India and the longest journey ever undertaken – Part 2

Paresh Shah works for Unitech Engineering.  It’s a company ‘…to solve the corrosion problems’, or so his business card says.  It deals in Advance Engineering, Thermo Plastic Piping Systems.

Paresh Shah also works for God.  Or at least that’s what he was trying to convince me of the morning I came out of the toilet on the train to Mumbai that was nearly 4 hours late and that had enabled me to miss my connection to Delhi and therefore my liaison with Marta Calvo for a New Years knees up in Rishikesh.

After dismissing the likelihood of my intentions to make my train connection with a smirk and a turn on his heels just 5 minutes before, this complete stranger was back to gawp at my ticket.  I could hear his brain whirring.  I could hear a far off ticking.  I think I saw a halo appear above his head.  Whatever was happening, it was about to confirm my faith in the ability of humans to be wonderful, caring, compassionate and full of selflessness.  Paresh Shah opened his mouth…

According to this portly, stout little fellow with a balding palate and a dirty over-worn suit, I was to disembark at the next station, get a taxi to a place called Bolly Wolly station and meet my train there.  ‘Easy as pie’ I said, in my most mocking of tones.  My mind was thinking the following…. ‘Did he say Bolly Wolly’?

It was on the 5th time of asking that i gave up trying to understand the name of that station.  He looked at me like I was taking the rise out of him.  I guess I kinda was…

I stood there bemused as he sauntered off, thinking how can I trust the directions of a man from a country where when you ask directions, generally you end up in another country…?  I thought of the ramifications of alighting my train at a random station at 7.30 a.m, knowing not where I was or how to move on but believing that Bolly Wolly held the answers to my prayers.  Where would i get a taxi?  How much would I be fleeced for?  Does Bolly Wolly even exist?  And what if my train doesn’t go through there?  The possibilities of extreme failure and a life from that moment on of destitution within this country of such things was making my belly do the ache.  We were 5 minutes from the next station.  A decision had to be made.  ‘Shitebags’ I thought.  ‘SHITEBAGS’ I screamed. And then something happened…

Paresh Shah returned.  ‘This is what WE are going to do’ he piped.  ‘WE are going to get off at the next station, WE will get a taxi to Bolly Wolly and We will meet your train there and YOU will get on it’.  ‘Can I snog a strange little Indian man’, I asked my brain?  ‘No, best not to, I need his help’, my brain responded.

So, off we got and away we ran.  ‘We dont have much time’, he shouted over his shoulder, sprinting away from me like Ben Johnson after a good strong dose.  I followed him to the nearest taxi stand, underneath this station in the arse-end of nowhere.  After much haggling, the 1 hour taxi ride was gonna cost us 600 rupees, about 7 pounds and 50 pence.  A little extortionate, I thought (!), but seeing as this man was going out of his way to help me, I decided to pay 500 rupees of the fare.  Only fair…  The driver was a Sikh man.  I was just about to learn exactly what that meant for the future of my seemingly short life…

On a train, in the future, someone would tell me that Sikh’s only care about themselves.  And by that, they didn’t mean themselves and other Sikh’s as a collective, they meant literally, about themselves, ie, the individual.  I was told this by a Sikh.  After my taxi journey experience, I thought, even if only for about 8 seconds, ‘This person must be have had a ride in my taxi drivers car’.  The only thing this driver was missing was a crash helmet, seemingly because it wouldn’t fit over his MONSTER sized turbaned head.  And not cos of his turban but because of the immensely sized ego that couldn’t quite fit in his substantial frame.  And he really didn’t seem to care too much about my or my fellow passengers life, even though my fellow passenger probably had the say as to whether he would go to Sach Khand or not, being the Angel that he was, as time and again we were inches away from an on-coming truck and a gruesome, twisted metal-induced finale!  I saw a white light about 17 times in 45 minutes.  And at one stage, having paid to go through a toll, our driver screwed up his receipt and threw it at the guy in the booth!!  I found this actually pant-wettingly funny and if I wasn’t so petrified for the rest of the journey at my man’s complete lack of care for anything outside of his own aura, would have got his address and sent him a Christmas card… although, he would probably have tracked me down and curve-balled it right between me eyes!

There is a certain awkwardness when you are sat in a car with someone who doesn’t really speak much of your language and, you, absolutely sod all of theirs, but that awkwardness reaches new levels when, petrified at the sight of an on-rushing Rickshaw, you grab the nearest thing to hand that you think may save you from a death of shattered glass and bent steel through the eyeballs and that thing at hand is the slightly damp, sausage like thigh of a strange small Indian man who has saved your bacon.  In a split second, my mind ran through various scenarios, each one pertaining to a different facial expression of apology to this man-angel.  It’s amazing how, when faced with the need for a certain look, the mind will play games with your own consciousness’ desire and make you look like you have just sharted whilst grimacing a ‘lets go to bed look’.  This is exactly what I did when I looked at Paresh Shah in apology at grabbing his Lincolnshire thigh.  If only there was another un-comfortable 30 minutes of our journey left, I internally screamed…

Once we arrived at Bolly Wolly, or Balawali as I realised it was called at our arrival, brown of pants and light of lives, our little Indian Engineering Angel continued his Olympic 100m training routine and shot off into the distance, yelling at me to hurry.  I did, but I was carrying three months of clothes in a huge sack whilst he was carrying only the weight of expectation (and mind you, a gargantuan amount of compassion too).  For a moment, I thought maybe he was trying to escape me, having made an error of judgement and been too nice to say so but not too nice not to leave me stranded at a comically named train station!  But then, I realised he wasn’t.  And that made me feel better and run faster.  But then, what happened next, is just stereotypical of an Indian’s lack of interest in the keeping of time…

It’s been said that animals have a completely different concept to humans regarding the space-time continuum.  I think this refers to Indians too…

We get to a platform.  And before he inquires whether our train has arrived or whether we are even on the right platform, he walks up to a shoeshine and gets a mirror like sheen to his 17-year-old slip-ons!!!  I am standing there, watching the incredulity of this situation, wondering if I am in a twilight zone episode but instead of asking him politely ‘WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING, MAN’, I start to think of the t.v series Police Squad and then of all the films i have seen where a detective will get his shoes shined whilst asking for information that only these shoe shiny fellas know, like ‘What time does he have his coffee, Frank’? or ‘How many times does he order the Pastrami sandwich…… Frank?’ (for some reason, Frank is the most shoe-shinier name I can think of, even on a station platform in the middle of India).  I also realised something about myself at this situation.  Sometimes, my mind will readily free itself from reality when faced with any degree of the importance of immediate thought as to what to do.  At this moment, rather than ask Mr Shah what the hell we needed to do as a train hit the platform, I was thinking of Grey-suited-trilby’d detectives paying backhanders for info on local gangsters.  Still, I do like the 50’s look of suit and hat and pine in fact for the time when we all have to dress as such once again… hmm!!

Anyways, once we could see our distorted faces in the footwear in discussion, I was politely told we had missed the connection by 5 minutes.  When I looked at how long the shoe shine had taken, it was comically close to 6 minutes.  Indian Angels, I thought, have a strange way of revealing their plumage…

But my trust was still fully locked in to this little man and he proved it to be rightly so when we jumped on another train ten minutes later and found a seat.  By this time, I should have been on my train 6 hours ago so how the hell we were gonna catch it when we hadn’t even reached its original departure point, I had no idea.  But this is another strange thing about India.  You can try to work something out and come to the conclusion that it can’t possibly be so or make sense but somehow it seems to always do so.  And as I am sat trying to work out how to catch up with a train that I am 6 hours behind, within an hour and a half whilst travelling at roughly the same speed, Mr. Shah gets out his personal computer and shows me that in an hour and a half, we will arrive at a station and 45 minutes later, my original train will come through and I will catch it.  And as I wailed in his general direction, with sincere gratefulness and humility, I realised once more that this country will give to you whatever you require if you just show some faith and a li’l love.  ‘Jugad’, I thought.  ‘What a bloody trip’, my mind responded.  ‘What’s Jugad?’ my mother texted me…

And as my station approached, I said my thank you’s to this Angel in disguise… and what a disguise… and hopped off that train.  And as I did so I thought ‘Us humans really should try to invent a new word or phrase that truly expresses gratefulness and thanks in a way that Thank You just doesn’t convey’.  Cos when someone does something so extremely wonderful for you and all you have in way of a retort is Thank You, it just seems so mediocre.  So I have decided I am going to send him a card when I get home to England and maybe even a solid Gold Rolls Royce to express my gratitude.  Or I’ll just post a Thank You card, after all it means the same thing doesn’t it…?!!

That night, on the train to Delhi, it was the first time I had experienced a substantial chill in the air since I landed in this magnificent country.  I was on my top bunk, the prefered amongst most travellers on sleeper trains due to the fact no-one can come and wipe something grim on you whilst you’re asleep.  The fans overhead were off, again a first, a sign that we were heading North to a place where winter actually hits, although the outside temperature still rarely gets below 5 or 6 degrees.  I woke up at one point, pulled my new throw over myself and mused ‘I am heading to the mountains, where at night it may get down to nearly zero degrees and all i have is a rucksack of t-shirts and two long sleeve shirts’.  Sometimes my genius amazes me.

During my train journeys in India, i have regularly used my ‘sack’ as a pillow.  This is cos a) it’s an anti-theft measure and b) i have no pillow.  But my sack isn’t a pillow.  Pillows are filled with Angel’s feathers, nurses smiles and the vibrations of a softly plucked harp.  A rucksack used as a pillow is filled with Mountain ranges, crab claws and the screams of innocent lost children.  A pillow does not my rucksack make…  But needs must and so on this night the Sandman visited and z’s were manifested until at 6 a.m some Satanic preacher turned on the light that was hovering 3 and a half inches from my retinas and that was it, a night’s slumber broken as if made by the finest bone china and attacked by an angry shark, ridden by an Indian tosser!  I guess i did hit the sack at 9, having decided to listen to a song from every album on my mp3 that had an album cover!  Amazing what one will think to do to pass the time on a long journey!

Another thing i do to pass the time here, is use my incredibly MASSIVE I.Q to think upon stuff.  I keep looking at elderly people and musing ‘I wish i knew what they know and how much of this life they know!’  When sadness hits, i tend to wish i was older and therefore have more of the tools to cope with the feelings of maudlin that currently beset me.  Maybe a lot of the people i see, who i think know a lot, know nothing at all!!  But wisdom, if it ever can have a face, which it can’t but I’m gonna try to give it one anyway, has the face of an elderly person staring out a window wistfully at a past that emphasised the true greatness and fullness of life!  In my eyes anyway.  One day, if i am lucky enough to make it that far, i too wish to stare out of a window, a shard of sunlight warming my old bones and wrinkles, wistfully reminiscing about a life that was full and worthy, thinking of all the good times that far outweighed the heartbreak and sadness, that at times threatened to suffocate and destroy and with a wry smile on my face murmur to myself the words ‘Wow, what a bloody journey’.  India is already teaching me to appreciate what i have rather than pine for what i don’t have.  Well, not teaching, but reaffirming that knowledge…

As i head North, India seems to be expressing its poverty trait.  I see people who have set up home in tents, shacks, dwellings that i cant even describe as buildings but that are 4 poles with coconut palm leaves wrapped around them as walls and a piece of old, disintegrating tarpaulin as a roof, living on the edge of railway tracks, along fetid rivers and in the middle of open fields.  It´s insane how little people seem to have here.  It makes me think of people at home who, when they don’t have the latest phone or i-pad, poop themselves and get stressed and think they are falling behind the rest of the World.  ‘People, try having no house, try having to grow and make your own food EVERY DAY, try living right next to a railway track and washing your clothes in a filthy river’!!  These people still have more humility than most of the people i know.  Kind of makes me disappointed in those around me who are sucked into this materialistic wonderland that includes a Helter-Skelter taking you directly to hell!  There are women everywhere doing labouring work, carrying bricks, digging with pick axes, I’ve even seen 4 women carrying concrete railway sleepers, which usually takes 4 strong men to carry.  Here, if something has to be done, it has to be done, no matter the gender, no matter the ability of the person.  Boy, have we got an easy life back home.

Although poverty seems to be everywhere here, it doesn’t take away from the natural beauty of the surroundings.  At times you could be forgiven for mistaking the countryside with England or France.  There are lush green fields, quenched by the recent monsoon rains, rolling hillsides and magnificent specimen trees, the guardians of the nature that flourishes around them.  Whereas the magnificent landscape of the South reminded me of scenes from Apocalypse Now, the North is more All Creatures Great and Small!!  Both are equally beautiful, both make me glad to be alive!

Another thing i have noticed here is that things are never repaired.  Nothing is ever repainted either.  If something starts to fall down or crumble away, it is left until the inevitable happens and it ceases to be what it once was.  It’s a strange phenomenon.  Everywhere, there are buildings that you think are derelict but are actually just as inhabited as you believed they once were.  I guess when food and shelter is paramount, a lick of paint and some bricks and mortar are irrelevant.  But it’s EVERYWHERE.  No-one, it seems, wants to take responsibility, even for their own property or land.  It’s as if they are saying ‘Well, whatever happens, its (one of the) Gods´ will’!  How great it’d be, i keep thinking, to rock up to someones house, fix their collapsed wall or their broken roof and then leave, moving onto the next unsuspecting person (damn you Alan Titchmarsh and your Ground Force team for already doing what i originally thought of just now…!)  Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, send me some cash anyway, i wanna go and help some Indians!!

As i moved on to the outskirts of Delhi, we rolled past a river, that was backed onto by some ‘houses’.  The river was brown, flanked at both sides by litter and was still and stale and stagnant.  And there, amongst the festering murkiness, were women, WASHING THEIR WHITE BED SHEETS!!!  The fetid brown liquid holding the key to their whiter than white linen!!!  It’s no wonder every single person i look at inspires the thought ‘Does ANYONE in India wear clean clothes?’

I reach my alighting point, Hazerat Nizamuddin station, on the outskirts of New Delhi and for once, the train journey i exit from wasn’t a particularly fruitful one in terms of interesting conversation or temporary friendships made.  But it was a long one.  So far, the journey to see Marta Calvo for a New Years knees up had taken me 49 hours.  My next train was due into the station in 2 hours time and i have already become adept at waiting… and waiting… and waiting… which is a good thing as when i board my train for the final 5 hour journey to Haridwar, it sits on the platform for a further hour, delaying my arrival  which again, puts into jeopardy my chances of getting to Rishikesh for New Years Eve!!  But my faith doesn’t wane… until i ask a fellow passenger what time we are due to get into Haridwar and I’m told 1 a.m.!!!!!  And Haridwar is an hour to Rishikesh by bus… the last of which departs at 11 p.m.!!!  It’s now 52 hours of travelling and i feel deflated at the fact that i am gonna have fail to reach my destination by the desired time and for the desired reason.  In fact, i may as well have not bothered coming all this way at all, i thought, in a moment of exasperation.  But as we pulled out of that station at 4 o’clock, a wave of optimism hit me from somewhere and for some reason i thought ‘No, I’m gonna make this, I’m gonna get to Rishikesh for New Year, I’m gonna see Marta Calvo and we’re gonna see in this 2012 cos i need it, i need to let go of the past year and all its difficulties and sadness and i need to see in this New Year with my friend, having fun and looking forward.’  And 2 minutes later, another voice pipes up… ‘We’re due into Haridwar at 10.30 p.m’!  A kind soul put my mind at ease and so i could relax into the penultimate leg of this gargantuan journey on the dirtiest train i have ever been on, with my ticket that was actually for the ‘General Class’ carriage, which i will tell you about another time but suffice to say, at about 40 pence for a 6 hour journey, isn’t somewhere you really wanna spend much time at the end of a near 60 hour journey!

Part of the delight of travelling in India is encountering situations and seeing sites that you’ll never encounter anywhere else in the World.  The first hour of this leg of my trip was spent watching a Sikh man adorning himself with a turban.  First of all, he and his wife stretched it out, half the length of the carriage, whilst his son doused it with water.  I couldn’t believe how long this was, easily 15 foot i reckon, maybe more.  IT WAS HUGE!  But the way he kept wrapping it around his head was incredible.  It wouldn’t quite end at the right point so he kept unwrapping it, moving the starting point half an inch at most and starting again…and again…and again, whilst my mind was locked in!!  And after what seemed at least an hour, he was done and working on the turban for his colossal beard!!  You ever see anything like that on a British train?

Although there are lots of people to meet and conversations to be had whilst travelling the sub-continent, many of those ‘chats’ are with people who don’t speak my language.  Too many times i have men staring at me waiting for me to respond to a question i don’t understand or sat watching me write in my book about things they can’t possibly read but pretend they can.  It’s funny sometimes, but when you’re tired and have been travelling for over 50 consecutive hours (aren’t all hours consecutive?!), it can be a trying experience and you long for either a couple of hours of ‘down time’ or a conversation with someone about something interesting.  And as the hours to New Years Eve ticked ever closer, a decent conversation was exactly what i got.

A young student, probably 19 or 20, sat down and in English that made me feel like a character from On The Buses, started telling me about life here in India and asking how it compared to mine at home.  We talked about relationships, work, his confidence that his parents would find him the right woman to marry and in this hour of chat, i learnt more about the India of today than i was probably to learn during one conversation on the rest of this journey.  The eloquence that this boy spoke with was a joy and yet he wasn’t from Bangalore or Mumbai or one of the grand cities of India, but a small town 3 hours away from Delhi.  However, one thing more than any other endeared this young fellow to me and that was his help in the following incident:

As the train guard approached asking for tickets, i completely forgot that i was sat in the ´Up-market´ carriage whilst my ticket was telling me to ´Get the hell outta here and into the General carriage, you free loader´!  Didn´t shout loud enough though did it?  For here approached the Guard and out came my wrong ticket and so as if in a game of ´I produce – you produce´ (a game i clearly just this second made up which as it happens is about the most boring of games anyone ever thought up on the spot… although if you had a pocket full of abstract and oversized props, could actually induce much fun), he relieved of his pocket a notebook and a pen, handed it to me and asked for 800 rupees!!!!  800 rupees!!!!!! That´s, like, 10 quid…

I didn´t have 10 quid but i did have an intelligent young Indian man with me who argued my case (the case was that i was an ignorant tourist who thought he´d get away with travelling with the middle classes with a ´General class´ ticket, although, in my water-tight defense, the train was suitably empty and did i mention how filthy it was…?!)  SO i paid about 100 rupees as a penalty and nuff was said.

I got to Haridwar and obviously missed the last bus but managed to get a rickshaw to take me to Rishikesh, at 11 p.m  The journey was around an hour.  I was wearing a shirt.  It was 7 degrees…  And as we are flying through the pitch black streets towards my destination, with only seconds to spare, my driver does what all good drivers of someone who is in such an incredible rush does… he pulls over to buy some cigarettes!!!!  Not only does he do this, he chats lazily to the store owner whilst i am in the back of his rickshaw, mouth agape, fists clenched, eyes popping out of my head, shouting as loud as i can at nothing in particular at the incredulity of my current predicament, a bit like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adLjqbrMQYA

I get to Rishikesh at 11:45 p.m!!  ´Just enough time to run across this bridge in front of me, find my room in the pitch black streets i can´t see across this big river and meet Marta for a New Years Knees Up´ (in what i was slowly noticing was a very quite place for New Years Eve), i thought.  And as the time was being noticed by way of my phone, a message popped up from Marta.  ´Thank the Lord, she hasn´t forgotten me´!!!!

The message was sent at 10:30 p.m.

I expected ´Meet me at this place before 12´

I got ´I am very tired, i go to bed, see you tomorrow´…………

59 hours of non-stop travelling it took me to get to Rishikesh, in the North of India from Gokarna in the South West.  I had gone from temperatures of 30´C to 7´C.  I had eaten food i would not normally even be able to look at, let alone stomach.  I had poopsydoo´d in a train toilet at least 3 times.  And i had travelled by train, bus, rickshaw, taxi and Angel to meet my friend for New Years Eve.  And at 10:30 p.m,…… she had gone to bed……

And as i wandered the quite, dark streets of an alien place at gone midnight, looking for something, someone, anything to do, having spent the chimes of midnight in a crappy reception signing my details into a book for a room i wouldn´t even use for storage of stuff i hated, a bitter, lonesome, melancholic ´Happy Bloody New Year´ crept out from my lips.

Finally, i found a coffee shop that was open, sat down with a hot drink and a brownie and looked over at the t.v that was showing other people having fun and seeing in the New Year with their friends.

´Happy Bloody New Year´ i repeated to myself and choked on a chocolate chip…

India and the longest journey ever undertaken Part 1

One story i wanted to recount to you about Gokarna that was left off of my recent blog post was one which involves a certain drink here, one i believe to be illegal in some parts of India, although like many things illegal, substance wise at least (I’m not talking cow bumming and the such), it shouldn’t be. The drink I’m talking about is Bhang Lassi.  It’s a way of drinking Bhang that doesn’t need the presence of Alcohol and therefore makes it a much more pleasant (too pleasant sometimes) ‘aperitif’.

On the evening I’m referring to, mine and The Tiny Pole’s last in Gokarna, it was decided by the latter that she was to try the mysterious concoction with a newly acquired friend.  After over an hour of waiting, this refreshment arrived and, having been given permission to try, i took a ‘coupla’ mouthfuls.  ‘Mmm, Delicious’, i quipped and thinking nothing of it, sat down to resume my chat with Perry NorthGlide about the inherent selfishness that seems to reside in young people, especially girls in their mid-20’s, these days!  About an hour or so later, a chuckle appeared out of nowhere and suddenly the direction of my mind took a vicious 720 degree turn and i was, how do we describe such feelings in the West?……, ‘High as a Kite’, ‘Away with the Fairies’, ‘Totally rock n’ rolled’, ‘Bhanged out of my tiny li’l mind’.  After two mouthfuls!!  Unfortunately for The Tiny  Pole and, later as i was to experience, myself too, she had a good half a glass, ‘at least’!  And being so petit and not of a past that had consumed much in the way of such things, the effect on her was rather more, how should i put it… Gargantuan!  Within half an hour or so an Almighty glow appeared to ensconce itself around her tiny frame and a giggle sounded out from her rosy lips.  She was as high as Hunter S Thompson had ever been!!

Once time had passed at what seemed like a minute every hour, a silence took hold of her at about the same time as a permanent grin plastered itself all over her moosh!  Even in my state of complete dishevelled-ness, i noticed this.  But i didn’t realise to what extent this person had been affected by the BHANG until it was time for her to leave…

Having been made aware of her desire to part company with the company, i gave her the key to the room we were sharing and bade her farewell.  However, I was drawn to her attention by a concerned Jew who said that maybe i should walk her back to the room as the conversation he had just had with her made about as much sense as a dinner consisting of Liver and Bacon.  Mutually concerned, although less so, it has to be said, due to my intoxication, i inwardly sighed as my next drink arrived and said ‘sure, come on you tripped out weirdo, let’s get you home to bed’!!  Bed was a 5 minute walk along the beach.  30 minutes later, we arrived.  The extra 25 minutes were due to the fact that The Tiny Pole stopped me every 3 seconds to ask ‘Saul, was that real, what we just experienced, was that real, did it really happen?’.  ‘Did what really happen?’, i respond.  ‘That, that whole evening, did it happen or wasn’t it real, did it really happen?’.  ‘Yes, it really happened’.  ‘But did it REALLY happen?’.  ‘Yes, Tiny Pole, it really happened’.  (3 seconds later)  ‘Is this really happening or is it not happening?’.  ‘Yes, Tiny Pole, it’s really happening?’  ‘But how do we know it’s really happening?’.  Stumped at this, again due to my intoxication, i muttered something about starfish and that seemed to suffice, for all of 3 seconds before… ‘Saul, are you sure that this is all really happening?’.  ‘Yes, I’m sure’ (although inwardly i cant say for sure i agreed).  Three seconds later i heard ‘Saul, did that real’ … and so on and so on for what seemed like the duration of Songs of Praise before we reached the room.  ‘Do you have the key, Tiny Pole?’  Then, realising that such a question was clearly too troubling for a mind that was trying to comprehend the reality of the Universe and herself within it, i delved into her bag and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and pretty much rummaged again, before emptying the entire contents over the floor, to find nothing remotely resembling a key to a room within which, by now, she should have either been sound asleep or conversing with the mosquito’s on the creation of black holes and salmon.

So, back to the scene of her demise we went, all the time having the same conversation we had been having for roughly 45 GODDAMN MINUTES on the nature of the immediate reality we found ourselves in!!  And yes, there on the same table upon which i had passed the key over which now seemed like weeks previous was the device i was so praying half an hour before was camouflaged at the bottom of what seemed like Mary Poppins’ sack!  We had taken so long to return to this scene that the majority of people had retired.  And by retired, i don’t mean turned in for the night, i mean reached 65 years old and devoted the rest of their lives to crosswords, gardening and smelling of cabbage.  Another half an hour of endless questions of the same monotony later, we were back at Bates’ Motel.

I was preparing for a night of tripped out conversation but looking over at The Tiny Pole, i saw that it was now the job of the sleep Angels to tell her to shut up asking the same bloody question ten gazillion times and so into a peaceful slumber i too slipped, interspersed only periodically by the incessant bzzzzzing of the local wildlife in mine earshole!!

They say that Bhang is made from the ground up buds and leaves of the annual, flowering herb the Botanic fraternity refer to as Cannabis, to use its correct latin nomenclature.  But sometimes, the extraction of the latex within the seed of the Papaver Somniferum is added for extra ‘potency’ as well as for more of a ‘psychoactive’ experience and it is this added ingredient which i think made for the evenings extra and unsuspected ‘entertainment’ from a particular North European source.  Still, i did pee myself 8 times at the hilarious state of my travel buddy, even if it took an hour and a half out of my life to just wander backwards and forwards across a freezing, deserted beach in the wee hours of a morning.  ‘Priceless experiences one garners on such trips to foreign shores’ i dreamed…

The following story though, is about as epic a story as i have ever told.  It may not be the most epic story any of you have ever read, it doesn’t have the suffering brutality of a Dostoevsky or the sinister and atmospheric scenes of a Dickens, neither will it enthrall you like the emotively bizarre and mysticism of a Murukami and for that, i am minimally apologetic!  But hopefully, i can recant the tale in a light that will at least ensure you don’t nod off in the next 6 hours it will take you to peruse it!

The tale involves quite possibly the longest journey ever undertaken for the biggest damp squib of an ending since that bloke sold all of his belongings to go across the World to win back the heart of his wife only to find her in bed with TWO of his friends AND her father!!!  OK, i made that up, but hopefully it infers what i am trying to say.  Then again, you could just read the story and make your own conclusions…

At 2p.m on Thursday 29th December, a beautiful man of impeccable taste and rippling biceps left the beach of Gokarna in the Indian state of Karnataka, waving so-long to his hordes of newly acquired devotees and made his way to the local bus station.  Full of beans at the endless possibilities that lie ahead for him, he jauntily ascended the steps of his guest house to the street above to catch a rickshaw to his first destination.  Although the rickshaw driver had no idea what the man was saying, our fellow waffled on about the excitement he felt of undertaking this mammoth journey to meet up with his very good friend in a town in the far reaches of Northern India.  It was an excitement he had seldom experienced, in fact, it could be said that it was an excitement only felt previously during games of hide and seek and whilst being one of the ‘hiders’, hearing his pursuer approach rapidly and voraciously only to drift past in nonchalant ignorance of the space within which he had contorted his vast, muscular frame.

For many minutes he regurgitated the details of his upcoming trip to the blissfully unaware driver, not caring that the conversation was as one way as the Germans march across a European continent, only halted thanks to a small Island of people devoted to a stiff upper lip and a incomprehensibly miserable demeanour.

Once alighted from this death trap of a machine, the bus to Kumta was boarded and so began, in earnest, the start of a journey so epic as to make Lawrence of Arabia’s seem like a nip to the local offie!

The bus journey to Kumta was to take around 45 minutes, giving our man in Gokarna over an hour to wait for a train that would move him through over 800 km’s of the Indian countryside.  In fact, lets take this time to have a gander at the journey plan of our hero so we can enlighten ourselves with the quest.

His great friend, Marta Calvo-Hongkongphooey was residing in the mountainous town of Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand, Northern India.  As New Years Eve approached, our mans only goal, his life’s one desire (apart from being shouted at by a troupe of the Worlds finest burlesque dancers at how naughty he had been recently whilst being fed lemon and honey Lassi through a ten-foot long-curly-Lilac-coloured-straw) was to reach Marta before midnight on December 31st so he could see in the New Year, a very important New Year for many reasons, both personally AND Globally, and thus do so with a smile across his wide and voluptuous chops.

HIs bus from Gokarna was to take him to Kumta, where he would have to catch the 16:20 overnight sleeper-train to Mumbai, arriving at around 04:30.  From Mumbai Central Station he would have to make his way, by bus, taxi or rickshaw to another one of Mumbai’s stations to catch the 07:55 train to Delhi.  Again, this was a sleeper-train and having caught this train, our fine young fellow would have to busy himself for over 27 hours before arriving at India’s capital city, where he would alight to catch another train North to the Holy city of Haridwar, 24 km’s away from his final destination of Rishikesh.  This last 24 km’s would have to be travelled by either bus or, if time wasn’t on his side, rickshaw, thus finishing his journey as hit had been started.  The total amount of Kilometres undertaken would be close to 2,750 all of which had to be completed within a 57 hour and 59 minute time frame, from the moment he left Gokarna to the moment he arrived in Rishikesh and more importantly, Marta’s warm salutations.  Even thinking about it created a sweat of such epic proportions to remind him of the story of Noah and his orgy of bestiality aboard the most famous of Cedar-built cruise liners many years before.  This being India however, the adventure was less about the destination than it was about the journey and with this in mind and with a stoic self believe, success was the only thought in his vast, mensa-like mind.

To do this, time and fortune had to be on his side as, being India, anything remotely possible could happen to crush his dream and send him into a state of despair that not even his true life’s desire could drag him out of.  To spend the first few moments of New Year 2012 alone would be simply too much emotional agony for our man to bear and so it was of the utmost importance for both him and the Universe that he should make this journey within the time limits given.

And so it came to be that our Hero found himself on that local bus to Kumta train station, chatting to some young men and trying to learn a few words of Hindi, rather unsuccessfully one might add!

Alighting at Kumta and being pointed in the right direction, he walked the 20 minutes or so to Kumta station and as he walked up a dirt road, alongside the tracks he would have to cross to get onto the station platform, this song came to mind

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBeTeeh3lUQ

Crossing the tracks in any country in the World can be a dangerous undertaking.  Crossing the tracks in India takes on a whole new danger as it’s not only the trains you have to be aware of.  When you use a toilet on a train in India, you see directly where that waste goes.  That’s right, it goes straight onto the tracks.  And although there are signs on trains that state that passengers should not use the toilet whilst the train is stationary in a station, seldom are the signs adhered to.  And so, it was with a fleet of foot not known since Nijinsky that our protagonist VERY carefully made his way from one side of the station to another, Maceo and the Macks still ringing out in his mind’s eye.

The time was around the 15:30 mark and so an hour or so had to be spent waiting and with this in mind, a few snacks and some liquid refreshment were purchased for the journey ahead and some polite conversation undertaken with those who were interested and well versed enough in the Queens English to do just so.

At 16:20, he gazed down the tracks, whilst the blazing afternoon sun, coupled with a hint of apprehension, produced a bead of sweat on his perfectly chiselled features which ran , unhindered, down a face some had hinted at being Jesus-like.  This wasn’t a simile at which he minded.  After all, having features refered to as Godly, how could one?!

With no train in sight, the thought of only having 3 and a half hours to make his connection and the failure of doing so crossed his mind but being of a positive disposition, that thought was quickly quashed and replaced with a relaxed assuredness that all would be fine and that, this being India, things were bound to run a little different to the timetable given…

3 hours later, at 19:20, when the train had still not arrived and the sun had taken its daily bow, a panic took over that drew attention from the locals, also still waiting for their night train to Mumbai, in the form of wails!  And although these wails were of an internal nature, the energy that poured forth could be felt by the Monks of Buckfast Abbey.  For to catch the connecting train in Delhi, this train would have to be Japanese-like in its efficiency from this point on.  And it still had not arrived.

However, within 10 minutes, he was stretched out on his third-tier bunk, hoping that this vehicle would, with God-speed, make up lost time and get him to his connection with aeons to spare.

How pitifully wrong he was to be…

After a nights sleep, relatively undisturbed, he made his way along the carriage, 2 hours after the train had initially been expected to reach India’s filthy and rancid smelling capital.  2 HOURS LATER!!!!  He quickly asked if he had flown past his alighting station whilst dreaming of Sweet Lassi and the Burlesque Troup that took up a good few per cent of his daily thoughts but much to his relief, they were still 2 hours from Delhi.  2 hours?  A quick calculation enabled the realisation that of course the connecting train would be missed and so a new decision on how to progress to the final destination had to be arrived at.  This being December 30th, he knew that every seat on every train in the whole country was likely to have been booked.  ‘Hell’, he thought, ‘What on Earth am i to do, I’ll never get on another train without bribing someone a significant amount of rupees and even then, the possibility is scant’?  With a panic in his welling eyes, he asked a fellow passenger about his chances of getting to his final destination.  A smile boke across the portly fellows face as he listened to the intentions of our plucky traveler and a sneer at the smile broke across our own man’s gait.  ‘There is nothing i can do’ he mused, ‘but leave it in the lap of the Gods… well, apart from relieve myself in a hole in the ground whilst hanging onto a handrail for dear life, trying to make sure i don’t urinate all over my dropped trousers’.  And so, with his mind trying to come to terms with the ramifications of his missed connection and the possibility of spending the first few seconds of New Year’s Day 2012 on a government bus being druelled on by an aging lady with one HUGE tooth attached to her gums, this is exactly what he did.

to be continued…

India – Christmas on the Beach

The train from Trivandrum to Aluva was pretty straight forward.  It was hot and i sat by the window watching more of this wonderful country pass by me.  Whenever i get on a train or a bus here, i love to hang out of the window as much as possible, breathing in this country as i carve my way through it.  The sights and sounds and smells and other sensual pleasures i absorb as much as possible, and rarely a minute goes by when something else makes me think ‘Bloody hell, I’m actually in India’!

None more so do i get this feeling though as when I’m at an Indian bus station.  You see, when you are trying to get on a train in India, it’s generally a pretty simple task.  You ask the ticket clerk the number of the train and if you’re lucky he’ll also give you the right platform number.  But generally, if unsure, you can find someone to ask and before you know it, you’re trundling on your way.  Indian bus stations are a different ordeal entirely.

I arrived at Aluva, found out that a taxi to Munnar, my final destination of that day, would cost me in the region of 2500 rupees.  This sounds a lot of money, right?  And to me, it was way out of my price range.  2500 rupees is about 30 quid.  30 quid for a taxi ride?   Not too expensive.  Aluva to Munnar takes about 5 hours!!!!  30 quid for a 5 hour taxi ride sounds like the greatest bargain since i paid just over 50p for a 5 hour train journey a week before!  But knowing a bus would cost me about a pound and that it’d take about the same amount of time, it was to the bus station that i headed.

Standing on the road, looking at 50 odd buses, trying to think which one might be going my way, i decided to ask the ticket man for a pointer.  “The bus arrives at 3 and will pull up in the middle” (of the forecourt) i was told.  ‘Wonderful’, i thought, how easy this is gonna be…  Ya first mistake in India is EVER muttering those words about anything.  When someone tells you something, whether it’s what time something is to arrive or whether they are male or female, you have to, as my friend recently said, ask around the answer.  I have deduced it takes 5 extra questions once the answer has been given to you to get the real answer.  And by ‘real answer’ i mean the answer that you can believe 75% of.  This is India.  So, i wait for the bus to come in and i start noticing that every bus looks the same and every destination is written in Hindi.  ‘But’, i think to myself, ‘it’ll reveal itself’ (as the bus i need to get on).  This is India after all and even though it takes an eternity to get the right info, things also seem to just happen the right way in India.  Jugad, they call it – or It Just Works Out is another way of putting it.  Anyway, so it gets to 3 and I’m anxiously standing there waiting for this bus, looking at every one that pulls in, completely ignorant as to which one it could be. I ask a guy next to me if he knows which bus is going to Munnar.  He says he doesn’t know but he’ll point it out when he see’s it.  10 seconds later, he say’s, hurriedly, “That one” and points to a bus flying past us on its way to the mountains, one Englishman short of a full quota.  And off i run… and run… and run…shouting to the bus ‘You’re an Englishman short, you’re a bloody Englishman shooooort…’  And i swear, as I’m running, I’m thinking of what i said above about when someone tells you something, having to ask another 5 questions to get to 75% of the answer!!  And i’m thinking, if i get on this bus and it’s going somewhere different, I’m gonna go back to that bloke who told me it was this bus and blow ‘im up!!  But the door swings open, i shout Munnar, a guy smiles at me, probably not just at how mental i look chasing this bus, covered in its trailing dust but also at the thought of how I’m gonna get on a moving bus (a week ago, my recently departed travel buddy and i had to perform a similar stunt and being behind her, i couldn’t help think she looked like a Hippo doing a bunny hop trying to jump onto a moving vehicle!).  Anyway, i leapt aboard, like a pouncing Cheetah and soon was spitting bus dust from between my teeth, on the way to the AMAZINGLY beautiful hill-station of Munnar…

http://wikitravel.org/en/Munnar

Before i left England, i had decided that if there was one destination on my trip in India that i had to head for, above all else, it was Munnar.  The pictures in the books i was reading about India made this place seem almost surreal in its beauty, shots of lakes and mountains shrouded in mist, tea plantations more verdant than any countryside or alpine postcard and serenity everywhere.  Well, this being India, the serenity wasn’t so apparent, but on my way up to this mystical place, i saw the mist and the verdant in droves.  As i said, i love to hang out of the windows of the vehicles I’m in, breathing in India, absorbing it.  And as we swallowed up little mountain villages on our way up, up, up, and i swallowed flies the size of footballs, the light faded little by little and this crazy white man, hanging out of the rear window, feeling the cool mountain air rushing through his thinning locks, was a sight for every Indian climbing aboard.  “Doesn’t he know it’s winter”, i could see them thinking.  But as shutter by shutter went down around the bus and people huddled under jumpers and pashmina’s, i sat there, feeling the mountain atmosphere of India fill my soul.  Another reason i sit at the back of the bus in India, hanging out the window, is so i don’t have to see what’s coming our way.  Lets just say that i fully understand the reason why road deaths in India are the highest in the World.  A bus travelling at 600 m.p.h will attempt to overtake a lorry on a completely blind bend in the knowledge that, if something comes the other way, either the oncoming vehicle will move or we will crush it to death.  What the driver doesn’t take into the account is the sheer drop that we will inevitably race towards, with oncoming vehicle under our tyres, stopping any steering from taking place, as well as the fact that as the bus we are travelling on is 113 years old, we will die from the lack of protection due to it having been bandaged up over the years with newspaper and prayer.

This is ya average Indian Bus…

http://www.worldofstock.com/stock_photos/TRA2818.php

Seriously, every time i get on a bus, i honestly don’t know if i will get off again by stepping down from the gangway or by being thrown through the window towards the rubbish that this country is built upon, at terminal velocity.  Jugad, i tell myself.

Anyway, i get to Munnar, having taken in some of the most amazing mountain scenery i have ever seen and start the process of finding my next travel buddy.  She has a room, so i don’t have to worry about traipsing around looking at beds wondering whether the bed bugs are just settling in or leaving town.  As i spot a rabble making noise on a balcony, i head northwards assuming it must include the tiny Pole i am meeting.  It doesn’t.  But they are expecting me.  So i pull up a seat and start chatting to Perry, an Israeli and two young German boys, clearly high on Indian chariss and other substances, slightly less Indian!   Immediately i am asked by Perry if i am romantically linked the The Pole.  When i tell him that’s a negative, he starts to tell me his feelings for this person he met a night earlier and all of as sudden i am embroiled in a conversation about love, lust and broken hearts.  I immediately take to Perry due to his unerring honesty and the fact that he too has had his heart broken and so knows of the feelings that my heart and mind are dealing with.  I also take to one of the Germans too, a hedonist if ever i saw one whose dream is for 1 billion people to take Acid with him so he can enlighten this proportion of the World.  I hope he succeeds, i tell him, but this time, i won’t be one of the billion.  Anyway, the Pole returns, we spend a cordial evening getting to know my new acquaintances, help them smoke some of that Indian goodness and arrange to see them again in Gokarna for the Rainbow Gathering we are to attend for Christmas.

The next day, myself and The Pole head to the tea-plantations on the most relaxing and scenic of walks, armed with a stick for beating the ground to warn the Cobras we are coming and some chocolate to charm the tea-picking ladies with.  Another trait that India has is its propensity for its people to ask for a photograph with you.  My face adorns over a thousand walls in the houses of families across this country, grinning like a buffoon with total strangers.  And you know, i don’t care in the slightest.  I find it hilarious.  But if there is a group of ten people, each one will take a photo so as the previous photographer doesn’t miss out on having that ‘shot’ with you.  So you watch the birdy ten times and hope that none of them have passed on head lice!

After walking to Munnar Centre, a small, bustling market town, selling the usual crap that every single shop in India sells, we trundled back to our hotel, via a conversation with a couple who weren’t a couple but who were a martial arts fanatic and a woman with Jesus in her heart, to which my travel Pole responded with a silence that drove the Jesus lover away (note to self; if anyone ever says anything to which you can’t think of anything to say, start singing loudly, armpit fart, do whatever comes to mind, just don’t let the sudden void be filled with silence).  The uncomfortable quiet could be felt in Hungary.

The next day, after some stellar food at a nearby hotel for about a pound 50, our second great meal there in 12 hours, we embarked on a 28 hour journey to Gokarna and OM Beach.  Yes, that was 28 HOURS.  However, if it wasn’t for one amazing Indian man who took it upon himself to get us here, we would never have made it.  You see, getting a train in India is a trickier task than you realise.  You can’t just turn up and pay for a ticket on the day of travel cos chances are their wont be any room.  And i don’t mean just a seat, i mean any room full stop.

http://www.google.co.in/imgres?q=indian+trains&hl=en&sa=X&biw=1280&bih=699&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=JC1Bna5btLx-VM:&imgrefurl=http://funnyreaction.com/&docid=Edu3091Rbt8UhM&imgurl=http://funnyreaction.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/1.jpg&w=585&h=350&ei=ADAIT6fQDdDhrAf447wD&zoom=1

See?  And we didn’t really count on this being a problem, getting on a train.  But we also didn’t think that this being Christmas, every seat on every train would be alloted for the next 10 days at least.  However, having been tipped off by our Israeli friends that their was an area manager at the station who managed to get them on the next train, it was for this man we headed.  And boy, did he pull out all the stops and then some to get us on a train that day.  IN England, you NEVER get customer service like this.  You never get customer service full stop anymore, but this guy put any person back home who provides a service of any kind to anyone, to shame.  I don’t know how he did it, i don’t know how many poor families Christmas’ were ruined by us stealing their seats at the last-minute and i don’t wanna know.  All i do know is that we got on a sleeper train, bound for somewhere near where we were headed and that was enough for us.

Again, this was a place (Gokarna) that my trusty travel bible insisted i go to.  This time, i wasn’t disappointed.  What you see is exactly what it was like every day.  From Christmas eve until the 29th, i stayed on this beach, paying less than 2.50 for a room per night and spending about the same every day on food and water.  I meditated on the rocks at sunset, watched big crabs make their journeys to and from the shore and generally lazed about like a lummox!  I felt tanned and healthy and my mind was starting to put its troubles to its rear as life started to feel like it was worth being part of again.

The best part of these few days though, apart from the wicked hand-made sequined blanket i bought in the charming town of Gokarna, knocked down from 1500 to 850 rupees, therefore depriving two children of their meals for the next 2 days (but it really is a BEAUTIFUL blanket), was the people i met.  Funny Jews, charming Englishmen and feisty Frenches, the complete works!!  The Rainbow Gathering didn’t happen (thankfully, i might look like a hippy but i wash regularly and don’t wear awful clothes…) but i did hit up the spot it was on, Paradise Beach, where here i met some madly interesting folk.  An Englishman i spent time with lives on the same spot on this beach, as part of a li’l community, for 9 months of the year.  He rises at about 5.30 in the a.m and sleeps at around 8.30/9 in the eve.  In between, he relaxes in his hammock, maybe makes a coffee, maybe swims, eats very little but healthy food and generally lets life take him where it wants to.  I found this initially hard to understand, “…it’s like you are giving up on life”, i said.  But then, Monks, Sadhu’s, Guru’s, people of a spiritual nature do the same and it’s accepted, ‘so’, i thought, ‘who says this shouldn’t be acceptable?’ as he had me by the throat up against a coconut tree.  It’s not a life i would choose, but there is no stress, no people in his life who lie and cheat (some readers take note!) and so cause him harm, no pressure to do what is expected of him and no rules to follow.  I’m moving in Friday…

Also in Gokarna, there is a li’l legion of Westerners who gathered at the Dolphin Cafe and again, these people proved my tiny little mind wrong of its conclusions about them.  You see, i always feel that, when i meet Westerners abroad who choose a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, that they are escaping from something, maybe a trauma, a particular situation, the law, THEMSELVES.  And i always think that by running away from their problems, it makes them weaker in the long run and unable to handle life’s pressures that maybe are essential for us to face if we are to continue living in some form of society.  And so i broached this subject with some of the people i thought this of and found out that i was too quick to judge. Sure, many of them choose to leave, lets say, England, due to the pressures of society or the rules they have to live by but they leave primarily because they just don’t want to be part of ‘The Rat Race’, they don’t want to have to ‘own’ things, they don’t want to have to ‘fit in’ to societies codes of conduct and so they go and live on a beach for 6 months and the mountains for 6 months, they find work to support their 3 quid a day lifestyle and they live happily and without the stress of modern-day society, without all the lying and cheating (sense a pattern here?!!), hurt and injustice, rules and regulations.  I can easily see the attraction and though it’s not quite for me, ‘judge not lest thee be judged’ i left saying.

