It has been another long day when I walk up to the camping. A long day across the beautiful Yorkshire Moors into Grosmont, where the North Sea coast slowly becomes tangible. A man is sitting at the entrance. Quietly, on his own. There is a sense of soft loneliness about him. I put up my tent next to his and we talk. I fancy a beer at this moment and invite him to come with me. No thank you, he says, a bit shyly, he’d rather sit at the river and collect firewood.
The camping is called Priory Camping ‘backtobasic’. The way I see it, it never was any more than basic. There is no shower, only a small kitchen block and a toilet. Apparently the camping guests have to do their own cleaning, and most of us left before we got round to doing that.
When I return he has a little campfire going. Tomorrow his daughter and granddaughter Daisy are coming to visit. He is looking forward to that. A lot, I can see from his eyes. He doesn’t see his children much after the divorce. A good wife, he says, but we had come to an end. She has a friend now, that’s good for her. He is alone, early retirement has returned the joys of boyhood; fishing in the river, campfires, roving through the woods. Still he is immensely looking forward to his granddaughter coming. He has already collected enough firewood for a huge bonfire. They will go fishing in the river and in the evening they will roast marshmellows over the fire. His somewhat timid pleasure and shy modesty at the prospect show the kind and mild boy he has never stopped being. I dearly hope for him that Daisy will like the ‘backtobasic’ camping.
I am in Scarborough, having an early evening meal, before taking the train to Manchester. At the table next to me an elderly man in a loose suit is sitting at a cup of tea. I estimate him to be around 85. His watery eyes look nowhere and distant. When I catch his gaze he looks at me. Smiles. We share a few words. About the beautiful day, the nice city. I say he looks well in his suit. His back straightens, his eyes become focussed. Then two women come in and sit at his table. His posture drops. One seems to be his wife and the other her sister or friend. They talk to him in a punitive tone. His posture drops further. For a moment he looks at me and remembers that he liked it better a moment ago. He straightens his back again but he is not match to the voices of the women. Some minutes later they leave, he trudges behind.
They bring tears to my eyes, these men. They remind me of my father. They seem open and lost at the same time in their need for affection and love, these men, all of us. I feel a moving mix of pity, sympathy, love. So vulnerable. As transparent and as vulnerable as a soap bubble. Were you to touch them, they would burst. Surrounding them with loving attention is all. All we need.