Guts and Gory – Running With the Bulls in Pamplona

Bullrun 1

By Damien “Gap” Budd

To bed early, about 11.30pm, with the intention of a good night’s sleep.

Before I run in the first Pamplona bullrun of 2013.

Somehow I manage to fall asleep despite all the nervous energy running through my veins and music still blaring at the Aussie Fanatics campsite. 4.30am comes around and phone alarms can be heard across camp. Tour guides are walking among the 600 tents shouting that the first bus leaves at 5.15am. I’m wide awake, more awake than I’ve ever been.

For today, I run with the bulls.

As I write this I still can’t believe I did it and my heart is racing with the memory. I make the 5.15am bus with ease and 10 minutes later we arrive in Pamplona. We walk for another 10 minutes through Pamplona’s streets that are packed with people still covered in last night’s sangria, and in dire need of a bottle of water and a siesta. We arrive at our starting point just beyond City Hall and stand for two hours amid the swelling crowd.

“What’s the time? How long do we have?” can be heard minute after tense minute.

At 7.30am the police make their presence known by beginning the culling process. From the bullring to Deadman’s corner, everyone is cleared out.

Then they come for us.

We think we’re about to be culled. We’ve travelled halfway ‘round the world for this. Surely not. As the police continue the cull, they spread us along the course. We arrive at Deadman’s corner. It’s about 7.55am and we’re safe; we’re not getting culled. We finish about 50m past Deadman’s and it’s now just before 8am. It’s not a safe position to be, with little knowledge of what lurks around the corner, and our hearts are racing at well over 100 beats per minute, just as mine is again now. On cue Kahl, the Fanatics tour guide on his twelfth run, comes past. We recognise his bright yellow shirt and decide he is the best person to follow. Then, bang! 8am on the 7th of the 7th, 2013. The first firecracker is lit and the noise is unmistakeable.

The bulls are on their way.

Off we go at a slow pace toward the Plaza de Toros (bullring). As we run, we try not to look back, for this is one of golden rules. Instead, we keep one eye on the balconies. When the people on these balconies are staring not too far behind us, we know it’s game on.

The bulls are right behind us.

We find the first vacant part of the barrier and hold on.

The bulls go past. They are running at a ferocious pace!

From a quick glance, it looks as though they’re mostly together. We jump off the barrier and chase after them. We’re now 150m from the bullring and a roar is heard from behind; people are looking back in fear. I treat the look on their faces seriously. I look over my shoulder and there is a lone bull that has become separated from the rest of the pack.

This is not good.

The group splits. Everyone is fleeing for safety. The top of any part of the barrier could mean safety. I can’t find one. I’m three people deep so guess at least the other two will be hurt before me. They see clear space ahead and bolt for it. I’m now front and centre with the bull looking right at me and a girl beside me. I will never forget the look in her eyes.

It probably mirrored mine.

I’ve never been so scared. I begin to climb on people. A Spanish guy grabs me by the back of the shirt and pulls me up onto the barrier. He gives me a hug and says: “You’re ok now.”

I give him the standard and sincere Aussie reply: “Cheers mate.” The bull then turns and runs towards the ring. I jump off the fence and chase it. I’ve done it. I made the bullring. Not everyone makes it this far and I can only wonder if those who haven’t have been gored, trampled or have leapt behind a barrier.

Bullrun 2

It was a sense of accomplishment. A moment I will never ever forget. I felt invincible. Nobody could stop me. I even allowed myself to contemplate running a second time. But neither Mum nor my grandparents would have been pleased with that idea.

July 7, 2013, 8am will be a date and time stuck in my mind forever.

In years to come I’ll be on YouTube and Google looking up news and video from the bullruns, wanting to know how it went while cringing at the carnage.

And hopefully the young Aussie girl who was gored over the final couple of days will be able to bring herself to do the same thing.


US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Nine of Nine

The view from (near) Devil's Dyke

The view from (near) Devil’s Dyke

Overcast sky squashed me to the gentle incline that was my route north out of Brighton to the Devil’s Dyke. Ripped, skinny jeans it turns out weren’t the best pants I could have worn considering how laborious the cycle would be. When I crossed the east-west A27 from Dyke Road Avenue to enter Devil’s Dyke Road, suburbia abruptly ended. Unfortunately I wasn’t, however, confronted by rock wall fences. But I was struck by the green English fields stretching like emerald encrusted carpet in all directions away from and around the road. By the time I came across a dirt carpark named Dyke, I had cycled over a crest which showed more gradual incline stretching off toward the north-west. (As I write, after Google Mapping it, it turns out I only had to ride another kilometre uphill to get to the Dyke itself.) But I was spent. I turned back. Barely without pedalling, I flew downhill back into Brighton and took a random right-hand-turn somewhere along the way to cycle past charming little old houses in Hove. Then I rode west along Kingsway (the esplanade) that I found through Grand Avenue to the beachfront near Hove Street. There, in front of colourful changing rooms I rested after my exhilarating return to civilisation and enjoyed a sunset struggling to penetrate ever-present clouds. Of course I thought about Emma. About how disappointingly things had turned out. About how I’d never again witness frigid wind framing her smiling elfin face with that restless golden hair. How all my life I’d built a deep, broad reservoir of love behind the ever-thickening dam wall of my heart. That she could have claimed all that love forever by breaching my concrete heart with a single kiss. I also realised that if that moment had been the end of a Disney film the audience would have been booing at the screen and demanding their money back. So I returned the bike to central Brighton and decided to go out drowning my sorrows during that final night in a town that reportedly had “more pubs than days of the year”. The Mesmerist was a tough joint to get into. Not because of defensive security staff. Because the first door I tried didn’t work. Then I tried another one further left, and it didn’t open either. Third time lucky, I gained entry. Kind of embarrassing considering this wasn’t my first time at that pub. Some chick within had watched my ordeal – willing me toward my eventual success the whole way. This time there was an actual band, as opposed to a DJ, within. Flash Mob Jazz were ok with their guitar, drums, saxophone and vocalist. I had two gin and tonics and enjoyed watching the locals mingle. After leaving the pub to aimlessly wander the lanes and laines for a while, I returned early to the hotel to relax and watch the Big Bang Theory and Inbetweeners on TV. Then slept “like a fucking baby, but shouldn’t have gone to bed so late”. At peace with the tranquil world; at war with my aching heart.


