Fuck you, Glee.

The closest many will get to the feeling of having their fingers boiling water tortured. Unless you’ve gotten your fingers stuck in the garbage disposal while Glee suddenly aired on the radio.

BTW sorry Monkey King. Haven’t reblogged you yet because, bizarrely, I can relate to your blog. While this post I both understand and find a revelation. You’re up next. No! Don’t throw your shit at me! 😉

Emilie Zoey Baker

So, I’ve had fake nails now for about six months. The reason I got them is I had this hot job interview and I wanted to get that not-on-the-dole look. My nails are like flakes of peeled house paint at best, but whenever I attempt do my own nail polish it looks like a five-year-old kid with ADD did them in a high-speed car chase with a monkey at the wheel. Plus, they were so soft you only had to touch them and they’d faint off my fingers, like a gay man at Liza Minnelli’s farewell concert. So I thought, fuck it, I’m going to be one of those people with fake nails.

So I’d gone into a nail bar and had a Vietnamese woman work my nails away, filing at them like she was some kinda mad violinist from a Chekov play or something. Like this was the concerto…

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US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Eight of Nine

North Greenwich (Isle of Dogs) Bowls Club

North Greenwich (Isle of Dogs) Bowls Club

Fifteen metres above me, the brown, brackish Thames flowed one way or the other past its Greenwich Village south shore. Almost half a kilometre away north under the river stretched and seemingly narrowed the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, in a slightly down then upward curve hugging the waters above. No drips could be seen or heard happening. But the presence of water on the floor of the tunnel, the smell of it in the thick air and the close but light feel of it on the skin could not be denied. I tried not to think about how many summer floods the tunnel had seen, nor how much days, months and years of tides had reduced the distance between the Thames’ riverbed and the ceiling below it above me. Three people walked faster ahead, silently, and would disappear from sight up stairs at the other end. Behind me, an eery echo from a single pair of feet descended the spiral staircase and entered the claustrophobic tiled-tube like a shadow’s messenger from the world above. For precious moments within that tunnel I was more alone than I would ever be in London, though I may not have truly been alone at all. Later that night upon my return to Blackheath I mentioned my journey through the foot tunnel to my momentary landlords, Jim and Tim. Tim said it was haunted. By the ghost of a young woman or little girl. And his silence left the rest up to me.

Kids do tend to make horror movies that much more horrific. There’s something in the innocence juxtaposed against the terror. Well, that and the reprehensible misfortune of youthful death. But I don’t really believe in ghosts. I’m more of a reincarnation sort of guy. Or maybe a swift upon death passage to either Heaven or Hell. So I’d be lying if I said I was really creeped out by the whole experience. In reality I quite enjoyed the idea of walking under a river – which I’d never done before. Especially one so mighty and famous as the Thames. But obviously the view from one of many bridges over it was always going to be a little more stimulating. Still, I wasn’t mugged down there, the tunnel didn’t finally give way to tonnes of water pressure above and I wasn’t possessed by a young female wraith bent on revenge for crimes long ago. Or was I? No. No I certainly wasn’t. Instead I emerged safe and happy from the identical glazed dome entry point across the river at the Isle of Dogs – just to the south of Canary Wharf. The tunnel had actually been built in 1902 and had been repaired only once, after damage to it during World War Two. Perhaps the Germans are claustrophobic too, if not phasmophobic. Hitler sure didn’t seem to love his bunker. Ahem. Moving on. . . .

If this needs a caption then you haven't bothered reading the story, in which case there's little hope for you

If this needs a caption then you haven’t bothered reading the story, in which case there’s little hope for you

The Isle of Dogs seemed first of all well-named, as it was full of seedy people and lower-class housing. Kind of, in hindsight, reminded me of the television show Misfits. Minus any hint of bizarre superpowers. After walking past a large park sure to have seen its share of drug deals, I approached what could only be described as London’s oddly segregated banking district through swiftly urbanising streets. Canary Wharf is a well-greened and quite surrounded by water collection of, again, mostly tall banking buildings. I was making for Jubilee Park, literally above the Tube station, at which an ice rink was located in the north-west corner. But it was a very small rink full of also very small and uncoordinated British children getting an obviously beginning ice skating lesson. So I hopped the train to the now very familiar London Bridge station and instead headed for the larger ice rink I knew was next to the Tower of London. Beware (states my journal): the Starbucks to the right of the Tower Bridge on the north bank doesn’t – or didn’t – have very good Wifi. I shouldn’t really have been buying God’s Own Drink (other than wine) at Starbucks anyway, as Emma had when I first enjoyed time alone with her in New York told me the chain was on the nose for (somehow legal) tax evasion. Almost a week after being rejected by her, I guess I couldn’t have cared less anymore. For the record I asked Starbucks Australia’s Facebook page if the company paid tax here, but never got a response. Corporate indifference? Now that’s taxing.

