The Great Escape

I thought lock down couldn’t have come at a worst time for me. Single, with a lovely Jack Russell for company, I envisaged endless days stuck high up in a council tower block in one of the roughest areas of an average city. Nothing is outstanding about where I live, a mile from the city centre where boarded up shops are scattered like confetti amongst the discount shops and bookies. An hour a day’s exercise? This announcement almost made my ears bleed as someone who is used to walking 5-10 miles most days. If you lived where I do, you’d understand. Walking is escape, peace from those bothersome neighbours who manage to invade my fortress no matter how high I build my walls

Then the call came. An old pal I’ve only seen a handful of times in the past 10 years was offering a place for me to stay while lock down was on, a haven away from the madness. Of course, at this time we all only expected it to really last a couple of weeks, a month at the max but I jumped at the chance and from the moment I arrived at the house, only 10 miles away from my own I felt a different person. I have now been here 4 weeks. It is located canalside and my dog and I have had the most wonderful walks, I’ve seen the most beautiful wild flowers and seen the most exotic looking birds. A far cry from the mangy pigeons and seagulls that like to decorate the cars in the city! I have also had the warmest of welcomes from my pal and her husband who I have both laughed and cried with many a night, as well as the nearby neighbours who have welcomed me while of course observing the social distancing rules!

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though…In fact a boat would have come in very handy in the second week I was here when my dog decided to test the water – literally – at 10:30 in the night and fell into the canal. In the pitch black. All I heard was a heart stopping and stomach churning splash! Bravely, or rather stupidly, I dropped the rucksack I was carrying and jumped in after her. I could neither see nor hear her and my cries for help were going unanswered. I knew I had to get out or there would be two bodies to fish out in the morning. I kicked off my trainers (good ones too…grr) and pulled myself along the canal wall until it stopped and then there were just reeds. I have no upper body strength so couldn’t pull myself out. I just had to swim it, I’m not sure how far but I’d say at least half a mile until I got to a shallow patch and was able to get out. I walked through the mean streets of the town centre, deserted of course. Until at last I came to a kebab shop which thankfully was open. The delivery driver looked at me in horror which is hardly surprising as I looked like the creature from the black lagoon…full of silt and god knows what else. They called an ambulance for me and I was taken to hospital, all the time panicking about where my dog was, thinking there is no way she’ll survive this. After spending the night in hospital with mild hypothermia, my pal arrived with clean clothes so I could get discharged..and while she was waiting for me she got a call to say my lovely JR had been found…freezing, wet and shaking but alive, on the opposite side of the canal bank. I’ve never been so relieved in my life. In addition, some very very nice person had handed my rucksack into the police station containing my laptop, phone and money. There really could not have been a better outcome.

Something else happened in that water though…I saw the light! When you sink to the bottom of a inky black canal you’re grateful for that, believe me. No seriously, I had an epiphany. It was almost like a baptism, albeit in a cold dark canal rather than a crystal clear river or church font. I’d crossed a line and I realised the life I left behind in the shitty city was not the life I wanted to return to. I’d had 14 years of watching arguments and physical fights between neighbours, giving statements to police and cleaning up the mess left behind by drug users and drunks. This had made me adopt a bit of a ”If you can’t beat ’em join ’em” mentality. My own drinking had got out of control and I’d become resigned to the fact that I would live out my days depressed and miserable in a place I hated. Now I’m looking forward to new beginnings, a new place to live and maybe even a paid job for the first time in 15 years. I was never one to be patient. I want it all now! I’ve spent too long living with depression and anxiety, self medicating with alcohol. Now thanks to Coronavirus and two wonderful pals, plus a dog who thinks she’s Ellie Symonds and a dark canal, I can really see the light and a whole new adventure ahead

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