A frustrating turn of events confronted checking out in the morning, prior to my train return to London. The hotel’s water had been turned off by a bunch of blokes who were fixing a leak. So after angrily posting a Facebook status claiming I would simply not check out until I’d had a shower, the reception staffer gave me a key to a much nicer room whose water still functioned. Refreshed, over the jet-lag but still heartbroken – I said my goodbyes to Brighton’s beach before turning left on Queen’s road and heading for the train station. I searched for Emma’s face among the throng I passed through during my last walk within Brighton, but of course she was at work and nowhere to be seen. Severe disruptions around the Clapham Junction Station I’d used the week before to transfer to Brighton from London confused me. Somehow, anyway, I found my way to the Tube system and headed west of the city to Heathrow – to do nothing but pay for my plane ticket out of there in a little more than a couple of weeks. The guy behind the American Airlines counter looked a little surprised when I told him I’d come all the way from Brighton just to pay for a ticket that because of my lack of a US credit card I could not apparently purchase any other way. But I refrained from asking him if the chick over the phone a few days earlier had just been messing with me. Seemed irrelevant at the time. A little certainty around the medium-term future of my journey established, I subwayed it back into the heart of London. In Australia, I have a half-brother and sister, and they have a sister (and two brothers) who are not blood-related to me at all. Their sister’s name is Jimmy, her husband’s name is Tim, and this couple happened to live in London’s south-east – at Blackheath. Though I was quite happy to spend my planned week in London at a hostel, these two and their funky little apartment in The Heath were my aim. So when I arrived at South Kensington Station I tried to call Jim on a payphone, and miraculously, she answered – despite the fact she said she regularly didn’t answer phone numbers she didn’t recognise. She asked me if I’d like to stay the night with them, I said yes, and the night turned into a week. First we had to actually try and meet up after she’d finished work, at Charing Cross station. It seemed the vortex of the human tornado London is centred itself at Charing Cross, plus it was a large station so via a nearby cafe’s wifi I let her husband Tim know on Facebook – because she hardly ever uses it – exactly where I’d be. About 6 or 7pm, near the station’s bottle shop (liquor store), sitting on my backpack and reading local street press, I looked up to see the smiling face of the diminutive brunette ex-pat Aussie Londoner with whom and whose husband I would be spending the next week. While I sat with both of them and a pint by about 8pm in a Blackheath pub, I knew it would be a good week. And that I was home, again.

Bye bye, Brighton

Bye bye, Brighton

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Seven of Nine

A street-press gig-guide presented four promising venues to visit during my musical night out in fair Brighton: The Verdict was playing jazz but closed by the time I got there – damn; Mesmerist was playing jazz and blues but via a DJ – damn; Digital was playing indie rock, but again via a DJ, not a band – double damn; and finally the Funky Fish which was apparently hosting jazz and retro music but looked when I got there like a gay club and was indeed on the gay side of town – not that there’s any damn thing wrong with that, of course. I was willing to at least give the Fish’s music a go, but a lesbian in front of me was taking forever to simply pay her cover charge, so I left. Considering the amount of preparation and legwork I’d put in – not to mention Brighton’s musical reputation on its own – it was a very disappointing night. (Disappointment exacerbated as I write by listening to the album Backatown by Trombone Shorty from New Orleans.) One of the night’s highlights was actually when I got a photo of a couple of Bobbies, otherwise known as those traditional British police with the nipple-topped hats. The pair was keeping an early morning watch over a nightclub across the road when I came along to ask them, “respectfully”, if I could take a photo of them. Another highlight: while waiting at Mesmerist’s bar for a gin and tonic some chick asked a dude to guess her name. He wasn’t even close. I internally guessed Anne. She said Annie. I should have said something. And I remember while waiting in line at Digital meeting some people who loved Australia and were simply perplexed by my presence there, so far away from home. I tirelessly enjoyed spreading my non-bogan Aussie existence. Earlier that night, I’m pretty sure, but really have no idea due to the disorienting nature of the sleep deprivation I was enduring and the lack of dates sprinkled throughout my notes. Earlier that night I ice skated, alone, beneath the aforementioned Indian palace. I used an appropriately large word (phantasmagorical) to describe my initial appreciation of it, and little had changed. Mist rising from skaters’ breath was magically illuminated by purple and blue lights creating a dreamlike atmosphere. From memory, the music played to the skaters was terrible, though. And the abilities of most of them were comical. You’d expect people from an almost year-round cold climate to be skilled skaters. But they were holding onto the edges, barely staying on their feet as they slid like snails anti-clockwise around the rink and falling all over the place and often in front of me as I endeavoured to find space to get up to an enjoyable speed. I dunno. Maybe a lot of them were tourists from the middle-east. The only thing that was missing, other than a little more skill from those I was enjoying it with, was, of course, Emma.