A distinct lack of retarded Londoners and tourists on the Tower of London rink initially heartened me; until naturally when my session came up they all came out of the woodwork and created a sharp-footed human flood across the ice. If anything the crowd actually made it more enjoyable for me, weaving at high speed past them often in curving sprays of ice as I navigated the frozen rectangle. I’d even gotten to the point in which I could slide-stop, instead of spinning in a circle or running into a wall as slow as I could. I believe skating had finally stopped being mainly an excuse to roll delicious memories of time spent with Emma around in my mouth, too. Speaking very figuratively there. Never actually got to kiss her. Damn it all. Liberated, I swooped for a good hour around the ice enjoying the cool air on my face and warm exertion in my legs. I suppose in many ways skating was reminiscent of surfing, which I hadn’t done in months and would classify as my greatest enduring conditional love other than reading. In order to get back to London Bridge – which is the next one not quite a kilometre west of the Tower Bridge – I walked in an arc north, west then south through the City of London. I strolled past groups of people enjoying themselves outside bars and restaurants after work. And past the other usual individuals walking with their heads so far up their arses they wouldn’t have been able to wave without tickling their own bum-hole. “Still, less homeless than in America,” I penned. After training it back I watched the annual British sport awards (yawn) with Tim and Jim, and hit the hay. Probably pretty early. It had been a long and enjoyable day.

The Tower of London, background, and its ice rink, foreground

The Tower of London, background, and its ice rink, foreground

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Seven of Nine

Flashback photo - New York's Central Park ice rink

Flashback photo – New York’s Central Park ice rink

Love is an emotion felt by people for other people and objects, correct? Yes, but before love is shared or expressed, it still exists. I think of love like it’s a mineral deposit buried within good hearts, that waits but for someone or something to come along and do or be something that drills for its precious intangibility. This is why referring to someone apparently incapable of love as cold-hearted is apt, as their love cannot flow and instead remains stored rigidly in their (figuratively) not beating heart, perhaps until death. Or maybe many of the cold-hearted in fact have no love. For some, among whom I’d count myself, the opposite is true. Some have more love stored in their breast than could possibly be wholly captured by another. And such a burden can weigh heavily on such people, if few people other than members of their family desire to tap into the bursting love reservoir with their own affection. It is of the utmost importance that love is never confused for desire or lust or passion, because such dispositions are selfish even if through their mutual expression they can be beneficial for the person, persons, object or objects toward which they are directed. Love is the purest and most powerful thing in the universe. In fact if the love held and shared by every emotionally capable creature in the cosmos was translated into destructive power it could destroy the universe twice over. Of course genuine love could never be anything but a positive and constructive emotion, even if it is not reciprocated. Indeed people’s love for objects or pastimes, such as books and reading and writing, can never really be returned in any manner other than the way a mirror reflects images. A writer may feel love for his or her readers, but in most cases unless he or she knows them personally this love will only be conveyed indirectly through his or her written words. Just as there is no greater feeling than to love and be loved, there can be no worse emotional wound than that created by a loved one saying or indicating that they do not want your love, or in any event have none to return. Such tragedies echo in humankind’s oldest annals.

