Daddy Bear

… Carl’s story continued.

Carl is collecting dead, hollow stems, ideal as kindling. “I’ll need this later,” he says with a bundle in one hand.

While his peers were sitting their GCSEs Carl was still living in the quarries and so missed out, but his father, who was a panel-beater by trade, would sometimes encourage his boys to study, even out here. “I remember he throw a book at me once and said, here you go, do a project on Greece.” Some time later Carl went to college to study a GNVQ in Art and Design and came away with a distinction.

As we climb and drop, climb and drop, there’s evidence of previous occupants. A rusting wood saw is left in a fire circle made from bricks and large stones; an armchair, a double mattress balancing on a single base, a blue plastic sheet and a pink counterpane. “Someone has used my sticks and tarpaulin,” says Carl, surveying a makeshift shelter attached to a small tree and sounding a bit like Daddy Bear.

We’ve come as far as I need to. I’ve got my photographs and I have to get back to town where other interviews have been set up. Carl’s in no hurry, he plans to stay out here a little longer, light a fire and chill. Before I head back I suggest we sit for a while – I still have a few questions – and Carl leads the way to a grass patch overlooking the sea.

“I think most people would think yours has been a strange childhood,” I suggest as he rolls a cigarette and offers me one of the chocolate bars he’s brought with him.

“I’d be happy to do it again,” he says as he watches a lone fisherman, bobbing on the swell, tending to his lobster pots.

We talk about his relationship with YES. How he started to use their free internet connection to email his Thai girlfriend. They first offered him a coffee, then a bowl of soup and he repaid them with the odd job around the place. Once the staff realised he was sleeping in a tent and winter was approaching they decided to offer him free accommodation upstairs at The Edge.

“I thought I was in for it,” Carl recalls, “because they asked me to ‘come into the office for a talk’ and it took me back to my dad calling me in for a ‘little chat’ when I had done something wrong! But they asked if I’d like to stay upstairs in return for bits of maintenance and keeping an eye on the place when it’s closed.” He’s been there the whole winter.

I ask about his plans, his future. “I’d like to go back to Thailand,” he says, “and buy a plot of land out there. I’m saving for that at the moment. Lots of people say they want to do something and never do. I don’t want to be like them. I want to have done something with my life.”

Carl points out Paignton and Torbay across the bay and a railway bridge above a shale cliff that carries a heritage steam engine line. “And what about your dad and your brother? What are they up to now?”

“My brother has a family and is settled, my dad is back in Slough. He’s well messed up, very poorly, I don’t won’t to end up like that. I still hitch-hike back every couple of weeks to see him.”

Carl directs me out of this quarry to re-join the coastal path back to Brixham. “Morning!” I say to a pair of walkers striding purposefully towards Babbecombe.

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