Friday, 9 March 2007

Time to Go

The laws of Physics say that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The laws of Skippering are no different. A few days after returning to town, we were pushed out onto the streets once again.

It was a Sunday, and we'd had a lie-in. Mick had reappeared mid-morning, Dog in tow, after spending the night in the Police cells. He'd been arrested for Drunk and Insensible (D&I) again, but as he said, at least he'd had breakfast. After sparking up the first of the day's joints at about 11am, the munchies set in and Eyes busied herself pulling out the gas stove and opening a tin of meatballs. The sun was streaming in through the window, Mick and Man were bantering rather than bickering, and all was good in our little world. We were looking forward to a well deserved lazy day, toking and relaxing and working through our thoughts about the Shaftesbury experience - Mick had been on site up until a few years previously, and both Man and Eyes had harboured dreams in that direction for a good long time. Our visit had only strengthened their resolve.

It was just as that first tin had been opened that the door downstairs was kicked in and heavy boots could be heard down below. We all froze as they headed for the stairs and it wasn't until we heard them start to climb up towards us when Dog and JD finally came to their senses. They were closer to each other than they had ever been as they shot down towards our "visitors", barking for all they were worth. There were sounds of a struggle and a yelp, followed by an angry of "Gerrof me you manky fucking mutt", the sickening sound of plank being swung at JD and then bouncing off the wall, and a second voice shouting "Fuck this, I'm getting mi'shotgun, filthy fuckers". More footsteps as the intruders backed off to the bottom of the steps, low warning growls from the two canines, and then the first voice again, giving us an hour to get out or they'd be back, and warning that no fleabitten mongrels would stop them beating us out if we were still there when they paid their second visit. We didn't need telling twice. We'd thrown everything together and run within twenty minutes. The can of meatballs may well still be there to this day - my last image of that place remains the sight of it sitting on the floor, all glistening and tempting to a hungry pup like me, and thinking what a waste...

I don't know where Mick went - he had his boltholes, as we all did. Our little family headed into town and called in on a friend of Man's called Tina, a girl who worked in the local Wimpy bar. He had been new to the area just a few months before I found Eyes - they hadn't known each other long when she got me - and Tina was an incomer too, lured from Warrington by the promise of Stonehenge and the New Age. He called in to the shop for a cup of tea one day and things went on from there. Sometimes we visited her at her tiny bedsit on the edge of town, but we were never able to stay the night there for fear of being caught by her landlord. This emergency was no exception, but it was in the course of talking things over together that Man announced that it was time to move on. He had drifted from town to town before washing up in Salisbury - getting run out of most of them, it later transpired - and now was the time to do the same thing again. Eyes readily agreed. If we couldn't get onto a Traveller's site yet, the next best thing was just to up sticks and get travelling. Tina was disillusioned by the reality of the small Wiltshire town in which she found herself beached, and said we should go for it while we had no ties. After the usual "waste" from the burger bar had been fed to me and JD (the sausages were our favourite), we headed back to the tunnel we had squatted in previously to make our plans.

Neither of us had any way of knowing it at the time, but this decision was to be one of the first big mistakes that Eyes made. A few days later Man signed off and collected our meagre dole money - a glitch in the law meant he could claim for Eyes too, even though she was too young to claim for herself - and we said our goodbyes before getting on a bus and leaving town.

Shaftesbury Site.

As we headed out to the Blackmore Vale, the windows were opened and I could smell freedom on the wind as the roads narrowed. Eventually we turned down a dirt track and headed deeper onto the common, bumping along until finally dark shapes started to loom out of the by now twilight mist. Closer still, the shapes began to emerge as trailers, buses and trucks, each tucked into a clearing of it's own. The car stopped and the doors were opened. JD and I were set free and left to explore, whilst Eyes and Man took our bags and put them inside one of the caravans.

Running, sniffing and leaping through the grass, we rolled in delight at the space and the clear, natural smells. Here and there woodsmoke reached our noses, along with the scent of wild animals and other dogs. JD vanished in search of those dogs after a short while, but I was still small, nervous, and easily tired, so I made my way back to Eyes.

She scooped me up and we headed towards another trailer, this one painted marroon, with curved front windows and another smaller set along the top. Chas and Man talked about it as we walked, commenting on it's "mollycroft" and distinctive shape which marked it out as "a Safari" and "classic".

By this time it was dark and cold, so I was both surprised and comforted to feel a blast of heat as we opened the door and clambered inside, shedding footwear as we entered. Inside was candlelit, with a small kitchen room to the right with a sliding door, and a larger area to the left. Turning into the warmth, I could see a long bench seat with coloured throws and cushions along one wall and a woodburning stove on the other, with a tall stack pipe leading out through the roof. At the far end was a double bed, again with a coloured throw, and a dog basket underneath in which lay a tan-coloured bitch. Sitting on the bed was a girl in a red jumper, with a ring through her nose and a head full of thin, finely woven dreadlocks. She was smiling, and reaching out to pet her dog, and next thing I knew I was being held down for the older female to investigate me, ears up and nose quivering. Once she was satisfied that I was too small to intrude on her territory, "Carolyn" (the dreadlock girl) lifted me up onto the bed and I sank into it's warm and cushioned softness. Within seconds I had company, and I curled up with my new canine acquaintance, nose on the edge of a large cushion so as not to miss anything.

As the evening unfolded, it passed in much the same way as any of those we had spent in the skippers. Wood and hash smoke mingled, and conversation flowed in it's usual mellow fashion. JD reappeared at some point and took up a place in front of the stove - after a thorough vetting by the mistress of the house, naturally. Dogs were fed and at some point thick slices of toast slathered with lemon curd were prepared by Chas in the kitchen by the light of a hurricane lantern and passed around - a good quantity making it's way to the slobbering chops of the canine members present. Endless cups of tea were made from a big kettle which was refilled and kept permanently just off the boil on top of the stove. No-one present was a drinker, so the atmosphere was soporific, all of us slowly succumbing to the haze.

The big difference to a normal night, however, was the feeling of safety. There was plenty of wood to keep feeding the fire, collected and cut by Carolyn earlier that day. There was no need to hide our lights lest anyone should see - when I ventured outside to do what was needed, I only had to look up to find my way back. The door was always left open for me to return. The food was basic, but fresh and hot. No-one was concerned about what happened outside, and it was only as we relaxed that we realised the extent to which we had been permanently on guard for trouble. Here we could let it all go. Here we were secure.

Eventually Man, Eyes, JD and I headed back to the first trailer - Chas's, it turned out - and bedded down. It was cold in there as it had been empty for a while and didn't have the comforts of the Safari, but we soon cuddled up as a family, and the feeling of release continued. We slept like babies, even JD finally letting out a deep sigh and going off duty.

The next morning we awoke to birdsong and headed back to town. It had been a short respite, but an important one. Now we had a goal. We didn't know how or where we were going to do it, but we all knew that site was where we wanted to be.