Why it took me so long to get used to it, God only knows.

Does everything really come to those who wait, as the old adage goes? It doesn’t, I can assure you. Besides, there’s a lot more to life than simply waiting around for things to happen.

Always wanted to go to Britain; I’d heard so much about the place from one of my uncles when I was growing up (he was always flying off to someplace and doing all sorts of crazy things—looking for his land of milk and honey, no doubt), and I just knew that one day, I had to get out there, too; when things went south for me back home, and I eventually got out of the rut I was in, well, that’s exactly what I did: I got the hell out of that place.

I pour the tea and delight in the spirals of steam as they dance up and fade quickly from view. I realise that it’s far too cold here in the kitchen, and after making sure the tea cosy is firmly in place, I start to walk towards the front room. I stop on the way, letting my eyes wander over my bookshelves as I always like to do. I tell myself it’s because I want to enjoy these books again and that it has nothing to do with the pain in my back, in my legs, or the shortness of breath. I take comfort in the fact that the flashing lights in my eyes are not too bad today and I can see the many spines quite well.

It finally feels like I belong here, although I won’t lie, it wasn’t the smoothest of transitions for some reason; maybe I was still attached to my past like it was a goddamn ball and chain around my ankle, my heavy cross to bear or something. I’ve come to appreciate the sea breeze on my face every single day and I still remember how truly divine it felt the first time I experienced it; not that you have a choice, you see, it’s always windy down these parts, especially when compared to the small town where I grew up in America, so you kind of have to get to like it. I’ll never forget that vigorous healing breeze sent by the Anemoi to blow away the remnants of what I had once been; it was wonderful, and it still is, I might add. However, if truth be told, it has kind of gotten monotonous, as so many things often do with familiarity—nothing new under the sun, as we say; even the gentle clinking of my spoon in this scalding tea just reminds me of the many times I’ve heard that sound before too—although I don’t dislike its calming rhythm at all.

But I wouldn’t go back, wouldn’t trade that in for any other version of my past. I am quite happy here, even though, admittedly, there’s not that much work or too many opportunities going around either; it’s hard for everyone down here. Anyway, I’m quite happy with the slowdown, if I’m totally honest, I’m not against it; perhaps I’ve always been running to stand still. That said, I get by all the same and there’s enough work for now, and I’m well aware that it could be a lot worse, of course; I am one of the lucky ones, after all.


Just like anyone who ups and leaves their own country, I needed to take some chances and put my neck on the line with some bank loans to get me started out here. It wasn’t easy at first, and they were cautious and thorough as you’d expect before we had any success, but they eventually gave me some cash for my investment ideas.

Now I’m the proud owner of an old beaten-up but reliable Bedford ice cream van from 1982 which I modified to be able to make some deep-fried doughnuts, which everybody seems to adore. I have been known to do fries as well on occasion—anything to keep the limited custom here on my side, you understand; you gotta keep alive: “sink or swim,” as the English love to say.

Whether you like it or loathe it, it’s a great way to get around the town, get noticed. I repaired the original retro chimes which are maybe a little too loud, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that it just wouldn’t be a proper ice cream van without those chimes. I’m not gonna be called a fake by anyone; not me, no way. My tea is too hot, but I sip it anyway, wincing as I scald my lips like a rookie, a novice. Still, I’m quite sure that the front room just ahead of me will not be as cold as the kitchen.

The van gives me the opportunity to spread a little ice cream happiness around, and Lord knows this part of the U.K. needs it—and let’s face it, who doesn’t like an ice cream come the summer months, or weeks, as is often the case down in these sometimes-grey parts of England. Although I have to admit that it has been getting warmer for longer over the last few years, though.

The van also gives me the chance to take some cool photos (which has always been a lifelong passion of mine). In this job, I get to see a lot of faces; some nicer than others, some quite peculiar, and on occasion, I ask them if I can take their picture, which most people seem happy to let me do. Those that don’t know me or those just passing through always ask me if I’m from America—and I tell them I am; sometimes they ask if I am working on a photo project or something—and I tell them I’m not (but actually I am, and have been for years, but they don’t need to know that).

I’ll be totally honest; I don’t really get off on just straight portraiture—although I am always gracious and thankful for any I do snap up—but I much prefer the candid shot, the spontaneous street photography that reveals happenstance and the funny improvised moments all around us. I find it’s a lot more common than people think; you’ve just gotta keep your eye out for it, arguably even train your eye to see it (at least for however long these broken eyes of mine still continue to work). People are always so surprising and entertaining when caught unawares and I think it’s when we’re at our best, and perhaps not just photographically speaking, either. Back in the States, I was always taught that things were preordained; not in that deterministic sense everyone’s into nowadays, but more the religious indoctrination that was more common in the past. Perhaps that’s why I look for a more spontaneous side to life, or maybe it’s because I’m on my last legs and I realise that there’s not much time left.