One man whom i spoke to fascinated me more than anyone though, a man who goes by the name of Jordan.  This guy, after being broken-hearted at the end of a relationship by a cheating whorebag(!), decided that he would do something extraordinary with his life.  Maybe the mind-set he was in made him do this, maybe it forced him to re-think his life.  What did the fellow do?  He walked, from Canada to Mexico, over 1,800 miles in 10 months!  He raised over $15000 dollars via a website on which members of the public donate cash of any amount, be it a dollar or a thousand dollars, for random projects or adventures that random people are undertaking (www.kickstarter.com i believe this particular website is although there are others too). This man had never stayed in a tent in his life.  Never done anything much on his own, besides the usual activities…  Yet, the trauma of a broken heart made him do something amazing.  And along the way he interviewed people about their love lives, stories of love lost and broken hearts, took millions of photos and is now about to write a book of his journey and his findings.  This man’s story touched me.  It made me realise that good CAN come out of bad, that happiness CAN triumph over sadness and that out of the darkness CAN and WILL come light, if you search for it.  This is the website (http://www.walkingtomexico.com/)  If you ever see a book about this trip, support this man and buy it.  Oh, and the woman who broke his heart?  Unhappy, in another relationship, making the same mistakes as before whilst the recipient of the broken heart is living life to the full, meeting lots of new people and having adventures he would never have had before… so there, whorebag!!!

On the 29th, i was to leave the comfort of a travel buddy and embark, again, on a journey of epic proportions that would include missing a train but finding a true heart, realising i CAN eat train food without poopering myself and that i could have a conversation with someone who only speaks Hindi about nothing in particular whilst being 52 hours into a 58 hour non-stop journey!

My time in Gokarna however and with these people really set me up for the rest of my trip.  I saw first hand that life can really be lived without the oppressive rules, not just of society, but of what those close to us expect.  I realised that true happiness can come from the most unlikely sources and out of the darkest situations.  I understand that a pestering beach bead seller is actually just a man who longs to love and I now know that i look Hotter than July with a tan and a six-pack.  But more than anything, i have had one of my and life’s most pressing questions answered by my newest Israeli friend …

Yes, every Jew DOES love Seinfeld…

India and it’s CHOCOLATE DAD vs. BLACK BARRY!!!

So, although this is supposed to be a blog about my travel adventures through New Mexico, it isn’t.  In my mind, this is terrible.  For it means two things.  Primarily, that i haven’t finished telling you about the rest of my travels in the States and Canada.  This is because of recent events in my World that have made this a tricky task to complete.  And much less primarily, it means i have to interrupt, at least for now, a blog that was to run as a series of blogs about one part of the World and my life within it.  This in turn means that it all seems a bit disjointed to me.  But as you couldn’t give a hippo’s bottom, i guess it doesn’t matter.  In fact, why even bother reading this paragraph at all…?

The next few blog entries will be about my trip in the sub-continent, we call India, they (the Indians, not the other ‘they’ who always seem to know a lot and say many things but to which there are no faces!) call Bharat.  Not Baharat, the spice.  Why would you think it was Baharat when i didn’t say Baharat initially?  (i once cooked a hideous dinner for my bro and sis-in-law, replacing Cajun spice with Baharat, a faux pas i don’t recommend copying)

I started my travels in this country with a person, then continued with another person and am now alone.  Just so you know.

Oh, and excuse the lack of photographic evidence, one’s camera has ceased to do its proper duties and so forced one into being more wordy than per usual…  Yes, it is indeed possible…!

So, we’re about to land in Mumbai and I’m peering out of the window, wondering, as i tend to, if these are to be my last moments on Earth and feeling strangely relaxed about the possibilities (weird) when this whole World of shacks, shanty’s, call them what you will (palaces would be a li’l wide of the mark) opens itself up to my gogglers.  If it wasn’t the most horrifying but also intriguing sight i had seen since Danny Itter pulled a moony (poor boy, probably never pooped his pants in his whole life.  Huh, school boys, eh…?).  Thousands of people living in squalor right next to the runway of a major airport and not an orange tabard on any of them.  Clearly these people had no idea of health and safety, something i was to learn first hand not an hour later.  Still, the kids seemed happy playing in piles of garbage and faeces.  Huh, kids, eh…?

Taking a rickshaw in any part of the World seems like it could be a li’l risky when you see the size of one against a big truck.  Taking a rickshaw in one of the craziest cities in THE craziest country for driving on this planet is mental.  But in my eyes, also the most exciting thing you can do, besides being shrunk down to the size of a blood cell and being injected into a bloke, but i see that’s already been done…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14R9pfNDm3E

How i didn’t die 73 times i don’t know.  But then that’s been quite a theme so far on this journey, so I’ll just assume that up to this point, i wasn’t supposed to be dead yet and be thankful for it.

Whilst my travel buddy flew to Goa to celebrate the 30th birthday of someone neither of us really care too much for, i decided to embark on the mentalist taxi journey ever undertaken by man, in which my driver was clearly trying to break the record for the most sharts exerted by a passenger.  He’s in the Christmas 2012 version in case you wondered!  I then waited 4 and a half hours at Mumbai station, which i plead with none of you to ever do then took a 9 hour train ride in the sleeper carriage which is THE most oxymoronic statement i will ever utter.  I did this cos a) i don’t really like the 30-year-old wench whose birthday it was and b) because Goa is the last place in India i wanted to go to and so the fewer nights there the better.  This is where my journey took me (eventually)

http://www.google.co.in/imgres?q=palolem+beach+goa&hl=en&sa=X&biw=1280&bih=699&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=9MAlparwD8t1XM:&imgrefurl=http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/India/West/Goa/Palolem/photo1002320.htm&docid=PrtpdslnF3WI3M&imgurl=http://i1.trekearth.com/photos/93270/palolem11-1990.jpg&w=800&h=524&ei=gIMAT5emD4nZrQf0u72gBg&zoom=1

Seems pretty nice to most of us, right?  But stick a bunch of white kids in the piccy who wanna get all ‘Sexed on the Beach’ and, well, still seems pretty good to most of us right, but y’know…!!  For some reason my travel guidebook stated that this was one of the 35 best places in the whole of India to check out.  I’ve been here less than a month and I’ve already hit up two beaches that were much more interesting and much less white.  Or red, depending on the time of day.  But i did drink out of a coconut (always a novel experience), have a cold shower (always THE Worlds worst experience) and swim in the sea (mostly always a Rad experience).  I also saw the Worlds most beautiful child stand in front of me and beg me for some change.  My first realisation of one of my many weaknesses i am experiencing on this trip, how to stop myself from giving all my pocket innards to begging children.  I would have given her my entire bank account if it didn’t say minus before all those horrible numbers.  A li’l piece of my heart that i reserve for children broke right there. But instead of ignoring her, i chatted in English, a language she should clearly understand at 3 years old but obviously didn’t, said so long and got the most adorable smile and wave goodbye from her as she happily trotted off to her mother who beat the hell out of her for returning empty-handed or for talking to strangers, i couldn’t tell which.  Serves her right if the latter, i say…

I also saw something properly shocking but also most whimsical in Goa.  There are many cows in this part of the World as I’m sure you know.  I expected to see them everywhere.  What i didn’t expect to see is them eating out of garbage cans.  And i certainly didn’t expect to see them eating tin cans and swallowing them whole.  I guess that’s why they have four tummy’s.  Pretty crazy and a li’l bit sad, huh?.  Like the dude who ate Aeroplanes and shopping trolleys…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6Pl2-lx12A

Anyway, we left Palolem and headed to Udipi, home of the Masala Dhosa and a huge Krishna temple.  The train journey was amazing, as most train journeys in India tend to be, the countryside providing this particular piece of amazement.  As we trundled past palm forests and rivers the size of Wales, the scenery resembled something out of Apocalypse Now and totally blew me away.  Train journeys here are seldom boring, even if they last days, cos the scenery is always unbelievably beautiful and spectacular.  Some kids on the train took us on our first public bus journey when we got to Udipi and, well, with the other 498 people on board, we were a li’l ‘Sardined’ for the 10 minutes it took us to get to where we were going.  Then it was a trawl around the finest Hotels in the whole of India to find a suitable room, including going up one staircase that had poops sprayed up the wall on every floor (something told me i didn’t wanna stay here) before we settled for the greatest half-star, zero board place around and after i managed to barter 100 rupees off the price (about 1 quid 15p), dropped our bags and headed into our first night in ‘real’ India.  And that’s when i fell in love with this place.

India in the day is mental.  India at night takes on a whole new level of craziness.  Try crossing the M25 at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, in the dark.  Then imagine doing it when there are no lanes, no rules and no interest in whether you, as the crosser, lives or dies.  It was worse than this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DGu5X3Dy0I

But every time we did it, we got better and better at it until i just didn’t even bother looking anymore!

Eating out here is another Russian Roulette moment.  Every time my hands go to my mouth i wonder if this mouthful is the mouthful that sends me to the bathroom for the next two days.  As yet, it hasn’t happened and i think it’s cos i have decided to only eat in places that are proper busy.  That way, if I’m going down, I’m taking my fellow diners with me!  But the food is superb.  It’s Masala Dhosa for breakfast with a cup of Chai (cost – 60 pence), Thali for lunch (cost – 50 pence) and some curry thing for dinner (cost – a pound tops)… EVERY DAMN DAY!!!!!  If i even hear the words Masala Dhosa in the next week, i’m gonna rip my ears off and throw them at the next guy on a motorbike i see.  That way, at least i wont have to listen to anymore of the incessant beeping that happens every 1.8 nano-seconds in this country!!  Seriously, its like having road runner constantly chasing you around, 24 hours a day.  Any bus journey you take is punctuated with a beep every time someone on the bus blinks.  Thank the lord for the Indian pop music that’s played at 6 gazillion decibels for the entirety of your 7 hour bus journey!!!!

Udipi is a special place though.  It’s a very holy town, with i think the largest Krishna temple in India.  We were lucky enough to meet an old chap who decided to take us on a tour of this amazing place one evening.  He showed us a supposed 6,000 year old Krishna statue, a 60 foot tall Wooden chariot with the most ornate carvings you’ve ever seen (or I’ve ever seen, i don’t know what you’ve seen), told us the story of why there is millions of pounds worth of Rupees buried under the temple and even helped my travel buddy get blessed by an Elephant!!  And the next night, he led us around the temple whilst a diamond encrusted chariot and some men with real live fire followed us!!!  This was my first real experience of how amazingly friendly and open Indians can be.  This man was such a wonderful soul and I’m sure he’ll be reincarnated as the next Dalai Lama, if that form of after death experience exists.  We also had a fascinating tour of the greatest coin collection i have ever seen, including a coin that was from the place and time that Jesus was (supposedly) around.  I actually touched a coin that Jesus may have touched.  How mad is that?  The best part of the tour though was when the collector told my travel pal that her huge tattoo was ‘Repulsive’!!!!!  I’ll never cease wanting to remind her of that!!!

However, Udipi will always be most remembered for one thing and one thing only.  Easily the most difficult decision i will ever face in my entire life and probably not even just this life, but all other lives i may live in this realm or any other realm.  The impossible choice between these two TITANS of the desert World…

CHOCOLATE DAD and BLACK BARRY!!!!!

Yes, that’s right, the two Heavyweights came head-to-head for the first time on our menu and boy was it a close one.  I’ll let you guess who won out and reveal all next time.  But man, it was a decision i hope i will never have to make EVER again…

CHOCOLATE DAD or BLACK BARRY…

That night, a sleeper bus awaited us to take us to Mysore.  Sleeper bus.  Another Oxymoron.  I had 6.8 seconds sleep in 9 hours before, at 6 a.m, we arrived in Mysore to be greeted by a dozen rickshaw drivers trying to take us to our hotel we didn’t yet have.  And cos of that journey or the fact that i contracted Dengue Fever (one still doesn’t know) from a Mosquito, i spent the next 2 days with a fever of 740 degrees.  But it didn’t stop me seeing another one of my books’ 35 things to see in India, Mysore’s Old Market.  A word of advice to myself.  Stop following the damn books advice!!!

We did get taken on a tour of a bidi factory though…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beedi

…where guy’s sit for 8 hours a day, constantly making these things.  For 20 years this one guy has been churning out over 2,500 a day, non-stop bidi making.  He makes about 3 quid a day and supports his family on this.  My travel buddy and i tried to make one each.  She was a natural and starts work there on Monday…

Another constant in India is the fact that you always feel you’re gonna get ripped off, which is sad cos most of the people here are Ace o’ Base.  But we did get taken on a tour of ‘supposedly’ The Body Shops only oil making facility in India, where we were fleeced buying some Lotus Flower oil to stop bite 3 million appearing on my cohorts body.  Later on we paid a quarter of the price for Citronella oil, the ONLY thing that stops the buggers biting you, at the market.  But when you’re being fleeced for little more than a few quid, you don’t really mind so much.  Well, i didn’t anyway, my fellow traveler eventually let it go yesterday!  But when a meal for two costs less than a fiver, and I’m talking about a proper meal with drinks and cakes and EVERYTHING!!, you realise how li’l money you are spending and that a few quid here and there is meaningless.  One crazy thing that happened in Mysore though was this:  As we were walking along, a man walked past me and brushed his hand against my penis…  At first, i thought, ‘Surely a mistake, a over-zealous swinging of the hand perhaps’ but as i looked back, a face was smiling at me, one eye closed in the form a of a wink.  Slightly perturbed, i carried on my jaunt only for a few seconds later, the perpetrator to walk in front of me, over-zealous hand again brushing against my sensitive region, cheeky face again staring back at me, grin accompanied by wink.  ‘The little bugger’, i thought.  “Travel buddy, that man keeps walking past me and brushing my penis, please can we turn left down this side path” i begged!  As i looked back, i saw we’d lost our tail.  Moments later, we were at a bangles stall, admiring the owners finest wares, when out of the corner of my eye, i see the cheeky li’l pot-bellied chap heading straight for my loins.  Not being one to have his penis touched by a strange man for the third time in quick succession, i barked and pointed as he approached “Dont you touch my penis”!!  It worked! He sailed past with a grin on his Chevy, straight for the public loo’s where he had a three-minute love-making session with me and his recently penis tarnished hand…  in his mind…

We stayed in Mysore a night too long, due to my slowly reducing fever and then headed to the hill station of Ooty.  The place wasn’t that great to be honest and i have since been to an infinitely more beautiful hill station (more about that another time) but we stayed in a nice YWCA and it was somewhere i could completely kill off my fever.  I felt bad that it had taken a coupla days out of my travel pals time away but when you feel sick in India, you really feel sick and so recovery was needed.  However, one thing certainly helped the healing process happen quicker than usual.

On the bus to Ooty, i saw one of the greatest natural wonders i have ever seen, surely the missing 8th Wonder of the World.  I wish i could have had a picture of it but i think i stared long enough for it to be forever emblazoned across my mind’s eye.  Sat opposite me, with feet in sandals, showing the full extent of the miracle, was none other than this.  A woman with 6 toes…… ON EACH FOOT!!!!!!!  Yep, ol’ Tapani 12 Toes was on the bus, flaunting her dozen digits in front of all and sundry!!!!  And during one rest stop, she stood legs straight and leaned over to her right, hand on cheek and rested her elbow on the floor, still in standing mode.  Imagine Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal.  She did that but sideways.  “That’s what an extra little toe can do for you”, i mused!!

Then it was off to Trivandrum on another night bus journey and another trawl to find a decent room.  But for a fiver a night for the most expensive, you can’t really grumble.

Sadly, Trivandrum was both pretty boring and also where i had to say fare-thee-well to my travel braud.  With much regret, we parted company.   Soon after, i packed my bag and it was off on yet another train ride to meet travel buddy number two in the AMAZING hill station of Munnar, which, before arriving at,  i undertook possibly the greatest bus journey i had ever taken… up to that point at least…

Dallas, Texas (and I think i met the man who shot Bobby…)

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As we left Austin with the taste of a Taco breakfast still bashing out its bad-ass Clinton-esque funk against our taste buds but with rain poking its massively unwelcome hooter outta the clouds and dripping contents only slightly less disgusting than the usual conkyness above our trusty steed, all thoughts turned towards http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsVZUJVVaIE&feature=related.

And then, all thoughts turned towards how we could get our hands on some more Taco’s. And then all thoughts returned to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsVZUJVVaIE&feature=related. This went on for about 2 and a half hours. Then for once, we got onto one of those big roads that we have tried our darnest to avoid for so long and went around the outside of Houston, which i was glad about because a) the sky was grey and made Houston look as appealing as a Thursday night shopping spree in Hackney and b) when i asked someone in Austin which part of Houston to stay away from their response was ‘Houston…’

I’d been to Dallas, Texas once before, on another road trip. The year was 1994 and i was in the U.S for Christmas, visiting what were then, sort-of relatives. During that two week trip, much road was covered but in a less enjoyable way than the amount of road currently covered in 2011. Sat in the back of a crap car watching the most tedious of landscapes fly past, listening to Garth Brooks and Reba for what seemed like 237 hours every day whilst at the same time (or about 7 hours later due to the time difference) my new girlfriend was sat 7000 miles away waiting to get jiggy for the first time was, for a 17 year old man-boy, about as loathsome as a Tory running your country. But hey, i saw the ‘perhaps’ grave of Billy The Kid… Ace…

This time, i was determined to make more of the journey. I didn’t have a new girlfriend waiting for me back home, i had a new wife sat next to me. Also, being nearly double the age of that youngster, i thought i would be more interested in the inherent beauties that are the multitude of landscapes Texas has to offer, being into such things and the like and such. Plus, this journey was much more fun cos i am older now and so can buy a burger whenever i like and not just when i’m allowed. Although being America, a lot of the burgers here are pants. The Tacos however…

We were heading to Dallas (again) to see a friend of my co-traveloceraptor. The friend, i had been briefed, used to appear on here http://www.nakednews.com/ though maybe it was the t.v version. And apart from the fact that she is from Toronto (Nooooooooooooo……….) and now lives in Dallas with a new husband, that’s about all i knew about her. All i knew about her husband is that he is a Republican (nooooooo…!!!). I have yet to meet a Republican on this journey. Which is strange because i have been through Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and now Texas, all of which were Republican-winning states in the last Presidential election. Maybe it’s the company i keep or maybe Republicans think things like couch surfing are surely to result in Chainsaw Massacre-esque endings but i did find that a tad odd. But not to worry, i was about to meet my first and he sure as hell would make up for the lack of others!!

Another reason for going to this part of the World was to enhance the possibility of reclaiming assets that once were mine. I took these photos with me as legal evidence…

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It didn’t work…

As it was just a coupla days after my cohorts Birthday on the day we were to arrive in Dallas, Texas, we were being taken out by the newest additions to our glut of McRadical travel experiences, Lilly and Jason. And OH BOY, was it a NIGHT OUT…

We rock up to their gaff in the ‘burbs and no sooner had we said ‘Howdy’ then we were whisked off to a bloody huge stadium. We stroll through the backstage area and appear at the very front right of the stage. The music is deafeningly loud (i’m a Jazzman, remember?!) and there’s this little shed looking place within which music stuff is happening, y’know, graphics, guitars, loads and loads and LOADS of guitars. And Jason is chatting to this dude and there’s hello’s and hugs and kisses (i like a kiss from a man with a big beard… is that strange?) and we’re from England and we’re visiting and then this dude gives me two guitar picks and one of them says Ozzy Osbourne and guess who they belong to? And guess who was gonna be playing in about an hour? And guess who pees his pantyhosen and sprays water on the crowds and himself to cover up the fact that he leaks wee wee out of his winkle?

So we were at an Ozzy Osbourne gig. For free. Backstage. With an awesome dude and a radical dudette who like to party and drink and do shit that even i’d probably be too scared to do, although i doubt it cos i’m made of rock… Talking of rock, that wasn’t it. As we strode through the crowd, looking like a bunch of people made of rock, past all of the gutter snipes who actually paid and therefore were much lesser beings than we were, i heard a pretty familiar riff that a memory in the back of my mind said ‘You know this and you used to play massive air guitar to it when you were young and ‘ansome’ and as we took our place by the soundy dude that only people who are made of rock and have backstage passes are allowed to be near, i turned on my toes and there, right in the middle of the stage with trademark hair and mouth-hangingy fag was none other than my ol’ namesake Saul Hudson!!!! When i found out his real name, i wondered ‘Why didn’t any of my friends give me a cool nickname like Slash’? And then it came to me. They did. It was just spelt differently…

I stood there for about an hour, listening to said namesake rattle off every amazing guitar riff that his time in Guns ‘n Roses allowed and i’ve gotta say, it was PROPER!!!! What a great start to a trip to Dallas, Texas i thought. Then Ozzy came on and was absolutely caka but it was pretty ‘WHOA there’ to see what taking all the drugs that makes Rock n’ Roll, Rock n’ Roll can actually do to your brain. I wondered if Ozzy knows he’s about as properly wired in the brain department as a man who’s had his brain wired by a mouse. Still, the 850,000 people in the stadium loved it so he must be doing something right.

When we left Ozzy to his Diurnal Enuresis, i was hungrier than a horse in a cave and so was delighted to learn we were going to eat steak and lobster at one of the top steak and lobster spots in Dallas, Texas. When we arrived, my delight hit unfounded levels as i learned i would be eating my steak and lobster whilst watching pairs of boobs flouncing themselves right in front of my mince pies. And not only were we in a very upmarket looking strip joint, i found myself in what looked like the Twin Peaks Lodge. Would Sherilyn Fenn be serving up my dindins, i mused? Sadly not. However it could just well have been the little red man so i told myself to be thankful for what i’ve got and sipped on a cocktail of such lusciousness that i forgot about Sherilyn Fenn and instead focused on things that were a li’l tit more here and now…

Our hosts were as consummate as any hosts could be, taking us to an awesome gig and then to an expensive restaurant for some of the best tiddlies and tucker i’d drank/eaten so far on this trip. The conversation was open and interesting and Jason showed none of the stereotypes that Republicans are labelled with, in fact, i think i wet my pants 14 times at his hilarious stories. But being cut from a different cloth, as i lay in bed that night, i wondered what he thought of me, a skinny dude from England who dresses a li’l funny and likes Jazz and sleeping on strangers’ couches. Was that an insecurity? I’m not sure. I didn’t think so at the time but when you stay at peoples houses and they treat you to all and sundry, it always makes me wonder whether people see me as a free-loading hippy and so i guess yes, looking back on it, there was a li’l insecurity. When i meet people i like, i always want them to have a positive opinion about me cos there have been times in the past that people have told me that they initially didn’t take to me for whatever reason and it wasn’t until later that they realised i wasn’t who they initially thought i was. And being very liberal and Jason being very Republican, i wasn’t sure how we’d develop our relationship. But as i learned, your political stance doesn’t make you instantly the same as those whose promises you put your faith in and Jason turned out to be a totally hilarious chap who was totally liberal… in some aspects!

The next day, we were whisked off to a place by Lily that i had driven past once before but never stopped at. I guess everyone who comes to Dallas, Texas for a short time visits the spot that JFK was done over by his own Government on, sorry, i mean, Lee Harvey Oswold… We were once again told to keep our hands out of our pockets as Lilly paid for our history lesson in the JFK Museum. And even though i’d studied this topic of history when at school, it was in nowhere near as much detail. It was an increibly insightful place that i urge anyone who goes to this part of the World to explore. I went in with certain beliefs about what had happened and i came out with those beliefs fully confounded. I don’t know why the CIA wanted their President dead for sure, although part of me believes that JFK’s ‘support’ (though i use this term loosely) for Black people may have had something to do with it as well as his desire to be at peace with the Russians at a time when the race was on for global military domination between those two super powers. But one thing i am pretty sure about. Oswald, if he was involved, and i don’t think he was, wasn’t alone. The whole thing left me saddened that a father of two young children had his life taken for trying to be a leader in human rights. Sure, he was a politician and probably cheated on his wife with well-documented flings, but i think his death set America back 25 years and the rights of the impoverished even more so.

Back at the pad of those who i now call friends, i was treated to one of the strangest but actually increasingly common sights of a humans love for all things canine.  Lily has these two little toy poodles.  I don’t care what they’re called.  I just know i really don’t like li’l dogs.  I know if Lily reads this, she’ll be upset at my disregard for these tossers!  But Lily, you more than made up for my feelings of despise for your mongrels!!  But the strange thing was, and i have experienced this with my own mothers behaviour towards her mutts, the amount of love and adoration someone can have for two dogs.  It really is like watching someone who believes that these two creatures, with brains the size of a bowl of chard, are more valuable than the most sacred human life.  If there was a fire in the house whist we were all asleep, i truly believe that Lily would have saved these two sods before coming to our rescue.  I dont blame her for it though…..!

What did sadden me a tad was that there is another canine in the mix, a rescue dog called Socks.  Socks has real troubles, man.  She has a pathological dislike for dudes, obviously stemming from some previous owner who probably called her names and blew raspberries at her all the time.  Socks lives in her own apartment but as she doesn’t get on with the two fluffy demons, has to socialise with herself.  Which she’s probably dead happy about cos i would be if it was a choice between listening to two poodles yapping or spending my time meditating, which is i’m sure how she passes her days.  And as she has man issues, i bought it upon myself to try and get her to like one.  Namely, me.  So, with biscuits in hand, i set about trying to entice her towards a friendly stroke.  And after about half an hour of enticing, she wasn’t interested in me at all, so i forced myself upon her and stroked her whilst she sat there shivering, petrified i would call her a no-good-son-of-a-bitch and stick my thumb on my nose, fingers a-waggling.  2 days i tried with that poxy dog, to no avail.  Serves her bloody right, thats what i say…

That evening, we hit a very good Mexican place for more lushness provided by our newest friends. We consumed more cocktails, more great food and more sweet chat and i felt totally relaxed with my new buddies.  But it was on the third and final night of our stay that things really heated up.

Jason, you could say, likes guns.  Jason likes guns in the way that i like dancing.  Jason likes guns in the way that i like sweet looking threads.  Jason loves guns almost as much as i love my wife.  Jason loves guns so much that he has lots and lots and lots of them.  I know, i’ve seen ’em…

So on our last night, we go out for dinner, to another lovely restaurant and once again our amazing hosts don’t let us pay for anything and i am humbled so much at their friendship and hospitality.  There is talk at the table of funny experiences we’ve all had over the years, a bit of politics and guns.  Now, i’m not much for guns, per se.  I find it pretty scary that there are things that with such great ease can end the life of another person in a second or that can cause so much damage to the delicate body of a mere mortal such as oneself.  Maybe its cos i value human life so highly, i believe it to be the most precious, most significantly beautiful and wondrous event this World could have ever enabled itself to experience.  And things that can take that away from us in an instant i find ugly, vulgar and filled with evil.  But when i got back to Lily and Jasons, i couldn’t right ‘alf wait to touch ’em…… the guns an’ all!

So, we stand in a room and i’m passed gun numero uno and it’s this…  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Walther_PPK_1848.jpg.  But a silver one.  It was surprisingly heavy.  But it looked light something i would light a cigar with, not something that would kill you in a second.  Then came lots of other ones, Lugers, Baloogas and Freddy Krugers (can you tell i have no knowledge of these things whatsoever) and then finally, after I believe number 36, came firearm number 37, the biggest and most powerful.  And here’s my man to tell you what it was:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z2ucmARq-k

Holding this conspirator of death was pretty damn weird.  Mostly because it felt like a plastic toy but also because i could easily imagine shooting it and killing someone.  It was almost empowering to hold it but at the same time i felt unhappy cos i know that people really do kill other people with these things and i just can’t believe in death over life i’m afraid.  My travel braud gave up holding them after number 3 or 4, pretty much for the same reason, but it was slightly worrying that whilst she was holding the first few, she was pointing them in my direction every time!  The strangest point of the evening though was when i pointed to a li’l pink rifle in the corner and said, ‘Is that yours Lily’?.  It wasn’t…

We were going to go to the shooting range in the morning if we had time and i was pretty excited by that but when it didn’t materialise, i guess a part of me was relieved cos i didn’t really want to know how it would feel to chug 4 billion bullets a second at something.  What if i went mad for a second and took everyone out?  Or worse, what if i failed to hit the target?!!  Sure man, it would have been pretty cool and manly to shoot one of those babies but i can swing a sledge hammer like no-one’s business and that’s much manlier than most of you!!

After another one of Jason’s rockin’ breakfasts, including the legendary beer biscuits, it was time to saddle up and hit the road.  And although it was minus 57, the sun was out and pointing us in the direction of New Mexico.  But not before i was kitted out for the final push through the Lone-Star State…

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And just when i thought this couple couldn’t be any more lovely, when they realised i was missing a petrol cap, they rang round the local car shops to check the availability and secretly went out to pick it up and although they were out of stock, they sorted one out for me to pick up on my way out of town.  That meant i could finally get rid of the black boxers that were shoring up our petrol tank, stopping potential thievery of liquid movey juice and replace it with something silver and ‘ard.

So we bade farewell to these two totally radical dudes and although Jason watches Fox news and Lily treats her dogs as though they are the Lords who created the Universe, i thought as i drove off, snake-skin Stetson on head, ‘Everyone of us is so different and that should be embraced, but there are also many similarities and it’s our similarities that can bring us all together’.  Republican or not, it’s the truth.  And if you don’t believe it, i know a man with 37 guns who can make you…

Austin, Texas

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Cowboy Hats, Guns, Over-Zealous Christians, Patriotism, J.R Ewing, Heat, Belt-Buckles, JFK, BBQ, Country Music, Desert, Tex-Mex, SIZE…

Just some of the things myself and others proclaim when asked what comes to mind when thinking about The Lone-Star State. At least 85% of these i experienced on our tour of this fabulously intriguing place. Shit happens in Texas and our experience of it was to be no different…

The drive from Louisiana to America’s largest state took us, at least part of the way, along the Gulf Coast. And as i was low on oil at that time, i decided to scoop up some of that ol’ Coast liquid and you know what, it kept me running all the way to Canadia! Thanks BP…

And as we headed inland towards our destination of Austin, a city with a rep that exceeds the State it’s housed in and that we were both proper excited about, the surrounding topography surprised the b’Jesus out of me. I expected monotony. I got England! Check this out

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That’s not what you think of when you think of Texas, huh?
Once in Austin we were staying with Sammy and how that came about shows the true warmth and friendliness of your average American. A guy we met at ‘THE’ house party in Memphis, the one shining light, emailed his friend the night we told him of our plans to hit up Austin and they came up trumps, saying we could stay with them for our entire duration (5 days). You see, fellow English people, not a flakey behavioural pattern in sight. The guy said he would do something and he did it… take heed you mongrels…

Everyone we have met on our journey up to now who had been to Austin had raved about it and most said it was their favourite U.S city and some of these people were those whose opinion i respected. So it was ON!! Now, i knew that because of the Anarchistic beliefs of those whose abode we were heading to not to expect too much in the apartment stakes, having learned from my previous errors of judgement. And when we finally arrived, on this wonderfully warm and sunny day, i was glad i listened to myself! It’s always slightly stressful when you are heading somewhere you’ve never been to stay with people you don’t know. The Lord knows we have done it so many times already on this trip and will continue to do so many times I’m sure. And when we rocked up in the ‘hood of Sammy and Co, it was the Proper Ghetto!!! And at first i was thinking ‘Our van is gonna get trashed here, in less time than it takes to chase a cat with a pound of Stilton’. But once we were given a spot in the gated car park, i felt 4.173% better. The house we were staying in was rancid. No other word can describe it. Well, i guess a few others can. For example Fetid, Putrid, Lurid, Bilious… It stank of a mixture of dog, smoke and Satan, hadn’t been cleaned since World War 1 and was covered in a film of grease that reminded me of the films Grease AND Grease 2. However, I, being a judgement free zone, made no such thing… other than ‘These people must be grossly unclean’!! But they weren’t, they were friendly, open, intelligent, charming, warm and inviting and so it just goes to show, cleanliness ISN’T next to Godliness, that’s just a line from a bunch of control freaks to make you think God won’t like you if you hum.

Gil, the name of the dude who set us up with this ‘home-stay’ from Memphis also turned out to be here too. Now a few li’l words about Gil if i may.  Gil is one of those guys who lives his life the way HE wants to, by his rules and no-one elses and i respect him greatly for this. He doesn’t seem to have two pennies to jam into his nostrils, let alone rub together but he still manages to cross this vast country and experience it and its people in all its glory. He hitchhikes, walks, sails and crawls (maybe… I’m sure he has at least once) around America, couchsurfing, sticking up Anarchic posters and generally trying not to live the way the establishment wishes him to. Oh and he’s 19…! NINETEEN!!! I am constantly meeting teenagers who have done more in their short life than i have in my middley one! It’s amazing, i truly love it, seeing young people live by their rules, being ballsy enough to be doing what they want, where they want, not giving two hoots and a quack what other people think

Gil is a man of Indian descent with a very ‘andsome look, almost Prince-like and with a good brain, he wears a leather jacket and the same pants for a few days on the trot. This all makes me like him a very tiny amount more. I can’t tell you why. It’s none of your business quite frankly. But i enjoyed his and his lady’s and her housemates and their friends’ company. However, i do feel had i not been there, maybe their friends would have been better off…

I’m gonna tell you a story in my best Max Bygraves…

A group of us were walking around the city one early afternoon. The sun was out, so were my pre-cooked chicken drumstick like arms (in colour, not shape and size, that would be both David Lynch-esque and Vulture-fearingly terrifying). Mike, a really lovely young chap, had his skateboard with him and chancing upon 3 flights of concrete steps, decided to try to skateboard down them. These were the new kind of steps that lead down to a building, probably housing accountants, administrators and the such, sandstone in colour, ending at a path that was bordered, on one side at least (the right) by a lush green lawn that happened to be receiving its weekly manacuring by a man with a large biped-driven mower. Along the side of the stairs that were closest to the lawn, following them down to their conclusion, was a smooth surface, about 2 feet wide.

Now, i cant draw it here, it’s not saving properly for some reason but you get the gist I’m sure. As you looked down the steps at the bottom right hand-side was a big heavy metal lawnmower positioned on the edge of the lawn by the path. This is why I’m describing this in detail…

So Mike tries to board down the steps but fails after getting only a few feet. And because i am one who wants people to achieve their aims, in most scenarios, i point out to Mike that next to the stairs there is a ramp he could go down instead. I didn’t tell him to go down it, i didn’t put my hands under my armpits and wiggle my elbows up and down, providing mimicry of a farm-yard bird and i certainly didn’t say ‘Mike, if you don’t do this, you are a half-man, half-pansy flower petal’. No, i merely pointed out that in his quest to use his skateboard as a device for reaching the bottom of the stairs, he may be more successful if he went down the smooth ramp adjacent to them. And before he could be warned of the perils of such an undertaking and i guess before he gave himself time to enable fear to make the decision for him, he flew onto his board and aimed himself downhill on the ramp of EXTREME DECAPITATION!!! (please don’t read on…) There were three ramps to navigate. He made the first ramp and hit the flat at quite a speed. He made the second one and hit the next flat at about 120 m.p.h. He even made the final ramp, gathered about another 735 m.p.h and hit the last flat before the jump to the path below…

Which is when the horror that life can conjure from its depths grabbed this situation and shoved its forehead right into Mike’s life’s conk…

It wasn’t the fall that caused the damage, as luckily he missed the bottom of the steps and therefore potential ankle snappage. It wasn’t even the landing on the ground at Mach 4,016. It was the dastardly placed heavy metal lawnmower that, as Mike rolled toward, stood firm to deter all possible attacks by skateboarding hero’s, placing its big heavy handle solidly against his right eye. And the feeling that i initially experienced as this event unfurled itself in slow motion before me was akin to the feeling you get when you see an accident happen and then someone get up appearing to be unharmed, only to notice seconds later that their arm has fallen off… The gardener just sat and watched, choosing not to go to Mike’s aid when he saw blood gushing. Maybe he was annoyed that his verdant lawn was now somewhat rouged but to Mike, this was a lack of compassion that he, nor I had i been in that situation, could handle. So a big, bold FUCK YOU was tagged in permanent marker on the Orwellian machine as the gardener swanned off into the building, with an unintentional red squiggle seared right through it from Mike’s volcanic-crater-like eye wound. It didn’t help that my travel tart started proclaiming ‘You told him to do it, he wouldn’t have done it had you not said to, it’s Saul’s fault everybody, IT’S SAUL’S FAULT!!! Of course, it wasn’t my fault that Mikes eye had a gash just above it to rival a proper, real, overused gash. But i still felt a tad responsible and so an hour later, when recovery mode had started to kick in and after he had bought some superglue to stick it back together and some cheesy crisps, probably bought with a thought along the lines of ‘Well, I’m gonna bleed to death so i may as well get cheesy-crisp-cancer too’, i bought him a pizza slice and took some photos of rad street art such as this by Shepard Fairey…

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as well as of a sweet American automobile, possibly a Plymouth…

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I was hoping that the skateboard incident was to be the one and only time i was to see gushings of blood during my time in Austin. And i believe it was.

There were many cool things to do in this city, too many for one visit. But as my travel beau and i are keen to get as much out of our experiences as possible, we tried to do them all.
As in Portland, Oregon, Austin is littered with food trucks selling every sort of nourishment the body both does and does not require.

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At one end of the scale, we experienced an amazing taco truck. At the other end of that scale, my soon to be Birthday Braud did what all soon to be Birthday Brauds should do and got her cupcake injected with whipped cream…

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from this li’l establishment…

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And having heard that there is a sweet shop that sells chocolate covered bacon, we went on the hunt, found it and although they were out of the bacon, i did sample a New York Egg Cream, a soda containing chocolate, soda and yep, you’ve guessed it, zero egg and even less cream. And although it wasn’t chocolate covered bacon, it was a soda.  And it was also the most Wonka-esque sweetshop i ever went in.  See for yourself

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We also yammed ourselves silly at George Bush Jr’s favourite Austin BBQ restaurant and the number 1 voted BBQ Restaurant in the whole damn State, Iron Works BBQ www.ironworksbbq.com (if you click the link, go to the bottom right hand-side of the page and see for yourself).  And i gotta say that it came pretty darn close to what Memphis’ Central BBQ had to offer, although there is something about wet bbq that just does it for me over its cousin, the dry kind (Texas = dry, Memphis = wet, got it?!).  But hey, if George Bush says it’s his favourite, then it’s mine too.  After all, he’s spot-on about most things, right?

Austin is also a very pretty city to look at during the night-time, although you’ll have to take my word for it as i only have these shots and they probably don’t do the place justice. Although, George Bush Jr likes it too so…

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Clearly the local government knew we were coming to town as they put up this sign in our honour

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We hit up a Tuesday Night Slam Poetry event one… Tuesday night and boy, there is some SEEEERIOUS talent in Austin. The place was jammed to the rafters with clever wordy-talkerers and people willing to cheer or cuss anything they heard. It was awesome! They even had in residence one of America’s poets of the year, a fine filly who, although said a lot of things about a lot of stuff i didn’t quite understand, did say a lot of things about a lot of stuff i did understand and i thought THAT stuff was wicked. I guess i just assumed the stuff i didn’t understand was probably wicked too cos i clapped well ‘ard…

Another thing that i noticed about Austin that i didn’t notice about the rest of Texas (mainly cos i didn’t see many towns or cities) was its huge Hispanic population.  Now, I’ve gotta say, i think one culture that we’re missing out on in England/Britain/UK/whatever is the Hispanics.  The food cooked up by these tanned-titans of World cultures is just SICK.  And that’s SICK in the way that Americans mean it to mean, not SICK in the pukey way we meaningly mean it to mean.  I’m gonna go off on one in a minute cos quite frankly every time i think of this, a li’l shiver runs through me bones and i salivate insanely, but for me, the Taco is the World’s tastiest snack.  Not that shizzle that you get in English supermarkets, packaged as Old El Paso Taco’s, but actually produced and packaged in Croydon (maybe) in their Wild-West-depicting yellow boxes that contain ‘Everything you need to experience the authentic taste of Mexico in one novelty box’.  No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOOOO.  I mean a REAL TACO.  With fresh coriander, pinto beans, onion, salsa and meat/prawns/avocado, and placed on a (for me soft) tortilla, made there and then by a ‘mango de manila’ who gives a shit about what people are putting into their bodies.  You can generally pick them up for a buck or two each, which means that for less than a fiver, you can eat two or three of these delicious morsels, wash it down with something liquidy and then snog for the next 3 hours knowing that you’re belly is satisfied even if your snogger isn’t (due to the onion consumed, not the technique undertaken!!) Other things i love about the Hispanics is their penchant for a right dance-off, their incredibly friendly demeanour and the rounded booties of their women, generally seen amongst men who like such things as the greatest bee-hinds on’t planet.  For the first time in my life, i went into an Hispanic supermarket (i love supermarkets of other cultures, fascinatingly more interesting than our own back home… just stay away from meat and fish!!) and within this dimly lit David Fincher-esque building, was a small kitchen that looked like it had just been dragged kicking and screaming from its home on the streets of Mexico to Texas, which, really, is still Mexico, just with some very patriotic white people who happened to move in and decide twas to be theirs.  As hunger had struck, or probably just because i saw the word Taco, we decided to check out this strange li’l place for its stomach filling abilities.  If you’d have seen it, you’d have thought us mad.  But madness brings its own rewards and we were to be rewarded with some of the best Mexican food i had ever eaten.  And you know what?  Because of that place, i don’t think you’ll ever catch me in one of those ‘Mexican’ restaurants back home again.  Y’know, the ones where at happy hour you can get 2 jugs of Sangria for £10 and some tucker dressed in more cheese than it takes to induce a heart-attack on a Bison, whilst listening to ‘Manu Chao’ or ‘Masque Nada’ for the seven thousandth time!!  In the UK, any food sold in a supermarket isn’t fit for the street pigeons in Bermondsey, but here i would eat every day of the week, 5 times on a Sunday!!

It’s not just food and Hispanics that Austin has going for it though, OH NO.  It has some pretty impressive nature and landscape around it too.  One day, which just so happened to be a certain lady’s birthday, we went to swim in a natural spring, which proved a li’l too cold for me (skinny dipping in freezing water in my white see-through underpants in front of some strange folk never rang my bell if you catch my drift…) but not for my peripatetic partner who was a tad better prepared as you will see…

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and then headed toward a huge natural ravine, which from these pics, wouldn’t make you think that in the height of summer, its half full with H2O, which if you look carefully at the first shot, you can see a waterline of…

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There, we met some more friends of friends who were totally cool hippie types, totally interested in what we were doing, so interested in fact, that they took us to the little camp they had made up in the woods for when they needed a li’l solace with nature and gange! It was amazing, this li’l Stig-of-the-Dump palace in the woods, a perfect retreat that was totally in tune with the surrounding environment, made entirely of sourced materials and it even had a romantic hammock-for-two attached, for swinging away on those searingly hot Texan summer days. No doubt by the time you have read this (which should have only taken you a fortnight) some Republican Capitalists will have destroyed it as part of their campaign against free-thinking radicals!

On the way back from the Ravine, we stopped off at the local supermarket to grab our sustenance for the next day or two.  Notice i used the word Grab just then, not purchase, buy or barter for.  No, i used the word Grab.  I did this for one reason and one reason only and that was in the name of Dumpster Diving.  Yes, in true Anarchic form, our host Sammy refuses to pay for her groceries when food fit enough for the King of Barking is tossed away every few days from her local supermarket.  And who the hell can blame her.  The things we picked out of their were totally edible, though out-of-date, totally fresh (oranges, apples, pears) and totally FREEEEEEEEEEE…!!!!!  The only free thing that we didn’t require but decided it was coming home with us anyway was the bit of rotten chicken that Sammy sat on but what’s a bit of foul-smelling farm bird in exchange for 816 loaves of bread, more fruit than you could throw at a child and cakes galore?!!  My first and most definitely not last experience of diving in dumpsters for food, though the local book shop owner wasn’t to keen on us doing the same outside his book store which seems ironic cos you can’t eat a book but you can leave it in landfill for 74 years before part of it becomes the Earth again (not the plastic wrapped around it though, I’m sure).  The Madness of the Modern World, when we step back and actually look for it, is apparent in all things…

That night, we hit up the coolest Cinema I’ve ever sat in, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.  At midnight every Wednesday, they show a film as part of their promotion, aptly named Weird Wednesdays, for only one buckeroo!!  And that’s just the start of the weirdness, although i guess if you go every Wednesday it stops being so weird (does something stop being weird with regularity?)  So, you sit down, as you do, and a waiter comes up to you and gives you a menu of WICKED cinema treats to order from.  You can get Burgers, HotDogs, PROPER Nachos, Beers, bottles of wine and best of all, a $5 milk-shake.  And hot-diggety-damn if that wasn’t the best shake this side of Jack Rabbit Slims.  The film they were showing on this particular Weird Wednesday was none other than ‘Fleshpot on 42nd Street’ (read about it here… http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062980/synopsis).  It’s one of those films that makes you think it’s at once both the worst film you’ve ever seen and one of the most realistic and kinda cool films you’ve ever seen. I guess it’s because the acting was so awful and the editing even worse but the film itself about as true to life as any film on the subject I’d seen that made me think these ‘ere thoughts. It’s the sort of flick that these days is shown on the wall at a warehouse party in Dalston to create a sense of creative destitution that, when the viewers eyes shift away from said wall and glance around at the party scene, doesn’t need to be said with a 70’s Sexploitation film! We sat through the pre-movie introduction by a man, i sipped my $5 shake and had 8 mouth orgasms every pop, then gazed at Fleshpot on 42nd Street thinking how grim it must be to a) be a man who puts himself in a prostitute and b) to be a prostitute who has to have a man inside them who they probably don’t like very much…

Anyways, i went home, watched an episode of Frasier and crashed out in the camper knowing that a) i wouldn’t wake up in the house that bacteria built smelling of fags, dogs and Anarchy and b) my dreams would be all the sweeter for Niles, Martin and Daphne. Seriously, i am working my way through the entire Frasier back catalogue on this trip, i must have watched about 3 episodes a day on average, more when stuck in Trixie at night due to being in the arse end of nowhere listening to the sound of ice forming all around my skin-cocoon!  From 1970’s Harlem prostitutes to modern-day upper-middle class Chopin-loving shrinks in less time than it takes to stump up the cash for a night with a street lady!!  Don’t you just love being privileged…!!!???!!!

