There’s an elderly guy I see quite often over the woods. An intriguing character, neatly dressed in a shirt and tie, windcheater and slacks, carrying a shabby leather briefcase. It’s only when you look closer you can see the grimy shine to his clothes, and the kind of tan you get from being outside in all weathers, all year round. He has an odd, politely deranged look, like a manager who had a breakdown at the bank and ran off to live in the forest.
Earlier in the year I’d gone off the usual paths, looking for new things to photograph, and I’d come across an extemporary shelter, a tumble-down roundhouse made of scavenged rubbish bags, fallen timbers, tied together with garden string and Christmas tree lights. There was a shelf inside with a blue tin cup, a half-opened tin of pilchards, and a sleeping bag, rolled up and stashed out of the rain in a corner. It wouldn’t take much to image Mr Manager making all this, fussing with the string, tutting over the lights, then resting his head on his briefcase at night, lying awake in the dark, listening to the rustling in the undergrowth, or the pattering of the rain.
I don’t see Mr Manager all the time. When I do, he’s either sitting somewhere sunny or marching through the trees, talking to himself in that low and level way people do sometimes when their thoughts are breaking surface without them knowing. I always make a point of saying hello and waving, and although it’s taken a while, we’ve got to the point where he trusts me enough to smile and wave back.
Today when I saw him I was very tempted to go up and find out more. He was sitting on a fallen tree in one of his usual spots – a raised bank of grass overlooking the woods – and I was ambling along the bottom looking for mushrooms. I waved, and after a moment, he did, too. For a minute I thought I might walk up there and introduce myself, chat to him – about what, I wasn’t sure. Probably the weather, the time of year, the usual introductory stuff. I could ask him if he’d seen any fly agarics yet (that was one thing I was looking for today, although I have a feeling it might be too early in the season). And then in the way these things go, one thing would lead to another, and I could find out his story. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate, but something held me back. So I settled for a cheery ‘Good morning!’ and carried on.
I worried about it for a while. He could be a vulnerable adult, ‘fallen through the net’, at risk of self-neglect, dependent not just on the kindness of strangers, but on their professional conscience, their willingness to step in and make the necessary calls.
But then I pictured him sitting contentedly up on the grassy bank, sipping water from a bottle, looking around – about as happy as I was, (as far as I could tell), mooching around the young oaks at the fringe of the wood, looking for mushrooms.
And who was I kidding? It suited me better, not knowing the facts about Mr Manager. I was happier making up stories about his circumstances, happy one minute, sad the next. Which I suppose you could see as either a worrying dereliction of duty, a vote for individual self-determination, or a romantic vision of how a life could be lived, wholly outside the normal run of things, out in the woods, lying in the dark, listening to the rain.
New post in ‘Voices’
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