Am I cheating by snapping great sneaky moments from the protection of my Bedford with its many large windows and blinds, allowing me to see and predict so many photo opportunities? Of course it’s not; how could it be cheating? Am I not simply using the means that I have and that works for me and the type of photography that I like to do? Pounding the sidewalk in search of a great shot is the traditional method for street photographers, and I won’t deny that is a great way to be in touch with the subject matter, to be in the midst of the action, as they say; but I’d prefer to not do it that way.

It could be seen as a very unorthodox way to do street photography, that’s for sure, but my van with its blinds and elaborate patchwork of stickers and the effective camouflage that gives me offers me a greater chance of getting that pure, unprompted shot totally unnoticed. And who cares if it’s unorthodox anyway? There’s more skill to this technique, too, I believe; it’s all about timing and being able to foresee the coming together of elements that may (or may not) produce a great photo—arguably the true essence of street photography. The tea is still quite hot, but I take a gulp all the same and enjoy the warmth it gives me inside. I spill some of it as I slurp some of it while shuffling stiffly into the front room. I’m not worried about any stains, as the carpet is dark enough to hide things like tea. I quite like the warm tingle the mug gives my fingers; it’s like someone has been squeezing my hand for ages and the fingers have gone a bit numb; it reminds me that I can still feel things.

I’ve taken some real beauties over the years, if I say so myself: once got this wild-eyed guy zooming past me on a pushbike with such a brilliant look of exhilaration on his face just at the moment he looked at my van, but luckily not the camera; I’m not too keen on being seen, so to speak, that just kills the authenticity for me, at least with this type of street photography. Perhaps my aversion to being amongst the crowds—as well as the incessant need I have to be alone—might actually be the real reasons I tend not to mingle so much above and beyond my ice-cream duties. I’ve often asked myself if I’m not a little agoraphobic in some way; it would explain a lot, I suppose.

I remember once catching this guy in a car just as he took the last swig from a beer can before throwing it out the window. It’s a great shot—the photo, not the beer chucking; that’s unforgivable. Fact remains that it’s a lucky freeze-frame from an unfortunate and depressing real-life movie that you sadly get to see stuck on loop too often down here. I wanted to put that photo in an exhibition or a local gallery or something, but what would happen if he realised that I had taken it? Well, it just wouldn’t be worth having my van set alight for that, no way. There have also been many other times when I wish I’d managed to get a shot of less pleasurable moments of drunken assholes slapping and beating their partners up, or when gangs attack each other and inevitably end up hurting innocent bystanders, or when vandals—or just drunken idiots—start smashing things up in the street for no reason other than they are drunk, the ignorant dicks. I really wish I caught some of those people in the act, the scumbags that they are. But like I said before, what if they worked out it was me? I’d be a dead man, so it’s just not worth it. I suppose I should be the first to know that turning a blind eye is often the best strategy and I think it’s better to see out what little time I have left naturally and not speed things up by taking unnecessary risks.

Besides, isn’t it true that there are more than enough CCTV cameras nowadays? And what with these omnipresent smart phones everywhere, why would I even have to worry? I know, it’s not my job and I’m not a police officer; I don’t need to move mountains here and perhaps it would be like casting pearls before swine, but the sense of belonging and caring for the local community is something I have always felt within me ever since my more, let’s say, “spiritual” time back in the States. I mean, it’s not a bad thing to feel at all; to want to go that extra mile for a worthy cause, is it? I don’t know, but perhaps that feeling is also stronger in me seeing as I am a foreigner, although come to think of it, everyone down here is from somewhere else.

I’ve also captured quite a few happy accidents of kids (and adults too) who are just about to drop—or are dropping—their ice creams, and their faces are truly priceless. There’s a deep agony in the eyes and on the face of anyone who drops an ice-cream; believe me, I’ve seen it happen enough times. I always call them back and give them a freebie, almost like my conscience is repaying them for the candid tragedy I’d just secretly witnessed and—if I’d been quick enough—immortalised with the camera forevermore; everything has a price.