It was fantabulous to meet these young punky kids in Austin who were genuinely interested in us.  Refreshing too to break down a li’l bit of discrimination i had regarding young kids who live in squalor and don’t work very often. I am starting to come to the conclusion that a lot of people in the World only wanna talk to you about themselves and that surely doesn’t bode well for a compassionate society, does it? And yet here were a bunch of young kids, trying to make sense of the World around them, trying to figure out how to live the way they believe they should live, not how society expects them to live. Isn’t that what we all should be doing in reality?

For all of the perceived thoughts we have about Americans (the majority completely unfounded) they really seem to be an intelligent, compassionate, fun and unique bunch of people to hang out with. And yes, that even stretches to those weird Republican folk, as i found out on the next stop of our journey, in that city that’s named after the old t.v show, Dallas … Dallas

Louisiana, home of Tabasco Hot Sauce and The Muffuletta.

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I’ve never really been into hot sauce.  I mean, I like a bit of spice as much as the next man, but i prefer it the way nature intended, in fruit form, not jammed into a bottle by a futuristic machine that may one day develop its own memory and start reminiscing about how life was better as a brake fluid distribution reservoir chamber and how it harks back for the days when things were simpler and people had more manners and men were chivalrous and women smoked and wore stockings and could be lured by the tilt of a man’s hat (there, that’s the autobiographical part of this writing over with!)  So, without the lustre of hot sauce not foremost in my mind in the State known for such a thing, I guess there wasn’t that much to look forward to…
Apart from NEW BLOODY ORLEANS, WOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

My life was soon to be complete!  Being a bit of a fan of Jazzy sounding…. sounds, New Orleans has always been a bit of a draw for me, although the historians out there will point out that the jazz that emerged from this part of the World until a certain Mr Armstrong came into being, was traditionally ragtime and Dixieland, just two small sub-genres of the music, but i like these styles so shut up.  But ‘generally’ it’s seen as the birthplace of this most American of music forms and so, i guess, when in Rome…… go see the Sistine Chapel, although you’ll probably be a bit disappointed and i would actually recommend seeing the The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, which in my opinion is more striking and easier to get to…… unless you live in Rome…

But before we got to New Orleans (did i say WOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOO?), there were other places for us to explore and i was pretty excited about seeing them too, but not quite as excited about seeing New Orleans…… WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO……

First up, thanks to this person

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we were to continue our experience of gluttonously testing each State’s culinary delights by hitting up The Magnolia Cafe in Francesville.

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And Oh Boy (or should that be Po’Boy…?, no it shouldn’t), did we luck out.  I didn’t know what a Po’Boy was before i rocked up here but i think it was, up until i hit New Orleans (Woooo…..!!), my favourite sandwich ever.  The sandwich is said to have originated from a New Orleans sandwich shop and was served free to anyone who ordered a nickel beer, which is how it got its name, Po’Boy, short for Poor Boy, referring to it as a poor man’s sandwich.  I guess its similar to the old East End pubs of London within which when you bought a beer, you used to get a pint of prawns alongside it.  There is still one pub that i know of today that serves up a pint of prawns, The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel.  I guess now that, as there are about 4 prawns left in the World due to overfishing, the proprietors use the stock they have in the pond out the back, serving them up in a sherry glass instead!  Anyway, my Shrimp Po’Boy was top of the pops and after a proper good nosh-up, i came out feeling like one of these…

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But i still managed to go next door, to this sweet li’l coffee shop called BirdMan Cafe, for a frozen chocolate peanut butter pie!  A charming establishment, it dawned on me whilst inside that i really was in the heart of the deep south, the proprietor being a sweet lady who wanted to know as much about us as possible (the gossipy wench!!!!!)

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Once we’d saddled up, we headed south to Baton Rouge, desperately in need of some company that wasn’t each other!!  And i guess it was about this time that we started to realise how difficult it can be living with someone 24/7 in a metal-movey-box.  I mean, i’d lived with a giant once before in a vehicle ever so slightly larger and boxier than this, travelling around France and Spain, but in that scenario, many hours were spent doing separate things and i didn’t have the feeling that i had to look out for that person, a) because he was a giant and b) because he wasn’t my wife.  But now, when i don’t get more than the time it takes to do my morning woo to myself, it feels like the World is pushed right up to my ear ‘oles!  Add to that the temperature during the waking moments being the wrong side of zero degrees therefore leaving no time for a comfortable morning meditate and you’ve got one slightly more irritable than usual Mr A.  Seriously, i did really mis-calculate what the temperature would be here in the Southern States.  I said it before and i’ll bloody well say it again (in my best Yorkshire too) ‘It’s right bloody cold ‘ere, i tell thee’…

We hit up Baton Rouge that eve and checked out the local Walmart to see what our morning view over breakfast would be.  And lo-and-behold, we had before us a fine 3-star car park, complete with ‘enclosed trolley storing devices’ and helpful ‘temporary vehicle parking guidelines’ printed on its base.  And whilst my voluptuous fellow voyager popped inside, i surveyed the surrounding area for possible attack points from the enemy.  Having heard that Baton Rouge has a wretched criminal underbelly to rival that of the great Jabba the Hut, i had decided that we needed some kind of protection from the naughty people who may want to disembowel us for our pocket change.  Much deliberation had taken place over what form of defence mechanism one may wish to use upon future assailants.  A baseball bat is always seen as a useful tool, but living in a small shell as we do, there isn’t much room to swing the proverbial cat, let alone a fairly long piece of sporting equipment, so i decided that was out.  Next up was that blunt/pointy (depending on which way you look at it) device for bashing in nails and the such.  A hammer is a pretty nasty thing to be hit with, i thought, and you don’t need much swinging room, but i don’t really wanna have to hit someone, just show them i don’t want them to hit me either!  Sod it, i thought, i’ve got a swiss army knife, if they get to close, i can corkscrew they’re eye out whilst also being kind enough to use the handy toothpick, in case they’ve got a bit of left over pork luncheon meat making an appearance between their incisors.  But did i really want to get close enough to my potential demise to be able to see that he/she clearly doesn’t floss as often as their dentist instructs?  Of course not.  So in the end, i went for possibly the most awesome piece of personal safety weaponry i could think of.  And would you Adam ‘ Eve it, it cost me less than 5 dolleroonies.  Check this bad ass out…

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Now i can decapitate someone for under FIVE BUCKS!!!!!  Seriously though, as a deterrent, i think it doesn’t get much better than a machete.  It looks like it’d do things to you that you’d only see in a Tobe Hooper film and so i thought rather than actually have to use it, i could just look like i might use it and that’d be enough to send a sod running.  Lets just hope they don’t call my bluff… unless they do so in a Frank Bough style, then we may have a ‘real’ game on our hands…  There’s also a rather funny, but at the time for us, a pretty scary story relating to the purchase of my weapon.  When a rather cute travelling companion of mine was buying the killing-instrument, she was asked for I.D by the cashier, a young black girl, in her late teens/early twennies.   When she saw that there was a birthday on the near horizon for my philanthropic philly, she said ‘Oh, it was my birthday last weekend’ and when asked what she did, she responded, ‘I didn’t do anything, i don’t go out after dark, it’s too dangerous, people get shot here’!!  And when she was told we were heading to New Orleans (Woo…) next, she retorted ‘Oh, it’s worse there, people get shot in the daytime’!!!  And there’s us, two whiteys with nice shoes in our bright green salubrious camper with number plates from the most white country in the World, parked in  the less than glamorous part of town, in a car park of one of the cheapest stores in America!!!!  I felt like Moby Dick in an odd-one-out contest, involving a bunch of Sikhs, a monkey wrench, God and the Rolly Pollies.  But undeterred and with my new Predator ass-whooping tool now taking pride of place in Trixiebelle, we went off in search of live music, a nice pint and some conversation with someone other than each other.  And this is where we wound up… http://www.bestofbatonrouge.com/nightlife/chelseas_cafe.php.  It was pretty cool to hit up a bar in a random city but apart from the bar lass, there wasn’t really much of an opportunity to talk to anyone and after having driven 27,467 miles in the last few days, i was bush whackered post-beer-number-one and so it was back to Walmart for a night listening out for gunshots and the galloping hooves of a thieving Highwayman’s steed.

It’s got a damn interesting history has Baton Rouge and even though its more illustrious neighbour is far better known to the World, Baton Rouge is actually the capital of Louisiana.  It’s name, meaning Red Stick, comes from a poncey French explorer who gave the place its name (although it already had a perfectly adequate name ‘Istrouma’, given by the local Indians that had been living there since 8000BC) when he saw a reddish Cypress pole decorated with dead bloody animals that was used as a marker between two territories for two Indian tribes. How very creative of the periwig-wearing git, ‘Red Stick’!  It is one of the ‘Top-Ten Places for Young Adults’ in the U.S due to its strong economy and has ‘hoods with such names as Froggy Mo, Ghosttown, Tigerland, Scotlandville and Ogden Park, named after Hilda Ogden one would assume.  And after i had seen about 3 hours of it, i was happy to gallop off in our horse-car to the more interesting and ExxonMobil-less city of……… Wooooooooo Hoooooooooooooo….!!!

Upon reaching New Orleans, i got lost in the French Quarter and drove round and round and round and round and rou…  If you have ever been to the French Quarter, you would know doing this in a tank isn’t the easiest of tasks.  But eventually, on Decatur Street, we found a comfortable looking parking space and decided we would have a brief look ’round and sup on a Daiquiri, something Louisiana is famous for.  In fact, Louisiana isn’t just famous for them, they positively promote the drinking of them, to the point where this State is known for its ‘Drive Thru Daiquiri joints’!!!!  I kid you not, you can go up to many different establishments and just as if you were at a burger joint, wind down your window and order a MASSIVELY alcoholic beverage, stick the straw in ya gob and wheel off gulping an ice-cold tasty cocktail whilst lolling all over the road, trying not to bash up old women and cops!!  It’s mental and ever-so-slightly cool…

Whilst on our 2 hour jaunt, which is all the parking nazi’s would allow us, we hit up what has become a member of my top-ten-top-shops list, in the World Global category of Earth.  Central Grocery is an Italian-American institution.  It’s one of those shops that no matter how much of Little Italy in New York you walk around (and unfortunately there’s hardly any left so it won’t take you long), you never see because long ago these types of shops were made redundant by the exploding Asian population and astronomical rents.  And it’s a crying shame, cos it’s one of the few things in this fast-becoming sterile World that is as close to the real-deal as you can get.  Check these pics out…

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And let me tell you something else.  No matter who tells you where you can get the best sandwich on this wondrous Earth, let it be said here and now.  If you can find a better sandwich then the Muffuletta at Central Grocery, New Orleans, you’re either the luckiest person there ever was or a big fat liar!!  This is indeed the home of the Muffuletta, a sandwich first created in the early 1900’s for the Sicilian farmers who worked at the farmers market, once in the same area as Central Grocery.  As is a Sicilians wont, the farmers would eat all the ingredients (Muffuletta bread, capicola, salami, pepperoni, emmentaler, ham, provolone, an olive salad consisting of olives, celery, cauliflower and carrot, seasoned with oregano and garlic and covered in olive oil) separately, balancing all on their knees until the sandwiches creator, Salvatore Lupo decided to stack all of the ingredients between the 10-inch-diameter bread to create the sandwich that rocked my World.  Most people can’t eat a whole one, so we went for half each, much to my disdain (i went back a coupla days later and gorged myself with a whole one!!). This is what one looks like:

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I think they deliver ANYWHERE!!  It rocks.  Get one… 1-504-523-1620

That evening, we decided to stay outside of New Orleans and head for some comfort, so we hit up the Bayou Segnette State Park, hooked up to some proper southern electricity and turned on the ‘leccy blanket and oil heater.  Mmm mmm, waking up naked when the outside temperature and therefore usual indoor temperature is way below freezing felt TRES AMAZANT!!  Add to that, having a long hot shower and doing some laundry and life just couldn’t get any better!!!  Not only that, but it was a Saturday when we awoke and that night we were treating ourselves by staying in a proper guest house on the edge of the French Quarter… http://www.elysianfieldsinn.com/.  We were to have a Saturday night in New Orleans and could walk home in a matter of minutes!!!  And the sun was out that day too!!!!  The first warm day since we left Toronto about 3 months earlier!!  Armed with my experience-mimicking-mechanical-rememberallowing-product, i shot back into the city from the State Park, clean as a whistle in me best shoes and took a load of pictures of cool New Orleans stuff that looked very much like these things…

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Unfortunately, that’s about where the beauty ended in New Orleans for me.  ‘Oh No’, you cry.  I’m afraid so, peeps.  Saturday night came, we left our wonderful guest house and hit up a pretty decent Oyster Bar.  We were served by two Black fellas, one older, one younger.  All night every night, these guys shuck oysters for white tourists.  They stand there, having perfected their shucking art for many years, and open oyster after oyster after oyster, constantly, consistently and listen to the same old questions time and time again; ‘How long you been here’?, ‘How many Oysters have you shucked’?, ‘What’s it like since the Hurricane’?, yada yada yada.  But here’s the thing, whilst i would probably be dying inside and hating on anyone who ordered two dozen of these bonza-bivalves, these cats were just as friendly and welcoming as your favourite aunt.  The older one even gave us some of his homemade pecan brittle that gets him through his shift, probably cos we didn’t attack him with dumb-ass questions like ‘Where’s the best strippers at, man’? which some preppy cock face sat next to us did!!  But when we hit up Bourbon Street, looking to chance upon some sweet jazz to round off our night, i lost my mojo.  I’d never seen so many jocks, piss heads and stag and hens in all my days.  Everywhere i turned, there were drunk, obnoxious, frat boys and girls shouting, puking, fighting and generally making the whole seen reminiscent of something out of a Porky’s film.  I even got called Chuck freekin’ Norris by some lass!!! (everywhere i go in the World, it seems, people liken me to this dude!!  Wait til i get my hands on ‘im…)  Sure, there was music, but it was all kinda commercial, to please the throng of tourists.  WHERE WAS THE JAZZ AT???  At the end of Bourbon there is a street called Frenchman Street and it was here that we found a cool bar playing what we were looking for, but by the time we fought our way through all the punks and found it, the cats were wrapping up their set.  Frenchman is actually the coolest street in New Orleans, it’s a little more of a close-knit community than the garishness of Bourbon and this is where all the cool shit happens.  But it also happens to close a li’l earlier probably to deter the tourists, so it was back to the surrounding streets, looking for more of the same but all we found was crap reggae, chart-busters and the type of jazz your dad listens to (unless you’re Chris Bliss’ dad, who listens to AND plays the good shit).  My heart yearned for something i longed to hear.  ‘This is New Orleans man’, i thought.  Alas, maybe i’d picked the wrong weekend to be here but i just couldn’t help thinking, like Beale Street in Memphis, the history and soul had been ripped out of this place to be replaced by a history that sells and a soul that appeases the ugly, fat, drunk, white masses…

On our last day, i did see some pretty ace stuff, a children’s big band playing in the square, some old timers blasting some be-bop and a sailors band blowin’ hard but nothing that lived up to any expectations i had of this town being the jazz mecca it once was.  I did eat the best Oysters i’d ever had though, grilled with Parmesan on top, at this place (you have to click on it, it IS so New Orleans) http://www.acmeoyster.com/, served by yet more black guys waiting on wealthy whiteys but it just saddened me even more that in the 21st Century, we still can’t get over this race thing.  I guess once a place becomes popular, everyone wants a taste of its ‘authenticity’ and therefore it slowly loses its ‘authenticity’.  Hell, what am i saying, i’m just like all the other people trying to experience New Orleans’ magic, right?  But maybe my disappointment shows that at least i was there with the best intentions…

On our way out of Louisiana, we stopped off at a place called Avery Island, home of Jungle Gardens, which includes in its grounds the factory that produces the Worlds supply of Tabasco sauce.  We went in for the customary tour and i nearly wet myself laughing at the chick who was doing the ‘touring’.  There were 4 of us on the tour, but you would have thought there were a hundred, which lasted about 15 minutes, 12 of which were taken up by a 30-year-old video of the history of this World Famous condiment.  But the magical 3 minutes were when our ‘guide’ stood in front of us, as though she was on stage at Wembley Stadium and started reeling off, in one breath, everything we needed to know about the place and the sauce, just like she was reading from an autocue drilled into her eyeballs.  If she took a breath, i didn’t notice it.  I almost wanted to peel her scalp off and see if she was made of the same stuff as the robots from Space 1999!  It was priceless and something i’ll never forget.  And yes, we did get some free samples as well as a taste of Tabasco ice-cream that was an amazing sensation.  I’d never had a food stuff that was such an oxymoron, hot and cold at the same time!!  Totally mental…  Something else i will never forget is the beauty of Jungle Gardens itself.  In the summer they have huge Alligators walking around, right in the same place you can walk around!!!  How mad is that?  I have read reviews from people exclaiming their shock at how such a place can let man-eating alligators wander round, whilst children play 10 feet away!  I’m all for it as a form of population control.  Hell, measles aint working, lets introduce 20 foot Alligators into our cities instead!!  Check out this website for the fabulous history of the place… http://members.cox.net/mryfon/avery.htm

And to prove that we were really there, check out these stunning shots…

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And check this out, they even had a massive bamboo forest!!

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I’ve always wanted to see a bamboo forest in Japan and even though this was nothing like the pictures i’ve seen from the Land of the Rising Sun, it was wicked to see some proper big bamboo.  And the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees was just soooo Louisiana, it was unreal.  We even half-inched some and hung it on our rear view mirror, where to this day, it’s still going strong (it’s an angiosperm and they feed by absorbing calcium and water from the air!!  How freekin’ ruuuude is that.  I love Earth…!!)

As our time in the Deep South was coming to an end, i started to reflect on this small part of our journey.  Although we missed out Georgia, a State with a rich history, i was kinda glad.  We’d seen some pretty amazing places, eaten some delicious food and experienced the warm, Southern hospitality that is so rife in these parts.  But i had also experienced something that, even though is talked about the World over, was still a li’l shocking to see.  The huge racial divide that keeps the blacks working for the whites is still apparent everywhere you go.  It seems the poverty is almost exclusively black, the money exclusively white.  I was tired of being served by black guys who were probably on less-than minimum wage.  In fact, i will never forget what was said to me when i asked our black oyster shucker where he eats in New Orleans on his night off.  ‘Where do i eat’? he said, with incredulity.  ‘Man, i haven’t eaten out in 14 years’…  It made me realise how even things that we take for granted, like eating out once in a while are, in the Deep South at least, race dependant.  And i find that incredibly sad, so, so backward for the World today and in a country with a black President, something that should have been addressed immediately.

As for Louisiana.  Well, New Orleans, great for Italian sandwiches and Oysters, shizzle for Jazz, Steam Boats and all that it should be good for.  Great for hot sauce, Jungles, Alligators and history, atrocious for racial equality.  But then, I guess that’s what the Deep South has, is and always will be known for, right…?

EM-EYE-DOUBLE ESS-EYE-DOUBLE ESS-EYE-DOUBLE PEE-EYE

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There was something in the air the night we left Memphis and therefore Tennessee behind and it wasn’t cos Phil Collins said so.  It was strange and I’m not sure if I can describe the feelings I felt accurately here.  But I’ll bloody well try!

Having left Memphis with feelings of such disappointment, I wasn’t really looking forward to anything that lay in wait.  Mississippi had always intrigued me, even more so when I read Uncle Toms Cabin, a book I guess a lot of people grow up reading in the States, not so many at home in England.  It’s a shame we don’t have it as part of our school syllabus, it paints the most vivid picture of the times of slavery in the U.S.  Instead, we get to learn about JFK and The Red Baron.  Go figure.  And now this historical state, so pertinent in my thoughts when i finished that book, was within touching distance and I just wasn’t sure how i felt about that.  Fear was maybe one emotion I experienced.  Other conflicting ones were excitement, sadness, apprehension, determination.  The reasons were many.  I guess not knowing where we would stay in a state where the racial divide is so apparent coupled with our number plate (registration plate for you foreigny types) being from Ontario, Canada, the ‘Whiter than White country’, lead to fear and apprehension.  Thoughts of being a target whilst camped on the side of a road in a poor town, of potential breaking and enterings, of how I would be received, a white foreigner with nice shoes!  But then there was determination, not to be the fearful tourist basing all beliefs on what I read or saw on sensationalist newspapers/websites/programmes.  Also, a determination to break down in some way, any possible way, a perceived racial divide by approaching as many locals as possible, being friendly, funny and open.  And, well, excitement is never far away for me when I’m travelling to new places.  I guess it’s the same for you too.  Something new should make one eager to see what experience will unveil itself.  And in my mind’s eye, there wasn’t anything as exciting as going to Mississippi.  Hell, I’d never had to spell it but I knew from watching The Wonder Years how to remember how to spell it… all the consonants are doubles except for the first, unless you are trying to indicate that you find it delicious in some way… think about it! (on a completely unrelated note, as I sit and write about this wonderful state, who else comes wailing over the speakers but that iconic blues man of Mississippi, Robert Johnson!!  More of him later).

So, The Delta awaited us and some emotions were running high.  But as we drove south from Memphis, and out of the state with some of the most grandiose, awe-inspiring and ‘American’ looking rivers I’d ever seen, all eyes were on the road that lay less than 6 feet ahead of us, one Highway 61 (and yes, it would be re-visited on many occasions).  Why 6 feet?  Well, that’s about as far as the biblical blizzard we were in would let us see.  Seems the least likely career path yours truly could ever take is the one that points towards Meteorologist, such is my failure at predicting what weathery fronts lay in wait.  If you ever thought, like I, that the Southern states of the U.S were hot, balmy places that one could while away hours in, sipping whiskey and chatting to hoochy coochy women in Jook Joints, throughout all months of the year, well think again.  I’d never EVER seen a snow storm like this one and I was driving our 1976, 48 ton camper van through the center of it! But if nothing else, I have a steely determination to live as long as humanely possible and so, imprinting my fingers into the steering wheel for the rest of its days as my forearms rippled with their usual Iron Man form, I stared grimly at the road ahead and decided that tonight, we weren’t going to die!! Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the guy in the pick-up in front of us, who, after a couple of dramatic weaves across the Highway, shot into the ditch separating us from the oncoming traffic and did the equivalent of a triple Salchow followed by a double toe-loop and landed upside down.  I hope he was ok.  It was one of those situations I faced that you discuss with friends sometimes, the ‘WHAT IF’s’.  Not the one that goes something along the lines of ‘WHAT IF you had to choose between snogging Maggie Thatcher for free or a seahorse for eight quid?’  I mean one of those that’s something along the lines of ‘What would you do if you saw an accident in front of you and knew that someone may need your help but in helping you risked having a potentially fatal accident yourself?!!’  Luckily, we were only doing about 30 mph and so from the looks of it, there weren’t going to be any severed limbs, maybe only a thick ear and some damaged pride but in trying to slow down our tank, the same couldn’t confidently be said.  And as I looked in my mirror, I saw other cars further back that were able to stop and help and so I knew things would be ok.  But for us, it was touch and go a few times as we slid across the road towards the trenches either side.  And I’m not exaggerating when I say this was THE most terrifying drive of my entire life.  Even more terrifying than the one from Worthing to Southampton in 1997 when on the M27, in a torrential rain storm, my windscreen wipers failed and Marcus Williams had to lean half of his body out of the window and try to move them from side-to-side, whilst passing lorries sprayed deadly acid rain into our eyes!!  And not only could we not see for the driving snow in Mississippi but the depth of the falling snow on the roads was becoming increasingly dangerous, as was the freezing of our windscreen wipers.  Of course we wanted to turn off and park for the night but we just couldn’t see any turnings off the highway, visibility was so low and so we just had to keep on going……. for 2 AND A HALF HOURS!!!!  Eventually, we spotted some lights in the distance and after realising that they weren’t white and that the voice telling me to ‘come towards them’ was actually my travel braud telling me to go towards ‘those’ lights, i stopped panicking that death was imminent and with all my Nigel Mansell skills, skidded to the left, across the wrong lane of traffic and into the warm nuzzly bosom of the greatest gas station i ever came across!  And boy, was my sphincter tighter than a Hulk Hogan chinese burn!!  But we were alive, we were safe and we had somewhere to rest.  And as the soft, fluffy pat-pat of snow on the roof covered our little cocoon, we were able to sleep, wrapped around each other, thankful that we would live to see another day of this epic adventure.

Our first destination in Mississippi was to be Clarksdale, the city said to be the actual birthplace of the Blues, which has the distinction of being the place where Robert Johnson infamously sold his soul to the Devil in return for the skills and fame of a Blues musician.  It’s a very intriguing story, the basic premise of which was that Mr. Johnson was a crap guitarist who longed to be famous and after disappearing for a few short months to go and make his way in the surrounding counties, returned the sorcerer of the six-string, leading all who knew of him to the summation that he must have made a pact with Mephistopheles in return for his now legendary talents.  At the crossroads of this supposed event, there are a couple of big blue gaudy guitars forming an x-marks-the-spot…

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There’s also a fantastic li’l food-stop that is as legendary in these ‘ere parts as the Blues music that makes it so famous and it goes by the name of Hick’s, home of the World Famous Hot Tamales!  I’d never had a Tamale, didn’t even know what one was and that was all I needed to make me drive around in the Mississippi snow looking for this tiny li’l joint.  And heck, was I glad I did.  Check this out…

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After all the previous evenings weather based excitement, we decided we needed a breather, a shower and a woo (as always) and so we checked into what is generally regarded in my World as ‘The Coolest Lodgings i have ever come across’, namely the Shack Up Inn (www.shackupinn.com).  If you are ever in this part of the World and you don’t stay here, i will send a bunch of lairy prawns to your house every week for 7 months and delight as they sweat on your life and invite their crustaceany mates that look like this (on the right)…

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round for Carling and you-punching nights, every night.

The story goes that the owners, after already acquiring an old Cotton Gin house to turn into guest rooms, decided it would be an amazingly cool idea if their future guests could stay in old plantation shacks, inhabited years ago by farm slaves.  They approached a guy who had 4 on his farm and was about to tear them down, to see if he would sell them the shacks.  They struck up a deal with the farmer whereby if they moved one shack from the farmers farmy farmer farm into the woods he owned, so he had somewhere to do things to himself in private, they could have the other three shacks for bugger all.  And so they literally shunted their 3 onto the back of a shack-shifting truck, shackled them down and schlepped them back to their place.  And the shacks are pretty much as they were back in the day, save for a shower, a toilet and a microwave (booooo).  Check out these pics…

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We stayed in The Crossroads shack and watched some documentaries on the history of the blues and an old concert with Amos Milburn, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Bill Broonzy.  And I don’t know whether it was the blues I was watching, the shack that we were in or that Mississippi was all around me but I felt a connection right there that I didn’t feel in many others places on this journey.  But I certainly also felt a sadness.  It’s unbelievable to think that 3 generations of families would have to live in this one shack that was just cosy enough for the two of us.  And it was almost inconceivable to me that under my feet were atoms from slaves that had stood on the exact spot years ago, suffering than whilst I was lounging in slave-luxury now.  Is it at least something that I contemplated this when others may have been ignorant of such thoughts?  Not to those spirits that had to endure that life, I bet.  It’s times like this that I say to myself ‘Man, the World is an insane place’…

The proprietors of the Shack Up Inn were two very cool guys, with the baddest southern drawls you could ask for.  Guy, who we met on our arrival, was such a friendly chap.  He was telling us tales of the peeps who stayed there, including Tom Waits, Robert Plant, Flea and loads of other popular musiciany types and how he has been inspired to build a big recording studio and jam area that looks exactly like this…

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Seriously cool guys with a great project. If you’re ever reading those lists of the World’s coolest hotels and this place isn’t on it, burn that damn list and chant a voodoo curse aimed at turning the head of the list maker into a delicious looking roast chicken and then hunt them down and nosh a massive hunk out of a succulent piece of head-breast. Just don’t choke on their ignorant bones!

After bidding a sad but glad farewell to the Shack Up Inn (sad to leave, glad to have experienced it), we headed south on the blues trail to look for the place where one McKinley Morganfield a.k.a Muddy Waters was born.  And even though the biblical blizzard seemed at the time to be affecting the entire planet, 36 hours and a few miles later, Nat King Cole’s Let It Snow had been replaced on the airwaves by more Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Skip James and Sonny Boy then you could shake an enormous blues stick at.  And as we ambled along (as one should in these pastures) and the sun started to do its thang, the countryside became flat and deep and alive with its own history and although these images may not show truly how one feels when looking at these old farmlands, to me, they were extremely pertinent.  But first, see how the slave owners used to lap it up in their Antebellum era mansions, compare with what the workers would have had to put up with and then think how you feel about that…

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Our destination was the house of the then 2-year-old…

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in Rolling Fork.  And oh man, check this out for a pad…

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I assume that he had more furniture back in the day and he probably didn’t have pictures and newspaper clippings of himself all over the walls as he does now…

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After a brief history lesson on how the man famed for creating Chicago Blues came to be the King he is today, (can I say that about someone who is no longer around physically but who’s legend lives on?), it was back on the road to hit the weirdest and most horror-film inspiring religious shrine you ever saw. This place is called Margaret’s Grocery Store and unfortunately it was closed but the story behind it is properly Deep South. Margaret, having been widowed for many years, married a local preacher, Reverend H.D. Dennis on the promise that if she did so, he would turn her grocery store into something people will never forget…

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I’d love to here from any readers as to what they think the end of the sign would have said.  I reckon iniquity but that’s pretty boring. Anyway, here is the full story of the place: http://www.arts.state.ms.us/folklife/artist.php?dirname=margarets_grocery

With the afternoon sun re-fuelling our Vitamin D levels and many miles still to travel, it was time for some necessary bush tucker and so it was to the historical town of Vicksburg we headed and specifically to Walnut Hills (www.walnuthills.net), a restaurant with the steepest entrance to a car park I have ever experienced.  Seriously, it was like the start of The Looping Star at The Bembom Brothers theme park in Margate!  But tucking into Turnip Greens, Candied Yams and proper ice tea in this beautiful old building made the mountaineering worthwhile, although the fact that all the servers are black while the proprietor is some big, fat white guy still makes me think that there are to be many lifetimes passed before any kind of racial equality reaches this part of the World.  Which I find kinda strange because there is such a rich history of black role models coming from this State, almost more than any other, that you would think it would give new generations something to graduate toward.  And couple that with the tremendous hardship suffered by these people in recent history that enabled black people today to be treated, by some at least, as equal citizens.  I felt a little sad that this inequality still occurs and maybe I didn’t have to because maybe these workers are happy with their lot and want for nothing more but as I would find out in the next state, I think my initial sadness was justified.

In two days, we had almost driven through the state of Mississippi.  A state with a stronger historical identity than any other I was to encounter.  A state where christianity is freely celebrated and yet a chasm-like racial divide is still tolerated. A state of the have’s and the have-nots, usually dependent on the colour of one’s skin, the cut of one’s jib.  A state that has a power hidden in its midsts, the power to break men, to keep them down and destroy any sense of self-esteem but also the power to make men strive to be something better, of role models, of people who started out with nothing and really became something.  And maybe because it was the middle of winter and thus there were few people going about their b’sness or because our time here was short due to us only being allowed 3 months in this wonderful country, but I just felt like i didn’t experience enough of Mississippi.  And maybe that’s a good thing because I didn’t see a huge amount of the poverty that makes this America’s poorest state, thus saving me from adding to the sadness of its history with the sadness of its present.  But deep down, in the deep south of my being, there is a pull on one of my hearts six-strings to see what this area is REALLY about, to REALLY explore its people and it’s connection with its past that this current journey didn’t satisfy.  And so I feel like I can say this with certainty and sincerity…
‘I ain’t yet finished with your Muddy Water’s, Mississippi…’

Muddy Waters – Mississippi Delta Blues

Memphis, Tennessee

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The drive to Memphis was mean.  I expected to look out of my side window at times and see a little demony troll hanging to my wing mirror, grinning at the disgustingness of it all.  The forecast had been checked and we knew rain was imminent but this?  It was like driving blindfold in the Wacky Races with Dick Dastardly doing his best to live up to his name (the Dastardly bit) by pulling all sorts of ruinous tricks to stop us in our tracks, like making it rain and putting big lorries on the road and making our windscreen wipers crap and putting distracting little monsters on our wing mirrors.  Its times like this, I thought, that one sees an Ark carrying an abundance of creatures (although, how does one fit 2 of every type of whale on a craft such as this?)

We were going to be in Memphis for 3 nights, to check out what was one of ‘THE’ Blues and Soul capitals of America.  I was pretty excited at being in the home of Memphis Slim, Isaac Hayes and The Reverend Alan Green!  I imagined myself in a blues bar, sipping bourbon, listening to an old-timer croaking at us and strumming on his old steel six string about how life used to be, how everything from waking up in the morning to the dinner he’d eat at night gave him the blues.  I don’t know why I was thinking of taking comfort in someone else’s past sorrows.  Maybe it was the thought that if he could talk to us, he’d tell us things were even worse today then they were in the old days, therefore adding a tad of shining light to his personal anguish.  Little did I know that a similar feeling of the blues would be felt by yours truly when I left Memphis…

The beauty of couch surfing is that you get to meet a plethora of different people.  So far we have ‘surfed’ with a Stoner, an Aunt, modern-day Hippies and a World Record Holder (unofficially), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Speaking of such things, a man told me last night that when the icebergs in Antarctica start to thaw in the summer and float northward, there are little fish right at the bottom that feed on the new algae that grows there, as the light starts to feed through the water and reach the nether regions.  And these fish are so plentiful that if you managed to weigh them, they would weigh more than all of the humanoids on the Earth!!  WTF!!   I find those sorts of ‘facts’ so hilarious, i wanted to blurt a guffaw of biblical mockery in this persons general direction.  People come up with all sorts of hilarious ones that make me think they should be locked in a massive mental zoo, where we can poke them all with fangs of tarantulas through their bars ‘… that are actually made of exactly the same metal as the genre of music heavy metal, divent ya na’? (see, pure nonsense).  Another one, that once prompted a discussion of such enormity that two ’erberts would be standing in snowfall in freezing temperatures during the mornings early hours arguing their points, is the old, timeless ‘No two snowflakes are the same’.  All I’ll say on the subject is this… check all the snowflakes, people, check all the snowflakes…

So, more bipeds of a different nature were to be met, chatted to and waved goodbye at, in that order, in Memphis.  These people had gone through our strict measures of suitability testing that happens every time we send out couch surfing requests, the one at the top of the list being ‘Does it look like they might decapitate us and use our teeth as their new false teeth?’  We’d heard from our previous new temporary couchy friend that Memphis had some pretty dodgy ‘hoods that we didn’t want to venture too close to.  And as our ‘Very English Gentleman’ sounding sat nav guided us to our destination, we thought said friend had maybe forgotten to tell us about this one.  This information about our destination we did know:

This was a co-operative house that had a 24\7\365 open door policy, meaning anyone was welcome, ANYONE, at any time of day or night.

The ‘hosts’, and I use that word in as liberal a sense as possible, were a young couple, the female of which had been in a car accident some time ago and therefore could sometimes be a bit quiet (her words).

The night we arrived, there was to be a party with live music, which had been aforementioned.

Ok, we thought, this sounds like it could be an interesting experience…

So, we rock up at the edge of a ghetto.  And my initial thought, at seeing the people unloading there ‘gear’ into the house, was that maybe I should have blindfolded myself, span around in a circle 72 times and taken a dozen swipes with a meat cleaver at my wardrobe, poured gasoline on it and got a fire breather to cough at it a few times before donning the closest thing to hand.  The first lesson I learned that night was how not to dress at a post punk party, taking place in a house with an open door policy where no one was above legal drinking age and the protagonists had 3 bob between them!

But we gathered our things, swanned in and said “hi” to the ‘kids’ standing in the kitchen, shyly not talking to anyone, whilst we tried terribly hard, unsuccessfully, to spark up a conversation with those people who were to be our ‘hosts‘.

Here’s a brief insight into the general salutations that take place when you first meet your couch surf host:

Door opens.  Smiles, handshakes, sometimes even hugs take place.  ‘I’m so and so, so am I’, etc, etc, ‘this is my place, let me show you around, this is where you’ll sleep, this is my (insert chosen creature/s here), drink?’ conversation, continuum ad continuum…

That’s how it ‘generally’ happens, it’s all very convivial and even though I always spend the first night trying unsuccessfully to sleep, (at times I have laid in the dark thinking how easy it would be for our host to do unmentionable things to us (mainly me!) whilst I’m breathing in the chloroform from the rag that has been stuffed into my mouth!) everything always works out tickety-boo  However, this time, as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and many others since have blurted out, a change was gonna come…

We asked where we could put our bags.  We put them there.  Through various mediums, none of them our hosts, we found out that tonight there was to be a party with three live bands, all playing ‘post-punk’ (nope, nor did I) and that there would be lots of people sleeping over and that our hosts were to sell homemade vegan (of course) pizza slices for a buck (to facilitate rent paying, THE sole source of rent paying).  As a few sketchy looking people had disappeared into the room that we had ‘hidden’ our bags in, my voluptuous travel braud and I went on an R&R mission for said items after deciding they may be safer in our locked vehicle than sitting in the corner of the evenings designated crack den, being eyed up by kids who’s first translation of the word job that sprang to mind was something you did in private once or twice daily, even parked in the ghetto as we were.  Next, I went for a recky to find the bathroom and when I did, I wish I hadn’t. What was interesting as I pee’d though was that I noticed I could count 69 different coloured pubes on the toilet bowl.  This, I believe, was a challenge to a World record that I previously didn’t know existed.  Intrigued, I pulled back the shower curtain.  And there I saw them.  If only, I thought, someone could transfer what I was staring at, to the toilet bowl and find the number for Norris McWhirter, we’d have a new Record Breaker!!!  I’d also never seen a white porcelain bath with that colouring.  Did we have a budding interior designer in our midst’s who had chanced upon a new ‘base’ colour with which to design the rest of the room around?  No, sadly, we did not.  Before we arrived, I was really looking forward to having a hot shower, as it would be the last time for a few days that such luxury could be enjoyed.  Suddenly, smelling like the rotten end of a tramp seemed more appealing.

After chatting to one of the bands, a nice bunch, random stuff for an hour or so, me and ‘er decided we needed sustenance and lots of alcohol to get us through ‘NIGHT ONE’ of our ordeal.  So off we headed to what has since been recognized as ‘THE’ pikiest supermarket we have and probably will ever set foot in (www.memphispigglywiggly.com/).  I seriously thought I would be mugged for my toe nails.  We looked like something out of Mary Poppins.  Everyone else didn’t.  The cashier asked us where we were from.  I said “London”.  She said, ‘In France?’…(insert Family Fortunes big wrong answer X sound here).

Wandering around a ghetto at 9 o’clock at night for something tasty to eat, dressed like Mary and Burt isn’t something I would recommend, for two reasons: a) there isn’t anything tasty to eat in the ghetto and b) you may get yourself erased from this World in a fashion not befitting someone dressed in such a fashion!  We experienced one of these, I think we may have come within a whisker of making it a full house.  When the Gods decided that we were gonna eat Domino’s that night, I thought ‘who are were to defy the deity’s?’.  And whilst we sat ‘inside’ the take-away pizza place, we couldn’t help but chuckle at what our anti-capitalist, anarchic hosts would make of us eating delicious Domino’s pizza 10 minutes up the road, whilst they tried to make this months rent by selling their egg-plant and vegan-cheese version for a buck a pop. (87% of Americans can’t pronounce Aubergine, a point highlighted by the fact the spell check doesn‘t even recognise it!).  We also couldn’t help chuckle at the fact that this particular branch of Domino’s had a security lock on the door to stop the gun-toters coming in.  When my travel partner didn’t come back from the toilet after a few minutes, I stopped chuckling…

Back at the house, the party was mental!  I don’t think I’d heard such an atrocious attempt at good live music since Christopher Shakespeare armpit-farted the tune to Coronation Street 18 years previous.  And as the evening progressed, so did the volume of kids screaming into a microphone trying to do what a million other kids for a million years before them had done, just with a little less ‘soul’!

About an hour later, I was in the kitchen chatting to a couple of young guys when my grotesque generalizations about some of these youngsters changed dramatically.

One dude must have been 19.  We were talking about Memphis and how I thought it was gonna be this bustling city, loads of cool shit happening and that I couldn’t wait to check it out.  After talking to him for a while, I started to see a very different picture of it being painted.  He started telling me how things here are going downhill very quickly, primarily because of the economic meltdown but also due to the fact that because of  bad governance, the only area in which the city seemed to be taking much of an interest was the promotion of tourism, which is focused on a very small area of downtown.  He said it was hard for kids like him because he’d had very little education to speak of outside of an under-achieving high school and his parents didn’t care what he did and the fact that his grades weren’t sufficient to get him into further education coupled with the fact that he would never be able to afford to go to University meant that his prospects in life were really poor.  He knew that he should have tried harder at school but the guidance from home wasn’t there and so at the time, he didn’t care.  He said that he carried a knife around with him and in a year and a half’s time, he would also be getting a gun because it was the only way to protect himself.  He’d been mugged for his phone a few months back and another friend of his had been done over for a few dollars.  He then started talking about the laws regarding carrying firearms, in a nutshell being that at 18 you can have a firearm in your vehicle as long as it’s in a case in the trunk, unloaded and at 21 you can have one loaded with you in your vehicle.  How accurate that is, I don’t know but I don’t think the accuracy of it is the point, the craziness of it is more pertinent.  This coming from a 19-year-old kid!!  I felt so sorry for him and proceeded to try to point out the positives in his life and give him some direction but every avenue I went down came to a dead-end because his future to him was so bleak, it was like he was living without hope, in any way, of a better life.  This didn’t only seem to be his outlook, his friends all joined in the discussion and all had similar things to say.  So what did they do with their lives?  They got their benefit cheques from their parents, they skateboarded about and they smoked dope!  And yeah, it’s a vicious circle.  But who was I to judge these kids who didn’t have much of an education or the funds to try to further that education, lived at home with parents who, it seemed, showed little or no interest in them and lived with no hope for the future?  And on top of that, they resided in a city that was in gross decay and was, as they made it out to be, overrun with gang violence (Memphis has one of the highest crime rates in the whole of the United States, 3.6 times the national average and standing at number 6 on the FBI’s list of most crime ridden cities in U.S and A ).  Man, they even talked about getting guns so they could feel better protected.  AT 19!!!!!  When I was 19 I thought an oozy was a Greek cocktail and at 20, something you caught off the lass down the road who stroked the pigeons and had a constant trap-door of green mucus plugging up one nostril!!  I felt like taking this one kid under my wing and trying to show him that his life didn’t have to be like this, that there were other ways of thinking that could give him some kind of hope.  But after another 20 minutes and a lug on a bong, he was too stoned to talk.  And that’s when me and the good lady decided we would be better off sleeping, not on the promised couch which that night didn‘t seem to exist, but in Trixiebelle, during what was to feel like the coldest night during our entire trip.  Still, it was that or sleep in a house with broken windows, no heating, a pube-fashioned toilet with no lock on the door and a bunch of anarchic, stale-stenching, punk kids, all looking to change the World by hating on everything.  I could see their point though…

I’d like to say the next day we awoke and everything we’d previously thought about Memphis turned out to be false, but to say we awoke would have meant sleep had been taken place.  ‘This was not what we signed up to’ we said in unison.  Couch surfing is supposed to be an exchange of ‘something’ between you and your hosts, which includes a sleeping medium of some kind and quality.  Our exchange was about 3 and a half grunts out of our hosts that night and I’m not too sure if they were even from the more polite orifice.  Still, not to be perturbed, we tried to make the best of the situation and that morning we breezed into the breeziest house in the ‘hood for a shower, some breakfast and with a renewed vigour to finally get something out of our hosts.  And after approximately 2 minutes and 37 seconds, we realized that our optimism was based on nothing but hope and as a man somewhere once said ‘to build things you need a foundation and hope aint no foundation for nothin’’.  And although I strongly disagree with this fictitious man and his fictitious phrase, it seemed that day that our hope of better cultural exchanges lay not with those who we were banking on, but on our own intrepid exploryness.  So, after trying to get a few places of interest out of a now hung-over and somewhat defunct group of young anarchic punks, we headed for downtown Memphis and saw this stuff:

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In 1945, Nat D. Williams, a Memphis radio announcer and history teacher said of Beale Street…” Come what may, there will always be a Beale Street, because Beale Street is a spirit … a symbol … a way of life … Beale Street is a hope”.  For those of you not in the know, Beale Street is to Memphis what Bourbon Street is to New Orleans. It has been the schooling ground for many musicians, including B.B King, Muddy Waters and Big Joe Williams. It was once a microcosm of blues bars, all serving up a hefty dose of the good stuff. However in recent years, it’s been living off of that reputation to draw in the throngs of tourists that want to get a taste of how things used to be.  I didn’t expect there to be only 7 tourists who felt this way, even on a cold… sorry, bitterly cold, grey Sunday afternoon in the middle of a Memphis Winter.  To say I was disappointed was akin to Elvis sitting on the toilet one final time, cheeseburger in hand only to realise Priscilla had swapped his favourite meaty-cheese combo for one of those Quorn varieties, sending him into a pit of heart-attack inducing rage from which a legend is made.  I guess I expected Sunday in Memphis to be alive and kicking but seems like Beale Street, one of the Blues capitals of America, has given the blues the blues…

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And after walking around and looking for Stax records (since bought out by Atlantic) and Sun recording studios, two of the most legendary recordy places in the World, but finding only more sadness and before some minging looking snow clouds threatened to descend upon us, we headed back to our couch surf hosts’ place, sat outside in our motorized living container and decided this was one experience we just had to let go of.  And as the freezing cold atmosphere finally caved in, the clouds burst, snow began to fall and we pulled away from the co-operative and the least participatory, friendly and hygienic couch surf hosts we had ever had the displeasure to experience.

