Nowhere In Particular
"This is sod's law at it's peak," I half-yelled at my camcorder as the rain hammered down onto the roof of the car. "We get to somewhere really scenic and it begins absolutely tipping it down!"
I picked the camera up and panned round the view I had of rain covered glass. "Good, eh?"
I clipped the camer back onto the dash and fired the engine up again, pulling back onto the road from the lay-by I'd stopped in.
"I guess I'll carry on driving until I find a campsite or something... You could get some stunning shots of this area on a good day," I rambled. "Drive up some of these farm tracks onto the hilltops..."
Suddenly something red stumbled out infront of the car from a style on my side of the road. I yanked the steering wheel hard right, then back hard left again in order to avoid the single car that had chosen this opportune moment to be on this otherwise deserted road. Remembering my gokarting days, I now stamped hard on the brakes causing the enormous (by British standards anyway!) truck's rear end to break away and flick round in a neat 180 to the chorous of four patches of rubber being dragged over the wet road surface.
The car came to a halt, shaking from side to side much as a dog does after it's finished drying itself. The person in red was standing frozen to the spot in the middle of the road. At least they were standing, meaning that my some miracle I'd missed them. I flicked the hazard-warning lights on, yanked my coat over from the back seat and stepped out into the downpour.
"You OK?" I yelled over the rain as I approached them.
"Uh, I think so," came the reply.
"Did I hit you?"
"Did my car hit you?"
"Uh, n... No... I don't think so," As I got closer to him, I saw that he was definitely a he, and looked to be just slightly younger than me, seventeen or so. His hair was moderately long and a dirty-ish blonde, matted together with the rain. He was wearing a bright red cagoule and had a fairly big rucksack on his back with a map tucked tightly under one of the shoulder straps.
"Can I offer you a lift anywhere?"
"I nearly killed you! Least I can do is offer you a lift. If you want, of course..."
"Oh - no - it was my fault - I tripped on the style..."
"Either way, I still nearly killed you."
The one (and about the only) thing I hate about driving is the thought of injuring or, God forbid, killing someone with a vehicle under my control. He looked at me shyly and smiled a wonderfully broad smile.
"Well, a lift to any village would be good - I'm kinda lost..."
"You out here alone?" He seemed slightly uneasy with my question, but grudgingly nodded his head.
"I was sposed to meet some mates but they never turned up... My bus had already left so I decided 'what the hell' and started the walk."
I smiled back at him reassuringly. "Not a problem. Harry," I said, holding out my hand to him.
"Chris," he replied, shaking my hand firmly.
"Bloody hell, you're freezing!" I remarked as our hands met. "Let's get you in the car."
We walked back to the white monster and I took his rucksack from him, hurling it into the boot. He gingerly opened the passenger door and clambered in as I climbed in the other side. I wound the heater control over to "incinerate" and switched the blower on, the warm air blasting out from numerous vents on and under the dash. Chris squirmed around in the passenger seat as he unwound his cagoule from round him, then raked his sodden hair out from his eyes.
Now I could see him better, his face had characteristics that could best be described as "chiselled" yet seemed to be somehow predisposed to smiling. I involuntarily smiled at him and turned the car round in a large arc in the middle of the road and continued in the direction I had originally been heading.
"What's with the camera?" he asked, looking towards the camcorder bolted to the dash as we trundled on our way.
"Huh? Ohh - I guess I'm trying to make a kind of video diary... I suppose I'm on holiday,"
"Hehe yeah - I just pointed the car in this direction and began to drive to see where I'd end up. I make videos as a hobby,"
"Cool. Nice camera, too."
"That? Nah - that's a little crappy one. The 'nice' one's in the boot. So, how old are you, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Just turned nineteen."
He must've noticed the look of surprise on my face. "I know I look a lot younger."
"No bad thing,"
"'Tis when you're trying to get served at the bar," he smiled.
"Oh yeah, never thought of that..."
"And when you can still sing soprano at sixteen." Now that took me off guard. Unsurprisingly, conversation continued to flow easily after that as I navigated the car round the windey lanes, us covering topics from footie to computers and just about everything inbetween. On retrospect, I think we drove through a couple of small villages without thinking about stopping - we found ourselves so involved in conversation that we didn't really want to part company.
It was refreshing to meet someone who seemed open minded and, in return, I think he was glad to have someone to talk to. He, like me, appeared to be hiding a minute amount of his true character that in casual conversation would be easily overlooked unless you were specifically listening for it, or rather the lack of it: Not once had we mentioned girls, and the way the conversation was heading it seemed as if neither of us was in any hurry to do so.
The weather obviously didn't feel any pressing need to stop the torrents of water falling from the sky - not that I really cared now. I was enchanted with my new companion: Not only did I feel physically attracted to him, but also was captivated by his near musical laugh, silky smooth, warm voice and his stunningly off-beat sense of humour that was nearly as bizarre as my own.
Naturally I had had crushes on other guys before, but somehow this felt different. I was actually becoming annoyed with myself for not being able to figure out why it felt different. My mind turned wholly to the task of driving the car as I pulled up at a 'T' junction and leant forward over the steering wheel to try and get a better view of the intersecting road, such was the length of the bonnet.
