Chapter 66: Living a Lie
Neston to London
The strong winds of the night before had brought a lingering gloom. I packed my tent as dog walkers came up the footpaths. I came alongside an old man as I walked into Neston. He was ambling along a hedge-lined lane, his hands behind his back. His name was Brian. I told him I’d spent the night by the marsh, listening to the breeze through the grass and he chuckled.
“I hitchhiked in my youth,” he began, summoning the memory with ease, “55 years ago I hitched back from a wedding in Paris, which sounds very high-faluting.” I wondered what he meant. After the wedding, he went to the Munich Olympics, Oktoberfest and on round Europe. “I remember it very clearly,” he said, “I joined a queue of hitchhikers in the south of France. In those days it was so common you had to queue sometimes. There was a girl, they always got lifts quicker you see, and when a driver pulled up he asked if we were together. I quickly said ‘yes!’ and jumped in too. I skipped the queue completely!” He chuckled again.
“Further on I met a Geordie,” he continued, “He travelled all the time. That was his life, travelling. I’m not sure it was a very good life, but that was his life. We spent the night by the roadside and he told me to stay away from him in the night. He kept a knife under his pillow and he’d assume the worst if I didn’t. It sounds unfriendly but he wasn’t really.”
Brian went all the way to Barcelona. He’d arranged to meet a girl but she never arrived so he came home. His look seemed to wonder what would have happened if she had.
We came up the lane towards town. Cyclists crossed left to right ahead of us, hunched over their handlebars. There was a charity race from Liverpool to Chester. Brian’s wife was serving drinks for them but he didn’t think she’d be doing much. If they’d made it to Neston this early they would be racing seriously, not stopping for tea and cakes. “They’ve probably been inspired by the Tour de France,” he mused, “Much like how everyone will be picking up their rackets now that Wimbledon has started.” It’s amazing how sport can do that I said, thinking of the sportsmen I was inspired by growing up.
There was a click and a clunk and a cyclist changed gear. Brian and I reached a crossroads. He went right and I left so we said our goodbyes. Neston was peeling a bit at the edges. Pebble dash houses with boarded windows and strange streaks of ugly liquid. I walked to the main road.
There wasn’t a good place to stand and I couldn’t get a lift. The traffic kept going and going. In the end I walked the few miles to the next village, along brick walls and under beech trees. It was another half an hour in a petrol station before a couple stopped. James was driving and his wife Ali moved to the backseat with the kids. They were going to Wales to get milk and cheese.
James had eczema. It flaked his skin and made it look sore and dry. He told me he’d had it since childhood. The steroid cream he’d used for most of his life did nothing so he came off it and is now focusing on his diet. Doctors hadn’t helped, they’d never got it right. “I’ve been going to doctors my whole life and they’ve never sorted it out,” he told me saltily. Now he only consumed unpasteurised milk and raw cheese. That’s why they were going to Wales. It was the only place he could get it from.
He had tried a vegan diet before but he felt weak on it so now he was trying the opposite. He eats pretty much only meat and fish and makes sure it’s well-sourced, free range and organic. It had improved his mood already and his field-reared eggs came from just up here on the left. He pointed to a sign with a happy chicken on it. He kept it all recorded on a chart. Mood, energy levels, concentration, sex drive. Each one he marked out of ten each day. The carnivore diet was showing up well.
“We’ve got so far from nature,” he told me, “our food is so unnatural. Antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals, bacteria in food… We consume this stuff all our lives and it’s so bad for us. Something like 52% of kids have autoimmune diseases.” He thought it was caused by babies having antibiotics, not breastfeeding and having vaccines. “The vaccines cause such a big immune response that they can be damaging. Especially since many aren’t tested properly. That’s why they don’t release a lot of the data.”
We reached the end of the peninsular and they dropped me off. I wasn’t far from Manchester so I called my friend to see if he was around. By chance he said he was about to drive to London. He’d give me a lift if I could get to the Knutsford services in under half an hour.
It was about a half-hour drive so I needed a lift quickly. I was lucky. A huge pickup with giant bulging tyres roared to a stop. It had one of those chimney-like exhausts that poked out over the cabin.
Keith was a heavy-set man, quite gruff but chatty. He recalled hitchhiking in Singapore when he was younger. “I got picked up by one family, they were weeiirdd!” Why’s that, I asked. “Well they didn’t let me go for two weeks…! They had me to stay and then I got stuck going from one thing to the next and the more they do for you the ruder it is to walk out, but they just wouldn’t let me leave!”
He offered to take me right to the services, even though it was down the motorway and out of his way. He told me about his business fitting fire alarms as we went. It was good trade. He worked for several footballers and celebrities. One time he did a job for a footballer and a few days later the house got robbed. It was awful, the place got smashed up, the wife was raped, the safe caved in. He got pulled up with all his workers and interrogated in case it had been an inside job.
He had four sons, the eldest of which fit fire alarms for him. We were in the service station by now and standing in the line for Greggs. Keith told me to get a sandwich if I wanted. “Each alarm costs 400k a pop and the boy gets 70/80k each time. Does that twice a year so he’s happy.” He bought the second son a scaffolding company, the third was at Oxford and the fourth was still at school. He got a large black coffee and we walked back out. He shook my hand in the car park and climbed back into his pickup.
Two minutes later my friend arrived. It was perfect timing. Tom’s a rugby player and was driving to London for camp. The world cup was coming up. He told me to jump in the back, he had a couple of mates with him. Bevan was in the front and Manu was in the back. They called Manu Chief. I could see why but he spent most of the journey asleep. He said he didn’t like being in the front because he didn’t like having to talk. He was very friendly nonetheless. I’d grown up watching him play and it was a funny coincidence given my conversation with Brian a few hours before.
We watched the cricket on the way south. For a moment it looked like Stokes might do it and chase down Australia’s score but he didn’t in the end. The others talked about camp, their regimes and the schedule that had just been sent. They all read theirs out. 9 o’clock ball skills, 9:10 conditioning… There was a cricket match on Sunday. “I hope it’s hardball,” Tom said.
Bevan was worried he’d be under the weight he’d been set so he drank bottles and bottles of water to help fool the scales. We had to stop a couple of times which annoyed Tom. He threatened to drive on each time but Bevan’s threat of weeing in the car was worse. They both agreed Chief wouldn’t stand it so we’d have to stop. They looked round at him asleep and laughed.
As we came into London their mate Ellis called. Bevan said they had a hitchhiker. “No… we didn’t just pick him up…” he said on the phone, “He’s one of Tom’s mates…Well he hitchhiked from the Wirral to Knutsford, which admittedly isn’t very far…Tell him he’s a liar!… Nico? Ellis says you’re a liar!”
There wasn’t much I could say in return, especially when they asked how I’d be getting back to Camberwell from Teddington.
“Err,” I replied sheepishly, “by train…”
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