Second Encounter Continuation.
Sunrise: 08.17 Sunset: 04.00
Whilst the tramp eats his fish-on-a-stick dinner, my head torch provides the light to build a basic low seat from the moss-covered bricks that are liberally scattered around. He sits on a large circular tin can, the type with a lever actuated ‘U’ section annular clamp sealing a beaded rim lid to a mating beaded rim around the top of the can body. Our previous meeting established that he uses a series of tin cans fitting inside each other to store his food and kit; a fisherman’s trolley transports them.
A hammock with a sleeping bag laid out neatly inside is hanging between two tree trunks, a large lightweight nylon tarpaulin is stretched tightly along a taut line above them and pegged securely to the ground. This is a neat, tidy and functional camp, set up by someone experienced and well-practiced in wild camping.
His tin can cooking stove will completely burn its wood fuel to white ash by morning. Hot ashes stirred with a stick will gently release stored heat during the night. Short logs mixed with the hot ashes will ignite and burn slowly, providing extra heat should the temperature drop too low. A stack of short part-sawn and snapped birch rods, 150 to 300 mm long and 25 to 50mm diameter, are placed close to the fire, some rest on their ends and lean against the outer vertical surface of the stove to dry. A 150mm square hinged door allows for fueling and stoking when the lid is in place, and a few smaller up-and-down sliding doors regulate combustion air flow. There is also a stack of similar sized, but slower burning willow logs.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this tramp has all the mod-cons, but he certainly has the necessities for trouble-free subsistence wild camping. I guess all his kit and food are tried and tested and have earned their places in his tins. All-in-all, I reckon this is a proficient person with a story to tell.
“Where are you heading?” I asked.
He took his time answering, “Worcester.”
“Where have you travelled from,” I asked after a suitable pause. This is not a man to be hurried.
“Stafford,” he answered with a sigh.
I have found that strange short-term events or meetings in unexpected places and at odd times, rarely match any imagined scenarios I end up attributing to them. I met this tramp a few years ago and the event tickled my imagination. My subconscious set about concocting various scenarios around what might have happened in his life to justify his sleeping out in the Worcestershire and Staffordshire countryside in high winter. I am looking forward to finding out what motivates and makes this person tick. I’m feeling he is a confident and capable person who is probably roaming through choice, and not out of necessity. I hope I don’t end up finding a person down on his luck.
I’m sitting on a pile of bricks watching flames flicker in the eyes of an old man who is sitting on a tin can and looking into the eyes of another old man sitting on a pile of old bricks. How surreal is this? I am trying to learn a few things and he is trying to hide everything. The odds of my finding out anything useful about this man tonight are pretty slim, I reckon. Respect is obviously an issue.
One thing is clear: this man is not forthcoming, and I can’t say I blame him.
I have two choices: give up, or persist. I gave up at our last meeting, so I will try measured persistence and see if this brings results. He is now a challenge.
Local readers might find it strange that people choose to camp on Wilden Marsh, but it’s not unusual. I see plastic sheet shelters in Hoo Wood from time to time, too, but I don’t seek the company of those inhabiting them. People sat at home, warm and comfortably curled up in an easy chair, on a settee, or asleep in a bed on cold dark nights, don’t see what is happening yards from the imagined security of their boundary fences; if they could see, life might not feel so comfortable.
“How long do you intending staying?” asked the tramp.
“As long as it takes for you to tell me your story,” I say in my best “I’m not moving until you do” voice.
“You’ll be here all night them, and I can’t say I’m happy about it,” is the tramp’s response.
” Look!” I say, ” I’ll be honest with you. I write about and photograph the marsh fauna and flora. I comment on other things that occur here from time to time. Whether you like it or not, you are already part of Wilden Marsh history. I wrote about our original meeting three years ago. All I want is the gist of why life has brought you to Wilden Marsh. I don’t want to know every detail about you and your life.”
The tramp thought for a while and said,”My name is Issac. I was born in 1948, in the back streets of Birmingham. My parents escaped to this country from Germany in 1938. I was not spectacular in school, so I joined the Armed Forces when I was 18 and served 20 years. When I rejoined civvy street I was unable to hold a job down. I inherited some money and bought a small wood close to the canal near Stafford. I live in my wood, in a mobile home. I live a life of self-sufficiency, and I like to travel the canal tow paths as much as I can. Is this enough for you?”
I thanked Issac and asked if he is prepared to talk about his travelling kit. . . .