I’m not sure exactly where I was but it was one of the places I rejected, so possibly in the churchyard, or possibly in the ruins of whatever that building used to be – with the chunks of broken sink and the dogshit – or possibly on that strip of concrete, up against that white wall that kept safe whatever it was keeping safe – I think it was there, in one of those places, as I shuffled around in my sleeping bag, desperately trying to keep the cold out of my bones, staring up at the most hectic night sky I had ever seen, that I thought: I should really start picking out my choices for Desert Island Discs now so I don’t panic like Duncan Bannatyne and accidentally pick the ten worst songs ever written.
Well, they weren’t all bad, to be fair. Give Peace a Chance, Maggie May and Green, Green Grass of Home are probably all classics in their own way. But Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree? Love Changes Everything? The One and Only? BY CHESNEY HAWKES???
He must’ve panicked. It’s the only possible explanation. He was probably too involved retweeting all the nice things that people say about his health clubs when he realised he only had ten minutes left to choose the songs that have meant the most to him in his entire life. He’d left it too late. He panicked.
I could see the same thing happening to me if I’m honest. Because I’m so badly organised, I’d have left it till the very last minute and still not decided. I’d have Kirsty Young on the telephone, bawling at me. ‘I need your last two choices!’ she’d bawl.
‘ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT!’ I’d bawl back. ‘Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder and Would I Lie To You? by Charles and Eddie.’
And I would never, ever be happy again.
I’d had quite a lot of whisky in the bar – one of the two bars in Almonacid de Marquesada. I’d had a sandwich, a few halves of Amstel and towards the end, whilst watching a television programme entitled, ‘Duran Duran: Kings of the New Romantics’, I had what probably amounted to six or seven shots of whisky. In one glass. I’d also watched a football match. Real Madrid versus Seville. The first fifteen minutes or so were actually very entertaining, I guess because the players were all fresh and excited, then they just settled into the game and started going through the motions.
It’s like a relationship really, football. There’s the first flush, when both sides are really trying hard, pulling out all the stops, actually enjoying themselves; then the familiarity creeps in and the dawning realisation that you’re stuck with each other for the foreseeable future; then comes boredom, contempt and depression, when you just get your head down and concentrate on getting through it, getting to the end of your allotted time together without ripping out your own jugular with your bare hands.
Some of the teenagers from the repository came to the bar to watch the match. Beyond the smalltalk that we’d made earlier, we didn’t really have a lot to say to one another. ‘Manchester United!’ ‘Si, si.’ After the match, they retired to the town’s other bar for drinking and dancing and – according to the most confident of the bunch – ‘fucking!’ I thought for a minute they were inviting me along. ‘Karl, we go now other bar!’ sounded like an invitation. But then they just got up and went. ‘Bye bye!’ Oh.
So I drank nine euros of whisky and I walked back to where I’d been dropped off almost twelve hours previously. It was about 1am. The bus left in seven hours.
As I wandered out of the centre of town, I realised afresh – perhaps more fully than I’d ever realised before – that beyond the reach of light pollution, the night sky really is a lively, simmering soup of a thing. However, if the moon is hidden behind a bandage of cloud, it’s also unfeasibly dark. I’m not 100% sure that I would have found somewhere better to sleep if I’d remembered to pack my wind-up torch, but I like to think I would have avoided the dogshit. You never know though.
I made my first bed on a narrow concrete strip up against a wall that formed the perimeter of some kind of factory or warehouse. After ten minutes or so, I came to the conclusion that it was simply too cold. The concrete slowly seeped through my skin and meat, deep into my insides. It sounds like a cliché to say that cold gets in your bones, but I think it might be true. You can feel it creeping through to your core.
So I packed up and walked back into town. I made my second bed in front of the church, but quickly realised it was too exposed. It was also too close to the bar where the young people of Almonacid practised their drinking and dancing and maybe even their fucking, and the repetitive beats from their Eurotrash quickly crept into my core and set up camp with the cold.
So I found a building which had either been half-torn down and gutted or never quite finished in the first place, and I scrambled over the rubble and made my bed in one of the corners. Like a tramp. It wasn’t very nice. I tried to get comfortable but the smell of urine was distracting. I decided after not very long that I would go back to the first place I’d tried. The concrete strip. I realised I’d never had it so good. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, I thought. How right you are, how right you are. So I brought my feet out of my sleeping bag and grabbed one of my trainers. That’s when I felt something wet on hand. A quick sniff revealed that something to be excrement, probably canine, possibly human.
And that was as close as I got. That was as close as I got to regretting not taking that room.
I soldiered on. I wiped my hand on various surfaces, gathered my things together, walked back down the Madrid road, found my factory wall and instead of the concrete strip, I actually found some tall grass and something approaching earth. I took my trainers off carefully and laid my rucksack beneath my head. I lay on my back, looking up at the stars. I was smiling. It was funny. Only a week earlier I’d been in London, going through the motions of normalcy, working and commuting like a good little boy, ish, now here I was in Spain, sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures with dogshit remnants sticking to my fingers. I turned onto my side, adopted the foetal position and hid my face in the cocoon of my sleeping bag. Then I heard it. The buzzing.
Thankfully it was far too cold for mosquitoes. Especially as this would’ve had to have been a giant mosquito, like a wrestler’s fist. What it actually was, was my electric toothbrush, in my washbag, in my rucksack, beneath my head. So I sat up, struggled with the zip on the sleeping bag, opened up the rucksack and pulled out the washbag. Then I couldn’t find the toothbrush, but I eventually did, grabbing it by the brush and silencing it. It was then that I remembered the dogshit on my fingers, at least some of which was almost certainly transferred to my toothbrush. That wasn’t a nice thought. I had a spare head though, so it wasn’t the end of the world.
And so it was, thinking positive, that I settled back down, zipped myself up, glanced back up at the sky and saw it.
It lasted less than a second and let’s face it, I could have been mistaken, but I’m pretty sure – 97% sure – that I saw a shooting star. So, as tradition decrees, I made a wish. And it was a piece of cake – which is to say, my wish came easily. I wished that events would conspire, one way or the other, to enable me to carry on doing this thing – this travelling around visiting festivals and meeting people thing – because already, just a few days in, I was having a whale of a time.
Then, my wish taken up by the cosmos, I went back to more pressing matters: Suffocated Love by Tricky or In a Manner of Speaking by Nouvelle Vague? Christ, it isn’t easy. No wonder Bannatyne panicked.