Segments - 08 - Cambridge

01 - Meeting Her

02 - The Services

03 - Exeter Hotel

04 - Christmas

05 - New Year

06 - The Old Man

07 - Why He Started

08 - Cambridge

09 - Norwich

10 - The Party

11 - Millau

12 - Heading East

13 - Nice in Nice

14 - Making Progress

15 - Revelations

16 - Doubts

17 - The Connection

18 - Levelling

19 - Space

20 - Finale

It's not quite like all the other towns, Cambridge. There's the inevitable retail parks, council estates and homogeneous McDonalds. Then there's the bicycles, more than anywhere there's bicycles. Old ones, new ones, funky ones and rusty ones. The town feels, well, foreign compared to the rest of the UK. It feels cosmopolitan as oriental students mix with asians, Caucasian girls giggle as they walk with black boys. Aged grandmothers lean on the fence and natter to executive ladies. There's money here too. The place stinks of it. The bicycles force the traffic to a slower, more relaxed pace. This makes the town feel chilled out.

The old man offers no more insight. He merely bids Clem farewell and makes him promise to e-mail him. With a heave of the heavy rucksack Clem makes to walk to the house where the party is to be held. He's a few days early, he wonders what will happen.

The large Victorian house is empty. It reminds him of her place back up north, large, roaming and spacious, yet this is even larger. He digs out the tablet now fully charged and settles down in the open porch. The old man has reconfigured the tablet such that he can use the sim card's data connection. Ooooooh cool. He has an tweet, from @tgsadventures. He'd completely forgotten about it, the mysterious David who he'd impressed.

"Yes, From party. Wants you to research something? Call me 07788 212313"

So as in Thompson's Holidays but not that Thompson wants him to research something. What? He knows the tablet is on the phone network but it's not a phone, he can't make a call. He looks around for a phone box then remembers they're a rare thing these days with everyone having a mobile. He lifts the heavy rucksack and sets off in search of an elusive phone box. He's a little excited.

"Hi Tabs, Clem, call me back on this number". The landlord is remarkably accommodating to the scruffy bloke drinking cheap blackcurrant and soda and using his phone.
"Hi Clem, you made a big impression you know."
"Why, what does he want."
"He only wants you to research location for him!"
"WHAT!" He thinks she's taking the piss now. "Yeah right."
"No, seriously, he wants you to call him. I've told him you're currently in the south of England doing some research."

She goes on to explain that she wants him to return up north as soon as possible. After getting all the way down here he really does not feel like making the return journey any time soon. It's unlikely he'll be lucky enough to meet another person as helpful as the old guy, even through he was somewhat surreal.

"In that case, I'll send you a package."
"How, fool, I've no address."
"Someone will find you. Leave the tablet on tomorrow."
"But then...and...oh..."
"Shut up Clem, you sound like a dumb pleb." And with that she hangs up. How rude! She still confuses him. Nice and sweet, mean and cruel, caring and tender, cold and rude. He wants to hate her but his mind wanders off in thoughts about what David wants him to do, and if he can pull it off. And if he'll get paid. Paid. Imagine that.

The party is not until Friday into Saturday, it's only Tuesday. It's no wonder the house is empty, although he was hoping to doss down there for a few nights. It's been particularly cold these last few days and as he walks under the load of the rucksack his breath billows out steam. He feels the wind is picking up too. It's going to be cold.

He stops for some tinned food then wanders out of town in search of somewhere to camp. Camping in the UK is illegal except on campsites or if you have permission from the land owner. He searches on the northern side of town, the problem with this part of England is the large, flat fields, there's nowhere to hide a tent. It's getting dark and cold and the wind is biting hard. He just needs shelter now, this is getting desperate.

He finds a brick built bus stop with a concrete slab for a roof. It's in a very smart village, the locals won't like him being there if he's found. He hates winter. The evening is becoming night and it's past bedtime for the kids, their's a fair chance he'll get away with it if he leaves early. He shelters the stove behind his rucksack as he heats the tin of ravioli then packs everything away except for the sleeping bag. He curls up in the shelter. This is not comfortable and far from ideal.

After a fitful night's sleep he's back on the road long before first light and long before the locals wake. He needs to find proper sleeping arrangements but right now he's low on cash and bloody freezing. And the tablet is going flat. Damn. It's times like this, cold, tired, lonely and broke when he feels like quitting and going back to reality. He's no house but his mother would put him up until he got a job and sorted himself out. That is his safety net.

He recalls the old man and their talk. He thinks more about Mandy. He sees her in his mind's eye, but it's fuzzy now. She's fading. His heart sinks, he tries his best to clear the image but it's not there, not any more. She was so alive. It wasn't her image that made her alive, it was the life in her that filled her with life.

He recalls a warm summer's day and a ride on the motorcycle. Seeing her stood there in her bike gear, grinning like a child at the simple pleasure of watching a mother duck and her ducklings swim by. He recalls the feeling of walking away to the motorcycle on that final day when he set off. He'd stared at her longingly, trying to capture the image into his mind. She'd smiled a knowing warmth. "DO...NOT...LOOK...BACK..." the last words she ever said to him.

Do not look back. How? How can you not? These are memories. You can't unsee something, you can't unknow someone, you can't unfeel things. Bitch. She'd laid this massive burden upon him to never look back. An impossible burden. Now he feels guilt for remembering her. Bitch. It starts to snow.

