I wonder where the second team play?

Revision – 2014 (Dyce is me, coy in the first person. Eric was a walking pal going back to 1994 when my mental health first began to deteriorate. He was also a psychiatrist). This piece could be a prologue. I can’t just see the date of the first drafts, but around 2000 and after.

A busy sunny Spring Saturday afternoon. Two men in their sixties, Dyce and Eric. A Derbyshire walk over the Great Ridge overlooking Ingleton and the Hope Valley.

  “It’s not something that happens to you,” said Dyce, “Back in the day, other people used to have nervous breakdowns. Even when there was no one else for miles, my mother would whisper with a knowing wink, ‘He had a nervous breakdown.’ We hadn’t a clue what that meant. We imagined someone drooling and saying daft stuff. Or one person one minute and another the next. A dark room in the loony bin. Dad said they were ‘mixed up’, a curious disorder that teenagers were allowed to have in the nineteen fifties and sixties, until they discovered they had to earn a living. And dad’s solution? ‘A spell in the forces would sort them out. They should never have stopped conscription.'”

  “You sound as though you know something about it,” said Eric. 

“Well every second person you meet has had some form of emotional wobble. Not a train wreck that ends up in casualty. It’s more gradual. An experience that friends and relatives have. Becoming slowly unpleasant. Until you can no longer do normal stuff. No surprise to anyone but yourself.”

  “So not at the time, later maybe?”

  “Today, it’s almost cool to be on anti-depressants, apart from the side-effects. Imagine having to disappear for a crap, at the most inconvenient times, with seconds to spare. Boy scouts learn always to carry toilet roll. Well adults do too. Out walking on the fells is a risk. Do it in summer and keep to the foothillls for a while, home to safely luxuriant bracken. Afternoons can be awkward. Too high for bracken, you need to quickly clamber for that sheltered rocky spot. But take care to look behind or belt undone, half squatting, you could put that couple, fifty yards away, right off their afternoon tea.”

  “Needed a medication change.”

  “Or just throw the pills in the bin.”

They walked off Lose Hill and came across a wall, a stile and a junction of five lanes. Three of the names on the signpost read Hope, including the way they’d come.

  “Which way?” asked Rivers.

“No problem,” said Dyce, “It’s Hope whatever.”

  Ten minutes later, as they strolled along the riverside, listening to the bustle of Hope Show, a bloke in a flat cap and macintosh came in the opposite direction and asked a question that stopped them in their tracks, “Is this the path?” 

Dyce laughed, “Depends where you want to go,” he replied. They watched as the bloke trudged away toward five lane ends.

“He won’t get any help there,” said Eric and they both laughed, “It’s a John Bunyan moment.”

Later still they sat on the grassy bank in front of Peveril Castle. In the far distance there was a single rugby pitch. Dyce turned to Eric, “I wonder where the second team play?” Eric replied, “they probably play one after each other, you know, a double-header.” 

Dyce wanted the question to just hang there, left without an answer. He sighed, bemused, do we need to be that certain?

“It’s a story. There and back, and while you’re there. A simple three-parter. An innocent plan that turns into a tough schedule and a hasty rethink, peeping across and catching glimpses of other slower, more thoughtful trips. You finish in a strange place, ruffled and bruised.”

“You need to write it,” said Eric. 

Conscription may not have been such a bad idea, thought Dyce as he stood and walked back to the car park.