English Bobbies, East Street, Brighton

English Bobbies, East Street, Brighton

The night didn’t end after my largely unsuccessful search for good music, due to my troublesome sleeping pattern. I read my book at the hostel until about 4.30am after which I journeyed down the esplanade for some very shitty fish and chips. There were mushy peas, which I desired, on the menu but this morning they were for some reason “not on”. Chicken salt, on the other hand, is something not done anywhere on English fish and chips. The horror! Speaking of horror: I was glad I wasn’t drinking much because while soberly hungry I couldn’t help but notice that others, mostly younger than me, at that fish and chippery looked pretty much like zombies due to their alcohol consumption and the fact they probably rarely went outdoors during daylight hours. At that hour of the morning, Brighton’s esplanade appeared a giant trough from which nocturnal alcoholic pigs were slurping whatever slops they could get their snouts into. I slept from 6 until 10am and – tired as fuck – had to check out of my room but couldn’t check in to a new room until 2pm. I believe the only reason I hadn’t left Brighton by now was because I still hadn’t biked out to the Devil’s Dyke. I yearned for the English countryside. Particularly wanted to see those cool little stone fences most of their farms have, according to their movies and TV shows. So after hitting a bike shop on the gay side of town east of Old Steine that didn’t do hires, I headed up Queen’s Road to one near the train station that did. Before biking I at The Railway Bell pub enjoyed a beef pie with gravy, peas and mashed potato but had to resort to the nectar of the bogans – Red Bull – instead of coffee – which they didn’t have any of for some reason. Once I’d finished my meal I lounged outside the pub to enjoy a Marlboro and finish my Red Bull. Suddenly, an older man named Des sat down in front of me with five shots of sambuca, that licorice flavoured liqueur, and a pint of stout. This was at lunchtime on a weekday. He encouraged me to down three of the shots and talked to me about how he’d apparently recently blown a considerable amount of money on travelling. Said to me something to the effect that “we’re both Celtic and desire to wander”. And that his only friends were Gypsies. I believe he was homosexual – not that there’s anything wrong with that. His parting words were for me to not suffer fools – as he’d described himself. But could a fool possibly genuinely offer such advice? I’m not sure. Regardless, once I’d escaped Des, I’d decided while running on no sleep and too much midday alcohol neither to bike (exhausted/drunk) or bus (I’d fall asleep) it to Devil’s Dyke. No, instead I decided to still hire a bike but instead ride it east along Marine Parade to at least the Brighton Marina Village and back.

Brighton Marina Village

Brighton Marina Village

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Six of Nine

Brighton is certainly not a town in north Queensland

Brighton is certainly not a town in north Queensland

Valuable life lessons can be learned anywhere. Such as at home in your share house, learning to not drunkenly emotionally send a text message of love to your mother at 5am so that she won’t assume you’re committing suicide and won’t burst into your house and room at 6am and freak out your housemates to check you’re still alive. Or in England, learning to not while out for the third and final night with a girl you’ve recently become smitten with contradict her directions in her own home town. This is what I did, and simultaneously learned not to do, with Emma when she was directing me back to St Christopher’s Hostel from the cab rank that shall live in my personal romantic infamy forever. I questioned her direction, and flames shot from her eyes to instantly silence me. In a move that saved her from missing her New York-London flight, I had justifiably corrected her orientation. But Manhattan was neutral territory for us both and I should have known better than to do it that night in Brighton. Despite being alone and under the influence of a vindictive jet lagged sleep pattern which had me awake all night and asleep all day, I still felt at peace and as I mentioned upon arrival also at home. At some point I read a good old-fashioned print article in the music-themed The Brighton Source about a band named Kins that was coincidentally from Brighton, near Melbourne, Australia. Without forcing the entire article on you, guitar and keyboardist Jackie said of the band’s visit to Brighton (England) that after the group landed in Heathrow they stayed in London for a month which “didn’t quite click with us. Didn’t feel like home, or didn’t feel comfortable. We came to Brighton for a day trip, got off the train and straight away we were like, ‘This is home.’” Which of course I could relate to and not so seamlessly brings us to the present – sitting until 3am downstairs within my hostel sipping mulled wine and attending to this journal. I had some interesting conversations in the smoking area. Which is bizarre. Not the conversations. Not yet, because I haven’t mentioned any yet. I mean the smoking area, which was really just out the front of the building. So it’s odd I would call it an “area”, but hey, I was a little strung out from sleep deprivation and at least sub-conscious anticipation of rejection. One guy while smoking said he thought it was “crazy” that I was in Brighton, when I was from the other side of the world. And he even went on propose that in an alternative universe we could have been friends or brothers. Well, of course. In an alternative universe we could be lovers, or he could be my dad. Or we could all be giant land fish who communicate through multi-coloured light that emits from our gills. Or, I could have retained Emma’s interest. Another guy at about closing time was so drunk he couldn’t string a single complete sentence together. Even when I would accurately, I deduced from his facial expressions, predict the rest of a sentence he would still try but fail to complete it. Though I was still being respectful of him because, hey: I once after a mate’s 21st birthday at Tallebudgera on the Gold Coast was so drunk on the bus ride home that I apparently spoke complete gibberish to his sister during the trip. Then I puked up Chiko Roll into an esky while unconscious on the birthday boy’s parents’ couch – and him and his brother-in-law sat across the room watching me and eating their own Chikos. So hypocrisy avoidance aside, this slurring south-Englishman eventually told me he felt embarrassed and wished for me to ridicule him. Reckoned he was angling for a fight, so I didn’t oblige him by escaping from this madness back inside when his mate stole his attention. Tried to sleep after a glass of shiraz to top off the night but failed, again. So got out of bed at 5am and sat in the hallway outside my room, reading and charging my phone. Again.

Madeira Place, Brighton

Madeira Place, Brighton

Breakfast began at 8am. Excellent. Brighton was forbiddingly cold, windy and rainy this morning. Which meant on top of zero sleep my decision to bike to the Devil’s Dyke – a valley-type area several kilometres north of town – was all the more preposterous. The dyke was so-named not after a Brighton lesbian bar but because the area in which it existed had apparently many thousands of years ago been flooded by Lucifer himself in order to purge the area of its sinners. Though why Satan would wish to punish his sinful slaves for doing exactly what he desired is beyond me. The weather looked like clearing but I felt 100 years old due to sleep dep and this inspired a pessimism which quickly had me back in bed until 3pm. I was struggling valiantly to slay the jet lag dragon, you see, by staying awake all day despite having been awake all night. Of course sleep patterns cannot be turned around within 24 hours. The silver lining was that Brighton is internationally famed for its music and nightlife. But again, when you wake in the late afternoon from going to sleep in mid-afternoon, sitting at a bar at 9pm or midnight actually feels like you’re doing the same thing at 9am or noon – even though it’s unarguably dark. It was a messed up situation, but at least I was drinking less because everyone else’s party evenings were my mornings. After waking at 3pm and getting my shit together, I kind of ironically considering my condition tried to call British Airways and have them push my flight out of London back from sometime in the next few days to December 29. This was not obviously because I was planning on eloping with Emma, but because I wanted time to spend in London, Dublin and Edinburgh – in that order. And I needed to geographically push the flight back from Heathrow to LA, not to NY. And that was because with the time difference I would still despite the 14 hour or something flight land in the City of Angels on the same day, but my flight from California home to Australia was set in stone I would not break a few days later on the first day of 2013. It was going to cost a few extra hundred to make the change but, fuck, I’m surprised someone isn’t charging me for scratching my own mosquito bites, these days. Plus something inside me – possibly the alcoholic – yearned for Ireland and Scotland. The first payphone didn’t have a receiver. And all I achieved at the next one which didn’t work was informing the operator of the fact that it didn’t work and resisting the temptation to suggest that people at her company didn’t either. Returned to the hostel, had an early dinner and slept until the strangest wake up time: 10.30pm. For whatever reason it’s not detailed in my notes but I should state by this point I’d already been firmly rejected by Emma. The day after the night I spent with her and her friends at the pub and club, her Facebook messages became ever more full of exclamation points until she admitted she didn’t wish to see me again. It was ok though: 11pm in Brighton, one of the most famous night spots in the world, I’d just woken up and was ready without distraction to focus on one of my more predictable if perhaps less overall enjoyable passions: music. But first I had to figure out exactly where to go, after escaping from the hostel which pumped nothing but dance tunes all night every night.