Did she die well? Did she wither away to skin and bones. He feels sick to imagine her lying on the hospital bed, skinny, bony, eyes...her eyes....her eyes with that spark no longer in them. He can't bear these thoughts. Then her body. Lifeless. How can this be? How can there be a god? If there's a fucking god then he's a miserable cruel god. Not the kind of god you'd worship.

He's stood in the middle of the path, still, motionless. The snow is not sticking but the wind is whipping it into his face and it stings. He stands there using the snow as a form of self flagellation. His mind empties. All around the wind howls and the snow whips him, the cold bites and the tears itch his face. Inside he reaches a peace. He feels himself falling and it matters not. He feels the pain as he lands awkwardly in the verge. He cares not. As he lies crumpled in the muddy verge he is laughing. He knows not why. He doesn't care.

"Hey, mate, you OK mate?" Damn and blast! He could have lied there in the cold and died happily. That is what he believes achieving Nirvana will be like. That is what he hopes death will be like. Peace followed by emptiness, nothingness, a void without fear or joy, good or bad. Nothing.
"Yeah, yes, yes I'm OK. Just...a dizzy spell. Didn't sleep very well last night."

As he squeezes into the farmer's tractor it is without doubt good to feel the warmth and be out of the wind. This is a posh tractor to suit the smart farmer, but there's really only room for one. He's had a couple, no, maybe more of these Zen like moments since she died, well, since he was sent away before she died. He doesn't understand them. He used to worry about them and that he was losing his mind but now he almost looks forward to them. They take him out of the emotional pain that he's feeling when they come on.

In the farmhouse with a hot cup of sweet tea life seems much better. No, that's silly, he's confusing a short down moment with a bad life. He has a good life, it just has some bad bits in it here and there. Life is good. He thinks about her, Tabs this time, and smiles. It's easy to picture her in the princess dress as it's fresh in his mind and that cheers him. Ooooh, the tablet, can he charge it?

The smart farmer, perhaps late 40's or early 50's, is quite dapper. A little pudgy but not unhealthily so, well dressed in shooting jacket, wellies and riding pants. He's the archetypal "Farming Monthly" magazine cover farmer. He's almost a cliché except he doesn't have the west country accent, this being the east. He won't however leave Clem in the house unattended, understandable, but takes him to a small workshop next to a massive barn where he leaves him to charge the tablet and remain warm.

Clem spend a couple of hours updating the blog, omitting the emotional details just covering things like where he is, the weather, the kind farmer and wondering what to do for the next few days. He catches up on Facebook and makes contact with the couple that are organising the biker party. They were working yesterday, he's welcome to go over this evening.

With somewhere to go he packs the rucksack once again and sets off to walk back into Cambridge. As he leaves the workshop he carefully closes the door behind him and wishes he had some paper and a pen to leave a thank you note for the farmer. No sooner than he's taken his first step a large executive Mercedes in black with tinted rear windows pulls up.

From the driver's seat a smart, trim and incredibly well suited gentleman steps out. He's only short but the dark skin tones and jet black hair make him, Clem assumes, a damn attractive man. He's holding, contrary to expectations, a plastic supermarket bag.

"Clem, Clement Willows, I presume"
"Errr...yep?" The gentleman beams a large honest smile.
"So pleased to meet you, my, you are indeed a character sir." Clem just smiles at him awkwardly "Tab...itha has asked me to give you this sir." And with that he walks up to Clem, his hand out expecting a handshake. Clem receives a gentle, delicate and soft hand into his.
" thanks, thank you." The gentleman moves to walk away. "Excuse me, sir, please, stay a while, who are you?"

Anton De-Tiere is most accommodating. After introducing himself Clem recalls the name he heard Tabs mention at the New Year party, he'd arranged for them to go. Maybe he was the guy who organised her princess dress and his bloody tuxedo. Anton then invites him into the car, the spacious and quite luxurious rear of the car. As they settle Anton reaches into a cubby and pours out hot tea for them both. This is a style of adventure he could quite get used to.
Anton, Clem suspects, might be gay, if not a tiny bit camp. He appears excited to talk, maybe he can learn something.

Anton re-enforces Tabitha's story. She's a business woman, Anton is a personal assistant, not just to her but several clients like her. He's the "can do" guy. "Parcel to strange traveller in Cambridge, can do Ma'am" he says with a glint.

"Oh she's told me much about you sir, she seems quite enamoured with you." Clem looks shy. "I think you've put a new lease of life into her."
"Gosh! I don't know what to say."
"Now sir, don't be modest, you're a fine chap. I think you are doing something all these high business types would love to do, they're just too spoiled to sleep in a tent without champagne."
"Ha! After last night's sleeping arrangements I'm sure they wouldn't be envious."
"Oh sir, why?"

Clem explains the last night. Anton listens but Clem doubts he actually understands. In fact he's noticed on the Blog some people seem to think it's all romantic sleeping under the stars not freezing in a bus shelter. "Well sir, I'm stopping at a hotel in Norwich tonight, you'd be welcome to join me."
"I need to be back in Cambridge at the weekend though."
"Not a problem sir."
"For goodness sake, sir indeed. Just call me Clem will you."
"Ok, s...Clem"

Clem gets a pen and paper from Anton and leaves a note attached to the farmer's door, thanking him deeply. It's kindness like the farmer's, simple, honest, helpful kindness that Clem loves. The farmer didn't go overboard and soak him with generosity that makes him feel uncomfortable, he just made him a brew and gave him shelter for a while.

On the drive to Norwich Anton makes one verbal mistake, he refers to Clem as Tabitha's "Little Project." That gets Clem thinking. A lot.