There are two other things that Memphis is renowned for.  I’ve never been much of an Elvis fan but I have always been a fan of BBQ ribs and we’d been told that Memphis and Texas are the two places in America that serve up the most delicious of this bony-sticky-meat staple.  So in the now heavy snow and following the advice of our ‘57 billion things to do in America’ guide book, we headed to Central BBQ for possibly the most delicious rib dinner I have ever and probably will ever eat at this place… http://www.cbqmemphis.com/

Just as we were about to head south out of Memphis, we decided that, even though the snow was now coming down with Biblical ferocity, we may as well check out Graceland, being as we weren’t likely to ever be coming back here.  As we drove down Elvis Presley Boulevard and saw Lisa Marie (the jet, not the weirdo)

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parked up, I looked at Graceland and said ‘Is that it?  It looks like a motel’.  And as I swung Trixie around, baffled at all the fuss made over this supposed fairytale-like mansion of a once revered fat guy, I realized some snow must have got in my eye and the sign I thought referred to Graceland must have referred to the Graceland motel that people stay in when they travel across the globe to look at the actual Graceland… across the road!!

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Obviously, being Sunday and the American south, it was closed, but it had some pretty colours emanating from it, from what I could see through the now Arctic Blizzard that was attacking us from all angles.

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And I guess it would have been interesting to see it on a warm, sunny day, to wander around and gawk at the extravagance and gaudiness of it all.  But then, it would also have been interesting to go to Al Green’s church and it would have been interesting to see some real Memphis Soul or a gritty Memphis Blues jam and it would have been interesting to see Stax records and Sun recording studios too.

I was really looking forward to Memphis but it seemed its reputation had preceded it and it was a reputation I felt it didn’t live up to anymore.  And maybe it was a combination of the time of year, the freezing temperatures and the day of the week, but after being there for 24 hours out of a proposed 72, I felt I’d had the soul drained out of me.  And when the city that was built on soul seems to have lost its soul, maybe it loses all that it was originally based on and maybe even the people who live there lose a little bit of their souls too.

What I know for certain is that Memphis sure did give me the blues.  But then, maybe that’s its point…

Nashville, Tennessee

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A few years ago, I was buying the Guardian newspaper every Saturday and collecting up all the Travel supplements that had sections on places I wanted to go.  There were many mini-papers in that pile of mine, much to the chagrin of my once-upon-a-time travel buddy, the Ne’er-do-well Kid.  But he was pretty much spot-on in his scathing put down that I’d never do what I purposed, which was to copy all the good bits into my travel journal so that one day, when I arrived at said destinations, I’d know what was hot and what was not.  One thing he wasn’t right about though was that I wouldn’t copy ANY of the info into my expedition encyclopedia.  For one of the few possy of notes I scribed was on the city of Nashville, Tennessee.  And what notes they were!  Notes on the best bars, clubs, sights and sounds of America’s ‘Country City’.  And these notes, once made, were the subjects of many distant daydreams about what it would be like to go to this musically historical city.  I wondered when I would get the chance to check out …’one of the coolest cities in America’ as I remember the quote spouting.

And so it was that as I drove towards this pretty mundane skyline

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(though this building would later stand out…)

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I couldn’t help thinking that I had maybe built Nashville up a little too much in my minds eye.

Again, as the sun took a bow and took a running jump from this particular day, it was that we entered another major U.S. city in the heat of the night, with no idea where to go or where we were staying.   As is the norm, we found a parking space behind a shop that we thought would have Internet, flipped open the laptop and looked for somewhere to sleep where we wouldn’t get murdered.  And as luck would have it, just as we were closing our eyes and pointing our fingers dangerously close to exactly where we were, a local knocked on our window and offered his assistance, in return for nothing but a few pennies!  Yes, that’s right, we attracted the attention of the only drunken transvestite homeless person on the streets of Downtown Nashville.  A friendly chap was he, didn’t want to take my ‘no, we don’t need your assistance, thank you very much’ for an answer (probably more to do with the fact that he was 3 sheets to the wind than my foreign way of saying ‘piss off you weirdo’, which I’m sure sounds pretty much like ‘piss off you weirdo’, wherever on this fine planet you may inhabit).  So off we went again, driving around looking for a quite street to pull out our camper bed within and partake of some zed’s withon but it was with a strange sound coming from our beloved Trixiebelle that we pulled into some car park of other.  And as soon as the hood was up and the necessary oil had been administered, a security car arrived, a window wound down and a voice went up asking, in a VERY strange and strong accent, ‘Y’all got a problem?’.  It was one of those annoying security patrollers that pop up at the slight potential of anyone new being seen in their security patrolled private apartment complex.  ‘No, piss off and bother someone else, ya git’ I wanted to say, stressed at a sudden bout of mechanical melancholy as i was.  ‘Just a bit of engine trouble’ I blandly retorted.  Nice as pie, he drove off, leaving me to curse my 1976 engine for making me stop and myself for assuming that he was going to be a right bugger when he turned out to be doing his job.

We headed to the east of Nashville, which was the hipster capital, not because we felt a kinship with these peeps but because we thought ‘the last people who are gonna mug us in our van are hipsters’.  Funny though, if ever there was a social group who could get away with petty crimes, it would surely be hipsters.  Imagine the description of the suspect; ‘Er, yeah, guy was about average height, early 20’s, well spoken, kinda geeky looking, ya know, sort of a cross between Su Pollard

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and Richard Clayderman’.

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I mean, these days, that pretty much sums up half of the population, right?  However, I will go against public perception and say that I rather like hipsters,especially those in England, cos lets face it, most people over the age of 30 in good ol’ blighty seem to have decided it doesn’t matter what they look like anymore and so go down the route Gyles Brandreth clearly chose when he donned this magnificent number (although, if everyone went around with the same sultry look as Mr. B, England would certainly be a sexier place).

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So, we spent the night on the side of a pleasant-looking street which looked safe enough, although when you wake up in a camper van in the morning and all the cars around you that you thought would act as protection from the pikey’s in the night have disappeared, you realize you must have stuck out like a pants tent at a 4 year olds swimming party birthday…… party……

The next day, after again sleeping in sub-zero temperatures, we found this neat place http://www.bongojava.com/, had our fill and decided that as it was about 10.30, we should head to lunch!  And as we were in Nashville, as we are two intrepid explorers and as we like to meet as many peeps as possible on our journeys, there was only one place we could possible head for and that was Monell’s (http://www.monellstn.com/n-rest.html).  This place is a Nashville institution and it’s not hard to understand why.  OH MY LORDY McLORDICUS, was this exactly what the Harold Shipman ordered!!  The premise is, you get to sit at a big table, next to a bunch of ‘REAL’ Americans, eat fried chicken, biscuits and basically every other type of food you could ever expect in this part of the country, i.e., The South, and not only talk to said Americans, but actually watch them be ‘PROPER REAL AMERICANS’!!  Talk about genuine experiences!  There were people from Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, you name it (don’t name Alaska or about 41 other states!), they were from there and they all spoke with these MAGNIFICENT drawls.  And just to show that the stereotype of racism doesn’t stretch to ALL Southerners, there was even a black dude/white gal combo-couple sat opposite, complete with racially aware parents, all dining together!!  I felt a tad uncomfortable when the gals pops kept hollering to her partner, ‘Boy, you’ll get me some more a’dat fried chicken if ya know what’s good for ya’ but one cultural-accepting step at a time, right?  Boy, did we eat some proper southern food that lunchtime.  I coulda sat there all day listening to people telling us their life stories, where we should go on our trip, where they have been, where they would still love to go, what there mums did, how great America is…  Did I mention we ate fried chicken?  HELL, DID WE EAT FRIED CHICKEN!!!!

Having the best American friends anyone in the World has ever had in Marjorie Daws and Chris Blisstopherson meant that nights two and three in Nashville were to be spent with this person…

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Miss Erica Spangler did the good dead and put us up for two nights in her sweet li’l apartment.  And after realizing how super ace she was, we decided that the next day we would all take a ganders at the quirky side of Nashville before gettin’ our ‘coun’ry boots on’ and checking out some rootin’ tootin Garth Brook-a-likes.

The first place we headed on ‘the next day’ was this wholesome eating establishment http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/IE-5GIHlAINr0zO4lrJ_Lg?select=UsUf1jrJ__kNl_XdKi6SNA, not only Nashville’s premier hot dog culinary experience but ran by a guy who was the best New Orleans Tour Guide in Nashville we could ever have hoped to meet.  Here was another example of the Southern States’ reputation for friendliness.  This guy spent 5 minutes writing us a list of the best darn places to hit in N’Orleans, as the locals call it, and served up the best mystery meat in a finger roll I ever wolfed down, though I left this vendor with the same disappointment that I leave every hot dog vendor I visit, due to the fact that I never get the opportunity to have this exchange http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_vssdys8lk

Next, we checked out some very cool vintage clothing boutiques, notably The Hip Zipper (http://www.hipzipper.com/), The Goodbuy Girls (http://goodbuygirlsnashville.com/) and this, my favourite store in Nashville, Fanny’s House of Music (http://fannyshouseofmusic.com/StoreFront.bok).  In Fanny’s (phnaar phnaar!), you can pick up and play any instrument you like as well as check out some VERY nice vintage garms and if you’re lucky, you may have arms short enough to fit into a very dapper Royal Blue vintage Lacoste shower mac for only 20 buckaroo’s!  And right there you have one of the great things about the consumer United States for me.  Vintage, retro, call it what you like but don’t call it a bunch of ponces trying to rip you off.  Vintage isn’t expensive like it is in England; no one is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to sell ‘Vintage Denim Levi Jackets’ for $100 or any other examples of daylight robbery.  Stuff is old and if you’re daring enough to wear it or lucky enough to find it, no matter whom it’s made by, it’s yours for a steal of the price it’ll cost you at home (somewhere in the future, i would buy an Alfred Dunhill suit, brand spanking new, for a mere $15. I’ll tell you more about that one in about 6 blogs’ time!)

But it wasn’t shopping we were in Nashville for; it was this…

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And so that night, with a recommendation of some cool Knoxvillians we trusted, we headed to this place http://robertswesternworld.com/ and saw the only Brazilian Country Music singer I’ve ever seen and probably the only one that exists in the known Universe.  His name?  BrazilBilly.  Who else…?!!

Unfortunately, walking around this strip in Nashville was the first experience of disappointment I was to have on these shores regarding expectation of somewhere with a certain reputation.  I guess I expected more traditional country music fans and less beer swilling jocks, more dames dosey-do’ing and less hoochy’s hosiery ho’ing!  It seemed like the quality of the music and it’s related establishments had somehow been forgotten, nay lost, amidst the rush to turn this once legendary city (musically at least) into a huge disgusting money-making tourist trap.  I mean, there were a few cool bars and I’m sure if you hunt for long enough you can find some good music too but everything seemed to cater towards those people who just wanted to get wasted and listen to the new wave of country crap than the decent traditionally sounding stuff.  I mean I’m no country fan and my knowledge of it stops at Johnny Cash but I know my Johnny Cash from my Jonny Gash and I know quality when I hear it and there was very little on display from America’s Country City.

Am I to be constantly disappointed due to my expectations?  I guess therein lies the lesson.  As Benjamin Franklin once piped up, ‘Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed’.  He was probably on his way back from Nashville…

Knoxville, Tennessee

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Logan Wentworth has 4 whole beards that make up 1 big beard…

After leaving Asheville, we drove for some way, took some photos of a beautiful, meandering river that seemed to feed something in my soul,

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captured more sights of wonderful countryside

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and were extra clean from the participation of 74 showers that we’d had in two days.  There’s an old saying in history from somebody or other that goes a little bit like ‘You cant make up for what has gone before’.  Well, it’s a lie.  I had so many showers that I’d made up for pretty much every bad thing I’d ever done in my life.  So now I’m on an even keel, a clean slate, a pain château!

I was looking forward to our time in Knoxville.

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I knew little about its attractions and less so of its patrons.  But I did feel like I knew something of Dr. Logan Wentworth.  Of course, Logan wasn’t a doctor in the old-fashioned sense of the word, ie, he wasn’t a doctor of anything.  But there was something about his profile on couchsurfing that drew him to me and made him seem like an authority on some subject or another.  The fact that when I saw his profile picture it was like looking at myself may have had something to do with it, the handsome b’stard!!  But I just had a good feeling about him and I guess that was why, over a month before we stayed with him and way before we even hit the U.S, I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put us up and become our first couchsurfing host in this part of the World.

I’ve been extremely keen to tell the left hand side of my travelling companion’s face during this journey that I would like to arrive in unknown cities during the day, as trying to find your way around somewhere you know nothing about at night is pretty disconcerting, especially when you’re not only on the wrong side of the road but the wrong side of the vehicle too.  And so it was that we rocked up to Logan Wentworth’s pad at about 8.30 on a chilly, damp and dark Sunday eve, with not a hint of daylight left on Tennessee’s William-less horizon.  The drive to this relatively unknown city was quite eye-opening as it was the first time we had seen proof of the poverty that America can be known for.  As we drove through yet more beautiful countryside, there started appearing ramshackle properties

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complete with old cars that hadn’t had a whiff of a road in decades and the obligatory mangy looking mongrel barking at anything that went by.  And it wasn’t too long before we saw the one thing that we’d been both expectant and dreading of.  THE REDNECK…  Yes, Tennessee is Red Neck country, fo’ sho’.  In string vests or dungarees and usually both, these idiosyncratic folk could be seen doing the things that everyday people do, just in a distinct way.  The way of the Red Neck!  And even though I have a mild fascination for these people, there was also something Deliverance-like about the scenes as they flashed by, not quick enough as far as I was concerned.

On a serious note though, it is sad seeing the way some people have to live in this, the World’s supposed richest nation, especially when we had just come from something approaching luxury.  Houses half-raized, vehicles in states of disrepair, people in tattered clothes.  It made me feel incredibly fortunate to come from a country that doesn’t feel like a 3rd World country covered with a first World veil.  It was my first real taste of poverty here and it gave me the blues.

However, squeezing Trixiebelle into a parking space that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in Boyz ‘n The Hood and greeting Logan Wentworth’s beard cheered me up no end.

This is Logan Wentworth (on the right)…

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Logan Wentworth lives in a house in the downtown area of Knoxville.  The house is pretty much as close to a tree house house as one could expect from a house that was situated not in the distant branches of some bark-a-thon but right here, on solid old groundy house Earth.  It had a woody spiral staircase that seemed like it was leading up to one of these (www.freespiritspheres.com) and other woody bits and pieces that made it feel like I was staying with Woody Woodpecker, annoying laugh aside.  It had some fantastic fairy lights all over the place and other stuff too and if I was living in Knoxville I would steal it off of the current dwellers and barricade myself in, eventually dying from inhalation of stale smells and bird flu.

Logan also lives with a bloke and that bloke has a girl and she dwells in the tree house house too.  The fellow, David Cain Bowers, has one of the finest moustaches I have ever seen on a man and may be some extremely distant relative of mine (his ancestors’ name was the same as my surname, dating back to the 1200’s).  And his missus is a classical musician with an orchestra, blowing into something woodwindy that might be an oboe or might be something similar.  At any rate, she’s reet bloody good at it, I tell thee.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about peoples’ reaction to me when I meet them for the first time.  I’ve met a hell of a lot of people in the last few years, tons and tons (a ton of people is about 13 people I reckon, all weighing about 70-80 kilo’s!).  And some of those people who I’ve met are people who I know I’m immediately going to get on with really well.  But there’s this period of time before ‘they’ know ‘me’ that has to pass before they get the same feeling.  And it’s that period of time that I would sometimes like to eradicate because I feel like we are wasting time with formalities when we could be getting sown to the nitty-gritty business of having fun and being whimsical.  It’s almost like there is an interview period in which you have to feel your way into someones subconscious to let them know that you’re not a moron.  I guess this is a consequence of couchsurfing.  You have to answer questions that you’ve answered a hundred times before so that you can be ‘accepted’ as a person.  And although there was a modicum of this when I met Logan Wentworth and friends, I must say that this process was the most minimal of any people who I have met on this journey.

The first thing I noticed about Knoxville was that it sold beer for 2 bucks a can in the local pub (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and that the owner of that pub had just done some hard time.  She was an extremely generous lady cos she gave us free drinks, what with Logan Wentworth being a friend of hers and all.  Then Logan Wentworth, my travel braud and I shot the breeze and that’s when we realized that we loved Dr. Logan Wentworth.

Unfortunately for us, Knoxville, indeed Tennessee as a whole, didn’t have the year round Costa Del Sol warmth that I believed it would.  In fact, it was cold as a box of fish fingers that you forgot were in the back of the freezer.  Why don’t you have them for dinner tonight?  Go on, it’ll be like when you were a kid and your mum made you fish fingers, chips and beans for dinner.  Or put them in a sandwich, white bread only mind, with some Thomas Knight.  ‘Captain BirdsEye…’

Because Logan Wentworth is a man about town, we did some rad things whilst in Knoxville, Tennessee and we met some sweet peeps too.  Peeps like Kevin, the guy who owns ‘Yee-Haw Industries’ (www.yeehawindustries.com).  Kevin was about to buy a million and a half old printing blocks that would have given him the largest collection of old school printing blocks in America.  As soon as Kevin knew we were from outta town, he told us to follow him to a secret cabinet from which he pulled a bottle of ‘real’ Kentucky Bourbon.  He said he could only get one or two bottles of this stuff a year because it was proper proper!  Then he took the bottle top between his teeth, popped of the cork like an old salty sea dog and invited us to take a swig.  Now, I’m not a big whiskey fan but like most men I know, at some stage in my life I’ve tried to be.  I’ve gone through a period of ordering it at the bar, straight, double straight, on the rocks or with a dash of water and I’ve even gone so far as buying a bottle of it and keeping it at home but it just sat there, sneering at my lack of manliness from the shelf before I hid it behind a bottle of Malibu or Crème de Menthe.  I would shift my eyes towards it as I walked into the room where it was stored and then quickly look away before it caught my glance, wishing that my 30 quid had been better spent, notably on Mars Bars and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  But whiskey does hold a kind of mysticism for me.  Its like the key that gets you through the gateway into the World of ‘real men’, men who work for 30 years in the same company and are sole providers for their family.  Men who have sailor tatts or who have had an old school 3 litre Rover at some stage in their lives, who have short first names and have never taken a sick day.  Throw in an 18 carat gold chain and an adoring wife in her mid 50’s and the generalization is complete.  I, as you can probably imagine, am or have none of these.  A dark rum and coke is about as close as I come.  But in spite of my whiskey short comings, I supped from the bottle of 73% vol., 140 proof Bourbon and once I’d swallowed the vomit in my own mouth, decided it wasn’t as bad as all that, passed the bottle on and vowed never again to try to be a real man.

The shop Kevin owned sold posters and such like, that he created for up-coming events.  Here are some that have been made over the years…

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and these are some of the blocks he uses…

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It was a wicked place and Kevin was a real geezer.  We checked out some other cool locations, including a sweet ass record shop, owned by a dude who invited us to come and hang with him whenever we fancied.  We were shown a very cool Theatre that had just been renovated to look like it did in its glory days…

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and also went to a café that had a daily radio show broadcast from within and that every lunchtime had a free live performance that was broadcast live on air, called The Blue Plate Special.  However, although our first day was spent as is generally the norm, as tourists of our newest temporary habitat, it was the following nights’ events that would make me feel like an honorary Knoxvillian…

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Once a year, when the end of winter is in sight and Tennessee glimpses the spring sun readying its noggin’ for its fedora or whatever that seasons head warmerer might be, the time has come to remove the ice rink from the City centre.  And although it was January and unseasonal blizzards were yet to make their ice dance towards these ere parts, it was the time of year for children to put away their skates and don their post-winter, pre-spring whatevertheywears.  But not before some adults had had one last chance to add meaning to their post-Christmas survival.

On the evening in question, I was supposed to be watching David Cain Bowers (he of ‘King Super and the Excellents’ fame) and his team of underdogs scrambling their way around a course in a relay race, from the comfort of the local booze establishment.  At 15 minutes before race time and with 2 men down, I was asked to step up to the plate and become the Knoxville Nigel Mansell.  But instead of racing motor cars around a racetrack I was gonna be racing a 5 year olds plastic tricycle around an ice rink!  BLOODY HELL, was it just about the most fun I’ve had since I sprinkled mint chocolate milkshake powder on a cow pat and watched a moo-er gobble it up.  In teams of around 5, we were to each perform 1 circuit of the rink before ejecting ourselves form the saddle as quick as poss for the next person to jump aboard and shoot off, relay style, though you try to shoot anywhere on a plastic wheeled tricycle on ice.  Why other places don’t partake in these sorts of events is ludicrous.  Everyone had such a great time, and by the time we got to the semi’s, not only was i completely mahoolered, I’d met about a hundred people, had my years’ fill of excitement in one evening and couldn’t care less who won cos i and everyone else was having too much bleedin’ fun.  In England, you’re not allowed to have fun once you become a grown-up.  In Knoxville, it was the law.

The next morning, we headed to Cracker Barrel for our first taste of American Country Cooked Fast Food Heaven (www.crackerbarrel.com).  Slightly hung over but with my name on a trophy in the Preservation Pub (although i still don’t know what position we came), we headed for biscuits and gravy, eggs sunny side up and maple syrup and bacon.  And although I’d experienced it previously, I really felt like I was in America.

And so our last night in Knoxville came and went with dinner at some friends of Dr. Logan Wentworth’s.  We all bought something to eat, his friends supplied the beer (they brewed it themselves and I must confess to tasting no finer stout than I did that night) and a night of chattle ensued.  And when we left Knoxville the next morning, it was agreed that this was always going to be an experience that we looked back on in years to come and thought ‘BLOODY LUSH GUFF’.

I like racing kids tricycles on ice.  I like Knoxville, Tennessee.  And I like Dr. Logan Wentworth.  They do say everything comes in three’s, don’t they…

‘Sweeeet Caroliiiiiina…’

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In one of our many road books, upon the cover of which are blazed words such as BEST and ROAD TRIP and JOURNEY and 1001 and most importantly I suppose AMERICA, there are guides to which drives upon which roads one should partake if one wishes to get the most out of a journey of such ilk.  Coupled with my travel wife’s extreme internet research skills, these books have become our bread and butter when it comes to how to get to such and such a place by means of the most scenic of routes.  And so it was that when we had sufficiently thawed out enough following our 2nd night sleeping in minus temperatures, in our less-than-glamorous surroundings of WalMart’s finest of car parks, we headed towards what was described in our myriad travel books as one of America’s most beautifully scenic drives (http://www.blueridgeskyline.com).

Our destination on this day, which just so happened to be the New Years Eve approaching 2011 was the home of Laurie and Jack, parents of the man Daniella’s good friend was soon to be wed.  We had met ‘the man’ once before, on a brief night out in our home nations capital, prior to his and his wife to be’s departure to India and Thailand to partake on various meditation, yoga and I guess all round spiritual experiences and he seemed a pleasant enough chap, although that goaty…!!!  What I didn’t expect, the night I met him was that less than a year later I would be sleeping in the bed that he grew up in, a bed his parents would have read him bedtime stories in, that he would have had wet dreams in as a pervy teen, that he may even have popped his cherry in.  My first thought was ‘I hope they’ve changed the sheets’.  My second thought was ‘What’s that stain’ and my third something along the lines of ‘if they turn out to be even half as cool as the Mettlers of Philly, than we’ve lucked out… or in… (I still don’t quite get that phrase).  Actually my real first thought was ‘a shower, how amazing’.  People, we really take for granted the simple things in life like a shower, a bed, a safe haven.  Nevermore will I assume that these things are a part of life that I don’t need to be thankful for.  Even now, at this early stage of our journey, I realize how important those three things are to our comfort and our enjoyment of this humble life!

There is though something a little strange about turning up to someone’s house that you have never met and whom you feel a little sorry for to have had you forced upon them, just to facilitate a little cleanliness and sleepiness and warmthiness.  I don’t know how it must feel for your son to call you one day and say ‘Hi Mom, hi Pop, just to let you know, two young Englishes you blatantly have nothing in common with are going to come to your house on New Years Eve and destroy any plans you had to see the New Year in with revelry amongst friends.  They’ll be staying for the weekend, wont you be good enough to cook for them and engage in conversation so as not to make them feel like they have gatecrashed your lives and made you wonder what you have done to deserve it?’  This thought alone filled me with pity for our upcoming hosts.  The fact that said son was trying to hook us up with his friends so we could not only turn up to his parents place, spend 10 minutes ‘getting to know them’ and then get them to drive us to a party 20 miles away ON NEW YEARS EVE, but then come back at 3 in the morning, wankered, smashing their precious bone china whilst trying not to trip over the Worlds biggest dog and unsuccessfully being as quite as possible by ‘shooshing’ each other loud enough to wake up Mr Van Winkle from a seemingly record-breaking slumber, made me feel even more of a git.  May I just add something?  This was New Years Eve…

As I keep telling myself and my travel beau, the adventure is in the journey, not the destination and so it was onward with not just a taddlesworth of excitement towards one of this countries most rural and scenic of journeys, the Skyline drive.  And to get to the skyline drive, we had to take what to this day has been one of my favourite journeys undertaken behind the wheel of any vehicle, the drive on the old Indian Valley Post Office Road.  Although I am driving a vehicle with a 5.8 litre engine that weighs about as much as the Empire State Building, which is in a vehicle that resembles a tank and handles like a 747, the narrow roads of this wonderfully rustic feeling route were no match for me or my trundling bungalow.  And so it was that we wound and wiggled our way, once again, through the charming countryside of Virginia, with its religious signage and flag-clad front porches, with not so much as a bison horn’s tribute to the Appalachians who used to call this land their home, although I suppose naming part of the drive The Appalachian Mountain Trail does remind one of the cheated and butchered true owners of the land!!  (nothing like having something named after you to appease hundreds of years of brutal savagery against your people).  Round right winders we drove, narrowly evading the grasps from roadside relics that thought they had seen everything until history’s most cumbersome fairy came into view.  But on Trixiebelle flew, pausing only briefly for her guides to gaze in awe of streams and creeks that gurgled about a history we were straining to see.  Hills that would have had wild stallions groaning for a more even keel were put to bed as we climbed up and up towards the sign that said the Skyline drive is closed due to inclement weather…!!  “Big steaming piles of horse crap, all that way for nothing!!!”  Oh well, you take the rough with the smooth when travelling and in all honesty, there’s very little rough when you’re experiencing some of the most awe inspiring scenery.  It would have been something else to have driven on one of Americas most iconic roads but as we headed to our New Years Eve soiree with Laury and Jack, I felt like I already had.

So we turn up, we meet and greet, we pat quite possibly the biggest dog ever to have not swallowed a man whole on the spot

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and we realize that you cant possibly meet two people who are putting you up for the weekend then bugger off out to dance the night away with tequila in one hand and someone elses friends grasping the other.  So, in true time honored fashion for people in the prime of their lives, we went to bed at ten o’clock and by 5 past were snoring our adventurous little conks off…

I’m always interested in peoples little quirks, especially those that are of a superstitious or ‘spiritual’ nature.  Some people believe that opening the back door of their houses followed by the front will let out the old year and see in the new, others that this brings money and good fortune for the year ahead and others still that deem it the last chance to escape the family and get one in before last orders.  There are those of us who go out to parties to try to make something special of the fact that we are entering a new year that in the real calendar terms of time on Earth isn’t even the true beginning of the year, and those that like to see the New Year in with their families, reminded of those in their lives that they care most about.  Then, there are those who have nothing to look forward to because their lives are crap…  Laury and Jack were none of the above.  Their plain, heart-felt ritual every year is to light candles for each person in their lives that they love and wish them the best for the year ahead.  Right touching it were.  And you know, even though they knew us for all of about 2 hours, they lit candles for us too and we in turn gave a candle to them and before you knew it, the house had burnt down all around us and firemen were dousing what was left of our singed clothes, hanging preciously to our sopping but charred bodies…!!!  In reality, it was a very atmospheric gesture with not a fireman in sight, much to my travel wife’s disdain.

Our time with these two lovely peeps was short but sweet.  We took in a movie on New Years Day, True Grit, another stella performance from Bridges, ate delicious fare, some of which we cooked and drank delicious red wine, the likes of which I’ll probably never be able to afford (Jack, a wine buff, is an attorney!!)  And although a small, selfish part of me was glad for the comfy bed and steaming hot shower, a bigger part of me was happy to have met and spent time with two people whom the chances of me meeting in life beforehand would have been slim.  It’s another fine example of how travelling to new cultures can bring you in contact with people you otherwise wouldn’t expect to meet.  And although they weren’t Patagonian Llama Farmers or Ghanaian Goat jugglers, they were made from a different cloth and we had a swell time and that’s about all that matters about that…

On our way out of North Carolina, we hit Asheville City Centre to see what all the fuss was about.

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And quite frankly, considering we had heard that this was one of the most liberal and progressive places in the U.S, it seemed like a relic of Old Camden Town from years gone by.  The New Age culture that has crept up on the blind side of our society in recent years and is poised to Bastardise all that it originates from is alive and well in Asheville.  Call me a purist (go on, ‘…I like it a lot’!) but taking something as historical and meaningful to a culture like Yoga, Meditation and other forms of Eastern well-being practices and turning them into a money-making business that includes selling shit jewelry to White, Middle-Class Americans (and Europeans and Oriental tourists and anyone else with money to burn) who think that a piece of Quartz embedded in a cheap minimally-carated ring makes them New Age and Progressive, is taking their understanding of Eastern Culture a tad too far down Wrong Street for my liking.  These days, Yoga Instructors, Indian Head Masseuses and Pilates instructors are ‘a dime a dozen’ as they say in these ‘ere parts but those who actually practice the true Yogic Paths the way the East has for thousands of years are one in a million.  And Asheville seems to be a place capitalising on the West’s Bastardisation (I reserve the right to use that phrase at least once more in this paragraph if I deem necessary!) of these such practices… Bastards……isationalists…!  Still, if poopy people want to part with their money for the potential placebo effect of inner-calm taught by jabbering stretchy bods, who am I to bemoan their misunderstandings?

However, though Asheville clearly wasn’t to my liking, they had a few places that had a bit of quirkiness to them and they also had the greatest exhibition of gingerbread houses I had ever seen.  Just check these out…

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All pieces made from Gingerbread, what what…

Alas, it was bigger fish that we had to fry than Asheville and so with the warmth and kindness of a mind doctor and an attorney in our hearts and with Gasheville certainly not, it was one Logan Wentworth we were gunning for and the Shenandoah Valley through which we were aiming.

Bring it on, Knoxville, Tennessee, show us what you’re made of (and may it not be over-priced pendants, tie-dye and Nepalese Yak wool pull-overs)

Freedom

(Please note that this entry should have been posted before the most recent entry but I made a mistake.  So if you wanna read this in its intended chronological order, read it before the Virginia post.  Oh yeah, please also imagine a sign saying ‘Welcome to Maryland’ and something nice written underneath like ‘…where Mary is always welcome…’!)

With Philly another city to check off on the phantom list of ‘…cities that we’ve visited that we can now check off of our list of cities that we’ve visited…’ it was on to our first night on the road to freedom in the good ol’ U.S of eh?

Freedom.  A word with a huge amount of gravity and not without a degree of controversy.  Many people have a different understanding of what the word freedom means, indeed it can mean many different things to us all.  Our differing ideas of freedoms meaning can lead to arguments, fights, even wars.  People die for their freedom, they die for other people’s freedom.

In recent years, I’ve looked at those around me who have been, to some degree, successful (but again, that word carries different meanings to all of us) and thought ‘at what cost success over freedom’, or at least what my idea of freedom entails.  I guess I should mention what the ‘success’ I see represents, or rather what represents success in the World I see around me.  I guess, in the World I occupy with the people who surround me, success comes in having, to some degree, a secure career, a certain degree of wealth, maybe habitual security, relationships you can count on and a comfort with the life that you have built for yourself.

But then people say to me things like ‘I wish I could do what you do and just go travelling’ or ‘you know, I think its great that you can just up and leave without worrying about the future’ or ‘don’t you worry about just quitting your job and having no money?’ and other ridiculous things of the sort.  And it always makes me think something along the lines of ‘please don’t spout that shit to me cos if you really wished to do something, you’d just do it’!!  That’s honestly, almost word for word what I think! (I curse a lot in my mind!)  And when I mention this internal prose to people, the excuses they tend to come up with are along the lines of ‘well, I’ve got a good job’ or ‘I couldn’t give up the money I make’ or ‘I like my things around me’ or, and this is my favourite, ‘well, I’m about to buy a house’ or ‘I recently bought a house and I cant really leave for a couple of years’.  And in my mind, I’m screaming at them BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIIIIIIIIIIIIIT.  Don’t talk this BULLSHIIIIIIT to meeeeeeeeee!!!!!!

If you really want to do it, you do it.  If you don’t want it, don’t spout that drivel to me about wanting it just cos you don’t know what else to say.  Because you don’t want it.  You want to sound like you want it, maybe cos you think its cool to want it but that’s your ego talking and I’m not interested in your ego.

But then how much freedom do people ‘really’ want?  Does the idea of freedom actually scare people?  Maybe we aren’t comfortable with the idea of having to actually leave the ‘comforting shackles’ of society to pursue freedom.   Maybe freedom is being able to be free for a small period of time before going back to the security of the life you live, with the creature comforts that you think make you happy.

Benjamin Franklin once spouted: “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

I don’t know within what context he was talking.  But I assume he was talking about a freedom with more weight to it then the freedom of being able to ‘go travelling’ or ‘to do the job you really want’ or ‘to have the money to buy the cheese you really like’.  But maybe he wasn’t.  Maybe he was talking about exactly those things.  Maybe he saw a society being consumed by ‘things’ and therefore being trapped by those ‘things’ that stop them from living the way they want to live and therefore being free.

I’m not saying here that I’m totally free, in fact, in our society and by our, I mean the Western society, to be completely free takes more effort then most of us would ever be able to muster.  We all rely on something, whether it’s a store to buy food from, a manufacturer to make our clothes, an institution to enable us to make money, a bank to hold that money, indeed reliance on money itself in some form of capacity (although that’s a level of discussion that I don’t feel this is the platform for right now, mainly because a) this isn’t a discussion and b) to delve into the freedom needed to live without money would take time I don’t have at this moment).  And therefore, in my mind at least, that makes us ‘un-free’.

But I find it sad when I think that the people I love would rather be doing something else than the something they are currently doing and I cant help to think that they are losing sight of the amazing gift that not only life is but the life that they have been lucky enough to have been given, i.e. the life of opportunity, the opportunity to be whoever you want and to do whatever it is you want to do; the life of personal freedom.

And I guess it was with a greater sense of freedom than I have felt in a long time that we headed in our wheelyhome to an uncertain future on the roads of this vast country with its plethora of different people and places and spaces.  Of course, I’m still not totally free, I rely on petrol stations, stores to buy food, a vehicle to enable me to keep moving.  But it’s a greater form of freedom than that which I have had for some time.  To paraphrase another person of some intelligence, Robert Frost, ‘Freedom lies in being bold’ and so with boldness it was that we headed through the state of Maryland, past this nations capital and towards a first nights sleep under the stars of the ‘land of the free’.

When we first bought our Trixiebelle off of a couple of friendly Kiwi’s back in September of last year, we were enlightened by the fact that you could sleep in WalMart car parks for free, with the added bonuses of a security patrolled area and a toilet for your morning woo woo’s.  And those of you who have experienced these ramblings of mine from a past expedition will have noted that a morning’s revelry in a porcelain palace is of utmost importance and extreme relief.  I balked at the time of spending my eves of freedom spent in the car park of one of Americas largest corporate businesses.  I think I said something along the lines of ‘I aint sleeping in a fuckin’ WalMart car park, we’re on the road, man, America’s our bedroom.’

The fool I felt when a) we slept our first night in America under the safe eyes of the WalMart security guard and b) the next morning I was reminded of the above quote.  Initially I thought it kinda pikey to be sleeping in a car park.  And I guess to a lot of people it is.  But when you’re at the mercy of those people who live in cities and either make the rules or make it their business to break the rules, somewhere semi-secure can be a comfort, no matter how ‘concrete and corporate’ the surroundings.

And I guess that’s where the freedom I mentioned I was a part of became just another fantastical philosophy.  Because although we were free to pick where to rest our weary bonces that first night, there was too much at stake for us to use the stars as our ceiling and the compassion of man as our blanket.

So it was with the distant glow of a flashing orange security light and a rather large piece of humble pie in me gob that I bade my lady ‘bon soir’ and fell into a dreamland in which I shared a dinner with my favourite people from history, armed with laser eyes and 4 stomachs.

At least we are free in our dreams…

She says Virginia, you says Vagina

(just pretend there is a photo here saying Welcome to Virginia with a Cardinal bird on a branch or something, ok?)

In sex education class at school, when I was about 15, I sat at the front with a man many of you know, some of you as the BFG, others as other pseudonyms.  Directly behind me sat Helen Drinkwater.  Helen had quite firm thighs.  At least, that’s what I used to think when I’d glance back to the place where the light stopped showing her skin and started showing nothing but a mysterious dark porthole within which I could only imagine what went on!  I didn’t so much as fancy Helen, I desired her every bead of sweat!  And I didn’t even find her that attractive, except from the waste down, a waste-down that I knew nothing about, at least between the waste bit and the down bit.  It was just that I was 15 and, how can I put it… INCREDIBLY horny!  So, we’re in sex education class and the school headmaster, a former psychiatric nurse, is trying to teach us how you go about putting one thing into another thing, kind of like the building blocks of life.  Actually, what am I saying, not at all like building blocks, Saul, clearly I learnt nothing then and still know about the same amount now.  Anyway, a 20 question quiz came up and for some reason, I remember answering ‘Parkinsons’ to a question something along the lines of ‘Name two diseases that can be passed on during intercourse’?…  As you can imagine, the friend sitting next to me, when marking my test, pissed himself laughing, although I’m not sure even he realised why I got it wrong!!   Another question was asked, as so happens when a test is in progress, but I don’t remember exactly what it was.  The answer though, I do remember and it had something to do with the reason why I was looking back, although at the time I wish it was up, at Helen Drinkwater’s taught, muscular thighs.  And as luck had it, on that balmy late afternoon, as all the guys in the class were sat there hoping they didn’t have to stand up for about 20 minutes and all the girls were daydreaming about all the guys in the class being Robbie, Jason, Howard, et al, Helen said something that not only lifted the erotic tension that had built so lustfully in the room but also endeared her to me to such an extent that I asked her friend to ask her if she would be my girlfriend the next day.  And that something that Helen Drinkwater, on that steamy late May afternoon in 1992 said, was just one word, pronounced mistakenly at a time when the last thing you ever Ever EVER wanted to do was to pronounce a word incorrectly, especially when in the class were 2 giggling fools who thought the very mention of anything remotely sexual was intolerantly hilarious and would happily let you know by way of squawking and guffawing (and to this day, still do).  That word, uttered so innocently and so utterly incorrectly by Ms Drinkwater, was……… Virginia.

And so, as we made our way towards our 2nd night on the open road, with nothing between us and the actual open road but a very small ‘double’ mattress, doubling up as a very small sofa, some lino and various metal pieces belonging to the year of 1976, Helen Drinkwater and her unfortunate Virginia popped into my mind…!

I knew very little about Vagina, but that days drive taught me that it has to be, visually, one of my favourite United States… states…  It reminded me of the wonderful rolling hills and lush, verdant countryside of home, albeit without the, what must be, thousands of miles of hedgerow that stop you enjoying the beauty that is England and instead make what should be an enjoyable Sunday afternoon drive feel like a bobsleigh ride through Pans Labyrinth.    And although pretty much all we did that day was drive, it was one of the most beautiful drives I had undertaken and yet, this through a land where most of the trees looked as barren as a desert made of Chinese-restaurant-Peking-window-ducks.

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All I could enthuse was how that much more satisfying the countryside would look during the summer months.  I guess the one other thing I noticed about the vista, compared to that of home, was the lack of segmented land.  The land owners here, and I know that this is just here-say cos I don’t know anything about Virginia (apart from the fact that when it was at school, it must have wished its parents had called it Bryan or Claire or something equally non-descript) don’t seem to be so keen on being seen to be dividing what is ‘theirs’ and happily closing themselves off from the rest of the World with hedges and whatnot (unlike that sentence, which was happy to be seen to dance along in full view of everybody with its little jaunt mid-way through!)  It makes a real difference to a pleased eye to see land as it should be, open and therefore more welcoming and embraceable to the passerby then I, as an Englishman, am used to.

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And so through narrow, scenic, winding roads Trixiebelle gallantly drove us, through quaint little towns called Nassawaddox and,

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stopping every now and again to catalogue the view with our experience-depleting, analogue-destroying all new smaller and better (the World of bigger and better is soooo yesteryear) picture takerer, which has assumed the mantle of ‘new born child’, its protection being of the greatest importance.  We stopped off at quaint little gift shops that offer a million different ways to ruin your dinner by covering it in every type of hot sauce the country offers (Globalisation in its culinary form) and ‘Gas’ stations that literally gave fuel away (compared to UK prices at least – $2.95 a gallon, that works out at about 50 pence a litre!!).  Past lanes driven by the same tractors for generations and buildings held together with the same nails since their construction we meandered and as night drew in and we started thinking of where to rest our weary heads, we left the emerald countryside and headed for that great substitute of all things natural and welcoming, another WalMart car park!!

As we entered the vast grey and white striped abyss, looking like a huge expanse of prisoners in traditional garb, lying, waiting for the right moment to up and make their escape, and looked for a place to park up, it was with dread that I spotted the flashing orange light of the security guard hastening upon us.  I got out and offered a cheery English ‘Hello there’… Now, one thing I have learnt in life is that when you want something from a total stranger and you know that their first impression of you has to be that you are the greatest living being since Ghandi or Mussolini, depending on which side of their burger is ketchup-ed, you have to be as wining as possible.  And so it was with my most winningest way that I undertook a conversation with said security guard that went not to dissimilar to this:

Me:  Good evening, kind sir, and how are you on this most crisp and scrotum reducing of chilly nights

Security Guard:  Acrawben diw bratten all, boutten get bidrewblagger en te sou anall

And that was about the gist of our conversation for the 2 minutes that I was trying to convince him we weren’t Al Qeida recruits on a mission to stay for free in as many WalMart car parks through the States as possible.

The conversation ended with me laughing heartily, him looking at me as if thinking ‘Are you for fucking REAL?!!’, pointing, grunting then driving off.  And that was about the most interesting conversation I ever had with a man I couldn’t understand.

Next stop, anywhere but here…

Pennsylvania 65000?

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So, the escape from New York is underway and we’re heading to The Mettlers in Philly, in the state of Pennsylvania, a supposed few hours away, for a night of lush food, wicked conversation and some Z’s in a comfy bed again, although in all honesty, we’d spent the last 5 nights in a comfy bed so it wasn’t as needed as it would be further on down the line.

With the Satellite Navigation in complete control, we laid out our trust in its Earth Orbiting Pollutant and listened intently for further instructions.  Of course, when you ask your electronic co-driver to avoid the toll roads like the plague, how is it to know you mean ‘…can you avoid the toll roads like the plague’?  But hey, that’s the cost of using technology that works by being shunted up into a space that’s owned by those who make money from me paying toll charges.  Right?  Anyway, 20 bucks later and we’re heading into the Streets of Philadelphia, in the pitch black, relying on a capitalist that makes Hal seem like an Avon Lady at your house showing ya mum the latest polyester lingerie whilst you’re in bed too young to know bored housewives are downstairs in their undies!

One of the worst and most embarrassing things for me in life is being invited to someone’s house for dinner who you really don’t know well or at all, getting there so late that the hosts have polished off their spoiled supper, that’d been microwaved twice cos you were half an hour away and then half an hour later, half an hour away.  Worse still is eating said dinner whilst they watch you with contempt, scoffing down the best cut of meat that they gave you cos you were a special guest who’s about to tuck into a beetroot and phlegm soup starter!  I find it infuriating when dinner guests of mine are late, mainly because the stress I undergo to make sure everything is ready on time never alleviates from the moment the decision making of what to cook is underway ‘til the first movement of fork to mouth is completed.  And although most probably don’t undergo this nerve contorting spectacle when preparing something for someone else to masticate, there is, I’m sure, some minor inter-cranial chemical reaction that takes place due to at least intrigue of what this dinner guest is going to think of what has been lain before them.  And it’s the respect of what all hosts go through, however minimal compared to myself, that makes me so agitated about being late for this culinary cornucopia.  But turn up late we did, thanks in a small part to Cinnabon and in a gargantuan part to the hell that is getting through the New York traffic.  Where else in the World do you pay a couple of bucks to get into but over 20 bucks to get out of?  Answers on a cloud drive to Trixie, US of eh?  But once we’d arrived at our impeccable hosts’ art-filled palace, we relaxed into a feast full of vegetarian delights, wonderful chattery and rather special eye candy’ry and without a trace of revengeful mouth snottery in sight, taste, smell, touch or sound!!!

Brett Mettler and Bonnie Mettler, the former a friend of my travel braud, the latter the foxy mother of said friend, are just about the greatest stranger-greety’ers you could wish to be greety’erd by.  Warm, welcoming, witty and totally winteresting, they made us feel immediately at home by verbally covering an array of topics from how inept I am at art to how inept I am in relationships!!  All bought on by yours truly looking for some kind of female perspective on me!!  The food was lush but the conversation superseded it ten-fold and it was with previously incarcerated tongues that we waggled until the wee small hours, being interjected only by the arrival of the fascinating and avuncular Bill Mettler, a man that will add to the addition-unnecessary part of a conversation, if only due to the fact that he’s such a daddude!  Seriously, these are the parents that every person dreams of!!!  Why?  Well, let me tell you what I think about parenting.

To me, if I can pinpoint one area of parenting that above all others is the most crucial in building a strong relationship with your child and nurturing a ‘decent, self-confident, well-rounded’ human being, its fundamental good communication.  Whenever I see a young mother shouting at her child or a parent reacting aggressively or a person ignoring the questions of a curious child, I ask the Universe to ensure that this is a one off event and that every other time from that moment on, proper communication will ensue so that this child doesn’t grow up to be an infection on our future society.

