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Andrew Evans

Image: Unsplash, downloaded ( 07.10.2023.


Well, It was fantastic. I would have said, exactly what I thought it would be, but that would be a disservice. I was having the time of my life in this beautiful place, and I had no intention of my adventures coming to an end anytime soon, My open ended travel ticket was still valid, but I was very close to haemorrhaging the puny savings in my groaning bank account.

Still, I had enough for my food and drinks and my clothes were clean, so I saw no rush to get home. Not to my mind numbing job and those awful, fake people. Or is it me who is fake? Anyway, they can shove it. I'll get another tinpot job when I get home. Its only to pay bills. In fact, I might never even go home. So there. That is that. I'm not living like a drone anymore.

So, with my bold, unsubstantiated plan in place, where to next? Well, off I went on the underground rail system, while I still had a week on the pass to use up, before I had to eat into my screaming funds. I crossed the border out of one country and hopped over into the next one.

Culture, I wanted. New things, new people, new outlooks. I wasn't going to find that where I was, doing what I was doing...


I was not particular about where I slept. You couldn't afford to be. Literally. There was usually a hostel or a bed and breakfast place, and a lot of the people in these magnificent countries were so much more naturally friendly than where I lived. Pushing and shoving past me in the mornings. Grunting at best.

Friendliness, a dying art.

This is why I'm done with it. Them. Or I'll become one. Pushing, shoving. Grunting at best.

These folk here, did not glance up from glowing screens and sneer at you. Or look vacantly through you when you offered a cheery 'good morning'. Or chat away on Facebook and turn away in public. These folk here, didn't flash a beaming, sharp smile and then let you catch a flicker of disgust as they turned away.

Only smiling at me for show. Only there to make their company more money from selling garbage to consumers hungry for upgrades on whatever they were upgrading.

I was away from it now. Not here. Not anywhere, ever again would I go back to that way of living. I'd rather pick fruit and sleep in a barn.

I knew I could be pessimistic at times. My grandfather had said to me, "Never expect anything of anybody and you'll never be disappointed."

Grandma had told him, 'Don't tell him that, not everyone's like that.' He raised his eyebrows, 'aren't they?' and went back to his book.

Like my grandfather, I had seen nothing to convince me not to be cynical in recent years. So I booked the flight, packed my gear and fu... well, you know the rest!

I did not want to be treading water anymore, in this metaphorical swimming pool, full of screen staring sheep. I was one of the herd myself, drowning in technology. A world of celebrity television, vile lunatic sex-addled dirty creatures, being lauded as inspirational.

False news. True news, that gets airbrushed from history or deleted by fact checkers. Who appointed the fact checkers? What are fact checkers? Who made them judge and jury?

"That bloody book's changed you." Said a friend in reference to my reading of George Orwell's 1984. I had realised that this stuff was already inside me. Orwell was just articulate enough to erm... articulate it! Forward thinking enough and clever enough to see what was coming. People called him dour, pessimistic and zany. I saw a prophet.

My neck was beginning to crane and my phone holding hand was developing into a gripping claw. I had a callus on my 'swiping thumb'.

Out walking, I nearly got hit by a young man on a bike. He was cycling one handed, looking down at his phone. He had giant headphones on. Like noise defenders, clamped to his hearing organs. He therefore could neither see in front of himself, nor hear. But he rode down the road as the norm. It was I who felt obligated to move aside.

He could have hit a baby in a buggy. He could have been hit by a car. Nobody batted an eyelid. I stepped out if his programmed path and mouthed the word, 'sorry.' He did not hear me as he multi-tasked, chatting to a friend, looking at the phone while music pumped into his closed off brain. He finally looked up to swerve out of the way of an oncoming van. He performed a victory wheelie, called the driver 'a dick...' and looked back down at his phone.

As he zig-zagged off into the afternoon sun... and traffic, I wondered what I was sorry for.

