I've had a blog for a very long time. Over 15 years. Recently I've been bringing back some of the better old posts, once a week. I'm starting with a series that I first did back in 2009, and then again in 2011. This time I asked for seven one-word blog topics from people on Twitter and got some of my best blog material as a result.
This was the first in the second series, a tale of childhood daring and a most unlikely encounter. It was suggested by @lisalovescheese, who's since gone on to be one of the most respected people in music PR as the boss of Hold Tight PR. She's kept the excellent name though.
FROM THE VAULTS: 7 Days, Day 1: Sasquatch
Like everyone growing up in eighties urban Britain the Sasquatch loomed large in the imagination. We knew him better as Bigfoot the mythical man-beast, who I seem to remember was everywhere when I was a kid, from TV investigations to family-friendly fare like the (fucking excellent) Bigfoot and the Hendersons.
I actually had a Bigfoot scrapbook, but that may say something more about my predisposition to collecting scrapbooks than the focus of their attention. I also had a shark scrapbook, a dinosaur scrapbook, a tank scrapbook, and a second world war scrapbook, filled with pictures of Nazis. I think the child version of me could have turned out a lot more of a psychopath than the well-adjusted blogger I am today.
As a kid growing up in Bournemouth, however, there seemed to be little prospect of ever coming across the hirsute man of legend amongst the seemingly endless rows of suburban domiciles and conurbations, not least of all because the sasquatch of legend is a myth (or not) of North American descent. But I used to read stories of the wild places he would roam and marvel at the descriptions of the wild lands he called home. All I knew were the colourless concrete playgrounds of Thatcher’s Britain and the cold grey seaside, its beaches filled with elderly - as far away from woodland as it was possible to get.
All that changed when I was seven and was sent to a school in the countryside, a bewildering place that seemed completely alien to me at first. It sat nestled in 72 acres of lush Sussex countryside, where on the weekends the kids would split into wild tribes and camp in upturned tree roots and play in streams and chase rabbits over long rolling hills. If it sounds idyllic then in some ways it was, but of course the grandness of the surroundings were somewhat counterbalanced by the austere place itself. But that’s for another time.
Of course the fanciful imaginations of the 300 or so students - all under the age of thirteen - concocted all manner of fanciful flights of imagination, from elaborate ghost stories about old groundskeepers buried alive with their dogs, to UFO sightings along the distant skyline, and of course, our very own Bigfoot myth.
When I first heard the rumours of a hairy man-sized animal sighted at the creek on the far ends of the grounds, my mind shot straight to my scrapbook, and I traded on my extensive Bigfoot knowledge to great effect. Before long I became the de-facto leader of a group of eager eight-year-old boys determined to use the knowledge we'd gleaned from wilderness survival books we'd got for Christmas to go and find this mythical beast. Every Sunday after church we would assemble, four slightly terrified but excited boys, and head off across the fields.
For a month or so we had no joy aside from tantalising clues: an old discarded can, a crisp packet here or there. We concluded that all of these clues could have easily have come from some other group of boys, or even our own previous forays into the woods. There were no footprints like the ones I'd read about in the woods of North America, just muddy imprints of our own Clarks shoes.
One weekend, just as we had abandoned all thoughts of the Bigfoot - instead using the creek as a good place to spend a Sunday afternoon - we heard something move in the trees along the creek. A loud, startling crack. We all heard it together, loud as it was. The air froze. We all stopped in mid-sentence and looked furtively at each other, not daring to look in the direction of the noise itself. Slowly we turned, but we could see nothing. We waited, and were rewarded with another loud crack, further away but still close.
We moved, our minds flashing with images of the creature we had built up in our minds, thoughts full of telling the world, of the praise, the adoration. My heart raced in my chest.
I caught sight of a flash of hair, of wild eyes, I froze. The other boys froze as well, the fear and panic coming off us in waves. The eyes fixed us, we fixed them. The face - wild and hairy - broke into a wide, toothless smile.
That was how we met Andy the Tramp, who for three years had been living in and around the creek and the surrounding countryside. He continued to live there until one of the girls at the school stumbled across him and the police came and took him away, and we never saw him again. He wasn’t the Bigfoot, after all, just a homeless man who had tired of city living and had decided to try the countryside instead. He would always try and avoid us if he could, and after a while, we stopped going down to the creek because he weirded us out a bit.
But for a few fleeting minutes, I was a pioneer, an adventurer on the edge of discovery.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list.