I always think that you can tell how well rounded a person is by peeking at the relationship they have with their parents.  And when the relationship is open and you notice that parent and child can converse freely without hierarchy or hesitation and with complete honesty and openness, you can bet 99 million times out of 99 million and one that all people are bloody lovely (as long as the parent doesn’t have an IQ of a Sun reader)!!!!  And this wasn’t the time when the one time out of 99 million and one-th won out.

Bonnie, the matriarch if I may, is an artist of the upmost consummation, displaying her works in her house far too modestly for someone with such talent.  I love the company of women of an older generation and this was no exception.  I love the confidence that mature women have that those of us on our way to their years always lack.  I always felt that its one of life’s little retributions that we don’t garner such confidence until its too late to really make it count in our favour to a greater extent.  When I’m conversing freely with ladies of such a relaxed way, I find the information that is passed around so much more meaningful and less meaning-empty.  And then Bill Mettler enters the fray and everything just gets that more radical.  Bill Mettler, you see, is a professional story teller.  That’s right, his job is to tell stories!!  And hell, has he got the story-telling touch.  I like telling stories but this man ‘IS’ telling stories!!!!  Whether it’s the story of how they met, the story of how he cut down on burglaries on the neighbourhood by making his garden accessible to all and sundry or a story of how he came to be telling stories, this man is a dude in dad form (if he’s ya dad) and just a dude (if he aint).  Clearly, as you can see, I was bowled over at how ace of base these people were, but more than that, I was bowled over by how open and cool their relationship with their daughter was.  And their daughter is super fucking cool too!!!  Man, they even telephoned their relatives all around the States telling them that we are heading their way and asking would they put us up and show us around if we rock up!!  Man, these peeps are my new fave’s, fo’ Mcsho’.

Vanessa Chow said to me recently that writing is holding up a mirror to yourself and damn, writing about those people has highlighted personally how much I wish I had a parental unit like that!!!

Great people, great hearts, great times…

So, after more visits to chatmandoo the next morning, we left with new paints, a new map of the States and love in our hearts for our first foray onto the roads of America, where there was nothing between us and the adventures we wanted to have except a potentially knackered old vehicle and a Deliverance type ordeal…

We wanted to get to our first destination by sundown, which only afforded us a brief sneaky peek at downtown Philly.  We were told to look out for murals as the city is adorned with them at every turn.  I wanted to look out for somewhere to nosh on a famous Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich.  So it was with a keen eye that I spotted this

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and this, purchased at http://www.yelp.com/biz/sonnys-famous-steaks-philadelphia, supposedly home of a great Philly Cheese Steak sandwich

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as well as some of this

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And that was that.  Philly done in 3 hours.  And in all honesty, it seemed like there was a lot more to it then that.  We saw some nice vintage shops and some cool buildings, if that tickles ya fancy.  And its where Betsy Ross (perhaps) lived, the maker of the first American flag (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy_Ross)

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But there seemed more to it than even that!  Its called the City of Brotherhood and even though you cant judge a city by what it looks or feels like Downtown, it seemed a lot more multi-cultural and i felt more of a sense of equality between races there than i have done in most other places.  If i ever come back to this part of the World again, i’d like to check out Philadelphia in more detail.  Just with a li’l less cheese whizz on my sandwich next time, yeah?

New York 2 and 8

N.B Wooing (pron. WOO-wing) = Weeing and Pooing simultaneously, from the verb ‘to woo’ as in ‘I’m going to woo’.  sim. A Woo as in ‘I’ve just done a woo’.  Also, woo’d as in ‘I just woo’d myself’ (not to be confused with the word wood, which when used in such examples of wordery, makes no sense whatsoever).

Ok, so we leave Canada, it’s the 17th of December and I’m driving to the border of Canadia and the United States of America, which is about an hour and a half away.  And as previously explained, we have no car insurance due to it being too extortionately expensive in Canada.  We do however have insurance for the States, which was cheaper for the year than the Canadian one was for a month.  Which is mad considering we were in a country of 35 million people but a hundred jajillion square acres of unoccupied road compared to one of 260 million and the worlds car-est country with the highest crime rate and with me having the easiest car to break into since Fred Flintstones’.  But hey, Canadia is the country 1984 was based on so go figure.

Now, I’ve been driving on and off since 1995 and as all fellow manbeings on this wonderful planetoid believe, I think I’m pretty ace at it.  More ace than any of you and maybe even acer than Nigel Mansell, I just haven’t got as much hair on my ‘tache as he has, which definitely gives him a small advantage.  Although, I bet that if we both had fiat 126’s, I could ‘ave him ‘round Dartford one-way system any day of the week, even with an shy eagle on a date beside me.  But there’s something that takes over your mind when your driving illegally and it turns you into Mr. Bean having an epi.  I don’t know why, I just get all introverted and shy of my own hands.  Must be something to do with my strict Islamic upbringing.  And so I’m driving from the farm to the border and as I got so much trouble getting into the states the last time, I’m thinking it wouldn’t look so good if they asked to see my Canadian insurance and I produce a note from a mum.  Not even mine, someone else’s.  With someone else’s name on it.  Saying they cant do P.E cos they have a figure skating exam coming up and they don’t wanna get a hockey stick to the knee from Drew Blake massively well ‘ard an’ that cos OH MY GOD that was the single most painful thing EVER!!  So, I’m partly wooing my pants at that and partly wooing them at the fact that if I get pulled over, which is highly probable considering my ridiculous dress sense, I’m gonna get arrested and deported and told off.  And that’d be the end of my travels and I’d have to tell you this stuff instead of write it and you’d probably walk off just about ……… now, before the good bits bit.  I digress I digress I digress.

So, I’m driving like a pale moron, all over the shop, on the way to the border and I have a moustache.  A massive hairy moustache.  Look.

See?  And I have this cos Larry the Farmer reckons that having a beard, as I did last time I tried to get into the states and for the subsequent 12 years previous to that, will make the customs guy hate me harder than having a moustache will.  And being a man who knows A LOT, I listened to him.  And so we make it to the border crossing near Kingston, which I have since learned from another knower has the meanest customs guys of any U.S/Canada border crossing.  And yes, instead of letting us pass through, we have to pull over, surrender our arsenal of chutneys and other farm preserves to the ‘searchers’ and answer questions of extraordinary difficulty second only to those seen on the first stages of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.  But here’s the thing.  As I walk into the customs office and take a look at the mean bastards standing behind their desks, guess what they’re all armed with?  Massive moustaches, just like mine!!!!!  Lord above, Larry was spot on!!  Though I have to say, the good lady to my side did all the talking and if it wasn’t for her amazing memory that recalled the date of birth of all those people we were to cross paths with in the U.S, I’m not sure we woulda made it.  But in less than an hour, we were through the terrifying ordeal and with insurance up to our frontal lobes, on our way to Chris Blisstopherson and Marjorie Daws in Ithaca, New York State!!

Now, a little about our upcoming hosts if you’ll permit.  I met Chris and Marjorie whilst WWOOFing in the Heirault region of France, Spring 2009.  Chris told me the funniest and at the same time most harrowing story of shiteing ones own loins that I have and probably ever shall hear.  And Marjorie, who is a total hotty, was an expert on poisonous spiders, evolutionary biology and stories of Chris shiteing himself (as was later to be proved when it happened to him again at Carcassonne train station, although in all fairness I nearly did exactly the same at the exact same station and for the exact same reason, due to a teasingly out-of-order public portaloo).   Chris and Marjorie are both massive clever clogs, in fact Marjorie is an award winning oral projector of things animally and studies at Cornell, one of the 8 Ivy League Uni’s in America-ca-CAR and Chris is just well brainy.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such clever kinship with other people, ever!!!   Seriously though, they’re well clever…

Anyhoo, we rock up, through the arctic conditions, to Chris and Marjorie’s humble abode, ready to experience our first adventures in the Land of the Free (ironic harrumph following ironic harrumph).  And boy o’ boy did they not disappoint.  No sooner had we kissed cheeks and swapped warm, loving smiles than we were dished up a deeeeelicious homemade little reminder of home, in the form of a pie.  But this wasn’t any old pie (although that begs the question, what is any old pie?).  Oh no, this was a tasty meat and vegetable pie that was just like home ‘in a pie’ accumulated on a plate by the hands of the expert cooker himself, Christopher Blisstopherson……. himself……

All pies aside, it was a good pie.

That evening, our superb friends had a party to go to and we were invited.  Which was nice.  Because had we not been invited I would probably have felt that they didn’t like us.  And that wouldn’t have made for a nice stay.  But partying we right well went.  Now, I’m not sure if you have heard of a white elephant party so I’m gonna quickly explain it.  You go to a party with a present, wrapped up all nice ‘n fancy, put it in a corner, then mingle an’ that.  Then later, a master of ceremonies asks you to pick a number out of a hat, a bit like a cat in a hat, and upon the calling of your number you get to open a pressie from the pile that’s been sitting all alone in the corner (if a corner has been designated for the presents that is, otherwise you may take one from wherever a pile has manifested).  Ok, this is where it gets even more interesting, more interesting even then opening a present from a mysterious person.  When its your turn to pick a pressie from the pile and remember, this pile can have accumulated in any given place, you can either choose to pick a pressie or ‘STEAL’ an already assigned pressie from the pressie assignee…er…ed.   And even more interesting than that, and may I add, used to is utmost potential by yours truly, the same stolen pressie can then be stolen up to two more times by subsequent pressie openers.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been de rigeur to have turned up to such a party pressie-less and so I rummaged around my new wheelyhouse and found not one but TWO pressies for the party and even some old toilet paper to wrap them in (one pressie was a rubber finger zombie that I bought for Steven H Taylor for his birthday but later realised to send such a tiny thing from Canadia would have cost me $27, yet another example of the fascist state that is Toronto, and the other, a key-ring with Canada printed on it).  Oh, I forgot to mention in a previous blog that whilst in Toronto I went to Muskoka Lakes with my friend Nicky B to tha M and her WONDERFUL parents and had a lovely time and I cant believe I forgot to mention it and also I hope she doesn’t think I’m ungrateful for not mentioning it cos it was a lovely weekend away and I was privileged to be invited.

So I take the crap presents to the party, wrapped in old woo paper, one from me and one from ‘er, along with Chris Blisstopherson and Marjorie Daws and their magic presents, place them in the assigned pressie placing place and start to mingle.  Not before too long, the real reason we are there (not to talk and learn and love but to get FREE PRESSIES!!!) gets underway.  And as usual in these scenarios, I draw a high number and so am to pick from the designated pressie placed place after most others (sob sob).  Now for some reason, my EXTREMELY friendly female companion spots a pressie that has already been opened and therefore belonging to someone else, in the shape of a ‘Onesie’ (see http://www.???)  I don’t get it.  I just don’t get it.  But, girls being girls, she has set her heart upon it and so who am I to stand in the way of a woman and her REALLY RATHER RANCID ONESIE.  SO, onesie is stolen and may I also just add here that sometimes when a pressie is opened and the openee is very happy with pressie but then said pressie gets stolen, legally may I remind you due to the rules of the soiree, much catiness and even immediate hatred may take place.  So, onesie has been acquired and some smiles and much disappointment (from the original pressie recipient) ensue.  We move on, I steal a dashboard Jesus, I’m immediately hated and post game, completely illegally, dashboard Jesus is stolen back only to be returned after a quick summation of the ten commandments and some harsh words from a local man of the clergy.  However, just before the end of the White Elephant part of the party, a man, with the cunning of a rainbow trout, steals the onesie and OH MY LORDETH, the hells open, fury and scorn escape and the present occupier of the onesie curses the day the thief was ever born.  I have never seen such devastating disappointment from someone over such a crap item of clothing in all of my days, and that includes any days of past lives lived, although I don’t remember any of those lives, but if I did, yada yada yada.  Honestly, I thought a fight was to be had and when the stealer proclaimed that he was going to use the prized item as overalls for fixing his car engine, well, you may as well have called the authorities right there cos blood was about to be forced out of one person by the purest evil of another.  ‘Oh No’, I hear you say through watery eyes, ‘How can a party end on such a note of disappointment for somebody’?  Au contraire, readers, for there is a twist in this most riveting of tales!!!

Unbeknown to yours truly, this was also a party with a theme that not many had taken seriously.  But I just so happened to accidently be taking this theme seriously.  And although I am slightly embarrassed to relieve myself of this secret, for the sake of an end to this now rather monotonous saga, I will quell the rumours and state that this was also a ‘Bad Jumper’ party.  And so, as there happened to be three presents unclaimed and 3 participants of the Bad Jumper section of the party, including myself, we all had the chance to either open a pressie or steal some shit.  And yes, although a new pressie, the size and shape of a Mercedes 280 SE mark 1, wrapped up in shiny paper and tied with the intestines of a boy was on display for all to see and even though it was my pick, albeit my illegal pick due to my stumbling upon the Bad Jumper section accidentally, I did the gentlemanly thing and opted for the stripper dressed as a mummy in the corner…

… and I stole back the onesie for the lady… which didn’t get me laid or the Mercedes but saved me from an ear-bashing and so all’s well that ends well.

Chris Blisstopherson and Marjorie Daws continued to be the most wonderful of hosts during our stay.  Apart from cooking us the greatest breakfast, the most delicious biscuits and gravy Alabama style and feeding us more of the ‘better than ‘ome’ pie, they took us out for bagels at a lush place Chris Blisstopherson used to work at (http://www.collegetownbagels.com/pages/home/home.php), walked us around the beautiful natural trails of Ithaca, showed us some very neat waterfalls, including one that is the tallest free falling waterfall in America which was iced up due to the cold and therefore even more of a spectacular spectacle through spectacles than when in its usual state,

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let us sleep in a blow-up ‘bed’, not mattress, ‘bed’, made entirely of air ( and the material that contains it so not entirely airy but certainly ‘iree’!), took us to a proper American Bar that shows American Football and serves divine burgers and delectable beers, showed us a very amusing home video in which Marjorie Daws gets annoyed at having to walk to a nearby tree, took us to Cornell Uni where we saw a lovely art exhibition on trees, a superb view and a library straight out of a Harry Potter novel, drove us wherever we wanted to go, never once allowed us to put our hands in our pockets, made us feel like we were staying with the most wholesome, lovable, friendly, interesting, fun people ever because we actually were and cemented a friendship that I hope will last until the end of days, even if Hobbs didn’t like me much.

And so it was with a twinge of sadness that we waved them goodbye and watched them drive off towards Michigan, quite surreally, as we were waving them goodbye from their own doorstep!!  The date was Tuesday 21st December and as we weren’t wanted in New York until the 23rd and as it was a certain anniversary on the 22nd,

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the wonderful departees said we could stay in their apartment for a coupla days more and so we took full advantage of it and sofa bummed for a cosy 48 hours and no, that isn’t a sexual term, it’s a term that means being a bum on a sofa.

But as well as bumming on the sofa we walked about some more

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and one time we walked all the way to this café that was supposed to be the best café in all of the World and when we got there, a freezing 3 and a half hours later, the bitches of World Earth Rulers Inc. decided to make the proprietor close 5 minutes previous and so we walked 3 and a half hours back to the house and had some spam.

As our newly departed hosts had left us their Netflix password (some internet site that lets you watch movies at home that are too crap to charge someone $2 in a video store for), we watched some movies, including ‘Up’, which was actually a little disappointing and Radio Days, which was most excellent.  What isn’t disappointing though is being a member of whatcd.com, thanks to Mr. Blisstopherson, which is the greatest music website the Universe ever produced and I’m a member and you aint.  Which is nice……

And then, it was the day to leave for our Christmas in New York City and so that’s what we did.  And on the way, with an ever increasing clicky front wheel and an ever increasingly worried-about-the-clicky-front-wheel driver, we ran over something, which I took to be something falling off of our recently purchased wheelyhome and pant wooing ensued as I stumbled about a busy highway looking for a phantom engine that hadn’t fallen off and putting my life in more danger than if I had walloped an alligator in the left rear molar with my face.  Oh, and New York drivers are c***s.

And to top it all off, after a quite Christmas with my nephnew, which included some bath pooing, a few delicious coffees, plenty of mulled wine, a disappointing trip to Barneys and very many cute moments, on the eve of the day of departure one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit New York hit New York and we couldn’t go anywhere cos there was 4 foot of snow in the middle of every street.  Even the snowplows were getting stuck.  People were skiing along pavements and children were building igloos on the sidewalks.

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However, not being one to be held somewhere I don’t wanna be, unless its Alcatraz, we dug ourselves out and the next day, after a brief sojourn to the greatest mechanics I have ever experienced, (http://www.yelp.com/biz/alba-auto-repair-brooklyn#query:Alba%20Autos) we got in our motorhorse and begalloped all the way to the next stop on our journey, which was a ‘Gas’ station in New Jersey where the non-attendant decided to put my gas cap in his pocket and make me forget that he had my gas cap in his pocket.  Now, one Christmas my mother bought me a pair of the illest-fitting undies I have ever had to squeeze into.  Seriously, it was like Keith Harris had his arm up my arse every time I put them on, which was basically every time I’d ran out of clean ones and had to resort to the dreaded ‘Substitute Cacks’.  But now, I’ve not only found a way to get them out of my life forever, I also have a brand new gas cap, from BHS no less!!  Thanks mum!  And no sooner had I stuffed my gas tank with Phillip Green’s finest, then we were headin’ out of New York State and headin’ into ‘…the streets of Philadelphia’ in the State of Pennsylvania…

Oh yeah, by the way, Hobbs is a dog.

WWOOF WWOOF and other farm related sounds…

OK, so first things first.  We were leaving Toronto and heading to a place called Stirling, about 3 hours drive away, to WWOOF on the Kupecz family farm (http://www.harvesthastings.ca/local/producers/kupecz-family-farm).  But you can’t embark on a 3-hour drive if you don’t have anything to drive, right?  And seeing as our journey is to include a driving trip around the States, the most key of key ingredients is, in my opinion, something drivey. Now, for those of you not in the know, not part of the knowers or just not well knowey, let me explain our journey. The plan is, we drive from Toronto to Vancouver, not from Eastern Canadia through middley Canadia to Western Canadia but from East, to South, to West to North…… of the United States of America, the good ol’ U.S.A, home of a massive white house, lots of guns and more burgers than the family of Gerhard Burger. Our aim is to head for:  Ithaca, New York State to see my old WWOOF friends Marjorie Daws and Chris Blisstopherson.  Then, after a Christmas spent in New York with the newest member of the Abbotts, li’l Archie, we’ll dash off to the South as quickly as possible to try to escape the clutches of a North East American winter and its potential 20 below temperatures.  So, first we’ll hit Asheville, then Knoxville , Nashville, Memphis, home of Stax/Sun Records and Elvis Costello, somewhere in Alabama, then to New Orleans for a li’l someone’s birthday, over to Austin, Texas, then through to the Grand Canyon, onto Vegas, through Death Valley, over to Joshua Tree, down to San Diego for a touch of sunshine that will have been missing from our lives since God knows when, then up the California coast, through L.A, over to Yosemite, back to ‘cisco, up to Sequoia National Park to see the Worlds tallest tree and to drive through one, then all the way up the amazing Highway 1 to Portland, Oregon, check out some hot springs and then to Seattle to meet Frasier Crane and finally through the border controls ridiculous questions to Vancouver.  After that, who knows but something spesh will sure happen. And so to the big hunk of metal that’s gonna help us to do this Adventuro Magnifico.  Its big, green and handles like a massive metal jelly.  And although it isn’t the tank that I just sort of described, its about as metal as one.  And so without further ado, ladies and gentleman, I give you, our home for the next 8 months, Miiiiiiss Trixiiiiiiie Beeeeeeeeell…

Complete with not one but TWO gas ring hob, refrigerator, thermostat, swivel cockpit chairs, a sink, two fuel tanks, loads of propene, a ceiling fan, some very manky yellow curtains (since dyed wonderful hues of pink and purple), lots of utensils and the smallest double bed that isn’t a single bed in the known Universe.  It’s a hunk of love that will either make or break us on this Grand Voyage of the North Americas.  I for one am willing to take the risk.  Aint got no choice really!!

And so, onto Stirling, for our last Eastern Canadian experience at a farm in the final throws of a Canadian Autumn and the onset of a winter that for sure will be the coldest either of us have experienced (apart from 2 months living in a car park in the Alps).  We bought a bundle of thermals, long johns, big pants, thigh-length socks and terry toweling hats from Honest Ed Mirvish (www.honesteds.com), an oil heater, a pair of fur-lined wellies for the lady and a pair of fur lined flip-flops for the me, packed up Trixie, said goodbye to those new friends we made and with no car insurance (cos in Canada it costs more for 1 month than it costs for a year in the States, 4000 Canadiadian bucks annually and they made me surrender my UK licence for a poxy Ontario one), drove very gingerly for what seemed like an age, to our first WWOOFing experience together (that ends the longest sentence you’ve probably ever read!)

We rocked up 2 hours late to Larry and Judy’s farm and about 3 seconds before they were carving the chicken for dindins.  It felt a bit like going on stage at Butlins for Tuesday nights talent competition with a brand new spikey hair-cut, some C&A threads and the wrong legs for sticking in the ‘okey Cokey what with everyone staring at us and waiting for us to stick our 3rd leg up instead of in.  Its pretty strange turning up to a bunch of strangers’ house for dinner when they’ve been waiting for you for ages and thought ‘Sod it, lets start anyway’ and then ‘Oh, for fucks sake’ as we turn up just as they’re aiming fork to gob.  But I smiled and me lass lifted up her skirt and all was forgotten as we got down and dirty with a roast chicken, some roasted spuds and nowhere near enough wine to stop me guffawing WAAAY to loudly at even a sign of a quip from anyone of the 7 people staring right at me eyes at the table.  ‘Taxi for the stander-outers’!!! The farm, aside from the creatures, consisted of Larry and Judy, husband and wife, internal and external farm know-it-alls,

Steven and Amy, Larry’s 87 year old and 92 year old parents respectively and 3 fellow WWOOFers, in the form of Chris and two girls who’s names I have purposefully forgotten for reasons I will explain on page 383!  And, humanoidians aside, it also consisted of Max and Lee, two Candiadian sheep dogs, Jake, a jaded old deaf dog who just wanted to trot up and down the wooden floors at 4 in the a.m., Jesse, a blind dog who’s fat had taken the shape of a Rhomboid and who bumped into things with her nose to find her way around but could still pre-wash a dishwasher bound plate better than a Latino pot washer, 4 cats, one who looked EXACTLY like Tigger and 3 others, one of which lived in a plush Penthouse Barn suite, shit loads of sheep, quite a few chickens, a number of pheasants and a lot fewer South American ducks.  Oh yeah, and one son of a bitch mouse that decided that in a bid to skip the stamp duty and asking price, he’d move into Trixie and gorge himself, again free of charge, on our food staples.  Bastard…

Its funny how after a month with all of these living beings, they become like extended family members, aside from the 2 German lasses who couldn’t have been lazier if they sat around barking orders at us all while rubbing crisps into their faces and getting poor Africans to breath for them.  You spend so many hours in the company of these people that you really do build a deep rapport with them.  Not just a rapport even, but a real caring for them as people and animals.   I say except for the German girls for many reasons, but chief among them was this:  when you WWOOF, you are subscribing to a way of living that includes selflessness, respect and compassion, among others.  None of these did the girls show.  The problem was that Larry and Judy felt the same but failed to make it known and I think therein was the problem.  Its one thing if your WWOOfers feel aggrieved about fellow workers.  Its another entirely if your hosts feel the same but don’t do anything about it because it helps feelings of resentment harbor, specifically resentment towards the WWOOfers who aren’t pulling their weight.  So somebody decided to take it upon themselves to let the wasters know what was what and that someone was a fiery little Italian and boy, did she let ‘em ‘ave it!!  So much so that after a few days they disappeared to some other poor bugger and left us to do what they should have been doing.

Now, it was pretty easy going as farm work goes, although there wasn’t a designated day off and, rightly or wrongly, if you fancied a day off, you kinda felt guilty because as those who own a farm will tell you, there is no day off when you own a farm.  Just ask anyone who owns a farm….. they’ll tell you…… there isn’t a day off….. if you own a farm!  So, my day would start at around 8.30, when I’d fill my bowl with Porridge, drenched in unpasteurized, fresh from the cows muddy udders milchen and fresh from the bees…. uddees…. Honey.  Then, dressed for a force 8 gale, looking like Geoff Cape’s in the ‘Carry 4 cows up a tractor round’, I’d march up to the sheep’s enclosure ready to give them their first feed of the day, which consisted of loads of hay and some grain. Now, they’re a funny bunch, sheep.

All they do is eat, shit and shleep!!  They don’t actually sleep like most other animals.  They may ‘zone out’ for 10 minutes or so but that’s for about as long as it happens.  Its because they’re so shit scared of being killed.  And yet, as I understand it, they are the only animals, lemmings aside, which have a predisposition to suicide.  Now, I’m not sure if I buy this but I was told by Larry, who knows about everything there is to know about sheep and pretty much most other farmy things too, that they will literally try to kill themselves if they feel that life is getting a bit much.  And whilst we were there, four of the buggers died, albeit of various ailments, although one of them did seem like it just laid down and gave up but then I think I would too if all I did was eat and poop and stand in a minus fifteen blizzard for a quarter of my life.  And on that particular morning, as I was dragging the dead sheep out of the pen, a thought hit my massively cavernous cranium.  Those of us who live in towns and cities have a very different understanding and maybe even appreciation of life to those people who live on a farm, especially with livestock.  As Judy once said to me, where you’ve got livestock, you’ve got dead stock.  And as I’d finished dragging that sheep away to be composted with the rest of the organic waste, I said to Larry something about how on a farm, you have to deal with the reality of death from a young age whereas in a city, you’re protected from it as much as possible.  And in true Buddhist style, or druid as Larry believes himself more to be, he nonchalantly returned ‘Deaths a part of life’ and I felt immediately like a fool from the city who’d just come face to face with his first death experience.  And it wasn’t at all my first death experience, I’ve seen a few dead bodies, human and other, in my time and I’ve read various Buddhist texts which explain the need to understand death as a part of life and not to fear its impending encroachment but it hit home at that moment how much I have tried to ignore it in life.  And I’m not saying that now I’m gonna embrace it in all its glory!!  But being surrounded by animals everyday certainly gave me a strong sense of my own mortality, of my own part of the huge puzzle that is life on Earth and more than anything, how David Attenborough probably has a stronger sense of the fragility of life than anyone else in the World!

Anways, as well as feeding sheep 3 times a day and chickens and pheasants and sometimes even humans, I got down and dirty with my practical self in the form of building twelve lambing pens.  This very rewarding project took me about two weeks from start to finish and involved lots of drilling, banging, sawing and banging, plus a little kicking and loads of banging.  And now, when the sheep have babies, they can book themselves into their all n’ewe’ version of a ‘Ram’ada hotel, for a few weeks of being waited on haa’aaa’nd and foot…. tee to tha hee!! (I had to fit them in somewhere, I’ve been trying for 3 hours to think of how I can sneak in a joke using ‘Lamb’ert and Butler, so gimme a break!)

Yeah, this was certainly a very rewarding farm experience and I saw and learnt many useful and interesting things.  Such as finding out, due to my weird fascination of bottoms and how they work, what a ‘cloaca’ is and how probably all but definitely most birds ‘woo’ and lay eggs out of one hole therein named.  I also learnt what the word ‘ruminant’ means and that sheep as well as cows are of that persuasion and that Zen is not a word included in the Scrabble dictionary much to my chagrin.  But as I was clearly THE Scrabble champion of the farm for winning a hat-trick of games, including one with a score exceeding the 250 mark, even though my travel companion liked to use the dictionary for unfair advantageous means (yeah, like anyone would know to look up the word Xebecs for a 58 point score) it was of no consequence!  Why isn’t there a Scrabble game show come to think of it?  Probably because it would be fucking boring Saul…

I also saw a calf being born, which gave me a newfound respect for the ladies.  Seriously, this poor Heifer was going through seven levels of hell until the wonderful Colin decided to tie a rope around its calfs front hoofs and literally, tug-of-war style, pull that thing right out of the stretchiest fanny I’ve ever seen (apart from a Nigerian lass I once chanced upon!).  And then the next day, I saw the other side of pregnancy when I found a dead 2 or 3-month-old sheep foetus lying on the floor in the sheep enclosure.  Weirdly, it looked like a cross between a baby alien and a giraffe.  Work that one out.

One morning there was a flood in Larry and Judy’s basement, which is also their living quarters.  This was of special annoyance to me and my lady as it was the first time in what felt like weeks that we were ‘enjoying’ each others company.  Then just as we were out of the blocks we heard a knock on the camper and were told we needed to go and scrape up carpet underlay for 3 hours whilst breathing in deadly methane.

But this wasn’t the worst job we had to undertake as WWOOfers.  I’d say digging rocks out of the ground made me feel more like I was working on the chain gang than anything I’ve ever done.  Although I did get to realize one of my life’s dreams when I got to drive a big red tractor!!

All of these people and many of our experiences will stay with me for all of my days.   Memories such as Amy’s stories of her life back in the 1930’s and 40’s when she used to have the ladies round for afternoon tea, dressed in their white satin gloves and Sunday best, gossiping about the local community or baking a cake at midnight for Judy’s birthday listening for footsteps that might ruin the surprise, playing fetch with a dog that literally will go hour after hour after hour after a stick until you were crawling on all fours like him, begging him to stop bringing it back ‘PLEASE, PLEASE STOP BRINGING IT BAAAACK’ or the always grateful Larry extoling his thankfulness at a ‘…fine, fine lunch’ or a ‘…splendid, just splendid’ dinner.  And the meeting of the Mennonites.  Oh, the meeting of the Mennonites!!  Now, for those of you who don’t know what a Mennonite is, a) shame on your ignorance and b) check this out… http://www.mennoniteusa.org

Ok, so one day Larry, my good lady and I go off to a Mennonite farm to pick up two-dozen or so bags of sawdust for the new sheep pens.  Now usually when a Mennonite is introduced to a female, said female is EXTREMELY lucky if she gets any change out of Mr Mennonite as generally Mennonite men will only deal with AND converse with his fellow male brethren.  And there is CERTAINLY to be no dealings by a young Mennonite teenage boy with a female or ‘harlot’ as i’m sure they are taught that females are, from the ‘real World’.  Anyways, today was to be the lesson as to why…  So, we rock up and exchange pleasantries with Michael, the Mennonite farmer and a very pleasant man and it just so happens that his young teenage son Daniel is there at the saw mill with him.  I dont know how many girls outside of his own community Daniel has had dealings with but suffice to say, it probably cant be many… if any.  Another thing i must tell you before i go on is that Mennonites are not aloud to read anything but the bible, watch t.v or listen to a radio or any music that isn’t Godly.  So, in meeting Daniel, my cohort, who’s name is the female equivalent, says high and to break the ice says to him immediately, just as the poor lad is thinking lascivious thoughts ‘Do you know what our name means?’, to which Daniel, not knowing how to respond as he isn’t even allowed to be in her presence let alone speak to her, replies by way of silence and stricken fear.  ‘It means’, she goes on, ‘Only God can judge me’… The sound of a distant stream rippled in the fresh morning air, birds tweeted in nearby trees and the soft caress of the young days breeze unfolded itself whilst all around, humans stood in petrified silence as man gazed at Mennonite and Mennonite thought ‘What the Fuck is she talking about’ and the next thing you know, i’m telling them all about how George Foreman once told me the story of Saul on the road to Damascus and how his hands were like pillows, ignorant of the fact that they clearly had no idea who George Foreman was or why these two English satanists were talking to them about their beloved God!!  This was eye-wateringly funny at dinner that night, pant-wettingly cringeworthy at the time.  Still, i’m comforted by them sitting around the family dinner table at night trying to work out what a man with pillows as hands looks like!!

And as for the farm itself?  It’s set in 200 acres of extremely beautiful Ontario countryside.  Even in the beginnings of a winter that will see temperatures plummet to minus 30 or 40 degrees, the surroundings are just stunning.  Having seen the photos from previous WWOOFers’ visits during the summer months, I wish that we could see it in all its splendor.  There’s nothing more beautiful to me then the scene of a countryside in the throws of a balmy summer.  Nature seems to be at piece with itself and so us with it.  And to me there is no more positive feeling to be had then when all of us, all the living things on this wonderful planet, are at harmony with ourselves and each other.  But that’s not to say that spending the last month feeding sheep in a minus 15 blizzard, sawing into cold-numbed fingers or whacking my head on the solid barn beams on an almost daily basis hasn’t been a wonderfully enriching experience because Godammit, I’ve enjoyed every waking moment of it.  How could I not?  Being surrounded by life in many guises, even if many others are lying dormant.  ‘Bootiful, just Bootiful’ as one late, turkey Farmer would have put it.

Though, alas, we must move on, out of this country of conservative and sometimes strangulation-like control and onto the meat and bones of our journey, into a country where you can buy a gun at 18, but not a beer until your 21!!  To drive its length and breadth, awing at its natural beauty and wincing at its vulgarities.  To paraphrase (and massacre!) an over regurgitated quote from a revered and God-like Beat idol, ‘…Our battered Trixie waited on the driveway.  We had longer ways to go.  But no matter, the road is life… well, that and Route 66!

Canadia Part 2

It’s been said that 73% of people like Canada.  It’s also been said that Toronto is one of the Worlds top 20 cities to live in.  Furthermore, its been said that 12% of people live their lives upside-down and 16 people explode when they blink.

In reference to Saul John Stanley Abbott, the jury is out on the first one.  The other three I don’t care for.  One statistic that is 111% true is that if Toronto is anything like the rest of Canada, I’ll be moving to Albert Square and opening up a mini cabs office to rival the late, great OzCabs.

The one thing I did like about Toronto was this:

especially when I did this:

That was one of the more madcap things i participated in during our time in Toronto.

As many of you know, I like very tall buildings.  And every time I looked out over Toronto, I would see the CN Tower, stood erect, like some huge Robot God’s manpiece telecommunications tower.  It was like a paradox of the times in the movie French Kiss, when Meg Ryan keeps looking for the Eiffel Tower and every time there is an exquisite view of it, the moment she turns her curly blond bob and gaze in awe and wonder, her view is curtailed by some ugly tramps Mooney!  So there it is, I like the CN Tower.  What I don’t really like is people who live in Toronto.  Although, like everything you don’t like, there are usually exceptions and they are the following:

Beth and Marcus: Along with the aforementioned Mary and David Brown Brown, my two best friends in Toronto.  Beth made me work like a dog everyday by taking me to lunch and making me grass on old people who knocked over motorbikes.  Marcus just smiled a lot, due to chronic flatulence and my comical beard, and drank lots of magical formula which one day will give him the supernatural powers needed to laugh at his Dads jokes.  Beth and Marcus took us to an amazing butterfly house in Niagara, within which big and small butterflies of many varying colours and sizes (see previous line) flew around, above, underneath and on us (yes, you can be flown on by a butterfly).  The butterfly house itself was of a considerable size, very much mirroring a rainforest habitat and the butterflies were very happy about this as you could hear them giggling as they flew by in various sized troupes.  It was a very beautiful experience, made all the more special by seeing them emerge from their chrysalises (or is it Chrysali, as in Lexus’/Lexi?  Who knows, ask Partridge?), knowing that their future lives would be spent as the human equivalent of me being born into an environment where candy floss was the healthiest breakfast cereal and every morning was Saturday morning, after a Friday night spent gorging on apple crumble and custard curry, meatball cake and real live chocolate ladies and having some sing-a-long fun in a bar where Chas ‘n Dave are the main event.  Daydreams aside, they also took us to Niagara Falls.  Now, i don’t know about you but I always seem to be a tad disappointed when i come face-to-face with the Wonders of the World.  True, I’ve only seen one and this was it but hey, one’s better than none.  And I know every other number above one is better than one but you gotta start somewhere.  Well, actually, it depends how you look at it.  You could start nowhere if a nowhere doesn’t have the credentials that it has to have to be a somewhere, no?  Anyway, as madness ensues, I digress.  It’s not that it isn’t a big waterfall cos it is.  And it’s not that you can’t go on a boat and go right up to it and get a bit wet cos you can.  And it’s not like you don’t feel like just another tourist idiot taking pictures so that you can show people who really don’t give a shit what you did, cos you do. It’s just… I didn’t see Superman save a young boy from certain death, ok?  And you know, if I go to the Grand Canyon and don’t see a bloke have to saw his own arm off with a penknife cos its been trapped between a rock and a hard place for 127 hours, I just know it’s not gonna be the same.  Call me a perfectionist but no Superhero, no life changing experience…  They also gave me my first opportunity to carve pumpkins

and invited me to my first ever Jewish brunch, complete with Klesmer band.  Aside from this, we did many other fun things together, too numerous to mention here, but nonetheless, unforgettable.

Danielle ‘Maceo Parker’ Mace: Although already mentioned in a previous blog, Ms Mace’s charity will never be forgotten.  Letting us stay in her apartment for 3 weeks when couch surfing was starting to take its toll and have us come and go as we pleased was the answer to our prayers and will never be forgotten.

Kerri O: One evening, a pretty leggy blonde, with piercing blue eyes, a body as lithe as a rubber contortionists cat and a big bouncy ball asked me to come over to her apartment to check her out.  We’d been introduced via the medium of social networking (obviously in the form of a website, I mean, who PHYSICALLY networks these days) by one Nicky Bruun-Meyer, another leggy blonde I’d been sniffing around for some years, who thought that, seeing as we both loved a good time, would hit it off famously and so should make an evening of it.  Married or not, I thought, this is one of those offers a man only dreams about.  So, at 6.30 sharp (a little early for such a soiree I mused, but hey, she’s right bendy) I sauntered over there and low and behold, there was she, waiting, prepared, in her skin-tight leggings, for me, a man, ravenous and eager, in my skin-tight…… socks.  She showed me in the door, swapped the briefest of salutations and then we embraced.   Then, without hesitation, she embraced my wife too and proceeded to show us around her apartment that she was giving us for 3 WHOLE WEEKS while she travelled through Europe!!!  3 weeks of not having to sleep on a sofa, 3 of not having to make conversation when all you wanna do is have a lay down, 3 weeks of self-gratification without the threat of a hidden camera in an airing cupboard!!  It’s not often someone you have never met gives you their private abode in your fave part of town and swans off on her own expedition, leaving you with a full underwear draw and some ‘toys’ to play with.  I’m not saying that’s what happened in this scenario, but you know, im just saying it’s not, alright?  An act of extreme kindness and trust which one day I hope can be returned in kind.

Bear and Crystal: On our last few days in Toronto, Bear and Crystal were just the most consummate hosts who opened up their 444 foot long motor home to us on nights when the scratching of mice overhead meant sleep was kept to a minimum and warmth even less so.  The devouring of the now infamous Bear Burgers will forever live in the memory, 3 whole pounds of ground meat topped with a beef tomato and a whole raw onion, un-incumbered by the cooks knife, served between two whole plain naan breads x2, as will the guitar strumming and mouth harp parping of an off-the-cuff concert at 3.30 a.m from folks most unheralded and underrated star, Bear Parrott, the man with the most creatures to his name since Kangaroo Otter Bird and his wailing Siamese twin, Barold amazed Australia in the 1930’s with their wildlife call mimicry.  Bear and Crystal are about the hardest working people I have ever come across, working 12 hours a day, come rain or shine, building, lifting, pouring and well, building again.  They can make anything and build anything and if they don’t know how to do it, then, quite frankly, it can’t be done.  And being as giving and caring as they are too makes them just short of superhero status in my book.  The Great Bear and Crystal Clear, the Worlds newest buildyhero’s!

Marcello: At a time when we were struggling to find more couch surf hosts, Marcello came through in Grand style.  Initially we were supposed to stay for 3 days but that ended up being 3 weeks and not only that, but we had a room and a big ass bed all to ourselves.  That is, until he decided to rip the whole room apart.  Or rather, until WE ripped the whole room apart.  Floors came up, walls came down and heating was turned off as we froze to the spot many times in this World Record holder’s house.  Marcello you see, holds the World Record for the furthest distance travelled by solar power, over 23,000 miles as well as being the only person to drive a solar-powered car on the ice road from Alaska to the Arctic circle.  To check out this man’s incredible journey, go to www.Xof1.com.  Not only did he put us up for ages, he also lived in India Town and so we had the best South Indian cuisine we’ve ever had and the burniest bot bots the next morning to boot.

There were many others who became brief friends and/or acquaintances on our trip but i cant think of anything interesting to say about them so I’m just gonna say MASSIVE thank you’s to: Gary, Daniel, Jason, Alex, Curtis, Allan, April and the guy who owned the Waffle place whose name escapes me but was instrumental in me eating waffles with everything, sometimes for free.

Apart from the peeps, there were a few Momentous occurrences during our Canadian stay.

We went to see a band called Arcade Fire (hmm).  However, fortune once again smiled on us that very evening.  As we were strolling to yet another outdoor weekend festival (Toronto summers are full of them, there must be 64 every weekend for a few months, albeit some very sparsely populated, i mean, a Hare Krishna festival isn’t really gonna bring throngs of idiot English couples looking to get some free Indian grub, a bang on some drums and spiritual enlightenment to its shores on a sunny Sunday afternoon, is it…….?!!), a young lady on a bike wheeled over to us, saw how devilishly good-looking we were and had to give us her free VIP tickets to a huge concert.  The fact that I said ‘Nah, its alright thanks, they’re shit’ and nearly got a blood clot in my brain from a sharp left hook from my lady didn’t hinder our VIP enjoyment, if you can call 6 bucks fora crap beer and an earful of noise from a bunch of melancholic suicidal teens singing about wetting the bed and not having a snog yet, enjoyment.  Which i don’t.  But hey, we got to go on a boat and thats always a jolly nice time isn’t it?!

We went to The CASBYS.  It’s an awards show, like the Brit Awards but for Canadian bands.  Imagine hating the Brit Awards and then going to the Canadian version.  Exactly!  But it wasnt an entirely crap night cos after the show a man told me to kick the shit out of his car cos it was made from un-dentable material so i kicked it in as hard as I could and guess what happened?!!!  I laughed so hard i gave myself a bunch of hemorrhoids.  Then I ran away very quickly…

I did my first ever Yoga class.  Vinyassa.  I’m a beginner.  I shouldn’t have been…

I saw a few films worth a mention, one a Hugh Hefner documentary:  Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel which shows just how spiffing Hugh Hefner has been throughout his life, being the first person to have multi-racial musicians performing on his show Playboys Penthouse during oppression and also campaigning for women’s and gay rights (a big player in the legalising of abortion and a gay rights pioneer).  It really changed my perception of him from a bit of a sleazy geezer to a right on sweet cheeks.  Another film i saw was Expendables!  The most bang, smash, kaboom, smash, whack, snog, huh-hu-huh-huh-huh-huh guns, tatts, tougho’s, smash MASSIVE BANG film i have seen for years!!  The Other Guys was one of the funniest films I’ve seen, EVER, Inception, was a load of up its own arseness and this girl I’m with made me watch Grown Ups which is in my top 3 worst ever films I’ve paid to see on the big screen.  And if anyone I know says they thought it was alright, please never EVER contact me again.  I mean it, i will hire someone to shoot you.

We went to Montreal, which is about 47 babillion times cooler than Toronto, ate the best ribs EVER, went to a chocolate restaurant, TWICE, and stayed in a lovely apartment with a lovely double bed for me and ‘er and a man sleeping 6 foot away behind a paper curtain that didn’t even cover the gap it was supposed to cover.  Dirty weekend?  Not with a travelling carpenter sleeping in a sombrero eyeing us through his lithe.  But as a break from Toronto, it did its job.  And all weekend i just couldn’t get used to the fact that it was like being in France, which isn’t that strange considering it pretty much IS France but it really was just like being plonked in a French town.  And seeing as France is one of my favourite countries to be in, i was pretty happy.  Hell, you even have to speak French when you’re there.  Check out these piccies…

And so, that’s it for Toronto and Canadia, at least until March 17th next year when we come back into it, albeit from the West side.  It’s not a bad city, it has an all night art fair that sweeps through the city called Nuit Blanche which is where stuff like this happens…

it has some nice architecture such as…

as well as some other cool things, like…

and my personal favourite and an example of the cities tough stance on cleanliness…

Would i go back?  Probably not.  But just like any other city, there’s a million things to do and see.  Just don’t try talking to anyone…

Canadia – part 1

Sitting bolt upright on a coach from 11 in the eve until 9 the next morn, in front of a hag who needs to get up to pee every 7 minutes and with a crying baby stuck up my arse is something ive only ever dreamed of.  But i guess that’s the thing about dreams.  Transferred into the realms of reality, they’re crap.

And so continues a fools travel ordeals.  Did I forget to mention that after 10 hours on a completely full bus (seems it’s not only me and my good lady that are too ‘environmentally conscious'(!) to travel by airplane these days… apart from the trans-atlantic flight we just undertook that probably gave a Guatemalan child T.B.  sorry about that li’l fella), the piled up New Yorkian faeces in the bucket described as a ‘restroom’ was only a little too ‘nasal’ for my enjoyment.  Restroom?  Who rests?  And where’s the room?  I’m sorry, but fetid vomit box is what it should have said on the door.  Restroom?  Literally, i would rather rest in Satan’s mums colon then in that ‘Restroom’?  However, rest was certainly not what the angels had planned for me and so the 10 hour bus trip from New York to Toronto was undertaken with minimal sleep and maximum methane inhalation and coupled with not knowing who or what was to meet us at the end of our journey, a slight air of trepidation filled our fragile minds.

Stepping off the bus into another country is both exciting and unnerving. Getting off the bus when you’re being met by someone you don’t know and taken to a strange place you’re not familiar with and being potentially tortured with tools you’re not sure how to use can be quite disconcerting.  Thankfully, Dave, our first couch surfing host didn’t have this…

this…

or this…

He did however have this…

http://images.loqu.com/photos/964/903/funny-cars.jpg

and so we free wheeled out of the bus terminal, me in my warmest winter fur-lined coat et mon femme in her heaviest quilted arctic explorers saturday night number and the air around us a stain inducing 98 degrees, and rally burnered off into a new life where people say oot and aboot, swear by a diet of Poutine http://www.montrealpoutine.com/history.html and try to be as utterly fearful of talking to strangers as anyone ever evolved.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t exceptions and boy, have we been lucky enough to weed them out.