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Five of Nine

Queen's Road, Brighton

Queen’s Road, Brighton

“It’s my role in life to be an observer. I was not the perfect journalist – quite aside from whether anything or anyone can be perfect – but my observational skill was valuable to my craft. The most notable characteristic of women’s rise in the workplace is that aggressive, insensitive men should professionally fear them; and sometimes meek, sensitive men such as me must be wary of the positive or negative effects their ambitions could have. I like the fact that I’m able to think and act instinctively whether over the short or long term. And I don’t believe in love at first sight, though anyone with a heart and brain can, I think, see and speak to someone and be immediately at least on their way to love.” This was how I felt when I met Emma, in New York, only a few days before but several thousand kilometres away from where I presently am: Brighton, England. At a guesstimate I’d say it was Thursday December 6, 2012. That might be without taking into account the time difference between the US east coast and the UK, but if it helps I would spend Christmas Day in Scotland and had about two weeks to go before that. This day, whenever it was, Christ was not with me, as evidenced by the fact that since I’d woken up at 3am after only getting to sleep at about 1 or 2am, I went back to sleep after breakfast at about 10am. Then woke up at “4pm!!!” Emma, in one of her Facebook message replies that were increasingly gathering exclamation points of their own (not a good sign), said it best when she called my unholy sleeping pattern “a waste”. A very intelligent woman. More’s the pity. There was nothing for it: while I was supposed to be enjoying Brighton and possibly still salvaging some romance with one of its female natives, I also had to pull myself out of a sleeping cycle of engines blown mayday mayday tailspin into flaming wreckage proportions. Good times. With literally the whole night ahead of me, I found the most authentic British pub so far: The Market Inn. I stayed there for an Angus burger and chips, Guinness, cigarette, then returned to the hostel. I met a bloke named Bob, from Tamworth – country New South Wales – in my room so downstairs we chatted over a couple of mulled wines and rums, before both remaining in the lounge area so I could catch up on this journal and he could download music onto his laptop. At roughly this point Bob interrupted his data hoarding and came conspiratorially over to where I was sitting and scribbling; a little blue plastic wrapper in his fingers and a strange redness to his eyes I’d only just noticed.

Brighton's Pavilion Gardens

Brighton’s Pavilion Gardens

This plastic wrapper had two small sections, and one of them was torn and empty. The other section contained an apparently legal cannabis substitute called Blue Cheese. I had no idea what it really was, but Bob said he’d bought it at a Happy High Herbs-like shop in Brighton. So based almost solely on his eyes – though bloodshot – not appearing full of pure bullshit, to me, I decided to trust him. Newly recruited as partner in probably not literally crime, he stipulated to me that what we would smoke delivered a very intense high of about a 30 minute duration. My God! He was right. While keeping in mind that I’d previously sent myself into catatonic states by smoking stuff I didn’t ask enough questions about, I was resolved. So we prepared for the munchies by visiting a local convenience store for some chips and chocolate. Then beside a building near the hostel and overlooking the Atlantic, we toked that spliff away. I felt it in the plastic before Bob rolled it into a joint. It was hard; certainly didn’t feel anything like a herb, weed or plant. Instantly after inhaling, it was great.

“Wow,” I expressed to Bob. “I feel all warm even though I know it’s colder than Satan’s arse crack.”

He closed his eyes and nodded. Then shit got weird. First my skin started tingling. This lasted a minute or two. Then time began to distort. Tom was talking to me, but I had to sort of lean in because he sounded really far away, and underwater. Plus his muffled voice was going a million miles an hour while me, my movements and my own speech, seemed lazy and hampered by delayed reactions. It was like I was in a time vacuum. I was looking at a rapidly changing world from another, smaller, much different and slower world all of my own. Then I got the fear, and went to bed for, yep, you guessed it: 30 minutes. A half an hour spent lying rigidly on the top bunk rock hard mattress conceiving infinitely dark and numerous ways the world and everyone in it was out to get me. Bob was unfazed. He calmly lay on his bottom bunk next to mine, watching a movie on his computer. These actions might have calmed me if I hadn’t woven him into my paranoid delusions of persecution. Eventually, it passed like these things do and I tentatively crept down from my bunk, and said to Bob: “Well I guess I can go back downstairs now.” Grabbed my notepad and headed for the door: “Because I no longer feel like everyone down there could be the architect of my destruction.”

“Uh huh,” he simply said.

I warned him about how I was liable to react. Never saw him again. He’d taken off the next morning for London, where he was planning on spending the week partying like there was only seven days’ supply of every type of psychedelic drug left in the world. “Feigning ignorance is a useful survival skill. At the very least for exposing peoples’ ignorance or malicious natures. Or in the case of a deliberately lost taxi driver, a still proffered tip can actually inspire instant guilt in him. Well bought. After seeing only a small part of the outside world, I would define Australia as confused – culturally, sexually, geo-politically, and etcetera. So we take in people from all corners of the planet, profess to seek to learn about their cultures and laws so we might refine our own, but in reality many of us simply ignore or even ostracise our immigrants which leads to a country with many cultures. Instead of a national culture with many sub-cultures.”

