I believe that sunrise is best seen at the end of a long and enjoyable night… not as a painfully early start to the day.
I love wandering home through the dawning city: drunkenness giving way to exhaustion; dark changing to grey then light; birds telling the world they’re awake; the first buses of the day rumbling by.
Shameful? I don’t think so! It makes me feel young.
In my younger days, I would return home from a night out via the direct route through Birmingham’s largest park, much to my mother’s consternation.
She would regularly berate, “I wish you wouldn’t walk through the park at night. You never know who might be in there!”
I would nod and make all the appropriate noises of contrition… then do the exact same thing the following weekend.
I had no intention of changing my habits. The route from pub to home through the park took 40 minutes, compared to double that had I gone the long way round, besides I always assumed that muggers were unlikely to lurk in deserted parkland when they would have far more chance of finding victims on busy thoroughfares.
I only encountered other people in that sizeable 2,400 acres on one memorable night. I was passing through one stretch of woodland that always gave me the heebie-jeebies. The canopy of trees was so dense that no ambient light could penetrate. I was plunged into total darkness in a black so dense that the only way I could tell that I was not straying from the path was the reassuring feel of tarmac beneath my feet.
A thick mist had risen from the many ponds and pools in the park and was hanging close to the ground, giving the already atmospheric environment a particularly creepy feel that night.
Suddenly, the path ahead was filled with unearthly light. Several towering silhouettes stretched elongated tendrils of blackness toward me. I stopped in my tracks, convinced I was having a close encounter of the third kind and was destined to be whisked away like Emma Samms in a Dynasty cliff-hanger.
It turned out to be night-time fishermen heading home, light from their powerful torches augmented by mist and casting distorted shadows.
That meeting in the woods turned out to be much ado about nothing, but my partner and I had an experience in the forests of Croatia that could have ended in toothy tragedy.
We were exploring the country by car and had stopped for the night in Plitvice Lakes National Park, a wilderness of wooded hills, waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes.
We found a friendly, puppy filled, homestay in a picturesque valley.
That evening, we walked the mile or so down a weaving lane to the only place to eat in the area, but at the conclusion of our meal, decided to slice 15 minutes off the return journey by taking a shortcut through the woods, so exited the establishment via the backdoor to access the path.
The woods were forebodingly dark, but we could just make out the track when our eyes adjusted to the gloom.
Once deep enough into the woods to be committed to that course of action, we became aware of the sound of moving foliage and the snap of detritus in the undergrowth. Something was moving alongside us.
I whimpered, “What is that?”
“It’s probably a squirrel,” my partner offered, unconvincingly.
“Squirrels don’t snap sticks with their paws!”
We both scrambled around in the dark to find something to defend ourselves with. My partner came up with a log so big that he could barely carry it and would struggle to swing in combat, while all I could find was a thin sapling that would barely swat a fly.
Fortunately, we spotted light up ahead and ran the last 100 yards to the road and safety.
Having no other options available, we returned to the same restaurant for breakfast. Pulling up in the carpark, we were horrified to see a huge sign, which we would have noticed the previous night, had we not emerged from the rear entrance. The sign featured an arresting image of a human skull with a big red cross through it and warned not to enter the woods during hours of darkness, because of the danger from wild cats, wolves, and bears… oh my!
“See,” I gulped, “I told you it wasn’t a bloody squirrel!”
Back on my more mundane walks home from Birmingham city centre, it is almost inevitable that some horny lad will cruise by in their car (especially if you know the side streets to loiter on).
They will pull up alongside and engage in an exchange that goes along the lines of:
“Hey man, whatcha up to?”
“Nothing, just wandering around. You?”
“Just drivin’ man. You been out tonight?”
“Yeah, to a few bars. What you been up to?”
“At a mate’s place… you know, chillin.”
Then there will be a few awkward moments, as they stare ahead trying not to make eye contact, as they invite you into their car without directly admitting what they are after.
One evening, I was picked up by a guy in a white van.
He found a suitably quiet place to park up and suggested, “We can get in the back of the van, as there’s more room.”
“Won’t it be dark?”
“Nah… There’s a light back there.”
When he opened the van’s rear doors, the space was filled with commercial sized sacks of onions, potatoes, rice and pulses, stacked one on top of each other.
“Sorry,” he apologised, “I had to do a Cash & Carry run for my uncle’s shop.”
We manged to climb in and make a bed amongst the lentils.
Afterwards, I asked, “So where is your uncle’s shop?”
He responded, defensively, “Why do you want to know?”
“Because I’ve seen what you do on the produce,” I told him, “And I never want to shop there!”
Several weeks back, I took full advantage of the first weekend of freedom after restrictions on hospitality were finally lifted and stayed out partying until gone 5am.
As I staggered home, I approached an area of warehouses and abattoirs, with their claggy stench of death. I became aware of a handsome Middle Eastern fella walking parallel with me on the other side of the street. Our paths crossed at the intersection, and he struck up a conversation, in limited and heavy accented English.
“Hello. You been out tonight?”
I told him that I had.
I acknowledged that was indeed where I had been.
“You like men?”
I told him that I did.
“You come with me? I have key.”
“Do you have a flat nearby?”
“No,” he replied. “Reception.”
Before I could ask for clarification, he trotted up a few steps to one of the many industrial units on the road, unlocked the doors and beckoned me in.
The reception space was sparse, littered with cardboard, but fit for our purposes.
Once our brief liaison was concluded, he casually offered, “I show you livestock?”
“Pardon… You show me what?”
He immediately threw open a nondescript door to reveal a vast warehouse of pens filled with hundreds of sheep.
They all turned simultaneously to silently stare at me with benign curiosity.
I surveyed this unexpected sight for a few bemused moments then the guy closed the door again and announced, “We go now.”
Sadly, my eyes were probably amongst the last things those ewes ever saw.
It made for a unique conclusion to a very long night.
When I relayed this tale to my partner the following morning, he asked, “How could you not know the sheep were there?”
“They didn’t make a sound,” I explained, “and that area of town always smells like a barnyard, so how was I to know I was having sex in a slaughterhouse?”
Thankfully, the animals I encountered on that urban walk home were less menacing than whatever stalked us through the woods of Croatia … unless one of them was only wearing sheep’s clothing.