So, in true cost-cutting ways that is only natural to yours truly, my woman and I have decided to forgo the trappings of luxury 5 star accommodation for the potentially life threatening and serial killer meeting of Couch Surfing.  That’s right folks.  We travelled a few thousand miles to explore frontiers untouched (by us) from the confines of a lumpy old sofa.  For those of you who don’t know what Couch Surfing is, it has nothing to do with tropical beaches, bikini clad bronzed maidenheads and  dudes with long hair fighting with sharks for control of the balmy seas and everything to do with sleeping on someones couch for free (see www.couchsurfing.org).  Fortunately, our first host, the mighty Dave, had a pull out bed and wasn’t a cannibal.  In fact, after hearing one of his couch surfing experiences which included him waking up to find his middle-aged MALE naked host masturbating to gay porn less than ten feet away from him (he stayed an extra 3 nights!), I felt all the more comfortable and ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Our first stop, before we even hit Daves pad, was No Frills, a cross between Iceland (the shop) and Croydon (the shit hole), all under one Yellow-Signed banner with the cheery demeanor of one ‘Pablo’ enthusiastically inviting you into the store of which he has become a franchisee.  I took this as a metaphor of the once sneered upon immigrant rising up to become Lord over his previously mocking now grovelling domain, ie, a man from the local neighbourhood making it good and now forcing the little power he has upon the people who used to poke him with hard white dog faeces by making them not only shop for crap groceries that include 89 carcinogenic ingredients per 100 but that in doing so pays for Pablo to collect up all the dried, white dog poo in the world and grind it into his No Frills Pancake Mix, listing it in the ingredients as Natural Flavourings.  Or maybe not.  Anyhow, it was an introduction to Toronto that’s been hard to forget…

David Brown, as his mum named him (they had to eventually drop the Brown as it was also his surname), allowed my tattoo clad travel wife to download 4 million gaganbites of watchable material from his internet source, made us lots of banana/choco/moccha/ mock-ups of milkshake type semi-liquid refreshment, got us a li’l high on more than one occasion and was generally an all round egg of goodness.  However, after a 10 day stint in his (post-realised) mouse house, we moved onward and upwards.  Or rather, downwards…

But only in the meaning of heading “Dooooooowntooooooown…” to the Angel in human form of Mary and her Nanny Hanson-esque view of the more dapper building’d financial district from 8 floors up.  This, quite literally, is the best view of a city I have ever seen.  The C.N tower was within touching distance and skyscrapers loomed over us at every glance and at night, why, if it wasnt for the fact that they all leave their lights on thus polluting the planet by approx. 8% more, it’d be an eighth as spectacular and 100% more life extending for all of our childrens’ childrens’ childrens’ children.  But hell, what cost a glamorous view?  Couple that with staying on the couch (on more than one surfing occasion… try 5) of one of the finalists in the Worlds Loveliest Lady competition and you almost have a cup o’ rosie, served in the best bone china with a coupla custards on the side.  “More tea Vicar?”, “Don’t mind if i do, young supple, fair skinned lad.  Now about those accusations…”.

Mary isn’t the kind of lady who offers you a couch and tells you to be out by 9 and not back til after 6.  No, she’ll take you out at 9, show you the best a city has to offer, take you to a Rad ‘iC’ AL food market filled with all the wondrous snackets one desires, go treasure hunting in the form of geocaching http://www.geocaching.com/ and get you chanting for the home side you never knew you loved so much at a baseball game, involving the mighty New York Yankees ‘divent ya kna’.  Yes, Mary is an all round saint.  She has given us her apartment whilst out-of-town for the weekend, put us up on more than one occasion when couch surfing has let us down and has been the most pleasant, fun, and interesting company of anyone I have met for many whiles.  And right there you have the most positive aspect of the whole couch surfing project.  The ability to meet and thus the potential of making friends with people you would never under normal circumstances have met, whilst being shown the best a place has to offer from the many different perspectives of your very different hosts.  And if that isn’t used as a future tag line (albeit a very long one) for a couch surfing t.v ad, then I’m removing myself from the site and starting my own one up called sofasauling where i get to stay on the sofas of anyone I want, anywhere, ever (you hear me, Mica Paris?)

There are obviously drawbacks, as with all things that aren’t 100% very, very goodnice!  Mainly, not knowing if your host will be a tosser.  But also, not knowing if you are going to contract bedbugs, as has happened to others I’ve read about and also not knowing if you are to be sacrificed to death.  But these are minor drawbacks.  Couch surfing is rather amazing and quite frankly, if I wasn’t to spend the rest of my life chained to a member of the fairer sex (!), I would never again waste hundreds of bucks to sleep in a nice bed for 8 hours whilst not having to worry about pooing loudly in someone else’s en-suite at 4a.m…………….. hang on…………..

We moved from Mary’s Manhattan-esque apartment to stay with Alan.  However, when we got to Alans house, he wasn’t there.  But that’s alright cos he left the key… somewhere.  So, in the pitch blackness that surrounded Alans fetid back yard, myself and the good lady searched the crooks and nannies of this rather Canadian looking shack (it even had a front porch), running hands along places that hadn’t had hands ran along them, probably ever, and for good reason, in search of The Key.  It felt for some time like the next installment of some Lord of the Rings  movie in which the handsome Prince (cough cough) has to find the key to the Castle to enable him and his beautiful Princess to cop it off on a blow-up mattress on a strangers living room floor.  And, alas, a great hurrah was heard for miles around as along the splintered ledge of an old rotten fencepost, a dainty hand was swiped and a magic key hit the floor as if the good Lord of Key Searchers had placed it there herself.  With a clunk and a kick, a great door was opened and into another strangers’ house we stepped.  To find a note.  From our host.  Saying he would be back late and if we didn’t see him, to “…help yourselves to stuff and the blow-up bed is in the living room, we’ll catch up tomorrow, blah blah blah…”.  Have you ever gone to stay at a strangers house and them not been in to meet you, to at least pass off the impression that they aren’t of the Manson clan?  Well, we have and its a wee bit nervy.  Can you imagine going to bed in this strangers house, not knowing if you’ll wake up looking at yourself through eyes that have been popped out and placed on top of the telly staring straight back at you?  I could.  But luckily, Alan popped back before we could rifle through his collection of Serial Killer novels for a hidden murderers meat masher and sighs of relief all round, he didn’t want to bugger my eye sockets.  In fact, he was a decent chap.  He gave me a beer, told us some interesting stories, introduced us to his Thai bride, I mean Chinese girlfriend and undercooked us some salmon on a bbq, whilst we tried and tried and really really tried to find his girlfriend interesting…  But, after a few nights of mainly not seeing Alan much (although we did see Jeff Bridges as a singing ol’ cowboy type and that was pretty enjoyable), we left and moved onto Danielle ‘Maceo Parker’ Mace’s flat, overlooking some lush stuff.  Danielle is a friend of a friend whom we met one day over Pho, who had never heard of couch surfing but was enthralled enough about it to sign up and invite us to be her first guests… for 3 whole weeks!!!  McRadicaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!!  It was somewhere to pop our heads down without the threat of a) ending up on the wrong end of a meat hook (she’s a vegan) and b) being eaten alive by microscopic bugs.  3 whole weeks of goodness with a very cool person who literally will vomit over all and sundry if you hide a piece of tuna on her shoulder and has a cat that would come first place in a cat dressing up as an Ethiopian dressing up as a cat fancy dress competition.  Whilst at Danielles pad, I saw the  most amazing lightning storm I have ever seen, from her 9th floor balcony, ate a shed load of pancakes, saw Roberto Fonseca and Gilles Peterson mash it up, watched my lady get her photo taken, which ended up in Toronto’s number one listings magazine as a ‘HALF PAGE SPREAD’!! and slept on a pull-out bed that sloped away from the centre and perilously toward the hard wood floor.  I guess you can’t have it all, right.  I mean, beggars can’t be choosers, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth, when in Rome, related proverb etc, related proverb etc…

Amazing really, someone we only met once sharing her last few moments of her time in her flat (she wasn’t dying, she was moving) with two people she only met once over dinner.  Shows that there are really great people in the World who do things for other people at the behest of themselves.  I hope that one day I can do such things for people in the need, although if i do, i think i’ll leave a few books on Nielsen and Sutcliffe lying casually around, maybe with some polaroids of severed limbs under their pillows!!

I’ve also managed to find work whilst I’ve been here, although i guess it found me, thanks muchly to The Punchers, Gregory and Curtis.  A spot of gardening has been on the cards and I even managed to bag a grand from a private paving job so money isn’t as hard to come by as it once was during another travel adventure, many moons ago.

And as for the honey i’m journeying with?  Well, next time you see her, just don’t ask for a slice of the Godfather, she’s likely to chop your horse’s head off…

Here we go again….

“New York, just like i pictured it…”.  Or so the saying goes in the song.  But it wasn’t really.  Not all the time anyhoo.

Yep, you lucky li’l blighters, if you’re reading this, which obviously you are or you wouldn’t be seeing it with your massive eyes like those monkey rats that see in the dark with those eyes of size, then you have once again stumbled into the annoyance that is my Worldly mutterings of complete nonsense!

‘But Saul, its been so long since we were last captivated by reading your crap, how come?’  Yeah well, if you thought that, you got no mind reading ’bout me cos you shoulda known!!

Now a few things mighta changed since the last entry which was ONE WHOLE YEAR AGO!!!  But hey, its a travel blog, not a going back home with my tail between my legs blog, ya hear?!  Right, so, what’s new, huh?  Well, i no longer share the whichever shores i is at with a man giant in a tin can, no siree Bob.  I got me an upgrade.  ‘Like trading in your old phone for one o’ them nu i-phone blueberry pads, ya mean, that everyone and their marsupial in the world has? (little mind reading devices, they are sure to lead to internal corruption)‘  Even mo’ better than that, friends.  Imagine having one of them Sony Walkmans from when you were a kid and then, for your birthday, getting one with REWIND as well as fast forward!!  Thats the shizzle i’m gannin on aboot.  Yep, you got it, i got me a WHOA MAN.  Thats right, all o’ y’all, and she aint no giant either!!

An’ that ol’ tin can we were livin’ in?  Well, that aint no more for this World.  We got us a bunch of strangers couches now!!!  Hell yeah, forget the mirroring of outside temperatures, lack of wash facilities and constant fear of (bottom?) burglary.  Now, i got even less!!  I live on someone elses sofa, get up at 7.30 everyday and live in constant fear of bed bugs!!!  WOOHOO!!  Who said this trav’lin’ shit wasn’t exciting?  Well, no one did, i’m just sayin’, s’all.

OK, so where have me and my lady been so far?  Well, we camped down on a pretty shoddy air mattress in Williamsburg, NYC for starters.  And man o’ man, did this whole new chapter of adventures almost never get started.

Fascists.  Thats what the NYC customs dudes parents obviously were.  A right bunch of massive fascists!!!

So, we rock up at Newark Airport after the equivalent of a 10 hour easy jet flight to NEW YORK via Iceland.  Ok, tip one, right?  If you’re flyin’ to the U.S, splash out, go Virgin, B.A, The Wright Brothers, something like that.  Don’t bother looking for something cheap, seeing Iceland Air and thinking, ‘Well, their people lost all their savings in their World’s biggest ever country economic meltdown, they cant afford to breath and parents are cutting off children’s limbs to throw on the fire just so they can re-heat the seal beans they’ve got as left overs for the third straight week, BUT HEY, they still have an airline so somethings going right for ’em!!  Hmm…..

So anyway, we rock up to Newark Airport, queue for 3 more hours to go through customs, approach the desk and then the fun starts.  Maybe it was the hat.  Maybe it was the beard.  Maybe it was the fact that i was wearing 8 layers of sheepskin so my bag wouldn’t weigh down the plane and my travel funds.  Hell, who knows, but one thing was for sure.  Man didn’t want to let me in!!

The conversation went not too differently to this:

Fascist:  “Sir, have you ever been arrested?”

Me:  “No”

Fascist:  “You sure, sir?”

Me:  “Yeah, i’m sure”

(fascist stares at screen for inordinately long amounts of time then back at me, sweating profusely, not through fear of not getting into the country, but cos the third layer of pants i’m wearing have heated my scrotum up to 156 degrees)

Fascist:  “That’s not what it says on my screen here, sir…”

Me:  “Is that right you 6-inch-nail-studded-butt-plug-wearing, old woman knicker sniffing, son of New Yorks greasiest who’ bag, now you listen here and you listen good ‘ard………” is what i was going to say.  Instead, i squeeked, tears welling up, “I ha-haven’t b-been arrested, huh-huh-honestly i haven’t, not never ever.  Sir.  Kind Sir…”

Fascist:  “I don’t mean been hauled up in court in front of the judge kinda arrested, i mean just handcuffed and taken down to the police station kind of arrested”.

Me: (thinking i must have been too pissed to forget that one but then also thinking i probably would have remembered the cop beating i woulda got…) “No, i’m sure i’ve never been arrested”.

Fascist:  “Well, then, in ya come sonny boy and you sure as hell have a good time whilst your here and hey, here’s a 10 year VISA for your troubles and stay away from those Pigs now, you know what happened to ol’ Rodney”….  Or something along those lines.

And thus started the journey to the North American Countries!!

NYC i’d heard from a few people didn’t have much of a nightlife compared to London.  But i guess we didn’t get much of a chance to test that theory, what with living on a budget of 16 dollars a day.  It did have very expensive bread though, which, being priced at about 4 dollars a half loaf, meant that a quarter of our funds a day went on bread sandwiches!  Prett boring really…

But we did get to see many other things including…

The Highline – www.thehighline.org , Brooklyn Bridge, THE best bagel store in’t World (yes, much much much better than the Brick Lane icons we all love at 4.30 on a wednesday morning), www.thebagelstoreonline.com/The_Bagel_Store.html , the owner of which couldnt be more New York if he dressed up as a yellow cab and sang New York, New York repeatedly for the rest of his life from the top of the Empire State, wearing a Gorilla mask and swatting Messrschmitts with the Statue of Liberty and thinking about Woody Allen… A LOT!!!.  We checked Coney, The Village, The New York Botanical Gardens www.nybg.org , a speak easy bar that served me a cocktail tasting of green peppers www.pdtnyc.com/ and which you entered through a phone booth in a greasy hot dog shop (Big shout out to Matt Schmidt for that one), a Williamsburg loft apartment and roof garden (thanks to Thomas ‘The Byrdman of W’burg’ Byrd for that) Park Slope and most importantly, li’l Archie Abbott, a jazz man in the making if ever i saw one!!!

Me and my lady even got photo’d nuff times by peeps who clearly hadn’t seen a couple lookin’ so fresh since Micky and Mallorey, so for all those in NYC who keep seeing these hot potato’s on billboards and wondering who the feck, we’re ‘ere, in Toronto, stuck, tryin’ escape, PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!

Next time we go to The Big Apple, is gonna be Crimble, with snow and shit, hopefully in a recently acquired vehicle and we’ll party ‘ard fo’ sho’.

But after getting on a greyhound (a lifetime ambition NOT fulfilled) bus that wasnt a greyhound bus for 10 hours, which included my woman nearly punching out an old lady, we rocked up in a different country and began our adventures in earnest, something i’ll tell you about another time cos you’re probably nodding off.

Oh yeah, and in New York, they say Kebob, not Kebab.  That shits fucked up…

See ya later…

Blimey, thank God that’s over (I capitalise God these days, not due to a new found love of all things nonsensical or because ive met the girl of my dreams and so have taken on her religion, pretending that I believe in whatever it is she’s forcing me to believe in….. I mean, surely that’s more annoying to any God than people just not believing full stop, I mean, announcing your new found faith in front of him just to get laid every night for the first couple of years of your married life…if you’re lucky, but out of respect to those who actually believe, as some of you are my friends and I don’t want to disrespect your ‘mental’ beliefs!!)

7 months with a man-giant in the World’s smallest metal greenhouse.  7 months!!!  Can you Adam an’ Eve it?  7 months of burning my lungs with someone else’s methane, 7 months of seeing the worst underwear BHS ever produced, 7 months of wondering whether the next drive would be our last, 7 months of ‘that smell’………

So, the Gil Scott-Heron gig never occurred, namely because of Gil Scott-Heron taking offence at my cohorts shirt.

In the ensuing chaos, a Clown decided that he wanted to buy Bruce.  So, he got on a comedy camel-humped bus, drove 8 hours in 40 degree heat, sat in Bruce’s drivers seat, bashed him against a parked van, stalled, made me bash into another two parked cars, then got on another comedy bus, this time equipped with a trampoline toilet seat and a bucket of glitter and buggered off on his second 8 hour journey in 24 hours.
Never trust a Buddhist Clown that breathes fire and likes to make kids laugh whilst dressed as a medieval swordsman.  Unless you trust him to play bumper cars with yours and some very angry Spanish peoples prized vehicles and then fuck off back to the Big Top and decide actually your ‘proper bashed up’ road-hotel isn’t suitable for a man who wears a red nose and shoes on the wrong feet.

Nice dude, though…

Alas, I write this, my final blog whilst on foreign shores, for the next month or so anyway, from the restaurant, and I use that term as loosely as I would the term ‘Innocent’ when referring to a recently deceased kiddy fiddler/one time high-pitched moonwalker, of the beautifully industrial and downright SHIT port of Calais.  Yes, I’m finally homeward bound, as Simon and Garfunkel would undoubtedly and annoyingly sing in my ear at every opportunity until I wept and asked them to ‘…please, sing that song with Chevy Chase in the video’…  Again, I use the term Homeward Bound very loosely as I don’t actually consider myself to have a home cos a) I own nothing of any value more than some amusingly striped toothpaste and b) I don’t actually live anywhere in particular (and you thought YOUR life was shit…. Well, it is, but mine aint…… who’s worse off now, home-owning debt-laden in-it-for-the-rest-of-your-life-for-what sucker?  I’ve got stripey toothpaste, you’ve got a miserable face!!!!)  But so have I (got a miserable face), not because I’m unhappy, I’m always happy, (something which some of you cant seem to understand).  Its because my current level of happiness isn’t the same as it was whilst I was partying with some of the Worlds hottest mama’s or lapping up the sun on the beaches of one of the coolest cities this side of Sandown, Isle of Wight or seeing some free live Gospel Soul gig or watching a super fierce guitar laden lead singer being passed over the crowd in a super lush bar whilst playing some super rocky Chinese pop track (supposedly) to an adoring audience.  Its because im going back to a country with a face as long as the time you wait for summer to actually come back after April’s ‘nice’ week.  Ive just left daily blue skies and tattoo clad bikini Goddeses, im less than 27 miles from Blighty (they should rename it Blimey, is this it!) and its over 24 hours since ive seen anything remotely resembling Duncan from Blue.  But I need money and Spain is shit for that.  Money.  What a shitter that is, eh?  And guess what, the two dudes who were offering me the work I wanted but were full of Billy happened to be from where?  ‘Once-Great Britain’ (after it had bullied its way to the top of the Great chain by murdering, raping, thieving, etc).  Its probably just my annoyance at having to return, even if it be for just a month, that’s the reason for my melancholy, but apart from a git who had his hand in my bag when I turned round to see what that tugging at my shoulder was, only to plead innocence, the only dishonest people I have come across on my travels, happened to be from my own country.  That’s what you get when a third of your population watch Eastenders every day!! That Ian Beale, I tell ya…

My last times in Barcelona were about as eventful as the rest put together.  I was visited by the leg end that is Claire Ives, who put us up in 4-star luxury for 5 nights of pure comedy times (at the Hotel Granados 83 – google that shit, man).  We drank Pina Colada’s by the pool, Milk of the Panther in an ace Spanish Bar and the sun on the beaches of Sitges, a li’l town (the gayest this side of San Fran supposedly… it was pretty clean I guess!) 30 minutes outside of Barcelona that’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ‘round those parts.  We had a night out at Nasty Mondays (a massive Indy-Rock night), which, this time, my Barca friends didn’t stop us going too (they had a better time than anyone among the most beautiful 20 year olds in Barca, in fact, everyone of us pulled except guess who… although, in fairness to me, she was rubbing her fanny against a hand rail and im sure that would have put most of you off… I said most, Bobby!).  We went to a buskers festival and got ‘sprinkled’ by the sprinklers.  I witnessed, quite possibly, the finest club singing by my visitor, this side of Vic Reeves, which was so pant-wettingly funny, I burst a kidney laughing and had to replace it with more booze.  We went to Sala Montjuic, a film festival held throughout July, which I mentioned in my last blog, and instead of seeing Wall-E which I thought we were gonna catch (it was the last night, alright!) we actually saw a film on Leonard Coen (which was AWESOME, TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME, the dude is something else, so is that guy from Anthony and the Johnson’s), whilst tucking into a picnic of prawns, rad chorizo and fizzy pink wine.  It was great, I didn’t have to eat all that shit by myself, unlike last time!!  And I got to experience all of this with a totally hilarious, wickedly cool person who made my last few days in Barca ones to remember.
However, in time honoured tradition, it wasn’t without its li’l piece of stress.  I lost the keys to Bruce, the only set of keys in the World, two days before I was due to get to this point im now at.  I looked everywhere, asked everyone and thought of everyplace they could be, to no avail.  And as I was contemplating paying a million pounds to get a new lock and key sorted, i cried to the receptionist at the hotel to once more check that they hadn’t been handed in.  And guess what?  They hadn’t.  But, they did know where they were.  In my bed sheets!!!  Don’t ask…

But hark, there wasn’t 1, but 2 (well 3, but it’s a couple which generally means 1, right?) friends a-visitin’ on me last nights.  Step up Dave ‘Biggy’ Irvine and his surely Bride-to-be, Camilla.  2 extra nights of madness ensued, including a visit to the most silent, un-colourful, driest fountain display ever witnessed and a jaunt to the coolest tapas bar on Hitlers Earth, where you cant move unless you elbow someone in the face and nick there sausage but amazingly you manage to drink loads of pink wine whilst doing it as well as chat up a massive hotty from Buenos Aries, even though you tease her about the fact that some of their Islands now belong to us for no reason one can conjur!  The offence taken at that was only counter-balanced by the offering of my sausage, which for some reason, bought on much whimsy (wouldn’t be the first time)!  Needless to say, I went home empty handed after preferring the flavour of a South-Bronx Club Sandwich over a delicious Argentinian Steak and getting a soggy haddock instead (chance woulda been a fine thing!!)  Life, take heed.  Don’t ever give me any choices.  I’ll make the right one, but it’ll tell me to get lost and kick me up the bum ‘ole with a big toe that’s way too big for its size 27 warty corn-foot.

But to see another old friend made it all worth while cos the laughs we had will stay with me forever.  And add to that, a final night out with the World’s Funniest Female-Loathed Mr Bartlett, who managed to tell a bird I thought he was gonna get hold of that she could do with losing 3 or 4 kilo’s (he went the same way as me) and with Marta Calvo Hong Kong Phooey, who’s friend we jumped out on in her flat, then proceeded to laugh hysterically at while he tried to do a real bad impression of a man who hadn’t poo’d a bit in his pantaloons (I really felt real bad for poor the dude, he was the source of much mirth for a bunch of people he’d never met who were standing around him pointing and laughing, as though he was a black person at a conservative party conference).  Marta, as always, was a total leg end, letting me bend her ear with my troubles, although, a small amount of which were created by her by talking ever so slightly too loud about someone who was standing ever so slightly too close!!  Still, when confronted, I lost my tongue instead of saying what I should have said, eh Bronx?!!

But you know what?  City life is City life, wherever you are.  I mean, maybe its easier to meet people when you’re away cos you have to but you still get up to the same ol’ tricks, just with a different cape on, right?  And I figured, on my 2 day drive to this shitebag of a place (which included my first ever solo pick up of hitchers, PROPER Rutger Hauer style!) that wherever you are, you can make good things happen, like I feel I have in Barca.  I have met some INCREDIBLE people on this trip, Loic and Alex in Meribel, Roland and Raphy, Chetan, Greg and Astrid and Charlie at Fargassa, Mr B, Marta Calvo Hong Kong Phooey, Anh Thu BUI and Nadine in Barcelona all spring to mind (and there are still others that ive momentarily lost count of).  But you know, I’m sure that wicked peeps like this exist everywhere and im darn sure im gonna try and meet as many of them as poss.  For all the ace things there are to see in this World, its meeting rude dudes and dudettes that makes life all the more rad and I cant wait for the next bunch that I bestow my greatness upon!!  Lucky whorebags!

But you know what, the best of ‘em all is that Big Git that ive spent these last 7 months listening to tales of various meetings with the fairer sex, from.  This whole experience would only be 95% of what it has been if I hadn’t shared it with a total dude, the funniest man since Jim Davidson and a geezer who’s had more dates than even me (that’ll be rectified, don’t sweat it)!!  Seriously, when Tayloroidle left for Madrid last week and hence, our travels together came to an end, it was all I could do to stop myself from boo hoo-ing like a big jesse.  When you share the World’s most temperate house with someone for 7 straight months, its weird, but you actually start to like them.  Must be what a proper relationship is like.  Mind you, I reckon 8 months and shit starts to go down, know what im sayin?  Just like a proper relationship……

But I reckon we worked in such claustrophobic conditions cos we both share a similar outlook on life.  You cant have everything your own way all the time, it leads to massive selfishness.  You gotta sometimes do things you don’t wanna do, for the happiness of others.  You have to listen sometimes and not talk.  You’ve gotta be compassionate.  You’ve gotta be understanding and accepting.  But most of all.  You’ve gotta make sure you have a reet proper laff!  Even through the rough times, comedy has always been there to make light of them.  And that’s what I reckon we have in common more than anything else.  A desire to have a bloody good time and not let anything get in the way of that.

Some people say life is shit.  I say life’s fookin’ AMAZING.  Its about trying to have as much fun as you can.  Nothing’s better than fun.  You might think “Love is better than fun.”  I reckon Love IS fun.  Fun, good times, happiness, its all one big Black Forest Gateaux on a Sunday evening watching the Muppets before bath time.

And if there is one thing I can say about this mini adventure with Buddhist truthfulness its this:

FUCK ME, have I had fun

x

A meeting with 2 ´Real Life Angels´

It had to happen, I guess. I mean, they say things come in three’s, right?  The Musketeers, Blind Mice, Wise Men, Amigo’s, ‘somes!

 

Should have seen it comin’, really. But, we thought that as we’d been through it once, then twice, they would realise we had nothin’ left of worth or that we hid things too well. But they didn’t think that, as it turns out. What they maybe thought was ‘Well, as they don’t seem to take the warning, lets pillage EVERYTHING they have’. And thus, they did. They came in like thieves in the night (although it was about as day-ey as you can get it) and robbed us of all and sundry. I came off the worst as usual, (that’s what you get for having best stuff), I mean, I had to put everything nice and meaningful in my bag the night before, right, instead of leaving it just hanging there, ‘there’ being the place that they didn’t take anything from. All my beautiful scarves, great collection of hats, ski wear, lovely coats, ‘mazin’ sock collection, cool shirts, jeans, yada yada yada. All gone. My co-driver lost some batteries, paperclips and some farm clobber from Worzel Gummage. Oh, don’t forget the rucksacks that we spent a day trooping ‘round London with a very bored and slightly annoying Kurd, looking for. And a big ski bag. ALL GONE……

 

So, I guess the fact that I had spent the previous 10 days being taught, among other things, to renounce all my possessions, came in slightly handy, really. I don’t think I could have been less annoyed if the pikey’s had left me a few grand to replace the stuff with, along with some photos of Romanian orphans wearing my clobber at a Disco and 20 quid in luncheon vouchers. I was still gutted though…

 

But less so than I would have been, thanks to Vipassana Meditation.

 

Now, usually, I wouldn’t hark on about something that I feel you should learn about and experience for yourselves, I mean, we all have our own paths, right? We all decide what is gonna work for us, we all take things on board at our own time when we feel we may benefit from them, or at times when we feel we need ‘something’ to get us through. And no matter what I say, the majority of you (that’s 2 out of the three who read this tripe) will process this info for a few seconds before carrying on with your pretence of work whilst actually being on Facebook for 7 out of your 8 hour days. But even if that’s how it is, remember the word Vipassana (pronounced Vipashna) and maybe look it up on Google, Wickipedia or better still go to http://www.dhamma.org and just spend a few minutes reading about it. And know this.

 

If I could ever give any of you, and many of you I love dearly, if I could ever give any of you anything, no matter the material worth or sensory pleasure it may bring, it would be this.

 

The knowledge of the practice of Vipassana Meditation.

 

For this knowledge is priceless. It is the knowledge of how to free yourselves from the mental shackles that hold you back in life. Freedom from your aversions and your cravings. Freedom from your inadequacies, from your pain and anguish. Freedom from negativity. Freedom from unhappiness. It sounds improbable, impossible even. But if you ever wanted to live a peaceful, harmonious, HAPPY life, the only way 99.99% of you would manage it, is by learning about Vipassana Meditation. None of you will, of course, cos most probably think its impossible, or more likely, that you’re alright as you are or even that you cant be bothered (the scourge of the English nation today is that its full of you who ‘Cant Be Bothered’). ‘I’ve got narcs to do that for me’ or ‘that’s what the weekends are for’ or ‘life’s not actually ‘that bad’ really’, or many of the other excuses we use (and I did it as much as y’all) to pretend that we are always happy and that things are ‘Just Dandy, ta very much’. Well, frankly, that’s BULLSHIT. I’m not preaching, just telling you, or offering you info on something that will change your lives for the better, forever. Check it out, for yourselves, not for me. I just wanted to tell you about it cos I know it’ll benefit every one of you.

 

I went on a 10 day Vipassana Retreat. It was a silent retreat. And if I can not talk for 10 days, any of you can! It was an experience that I won’t share because it’s personal, although those of you who want to know more, I will tell in the more intimate surroundings of an email. All I’ll say is that I am on the path to mental liberation, liberation from negativity and unhappiness. It’s a long path and it’s hard to push on. But once you’re on, you never get off. And I’m on it. So up yours!

 

Anyways, two days after I got back, all my shit got robbed and now I have fewer garms than the Littlest Hobo and he was a dog who didn’t wear any so you I’m sure you catch my drift.

 

But ‘Hey’, I hear you cry, ‘Sod all that crap, what’s been goin’ down on the streets o’ Barcelona since you got back, Saul John Stanley Abbott’? Well, children, I’ll give you a li’l rundown of the past week or two in the life of yours truly and the Ne’er-do-well Kid, whilst I listen to some Yiddish Swing Music on my headphones, to get me in the mood for some cheeky tale telling (check out Klezmer, it really is preety darn ace)

 

I had a very brief ‘fling’ with a Brazilian, who turned out to be totally incompatible in the sense that conversation was about as easy to come by as some pikey’s with a conscience, who after stealing your rucksack, decide that your clothes actually looked better on you after all and decide to give it back with aforementioned luncheon vouchers attached. Nice girl, not my type.

 

We moved our Trojan Horse of a House from the side of Barcelona’s busiest A road, from which for absolutely nothin’, you could have your choice of poisonous car gases, Monoxide being my personal favourite, to coat your evening meal (and the inside of your lungs, sort of a buy one get one free deal) to probably the most peaceful place within the city’s walls, Parc Guell. And check this. Parc Guell has a toilet! In fact, it has two toilets. So, we now had our choice of doing poopseys in either a normal toilet, with facilities to cleanse ones hands after, and dry them even, if that’s to your taste, FOR FREE, or to do so in a potty. And that’s not some witty description of a toilet that I mustered up from my hilarity containing brain bit, that’s actually what it is. A potty.

 

Many of you probably don’t remember what it is to do a woo in a potty. I won’t explain, I’ll leave it to your imagination. If you need help, just think of the ugliest creature you can , sat staring at your bum for ages, sneering as it does so. For 30 cents a pop.

 

I use the former. I used to use the latter. Nuff said.

 

Parc Guell is in a part of town called Gracia within which one of my new greatest friends, Marta Calvo Bafooeyooey, lives. Gracia is probably the East London equivalent of Barcelona. It’s not similar, but that’s probably the only description I can use to help you understand what it might be like. It’s where the ‘Cool’ people live, supposedly. To get to our trusty steed, we have to walk up 3 Everest’s and so although my shorts are 47 inches too big ‘round the waste due to my new svelte figure and so tend to fall down at the slightest waft of a breeze, they suddenly stop at my thighs due to their Canadian Redwood impressions. They’re like Russ Abbot in a fat suit.

 

I’ve been lucky enough, due to the amount of great people I have met here, to see many parts of Barcelona that most ‘tourists’ (of which I am one, I guess) would never see. For example, there’s Mr B, who lives in Poblenou. Now, Poblenou is probably your Clapham of Barcelona (sorry Poblenou). It has loads of street café’s, is full of young thirysomethings pushing prams and looks pretty respectable, albeit, it doesn’t have a load of wanky tossers, so its not exactly the same!! I like this area, there’s a street culture going on and it’s nice to be a part of. Then, there’s where we were parked up for a week or two, Forum. It has some amazing newly landscaped parks, is right next to the sea and is full of basketball courts, open-air table tennis and Magnums for a Euro 60! Probably a li’l Canary Wharf like in appearance, due to its high-rise swanky flats and dudes wearing tailored shorts! But if you wanna mix it up with the b-ball massive, Ally-oop your way down there.

 

The party capital of Barca is no doubt, Raval. It looks a lot more like East London than Gracia, what with dog crappola, dodgy dealers and the general stench of sewage and has quite a few wicked bars and a couple of awful but at the same time awesome clubs. Many a night out has been had here, many pigeon Spanglish conversations undertaken and many numbers begotten. Its off The Rambla, the World’s worst best-known street/road, on which you can buy a duckling for a few euros, an Eagle in a cage for a few more or have your arse felt up by one of the many Nigerian Ho’s (is it Ho’s or Who’s? If it’s Whore, surely its Who? But that sounds wrong, right? Doctor Who or Doctor Ho? How about ‘ho’s? That’s it, I reckon, ‘ho. I never got that abbreviation), that’s Nigerian ‘ho’s, who if you’re not careful, will take advantage of a wayward glance in order to accompany you to wherever you’re heading, however far, balls in one hand, wallet in the other. Think of it as another type of hand relief, their hand relieving you of your wallet. They… Are… Militant.

 

This week, i’m gonna check out a place called Sants. It’s the other ‘Cool’ place, full of Squats, Raves of an illegal nature and more street café’s. Sounds Anarchic, in a café latte sort of way. Right up my strasse.

 

Digressing, let’s get back to Marta Calvo Bafooeyooey, newly, this second, crowned Marta Calvo Hong Kong Phooey. Me and the Ne’er-do-well kid met her on our last trip to Barca, with her friend Belen and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Belen, we’ve only seen once since our recent arrival. Marta, we see as much as we can. If ever there was anyone I would want to stash away in a box (one with holes to enable breathing and maybe a mini bathroom for ones relief, I’m yet a serial killer, this isn’t the sequel to Boxing Helena) and take with me wherever I go, its Marta Calvo Hong Kong Phooey. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a small number of Angels in my time and I would like to add Marta to that list. As well as being one of the funniest, caring, generous, whacky and downright fun inducing people I have ever met, Marta has given us the keys to her ‘WICKED’ flat for the weekend whilst being away (in which washing of all things was undertaken, lazin’ around made the most of and sleep, massively necessarily caught up on), introduced us to the best Shwarma kebab I’ve ever had and taken us to a lovely beach outside of Barca, the journey of which included Marta Calvo Hong Kong Phooey abandoning myself and the BFG on the platform so she could have an hour’s peace and a sneaky salad before we caught up on her and had some clean sea water frolics. The clean sea water fun was necessary due to the fact that Barca’s sea water is about as clean as the pants of a traveller who lives in a big tin box and who’s said pants must be peeled off by his companion before he gets into his cheese stenched sleeping bag for a night of slippery sweaty sleep. She also helped us to gauge on the worst Pizza any of us had ever had (an 84 cheese beast) and tried to feed me Boqueronies or something of a similar sound, which is basically little raw fish, marinated in piss before being drizzled with pigeon puss. She makes a blinding Gazpacho though…

 

I also met another Angel. And seriously, i’m not being flippant with my use of the word, for I know that truly, there are very few people in the World deserving of such a description, but truthfully, I really did meet another. Her name is Anh Thu. No, you don’t say it like that, you say it like this, Anh Thu (in a chinesey sounding way!) A Vietnamese Princess, who’s Angelic ness is expressed through both her outer and inner beauty. Myself and my co-traveller met Anh Thu and the heartbroken Deborah at a 42nd birthday party of a sort of friend, sort of failed romance attempt of Ne’er-do-wells. 2 days later, the heartbroken Deborah went back to Paris, leaving her friend in Barcelona, alone and wingless and so it was surely my duty to make sure this Angel spent as li’l time alone on the streets of Barca as possible. And so a non-physical, very soulful relationship was undertaken as I spent almost every waking, non-working hour of Anh Thu’s accompanying her through Barca’s many different site’s and crap restaurants. I even managed to couch surf on her hotel room sofa, for only TEN EURO’S (I’ll soon report her to couch surfing for extortion and going against the ethos of sharing one’s roof with a stranger for free). As one would expect from a heavenly being, conversation was deep, meaningful, easy and fun, and every minute was a joy. And thus, as explained in my last mutterings on these ‘ere pages, goodbye was sadder than a memorial of a faded pop icon who’s best years were 20 years behind him but still commanded Facebook updates of grown men saying ‘I’m crying, this is soooo sad’. Yep, even sadder than that! However, I feel that, again, I have been blessed in meeting this person and something yells at me from my innards, sounding something like the words ‘You’ll meet again, someday’. Maybe in a greater capacity than the original one, maybe not, but a piece of my heart is now in Hong Kong.

 

Wo shi ying guo ren, as I might say in Mandarin.

As living in a 24 hour city and being a social panther are the basis’ of the life of Mr S Abbott right now, I’m still reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and so have no reviews of said scriptures as yet. But, be patient, mine eyes have been wandering much and so next time, I’ll tell you how bloody great one of them is whilst telling you how I am no further through t’other due to its voluminous size and thought provoking philosophy.

 

I attended Montjuic festival recently, a musicy thang, where my cohort, once again, nuzzled up against the breast of a lady, only to have since nuzzled up against so many other breasts of other ladies that this nuzzle seems to have been one of a temporary nature and not pursued further than the feeding of some ‘Ace’ fish and chips from Barcelona’s only and damn fine Fish and Chip shop (East London run, of course) and a stroke on the beach. And that aint a metaphor. I saw the most amazing display of fountain trickery ever witnessed by mine eyes balls at said festival (photo’s on Facebook for those able to peruse) and had the longest walk home of anyone since that bloke who took a drunken’ wrong turn in Sidney and ended up in Dudley.

 

I also attended a flea market, where not only did we manage to sneakily set ourselves up in a corner to sell the most random assortment of items since Steptoe and Son (of which we surely resembled due to our unkempt hair and ungodly stench), but a snowboard was sold to an un-suspecting Catalan who had never seen snow but was talked into the purchase due to my old friend telling her that he was a weatherman and Barca was due a huge blizzard of biblical proportions within the next fortnight and the only way she would be able to feed her baby was by ‘boarding to the local Lidl whilst all around her shovelled in vain to keep the snow from pluggin up their breathe holes. For 20 bucks!! I also met Nadine, a sort of Bronx-ian, super fine, who’s company I would spend two days wallowing in, only for her to stitch me up at the last at an outdoor screening, against a castle wall, of In Bruges, proceeded by an Indo-Jazz Fusion band and me, sat alone, eating a wonderfully assembled picnic for two, looking like Billy No Mates’ ugly kid brother. Not a bad film though, weak script but anything with Brendan Gleeson in is alright in my book. 20 euros that picnic cost. Freekin’ fugazey…

 

I’ve also attended a house party, which I was invited to by an Italian male version of Deirdre Barlow and at which I got so drunk, I asked an acquaintance if the very large girl bounding towards us was his wife or girlfriend, in mocking tone, only to be told ‘No, its my sister’ and at which I also lost the power of speech, voluntary movement and consciousness.

 

I attended Nasty Mondays, a rock night, where I met more hotties but was too drunk to do anything but fall over onto them, shouting as I went down ‘I’m actually an alright bloke really’, (snot on face, drool on them), went to a funk night that wasn’t bad and went to another funk night, hosted by the leg end that is Keb Darge, who proceeded to play the Hill-Billy shit that these freaks in Barca prefer to his usual funk fuelled titty twisters. Basically, I’ve partied, partied, partied, met many cool peeps, a few alright ones and some Angels. I reckon that’s a job well done.

 

And thus, it’s soon to be over as I leave Barcelona for pastures new and tales of an altogether fresh and different nature, one which will be more lonesome but probably as fulfilling and exciting as those that have gone before and about as mundane to read about as the last 7 months’ adventures.

 

But I urge you, there will yet be one more blog of similar nature, as tales of ‘Real Life’ bumper cars, a gig involving a man whose surname is Scott-Heron and a shocking farewell take place. 

 

It’ll be the last of its kind and one you wont want to miss out on………

 

Bit like me really

 

Party on, dudes… 

A´aaall bound for Barça Land, ancients of……

Ever seen a moth bigger than a massive bar of chocolate?  I have

Ever seen a beetle as big as a cricket ball?  I have

Ever seen a toad as big as your face?  I have

Ever had a threesome with a dwarf and someone in a gorilla suit?  I have……

The first three all occurred on WWOOF Farm number 3.  The last one was a crazed night on Madge and ‘arold which I’d rather forget but haunts me on a tri-annually basis….. for some reason.

Farm number three was dealt with some time ago and our journey has continued at a pace faster than Norman Pace from Britain’s favourite comedians Hale & Pace.  In fact, its gone at such a pace that I haven’t been able to keep up and so this blog is about 6 weeks behind the times.  But hey, “it’s not all work, work, work”!

So, twas my birthday at Fargassa and I had some bleedin´ phone calls, didn’t I?!  Fantastic they were, too, how humbling to think that I´m thought of by people at that special time of year.  Reminds me of a saying my Nan used to have…

I was made a dinner of my fave variety, including fake meatballs, anti-meat lasagne and a massive cake made of cheese from New York.  I also had a special birthday chair, decorated with beautiful flowers and other natural oddities, although the tree snake was a tad too much, me thinks.  Add some wine, a mental night rock climb to the edge of an abyss with my fellow WWOOFers and a swim in the local river at 4 in the a.m, pitch black, freezing cold and mildly Jo Mangled and all in all, a wicked 32nd was had.  Next year I wanna be 26.

A few days later, we had a party in my honour and everyone from the other WWOOF farm up t´ road came down and we had a right royal knees up.  Some dudes managed to smoke 16 joints in one night.  They were proud, bless ´em!  I managed to drink 16 times my own body weight in Gin, Vodka, Rum, Beer and River Water.  I didn’t think the river had any alcohol content, but the next day it was measured and since I was in it, it’s been bottled and is now France’s second best selling alcoholic beverage behind Lemon Hooch!  What are the chances of that ´appening, eh?!

And that was pretty much it from Fargassa.  Apart from some genius work from yours truly in the form of managing to irrigate a vegetable garden using 150 metres of black piping going up-hill, a river flowing down-hill and the love from The Universal Law of Nature (I’ll tell you about that later).  Amazing.  Although, the threat of 25 lashes was hanging in the air if it didn’t get done.  Bit like The Passion of The Christ really, without the tall skinny dude 

And just before we left, we had a go on the most amazing natural water slide I´ve ever been on (cos I got to go on loads in Bethnal Green).  We had to climb a sheer rock face (it was as twittery as my bottom has ever been), swim in ice-cold, Man-Eating Water Boatmen infested waters and climb down Glass-smooth rock faces with 40 foot drops onto jagged rocks below (I think I spotted some Alligators splashing around too) to get to the slide.  But boy was it worth it!  A 15 foot slide into relatively unknown territory 20 foot below!  I´ve heard that girls like guys with skills.  The word DALGLISH springs to mind.

Heck yeah.

 

And then we left, with Gregory Puncher and Astrid Mejia in full escape regalia, hiding in Bruce’s illegal-immigrant hiding spot, as we two wheeled down the road, breaking out of the shackles of WWOOF France forever and to the coast where a boat was supposed to be waiting for us to take us to a Pacific Island and a life on the run.  Instead, we managed to land back in Argeles Sur Mer, where we’d been just before we left for Fargassa.  It took me hours to calm my companion down cos he thought we were on our way back to Fargassa for another 3 week Mountain Moving trial, courtesy of déjà vu.  “No”, I said, “We’ve just come back to Argeles so we can stay in a Car Park tonight, without a toilet for 1 and a half K´s, just to get used to being bum’s again”.  The he tried to half inch the keys from me and when I asked him what he thought he was doing he said that he’d left some recently trimmed toe nails in the chickens food bin back at Fargassa and he didn’t want to think he might be responsible for them chocking to death and so he was gonna go back and besides, 8 hours of massively-piss-taking-chain-gang style rock-digging didn’t seem to be such a bad way to pass the 85 degree days after all.  Plus, there was all the lettuce you could eat and the slime from the slugs within which contained some amount of protein that got you through til the pretend 4 o’clock tea that never seemed to materialise.  “Calm down”, I told him, “Bowel control is a case of mind over matter”.  The next morning, I was up at 5, pegging it through the streets of this quaint sea-side town looking for anything that might resemble a hole to hover above, hands gripped firmly to my buttocks, sweat gushing from every pore, face bursting with the fear of God, naked but for a pair of off-pink, previous-white-but-washed-with-a-pair-of-new-red-leg-warmers boxers, like a very young and devilishly ´ansome Dick Van Dyke, legs a-splaying, elbows duckin´ and a weavin´, praying to the good lord Mary Poppins to come save me.  She didn’t.   But I still fancy her anyway.  And I made it…….. sort of……

It was with very heavy hearts that we said goodbye to our co-travellers Greg and Astrid, the epitome of two people in MASSIVE Love but as we are experiencing on this journey, many goodbyes are hard, really really hard.  Which leads me to massive philosophy number 11!!  Although saying goodbye to people can be really sad, difficult and a li´l tear inducing, it says everything about your experience with those people being HUGELY positive and love inducing and so I guess you can say, the harder the goodbye, the better the friends you have just made and so goodbye doesn’t ever have to be goodbye, just ´See ya later´… (meaning you will see them later, not being a commoners way of saying goodbye, as in ´goodbye, I’ll never see you again´…)!  You get me, right?  And really, there are at least half a dozen people I have met on this trip that have made the goodbye very difficult and so that’s half a dozen new friends I have made and so I’m all the better for it.

