So, it’s the Tuesday morning after my accident on the beach and I’m waiting for the brother of a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-relative to arrive by taxi from Bangor to drive me, my dogs, and the camper van near to family in Shropshire. Liz and co. have gone to walk the dogs down to the harbour and I’m watching out for said arrival of the taxi.
I see a taxi hurtling down the lane to the farmhouse on the site; the taxi turns, wheels spinning, and as rapidly departs again, leaving clouds of dust ( but not my driver) in its wake. How very strange, think I. Stranger things will happen before the day is out!
Five minutes later, Liz and co. come back with the dogs and my driver. The dogs have had a swim in the harbour. I ask what happened with the taxi. My driver, let’s call him Clive, says the taxi driver wouldn’t stop where’d he’d asked and had dumped him down at the harbour instead.
He seemed to be in an awful hurry, I say. Over the next few hours I will come to understand why the taxi driver may have wanted shot of Clive at the quickest opportunity.
Liz makes us all a farewell cuppa before we depart. Clive says the ‘effing’ taxi driver had refused to stop along the way for him to get some breakfast and he’s starving. Jo makes him a sandwich. He’s very twitchy, is Clive, and spends a lot of time ranting at someone on his mobile phone while pacing up and down. His language is liberally sprinkled with profanities whether conversing with us or on his phone.
When he’s eaten his sandwich, he is practically dancing up and down on the spot, anxious to get away. I say my farewells, the dogs have hopped into the van already, and I strap myself into the seat belt. Clive jumps in and immediately starts shouting.
‘What the ‘effing ‘ell?!’
It is soon apparent that Morgan has been sitting in the driver’s seat since coming back from his swim and the seat is now soaking wet. A towel has to be found to put over the seat and then we are off. I am sat on the bed in the back which is unfortunate because I am in direct line of Clive’s vision in the rear-view mirror. Clive is looking at me far more often than at the road and Clive is a talker. Within five minutes, I know this is going to seem like the longest journey of my life.
He begins with some peculiar quotations, e.g. ‘If you want to see the wood, don’t look in the trees’ or ‘In the mouths of horses you will find happiness’. He has a seemingly endless list of these ‘misquotes’. Each misquote is preceded with ‘how about this one, right?’ and ends with ‘you like that one? Good innit?’, his eyebrows raised in expectation of approval.
I smile politely and close my eyes hoping he will think me asleep and so stop talking gibberish.
‘You tired are ya? I tell you what, you’re a wimp, right. That’s nuffink, right, what happened to you. If you want to see some proper injuries, right, I’ll show you my effing leg, right, then you’ll know what real injuries are. Ya wanna see my leg?’
‘Not right now, thanks.’
Then he tells me why he agreed to this job, right. It was because he is really upset, right, and he needed to do something to take his mind off his problems, right. Because he’s just found out his wife, who has left him, has been seeing someone else, right. And it has completely done his head in, right. And he hardly slept last night, right. Do I get his meaning, like?
Oh, yes. Obviously, taking this job has done nothing to take his mind off his troubles. If we all get to Shropshire without serious mishap it will be nothing short of a miracle is what I am thinking. I tell him I’m very sorry for his troubles, which is a mistake because he now starts weeping. He asks me if I believe in karma, cos he’s hoping what goes around comes around for his effing wife. I say, sorry, no, I don’t believe in it.
He goes very silent and concentrates on his driving for a good five minutes.
‘Have you seen my teeth?’ he asks, breaking the silence and startling me back to grim reality. This is what my mother used to say if she mislaid her dentures and for one horrible, fleeting moment I wonder how on earth he can have mislaid his teeth whilst driving. He taps his teeth with his fingernail and asks what I think of them.
‘I can’t see them.’
He leans forward in his seat so I can get a proper view of his grinning teeth bared in the rear-view mirror.
‘Very nice indeed,” I say, and this has the desired effect of seeing him sit back properly in his seat.
He tells me how much it cost to get them whitened and it was worth the money because everywhere he goes, right, everyone tells him his teeth look amazing, man.
The subject turns from his wife’s infidelity to how she conned him out of tens of thousands of pounds, too. I am as sympathetic as I can be under the circumstances; he’s been hired to drive my camper van, and us, safely to our destination and I am sincerely wishing he hadn’t taken on the job in his present state of mind.
He goes on and on and on. Two hours into the journey, he tells me he is taking us to Chester races for the day; what do I think of that?