Brighton Eye, early morning

Brighton Wheel, early morning

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Eight of Nine

Deli east of the train station

Deli east of the train station

Amsterdammers’ Cycle Hire was down an alleyway amid the tangle of roads and alleys surrounding Brighton’s train station. So naturally I got lost trying to find it. But this gave me the chance to explore the artsy area off Trafalgar Street between the station and London Road. Maddening would be the best way to describe the eventual cycle to the beach while extremely tired and three sambucas down. Brighton’s streets really aren’t designed like most of Australia’s urban roads, with bike lanes, so I was obligated to duck and weave between double-decker buses and myriad other traffic to end up heading east along Marine Parade in the afternoon sunshine. The ride was largely uneventful, but at least I was getting some much needed exercise in order to burn off alcohol I hadn’t planned on having in my system. The cliffs of Dover are world famous, and many kilometres west of them just on the other side of the Brighton Marina Village I came across bleached-white imitations of them on the Undercliff Walk. This was the turning point of my ride, so I rested awhile with a cigarette and gazed off over the English Channel to France, before heading back. Once I’d breathlessly dropped the bike off at Amsterdammers’, I returned to the hostel via buying a copy of Oliver Twist from a street vendor. I had almost or actually finished Youth in Revolt, and Dickens seemed an appropriate purchase considering my present location and state-of-mind. To be precise, this was the afternoon in which Emma had decided finally to reject me. If not for how much I was enjoying her home town, I could have wished she’d been so decisive before I’d jumped on a plane from New York to get there. She made the “you’re a lovely guy, but” remark. Any girls reading this: never call a guy you’re rejecting “lovely”. Among many other things, it’s simply lazy and shows a lack of respect for the fact that someone regardless of how deserving has shown an interest in you. So I replied graciously, and went out alone to watch James Bond battle evil in Skyfall. It was cool watching Bond while surrounded by a bunch of British people. Bastards really got into it. I went to bed early after such a draining day, then woke up a couple of hours later and was forced to wait out the dance music playing below me, which was so loud it felt like I was trying to sleep on top of a music festival speaker. Finally, after a fitful hour or so sleeping in blessed silence, I quite without regret checked out of the St Christopher’s hostel and headed west with a full pack.

Brighton's cliffs

Brighton’s cliffs

Weariness, now, has overcome me – probably as it did while I walked from St Christopher’s to check in for a badly needed night’s sleep at a Granville Hotel private room. At almost 8000 words into the Brighton leg of my trip, and at the risk of needlessly expanding such a number further, I feel my narrative like my present journey is listless, joyless; full of the more run-of-the-mill details and missing many of the more interesting highlights. I’m drinking cheap shiraz, smoking Port Royal Original Rum and Wine tobacco and listening to 94.1FM Gold Coast Radio jazz. Why have I not either headed back to London or hired a car and surfing equipment and burned off toward Wales’ waves, by now? It wasn’t just because I still wished to bike to Devil’s Dyke. I also hadn’t yet managed to defer my flight back, not to New York, but all the way to Los Angeles on December 29. Procrastinating, I explored Brighton’s west, known as Hove, then took the last of my afternoon jet-lag catch up naps. Only took a bloody week! This time without any planning I found myself at The Brunswick pub off Holland Road and enjoyed not a big jazz band, but an enormous jazz band. Contented, with three pints in my system and countless instruments ringing in my ears, I retired to a bed which was just as hard as at St Christopher’s but bigger and minus the dance music playing until 2am. After an “excellent sleep!!!” I indulged in a complimentary breakfast of a bagel with smoked salmon and eggs before finally sorting out my needing to be adjusted flight at a nearby (working) traditional English payphone. During the hour I spent on this phone with Expedia and then American Airways, the positive was that I could delay and extend my flight to December 29 and Los Angeles for $900. The negative was that because I didn’t have a US credit card I had to present in person at Heathrow in order to pay for it, within two days. So, dreams of surfing the UK dashed, I checked back in to the Granville and spent my final afternoon in Brighton by working off my newfound daylight energy and lingering heartbreak by finally cycling to Devil’s Dyke. This time without coming across a sambuca wielding weirdo at the local pub, I hired another bike and aimed it toward London.

Marine Parade

Marine Parade

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Four of Nine

Curious Indian/Middle-Eastern-English hybrid architecture, Brighton

Curious Indian/Middle-Eastern-English hybrid architecture, Brighton

Laura and her French-north African boyfriend Larry were revelations. I really gained an even greater if possible positive appreciation of Emma through her associates, and took their warm welcome of me as a good sign. Sadly, I found out from her at the end of the night that her friends’ almost decade-long relationship had not been without one particularly unhappy challenge. They were still a charming duo, even if probably due to that sad fact Emma later confided in me they were, while we sat later on as a foursome at a nightclub, arguing a little. I was experiencing a different problem with my momentary partner: I’d suddenly become shy. Under normal circumstances it would have been an appropriate time to kiss her, but I was discouraged by the whole “cold sore” thing you’d understand if you’ve read my blog posts on New York. I was kind of hoping she’d initiate something to that effect. And if you think that makes me less of a man, I politely encourage you to go back to the ‘50s with Tony Abbott where you belong. No, no kiss. Instead she slid across my lap – which wasn’t the worst thing a chick’s ever done to me for at least one reason – and began talking to Laura. Larry and I conversed but, God love the guy whom I still remember fondly, I could barely understand him due to a combination of the loud music and his quite good but a little drunken English. It was ok though. I’m a good listener. Even if on this occasion I was largely only reacting based on his facial expressions. Emma, meanwhile, was figuratively slipping further away from me. I made the mistake of, by clinking his drink, taking Larry’s side in the argument he’d had and I’d not overheard with his partner – at least just for the sake of backing up a brother. Laura would have forgiven me and I still hope Emma at least respected my ignorance. I was forced to buy her a drink at that nightclub because she had already shouted me two, but I did so while she was quite humorously counting a mountain of coins with which she intended to buy the drink herself. Then in response to her apparent but probably playful disgust at my having paid for her drink, I responded with shifty eyes. I can’t now remember what her drink was, but I believe I at least got it right. The kicker is that despite the pile of coins on the bar, she had said she was going to pay by card. A little shocked by her revelation to me of Laura and Larry’s private pain, I again baulked at kissing when we’d stopped walking side-by-side a short distance away at a cab rank. Where after kissing me on the cheek she ran across the road, jumped into a cab; and I never saw her little British bum again.