And of those that I may never see again from the last farm, Chetan was indeed the most heart wrenching of the goodbyes.  A comedy genius, a beautiful person, a man of zero ego and huge heart who I and the BFG fully still miss to this day.  When digging into mountainous rock in blistering heat started to feel like ´real´ work, he’d be on hand to either produce a wonderful quip or philosophical debate which made you realise that actually, this is bloody great and we could be doing something awful like working in an office and getting paid a fortune or being a famous musician and having women throwing themselves at you (is that an indication of the things I think are most important in life?!!)  Seriously, he was a legend and if our paths again should cross, a smile broader than Sam Fox’s Bristol Barrelled chest would spread across my Chevy Chase!!

Ace of Base…

 

Oh, quick book check, I’m currently reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, in preparation for my Meditation Retreat (www.dhamma.org for info), as well as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  I haven’t finished either so can’t update you on them, but will in due course.  Suffice to say The Tibetan Book… is as helpful as a hot bottom to a rear of the year contestant and Uncle Tom’s… is about as well written as a Charlie Brooker piece.  That’s all I can tell ya, soz 

So, our journey continued along the coastal road of the Costa Brava and what an amazing drive it was.  In 3 days, we took in the towns of Roses, Tamariu and Tossa de Mar, the last two being two of the most romantic places I have ever set foot and so I shared a couple of romantic walks with my very masculine male body building colleague, checking out more lovers loving and wondering why I´ve always passed up the chance of true love for a life of longing for true love!  Seriously, by day, Tossa de Mar is maybe a li´l like what it sounds like but by night, JEEEEEEZ, if it doesn’t make you wanna get on bended knee and say “I s´pose I better do the decent thing and marry ya then, aint I” then I don’t know where does.

 

But Barça was where our itchy feet were longing for and Barça it was that we arrived in soon after, albeit sitting in traffic for pretty much most of the 8 hour journey, the first traffic we’ve encountered since we left blighty 5 months previous.  After much midnight driving, going up and down the same roads, looking for somewhere to park our rusty steed, we settled on a spot and quickly turned in for the night.  About 6 hours later, we awoke to what could be described as some heavy machinery making much noise but what I would like to describe as a Spanish Bastard trying to drive his JCB up my arse, whilst his mates punch me repeatedly in the eardrums with giant sized comedy boxing gloves made of iron.  We had inadvertently parked next to a building sight.  Still, not to be put off, we headed to the beach, leaving Bruce in full splendour on the streets of Barça.  I wanna point out here that it is customary when one is driving such a vehicle, that every two days, you move said beast to a new parking spot so as not to piss off the local five-0.  So it was, that on day two, as we were heading back to our beloved hermaphrodite, preparing to move the cheeky bugger, that we noticed something rather disturbing and wholly new to our lives as seasoned bums.  “Something strange is afoot at the Circle K”, we uttered.  Which was strange cos there are no Circle K´s in Spain.  And as if by magic, the back door of our beautiful wagon was wide open, rear curtain enjoying a rather novel dance in the evening breeze.  “Shit”.   I said.  “Shit”.  My esteemed companion did… sorry, said.  And so it was that we found all the contents of our home turned upside down, no doubt by dirty little fingers and good for nothing minds and started the process of seeing what was missing.  And as it turns out, the thieves seemed to have rather good taste for a bunch of FUCKING PIKEY GYPO´S.  All that was missing was a very cool and favourite jacket of mine and some of my D&G smells.  I loved that jacket…

And wow, what a place we chose to park in.  Many conversations with locals since have revealed that Besos de Mar is in fact the pikyest place one could ever choose to leave all of their prized assets, un-secured.  It used to be the main Gypo area of Barça until it was all knocked down to try to eradicate the filthy buggers.  However, like a good mouse, they managed to find another way in and before long, they had all taken up residence in each others toilet bowls.  Great government plan, kick out all the ruffians, knock down their flea infested pits, build some swanky tower blocks that remain empty and mock the said pikeys with what they’ll never be able to afford.  Still, it’s not like Bruce is the Abu Dhabi of motor homes.  More like the Alf Garnett, without the racist undertones.

And I guess that was a lesson that we never quite took heed of, as less than a week and some stringently updated security manoeuvres by us later, we were taken in every orifice again, returning to find more filthy fingers had rummaged through our bags but this time had taken nothing.  ´ow come they got nuffink´, I hear you say in mock-Eastenders wonder.  Well, you see, we are smarter than the average bear, myself and my travel companion.  We have found a li´l safe in our hot box that no thieving tyke will ever find.  We also take most of our important stuff with us whenever we leave.  Smart, huh?!!

Anyways, we assumed that as they had nothing to take, they would leave us alone and that they did.  Plus, my travel goliath paid for us to spend a night in some secure compound frequented by normal motor home holidayers.  They even had hot showers.  Very hot showers.  In fact, I have an all over body scar, thanks to just how hot these showers were.  HELLO, THIS IS SPAIN, ITS HOT E-FUCKIN-NOUGH, ya get me?  Do they assume we’re all sweaty travellers who don’t wash for days on end and so need boiling water to burn off the scum that covers our festering bacterial bodies…? 

 

Apart from these unfortunate turn of events, Barcelona is pretty damn nice, even if it does smell of fresh Great Dane faeces almost everywhere.  I have a few friends here, two fantastic Catalans, who are of the greatest comedy value of any ladies I have ever met and a Brazilian, who is also super nice and lets me use her shower on the odd occasion, as well as showing me her friends and a good time to boot!  Our first week was spent with two WWOOFers from the last farm, Roland and Raphy, two of the tallest and un-teenager looking Dutch teenage geezers you’ll probably ever meet (thought I doubt you will).  And here again, were two of those people that when we eventually had to say goodbye to, it was a sadness of gargantuan proportions that filled our dark, throbbing hearts, although I was spared the tearful final wave as I was being entertained by said Brazilian, but in spirit, I was bawling!  We had some pretty royal nights out with these guys and especially for two people almost half of my age, they were absolute leg ends of the highest order.  The most mature two teenagers I have EVER met, made me realise what a twat I was when I was their age.  Seriously, there was absolutely no time when it became apparent that we weren’t of the same era.  Brilliant guys, I still miss them greatly.

But no sooner had they disappeared, then a giant English Crabb appeared in our beloved vehicle, going by the name of Paul Jonathan.  There’s nothing better than a friendly face appearing on the horizon when you’re travelling and as this friendly face was one that I’d seen many times over the last 13 years, I knew we were in for a treats.

Treat 1)  Watching said Crabb fall asleep in a nightclub, sitting bolt upright.

Treat 2)  Watching said Crabb go from milk bottle white to red milk bottle red in 24 hours due to the big yellow sun that frequents our Spanish skies

Treat 3)  Watching the Crabb brighten up our weekend with japes and crazy capers.  I like Crabbs.  Tastes like shit though

We also made another friend here, although he is kinda borrowed from a family member.  Mr B, with his amazing theories on everything from lesbians to Nazi’s (there is no link there, don’t bother looking for one), is a source of great amusement as well as being a source of women for which my cohort is most thankful for, or soon will be if he gets his filthy li´l way.  Anyway, after accompanying us on a few nights out, along with Marta Calvo and Belen, the greatest Catalans ever conceived, which, within one, my co-traveller decided to find solace and 40 winks on the sofa of one of the loudest clubs in history, then pretending, when the bouncer moved in on him, to be stretching and looking for some lost coins from his very deep pockets, Mr B has gained legendary status.

And so, after a sad ´Crabb´ goodbye later, it was back to being a non-sexual male couple with my cohort and nothing to look forward to but daily swims in the med, topping up an already awesome tan on the golden sands, meetings with scantily clad beautiful ladies, with which this city has more than its fair share, in fact, more than any other city I’ve ever visited and living on the side of THE busiest non-motorway road in Earths history.

Who said travelling was easy……

Ciao, bellas

Care Bear World

Any of you ever egg sucked? Like, made a hole in an egg shell and sucked the innards out of it? No? Good. Don’t ever do it.

We’ve arrived at Farm Number 3. And it’s different…. I’ll tell ya why, but first, I’m gonna tell you about some other things that I’ve been up to.

Our last night at Lucy’s farm was spent on the beautifully upholstered and not mouldy in any way at all, mattresses of Bruce. After 2 weeks in semi-comfortable, if only single beds, at Aveyron Retreat, it was back to an hour and a half’s solid sleeping before waking up 38 times during the night in our External Temperature Mocking, 4 wheeled Housing Utilising, Nutella Wielding, Mascu-Warrior of a Motor home. Wasn’t all that really. Rather have slept up a horses arse.

But, it had to be gotten used to and as the sun shone on the day of our departure, I couldn’t grumble at having a worse nights’ sleep than an insomniac Princess with a pea under her 94 Silent Night mattresses. So, it was back onto the road, under the sound driving skills of ‘mon ami’. Well, sort of sound. I mean, if sound is driving into someone’s building and almost taking the roof off as you wave Adios, then I guess that’s kinda sound. I don’t think it’s a good way to pull out of a person’s farm who has fed and housed you and only let you work 20 hours a week at her amazing rural retreat, to start a 7 hour road trip, but hey, that’s just me! However, the next 7 hours flew by and within no time we were in Perpignan, South East France and heading towards a few days on the beach, in the lush Mediterranean sunshine….. and a force 9 gale. But hey, you can’t have it all right; I mean you wouldn’t expect it to be really hot in South of France, on the Med, would ya? Of course the winds gonna blow and be a MASSIVE PAIN IN THE ARSE… Good job before we got there, we went out in Perpignan for a Satdee night on the Razzle McDaz, huh? It felt pretty weird sleeping on a residential street after farmland paradise but it had to be done and so did going out and getting massively Joe Mangled, so we did, although it took us 2 hours of walking the streets before we found a bar, which probably explains the 8 Pastis we necked before finding a shit club. But check this out for a fortunate turn of events. Me and the Dual Eyed Cyclops were queuing to get into the only club in town and obviously upon hearing our awful French accents, the bouncer decided not to let us in. Though, he didn’t tell us this, he just thought it’d be ace to keep us standing at the front for aeons whilst letting anyone not English strut straight in. So after 4 hours of standing there, I asked him if we were getting in and he said ‘Non’. Not much detective work went on before I put 2 and 2 together and came up with a Fat French Git. So we asked if it was cos we were from a country that built its pride and power on raping and pillaging defenceless nations and he gave a Gallic shrug, which I assumed meant yes, and that was that. But then, as we prepared to depart, something stirred the Bulldog spirit in my loins and I called the fat git a racist. And lo and behold, as we slunk off, dejected, pissed and basically hating everything and everyone French, he called us back and let us in. CHECK THAT!!! A morally conscious bouncer, realising his discriminate ways and immediately retrieving some form of ethics from his massively hate filled bonce! We were so relieved, we even thanked him on the way out. Which probably sounded something like ‘Shlankoo Meeeaayte’, owing to how many triple shots of ghastly flavoured rum I’d had thrown at me by my cohort. And usually, after such a ridiculous session, I’d go home and climb into bed, wondering whether the good lord would see fit to let me pass out before a bile cocktail in the form of day-glo kebab meat would present itself, but, on this particular evening, I decided to go for a walk to clear the booze from my brain. Thus, I woke up several hours later outside the front door of a church, with a massive brainache and no idea who I was, let alone why I was looking up at Gods’ newly erected double-glazed French windows. I guess I thought it was as safe a place as any to collapse and get some shut eye before a Sunday morning throng of Gallic Mass Murderers rejoiced their garlic breath to the heavens! Needless to say, the stumble back to Bruce took some time, seeing as I had no idea where I or He was! It was a pretty epic hangover…

Which made me realise something (Surprise Surprise, its Cilla ‘ere). I have become so damned healthy since farming, what with eating right royal tucker of vegetarian stylees an’ all that, that any alcohol that passes my lips strips all moisture from my brain and leaves me feeling like a right bastard the next a.m. I’m actually considering never going out on a bender ever again. And the other night, at the new Slavery Centre, we all had a right jolly party (actually, it was crapola personified, but it was an excuse to down massive quantities of rubbish beer) and the next day, after carrying it on in Bruce ’til the sun came up with a couple of fellow ‘Last Ones Standing’, I thought my brain was trying to escape my skull by growing 48x’s its usual size and talking my guts into joining the mutiny! Hung-over? More like Hung, Drawn and Quartered…….over. So I’m straight up feeling that my boozy binge nights are over. Made me realise the terrible stuff all that alkeyhole must be doing in that there body to make you feel so pants. So, apart from the odd glass of Rouge, an Aperitif and maybe a Cointreu here and there, in my current mind set, and this isn’t some kind of legally-binding statement by the way, but seriously, I think I’m done with it all………!

Anyways, from Perpignon, we decided that, as we had a few days to kill before the credits of ‘Modern Day Slavery III – A New Kind of Slavery’ rolled, it was to the beach at Argeles Sur Mer that we headed, for some sun, sea and sardines from Lidl for dinner every night. And a pretty li’l place be it. Apart from on Bank Holiday Weekend in France, when all the pikeys come out to pick pocket the rich, unassuming folk!! Nah, it was alright, a big market, selling loadsa crap. Unfortunately, bit like most markets, these days. But after Sunday, it was pleasant, the sun shone, men played Boulles and the March Wind decided to hang around for an extra month and destroy all hopes one may have had of retaining 20-20 vision for the next few years as the sand, not for the first time this year, peppered mine eyesballs so that I saw everything like a wasp might, whilst looking through a tea bag at a pair of fish nets. But I managed to swim in the Med everyday, albeit for about 30 seconds at a time as boy, il fait froid! The Pyrenees, the Worlds oldest mountain range I was told, although I think the Himalayas may have something to say about that one, starts its life in the Med, a few hundred metres from Argeles, which is an amazing sight cos you see it rise from the sea and spread into the distance to the South, and as there is a marina in Argeles, you see the tops disappear into the clouds through a sea of masts. During sunset, it was a pretty amazing sight, especially as the highest mountain in the Pyrenees, (?) is also in sight, with its snow capped summit. Another truly memorable sight the World gives us for free and that I will never forget. When the clouds shield the mountain tops, that are fully laden with vegetation, its like a scene from Jurassic Park, proper ‘ansome! And just to top off this li’l stay, there was a beach-side exhibition by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, he of ‘Earth from the Air’ fame, a grand exhibition for those not accustomed. Anyway, his new one, another great photographic treat, shows various ‘creatures’ whose Lives and habitats we are destroying, as well as lots of wee facts about how crap we are and how much we clearly hate the planet we call home. Very visually impressive, if nothing massively new and the facts I felt like I’d heard many times previous, but worth a ganders nonetheless.

Books? Well, as I’ve been working all the hours the good lord sends, I’ve been a li’l confined to how much I can read, but as mentioned previously, The One Straw Revolution by M Fakuoka is a must for anyone who cares about what morsels they put inside themselves as well as introducing you to a new way of farming, or even small scale crop growing (although I’m not sure how easy it’d be to transfer the philosophy to a concrete back yard in Gwent). This book really struck a chord with me and I urge anyone to read it, farmer or 37th floor high rise dweller, just because it will urge you to reconsider putting all the cancer causing crap that you put into your bodies that disguises itself as food. I also read some of a book on Permaculture, the next big thing in garden, farm or general landscape planning, although its not new, its been around since the dawn that time forgot, we just sneered at it a few decades ago when we thought chemicals were ace and nature was a Steps Tribute Band. For those that don’t know, Permaculture, in a very short summation, is the harmonious integration between land and people. Its broken down into 4 components, these being Site, Energy, Abstract and Social, and if you want a better description, look it up cos this is already turning into a theses and its probably home time for you soon as I’m sure you’ve been reading since that 4th coffee that was meant to get you ’til lunch, this morning. Still, if you haven’t been sacked or at least given a warning, a small ‘thanks’ for getting you through another whack day at the office will suffice. And also, I read a li’l of a book called ‘Humanure’, about composting your own faeces and using it to grow your crops with. Sounds nasty, but is massively eye opening and once again, its completely fucked how we have become so far removed from something that we produce daily and that could help us fertilize our land and put food in peoples mouths. All you need is a 5 gallon drum, a toilet a few yards above it and some sawdust to kill the smell and hey presto, your food may taste like shit but it’ll be reet proper grand for ya! The author has been composting his and his family’s bowel burgers for 22 years and using it to grow carrots and whatnot and he’s alright so it must work. Seriously, any house I ever buy is gonna have one installed. It also cuts down on the need for sewage treatment. Did you know that the water in your toilet bowl is actually drinking water? What a waste, huh? All those without proper drinking water round the world and we use ours for putting crap into so it can have the crap taken out at a treatment plant and put back into our taps, bogs, etc. We truly are the most disgusting species that ever breathed our planets oxygen. Plus, the amount of Chlorine that it takes to kill all that bacteria at the treatment plant is not a natural substance and therefore is poisoning our planet at the same time. Get some sawdust and crap in a bucket, folks.

And the last novel I put down my eye holes and into my sub-conscious was a li’l beauty by that cheeky Brazilian chappy Paolo Coelho called ‘By the River Piedra I Knelt Down and Wept’. Its about that massively huge pain in the arse emotion we so masochistically spend our whole lives looking for only for it to one day reach into our chests and extract itself, in an eye burningly painful manner; L O V E. And its also about the possibility of the Virgin Mary being God or something but that bit was slightly lost on my Dawkins-esc brain! It was actually a pretty standard story dresses up to look like a dressed up-standard story but anything about love these days strikes a chord with me for some reason so I suggest you check it out, even as just to use as a yardstick for how you feel about your loved one (resulting divorces/extra-marital affairs/domestic violence resulting in the reading of such material is something I take no responsibility for, although in a court of law I’d surely be found guilty and hung by the heart strings!)

So, we’re at the new farm. And hells bells, if its not full of the craziest horse’s in the form of other WWOOFers, then I don’t know where is! As my esteemed colleague has so nail on the head-ingly put it, we’ve landed in Care Bear World. Its like these people are afraid of themselves. Either that or they’re FULLY MENTAL!!!! Or I have a constant bogey on my cheek and they’re all embarrassed to look at me. But I don’t think its that. Seriously tho, its got me to thinking that although WWOOF is a great organisation that gives you opportunities to experience new ways of living and to learn some very valuable new skills, some of the people that go to work on these farms do seem that society is a bit much for them to cope with and so they head to these places to escape life’s, sometimes necessary, evils. AND THEY’VE ALL COME HERE AT THE SAME TIME!!! However, also joining us on our first day were a couple in the form of Greg and Astrid and boy, are these two in Love or what? Its so beautiful to see, I want some!! And they’re cool as two liquid nitrogen-ised cucumbers. So, our stay wont be too bad if we can kick it with them for a while and they’re leaving at about the same time as us, so we’ve struck gold.

Its another small holding, rather than a farm, which I think suits us a lot more cos there’s a huge diversity of work to be done. For example, this week, my Garden Design and Building skills have come in mahoosively handy, as I designed and built a li’l retreat garden, using my brain and hands. It looks ace too, as you’ll see from the photo’s I’ll try and upload on here one day. Plus, me and the human lifting machine are in the process of building a huge dry stone wall. We have heaps of fun searching the surrounding area for boulders, rolling them up hills and down rushing Glens, wetting ourselves at how slave-like this work really is. I’m gonna ask for some shackles and chains tomorrow, get in the spirit an’ all that.

But the food is excellent, veggie as always, cooked by a New Yorkian chef, no less, but he’s away soon so we’ll all take turns and the fear of God is in the BFG!!!

The surrounding area is amazing, the most beautiful I’ve encountered whilst WWOOFing yet and I helped out at a local market the other day too, setting up and…… sitting there doing nothing for hours cos I wasn’t allowed to sell anything cos the Care Bear Leader said so. Take it from me, she needed the help of a course sounding mockney. Timid? As a mute mouse. Anyway, there’s loadsa land here and stuff, a river running through the whole place and some more animals. So, its Hi-Di-Hi from me, I’ll write you soon, I promise. And send all birthday wishes telepathically or by phone at a number I’ll give you soon.

Oh, one more thing, met Jazzman Gerald at the last farm, owner of Jazzman Records, one of my favourite music sites on the web. He’s thoroughly decent but his website is better!!! Check it out, http://www.jazzmanrecords.co.uk

It rocks.

Uncle Tom!

Visiting Hours are Over, Mr Abbott

So, we left Rainbows End and Rosalind. And the Americans, looking as though they were about to spend a couple of weeks in total isolation, eating dinner at midnight and listening to the same drunken tales over and over again, trying their darnest to look even the slightest bit interested in a story of how someone once said something to someone, which, in fairness to them, is exactly what was going to happen. We headed straight to Carcassonne airport and picked up a delightful Lebanese lass, who was waiting for us to show her the best the South of France has to offer……. poor girl. The first port of call was Super Ed’s 100% discount store, for 2 hours of budget shopping at its most budget! Imagine Iceland, strip down all the glitz and glamour and then poo on it and you have Super Ed’s!! Actually, you can get some right lush bangers in there… and some dogs cheese…

 

After showing her the best time in a crap supermarket that she’d probably ever had, the following series of events ensued. RAIN. RAIN. RAIN. RAIN. RA…. You get it? The only time since we’ve been in France that Arc building skills would have come in handy. Then, the day before her departure, we thought we’d try out a beach in the town of Narbonne, South of France. And, hey presto, no rain whatsoever. Just a 469 mile an hour gale, peppering my eyes balls with sand, sea shells and driftwood. However, if you want a great exfoliant, go to a windy beach, I came off it looking 12 years old albeit it one with lumps of turtle and crabs in my hair. And just to top it all off, the day that she had to fly home, 28 degrees, pure sunshine and not a breeze to speak of. So me and my fellow biped went back to Carcassonne and sunbathed on the banks of the local river and got tanned up to the max-i-mother. Life, eh? Still, in between that, we had a night on the Razzle McDazzle in Carcassonne, got hammered on Pastis (a digestive, I should point out, which is another mistake I learned not to repeat as in the morrow, bowls needed a respite and facilities weren’t numerate…. the fool I am), went to a club, most of which in France tend to be free to get into, probably because the lack of a) people and b) decent music of any description, went to an 800 year old historic town, woke up at quarter to 8 to leave so as not to pay the 5 euro parking charge, drove 1 minute up the road, parked in a lay-by, then slept for another 5 and a half hours whilst tree’s fell down all around us, went to a market and spent 10 euros on 5 saucisson, a great deal one thunked, until I saw the same saucisson in a supermarket, 5 for 7 euros 50 (and they’re crap) and stayed in a Butlins style holiday camp, hiding our guest in Bruce’s Penthouse so as to avoid the extra 5 euro charge for her. All in all, a pretty eventful visit, considering the rest of the time we sat in Bruce, our guest learning to play Cockles and Muscles on the mouth harp, FOR 9 STRAIGHT HOURS!!! Oh yeah, and we went swimming in a local baths. Well, all but me went actually, as in France you’re not aloud to wear shorts in swimming pools and long hair is frowned upon, so whilst I showered, the BFG entered the pool wearing what amounted to a pair of borrowed hot pants from the back office and a swimming hat that looked like an old school blue rinse. He loved the tightness of everything against his svelte figure. I pissed myself laughing for half an hour in the shower. The best 2 and half euros i’ve ever wasted!!!

 

So, I’m on the farm (www.aveyronretreat.co.uk), I’ve done my 9-1 shift and so finished for the day (how good is that, and weekends off too!) finished lunch and our host has just given us our first Alexander Technique lesson (named after the founder Frederick Matthias Alexander). Now, if you’re not sure what that is, I’ll give a brief summation:

What is universally constant in our living is the way we use ourselves. Our use is the way in which we do things in our everyday lives, from the way in which we get out of bed in the morning, the way we stand up, sit down, or walk around, the way in which we do all of the activities of the day, to the way in which we lie down and go to sleep at night. Everything we do can be done in a good way that promotes healthy functioning or it can be done in a way that is harmful to our good functioning; that is we can operate with good use, or we can misuse ourselves (not in that way, Higgy). The Alexander Technique aims to provide us with a means to use ourselves in a good way, thus reducing the possibility of physical malfunctions within the body”

 

And I’m telling you, it is very beneficial, me thinks, to a proper worky body. Even paying attention to how you stand up, makes you realise you put unnecessary pressure on your body. STANDING UP!!! From now on, I’m gonna hover everywhere, its supposed to be much better for you and think of the money you’ll save on corn treatments. There should be a link on this Blog to a page that might explain more. If there isn’t, tuff, get a book you lazy buggers. But its reet proper good and stuff so check it out, may change your life betterer.

 

Anyway, farm life is ace, yet again. We have a wicked host, Lucy, totally down to Earth. Myself and my cohort are staying in a Gite, like a big converted barn-house, with a couple of bed and breakfasters, Will, 62, Belgian, totally cool dude, and Maria-Jesus, 40, Spanish and completely hilarious and a wee bit mental. How mental? Check this out. The other night we all went to the local pub for a few games of pool and a pint of Guinness for 6 FRICKIN EUROS’!!! And this dude was a scouse!! Says it all I s’pose. Anyway, we’re playing pool and its Maria-Jesus’ shot. Now, there’s no dollar on the game, just a friendly li’l competition. But obviously, there’s a li’l stress involved when you haven’t played before and everyone’s watching you, right? But just how much stress, I guess, depends on the person. However, I’ve never seen someone so stressed at a game of pool to actually STOP BREATHING!!!! This woman actually got so worked up in a game of pool, SHE STOPPED BREATHING!!!! If this wasn’t in public, I would have literally pooped dans mon pantaloons and wee wee’d at the same time, it was so vomit inducingly hilarious. She had to go outside so she could breathe again. Which I’m sure coincided with my co-workers decision to put on the jukebox one of his favourite songs, a Dire Straits number that was not only a crap live version of a relatively crap song but also some kind of mega-mix special that went on for 38 minutes or something. Dudes and dudettes, to see someone stop breathing, I’m sure, is a frightening experience. To see someone stop breathing due to stress/excitement during a game of pool is heart-attack inducingly funny and I think it brought on a hernia in my pants!

 

So, tomorrow, I’m having a mono-e-mono Alexander Technique lesson and I’m monster excited, it’s a really fabulous way of spending half an hour plus its another notch on the bedpost of things I’ve done on this journey so far that I hadn’t and maybe never would have done had I not undertaken it. And the food we have eaten at these farms, especially this one, has been something out of the Lets Make Some Proper Lush Food then Tell Everyone How to Make it in the Form of a Book Cookbook. Yesterday, Nettle Soup, massively good for you, not massively good for bending down in front of strangers soon after eating, unless you have a trumpet at your lips and can pretend that the Earthy smell must be coming from the mud-bath face-pack you had on that morning. Today, Lentil Lasagne with Carrot and Celery (amazing quick Man Experiment for all you dudes – eat 3 sticks of celery a day for 2 weeks and watch your sperm increase ten fold – its amazing…. Someone told me about it…) and rice pudding for desert WITH THE SKIN ON TOP!!! Lush guff…….

 

Whilst here I’ve read L’etranger (The Stranger/Outsider, depending on the translator) by Albert Camus, a second visit to an amazing book and I’m about to read a book called Humanure, about composting your own faeces and another book called The One Straw Revolution, about how this Japanese guy is changing the way people farm by introducing something or other into things. I’ll tell you more next time.

 

Oh No, a bit of Philosophy is creeping into my Blog, I cant stop it, its just well natural and that…….. check this.

Today, whilst sitting and generally being contemplative, I was watching the seed heads of a dandelion. You know Dandelion seed heads? Well, if not, they’re the finished little flowers of a Dandelion, with the round heads that you used to blow when you were kids and all the fluffy little seed heads would float away on a breeze. Well, believe it or not, in nature, when there’s a breeze, the same thing happens. And as I was sat on this huge boulder, contemplating the events of the past week, I watched as the breeze blew the seeds off of the old dandelion flower and get carried off to a new place. It made me think about how random this little piece of life’s cycle is, how some of the seeds only blew a matter of centimetres before getting stuck on a cobweb and therefore ceasing to give their now short lives any meaning (possibly, possibly not?) And I watched as others blew into a nearby field, got stuck on a piece of grass and fell to the ground, probably to fulfil their places on Earth by germinating and becoming a Dandelion, thus giving it meaning as a giver of new life (definitely). I thought of the journey of other seeds, some ending up in water someplace, some on the back of a cow, one possibly finding its way into the F cup of some farmer woman’s bra that happens to be hung on a washing line somewhere. And my concluding thought on this diminutive and trivial seeming event, on this amazing journey we call Life was thus:

 

Isn’t it strange how most everything we do is of such great magnitude to us, seems to have so much significance to our thoughts and overall well-being and yet the journey of a single seed across a field in a random part of a random country at any given time on any not so particularly special day has as much significance in the World as we and the insanely complex and intricate lives we decide to build for ourselves?’

 

I met a girl on my last night in Meribel, a lovely girl. Actually, it was almost the day I left cos I think it was nearly midnight that I met her on the Saturday before our Sunday departure. How’s that, I’m in Meribel for two months and I meet a deluxe French girl 10 minutes before the end of my last night!!? Anyway, details, schmetails. I liked her a lot and after only spending a few hours with her, left and carried on with my beautiful life. But I kept thinking about her, I just couldn’t shake the thought that there was something special about this girl. Then last week, I went to see her, the day after she got back from Meribel, in Bordeaux. I had a great time and thought she was well ace but alas, this time I wasn’t the cup of tea she wanted and I guess I lost out. And since then, I’ve been kinda melancholy and I’m not sure whether it was cos I really liked her, which I did or because she didn’t like me, at least enough anyways. But then I saw the Dandelion seeds today and I realised that, although I am pretty disappointed nothing really worked out, life is just so random and we don’t really control as much as we think we do. For example, if you want to go to Spain for 6 months, you can plan to go but when you leave, you don’t really know whether you’re gonna be back in a month or 5 months or never cos you don’t know what’s gonna happen to you. You can plan up to an extent, but stuff happens that you don’t control. Therefore, we should really be open to any situation occurring, no? There was a chance that this girl wasn’t gonna think I was the bee’s knees that I so clearly thought I was and so I should have been open to that possibility, right? Just like the Dandelion seed that may get stuck in a cobweb almost immediately after being released by a random breeze on a random day in a random place. When things don’t work out exactly as you’d hoped, think of those seeds. They’re as Important to the world as you are, they have as Important a role to play. But sometimes, it doesn’t work out for them either. I’m still disappointed. But a little less so. And all thanks to the humble Dandelion.

 

My love and blessings to you all……

Nubians

You know when you see a horror film and at some stage you’re watching and thinking “This aint that scary, I didn’t have to watch it at midday after all, with all the lights on and 5 mates around to banter with when it gets to a scary bit” and then suddenly, just as you’re playing Daddy Cool and pretending that even if Charles Manson came in wearing your mothers severed face as a big nipple, you’d laugh it off and say something like “Oh Charlie, you’re such a goof, put mums face back where you got it and come join us for a game of Cribbage”, something makes you fully follow through and your mates realise that you’re all mouth and no trousers? Well, lets just say that the other night, when the wind was howling at about 3 in the a.m and I awoke, at first reminded of the film Poltergeist but then realising that I am now some kind of solid, man farmer (not a farmer of men for my own salacious needs, I mean a farmer who is a man… whatever), It came to me that no matter how much of a REAL MAN you are, something will always make you realise inside that you’re still just a small boy who likes nothing more then a cuddle from your nan and praise for weeing by yourself in the grown ups toilet (altho, when your travelling companion hasn’t even managed that yet, at least you know you’re not alone in boy-dom). It’s windy, raining, there’s crazy noises from the giant wild boars outside, it’s completely pitch black and all of a sudden, you’re bedroom windows (well, sort of French doory windows really) BLOW OPEN with extreme force as if kicked in by a skin’ead wearing Cherry Reds. Immediately, I thought of Salems Lot, The Lost Boys, Nosferatu, Dracula and any other film containing the Prince of Darkness hovering outside some French Doors at 3 a.m whilst two pathetic Englishmen, cowering under their covers, weep silent tears and pray to the good Lord for a quick and painless end, struggling to clench their buttocks and not be the first one to release the contents of petrified bowls. I think it was me who plucked up the courage to get up, chest out and close the windoors. However, a week later, when myself and my crap filled companion awoke to the sounds of babies screaming outside our windoors, again at some witching, sataning, zombie hour, FULLY FLEDGED PANIC broke out and I don’t think I have ever been truly paralysed like I was momentarily that night. We were both monsterly petrified by what we could only imagine was the two little girls from The Shining and Sadako from The Ring, tearing their skins off of each other and smearing salt and Cider Vinegar mixed with acid and sand over their bleeding, raw bodies and blaming us for their lack of Fun Time Barbie Air Hostess Face Make-Over Free Wheeling Cindie box-sets and kiss chase ginger boy interest over the years…… Of course, it was cats, there wasn’t any other real explanation, mating cats, screaming like tortured babies, happens all the time in the concrete jungle, right? What was funny tho, is how 2 physical pin ups like ourselves (giggles at that one allowed!) could be scared of some little girls to such an extent that we put our heads under our covers (a sure sign of confusing any potential child slaughterers, I mean who could possibly murder you through a thin cotton sheet?) and wouldn’t, no matter what the cusses, get up and see what evil was going on 3 feet outside. Girls, test your guys manliness, scare the living shit out of him, literally and see whether he pushes you to the source of death or gets up, fists clench, for a fight with Satan and his hordes. Guaranteed, 90% of them will blubber out of both ends. I don’t sleep so well here… It’s our last few days at Rainbows End tho. And the last week has been probably, well no, DEFINITELY the best since we’ve been here. We’ve been joined by an American couple, Chris Bliss (I keep wanting to call him Chris Blisstofferson but its not that funny and he’d probably ‘Smoke my Ass’) and his lady friend, Marjorie, (again my childish mind wants to call her Marjorie Daws, but again, its not funny, she probably wouldn’t get it and she’d ‘Kick me to Tha Curb’ or something similarly painful sounding). They’re well funny, just like me, and kinda quirky…… And check this out. Marjorie is a poisonous spider expert!!! Literally, the exact opposite of me! She’s an expert in poisonous spiders and I’m a complete poisonous spider pussy. And Chris Blisstofferson was a fireman in Oregon (?) and also speaks fluent Chinese. I speak fluent crap and used to watch Fireman Sam. It’s so nice to be able to talk to educated people and you know, once again, the stereotype we have of Americans has been totally quashed, as always. I’ve met Americans who are cool, interesting, intelligent, the opposite of what we are ‘taught’ by the media at home. It’s wicked to be able to talk to someone about Jazz, Bukowski, The Beats, Dylan (you know I love many things American from the 50’s Beats to the 70’s Disco…. then it all went a bit Sue Ellen and I lost interest!) Really cool guys, man, it’s been a pleasure to spend time with them. It’s also thrown up discussion about whether most Wwoof-ers are decent, interesting peeps cos 100% of those we’ve met so far (all 4 of ‘em) have been totally wicked. If so, I think we’re onto a good thing, although I don’t know how many others we will come across in future farming adventures cos some places only have a couple at a time. Still, once again, my decision to undertake this ‘Grand Voyage’ does seem as if it’s being vindicated, in many different ways. It’s also given me a chance to run, something I always thought was as pointless as smearing yourself with salad cream. I actually run!! About 5k’s a day, mostly up a massive hill!! Check that. I have less body fat than an anorexic on a diet! And add to that my lifting of most things beyond my ability and I’m actually looking a bit trim, and, dare I say it, no longer completely unattractive! Rock on, my legs, for thee discarded Mr Muscle from these shores and put Jeff Capes in his place. “Tear up a Yellow Pages, Madam, of course, should I do your Thompson Directory and Kay’s catalogue at the same time? What do you mean do it wearing your stockings, I’ve bought my own, Littlewoods’ new season, lilac and brown gussets divent ya kna”! Thanks to The Dhammapada, I’m now trying to concentrate much of my mental efforts on my faults as a person, and much less on the faults of those around me. You’ll be amazed how much we think negatively of other people when they say or do things we don’t understand/know about/disagree with, etc, etc, when you really concentrate your thoughts on it. Rather than project our negativity on them, we should try to understand where it comes from within ourselves, why it’s there and how we can extinguish it. It’s hard. I always get pissed off with other people, in fact it feels like I’ve spent my life being frustrated by those around me. However, its my negative thought processes, partly installed by the society we grow up in, partly by a reluctance to face ones own shortcomings and so project them onto others, that leads to such feelings But I feel its vitally important on my quest to eradicate negativity from my life, to concentrate on the ills of oneself and not those around me (I was gonna see if anyone had any opinions/anything to add to that little blurb but I’ve realised by now that for you to read this AND use the comments page of my blog is a step too far in effort making!) Meditation also helps and another lesson I have learnt from this trip so far, is that the time you pretend you don’t have for doing things, is always there, it’s just that at the time, rather than not having the time, you just don’t want those things enough. I used to ‘want’ to meditate more at home but always thought time wasn’t there. But by going out half an our later than normal, spending less time on the internet, having one less beer, watching one crap, meaningless programme on the telly, would have given me that half hour I needed. Now I realise that. I even probably realised it then, but didn’t want it enough. But now I know I do want it enough. And that negativity that you feel when you think “I wish I could find the time to do this” can be turned into positivism by saying “I wanna do more of this thing but I don’t want it as much as I want what’s stopping me doing it”, thus being honest with yourself and therefore creating less negative energy. In a nutshell, i’m saying be happy with not doing the things you feel you want to do because you’ll do them if you want them enough and then you also wont feel bad about not doing them and also happy when you do start it. It’s a triple word score on Scrabble and you just got it for free on my crap blog. See, the 4 hours it takes to read this drivel can be rewarding after all! I’m still reading the same books too, so no book updates for those interested, I’m afraid. However, be good to get a li’l book club thing going, a kinda review style, you can let me know what you’ve liked via the COMMENTS part on my BLOG WEBSITE. That’s the COMMENTS part of my BLOG, which you’re now on. C-O-M-M-E-N-T section!!!!! Oh, about ten minutes ago I made my first ever loaf of bread, with help from See Saw Marjorie Daws, and it tastes fookin’ RUUUUUUUDE. Admittedly, very sweet as my attendant amigo on this expedition decided he wanted a sweet loaf, so there’s honey, sugar, cinnamon and maple syrup in it, but I’m telling ya, it knocks the socks of Percy Ingles! We have had a li’l break from WWOOF-ing in the last week. In order to raise some much necessary cash for herself, our host dragged me and the BFG down to this town called Agde, to help her clean an outside swimming pool. Why? I can’t be bothered to tell ya. But, this pool was BLACK! It had no cover on it over the winter months and was literally alive. In fact, I swore it burped when I first saw it. Anyway, a bit more modern day slavery ensued as me and my cohort started fishing out leaves and sundry but things took a turn for the worst as, stepping back expecting to find solid, man-made footing of stone and general solid matter, I was aggrieved to find, momentarily, NOTHING!!! and then soon after, very stagnant and filthy pool water with me in it. Amused as I wasn’t, it was only a leg and a small amount of self-respect that was damaged irreparably by the smell of rotting animals and encroaching flora. I say rotting animals because later in the day, our host decided to stick her hand down into the filter to see what was blocking the water from draining and what she pulled out was quite possibly the most disgusting piece of Zoology I’ve ever witnessed anyone pull out of a pond filter. Fair play, she’s 62 and a proper trooper. She pulled out the biggest, bloated, slimy, stiff TOAD you’ve ever seen!!!!! And fuck me if we didn’t have it in a salad later that evening with a cucumber and moth snot jus! It’s been a proper chuckle brother’s adventure. Why, today, our penultimate, the idiot I’m with has busted his ankle showing off on a ladder! Laughed? I nearly laid an egg…through me belly button! So, on we move, to pastures new and back to Bruce for new morning toilet comedy!! I do hope there’s some teats to milk at farm number two, it’s been a reet while!!

Farm Fun and Frollics

There’s this bird, right.  It sits on top of an electricity pylon.  Its just a small pylon.  Well, more of a post really.  It runs electricity around the village we stay in.  Its only a small post cos there’s only ten people in the village, so no need for some kinda Transformers/War of the Worlds style pylon, just a post with a coupla electricity wires.  Anyway, this bird, it sits on top of this little ‘pylon’, and every time it sings, before its ‘usual’ bird-type song, it mimicks the sound of electricity passing through the wire.  Get that!!!  Every time it opens its freaky beak, it makes the sound of electricity and then tweedy-tweet-tweets its li’l head off.  It must be completely radio frickin’ rental or what?!!  I wonder if other birds spit on it and call it names like Le Freak Ce Beak or idiot or something.    Freaked me out or what?!  I thought I was going bonkers, I kept hearing electricity.  I mean, who hears electricity?  Actually, the truth is that I thought I’d woken up one morning and turned into a super hero.  I was well gutted when I saw the bird.  Still, a superhero who hears electricity aint much of a superhero in my book.  A superhero who can make peoples trousers fall down just by thinking about it, now that’s my sort of superhero.  Or one who can change the colour of the icing on Iced Gems or do 20 sit-ups, that would be ace.  But electricity hearing man?  I wouldn’t even get on Surprise Surprise with that…

 

Anyway, thought I’d share that strange experience of the French countryside with you, God knows its not the only insane thing that happens in these ‘ere parts….

 

As previously informed, we have left Meribel, with its minus 20 threats and its 28 Euro sanitary towels and made it, via the Millau Bridge (the Worlds highest/tallest bridge), to Rainbows End Farm.  AND FUCK ME, IS THIS PLACE REMOTE!!!  We didn’t even know we’d arrived when we arrived, we drove straight past it and had to do a U’y (which on a road 3 feet wide in a Motorhome took all of my Nigel Mansell skills, believe).  We were later told that the look on our faces when we got out of Bruce was like choosing contestant number 3 on Blind Date, the screen going back and Keith Chegwin standing in front of you with a t-shirt on saying “Space Invader” and a picture of your bum ‘ole underneath!  Seriously, it was freak out time for the two idiots from England.  I have never in my life stayed somewhere so out-the-way from anything.  The couple who greeted us, Matt and Dan, were actually the best two people you could ever have asked for in such a situation, they made us feel extremely welcome and within minutes we were tucking into a wholesome feed, whilst our host, the farms owner and sole patron, Rosalind, completely ignored our existence and just sat there going on about how she nearly burnt the surrounding woodland down and had to run around stamping out a fire, hither and thither.  I immediately thought of Rumplestiltskin and then of running as fast as I could in any direction away from here.

 

And it has since struck me how mad it is that we fear the unknown when the unknown could be the greatest thing we have ever known.  And, in a reflective period, of which 23 hours and 51 minutes a day is about the norm, as there aint much else to do, I’ve made the decision that, as much as I can possibly force myself, every unknown situation I enter into from now on, is going to be one which I wholeheartedly look forward to.  Because however much we would love to, we just don’t think, generally, positively about heading into the unknown.  There’s always trepidation, fear, unease, apprehension, call it what you will, but generally, there is rarely excitement, enthusiasm or thrill at entering into something or somewhere that you have no knowledge of.  And yet, why?  Negativity breeds negativity, positivism breeds positivism.  So, why be negative?  Discuss…!!!

 

Anyway, Rainbows End is run by Rosalind, who is pretty much as Beatnik as a 62 year old woman can be.  She has this massive farm, on this hillside in Autheze, 34210 Ferrals Les Montagnes, France (in case I need rescuing!), which is in a TINY French village consisting of 10 peeps, 2 horses, some chickens, a cat, a dog that barks at everything and is gonna wind up in a fire by the time I leave here if it doesn’t stop waking me up at 7 every morning and a few sheep, which are quite possibly the ugliest things I have ever seen.  One has the eyes of Satan, the hair of Gary Glitter and the most baaaa’y baa you’ve ever heard, as if it was a contestant on Stars in your Eyes, impersonating a rasta sheep, but was actually Brian from Aldershot.

 

Autheze has no Shop, Pub, Bus Stop, GIRLS, anything that ‘normal’ places have but quite possibly the most amazing natural landscape of anywhere outside of Bethnal Green.  Seriously, I wake up to birds singing (whatever type of home appliance mimickery they feel like at the time), blue skies (14 days out of 16), the sound of a running river (which is like the sound of the ocean, but smaller in scale) and the sound of windy-pops from my co-farming buddy, which you’d think ruined the whole experience, but actually adds a certain ‘Earthiness’ to the proceedings!  From fear to farming idyll in 3 days.  Now, I love the place as if it was my own (which, considering everyone here is approaching triple figures, may be easier to put into action than first thought!!)

 

The work is pretty heavy sometimes, but seeing the Rotavator take Steve for a run the other day was worth all the back breaking bending and digging and lifting that goes with modern day slavery.

 

I gotta share this with you.  I just heard Steve say to our host, through the floorboards, “I’ve never known a dog that could walk backwards”!!!!  Is that sheer genius or what?!  That’s literally the level of our conversation now.  We’ve been deprived of human contact in a social sense for so long, we just have to look at each other and make guttural noises to communicate.  Generally, followed by a snigger and then bottom mimickery!  But its incredible how you get sucked into the life of the 10 people who live here, it really is like a mini Brookside.  Nothing happens and everybody talks about it. You start having opinions on people due to what there interpretation of nothing was!!  Its WEIRD!  And if someone comes into the village one day, WOW, IT IS SOOOOOO EXCITING!!  I couldn’t stop talking about the colour of the post woman’s van for two days, I mean, a yellow post van?  Can you Adam and Eve it?  Radio Rental, ‘ere!!