‘Not a lot.’
‘How about Wrexham? You want to go to Wrexham?
‘No. Thank you.’
Jessie is lying at my feet. I look down at her and think she is taking a long time to dry out from her swim in the harbour, despite it being hot in the van. Then realisation dawns; she has peed on the bed – the bed I will be sleeping in tonight; the bed which will not be cleaned and dried by nightfall.
I ask if he will stop at the very next service area and if he can fill the diesel tank and let the dogs out.
‘Na! Don’t want to!’ says the wise-cracker.
I fix him with a steely glare in the rear-view mirror and he ceases grinning like the Cheshire cat. He is quiet until we pull into a service area a few miles down the road. Jessie dog isn’t the least bit interested in getting out as it’s a bit late in the day as far as she’s concerned. Morgan dutifully cocks his leg on every shrub before hopping back in the van. I give Clive money to pay for the diesel and to buy us coffees and something to eat. He comes back and parks up on the verge.
Before he has finished his sandwich, he starts weeping again; swiping at his tears with the palm of his hand. He tells me his mother put him into care when he was a kid, and how she died of cancer two years ago before he got a chance to find her again and ask her why she did it. I am very sorry to hear it, I tell him; that must be hard; to have no answers, no apology, no resolution. I tell him that it must have been a very hard thing for her to do, a last and desperate resort, and that it doesn’t mean she didn’t love him. Perhaps, she mistakenly believed it was for the best.
He gets out of the van and I watch him pacing up and down the grass verge, sobbing. I feel desperately sorry for him but am also seriously worried whether we shall make it to our destination. He shouldn’t be driving in this state but my options are severely limited at this point.
The heat builds inside the van until I fear I am going to faint. The dogs are panting. I undo my seat belt and shuffle across the bed on my backside to open some windows.
After a time, he returns to the van and sits behind the wheel, very quiet.
‘Had a bit of a teary moment there, didn’t I? Bet you think I’m a right wimp; a forty-something man, crying.’
I tell him I don’t think anything of the sort. I tell him it does everyone good to have a good cry, sometimes, man or woman.
‘I just think it must be my fault, man; every woman I’ve loved has ditched me, sooner or later.’
I tell him there is his mistake. I tell him that other people’s failures and betrayals are not his fault; the fault lies in their actions, not in him. I tell him he is not responsible for other people’s choices, only for his own, and the best choice he can make is to move on and find new happiness for himself, despite them.
‘Think positive! Smile and the world will smile with you!’ he says with a grin.
He snaps on his seat belt. For the last two hours of the four and a half hour journey, he is calm, chatting occasionally, as normal as can be and, I have to say, when his mind was on his job he was a very competent driver. Along the way, he tells me I can park up my camper van in his drive and have free use of his house, if I want.
‘I’m lonely, see, and miss having someone there when I come home. You would be like a ….’
He doesn’t finish the sentence.
‘Mum?’ I say.
I persuade him that it wouldn’t be practical because he doesn’t have a downstairs loo or disabled shower, both of which I now need for a time. I tell him he won’t be lonely for long; that sometime soon he is going to meet someone nice, someone who deserves him.
I guess all Clive needed was reassurance that he was not to blame for the bad things which have happened to him. It seems to me, the source of Clive’s personal anguish and torment was the belief that not being loved meant he was unlovable and therefore he faced a bleak and lonely future without his wife; a belief he had held since abandoned to care by his mother; a belief which was reignited and reinforced when his wife left him for someone else.
Though the experience of having to depend on Clive when in a crisis was somewhat traumatic, I cannot help but remember him with fondness. I’ve changed his name here because I wouldn’t have been able to write about this otherwise. And that would be a shame, I think, because within this experience lies an important message for anyone going through similar anguish; that our greatest torments can come not from without but from long-held beliefs which are not true or helpful to us at all. I feel grateful to Clive for having shared his story with me.
My thoughts now return to that taxi-driver who sped off as if the hounds of hell were upon his heels, and I have to titter. It transpires that Clive had not caught the train to Bangor and then a taxi to the campsite, as I had been told he would; he had got a taxi all the way from Shropshire (which cost me an absolute fortune, as you can imagine). My guess is that the taxi driver must have been at his wit’s end by the time he had gone through four and a half hours of listening to Clive’s woes. It will be a journey I’m sure he will never forget and will tell his grandchildren in years to come.
Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.
You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.
Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd
The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd
Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK
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