The Great Escape

We have attempted an escape, despite it all.

We have emptied our house of clutter, history and mess. We have repainted the walls to erase our scuffs and marks; mowed the lawn to soften the yellow rings left by Arthur’s tent; regrouted the bathroom where the kids swamped the bath nightly. We have unstuck the windows that we had accidentally painted shut, so now the air circulates differently through the hallways. We have dismantled the pile of equipment, tools, kites and kit so that our adventure junkyard is just a garage again, swept, sad and empty except for a few mysterious contraptions hiding among the cobwebs in the eaves.

Art, books and beds have all been sent into storage. Crates of food got boxed and banked. Jars of out-of-date pickles, mustards and chilli sauces had to be emptied in the sink and their lumpy contents finger-forced down the plug hole.

We have given away and thrown away literally thousands of toys, gadgets, tools, utensils, cords, containers, magazines, cushions, chairs, games and a whole lifetime supply of pens. Most stuff ended up on the pavement outside for passers-by to pick up. An amazing amount of random items went that way, most of it under cover of darkness. You get a kind of embarrassed feeling as all the clutter of your life lines up on the pavement outside like a public confession of your Amazon addictions. You realise just how much unnecessary crap you accumulate without thinking and you make serious promises to quit buying so much rubbish and get more eco. The future lives we will lead will be barefoot in the sunshine with no need for material goods. Even as our possessions disappeared silently away into the community we were jabbing at our phones, ordering more things online for next-day delivery. We needed a roof rack, a spare set of bungee cords, more bin bags, a battery pack, cables. We ignored the irony, deferred our good intentions and clicked through to checkout.

We have made some effort to throw out too all the opinions and advice that have been gifted to us over the last few months. The protests, amusement and disbelief. The raised eyebrows, looks of horror, guffaws (You’re going travelling? In the middle of an pandemic?) We’ve dealt with our own fears and misgivings. At least I think we have, though to be honest we’ve talked things around in so many circles now, I have no idea what is going on in everyone’s head. How much are the kids aware of what is coming up? They understand we’re no longer headed for Africa, or Australia, but driving instead to South West Britain for an indeterminate period until better options present themselves. Do they lie awake worrying about what this means? Is Menna really as on board with this crazy plan as she says she is? Am I? There comes a point though when you are simply committed, and speculation and worry is no longer helpful. We stopped talking about the future some days ago, and now conversation is tight and practical.

We burnt all of our confidential papers in a steel dustbin behind the garage one evening last week. Bank statements, bills, payslips, reviews, reports and appraisals went up in smoke as we sat around on camping chairs, listening to old rock n roll. I was chugging beer and poking the flames, all bare-chested, soot-smudged and channeling some fairly primitive vibes. We went a bit nuts that night. It felt heavy and symbolic, like we were burning our longboats on the beach in a flamboyant gesture of no return. Even the kids ran off to get their old school work to throw on the flames. There was some nostalgia in the air too; as though a part of our history and identity were somehow encoded into that P45 from when I got fired in 2002, the insurance policy from that trip to Bali. I manage to save my birth certificate at the last moment. I didn’t get to my GSCE certificates in time.

And then it was all over, all traces of ourselves removed from the property. We had vacuumed up all the scatter of our lives and condensed everything we needed down to one heavily laden car. Two surfboards on the roof, two bikes, two skateboards, one tent. A bag each of clothes. A bag of wetsuits and towels. Another bag of wires and chargers. A box of games. A box of school books. Two yoga mats. One laptop, three iPads, two Kindles, three phones. A first aid kit. Assorted soft toys. Some Lego.

I was grinning with what I could tell was a slightly manic air as we pulled off. The moment seemed hugely significant. I could feel a release of tension surging through my shoulders and arms, the physical aftermath of many days of non-stop packing, sorting, shifting, burning, dumping, heavy-lifting, and very little sleep. Menna was sobbing quietly beside me, mainly I think about the cat, who we had had to leave behind with our neighbour. Two pairs of wide eyes stared back at me in the rearview mirror, ecstatic at first glance, then worried and shell-shocked.

We drove off from our home of the last seven years and away from our jobs, our schools, our friends, our nicely ordered well-structured lives. It was 2:30pm and the sun was technically past it’s zenith, so I think you could legitimately say we drove off into the sunset. We headed off into the Covid-ravaged wastelands of lockdown Britain, homeless, jobless, and with no particular plan to speak of.
“It’s going to be fun” I kept saying to no one in particular. “It’s going to be such fun.

An hour or so later the mood had shifted considerably. The car was full of chatter and sunbeams as we trundled our way southwards down empty roads. Anything could happen! Drawn by ley lines and wild pagan impulses we swung off the A303 for an impromptu stop at Stonehenge. It was cordoned off with red and white tape.

Freedom is just another word for nothin’ left to lose.
Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free.

Kris Kristofferson

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