 

We’ve had two days off in 15, one of which we spent in a nearby city called Carcassone.  Its about 45 km’s away, which in Bruce is an overnight drive!  I spent the day walking around the small, quaint town centre, saw a beautiful oil painting exhibition and then sat near a fountain in the baking sun watching the World go by.  And what a World!  10 gals to every fella and when I say gals I mean PROPER FEMMES!!  Straight up, I fell in love with France that day.  Until, that is, we got lost in the mountains in the pitch black coming home, then I started to poo mon pantalons and decided Londons rush hour wasn’t so bad after all.  Still, we made it back in time to eat Rabbit in Mustard sauce with roast ‘tatoe’s and red wine!!!  Heck yeah, the food here has been, how you say in England, fookin’ lush guff, mate, innit.  Straight up, this Rosalind lady is some kinda Hugh Fearnley in disguise.  River cottage?  Shut up mate, this is Chicken Liver Cottage, with crème fresh and ‘Roasted Fennel and Squid compote’, ya get me?  AND THE HONEY!!! O-M-G, honey coming outta my pores, im telling ya.  If I had a woman, we’d be having kids of Miel, im so loaded on the stuff.  Its amazing what someone can make from Top Budget and Lidl’s own brand!  But its still tres amazant!

The other day off we had, I walked for a while until I found a forest,climbed a big old dead tree and sat in it writing poetry in the dappled sunshine.  Rip Van Winkle, eat ya heart out…….. then give it to Rosalind, she’ll make a heart and artichoke salad out of it, with a side of pickled otter coxsyx, drizzled with compassion!

 

We also went to a little French market in Olonzac with her the other morning, where me and Daft Vader bought some small sausages, a tin of Chestnut and Vanilla goodness and a box of wine from a vineyard for 8 Euro’s.  There was even an accordion player at the market, making me feel all romantic…… with myself.  There are times when I really miss the love of a good woman…..

 

Oh yeah, while I remember, I’mreading a book by Mikhail Bulgakov called The Master and Margarita.  Its PROPER FAR OUT, definitely worth checking out.  And I’m still reading The Dhammapada, which, although being pretty petit, is a book I’ll probably be reading for the rest of my life.  I’ve also registered and been accepted for a silent meditation retreat for ten days in Barcelona from the middle of June so any of you who liked the old Saul, better come make the most of him cos soon, there’ll be a new and improved version and you may not be able to handle how mit dem rad he’s gonna be!

 

Anyway, my co-traveller hates it here so much, we’re staying another two weeks longer than planned which means date of departure is about 10th April.  Then, I’m off to see a friend of mine in Bordeaux for a coupla days (probably), then we’re off to farm in Aveyron, Najac from 19th April for 2 weeks (check out Aveyron on t’net, its stunningly, beautifully…..good)

 

It proper are good for ya tho, farming ‘ard and the such lark.  I seriously recommend WHOOF-ing to anyone, especially in these financially ludicrous times, cos you don’t spend a penny, you eat amazing, (supposedly) organic food, you do some hard work which is good for the soul (and body, seriously, I’m WELL fit now!) and you get to meet some completely different people then your usual environment allows.  Plus there’s the added incentive of getting a great sun tan and learning to do things you never knew.  I’m building a horse paddock, for crying out loud!  But if ya single, bring something for the lonely nights, cos you can only abstain for so long before even Satanic sheep have a certain kinda charm, ya get me?!

 

Oh yeah, and if you are gonna join WHOOF, make sure you register for WHOOF-ing, not WHOOFT-ing, cos otherwise you get sent a load of dodgy emails showing guys doing very strange things to each other.  Altho, what men do with their own Penis’ is pretty damn crazy and slightly cool….. just remember not to mimick in a field when you think no-one is watching otherwise you’ll be the talk of the village.  And when there’s only 10 of you, word spreads, know what I’m sayin?

 

Oo-aaaarrrgggh…….

Au revoir, Meribel, Merci pour le memoirs

A’right a’ready, I get it, no more questions asking for opinions or knowledge, comprehensions or wisdoms or participation of any kind.  You only had to say and I wouldn’t have been such a burden.  After all, I guess you just wanna know what I’m doing, not thinking, right?  I mean, it’d be dull if I started letting you into the depths of my conscious so you could possibly learn a little more about your friend Saul, right!!?  You don’t want to have to think about anything, do ya?   You just wanna read it and then forget it, huh? (all of these are strictly rhetorical, please don’t feel the need to answer, It might cause a thought to occur and you wouldn’t wanna share it with me, would ya?…again, rhetorical).  I will ask nothing of the billions of you who read this again, I promise…..

 

Anywise, since the last regurgitation, and my last question, something very similar happened between ‘mon ami et moi’.  You recall the Mark Knopfler – Willow incident?  Well, the very next day, I was dreaming of werewolves and then Colt Seevers (PLEASE look up Colt Seevers, if anyone knows the words to the song relating to this 80’s legend, I’ll send you a creamy bun).  On my awakening, I told my comrade about my dreams, and unlike any of you, he responded to my mutterings!!  This twilight zone shit keeps happening between us for some reason.  First Mark Knopfler, then, whatever else the other thing was, now, as I’m dreaming of Werewolves and Colt Seevers (although I wrote Curtis Stiegers in my dream cos I wonder why we hold on, with tears in our eyes), the dude lying next to me is thinking of A Company of Wolves and the The Fall Guy!!!!!  The Fuck?!?!  Come on, tell me that’s not weirder then smearing jam on ya face and your Nan not wiping it off with her gob filled hanky? (No response expected).  Strange things are afoot in the Guff Bus!!

 

Ok, this is my last week in Meribel and so I’m gonna treat you to the biggest pile of faecal kebab bile from Harry Snotters Halal Hole you’ve ever had to read or, depending on your point of view, the most almond fancy like, and please, wont someone award this special cake Legend status in the cake name bible, due to the fact that not only does it actually have almonds in it (there aint no French in a French fancy, I’ve checked, just some lush fake cream inside a nipple, possibly the sexiest cake idea ever, and a host of disco outfit ideas from the Grand Master Flash-like icing.  Maybe ‘hip-hop boob cakes’ would be a better name, I’ll make a rap up in a minute, it’s a winner, ya heard it here first….. y’all!!) but it also has the word ‘fancy’ in it, which, placed after any product you can think of, sounds like you well want one.  “I’ll have a fart fancy please”, “Sorry Sir, we’re out of those at the moment due to the huge popularity of products ending with the word fancy”.  “Oh well, I should’ve guessed, I’ll have a Jam Tart instead”, “Wise decision Sir, conjures up all sorts of risk-ay thoughts, doesn’t it Sir, maybe they should have called them French Tarts, that would have set the cat amongst the pigeons, don’t you think Sir?”, “Just get me my fucking cake would ya, smart arse”, “Sorry Sir, right away”.  Almond Fancy?  I think I just made that up.  Actually, its an Almond Slice, isn’t it?  How foolish of me, and to think my Nan made me a batch every time I went to see her and I just called her a slut by suggesting she would make me something with such a distasteful word within.  Ooh, I feel positively vulgar at the thought.  Sorry ‘Hip-Hop Boob cake’, I instate you to your rightful place at the peak of the cake-name elite:

 

I’m brown, pink or yellow

Enjoyed by fellows

‘got nipples of cream

I’m a perverts dream

I’m fluffy and sticky

Not like Metal Mickey

And if you offer one to me

Gonna give you a hickey…….

 

I’M THE FRENCH, FRENCH FANCY

AINT GOT NO ALMONDS, WHAT, YA THINK I’M A NANCY?

FRENCH, FRENCH FANCY

SHOW ME TO YA GIRL AND SHE’LL GET ROMANCEY………

 

(rapped to any beat you think appropriate, I personally think Knights in White Satin works pretty well)

 

I just copywrited that sheeeeeet, ya get me?!!!!!

 

Wasn’t comedy crap when we were kids, all Jim Davidson and some dude wearing his wellies on the wrong feet, like that was the funniest thing in the Universe.  Gimme Vic and Bob any day, or Alex Higman!!  Funny, me and my companion keep reminiscing about funny people we have met in our lives, its amazing how life really brings the comic best out of people.  I can honestly say that this whole journey has been one of comic splendour.  My fellow traveller has got some kind of disorder, whereby when he has a hangover, he hits absolute peak form, both comedic and philosophical (although, if today is anything to go by, NOT in a fashion sense, you should have seen his ‘slopes attire’, it was like a Miami Vice wardrobe, mirrored in a tramps fashion show sponsored by Mary Curie Cancer Care in Cheadle!)  Seeing as hangovers are part and parcel of being a human, this disorder raises its welcome head now and again and as I seem to suffer from something similar, comic hilarity and stupidity regularly ensues.  The other day, we started mimicking the sounds of each others methane mutterings, something so stupidly infantile as to promote an eye watering burst of giggling fits between us and now this game has grown into an international sport, with a governing body and conventions and everything.  Honestly, try it, no matter how dumb it sounds, you’ll secretly be hooked, you can get a points system going for the best mimickery and once you’ve mastered the impressions, you move on to the next ‘weight’ category (waste category maybe?) of singing the sounds.  Trust me, it beats paying twenty quid a pop for singing lessons.  I’m sure there’s a future in this sport, just need to get over our English formal-ness and politeness and we’re there.  I still find it amusing that something so natural promotes such flustering and red faces in our country.  Imagine if people took offence to sneezing or blinking, its really the same thing.  Still, if you’re not ready to participate on the bus, I guarantee if you try it between the sheets with your loved ones (that sounds weird, clearly I’m not trying to get you to pile your whole family, Nan’s and all, into your sack for a game of ‘Re-flatulations’ as a friend suggested it be called, jury’s still out on that one), it’ll take the embarrassment out of this most natural of events.  Maybe it’ll change society’s unease regarding massive bum songs!!  Hey, how about Conflatulations or Songflatulations?  Send in any ideas, although rhetorically of course!!

 

I invented a new word too.  Queard.  It’s the name for men who have ridiculously shaped beards, or Queer shaped beards.  Not in a Gay sense of course, I don’t know how one would go about having a Gay shaped beard (why do I keep capitalising Gay?  Not that I shouldn’t, don’t be offended anyone… oh god, here I go, HA HA , capitalising Gay but not god, that’s indicative of the way we’re heading, huh?  Shut up Saul!!!)  Anyway, Queard, a queer shaped beard, like a George Michael or one of those silly Italian pencil line things.  I’ve got a beard, you’ve got a Queard.  I’m writing to the Oxford Dictionary Company!!  If you’ve got one, get rid of it or I’ll point at you and laugh and no girls will want to snog you ever.

 

I saw a club full of 14 year olds getting pissed at our bowling alley local booze joint last week, within which I and my compadre were the oldest goers by about 38 years.  French kids have so much more style than those at home, no mini skirts or increasingly developed body parts protruding out, just cool styles.  The 8 year old looking dude drinking half pints of Amstel was legendary, although not as legendary as the two teenagers who were literally trying to swallow each others faces.  Man, it has always been a source of amusement to me to see young dudes and dudettes snogging as hard as possible!  I wonder why they do it, like, fully open up and get in!  I laughed my backside into near rupture at it, but I love it cos it shows a sense of keenness people don’t show when they get older.

 

We went back to Dicks recently, a club seriously trying to get into the Worlds Top Ten biggest shit-house crack-den like Clubs in’t World, but slap me upside the head if I didn’t have the wickedy wickedy wickedest night out I had for a time.  The night before a lady we befriended (there is actually a cool gal here, Grooveriders’ ex, remember?), told us she was going to see the drum ‘n bass DJ Andy C, I guy I steered well clear of since in my old days of drum ‘n bass raves, cos he was shite.  Then, on the bus home, chattin to some lady, we managed to get 2 tickets, usually 20 bucks each, for 15 De Niro’s for the pair!!  Sweeeeetness!  So we go to Dicks, rave like Nazi’s and get proper Jo Mangled.  I even managed to laugh at myself for leaving the club and in front of everyone, slipping up and giving myself a bruise the size of a small block of flats in Croydon on my arse.  All in the name of drum ‘n bass.  Ace of Base!!

 

My pal Dennis is in town for our last week, its wicked having a friendly face to see.  He’s also bought a hard drive with 100 gigs of movies on it, which would be wicked to download if it weren’t for the fact that its all of a sudden stopped working (it weren’t me, I swear).  But its funny how you miss little things like being able to watch films now and again.  Just watching a snippet of Dumb and Dumber, pure comedic genius in a film, makes you realise the little things you have taken for granted in your life.  Still, I’m looking at beautiful snowy mountains everyday, not pikey 60’s council housing, so its not all bad.

 

We leave Sunday morning, WOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!!!!  New adventures await, which is the whole point, huh?  We’re staying at a friend of Steve’s folks’ place.  Check out http://www.zavanna.com, its pretty damn rude.  A SOFT BED AND HOT WATER!!!!!  For one night, but still.   Then we’re gonna see the Millau Bridge, tallest bridge in’t World.  Then we’re gonna go and slave away for nothing on a farm for 5 weeks in exchange for some vegetables and a regular bog.  This sure seemed like a good idea during Decembers grey days in East London…..!  Still, hard manual labour is good for the soul and its gonna be WARM!!!!  South of France here we come.

 

Oh yeah, this week, I’ve read The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (a supposedly comic story of some fencers, daft but easy going and time-passing enough)  and finished The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf (a book so enjoyable and learn… building and important for anyone wishing to know about the history of our beautiful English Landscape that I give it 8 Jammy Dodgers and a day out at Barry Island out of 10.

 

Its been a reet grand life for the last coupla months in Meribel tho.  Sure, there are loadsa the worst kind of English peeps on holiday, the bars are worse then Wetherspoons on buy-1-get-47-free-and-a-local-slapper-that’ll-let-you-do-owt night, but take away the detritus and it’s a stunningly beautiful landscape, the French people are well nice and obviously skiing aint a bad way to pass the time.

 

The things I will remember when I’m 167 and living in a test tube will definitely be the first 6 weeks, when my blood was a constant temperature of -6 and I couldn’t sleep for shivering, the fact that I have actually learnt to swim ‘properly’, (facing a fear is always great value in my eyes, unless it’s a fear of being butchered to death with a cow by a 12 foot tall farmer, something that might be just round the corner in reality), the constant laughs at the predicaments we’ve had to face, cooking gourmet meals on a single camping stove, peeing in bottles and needing a poo at 3 in the morning and having to wait until the Tourist Office opens at 9, seriously contemplating doing ya stuff in a bag outside, in a minus 15 blizzard.  They say things like that are character building.  I have the buildiest character of anyone you know right now!

 

But the one thing I will remember more than anything, are the laughs that we’ve had.  Everyday, I’ve cackled myself stoopid at some silly behaviour or situation or person.  Steve, this week, trying to get on a button lift and successfully falling and being dragged along the snow THREE TIMES IN A ROW was pretty damn funny, but not quite as funny as yesterdays video of him trying to overcome his fear, grabbing the button and falling over before he’d even moved, presumably resigning himself to his immediate fate.  I cried laughing.  Naturally.  Even being TOTALLY FREEZING, waiting over half an hour for water to boil for tea, getting up at 11 cos its too cold to get up at 9, waiting for milk to defrost before being able to have breakfast, has all bought smiles cos you always realise things could be worse.  And having someone with a similar outlook, who doesn’t get pissed off cos things aren’t easy, has been priceless.

 

It just goes to show, having no money, no running water, no heating and nowhere decent to go for some social time, doesn’t mean you cant enjoy yourself.

 

And let that be a lesson to ya…

 

Now roll on Monday night’s warm double bed and power shower…!

 

YeeeeeHaaaaaaaa, I’m outta here, y’all, see you at Farmer Giles’…..

Dick’s

I’m really sorry. Believe me, I really, truly am so very sorry. All those lovely gals out there, pray tell, I am desperately sorry. All those who may have had a little place for me in their hearts or those who may have had ‘designs’ on me, saw me as their future, their love, maybe their whole life, I’m sorry to have to let you down. I so truly am, with all my heart, really. But it’s happened…………….

I’ve fallen in love……..

I know it’s sudden and I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see it coming and in fact, I was more shocked than I’ve ever been in my life. I mean, I live in a metal box on wheels with a bloke who I sleep within arms reach of (and sometimes I use that distance to my advantage….. while he’s asleep of course). I mean the environment just isn’t conducive to such lustful and amorous feelings. And I just can’t understand why these things happen at the most in-opportune times. Only the other day, my co-habitor and I were discussing the spate of weddings and births that are happening to those we’ve befriended or befamilied over the years and how our environment for the foreseeable future, and this is at least a possible year or two, isn’t conducive to any such circumstances. And then, right out of the blue, which in a way should be expected really, as that’s usually how it happens isn’t it?, it sits right on your face and SQUELCH, that’s it, your heart belongs forever to another.

And the object of my desire, my lust, the one who has my heart? Introduced to me by Steve, no less, she’s Swiss, she has a body as smooth as a Barry White lyric, the colour of Venezuelan coco beans, the suppleness, when she feels like it, usually on a Wednesday evening, of a contortionist on a Paul Daniels ‘Magic’ trick, she tastes like the sweetest chocolate and the most velvety curtains all mixed together, when she’s around, she has my undivided attention and my gaze cant leave her profound beauty. I think about her when I’m shopping, at midday, after dinner, I dream of her, I taste her when she’s not here, I’m just fully bowled over by her sheer presence on this Earth. And to think it happened in Meribel, home of the Average White Anglophile goon. Even as I type this, my mind keeps wandering to her and her massive presence in this new World I find myself in, a World of candyfloss clouds, of lollypop trees and lemonade that makes you float to the ceiling towards a big, scary, whirling fan that might chop you up unless you let out the biggest Lager Belch any fat English bastard has ever dreamt of producing that’ll make you float back down to the safety of the cotton wool Earth I now inhabit.

And her name, when I say it, just makes every other name in the World sound wrong, fake, like a gold bracelet that you find in a Christmas Cracker, the light glinting of its rich tone as it rolls out into your gravy, only for you to realise that actually, your mum just found the Harrods box in a charity shop and its just the same old Woolworths value crackers she cello-taped back together from last year. And come to think of it, the year before as well. And they were second hand, even then.

I’m sure that it’s only me this happens to. But when I pronounce it, the sun shines and I get all excited and need a wee, like when you’re hiding in hide and seek and your pursuer is closing in but then walks right past you and into another room. If you say it yourself, it wont have the same effect, undoubtedly, but try, you might be fortunate enough to see what all the fuss is about……………

Nutella…….. Say it again, slowly……. N-u-t-e-l-l-a…….. You see how it just makes everything seem better? Man, life is as rich as an English Banking Chairman after his 7th bonus of the year whilst all around him collapses, people lose their homes and children have to eat Aunt Bessie’s instead of the goose fatted proper roast tatties Nigella is always banging on about in her castle at number …..(that’ll cost ya), Eaton Square. I just can’t get enough of her (not Nigella, that was a long time and two court orders ago).

So, as I said, I’m sorry, but my heart is now taken. And besides, you wouldn’t want me anyway, my teeth are rotting and I’ve got this sticky congeal-some beard that’s definitely rash inducing. But again, that might be something to do with my proximity to the ‘special friend’ i’m on this journey with, during the witching hour.

However, there have been times when I haven’t been thinking about my chocolate Princess and my presence has been felt in the party capital of Europe’s mountainous regions. For example, if any of you have ever been to a Dicks Tea Bar, you’ll know the sheer naked enjoyment of which I spaketh. Sorry, again, but I don’t think I just did it the justice it really deserves. What words can I use to describe this club that blesses us with its magnificent presence among us mere mortals of Meribel?

How about……. Faecal……. Bile-ic…….Putrid? Undeserving of its place in even this, the town of ‘Super Un-cool’? Maybe you get the message, but if not, at the weekend, take a trip down to a Peckham high rise and lick the flap at the bottom of the rubbish chute of Nelson Mandela House or wash yourself in the dregs of a tramps Speccy Brew beer can. Then think of someone rotten, like Roy Hattersley, leading you into a back room, stripping to a pinafore and poll dancing to Voulez Vous.

It wasn’t even as pleasant as all that mixed together in a crumble. But let me provide one piece of evidence that will sum up this Hades for you, just so you can see for yourselves what a pit of Vampire vomit this place really was. After listening to some kind of ‘dance’ music for an hour and really, and I mean really, trying to enjoy oneself and those of you who know me best know that I really do try, even when a hatred of a certain music is coursing through my bulging, purple veins, my erstwhile colleague, Steven of Taylor, approached Mephistopheles in his dj (dirt jockey) pit and requested, in best Formal Polite English tone, “Sire, does one perhaps perchance have any funk one may bestow upon us, your loyal subjects’ , this shits doin’ me fuckin’ ‘ead in”. To which Satan replied, “I’ve got Superstition but we only play that on cheese nights”.

I’ve said enough.

What was as pleasant as all that though, and even more so I’d go as far to say, were the two Antipodean lasses that liked our Bedford Chalet so much that they bought us breakfast every morning in an effort to keep us nearby their warm, cosy palatial residence. Probably for the laughs they got every a.m when they came out and saw a slightly chilly couple of English chaps waiting for the milk to defrost on their dashboard, ‘3’ Weetabix poised in bowl, just as the water on their camping stove hit the 33rd minute of the boiling process that in another hour and 12 minutes would yield the mornings first cup of Earl Grey ‘avec Miel’ (Mon Francais, c’est magnifique!). Granted, the sausages were made of some kind of plasterboard-polystyrene mix and the brown sauce was the kind that one finds in Wilkinson’s, Croydon, but the thought was there and as the milk would be another 4 hours, it was welcomed with arms, ever so slightly uncrossed, so as not to let out the warmth that had been generated by sitting in that position since 4 in the morning when noses froze and snot iced. Needless to say, two days later we moved on, under night’s cloak, so as not to be followed and put through such intestinal difficulties again. But it was the thought that counted.

Since my last rambling entry into what is fast becoming the worst diary of events of any kind produced by man since the bibles description of the Creation of the Universe (whoa there, Mr Controversy!), I have joined the local library, of which I’m sure I’m the only patron. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you will find me there, weather permitting (if its sunny, ski’s are assembled and hideous ski attire donned), trawling through the 6 English fiction books, all donated by myself, for something yet unread and using the internet for hours upon end, much to the annoyance of the patron, surely plucked from the set of The Hills Have Eyes Visit Marie Curie Cancer Care for some Ill Fitting Troosers with which to wear Every Day of their Working Lives! The internet is free, as opposed to the 9 EURO’S AN HOUR at the tourist information centre (the French really do see the English coming!), which will explain to some of you why I’m always one of your friends ‘currently logged into Facebook’ every time your obviously very important jobs allow you to visit during the daytime (Alex, Ben GC, Greg, Venetia, etc!). Honestly, I know I’m supposed to be seeing the World, but I’ve done Meribel, 16 times and i’m just counting down the days ‘til our Rainbows End Rendezvous. Speaking of which, we are currently working out a path that will take us from our last French Farm, 800 metres from the Spanish border, on 3rd June, down the coastal roads of North East Spain to Barcelona for a li’l post-farm-work holiday, after which I’m heading of to a Meditation Retreat in the hills outside Barca for 10 days of mind-searching madness. A tour of Spain’s farmland, whilst labouring of course, will then be undertaken, hopefully, Bruce permitting, to the very southern province of Andalusia and, I’m hoping, to its annual food festival where gringo’s slaughter pigs with Odd Job style sombrero boomerang death hats and rip their beatin’ hearts out with wiry handlebar moustaches, Sergio Leone style or somethin’ like that.

Hey, also, while I’m here (and have been for 7 hours compiling this veritable Sonnet of events!), I’ve got another interesting question, or rather, regular occurrence I need your help explaining (by-the-way, thanks to the four of you who responded to my last question, that’s three more than I thought actually read this stuff, although none were of my own kin and one would expect at least 1 of them to be interested in their offspring/siblings adventures, no?!)

Myself and my sleeping buddy were discussing the film Willow this week when he said to me, “Who was it who wrote the score for that film”, and as he sat their, his massive cranium working over-time to try to find the fact hidden deep inside a memory that certainly resembles no elephants, I looked at him and thought who in the history of the Universe would even know the answer to such a question, and so without any thought on the matter, I conjured up “Mark Knopfler”. And who the hell might the composer of the score to the film Willow have been? You got it, the Dire Straights front man himself. Now, had this episode been of a solitary nature between myself and my attendant, I would have put it down to coincidence and thought nothing of it. However, a few weeks before our departure, we were sat in The Globe (fantastic li’l pizza joint at the end of Columbia Road, pizzas the size of Fatima Whitbread for 6 bucks, the same here would cost you your life, and that wouldn’t even include a tip), having a spot of lunch. I was thinking of a band that I was trying to get a gig for, called Maybe Murtle Turtle, (check ‘em on myspace, they’re fantastic, even better live), when my chum randomly, mouth full of rocket, spurts out “Murtle Turtle”. Now again, I would normally put this down to coincidence, although such random words being spouted by one whilst thought of by another as Murtle Turtle is some other kind of coincidence. Add to this, that he didn’t know of the band, but still, the saying of random words can be thought of as a coincidence, however remote. But the Mark Knopfler thing as well? Is it just a case of a 1 in a mahoosive number chance that two random utterances between the same people, whilst in the same physical proximity on both occasions, where knowledge of facts were not equally known, is just coincidence or might there be some other explanation. I’m a man who believes in Science and reason and explanation but this weirded me out somewhat.

Answers, explanation, discussion or just a ‘Hello’ are all welcome in the comments section of this blog-site.

Finally, since my last post, I’ve read Maggie Cassidy (Jack Kerouac), a work of such sublime literature that it bought a tear to my eye at its end, The Photograph (Penelope Lively), a work of such normal banality and tedious stereotypes that if the character in said Photograph didn’t remind me of a friend, I would have sent it to Guantanamo as a torture device AND asked for postage to be paid by recipient, am halfway through Extraterrestrial Life (Isaac Asimov), full of amazing space facts and also halfway through The Brother Gardeners (Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession), (Andrea Wolff), full of amazing facts about the history of botany and gardening in England from the late 1600’s. Did you know, for example, that the majority of our English countryside is made up of tree’s from America, including the much loved ‘English’ Oak, all bought over as seeds and cuttings from the start of the 1700’s and that the best nursery in the country belonged to one Thomas Fairchild, situated, in 1716, in Hoxton, London?

‘mazin!!

Thanks for listenin’

x

Dissertation Blog

It had to happen I guess. I mean, one set of keys, two separate lives, three sheets to the wind and four calling birds, 5 G-O-L-D-E-N R-I-N-G-S (no matter how many times you sing that carol, the intensity you sing that line with never diminishes. I once saw a man burst an artery and pop an eye out singing it at the Mother Bar on Old Street at 4 a.m after some devilishly handsome, debonair, witty, sex God had got the whole club singing it……

No, we didn’t have a gargantuan brawl with all the English people in Meribel and come out victors after Steve elbow dropped a Mancunian and I Chinese burned a small, female Norfolk-child into submission. Neither has one of us wound up in a French l’hopital (yet another fantastic example of my ever increasing new-found language skills) after drunkenly deciding to re-enact an Eddie the Eagle Edwards-style ski jump over 67 drunken English retards (get the picture?) with only a small mouse to protect our frost bitten nipples.

No, we did something even more rickydiculous than even those mighty silly things I just made up………. we locked ourselves out of our beloved Brucie…….. at night……..in kinda minus 5……… We were crying ice tears…….. I missed my mummy……. Steve missed Gareth (?) (i’m sure that was what he said between sobs). Fortunately, as our sky lights had been broken off in a car park accident and replaced with the bag of one of England’s finest “Hi, I’m Jamie Oliver and I’ve completely forgotten, due to my massively lavish new lifestyle, just how stupid and chavvy the rest of the country is, to such an extent, that they would rather feed their kids pieces of cancer than boil them some green beans in less time that it takes to get to McDonalds and back and for a 50th of the price, how un-Pukka’s that, well cor blimey, lush innit, where’s me terry towlin’s” chef sponsoring supermarket chains, it was a quick jimmy up the drainpipe, a shimmy across the window ledge, a hand over the eyes peeping through me fingers look at the couple next doors Friday night ‘how’s ya father’ and a drop down through the hole in the roof and we were back to minus 5 temperatures but with the beauty of sticky smelly socks, an arga style- camping stove and a roof over our heads. This week, I ‘a been mostly doin’ Contortionism!

Actually, I haven’t. I’ve done reading (The Acid House – Irvin Welsh, Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu). And i’ve done skiing. And i’ve done swimming. And i’ve done wall climbing. And i’ve done brushing ice off my bed before I get on it. And i’ve done my first ice-hockey match. And i’ve done going to the cinema to see Burn after Reading (latest Coen brothers film, I was very disappointed). And i’ve done seeing a pukka pie on a menu for 6 euros (I know someone who’d pay triple that tho, eh Boobs?!). And i’ve done my first ever night out with some French dudes and had a smashing time. And i’ve done paying 4 and half euros for a warm shower. And you know what I enjoyed best? My re-enactment of the Timoteii girl may have had the other dudes in the women’s showers looking on with nervous grins, but I had a whale, I tell thee. All that massaging and lather and tossing ones wet locks from one side t’tother bought back memories of…… well, the Timoteii advert basically, but it’s not to be sneezed at. Next time I’ll keep me trunks on tho and use some o’ that shampoo on me Barnet instead, might not be quite the same sensation but you could cook hash browns on my locks at the moment, due to my lack of water-based activities in the last 4 days.

Incidentally, after our night out with our new ‘ Amis de Francais’ recently, one of them, a dude, Far Far, very sociable guy, funny, generous, decided to sleep in our 7-star, Dubai-esque accommodation after he missed his last bus home. Now, I like to think of myself as an accommodating host, but you’ve gotta understand what we’re dealing with here. We were almost dealing with a manslaughter case, actually, but Far Far did survive the ordeal of sleeping at minus 10 with just a small woollen flannel as a cover, as did myself and Steven, with our 2 sleeping-bags-bear-skin-5-layers-of-thermals-hot-water-bottles-each apparatus. Its no good your guest waking up in the morning awaiting an English breakfast feast only to find the hosts frozen together, re-enacting some kind of Titanic-esque lets-share-body-heat-no-not-in-that-way-Steven cuddling type position. Best they survive and you, the guest, freeze to death. Funny tho, when his phone rang in the morning, his hands were shaking from the cold so much, he couldn’t quite undo the poppers on his jacket to get it out of his pocket before it stopped ringing, something I found SNORTINGLY funny as I stuck my head into my +27 degrees sleeping bag and chortled away. I had to hold my willy to stop me wetting myself!!

I actually woke up with the clothes on that I went out in, coat, scarf, the lot, got outta my 4-poster and went out for the rest of the day without even a glance in the direction of a fresh pair o’ jocks. Now that may seem pretty rank to the hundreds of thousands of you reading this, but what we’ve found is that when its always so bloody freezing cold, you’re clothes never get tarnished with ‘blood, sweat, gravy and egg’. Its pretty rad, i’ve been away for 4 weeks and i’ve washed my clothes once. Maybe that’s due to the fact that i’ve got 47 wardrobes worth with me. But still, no more ‘only a fool breaks the 3 day non-wash rule’ for me! It’s not like there’s any ladies to impress. Although I am finding Steve’s new beard strangely alluring, and those dough-y eyes……….

After no-one responded to my what now seems clearly rhetorical question (there is a comments box you know, you can write back to me now and again, I mean, the cheek of you all, here I am, slaving away to update you on my ridiculously enjoyable life….), I pose one that has been keeping me awake at night. After reading part of the Tao Te Ching, a book written between 4 and 3 b.c, purposedly by Lao Tzu, which focuses principally on Taoism and its significance in both the leading of ones life and the governing of ones people (Taoism’s philosophy as I see it being that one should be pliant, submissive, weak, as are the comrades of life, not hard and strong as are the comrades of death and also desiring nothing except basic physiological needs), I thunked the following thought:

How can one possibly try to follow such a philosophy whilst living in the heart of some of the Worlds biggest cities? Are, for example, the Buddhists i’ve met in my time in London REALLY practising Buddhism or does it sound so attractive to them that they try to live as Buddha wished within an environment that’s impossible to do so, therefore making a mockery out of his true teachings? Does anyone really follow any religion, as it was suggested that they should follow it at its incarnation or are they charlatans, making up their own ‘rules’ as they go on?

I realise that this is a subject that will always be debated (religion), but at this time, while I really have a lot more time to think about things than I did in the madness of London, I’m trying to come to terms with others’ thinking and open my mind more than I gave myself time for at home.

I’m interested in your thoughts.

By the way, it’s snowing mentally outside and I’m loving the challenge of waking up everyday to a new environment and a new set of challenges. No work yet either, but we go to this bar that has potential work availability ‘pour moi’. The jovial barmaid (who hilariously told us last night that she once had a 6 month relationship with Grooverider, a drum ‘n bass dj (mother), recently locked up for having a tiny amount of cannabis in his shoe tread and some porn, which I didn’t realise he had until the jovial barmaid let me in on last night!!), keeps plying us with free beer. Honestly, the first two nights we went in, we paid nothing for our drinks. Maybe she just wants us to keep going back because we’re the only non-capitalists (!) around. Or maybe Steve’s new beard is strangely alluring to her too! The conversation actually went like this, re The Grooverider thing:

Jovial Barmaid – “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, guess what, I got something to tell you” (in response to some meaningless fact me and my comrade had mentioned about Drum n’ Bass)

Steven ‘et moi’, all of a sudden frenzied with excitement at the forthcoming revelation – ……. “What?”

Jovial Barmaid, ready to explode her own face off with poo-wee producing excitement – “I used to go out with Grooverider!!!!!!”

Steven, ‘aussi moi’ (that took me ages to think of!) – “What for drinks and that?”

Jovial Barmaid – “No, like going out, boyfriend and girlfriend!!!!!!”

Steven, moi aussi (that didn’t) – “Wicked. Two Amstels please”

The funny thing to me at the time was, I just wanted to say “Yeah, but surely he gets laid every time he does a gig, what with so many lasses to choose from so it couldn’t have been that meaningful a relationship (as is my norm when slightly inebriated)”!! Had I had time for one more Sambuca in the previous pub, that may have wandered from my mind, over my tongue and out into the wasteland of the air between us, which would have a) hindered my free-beer swilling in said pub and b) hindered the workings of the tool with which I use to eradicate my body of the waste within said beer the next morning. Would that have been unfair? Can people have meaningful, trustworthy relationships with those open to the lusty possibilities of nice looking members of the opposite? I doubt that’ll get any responses either, you lifeless bunch, you!!

Maybe I should start wearing a beard net. What dya reckon? I could make them the new black. Bro (he’s a menswear designer, not a men’s swear designer as someone once confusingly understood me to have said), get on the case. I’ll go to India to do the research, all expenses paid of course. Maybe shoot some Tigers while I’m there. Get the low-down on the down-low, ya get me?!!!

I’m rambling…. Not in a Wildlife Trust way……

Oh sorry, one more thing, we’re leaving the ski season on 9th March to start our Whoof-ing adventures. Anyone who wants to come see us before then (a few of you have said you wish to, your shout, we can cuddle at night to keep us toasty…… Dennis!) I’ll tell you more next time. Ooh, the excitement knows no bounds!!

See you next time, Mon Cherie’s

Captains Blog number 2… featuring references to number 2’s… obviously!

Bonjour, ca va? Tres bon!

As you may have guessed from my speak a la Francais, I have been brushing up on a certain foreign lingo. No more, can it be said, that I speak Pigeon French. More that of a Lesser Throated Warbler, I reckon, with Magpie undertones. Just you wait until Fevrier; you may well note a slight tone of Kestrel in my new language acquisition!

I do feel that France is starting to course through my veins somewhat. Bruce is harbouring a bag of Onions and I ate some garlic the other day. I also ate some lentils for dinner on Friday night. WORLD’S MOST AMAZINGLY UNFORESEEN ERROR NUMERO UN….. In the yet to be published Neat Eats and Sheet Eats, a book I’m thinking of writing, there is a paragraph that states; ‘Whilst living in a ‘voitre-maison’ in a car park in downtown Meribel (there is no real uptown Meribel, no Billy Joel song ever made it into the top 40 here), it is advised that all foods consumed be of the variety that, no matter the quantity eaten, will never result in grief stricken faces at 4 am whilst groping one’s bowel area and wishing for the comfort of a Maccy D’s 3 buildings to the left, scag heads included’. There is a list in this imaginary handbook of mine that includes foods such as ‘Apples, Rice, Pasta, Tomatoes, Mars Bars, Nutella, Pic ‘n Mix, Salt and Vinegar Walkers (though NEVER salt and lineker), Mint Choc Chip Cornetto’s and Sherbet dib dabs’. Nowhere in this book, either hidden on the inside cover, or masquerading as another food type are the words Curried Lentils (I was about to write Dahl, but me mate Dave once made a stupendous one and my bowel movements remained as regular as the ten o’clock news…… at ten!) Even typing those words have bought about a nervous, cold sweat. I’d decided to come over all Madhir Jaffrey, fake Dahl, Bombay Potatoes, RICE, the works. And cooking this feast on a single camping stove was no mean feat, as it took upwards of about 7 hours to perfect, due to the fact that half the time was spent waiting for our batch of iced water to boil. Maybe I should have realised by the amount of time taken to cook (Dante’s Seven levels of Hell, the film Seven, the other film Seven Bride’s for Seven Brothers?) that that number is synonymous with evil. I won’t spare you the details accept to say that I dragged Steve to a bar at about 1 am just so I could be near that God of Porcelain, Armitage Shanks and his wonderful open demeanour.

I now know Fear. I don’t, thankfully, know what its like to squat in the early hours, over virgin white snow, in a car park in Centre-Ville, in minus temperatures, in a snow storm, between the Citroens and Renaults and produce a different type of Blog. I broke the rules and for that I am terribly sorry. Brings about a whole new meaning of Squatters Rights tho!! Tonight, with bowels of steel restored, its Boiled Muscle Tagine, with Raw Egg and Oyster compote, served on a bed of l’escargot snot, a delicacy in these ‘ere parts.

On a different food subject, myself and the self-proclaimed Steven Ne’er-do-well Taylor (I always thought his excellence warranted a middle name) decided Bruce was in need of a li’l stock take and the result was a trip to that Fortnum and Mason’s number one arch rival……… LIDL!! (Oh, how my life has regressed in these last few weeks.) I’m reduced once again to the stakes of a pikey, who revels in the fact that a litre of ‘Fruit Juice’ costing 69 cents can make your urine fluorescent yellow. Looks great in the snow tho and The Price is Right (unfortunately, it’s the one fronted by Joe Pasqualy, not the debonair and immaculately groomed Mr Crowther).

I have no idea what day it is most of the time, a feeling that many of you readers, the thousands of you, may be unable to comprehend, but when you’re a bum, days have no real significance, which really is quite liberating. Nothing really changes. The pool is open everyday, sometimes it snows, sometimes its sunny, and the chorus of bottom burps in Bruce remains at a steady pace. I guess I can only explain it as it being like Sundays without Songs of Praise, as I think that’s the only true marker of what day of the week it was when I was l’enfant. Who cares if its Friday night, its 9 o’clock to bed as usual before a Touch of Frost sets in, followed by the incessant dripping from the ceiling above my boudoir that denotes a slight raise of temperature (more bottom burps?) and thus, me under cover for the evening. Ice water dripping in ones eye at 3:26 am isn’t the slightest bit amusing (well, not to one half of this comedy duo anyhoo). Neither is trying to urinate into a milk bottle at 4:30 without trying to create the sequel to ‘On Golden Pond’ in your penthouse sweet. I am truly becoming a gutter snipe!

However, all this time has resulted in me getting re-acquainted with my literary self (as if you couldn’t tell) and polishing off 4 books in a li’l under 4 weeks. The Comedians by Graham Green (5 stars), A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami (5 stars), When the Wind Sings, another Murakami (5 stars) and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (74 bazillion stars). I’m devouring more books than….a……massive….book-eating……Dinosaur-Marmoset cross. I’ve also learnt to play Fere Jacque and Oh me Darlin’, Clementine on the mouth harp and am well on my way to When The Saints Go Over There too. Steve is putting in for a transfer request shortly, I feel.

I have also taken up swimming as a leisure activity. The other day I managed to swim 2 whole lengths without stopping, a first since I got my 10 metre badge at school (that was for 2 widths, but hey), although in fairness, I did put my foot on the bottom of the pool, an oversight my teacher was happy to let slip. The world loves a trier, after all. As the pool is the single warmest place in my New World Order, I’m spending a lot of my time there, although the pool attendants cant quite seem to understand why I spend most of my time sunning myself on the poolside loungers, book in one hand, Mojito in the other. Clearly they’ve never tried swimming 3 lengths in one go!

Just time to mention that the other evening, I and my cohort were entering a place called The Pub (you really do have the right impression in your minds as to what it was like) when a comment was made from one tri-brain-celled remedial to his 3 footed friend ‘Oi look, its John Wayne’. I can only ascertain that this was made in reference to my rather than Steve’s choice of attire, although only my horse took offence (he’d always thought of himself more of a Mr Ed type). Maybe I could’ve understood if the Neanderthal said ‘Oi look, its Stallone in Over The Top’ but it got me to thinking, “Why is it always those English who need help dressing in the mornings that frequently frequent crap, foreign, English styled, themed and run bars abroad”? Answers on a postcard to Bruce, Meribel Car Park Grande, Francais. If any get here, I’ll eat my Stetson.

Now get back to work, lunch breaks over!! (unless you wanna check some photo’s of our story so far)

On route

On route

Snow joke...ers

Snow joke...ers

Look, maa'ntins

Look, maa'ntins

I'm a trucker, divent ya nah!

I'm a trucker, divent ya nah!

Uh-oh, early morning on the road!

Uh-oh, early morning on the road!

Yeah, i like it long distance....

Yeah, i like it long distance....

Come on, ladies!

Come on, ladies!

Top o' the World

Top o' the World

Ma'antins

Ma'antins

More ma'antins

More ma'antins

mo ma'antins

mo ma'antins

mo bleedin' ma'antins

mo bleedin' ma'antins

scenery - lush, eh?

scenery - lush, eh?

Nature. Lush, innit?

Nature. Lush, innit?

Another stunning morning view on-route

Another stunning morning view on-route

Bed socks
We awoke to this view on-route.  it was foggy the night before and we didnt realise we were surrounded by such beauty.  Bloody cold tho!

We awoke to this view on-route. it was foggy the night before and we didnt realise we were surrounded by such beauty. Bloody cold tho!

Another morning glory!

Another morning glory!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre anyone?  A scary night

Texas Chainsaw Massacre anyone? A scary night

Road to nowhere - no talkin' heads in sight

Road to nowhere - no talkin' heads in sight

Bruce's innards - bit different 2 weeks later

Bruce's innards - bit different 2 weeks later

Cold morning on-route

Cold morning on-route

In a truck stop, en-route

In a truck stop, en-route

Picnic Massacre at Truck Stop

Picnic Massacre at Truck Stop

Man and Machine

Man and Machine

The Fanta Kid and Ne'er-do-well

The Fanta Kid and Ne'er-do-well

Before man met snow - note nervous grin

Before man met snow - note nervous grin

After man met snow - note relief at no loss of life

After man met snow - note relief at no loss of life

Number 1’s

OK.  This is how its been so far (my journey i mean, not my life, dont wanna put you off before we start!)  Bruce (our li’l home on wheels) made it to the Alps.  You have no idea how much this means to me.  Basically, it means the start of my new life can move forward rather than having to retreat back home, tail between legs, whimpering for forgiveness to all those i spat in the face of and ran off assuming i’d never see them again.  Phew!  During our 4 or 5 day journey (i’ll explain in due course), we stayed in some pretty mad places in ol’ Bruce.  Namely, and a photo of this will appear in due course, a parking space off a main road, shrouded in fog, resembling something out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  When i heard footsteps outside in the dead of night, it was all i could do to stop myself calling my boss and asking for my job old job back at 4 in the a.m.  Anyways, other than the scene from a Romero movie, we stayed in town hall car parks and service station truck stops.  On Thursday, i showered for the first time in 6 days!  Ive been writing a li’l diary of events and just read the first line.  It goes like this…”Whilst writing, Steve (my travel buddy) urinates in a bottle.  I can see my breath without even breathing, its that cold.  Gotta be minus 5 in here, yet we are excited and prepared for adventure”.  Let me tell you, the excitement has abated somewhat due to the fact that that wasn’t our last experience of low temperatures, as everynight in the heart of Bruce, with Steve alternating between sniffing and snoring, as well as the occasional guff, the temperature has decsended to well below freezing.  That means that it’s very cold.  In fact, everything inside Bruce freezes.  EVERYTHING!!  Ever had iced milk on your cerials?  Ever had to sit on your toothpaste for 20 minutes for it to defrost?  Ever been too scared to get up in case your frosted nipples chafe against your ice’d vest and fall off?  Ok, you get the message.  Its cold.  DAMN COLD!!  But you know, in a funny sort of way, its part and parcel of adventure and at this moment, i wouldn’t change it for anything….. except for maybe some warm soup, a fireplace, running water, the safety of knowing my house isn’t about to be towed away by the authorities!  Leaving Dover and seeing England departing ever further from the boat i was on felt like some kinda Goodbye i’ve never experienced.  A finality that was self-induced and that felt like a re-union that would never evolve.  My decision but few goodbye’s are forever, i must remember to myself.  Oh Lord, i just remembered something slightly amusing.  We stayed a night in St Dizier, named after Dizzy Rascal i’m sure, and we stumbled upon a bar/tabac (crazy li’l places that sell every type of tabacco and well expensive, crap beer.  We entered and it was like that scene in American Werewolf in London when David and Jack enter the slaughtered lamb.  I thought maybe Steve had taken his clothes off behind me and reversed in on all fours, the way we were greeted.  Luckily, i didn’t mention the Alamo!  Anyhoo, we get our double whiskeys, for we knew the events that would unfold back in Bruce (oo-er) and sat down amid middle aged soft rockers to be serenaded by a dvd of ZZ Top live in Texas!  These mulleted dudes in this bar were rockin’ to ‘The Top’ like it was Saturday night… which it was, but still.  Can you adam an’ eve it?  ZZ Top at full blast and it wasn’t even an accident.  Someone actually put it on and everyone was rockin off on’ it!!  2 things i learnt immediately after that episode.  Never ever go to Texas.  And fuck ZZ Top.