Mind you, the new law stated that drivers are in the wrong, if they do not give right of way to a pedestrian crossing the road, if they are looking at their phone. Even if the lights are red. The driver must take into account that the phone using pedestrian had not seen the red light and therefore, bare the brunt of the motorists behind, seething at the whole turn of events.

But hey, the guy was watching a TikTok video. How was he supposed to know, right?

There were pictures on the internet of what human posture will be like in the future, given the way we are heading with all this 'stuff'. Is it all scaremongering and wild imagination?

I was not so young as I was and I felt myself drifting into an unsatisfying and addictive routine.

Days drifted by. Phone, coffee, shower, phone. Coffee. Work. Breaktime. Phone. Work. Lunch. Phone, coffee. Work. Home. Food. Phone. Weekend. Phone. Share photos. Monday.

Something in the core of my being nagged and manifested physically, as a pang and I felt a stone left unturned on my journey through life thus far.

I had started to think about the things I had not done, The exciting plans I had made as a child. What I was going to do. Who I was going to become. Full of ideas but with very little action in my young adulthood.

And here I was, talking about the weather and trudging to and fro, trying to be a decent citizen as per the guidelines.

'Look at the price of eggs and cheese. I see they've give out rain...'

Nothing wrong with it I know. Still...

I mean, I never thought I would become an astronaut or a world leader. No, but as I crept into and towards the exit door of middle age, I felt more frequently, these pangs in my chest and stomach.

My friend joked about bad take away being the cause or too much beer. I laughed as he chortled at his own self-professed startling wit. I had tried not to roll my eyes. He didn't understand me. He was away with his own journey. 'Spiritual.' He says. Banging drums in muddy fields, shouting OM and trying to impress women with his knowledge of learned books and correct spiritual attire as defined by self-proclaimed shamen, who had read books and written on Facebook that they were spiritual and shamanistic and would show you too, how you could attain similar.

Jumping naked into ponds and wailing inaudible mantras learned from YouTube. Don't forget to say you 'bathe in nature'. A community had built and money was in it. Good old 'spiritual' money. I asked my spiritual friend to come birdwatching with me. 'In nature.' He said he had too many zoom calls about spiritual stuff. I went to the forest.

I listened to George Harrison, walked in the forest, read my books and stayed out of it. He preached too much. This 'do what I do to enjoy life.' Crap. I saw another man like me, just putting a different spin on the daily plod.

There's that cynicism again. But he was beginning to grate on my nerves, turning everything I thought or said, into a joke unless the conversation was about himself. Then I was to sit and listen intently for hours on end. That's what friends do, I knew that but I felt underappreciated, undervalued and swept under the carpet.

A counsellor had told me, my cynicism could be down to my own low self-esteem and to comparing and feeling 'less than'. He was right. He was a cool guy; my counsellor, went through his own stuff, but he didn't preach from on high. Sometimes, I imagined punching my friend, hard. Several times.

Hare Krishna.

But wallowing in this had not been the answer. I had lost myself in hazes of booze and long dragged out spells of isolation. Downward spiralling. Watching reruns of sport events or music videos from my so-called halcyon days. 'Its not like it used to be...'

I was looking back too much, thinking the best part of my life was over and to be happy again was to ignore the here and now, and continually reminisce over my wasted youth.

Wasted, being the operative word. My attempted reboots of the 'Fuck it.' days, usually ended very badly. You can't re-enact it. Its gone. The hamster wheel was rusting. I had to get off or erode along with it.

I had to wake up and do things myself, for myself and stop expecting some divine process of osmosis to manifest in my lap.

I had to get out there. Why should I have any right to a great life? I had done nothing to deserve one, save procrastinate and moan. Some have had it better than me, some far, far worse. I wanted to take some risks, make some decisions and stick to them.

So I had. I left my job on the Friday, telling my boss I would.. 'See you on Monday..' I waved goodbye and flashed the same thinly veiled smile through gritted teeth, that they always gave me when I refused overtime.