I put my tea down on one of my new coasters I bought in the local charity shop last week. It looks good sitting next to my old tatty Nikon and I wonder if the camera is upset that it doesn’t have its own coaster. It sits cosily under my mug, almost new and showing off compared to the well-used camera and the tatty framed photo on the table. They all seem quite happy, though, unlike my van, which looks decidedly worse for wear in this grim light today. I study it through one of the rain-speckled front room windows and can see it looking at me, forlorn and damp. Perhaps it is asking me to take it out, to go for a spin. But I’m not going out today, though. I think I see the beginnings of some zigzag flashes in the corner of my eye; the photopsia, as the doctor calls it. They look quite spectacular against the grey sky tonight, like Zeus is mucking about with his thunderbolts, or maybe just getting them ready for some incestuous perversity or some sort of extraordinarily spiteful cosmic event. I wouldn’t be surprised.

My mind wanders back to what I think is a really cool shot I managed to get some years back, just before I had the van, and I’d been standing on the sidewalk just waiting for a shot to happen. It was of some kid in the back seat of a car—nothing unusual about that—but just as the car drove past me, I realised that he was taking a picture of me at the exact same moment I was taking one of him! It’s an unbelievably spontaneous picture, really—if a little lucky too, I admit. I also realise that what with my dodgy eyes and probably not being quick enough nowadays, I don’t think I‘d be able to get that kind of a shot today. It’s right here on the table next to its creator: my hardy Nikon. It’s one of my favourites, although like everything else, it’s starting to look a little battered and worn; perhaps it’s time to print a new version. I’ve always wondered what the boy in the car’s shot looked like or if he liked it, and I wonder where that photo is now, or if he even developed it at all. But at least I have my side of the story, anyway, however one-sided that may be; any story is better than no story. In all honesty, my part-time avocation perhaps gives me just as much joy as the ice cream business itself, although I wouldn’t want to destroy the beauty of this hobby by making it a job. I think that would be foolhardy of me, even if, seeing as I’m being honest here, I really don’t know what direction my life is headed, but I definitely don’t want to be tied to any one job again. I tried that once before and failed miserably, and I’m not going down that road again. Once bitten…

It certainly is a grim one today, though. Why is the sky so weird tonight? Is that natural or is it my eyes playing up again? The winter months can be pretty cruel down here, and I hardly see anyone out when the weather gets nasty (which I’m okay with, of course). It’s true, it never gets as bad or as severe as the weather back home, it just stays miserable and damp for so long out here that you can simply forget what bright warm sunny weather even looks like. There are times when I can no longer remember when it wasn’t grey and rainy (although that may just be my ailing memory, of course). Seriously, it really gets to you sometimes.

It’s fair to say that I may not have travelled to the four corners of the Earth or anything, but this place can really bring you down; it wears you out, drains you, and makes me appreciate just how hardy (or unfeeling) these Brits are; I mean, they have to be to put up with the clammy air, the drizzle, the mold; oh gosh, the mold! Up from the floor, crawling steadily up the walls, the ceiling, even the laminated units and my eight-lid freezer in the van—all get covered in that son of a bitch mold. It’s a constant battle, well, at least for most of the year as it only gets to dry out for a month or two, to be totally honest. That anti-mold treatment isn’t cheap, either, I can tell you. I have tried to keep my books covered and I have to seal up my negatives and my favourite printed photos in a watertight box to avoid any damage; I’d hate to lose them. I’ve lost too many over the years.

All these godforsaken bugs, too, and ants invade the kitchen at least once a week, although thankfully not the van. I think I get these weekly invasions thanks to my flat being just a bit lower than ground floor level. I’ve never understood how anyone can suffer living in a jungle or in Australia with all those bugs. That just baffles me. Still, it’s not a problem here as they may have millions of spiders everywhere (and I mean everywhere), but none of them are deadly. Recently, there was this stubborn little group of ants who tried to get near the teapot, perhaps because it was so lovely and warm, I don’t know. I reckon they’d come across it while searching for food and they just wanted to warm themselves a little. The thing is, when I put the tea cosy over it, unbeknownst to me, one of them had gotten trapped and died: horribly scorched to death. I swear I didn’t mean it. I don’t know why, but it just seemed so wrong (it’s true, I have been known to wipe out their exploratory parties from time to time when they get too close to food, but this was different); it shouldn’t have died like that. No one or nothing deserves to die that way. What is wrong with God? That poor little fella, scorched and burnt to death even though it’s freezing here; seemed such an ignominious and undignified way to go—although no doubt it happens underfoot a lot more than we ever realise, I’d bet. Still, it just seemed so wrong; I didn’t mean to. I’m sure God will punish me for that, too.

