At Home in the Bushes is about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping and busking around the north of Britain. This chapter finds me about to enter Whitby, North Yorkshire, reminiscing on my first encounter with the town…
I’d been to Whitby before. Only once though, for a few weeks. Me and my pal Luke were living in a rusty old Bedford campervan, exploring the sights of Yorkshire, when we happened to stumble upon the place. We’d made some friends, met some interesting people, people who you can talk to about things you are really interested in. Musical folk, with whom throughout a handful of drunken evenings we had procured a rather memorable bond. Of all the wonderful things I have mentioned which makes Whitby such a special and magical place, it is the friends and people that I met there which made it so extremely splendid for me. And on the day we met I had a feeling it might be so……..
It was a rather gloomy night late on in October. The moon was full and it was raining heavily, thick needles of precipitation pelleted down from the heavens above. We had found an excellent spot, parked up in a car park on the West Cliff, overlooking the sea. The wind really roared up there, battering it’s gusty fists upon the thin walls of the rocking campervan. Earlier on in the day we had noticed that there was an open mic night happening in one of the coffee shops in town. So we decided to head down to sing some songs.
The rain went from heavy to furious. It was gale force conditions. Luke managed to find a broken umbrella in a bin, which at first provided some small amount of shelter, but was soon of no use as the high winds kept on inverting it, exposing the sharp, metal prongs. Halloween was close approaching and when we got to the coffee house in which the open mic was taking place the whole shop was lit up with winking pumpkins.
The door eased to a close as we made our way in shaking off the water which had sodden and stained our coats and hair. I remember having wet trousers. It was great to get out of the rain, if but a little extreme during the transition. It was small. Close. Intimate. Sat on high stools were just six or seven peoples and five or six guitars. “You guys come to play us a few tunes?” Asked the guy who seemed to be running things.
“Er, yeah, er, if that’s okay?” Answered Luke, quickly pitching back a humble quandary.
“Yeah, sure. We always want more music. And musicians.” Said the guy, “These guys here are going to play a few first, and then maybe you guys can go on after. It’ll give you a chance to get warmed up, get a brew inside yous.”
It came to our turn and we played them a few of our songs. Luke was an excellent lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, much as myself. Between us both we had knocked up a few handfuls of catchy songs, which at will could be whopped out and sang into crowds. We were well practised, and quite rightly so. And they went down well, and us even more so. Everyone clapped and sang our praises. “That was awesome.” Said one guy. “Yeah, good tunes.” Said another.
“You both gonna come over next week?” Asked the guy who was running it, as the evening drew to a close. Then came the word, the sentence, the explanation which defined us both as people, a phrase which we both relished in saying: “We live in a van” and then Luke added, “Erm, not sure if we’ll still be here next week, but yeah, we will if we are.”
“You live in a van!!” They all kind of perked up. “Wow, living the dream!” “Life on the road!” “Sticking it to convention!”
We talked some more about things, and then someone mentioned a pub down the road that would let us play a few more songs. “You both fancy staying out for a couple more drinks?” Someone asked.
“Ah, we haven’t got any money.” That was another phrase of ours, one we didn’t enjoy saying quite as much.
“Ah, I’ll get you a couple.” Said the guy who was running things, and we followed them all back outside where the bad weather had abated somewhat.
We made our introductions on the steep twists of Golden Lion Bank. His, the guy who organised things, name was Dave, but everyone called him Shack. “I’m Tom.” I told him, as I firmly grasped his big, strong hand. “Oh aye, we’ve got another Tom ‘ere.” He replied, gesturing across to one of the quieter guys with a guitar who stepped up and also shook my hand. “Ten foot Tom.” added one of the girls, making me feel nine foot tall. “How’s it going man.” I asked him.
“Y’alright mate.” He replied.
There was also Bruno, the mischievous larksman of the group, his girlfriend Flo, and Tom’s girlfriend Hetty as well. After talking together a little more we suddenly appeared at the pub doorway in a huddle, me and Luke making a dash for the fireplace which was burning away heartily.
“So, how long you been on the road?” Asked Bruno after we had sat down for drinks.
“Erm, about a month.” Replied Luke in his soft, Midland accent, “We just got here a few days ago from York.”
“And you just stay in the van?” He enquired, “Going wherever you like, wherever the wind takes you?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” We both sniggered.
“What happens when you need a crap?” Asked Shack.
“Well, you just find yourself a nice bush and pull your pants down.” I, a bit too confidently, informed him.
“Yeah, but what if you’re parked up in a town? Well, I guess you just go to the pub, don’t you.” He answered himself.
“Yeah.” I agreed, knowing full well that I had visited many more bushes than pubs along the trip. This pub we were in seemed to be quite swanky, it was definitely the kind you could crap in.
They didn’t let us play our guitars for long, just a couple of songs, but after sitting near the fire for an hour or so I managed to dry out my trousers. We had a few more beers, and then it continued from there. There was plenty of music going on in the town, plenty of places to play. In the three short weeks that we stayed there we caught up with them all two or three times in each to exploit the small venues which accommodated live sounds. Tom ran an open mic in the ‘Beez’ bar just along the road. Plus there was the Royal George Hotel, Rosie O’ Gradys, where Tom and Shack played a few gigs. They let us do a few songs during one of their intervals which, along with some of Shack’s sweet talking, scored us our own gig there.
It was the last thing we did in the town. The next day we left and headed back south, putting the bundle of bank notes they so kindly paid us for the evening inside the petrol tank. I don’t think we even said goodbye. But we’d said hello so well that that didn’t matter. There’d been plenty of handshakes, tipped hats, clunked glasses. And it all quite felt that we might meet again.
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