As with my previous night in London, I woke up about 3am again – probably from nightmares about balding hotel reception dudes stealing my money. Out of courtesy for my less insomniac roommates, I charged my phone and read (Youth in Revolt) in the hall outside my room. I was also Facebooking Emma too often but not aggressively. I will only further state in regard to my future messages to her that indeed I sent them too often and must have seemed to her a little in mental turmoil – both of which facts I blamed on the nightly sleep deprivation I suffered until heading back to London after about a week. Once the sun had risen to brightly bless beautiful Brighton (too much alliteration?) I left the hostel to wander the town’s lanes and laines; “laines” being footpaths between pub and shopfronts only wide enough to accommodate people walking single file. While the “lanes” were, y’know, the size you’d normally expect of them and wider than their letter “i” bearing cousins. It felt as if I’d stumbled into a fantasy novel loosely based on 15th century Britain. After the lanes and laines and roads and buses and coffee and cigarettes I took my first walk on the award winning pebbled beach that Brighton’s was. Still early, and on a weekday, this humble unemployed writer felt like he had one of the most wonderful places in the world he’d seen all to his self. There were however no waves. Couldn’t help noticing that. But as I knew there were often swells further west toward and off the coast of Wales, I was able to indulge in the dream and realistic prospect of hiring a car, surfboard, wetsuit – not to mention gloves, booties and probably another wetsuit – and heading west in search of Atlantic Ocean swell. I never did, but hey; I’ll be damned if it wasn’t nice to think about. From the beach I wandered past the Brighton Wheel (huge, white, enclosed carriage Ferris wheel) to the most working class cafe in existence. Full of large men and one woman wearing high-visibility clothing and offering only instant coffee, it was. But I didn’t mind, which I stated to that one woman after she apologised for their loud conversation in heavy regional accents I could barely understand. Actually I wish I had, respectfully, made more of an effort to talk with them and find out just what a lower or perhaps lower-middle class person living in a town like Brighton thought, but I was too immersed in my book. I walked from the cafe into the swiftly brightening sunshine and returned to the hostel just in time for its adequate free brekky that finished at “half-nine” each day. “I must ask what time it starts,” I scribbled. Where on earth did my philosophical introspections go? Oh yeah, they’re further back in the notepad. I’ll re-introduce some of them in the next post. Looking forward to having you read me at Brighton part five 🙂 Looks as if there’s going to be 10 parts. Nope, nine. . . .

Dawn, Brighton, winter 2012

Dawn, Brighton, winter 2012

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Two of Nine

Kensington Olympia Station (I think), London, England

Kensington Olympia Station (I think), London, England

Man, my time in Brighton is going to require a lot of words by the looks of it. But I’ll endeavour to make it no-less interesting than anything preceding it. And I’m not even there yet. I’m still in London – checking in to the Northfields Hostel. I hope its management is reading this. I was ripped-off a couple of pounds by the guy working there. But I’ll have to come back to the details, because according to my notes at this point it’s “time for philosophy”. They go for about five pages of my notepad, so I can’t use them all within the one post. While I was still in New Orleans: “This fever delirium’s awesome – I slotted into a barrel I just could not escape, committed suicide in a Coles fresh produce prep room (and was sure to leave a note saying that working for a supermarket makes you a slave earning only enough to survive and return to work each day), drifted through a vortex the colour and direction, but not destination, of which I could change, was sucked by a huge spider/elephant monster into a world full of marching chains that led me to a place where the chains were mummifying humans who would scream one last time before being entombed in metal.” If that doesn’t enlighten you of how sick I was in Louisiana. . . . “Peace and love: it’s what hands are for. One to extend an olive branch and the other to caress a lover’s chin, perhaps before kissing her or him. Following one’s heart is foolish, under normal circumstances. I hate when I ask someone how they are and they wince, like it should be obvious they are not well.” And, finally, though I’ll try to sprinkle the rest of them through Brighton, “Freedom and the evil which constantly assaults it sometimes demands that relatively good, innocent people must suffer and die”. My God, was I sick. Well, the guy behind the Northfields’ counter seemed legit. And the night’s stay only cost 16 pounds (how in God’s name do you create a pound symbol with a US keyboard?). Steal! One problem: he didn’t (he did) have change and I’d just arrived in the country, so I had none to offer. So he took my 20 pound note and said we could sort it out in the morning. Utter bullshit, the twat – to use the local lingo. The Aussie equivalent would be “cunt”, but I abhor the word and promise you this will be the only time it appears within this blog series. I went to bed without arguing the point with him. Then woke up two hours later. Roughly 2 or 3am. Goddamn jetlag. Resigned, I showered, relieved some tension in a sexual manner, read up about London and Brighton in a Lonely Planet guide I found in the common area, then at about 7am hunted and gathered down the road for a corner store in which to buy some food. Then a not yet Christmas miracle occurred. I’d first seen snow on the ground in Yosemite National Park, California. On this my first morning in London, which I can’t accurately date due to the time difference from New York, I saw falling snow for the first time. Delicate crystals of water glinting yellow in the lamplight drifted to meet Northfield Avenue between my enraptured eyes and the tube station. Grizzled London commuters ignored it as they hastened toward the station. And it turned to sleet pretty quickly, so off I went in search of food with sleet/snow crunching on to my umbrella. The experience of seeing a snowfall was wonderful, if brief, and has for me not been repeated since.

Two tins of soup, a half-loaf of bread, tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and 20-pack of Marlboro Lights set me back 11 pounds. Not fucking bad. It rained, then sleeted, then snowed, then sleeted, and rained again on my way back to the hostel. There I greedily consumed my bizarre as London’s weather breakfast. Satiated, strengthened, it was time to collect four pounds from the reception con man.

