Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 11 August 2012

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I was staying on Dartmoor at an old farmstead in an overgrown meadow next to a fast-flowing river. We built a fire by the river and sat around it on kitchen chairs drinking and talking. There was no phone signal, no radio, no internet, no telly, nothing. We didn’t even have music. For two days and nights we heard only the sound of rushing water and sometimes wind in the trees. Wonderful it was to leave the tyrant iPhone on a windowsill to gather pollen and a cat’s dusty paw print. I was so relaxed by the end I was horizontal.

On the third day, a Saturday, I’d promised to lend a hand at our village fête by doing a stint behind the bar. The organisers had said I should be there in the festive field for 12.30.  But at 12.30 I was still sitting around the fire, a gin-and-tonic tray was circulating, and for some reason they tasted particularly wonderful that morning. They’ll have plenty of help on hand at the fête, surely, was the cheerful consensus of opinion around the fire. ‘Stay!’ ‘Have another!’ ‘Cheerioh!’ ‘The Queen!’

I stayed for one more, then another. Then my conscience got the better of me and I plucked my phone off the windowsill, tottered out to the car, and drove off the moor and down to my village at the coast.  

After descending for eight miles my phone started pinging messages as I came back within range of the network signal. Steering the car with one thumb, I had a quick scroll through. One was from the police. This woman I’d met online and had known briefly had reported me as a missing person. She was extremely anxious about me, it said, and would I please contact them right away.  

An explanation presented itself immediately. Because the silly cow never goes anywhere beyond the confines of the M25, she has absolutely no concept that parts of these islands have limited phone signal coverage, or none at all, and she must have worked herself up into a state. As I was late, I decided I’d drive on and contact the police when I’d arrived at the fête.

A happy throng was still pitchforking bales, shying balls at coconuts, and bowling for a piglet when I got there. A pair of policemen,  one of whom I knew, added a vivid touch of fluorescent yellow to the scene. They spotted my entrance and made a beeline for me, intercepting me as I neared the barn where the bar was set up and where a number of the village big beasts were gathered. Could they have a word, said the policeman I knew?

The sun was shining hotly down on our happy village day; laughing children were running hither and thither; and here I was being taken aside for questioning. It might have been an intensely satisfying dénouement scene in an episode of Midsomer Murders. Kind, good people who assumed that I was as kind and as good as they, looked on half amused, half aghast. On reflection, I hadn’t shaved for three days, and I was smoked like a kipper. My hair was standing up on end. My shoes were encrusted with river mud. Also, I was slightly tipsy. To a casual observer it might have appeared that I’d been missing for weeks, not days, and only the threat of death by starvation had driven me in from my hiding place on some remote crag.

The policeman I knew said that the woman who had reported me as missing had been particularly anxious because she’d interpreted my last text to her as a suicide note. Could he see it, please? I took out my phone, got the text up and showed him. It said: ‘Clock that moon. Just risen. Driving. Anon.’ I’d sent the text while driving up on to the moor, not imagining it would be my last contact with the outside world for some while. Neither I nor either of the two honest coppers could understand how she had interpreted this text as a suicide note. We shook our heads and rolled our eyes at one another at the mystery that is femaleness.

In fact my text seemed so far from being a suicide note that the copper I knew said perhaps I should also show them the previous text, in order to put it into some sort of a context. I scrolled back and returned my phone to the copper. He read it aloud for his colleague, who couldn’t quite see. ‘I need you to come and fill me up,’ he read. ‘I want to worship your cock with all of my womanity.’  

This made him blink four or five times. Then he looked beseechingly at his mate, as though they were perhaps the last two rational people left on this earth. ‘With all of your what, darling?’ said the other copper, leaning back in pretended horror.