THIS piece could be part of a project I have in mind. It’s the story of a kind of shaman, herbalist, alchemist.
He sat on the back of a van warming his hands on a mug of something warm, frost crusted his bush beard and his face creased in grime. There were no laces in his boots and one of them, the left, looked like a cynical smile. At first, I felt sorry for him as I prepared the food, a simple stew with a hunk of bread. At this time of year, with all the lights and baubles, it must be unpleasant being homeless, sleeping rough.
That’s why I did what I did. Eased my bourgeois conscience. I could do my few hours doling out hot food and hot drinks, offer a bed in the community hall and ensure that everyone had a health check. But then I’d go back home to my centrally heated existence, read a few messages and watch the news before sleeping under the duvet after complaining to Esme about her cold feet on my legs.
However, after handing him the dish he took his hat off and I saw that his hair was touched with silver and, when he looked into my eyes, I realised he was older than I had thought at first. His features were worn but without the hat I recognised him all right. Giddy Widdop.
“Why is he called Giddy,” someone had asked. We were about 17 at the time – 25 years ago – and it was a good question. Who wants to be known as Giddy?
“Probably something to do with his dealings.” This was Joe Hey. “They make you giddy, you see.”
Percy shook his head. “No, mate. His real name’s Gideon.”
Gideon Widdop. He was famous in our area for his weirdness, walking all over the place, collecting all kinds of plants and fungus. His knowledge of the woods was supposed to have been handed down by his family, like the hut he lived in which was actually an old pale blue caravan that had been dumped by Sam Whittaker, the farmer. Whittaker allowed Giddy to stay on his land in return for casual labour. You see, Giddy was strong so he was useful at certain seasons.
Now, there he was taking a hand out. He leaned against the side of the van and I remembered a time when me and Percy had been keen to understand more about certain fungus. Psilocybe cubensis. We’d found him in his van.