I cheerily bade them farewell with new gusto, and reeled off family commitments that I did not have. I smiled at them. Not a smile of job satisfaction, but because I knew I was never going to see them ever again.

'Don't kid a kidder.' My grandfather would have said.

'Live your own life. Play them at their own game. Take your money and run lad. Get outside and have some fun.' Well, I did it grandad. I dropped the lot and fu...

So that was it. I booked a flight to a beautiful looking place, but not your obvious choice, packed my bags and headed to the airport. It was a freedom I had never felt before.

I could hear people I knew saying, 'What about your job? Your home? Your responsibilities?' My responses were unprintable. To the chagrin of some and the 'About time!' of others.

I landed in my first country of choice and went from there. I became hooked. I chose it because of the abandoned castle and the wooden built houses and the enticing stews that were the local delicacy. I did no intense research.

During my travels, I'd stayed with a married couple, renting a room for an extra income, for decorating their closely approaching new baby's room. I stayed on the docks with a fisherman who was mostly at sea. He cooked some mean sea bass and cod on his return. I helped clean the boat for food and a bed. A few nights were spent above a bakers shop, from which my weight escalated after guzzling fabulous pastries, cakes and lavish breads. I worked on a farm in exchange for two meals a day and a sleeping bag in the barn.

I chastised myself momentarily now. If only I had had this courage earlier in my life. Still, as is the popular saying 'It is what it is.'

Someone had said to me many years ago... "What's to stop you?"

I had reeled off all the things that I was now walking away from. My job, my home, my responsibilities. My reputation as a decent hardworking person. Did I want to follow those unwritten rules and then die when my time came though?

Another had said when I asked his opinion "We live and then we die, the end. What you do in between won't make any difference." He then went back to his beer and TV and complained about the weather and the price of butter. He was right about the butter, but dour and pale and sallow faced due to self-imposed isolation.

I tried a new motto; 'We live and then we live some more. Then we die, fulfilled.'

My mate had said, 'Go and do it then. You talk too much.'

He tapped my forehead thrice and said, 'That's the thing with you mate. All the gear, no idea. Stop waffling and go do it.'

He was right. I was full of motivational slogans airlifted from the internet as I moped over my third coffee and the jobs section.

So far it had worked, though. Though it wasn't all sunshine, ice cream and sugary sand. Some nights I had to sleep in bus depots, airport lounges, doorways.

I was sometimes berated as a tramp by cackling booze filled commuters. I wondered how the perennially homeless coped. Some threw bits of change at me that I had not asked for.

Sometimes the odd-jobs and my savings would buy me a more cosy roof for a few nights. I did not regret it. Though I did prefer a bed and the warmth. The fact was I was 'living' now, rather than just towing the line and existing. Worrying about what people thought. I saw some wonderful culture and grand things.

I had decided I shall no longer work for those with an inflated opinion of the sound of their own voices. I was trained to nod, smile and agree vehemently, whilst absolute drivel poured from their pre-programmed brains, and came out through their mouths, with scant evidence of any intelligence to back up their attention seeking bleating.

The Christmas tree effect. A clown at the top, feeding bullshit down to their branch managers and so on and so forth. Spreading the gospel of greed.

I was weary also of some of the shallow buffoons, who were dismissive of the feelings of the people who worked for them, and their many unrecognised qualities.

Nice slogans were pinned on the staff room notice board to boost morale and absolve the management of their nastiness. The ridiculous expectations, for meagre pay at best. The management drank tea in the office watching the maple-bacon dog on YouTube before going out to check the staff weren't slacking off.

Politics, news, newspapers, gossips, keyboard warriors. It squashed my spirit flat. The internet and its fat bastard moguls, pedalling products that led to addiction and making icons out of the insane, loud with no substance, or sex crazed.

Want fame? Be a twat and audition for Love Island. I had seen zombie films with better behaved citizens than I saw from these overly hyped nutcases on the television. I had since thrown the fucker off my balcony. It was worth being arrested and fined for.