Then I found my answer: he was stealing the same looks at me as I was at him! The glances that became a lingering gaze when he thought I wasn't looking, the quick avertion of his eyes the moment I caught his gaze.
Nah - it couldn't possibly be.
I selected first gear, released the clutch and pulled over the road, trying not to get my hopes up too high. I had to get my mind out of his underwear. "You fancy a cupper? There's a little coffee shop just over there,"
"Ohhhh yeah - that'd be good." I pulled the car up at the side of the road and we ambled into the little shop. Inside it was cramped but obviously very well cared for. The walls plastered with pictures and framed newspaper cuttings depecting events that would seem completely inconsequential to many a passer-by but were obviously paramount to the locals.
A small, solid lady with a broad smile appeared behind the counter and greeted us, making idle chit-chat as I ordered a large pot of tea. "Let me get this," offered Chris as she handed me the tray.
"Nah, don't bother - I got it..."
"I insist." The way he said it made it immediately clear that it was not open to discussion. That was until he realised he couldn't find his wallet. I dragged a handful of coins from my pocket, telling the lady she could keep the change and led Chris over to one of the little tables by the window.
"Did you leave it in your rucksack?" I asked. "Sorry, I bet I sound like your mum..."
"I don't think so... Shit... It must've fallen out of my pocket when I fell over the style..."
"Did you have any cards on you?"
"No - just cash... My mum told me it'd be a lot of hassle if I... hehe... lost it. Don't you hate it when your parents are right?"
"Absolutely - but I have to admit actually listening to their advice usually helps."
"So... umm... where are you going to sleep this evening?"
"I dunno... I guess I'll find somewhere. I'll have to ring mum to see if she can get some money to me."
It was now or never.
"Or you could just sleep with me."
"In my tent, I mean..." I added hurridly. "It's certainly big enough."
"Really? That's OK with you?"
"Sure... More warmth at night."
DAMMIT! Must... get... mind... out of... underware!
He just twiddled his teaspoon and grinned up at me. I couldn't help but grin back.
"S'cuse me, do you know if there are any camp sites around here?" I asked the lady behind the counter again who was serrupticiously wiping down the counter top.
"Yes, me love - you could try the Meadow View caravan site about two miles up the road or Jackson's Bank Farm a couple of hundred yards that way," she said, pointing in the same direction we were heading. "See that leaflet behind you? No, one down... That's it - most of the camp sites are on there,"
I pulled the leaflet from the display rack behind me and opened it out on the table. Meadow View looked very nice, but seemed the kind of place that would be overinhabited by thirty-somethings complete with their two point four children and dog, whereas Jackson's Bank seemed a whole lot more secluded - it even backed onto a river. OK, so usually this was a recepie for Mosquito hell but with the heavy rain, I didn't think they would pose too much of a problem. Chris agreed and seemed very excited at the prospect, so we finished our teas and headed off towards Jackson's Bank Farm.
We pulled into the driveway and were told by the owners that there was no-one booked until the following evening, so I handed over twelve pounds and was told we could take our pick as to where we wanted to pitch.
At the far end of the field there was a bank that looked very much like the edge of the river's flood plain. With much complaining from the tired transfer gearbox, I dragged the range select into four wheel drive and headed in that general direction, fountains of water being hurled into the air by the tyres. I chose a spot that looked to be as smooth as we could hope for and parked up, the wheels on one side a short way up the embankment.
"Fancy giving us a hand with the tent?"
"Just as I was getting dry too,"
"You'll warm up again quickly when we're done."
"Promises, promises," he grinned.
"I didn't mean..." I tried to respond, but he had already pulled his cagoule back on and leapt out into the rain.
"How do we put this thing up then?" he asked, hauling the huge poles out of the back of the car and emptying them onto the sodden grass.
"See those three eyes welded to the roof rack?"
"Slide a pole through each of those and then through the matching one on the other side."
As much as I wanted to take credit for the design of this tent, it had to go to my dad. He had got fed up with caravans (horrible inventions) and "ordinary" tents that were too small to even stand up straight in, so he set to ripping our existing tent to bits and modifying it so it would sit snuggly against the side of any large van or 4x4.
Three poles slotted into the vehicles roofrack which acted as a huge frame for the canvas to be laid on. It then secured to the car itself by a set of press-studs that were rivited to the vehicle's roof and sills. The inner then clipped onto fabric loops to provde some insulation and an integrated waterproof groundsheet and, as they say, Robert is your Mother's brother.
Within a quarter of an hour, we had the entire contraption set up, complete with lights that ran from a second battey in the car. Once the finishing touch was up and running (a God-knows how old gas camping stove that simply refused to die) and the kettle perched precariously on top of it, I pulled my sleeping bag out of the car and lay down on it.
It was still light outside, but the torrential rain really wasn't particularly conducive to doing anything except sitting in the tent. With both of us armed with large plastic mugs of Brooke Bond's finest, we decided to settle down for the evening.
That's chapter two - to satisfy your curiosity, "interesting" things start to happen next chapter :-P
Also, a thankyou to everyone mailing me with supportive comments! I'm learning here, so the more you tell me where I'm going wrong or what I'm doing right, the more I can stop / continue (delete as appropriate) doing it! Let me know what you think - good or bad - by mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.