England 2015

[Readers should read the previous story -Jordan 1996- before this one]

I’m his eldest daughter, so the bearded man isn’t a stranger to me.  He told me one day that he had a present for me. At the back of his bedroom cupboard he found two shawls I hadn’t seen before. ‘Kuffiyeh’, he said, ’In the 70s people used to wear them out of solidarity for the Palestinian cause. They are great wrapped round the head in heat, cold and dust, they are comfy pillows, substitute towels and useful tablecloths. The guy who predicted your gender in Jordan was wearing one!’. He offered, and I took the red and black one.

He told me about the time when he took three months off work and reunited all his travelling companions from his earlier backpacking days. Top of the list was the all-purpose kuffiyeh. There was the Swiss Army penknife – and he had given me one for Xmas just this year -, catgut for threading through  the backpack’s zips as security, torch, sewing kit for repairs, the special envelope for preserving film from customs’ x-ray machines, and much more. I asked him to explain a wooden something in the cupboard, shaped like a smoking pipe but with the pipe bowl solid. ‘A shillelagh, an Irish weapon which no border security ever recognised as offensive. You bring it down hard and it really hurts. It tucked into a strap on my backpack, ready for a quick draw. I only used it once in anger: connecting hard with a pickpocket’s knuckles in Marrakech’.

Ah, life on the road. I could tell he was getting dreamy about all those places he’d been. But then I was also in a different place: aged 18 I had just finished ‘A’ levels and was off the next day for a month of Inter-railing, train travel around Europe. The bearded father has been to over 70 countries: I’m still young, I’m going to go to more.

(And just to clarify things: I was the bump in last week’s Bearded Stranger story: ‘Man’ indeed! Huh, what do these men know?).