I read more books and could hear birdsong instead of inane, booming chatter and manic adverts. Dickhead presenter with another zany magazine show/payday, in front of skriking audiences who didn't know what they were whooping about because they were taking 'pics N vids' to put on Facebook.

Nothing would change, so I had to. And I did.

So, munching down a fortifying bowl of beef stew from a pop up street food vendor, I had hopped on the train and hurtled over the border. No passport needed, I just flashed my ticket and away I went. Out into another new city and another hundred miles from the mundane, steady, bill paying, budgeting, life of drudgery that I was supposed to be grateful for but I no longer wanted.

I just loved the cobbled streets here and the coloured houses and quaint hotels and guest houses. The boats on the dock, outdoor markets selling all manner of local produce and hand crafted souvenirs. There was a band playing rock and roll in the town square. I couldn't understand the language but they sounded great. The guitar solo was something else.

I got that warm rush of blood you get every so often. Sheer contentment. It was so slow. Slow and satisfying. People said, 'Please.' and, 'Thank you.' and did not push and shove to get to the reduced section of groceries. Or stand tapping on phones while their giant trolleys blocked off the semi-skimmed milk from six tutting customers.

Or the last copy of an 18+ war game, for the kiddies, else it would be trouble at home. The world turning feral every Christmas. Having been indoctrinated from late August.

There was no checking my watch here, no appointments, no bills to pay, save working for food, no pressure to go out when I don't want to. No selling credit to get other people into debt to get my bonus.

A pat on the back and a few extra piddling coins, while some poor soul is paying for four years for some badly made, shitty piece of equipment that none of the staff thought any good.

To be honest, I was giving myself permission to absolve myself of responsibilities and to hell with the repercussions. Its about time I did what I wanted to do.

No good sitting bolt upright in palliative care shouting "I have wasted my innings. I have pissed away my life, played it too safe... If only I had..." then dying, mid-sentence.

So no more would I be answerable to the tyrannical management of two bit stores, playing at something else in their closed minds. Delusions of grandeur went before self-examination. No more of the local gossipmongers, whose sole objective on a daily basis was to natter about the faults of others.

To trash people they knew not a fucking thing about. Be it dress sense, job, lifestyle, where you were going, hobbies. I had heard them berating one younger man about him being a slob and that he never worked. He must be drunk all the time because of the way he walked.

It was later found out that he was dying of cancer and had no family or friends to visit him. But one person had told another their opinions, the next person told the next and the poor soul dying of cancer had been transformed into the town alcoholic with no job or wife, and 'was it any wonder' and it 'must be nice to just sit drinking beer and watching television all day'.

Then, over fences, they reeled off their own 'salt of the earth's stories about each other. No doubt they slept in work uniform and were up at 3 am to tarmac the world. Babbling about everybody. How useless they were.

I used to boil up inside. Now, I walked away. I had slowly let them fade away from my thoughts and left them behind twitching curtains or telling their fabricated truths over fences. They would go quiet when you or I walked past.

Now I no longer walked past. They ARE the past. As a youngster I may, just may have smashed their windows. Once I inadvertently threw a conference pear through the window of a manager I disliked. It was meant to get them to the window. Not smash.

'Its gone through! Leg it!' Shouted my friend as the red-faced boss came out onto the gravelled yard of his miniature manor.

'I'll tan your hides if I find out who you are!' He didn't. I recall it fondly and snigger as though it were yesterday.

Now, I was content to watch a loose dog shitting on the lawns of these people. Good boy. I must be mellowing.

Time to get my bearings. I'm in the square in a new city. Enough for a night or two in the bank but I mustn't lunge for the nearest place and act like a tourist. I had found that wearing souvenir hats and t-shirts was like advertising 'Here comes a fool with money.' or paying for goods with notes, that was another one I was wary of now.

'That bastard's got nine quid change there...'

