“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
Tommy was just an ordinary bloke. When I got to know him he was getting on in years, in his late seventies I would guess. He was a nice man, very amiable, very kind and great chat. In fact that’s what Tommy liked to do best – chat. He could tell stories all night long.
Tommy was of a generation past who, like my dad, was brought up spending their evenings visiting their friends and having social interaction that did not involve computers, iphones, blackberries, laptops, skype, msn, goggle+, twitter, myface and spacebook or whatever they’re called. You know, all the paraphernalia that we don’t seem able to do without these days. Or maybe better, have become obsessed with these days.
He had been born in the countryside, on a small farm. Too small in fact to sustain the family economically, so when Tommy was of an age he was sent out to find work elsewhere, and elsewhere of course meant the city. Tommy did get himself a job, and a wife and a family and he spent the next forty years or so living in the city suburbs.
He was content enough with his life and so he should have been. He was never out of work, and raised a nice family, two boys and a girl who all of whom did well for themselves. Eventually they all got married and moved away to their own homes and a few years after that Tommy retired. That’s when he got the urge to return to the countryside where he had been born and raised.
So it was that Tommy and his wife bought a small-holding of a few acres in the countryside, quite close to where an uncle of mine lived at the time. Tommy and he were of a similar vintage and they quickly became friends, visiting each other’s houses frequently. Sometimes the get togethers were a bit more formal and the wives came along too. Other times Tommy would just wander across the fields on his own to visit and have a chat with my uncle. There were only three smallish fields between the two houses, whereas the trip via the road would have been at least five times the distance.
This routine went on for several years without noteworthy incident. Then one evening in late autumn Tommy wandered across the fields to talk to my uncle. Nothing unusual in that. They chatted away for several hours, probably had a few beers or a shot of whiskey, which they were both known to frequent, though not abuse.
When it was Tommy’s time to go home the fun started. He put on his jacket and hat and my uncle conveyed him to the back door, which he habitually used. It was more or less in a direct line to his own house. As Tommy was leaving it was getting fairly dark. There was no moonlight to speak of and a fog had started coming down.
I should point out here to people reading this who have never lived in the countryside that at night it is dark, I mean, DARK, very! In cities and towns and their suburbs there is usually street lighting and also an ambient glow that helps to keep real darkness away. In the countryside nothing but the odd light at someone’s house a long, long way off.
As Tommy was leaving my uncle’s house visibility was about ten yards ahead, and he had little trouble in getting to the first field gate and starting his journey back to his own house. He went on more or less on automatic pilot, he had done the journey so many times, and he made it into the second field without difficulty. But all the time he had been walking the fog had been descending and thickening. Now visibility was almost zero, and it was completely dark as well.
After you are out in the dark for a while your eyes adjust. That’s why soldiers and paratroopers and sailors use a red light before they venture out, to allow their night vision to kick in. But fog has a different and very disorienting effect if you aren’t used to it and we weren’t used to it, it maybe happened on this scale once a year, if that.
So there Tommy was in the middle of the second field, in the dark, with the fog, and he was completely lost. Completely!
He kept walking, and walking, and walking, and walking but he never made it to the edge of the field. If he had managed that he could have followed the hedge and fence until he got to a gate. But he never got to the hedge.
All he managed to make contact with that evening were stacks of hay bales that were set up in the field here and there, first to dry a little and then to be collected and brought into the barn.
It’s hard to say how many miles Tommy walked that night, but it could have been at least five, probably more. He was at it for hours. Walk….BUMFFF, into a stack of bales. Walk….BUMFFF, into another stack of bales. Walk….BUMFFF. Walk….BUMFFF. Walk….BUMFFF.
Eventually, fatigued, bewildered, and now frightened he would never see home again, he sat down at the next bunch of hay bales he walked into, pulled a few of them around him and fell asleep.
It was now after midnight and Tommy’s wife was getting anxious that he return home. It wasn’t unusual for him to be late getting back to his own house, once the two old fellas started to chat they could go at it for ages. But this was getting late even for him. My uncle told her that he had left shortly after nine o’clock. It was now approaching 1 am, and they both became alarmed, fearing the worst, that Tommy had become unwell on his walk back to the house.
By this time my uncle was in bed, but up he got, dressed, got himself a torch and away he went outside to look for Tommy. In the intervening three hours or so the fog hadn’t quite disappeared, but it had retreated substantially and visibility with the torch wasn’t too bad. My uncle got his dog, a collie who was delighted at the chance for a night stroll, and they both set off into the first field.
No sign of Tommy. My uncle shouted and shouted, but no response. He walked round the edge of the field, just to make sure Tommy hadn’t fallen into any of the ditches and maybe broken a leg. No, no Tommy.
Then into the next field. My uncle and the dog were just about to start the same process of walking round the periphery of the field again, but before they started he shone his torch in a sweeping motion across the field from right to left. He noticed one stack of hay bales knocked over. He moved his light a little more. Another stack of hay bales on the ground. Then another and another.
“What the hell?” he said to himself, as he surveyed the devastation.
You see, out of something like twenty-three stacks of hay bales, Tommy had managed to blunder into nineteen of them and knock them down. After every one he walked into he must have set off in a completely new direction, like a veritable pin ball he just ricocheted off one lot and meandered on until he hit another and so forth. I have known people with little sense of direction but this was just ridiculous!
They found Tommy a little while later. Well, the dog did first and then my uncle picked out the boots and lower parts of Tommy’s legs sticking out from below some of the upturned hay bales. He got him gathered up and conveyed him back to his own house.
Tommy never did live that journey down.
And he never did venture out in the fog again.
Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.