“I gave the change to your roommate,” he drooled. “Did he give it to you?”

My roommate was asleep when I arrived about midnight and was presently still asleep.

“Oh,” I naively began, “you gave it to him?” Then I walked upstairs, already suspicious and then conscious of the fact that the guy wouldn’t give me my money no matter what I said.

I’d been screwed. The fucker. I hoped he would invest the four fucking pounds in premature balding treatment. From there I slept in from 8am to about 11.50am. Set an alarm for 10.30am but slept through it, of course. No discipline. Sigh. And the guy who allegedly had my change was gone when I awoke. Thank God for the changing of the corrupt guards, which meant there was someone other than the petty thief at reception when I found myself down there – who told me not to worry about paying for the late check out. From the nearby Northfields station I managed to negotiate with help from friendly rail staff my way to Kensington Olympia Station, from where only apparently could I train it south to Brighton. Before boarding my train I stopped for lunch at Miran Masala on Hammersmith Road – where I would eat the best so far Indian food I’d ever tasted. From there the abstract and ever mobile concept of time flew through one physical constant: cold. Even within the carriage. Until I was looking through the stationary train’s windows upon rows and rows of identical houses separated only by a leafless tree-lined main road. Brighton. I was home. Well, where home would be for the next week or so.

Love at first sight - Brighton, England, some time during an early December, 2012, afternoon

Love at first sight – Brighton, England, some time during an early December, 2012, afternoon

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part One of Nine

Why have I posted a photo of me enjoying a glass of wine and cigarette while wearing a flannelette shirt at Vegas' Luxor Hotel and Casino, when I've just started a series of blog posts about visiting Brighton, England?  Read on and the answer will reveal itself. . . .

Why have I posted a photo of me enjoying a glass of wine and cigarette while wearing a flannelette shirt at Vegas’ Luxor Hotel and Casino, when I’ve just started a series of blog posts about visiting Brighton, England? Read on and the answer will reveal itself. . . .

Beginning a story is always hard. Especially when you’ve elected to create many stories, and consequent beginnings, within a larger narrative. I always endeavour to avoid starting a story with “I”, as in “I did this or that” or “after”, as in “after doing this or that I did this or that”. Such commencements are banal and unimaginative, but I encourage anyone reading this to resist not reading anything because it leads off in such ways. You never know what you might be missing. Ah, beginnings. Even literature greats have struggled with it, until they broke through that figurative ice with their classic work creating pick. By now you probably think I’m simply stalling, so I’ll get to the point: this story’s beginning will set off from way back at an interesting particular moment I forgot to mention in Las Vegas – even though I am presently with regard to this blog post about to land at London’s Heathrow Airport. Vegas. Shudder. Just thinking about that cultural quagmire makes my soul sigh. It was my last night, at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, astride one of its roulette tables. I was sitting there losing money, as you do, when an Aussie bloke foursome joined me. They were young professionals out for no good away from their too attractive girlfriends. Not bogans. I would have preferred bogans. These cobbers (Australian term for pal), or at least one of them, were sharks. I’d had a fair bit to drink, but so help me God I swear to his crucified son Jesus that one of them slipped three $5 poker chips on top of my one, which was sitting on red. I’d experienced this sleazy tactic before at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, in which some grizzled old bastard won red through chips he put on mine, but took the whole lot. In that case I notified the dealer and eventually, through the cameras above us, the offender was found to have been a charlatan – but had disappeared when the time came to give me my rightful winnings. In this Luxor Casino instance, red did not come up. So we both lost. I turned and eyed the guy who had placed his now gone into the casino’s coffers chips on mine, while keeping in mind that I was outnumbered. Then I told the dealer that I wanted to go to the cameras if I suspected he tried his trick again and we won. He snaked me again! But again, we both lost, I gave him more eye-contact, then got up and left. If you’re grasping for context please simply read the post in question. Needless to say the experience made me think of home, Australia, for not overly fond reasons. Which leads me to segue into the next paragraph in a manner which you may argue is not smooth, but I reckon it is.

Home. It’s where the heart is, as is said. This complicated things for me, as my plane touched down in the UK. Most people I truly loved were on the other side of the world. Yet I was visiting a place that culturally, due to my interest in it, and based on DNA, due to my Irish and Scottish heritage, was homely for me. Plus, I was partly there to visit a woman who I was in whatever quantity or quality becoming to love. Though I wasn’t in love with her, to use a juvenile clarification. So all things being equal I was home – and I’m not even really a monarchist. England’s lights made it seem a giant horizontal Christmas tree on approach from the air, which was appropriate as it was December and I would spend Jesus’ pagan-borrowed birthday in Scotland. The fascist at customs detained me for almost 30 minutes with lots of fucking ridiculous questions. He even wanted to see my bank details, despite the fact I don’t carry bank statements around with me and I couldn’t connect to the airport’s wifi. I tried greasing the wheels by saying I expected the UK to be more classy, or some better word I can’t remember, than the US. Eventually he let me go after saying I was “doing what he’d done”, by which he meant travelling. He was nostalgically jealous. Fine, great, you fat, balding, time wasting prick. See you later. Even while in the areas of the airport in which it’s more common to spend a lot of time, I couldn’t get a wifi signal with which to find a hostel. I tried using one of their computers, on whose keyboard I couldn’t find an @ symbol. After considering crying, I instead Googled the symbol, then copied and pasted it. It was while at this computer I received discouraging news from Emma. I can’t find the Facebook message, so she must have emailed me. That would explain my need for the @ symbol. But I can’t find an email, either. Can you actually delete Facebook messages? Goddamn technology. Anyway, she basically expressed concern that I had greater expectations of my visiting her than she might have been able to accommodate. Of course this wasn’t my first experience with this type of thing, and I wasn’t exactly going to soon again be in her neighbourhood after returning to Australia with an all but dry bank account, so I persisted. I reassured her that my entire trip had been engaged in under the expectation that I had no expectations, and that though my fondness for her was an extra incentive I’d loosely planned on visiting the UK regardless of her. I should also state I had before this point probably come on a little too strong too early with her, basically by saying that I wished to kiss her through a Facebook or email message or whatever. I wanted to clear up just how concerned she was about my cold sore history, and she actually didn’t respond with much concern. But I’d made a romantic tactical blunder, I admit it, and she was probably just being polite. Like I said: I persisted anyway, at least until she finally decided to make it in no uncertain terms clear that she was no longer interested. In the meantime, it was late and I had to get to my outer-suburban London hostel. I took a 50 pound including 5 pound tip black cab, instead of the Tube because I’m a fucking moron, and checked in to that sucker.