I think about picking my tea up but notice some gulls squawking and flapping about near my van. I watch them for a while as they momentarily vanish and reappear when they pass through the dazzling lights in my eye. I take solace in the fact that the wet weather will diminish the power of their bird shit on my van. The seagulls that patrol the coast all year round are the underestimated masters of opportunity. I’ve had half my pie strategically removed in one silent swoop by one of those birds on more times than I care to admit; it’s really quite something and they are way bigger than you think—nasty pieces of work they are. Surprisingly, I’ve not yet managed to capture them swooping down on unsuspecting pedestrians with my camera; I suppose they’re just too damn quick for me, or perhaps I have some kind of unconscious hatred of them that blocks that usually efficient photographic instinct, I don’t know which.

With all that damp, the violence, bugs and thieving birds, the lack of opportunities, and my issue of not being able to make a decision about my future—not being able to see beyond this place (being my current feet of clay, for sure), you would be forgiven for thinking that I am desperately unhappy here. But that’s simply not true. There’s a lovely social club where we get together once a week, and I’ve made some friends there. There are a couple of very nice parks, too—one that if you keep walking turns into the beach where I love to go and sit and have a nice read and maybe take some pictures. At the same time, I’m mindful not to annoy any of the seemingly permanent park residents that you can just make out in the bushes and shadows with their yelling and crappy music, their bottles, their damned needles, and those filthy bags of glue. I’ve been lucky as they seem to leave me alone—perhaps because I purposely don’t stare and just carry on past them all—leaving them to it; or maybe because I don’t respond when they call out to me, when they hurl their abuse at me. Whatever the reason, they clearly don’t see me as a threat and I am happy with that.

And then there are the quite beautiful secondhand shops here, too (perhaps the best thing about these Brits). I love to spend an afternoon wandering around the secondhand bookshops in particular, looking for anything that jumps out at me. From impossible riddle books and science fiction classics to anthropology or good old autobiographies, too, they all grab my eye, catch my mind. I recently picked up an attractive book on drama techniques that can be allegedly used for language teachers in class (interesting but doubtful). It has the most gorgeous deep green cotton cover that feels so good in your hand. Here’s the thing: even though it cost me next to nothing, about two pounds I think it was, it was often really hard to read. Don’t get me wrong, not for any intellectual reasons (I mean, what teacher is going to use “drama techniques” in a English language classroom anyway, for crying out loud!), and I’ve been reading all sorts since I was a kid in the States, so I had no worries following its premise—it wasn’t that; it was rather the horribly scrawled notes and underlinings seemingly written sporadically all over many of the pages that made it such hard going. It’s so annoying when people do that, but to be sure, for that price I suppose I can’t really complain; and, yes, there’s a reason why it’s called secondhand, I know, I get it. But still, it bugs me all the same. If anything, I suppose it’s good to look at.


My life has always been a fun ride when I think about it and I’m grateful and humble to be here reflecting on it. However, there is one thing that is slowly becoming clearer: my happiness (and my sadness as well) has had little to do with mold, my previous career, failed relationship decisions, candid photography, family issues, bookshops, or money, and certainly not anything to do with God anymore. It’s all about your state of mind, even a muddled old mind like mine. It’s all relative to who you are—and who I’ve always been—and not where you are living (however important that is, too), or what other people’s expectations of you are, or where you were born (although you could argue all those factors are important). I no longer feel that we walk the preordained path, but, rather, we make the path by walking; we are the result of our choices.

It feels odd to me that after all these years of walking through this life—or perhaps running away from it—that I should now feel the need to probably stop and let it all catch up with me here. But that’s not such a bad thing, is it? Why should that be bad? Am I a bad person for thinking that?

Forehead pressed up against the glass, I realised I’ve let my tea get cold; there’s no way I’m gonna drink that now, and I consider going back down the hall to the freezing kitchen to get a fresh mug, and I stare at the dark corridor for a moment but admit to myself that it would be pointless to start walking back that way again. I turn my head to look back out at a wall of greyness that is also tinged with a peculiar green hue tonight. I’m fully aware that this strange light may just be my tired old eyes and the photopsia playing tricks on me again; it’s difficult to tell what is really out there anymore.

I reach for my camera and I wonder if I’ll ever see eye to eye with my soul, or—God willing—if I will ever find some true peace out there. I raise the camera to my eye as the glorious flashing continues furiously in the viewfinder trying to put me off, trying to blind me. I take my picture all the same.