amongst the leaves. Charlie once told me, when he sees a tent pitched out somewhere obscure his first thoughts aren’t ‘Let’s have a wee nosey’, but rather, ‘Who the hell is that madman in the tent?’. This gave me some extra peace of mind, kind of settled things for me whenever I came to worry. He was right, it was what I thought too. I was the madman in the tent, and don’t you forget it!
As soon as I was in it was fine, it was just the initial transition which proved problematic. I’d first approach the area cautiously, look around to and fro, squinting into the distance, checking back and forth that the area was completely clear and that no one was around. And then, once I was sure it was okay to do so, I went in for the quick dash. I’d grab the seat with one hand and the handlebars with the other, make sure I had a firm hold, and then, launch! Into the bushes in one swift thrust. I’d force myself through the bristles and spikes, all of which would scratch, poke and stab me as I fell past. It was always an awkward transaction. But, then I would be in. Immersed. Or rather, engulfed. Safe. On the other side, like stepping through a mirror. They couldn’t see me, but I could see them! At this time of year the trees were so full of greenery that once I was a few metres in, poof! I was gone, lost in a mirage of interwoven bracts.
My current woodland, beside the A164, outside Hull, really came to life at night. During the day it had appeared almost lifeless, but now that the sun had set and all the traffic had calmed around us it seemed to wake up and begin going about its shady business. Creatures of all creepy varieties could be heard scurrying over and under the twigs. Rustlings far off and near. One would catch my hearing: “What was that?” I’d ask myself, all puzzled, startled and afraid. My ears would twitch like a dog’s. It was very easy to get afraid. Too easy. The darkness could seem very frightening. But, only if one didn’t know how to relax. There were a few clouds still looming in the sky, some which you could see at least, the tips of which carried an ominous, grey and eerie glow. The moon shone gauntly through the branches, it was big, almost full, and gently illuminated all around me just enough, so I could see that there were lots of things that I couldn’t see. I must admit, I did get a little alarmed from time to time, me being there all on my lonesome, I was scared of the dark eventualities which might occur. Time takes on a different appearance, it adheres to a different scale, minutes can bend seeming like hours and days. But I’d be okay, I knew that. I found great pleasure in letting go, giving myself up, casting my destiny into the evening’s hands of fate. The terror and solitude felt cleansing, as though it was toughening me up, thickening my skin, yet softening my touch so that I could feel the true beauty of the night. I never found it hard getting to sleep. The problem was staying asleep.
I began to fall into a soft, calm doze, grazing the foamy padded walls of unconsciousness as I descended. Then, all of a sudden: “KAWOOOOUUGH!!!! KAWOOOOOUUGH!!” Piercing from the shadows. Nowhere to be seen. Each shrill shriek seemed to ring out from a different direction. “KAWOOOUUGH!!! KAWOOOOOUUGH!!” It got louder. It got nearer too. It sounded as though it was right upon me. I shook the tent. I growled. I jumped outside and began kicking and flapping my arms like a maniac, trying with all my effort to frighten off this deranged being. But nothing seemed to work. “KAWOOOUUGH!! KAWOOOOOUUGH!!!” It continued. I urinated all around the tent, surely the scent of my manly human pee would let him, or it, know with what creature it was dealing. But no, he was safe in the knowledge of my two tone vision.
He kept on for an hour or so, bragging to his friends. I’m pretty sure it was some kind of owl. Apparently it’s actually two owls which make the “Twit, Twoo” sound which we all know them best for, one sounds quite strange and elongated without the other. But this one was strange even more so. Something was up with him, or her, it sounded as though there was something sharp stuck somewhere fleshy. The distraught and screeching sounds echoed throughout the night. “The joys of camping!” I told myself as I tried my best to ignore it.
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