My first snowfall (though you can barely tell), London, England, early December, 2012

My first snowfall (though you can barely tell), London, England, early December, 2012

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Three of Nine

Sunset beyond Brighton's esplanade

Sunset beyond Brighton’s esplanade

Sigh. I mean that’s based on convention probably the worst way to begin a story or sentence, right? But the reason for it is I just flipped ahead through my notes and I’d guess have at least another 8000 words to get through before I leave Brighton. This is a sad fact because many of those words will carry increasing heartache but also a happy one because many other words will speak of how sensational I found the place to be. Horrible and wonderful memories, fighting a philosophical war within my skull. I’ll use the notepad as an intermediary between them. After experiencing my first pay toilet – a baffling concept I figure literally flushes some tourism down the toilet – at the Brighton Railway Station, I emerged onto Queen’s Road immediately baffled by what my precise location was. Until I spotted the Atlantic Ocean, and made a beeline for it. From the esplanade, just like with my first close encounters with New York’s Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, I managed just in time to get some photos of a blood orange sun setting south-west over the Atlantic. And was happy. I was already charmed by the people and architecture I was seeing, and hadn’t even spoken to anyone or entered any buildings yet. While a limp English Channel swell lapped at the stony shore and gulls cawed to the evening I searched for a hostel via a cafe’s wifi. The large cup of tea I had there, coffee I’d had earlier and cruel, contemptuous jet lag were probably at fault for the poor sleep I had that and each night I spent in the town. It didn’t help matters. Presently, I was standing outside well-reviewed Buggies Backpackers’ locked front door, waiting for a woman completing bookwork within to notice my shivering frame from a window. She eventually did, only to tell me the hostel was closed for “airing out” during winter. So I wandered down to my second choice – party hostel St Christopher’s, where beds were 13 pounds a night. A new record in accommodation thrift, for me. I kept in touch with Emma a couple of times through Facebook, in between the train station and where I finally stashed my backpack at about 9pm. Why through Facebook? Let me take you back to San Francisco via Los Angeles. Just before leaving LA I’d paid $30 to Vodafone, for about 500mb roaming internet data on my phone, which was stupid because all hostels and cafes had complimentary if sometimes temperamental wifi. But I bought it anyway, went over its limit, naturally, to the tune of 900 fucking dollars, and Vodafail notified me, by my now largely useless phone while I stood outside my San Fran hostel, corruptly late that my account had been suspended. They couldn’t have cut me off at, say: 2 or $300 over? The bastards. I didn’t bother reactivating the account until I returned to Australia.

Writing to Emma and anyone else I needed to get in contact with not dramatically urgently was my preference over phone calls, anyway. You may have noticed through reading this and other things I’ve written that I enjoy it. Writing. And doing so through email to people, whether they were just around the corner or across the oceans vast, was kind of modernistically romantic, to me. Particularly with Emma, I’d write to her with the assumption in mind that she might care to know my whereabouts and activities as I did to know hers. Turned out she was at a pub within walking distance of St Christopher’s – a pub I won’t mention the name of because it could risk revealing her true identity, if I haven’t already. She wasn’t alone though. She was with colleagues. What? I thought. Why would this girl I’d just met and developed affection for that I suspected she reciprocated presume to have me meet her friends so soon? “Why did you chase a girl you barely knew across the Atlantic?” you might ask. I’ve already explained my emotions, and the fact that I had planned long before meeting Emma on visiting the UK from New York – should it have proven financially possible at the time. I will concede that I probably wouldn’t have seen Brighton if not for her. So touché, dear reader. Touché. Quite aside from all this doubt, I showered, shaved, dressed and ventured forth in search of the young lady and her travel company associates. At the very least, I figured as a dislocated, lonesome Aussie traveller, I was meeting up with the best possible people. Sigh: sweet Brighton. It was an enormous snow-globe village – minus the snow, presently. Obviously most if not all its buildings laid claim to more years than any anywhere Australia could, but I was quite surprised by what looked like an Indian palace that was surrounded by other impressive but less conspicuous buildings and the charming Pavilion Gardens. I still can’t figure out what it was called but it housed a few different services like the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and Brighton and Hove Tourist Information Centre. Plus it was built by one of the King Georges, probably only a hundred or two years ago. And finally, its street front featured a quite simply (and I’m excited right now because this is my first time justifiably writing this long but excellent word) phantasmagorical ice skating rink. I’ll put up a photo below so I don’t have to explain why. Agree? Good. Movin’ right along. Found and hugged Emma at her warm and indie musical little pub, where I promptly visited the bar for my first mulled wine. An excellent method for surviving a coastal English winter, is mulled wine, but I swear you’ve got to drink eight of them just to feel as drunk as you would after four full strength beers. Only two of her mates where there when I arrived. Then they were everywhere! And I really liked them. They responded well to my more than a little bit (another long yet appropriate word) discombobulated presence. Contributing to my sense of pleasant unease, of course, was Emma – who looked from a dream with her hypnotising green eyes and slightly below the shoulder chestnut hair. Making her smile and reveal her perfect little white teeth was at the time my consistent endeavour. And I achieved enough success by which to remain heartened. Despite probably 10 mulled wines and regularly ducking outside into the Arctic-feeling air with Emma for cigarettes, I never really felt intoxicated. She and her attractive, taller friend Laura certainly looked drunk though. This was mostly because neither of them had apparently eaten dinner. Emma tried to convince me that she was unattractively drunk. I stated my disagreement, while rolling my eyes and grinning. She playfully mocked me.

The Pavilion ice rink

The Pavilion ice rink