My mum loves Levison Wood.
In case you’ve been on hiatus from our star system, Levison is an adventurer. Channel 4 follow him about as he does venturesome things.
‘He’s such an adventurous guy’ my mum says.
‘Mum’ I begin, steadily. ‘I’ve been cycling around the world for six years.’
‘I know, I know darling’ she says, before lapsing into a reverie.
‘But he’s so handsome, isn’t he?’
She follows him on Twitter. It makes me wonder when she’s going to follow me. ‘Oh, are you on Twitter? I didn’t know’ she says when I remind her. I send her the link, but she’s lost to Lev’s feed, embarking on a festival of ‘likes’.
She bought tickets to see him speak at the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford, weeks after I’d given a talk to the students of the Oxford University Exploration Society, in a classroom. They were lovely and full of appreciation, all 16 of them.
I went with my mum to hear Levison. Crowds surged towards the entrances, as if at the tomb of a prophet. An elderly lady jabbed her bony elbow into my ribs, anxious there wouldn’t be sufficient space in the rafters if she didn’t get in quick. When I turned to face her I saw a sort of black fire in her eyes and I have no doubt that she would have lanced me with her broach had I stood in her way.
My mum told the usher she had vertigo and wouldn’t be able to sit in the balcony. She asked if she could sit downstairs instead. My mum doesn’t have vertigo. She got a front row seat. She reminds of this, every few days.
And there he was, in a white shirt, resplendent. An adventurous Jesus. Levison did his thing: spinning yarns with well-versed aplomb, splicing in video from his polished Channel 4 films, lauding his many hosts, quoting adventurers from yesteryear and defining his own sense of wanderlust.
The audience guffawed at his jokes, they purred in incredulity. They oohed and ahhhed with gusto. No-one fainted, but my mum was close.
My mum calls him Lev these days. Lev says this, Lev says that.
‘Yeah’ I say. ‘He sounds like a golf club’. In my lowest moments, I imagine a golfer on the fairway, turning to his caddy: ‘Hmmm. Looks about 450 yards. Pass me the Levison.’
I don’t have Lev’s facebook followers, the clamorous hordes of them. But that’s OK, I tell myself, I’m writing a book. I say writing, I mean I’m labouring it out, like an 18-pound baby. It’s abrading my soul. When I take a break from the writing process there are times when almost anything would feel like a relief. An acid-bath, for example. Or meningitis.
Lev has written two books, they sit conspicuously in book shops, stacked high on the tables out front instead of tucked away on the shelves. At least at the moment. I’ve considered hiding them in the Astrophysics section. I’m not sure what’s happening to me.
My book will launch at some point, but not like Lev’s books. I say launch, it may just drift up a bit and hang. It may droop. Is that what you call an anticlimactic book launch? A Book Droop? Maybe I’ll droop it in a pub, to a few mates and devotees of my blog, the kind of lonely people who’d come to a Neighbourhood Watch meeting if there were pretzels. I hope my mum will be there too, but I’ll have to check Levison’s tour dates in case he has an event on the same night in the northern hemisphere.
The blurb of Lev’s latest book comes with a quote from The Times: ‘Lev is ‘Britain’s best-loved adventurer… he looks like a man who will stare danger in the face and soak up pain without complaint.’ I wonder if the Times reviewer will be as kind to me. ‘Best-loved’ could be ‘most enigmatic’, if they were feeling generous. Maybe I could fake a quote from Lev himself, chances are he won’t read my book anyway.
‘Fabes is a bit like me, only more starey to danger, and more absorbent of pain’. Levison Wood.
There are some hard facts I’m hoping to live with: I’m 35 years old. Lev is 34. I live with my mum. I’m going bald with alarming velocity. Lev looks as though he could donate follicles to orphans with alopecia. My debit cards and credits cards are maxed out, the Student Loan Company are going to repossess my shoes and I’m living on cut-price baked beans, the kind that taste like salty cork. I borrow the neighbour’s tin opener and tell them I haven’t had time to buy one. But really, I’m trying to save the money.
‘Oh, but you have such memories…’ people chirp.
Fuck you. I’m malnourished, for fucks sake. I thought I’d be coming home to kudos and sell-out talks, not loan sharks and scurvy.
The other day my mum took me shopping because I couldn’t afford new clothes. We went to Sports Direct. I clumped along behind her as she said things like ‘try this one on Stevey’. I was the only 35-year-old man on the premises in this position, though there were a number of 12 year olds in a similar one. I caught the eye of one, traipsing behind his own mum, and we exchanged a little heads-up as if to say ‘Pffff. Mums.’ When we got to the check-out I sulked behind my mum as she paid, and I could see the staff thinking: what’s wrong with that guy?
This is the dark reality of cycling around the world, the bit that nobody warned me about. I doubt Lev goes to Sport’s Direct with his mum, not even as a brand ambassador.
It’s not that I’m jealous of Lev, you understand. Jealousy is base and unbecoming. It’s just that I want to hold him down and pour liquid silver onto his handsome face, until it sets and he suffocates, and then I’d keep pouring, and mould him into a big silver ball and roll him into the North Sea. It would be a striking end to the trilogy: Walking the Nile, Walking the Himalayas, Sinking into the Ocean.