Tuesday, 12 July 2005

veteran

So, we decided to go for a nice walk along the Prom this evening, once the temperature had dropped below my safety cut-out point. We walked along by the edge of the river for about half a mile and then found a convenient bench to sit down on and look out over the water.

We picked out curlews dibbling around in the shallows and the rockpools and we saw a cormorant flying overhead. The sunlight reflected off the buildings on the opposite shore in a pleasing romantic manner. All was well with the world.

Then he found us.

The random, drunken, lonely man.

This evening, we have learned:

  • where the sea-bass shoal around the groynes and the fact that most people think they are skate. And the fact that the fishermen are always on the opposite side of the groyne from them.
  • how to disarm a man coming at you with a knife, including a practical demonstration using B's arm and a packet of Drum tobacco, helpfully plastered with 'Smoking Kills' signs.
  • the fact that you can get a brown belt in Tai-chi.
  • many policemen have been in Her Majesties Forces as a previous career.
  • if you want to take out someone who is attacking you, then it is a good idea to hit them in the sternum with your elbow. Again, demonstrated with the help of B. Who was becoming quite nervous by this point.
  • if someone slightly creepy who has been drinking kisses you on the hand, then you can still feel it even after you have washed your hands. Lots of times.

We eventually escaped when a Woman He Knew came along and was sucked in.

Random Man: "You don't mind me putting my arm around you Woman I Know, do you? I don't make you nervous?"
Woman He Knew: "Well, it does a bit Random Man, because my back's quite bad at the moment".
I think he must live in the Retired Mariners' Home at the top of the road. He is sixty years old in seven weeks time and at that point he gets a lump sum from the Navy. He told us all about how he'd been on the ferries for four years and then had joined the Marines for fourteen years and had been taught to kill people with a rubber band and a teaspoon.

All of my wigging-out bells were going off as he approached us. He was obviously looking for a conversation and was obviously lacking the social skills to strike one up in a normal fashion. But, as he talked, my wigging-out alarm turned itself off, or at least, quietened down a bit. After a few preliminary comments about fish, he launched in to the story that he clearly felt compelled to tell.

About how he'd been attacked last night in the centre of town as he was going home from doing a bit of shopping. How he'd disarmed two kids who had jumped him and turned the tables on them quite effectively.

Clearly he might have been making it all up, but he had fresh bruises and cuts and was exuding a kind of desperate need to be heard.

He was drunk, of course. But I probably would have been if it had happened to me.

He told us the whole story a couple of times.

How they'd jumped him.

How he'd gone in to town with £57 and bought a pair of trousers and a top, and had £22.17 left and was walking down to get the ferry and come home. How they came out of a side-street and one of them had a knife. How he automatically fought back and made the guy drop it. How the marks on his hands and arm were from the other guy's teeth, where he had side-chopped him and missed his throat and caught him in the mouth and how that was actually quite lucky for the guy. How he had jabbed one guy in the sternum with his elbow and kicked the other one between the legs. And how when the second guy was down on the ground on all fours, he'd automatically kicked upwards in to his face and broken his nose so that it was pouring blood. And how the Police were sympathetic when they arrived.

He told us that he didn't like violence. That he wrote poetry. That he didn't want to be in situations like that. That he wanted a quiet life.

He told us that he supposed that he was looking for us to validate his actions. That he was right - he shouldn't have just given them his money, or his tobacco, or his shopping, or whatever it was they thought they wanted. He said that it was mostly an automatic reaction. Mostly.

We said that we completely validated him. That he couldn't have done anything else. That it was a perfectly natural way to have behaved. That they deserved it.

We said it a second time, and a third, as he told us the story again.

And when the Woman He Knew came along and sat down on our bench to have her post-exercise smoke, we made our excuses and we left.

And here I am, blogging about it.

And out there ten minutes walk down the Prom, he is probably telling his story to another couple who are just out for an evening stroll, looking for some peace and wishing that he would go away and leave them to enjoy the evening, in the same way that we did.

And tomorrow, he will drink some more. And perhaps he will stop other strangers and try to tell them his story. And maybe they'll listen. And maybe they won't. But by sharing it with you, perhaps I've given him the validation that he was looking for.

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