|Darby & Joan are the quintessential middle-aged British couple, characterised by knitwear, hours of scrabble, and a penchant for staying in on Saturday nights. Darby and Joan are, in fact, @calummcswiggan and me. Read the Darby and Joan back catalogue here.|
This past six weeks is the longest we’ve ever gone without speaking, and it’s killing me softly.
You called me almost a year back, when I lived in Rome- which is to say a lifetime ago- and said, Hiya, will you be a reference on my application to work at a tiger sanctuary run by monks in Thailand? Sure, I said. What do I have to do? Just say that it’s true I’ve helped birth lambs on rural Derbyshire farms for the past six seasons, you responded. You know. If they ask.
Now you’re out there, hidden away in Thai hills and bottle-feeding cubs, and there’s probably some really pissed off shaven-haired man swathed in orange, wondering who on earth vouched for your ability to deal with amniotic fluids. To him I say: HI, DUDE! Nice sandals.
My favourite part of your adventure so far has been the picture you emailed of me of you walking a tiger. In a park. On a lead. The caption underneath said simply, I don’t think Thailand care about health and safety.
It’s got my mama worried. Last week she said, ‘Are those pictures of Calum and the tigers on Facebook real or what?’ Because of course you’re friends with my mother on Facebook. Of course my mama even has Facebook.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘As if he’d travel to Asia to spend his time on photoshop.’
She squealed down the line: ‘Well tell him- you tell him- tell him to go bloody steady because he’ll have his chuffin’ head off if he’s not careful!’
I didn’t dare mention to her the email I got right after you landed. You took a detour via India, and as I stumbled through my front door at 3.30 a.m. that night, for some reason I drunkenly checked my messages. You were on my mind. There was no real exception for me to worry- except for that fact that on some level I knew you were in need. Your name flashed up on my screen.
I’ve gotten myself in so much trouble, you wrote, and I immediately thought to myself, Well shit. He’s only been in India ten hours and already he’s fallen in love with a teenager?
Then you said, The kind of trouble that we’ll laugh about in a few days, but is terrifying right now. That’s basically what not to say to your soul-sister when she’s purposefully held back on the This Is What I Learnt In India stories before you departure, for fear of seeming patronising. Suddenly I was berating myself. I SHOULD’VE TOLD YOU THE THIS IS WHAT I LEARNT IN INDIA STORIES BEFORE YOUR DEPARTURE.
I’ve been robbed of all my cash, and my card has been frozen so I can’t use it. The hotel turned me away and I got attacked by homeless people. And they came running out, and now have put me in the penthouse suite free-of-charge. I tipped the guy who brought my cases up one American dollar because that’s all I had. I was being so careful, but basically was forced out of my taxi at the side of the road and made to hand over my money. SAY THINGS.
That sobered me right up. I went into Mama Bear Mode, giving you twelve numbers to collect call me on from somewhere, anywhere, figuring out a way to wire you cash and get you a new card and all at the same time not screaming at you for being in danger. I think that was pretty calm of me. You didn’t do it on purpose, of course, but I’m telling you now- risk my friend's life again and I WILL CUT YOU. If you do not solemnly swear to stay safe, and sound, and wrapped up in a big ball of cotton wool for the rest of all time, ready and waiting to just move to London now and stop Columbus-ing the shit out of every last goddamn thing…
But then, that’s why we’re mates, innit? Because you understand when I have to go off and do something like live in an Italian convent or take a theatre tour in Detroit, and I get that sometimes you have to move to Switzerland at the last minute, or lie about your experience with farm animals.
I didn’t sleep that night, lying awake and checking my phone in case I’d missed you calling, keeping my computer on for your messages. I dozed off as the sun came up, and groggily refreshed my email when I awoke.
I’m going to the Taj Mahal today, you said. I’m proper well excited.
And just like that the adventured continued. Which is exactly how it should be.
Travel safe, little one, and come back to me whole.
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