Martin Hesp: A strange thing happens whenever I get out ...
That oft-used phrase about someone not getting out enough didn't exist years ago and I can't really understand why, because it's a useful term that really does apply to certain people.
Suddenly and awfully, I count myself in their number.
The phrase tends to get used when someone's behaviour is a little odd, irritating or eccentric. Someone might be obsessing over something or banging on and on about this or that, and a person who does get out a lot will mutter under their breath: "Blimey – I didn't know he was like that – poor blighter doesn't get out often enough if you ask me."
A great deal of my life is spent writing alone in a little garret in a lonely valley at the eastern end of Exmoor National Park.
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I am a writer. I don't get out enough.
Actually, I reckon a large number of rural people who read this newspaper will suffer from a bit of doesn't-get-out-often-enough-itis. Farming, for example, tends to be a solitary existence for much of the time.
I also know of gamekeepers who only see other people on big shoot days, inshore fishermen who handle their boats alone, foresters who chainsaw in the solitary confinement of their helmets, local radio presenters who spout nonsense from the solitary depths of their studios, country housewives who yearn for the camaraderie of the village post office that's long since shut down...
There are lots of lonely people out here in the sticks. There might be in cities as well for all I know, but I wouldn't think so. I say that because I went to a city this week – and it is where I spawned the idea that I really don't get out enough.
Every once in a blue moon I am required to go to the headquarters of this newspaper for some meeting or other. One day it is likely I will go so they can give me the sack. Which they would have done long ago if I had been in the habit of visiting the company office more regularly.
I don't quite understand what happens to me on these rare visits, but as soon as I enter the hallowed halls of newspaper HQ I start to act in a rather strange way.
Maybe I feel like the ill kid who's always out of school and who sits alone and friendless even though everyone's nice to him on the few days when he does turn up. Perhaps it's that childish feeling that all these colleagues are pals with one another. They have little cliques and gangs that I know nothing about. And suddenly there I am – all country bumpkinish, oafish and strange.
The most alarming manifestation of my odd behaviour at company HQ is that when some boss or other delivers an address then asks for feedback I always, without exception, open my mouth and speak. I am not sure of the any words that spill out – I don't even know what I'm trying to say – but old Hesp bears forth anyway because...
Well, this is the very point I'm trying to make. I do it because I don't get out often enough. Some inner demon that exists a thousand miles towards the universe that is my darkened soul says: "Speak, you idiot. Make yourself heard. You only come here once a year and now's your chance to show 'em all you really are flesh and blood."
For a dozen years I've been doing this and after every one of the corporate visits I have driven the 100 miles home thinking: "Why did you say that? What on Earth were you trying to say? How long will it be before they sack you?"
Without exception in all the long lonely years my colleagues on the paper have been wonderfully kind and friendly to me on the rare occasions when I turn up, so there's no reason whatsoever why I should feel like some rural-leper in their midst.
I do get out and about to other places, and I don't act in such a curious way. Or maybe I do, because down the pub last night the locals told me I was an idiot when I started talking about the dreaded badger-cull.
So now I'm thinking of setting up a new self-help group called Rural Person's Anonymous...
"Hi, my name is Martin and I am a bit odd because I spend too much time on my tod."