You could almost hear the thoughts of local opportunists. So, I took to wearing pullovers and jogging bottoms and a flat cap. Nondescript. Dull. Not worth approaching. Don't get reeled into eye-contact. Now, I was hardly ever asked to buy things or asked if I was interested in getting a great deal. My answer had been 'Yes, I am interested in getting a great deal. A great deal of things interest me. Being ripped off is not one of them.'

It was my little quirk. I think I was becoming slightly mad. I think I am a quirk now. A parody of the former self I never was but still aspired to be. If I could build a time machine and take my life experience back with me.

They rarely understood my accent, the chancers and by the time I'd finished babbling at them, they usually shrugged and off they'd go muttering about the crazy foreigner. It made me smile.

This place here looked about right to me though, as I strolled a bit further out of the hustle bustle and found myself by a quiet canal surrounded by bullrushes, greenery and bumblebees.

It had run from right through the city, which I had found quirky and enticing, but I walked further away from the buzzing centre. As much as I enjoyed the metropolitan side of my tour, I craved some peace and tranquillity at night.

Here was a barge with a sign on the window.

'For hire. The cosy old Linnet. One bed, cooker, portable T.V. Peaceful. Enquire within.'

As a black swan glided down the still waters and small fish jumped for gnats, and kingfishers with sharp eyes, studied the small fish jumping for gnats, I looked up at the yellowing sun, it was beginning to get ready to roost.

'Hmm. I think I'd better get ready to roost, myself.' I thought.

So I had a look through the window of the barge. Red, white and blue in colour and shall I say... a 'distressed' theme to the paintwork? No, lets be honest. Its not had a lick of paint since 1982.

Nevertheless, rustic is my thing. It looked like I would be stepping back into my youth after all. Dutch pottery adorned the windows of the boat, reminding me of my great nanna. I leaned closer to The Linnet, hoping to get the attention of the writer of the sign.

"Hello?... Hi... I'm here to enquire about renting the boat for a few nights?" I ventured to nobody in particular.

Nobody was on deck. Sometimes on canals, a stove would be on, or a dog would be enjoying the breeze or a tell tale deck chair and flask would be on the bank, or sports commentary would crackle on the radios by the boats. Nothing here though.

One last try... "Hello...?"

A small, nimble shadow flashed past the window and I jumped a little. From the tiny door to the interior of the barge, named 'The Linnet', emerged a small, gnomish looking man with round spectacles, a cane and a hooked nose and a broad, welcoming smile. He gave an infectious chuckle as he saw me.

"Welcome traveller, by all means welcome. I had heard you approach but was in the middle of cooking my revered borsch, meatball soup. Very well received round these parts you know! Come about the old Linnet then have you my lad?"

"Er, yes I have sir, I need a place to sleep for a few nights while I look around the city and think about what to do."

The gnome, put his hand out to offer a hearty handshake.

"Ah, yes I remember that part of your life..." He said cryptically.

"Excuse me?" I answered, confused as to what the gnome was referring to.

"Pay it no heed traveller, not by any means. Yes, we all need to think about what to do. Especially when seizing life by the scruff of the neck in a strange new place eh?

I digress. By all means, come aboard, my weary friend. The mist descends soon upon these waters at this time in the early eve. The boat is in a well-known spot here. Idyllic, some say."

I looked around. The sun was ready to set. A merlin, circled in the sky before arrowing down for prey. The food smelled appetising. A box of dusty paperbacks lay in an orange box on deck. It did feel idyllic to my old, simple soul.

"You may come and go as you please." Witteted the gnome.

"I shall take no payment. I only came up today to see that the old girl had not sunk!"

The gnome barked and cackled infectiously. Though it did not fill me with confidence!

"Sunk?" I asked him.

"My little joke. Pay no heed my weary self friend. Come aboard, I will take your knapsack, as it were. The bedding is warm and clean.

