On Sunday, Ope returned to Nigeria. It was great to have him spend about a fortnight in Lancaster. We’ve been friends since my primary school days at the Pacelli school. He hasn’t totally lost his sight, but he doesn’t see very much in the dark.
The highlight of his visit was probably Wednesday 25 July. I’d promised to take him to the shops to buy some things for his friends back home, but because of commitments with Whirlwind, I couldn’t make it during normal shopping hours. So, at 9.30 PM, we left home, heading for 24 hour ASDA. Remember I said he doesn’t see very well in the dark?
Everyone remarks on how well I know Lancaster. In 17 years, I haven’t really got lost here. In fact, sometimes, I even direct people round the city. There’s only one way that really gives me trouble. It’s an underpass in Skerton; you go under the Greyhound bridge and emerge onto a cycle path that takes you straight to ASDA and then onto Morecambe. Problem is the underpass is sometimes difficult to locate, except of course if you can see it.
When I started to think it was proving too difficult for the evening, I decided that we’d better retrace our steps and take another route. First mistake. We’d spent a few minutes wandering, and I was anxious to get home quickly. So I rushed us into a few wrong turns.
Actually, it was looking good till I went under the railway bridge. That’s not usually a problem, but I noticed that this crossing point was quite unfamiliar. But we bravely walked on till we got to a bus stop. When the bus arrived, the driver told us where we were; we were on Torrisholme road, parallel to the road we were supposed to be on, Morecambe road. At least we knew where we were; the driver dropped us at a bus stop where we could catch a connecting road, but he warned us that there were roadworks.
Maybe I should have asked him to take us somewhere else, but I didn’t. I duely turned onto the road which was due to connect us with Morecambe road, but the roadworks confused me. By the time I finally found Morecambe road, I expected to find traffic lights, but there were none. Undaunted, we crossed the road, hoping to finally rejoin the cycle path. But we couldn’t find it, so we just kept walking … and walking. We finally found a roundabout, and that was where total confusion set in. We spent the next two hours totally lost.
Remarkably, we spent that time between two roundabouts. I just had no clue where we were, because I don’t normally walk past ASDA. We did the most dangerous things; crossed at unauthorised points, found ourselves on grass verges instead of pavements, heard traffic moving past at unhealthy speeds. I think each of us had secret worries; mine was that we had two bad possibilities. One was that at 6 AM the next morning, we’d still be walking, and the other was … well let’s not think of the consequences of crossing those roads.
When we finally thought it was really late, (I didn’t want to check my watch) we planned a most interesting strategy. We decided that the quiet road we were on was leading away from civilisation, and our one chance was to head back towards town. So, we’d stop and count the cars heading in each direction; when we were satisfied we knew where more cars were heading, we’d follow them. Sometimes, it involved crossing roads. We learned the art of stopping, then dashing across the road.
I can only say that God is good. I suddenly remembered that I had at least one other option, so I said a silent prayer. Shortly after, someone came round. Ken is someone I’d known for well over a decade. He usually walks round Lancaster with a doberman. I first met him when I used to go to the Pan Celtic on a Monday evening at the Yorkshire House, a pub close to the centre of town. I’d see him in town, and we’d talk for a few minutes, or I might board his taxi, and we’d chat on the way to my destination. I can’t say we were that close. But then, a van stopped, I heard a dog bark and a familiar voice said “Ife what are you doing here”.
Remarkably, we were only a minute or two by car away from ASDA. I’d overshot and kept walking. Ken dropped us off at ASDA, and we did the shopping. at about 12.30 AM, we decided to go back. I told Ope that now, there were no buses home from ASDA and the taxis charged more after midnight. Would he like us to call a cab or walk home? Ope said he didn’t mind walking, so we did. This time, the journey was hitchfree, but I was intrigued, so I asked him why he still allowed me to lead him home, despite my most dramatic failure to get him to ASDA. He said there were two reasons; first, we’d achieved our object, so it didnt matter, but secondly, he was sure it would do my confidence a power of good to show him the way home. How perceptive?
He was right on that one. It wasn’t just that I felt responsible and I’d failed, I think I wasn’t even sure if I could find my way round Lancaster. After wandering totally lost between two roundabouts for 2 hours, you start to feel that way.
So, where are we all? I’m writing this blog, and Ope is safely back in Nigeria. As for Ken, I thought I wouldn’t see him for a while, but I did, last Friday. It was raining, and he’d stopped near some field to walk his dog, before going home and picking the taxi. Ken’s a star, he saw me and gave me a lift home. Do you know, in all this time, I didn’t know he lived on the Rylands estate? That’s less than 5 minutes walk from my house!