Everything has locks on and well, I shall leave you some of this stew of plenty, unless of course, you do not care for such tastes. No, I recall you liking good, hearty food...?" He laughed again and patted his rotund tummy.

"You recall what?" Why was he talking as though he knew me?

Well, the little fellow was getting on in years. He seemed friendly enough and the quaint looking barge looked inviting as the rooks swirled and the starlings began to murmurate at the onset of dusk.

"Oh no... I mean... Yes, the stew sounds lovely. Smells great. Please, let me offer you some payment though; I won't feel comfortable taking your accommodation like this."

"By no means!" He exclaimed vociferously, twirling around somewhat dramatically.

He jabbed his cane gently at me. It had a wooden duck's head crafted onto it at the top.

"No. Not by any means will I take your coin. Where you hail from, excuse me... where I hail from, pieces of paper and round metal objects carry no value my self-friend. It looks like you will need your resources more than I, if you are not going back to your accursed place of work after your trip?" Said the gnome fellow.

"Yes, I suppose you a... whoa! Hang on a second. How did you know that about me?" I took a step back.

"Written all over your face my friend, by all means. Seen it all before, can't blame you. The treadmill that is life eh! You got out before you were sucked into the void. The matrix, as it were.

We only realise that life is our own to do as we choose and not to fit in with a template and be what we are expected to be when we are, how did you think it now?

Ah, that's it...

'Sat bolt upright while in palliative care, shouting 'If only...' before erm... well... Dying mid-sentence, I think you thought!"

He smiled and chuckled again. He had read my mind this gnome-like person.

"A very erm... cynical synopsis with a dash of the unfulfilled, a splash of contempt for ones meagre existence and the onset of the soon to be morose, in hearty ladles, by all means!

For one with so much life ahead, you do project the misery of a lost soul, if you do not mind me saying?"

"Well yes, I mean, no.. Look, this is both fascinating and creepy at the same time to me. I'm not sure I should stay after all. How do you know these things about me. You speak with familiarity sir, by all me..?"

Jesus, I nearly mimicked the little fellow.

He bowed.

"Ah, understood. My extrasensory perception can... how would you say it at this stage of my life? Ah, yes... 'freak people out.' You will get used to you, in time."

He cackled again and then it turned to a spluttering cough. I panicked but got him water from the creaky tap.

"Ah, water. Liquid for the soul. Nectar of the gods. You have some doubts, I gather... Nonetheless, come aboard The Linnet, you know her well. Or you will, in years to come..."

The laugh again. I offered him more water, he shook his head.

"Pay it no heed my friend. We shall talk soon enough. It will all fall into place. Your coming here was preordained you see. Ah, but dusk approaches my self-friend. The stew is ready. I shall brief you on what to expect from this city and its... folk... as it were."

I was in a bit of a daze but also I was tiring, so I climbed aboard the colourful Linnet and followed the eccentric little man inside, I must admit it was warm and homely, candlelit and welcoming and the food smelled divine after another full days travel.

The water sloshed softly against the sides of the barge and through a small window you could see a hillside underneath the moon as owls hooted. I had to admit, it was inviting inside and out despite this strangely intuitive, other worldly fellow, who now beckoned to me to rest.

"By all means be seated my younger self-friend, I will tell you how this place is unlike any other. At least, in this rip in the fabric of our universe.. .

For you my friend have stumbled upon... The two ways home... The pathway is your own to choose. Nobody else's. Isn't that grand, by all means."

I felt it now. This was not a place of my time.

The gnome was me.

About the Author: Andrew Evans is a UK author from Cheshire. His debut novel, Ramona in the Realms, will be traditionally published in November of this year with Black Rose Writing of Texas.

Andrew, studies counselling and psychology at his local college. He enjoys long nature walks, music, film and travel. He has one beloved daughter, Cerys.

Andrew has published short fiction with CC&D TV, Between these Shores and Academy of the Heart and Mind.

He is currently back writing, The Spores of Gardelwyn. Book two in his Ramona trilogy.


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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