My point? You may be wondering. Simple: sometime during my time in Dublin which I visited the day after where I’m presently at – London – in this story, Emma, not content with her simple yet somewhat devastating rejection, unfriended me from Facebook. Cry melodrama, if you will. But anyone familiar with the nature and development of social media would probably agree a Facebook friends list removal by a failed love interest is pretty breathtakingly powerful stuff. I guess, though I didn’t dishonour myself by directly commenting on it, she must have sensed the temporary bitterness in my status updates during the week or two after she’d spurned me, and had had enough. Fair, I guess, enough. I have no justification for mentioning this other than because I was, many months later and back home, thinking about it. Plus presently I’ve just returned to Blackheath from a lonely and unsuccessful quest to watch a movie about a quest – The Hobbit – at London’s Leicester Square. Perhaps it was an exaggeration to write “even The Inbetweeners couldn’t cheer me up”, but surely you get my point. Next morning I felt like ice skating. It was a passion I’d acquired in New York which refreshed pleasant memories I had of the preciously small amount of time I’d shared with Emma. Before that I had only skated twice in my life: once as a child at Pacific Fair shopping centre on the Gold Coast, where and when I spent most of my time on my arse; and once at Bundall (again on the Coast) at an indoor rink I skated well at with my first girlfriend. She was hopeless at it, by the way. But it was somewhat romantic and chivalrous to have her intensely gripping my hand in fear as we limped in love across the ice. After enjoying it in both the US’s New York and UK’s Brighton, I’d gotten pretty good, even if I do say so myself. Which I do. So after figuring out there was a rink at Canary Wharf, just across the Thames from Greenwich, I had my destination. Aside from the fact that love for or from or sex with a beautiful – and I don’t only mean physically – woman surely cannot be knocked off the apex of any heterosexual man’s pleasure ranking system; the act of being in and exploring and listening to and smelling and hearing and feeling and tasting a place I’ve never been to is surely the purest enjoyment I could ever experience. It’s not just about the consistent and sometimes destructive human desire for infinitely more, it’s about the new. I’m comforted as we all are by the familiar, but life without an occasional new experience is in no way worth living. We live in a world where everything has kind of been done, but that does not take away from the dazzling inspiration and happiness that can result from new experiences. You might say I love it. But you should also keep in mind no matter how much love I have for the new, I will always have plenty of love left for one woman. Selfless love. The sort of love that, however clichéd a sentiment it might be, would have me genuinely capable of sacrificing my life if necessary for hers to be ongoing. With such fanciful ideals possibly swimming in my head after a good night’s sleep, I set out for the personally uncharted territory of Canary Wharf, through barely familiar Greenwich Park.

Somerset House Ice Rink

Somerset House Ice Rink

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Six of Nine

One of my favourite photos from my time with the Dragon - Squamish, British Columbia - why not

One of my favourite photos from my time with the Dragon – Squamish, British Columbia – why not

My notes next state: “Not really sure about Sunday. Pretty sure I booked my flight to Dublin. What the hell else? Probably slept late again. Hyde Park? Ah, I think this is the afternoon/evening I ventured again into Leicester Square to see The Hobbit.” I’m just glad that I mentioned it was Sunday, which gives me the chance to add some dated context into the narrative. It was almost certainly Sunday December 16, 2012. I’m pretty sure I didn’t visit Hyde Park on this day, but how about – whichever day it was – I share the walk I did take through the place, in as much detail as possible? Ok? Great. Probably the best way to enter the park is via Hyde Park Corner, which is true to its name located at the south-eastern entrance and features a Tube station by the same name. Then you pass through the Hyde Park Grand Entrance – an imposing concrete gate supported by Grecian columns that looks like a smaller and less flashy version of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. From there you dodge taxis and horse-drawn carriages across the South Carriage Drive and, during winter, are immediately confronted by the Winter Wonderland. The Wonderland is really something for dysfunctional families or courting couples, and not casually alcoholic, virtually chain-smoking loner tourists like your humble narrator. But they did sell mulled wine within, so I bought a couple of them then wandered north-west along the Serpentine – an elongated tear-drop-shaped body of water stretching from the park’s upper middle to its south-east corner.

Tower Bridge, north bank

Tower Bridge, north bank

There are countless paths crisscrossing Hyde Park, but I stuck to the lake-side before turning south at the Serpentine Bridge, passing the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and leaving the park via Exhibition Road. So there you have it. I’m sure the park is a wonderful place for about a month or two during summer, when pasty Londoners descend on it to expose their pink bodies to the fleeting, warm sunshine. But during winter it’s a pretty dreary place only partially enlivened by the tacky Arctic-themed fair above Hyde Park Corner. I remember, even before I’d left New York, Emma in electronic correspondence had set my foolish heart all a flutter with eager suggestions that we could spend the weekend together in London, once I’d flown to the UK a few days later. Of course you know how that turned out. With the future in mind, I really need to stop being interested in diminutive, plucky and kind of geeky ambitious women. Because the fact they’re my type is irrelevant at best if I’m never theirs. Or I just need to find one with a soul. Nothing is set in stone. The future is uncertain. Though I’d be lying if I said I was becoming any more optimistic with each rejection or brush-off I get from such women. In fact the ways I’ve been treated (or not treated) by some members of the fairer sex over the years has left me with a gathering loneliness often even felt in the company of others. And I refuse to create an online dating site profile. Meeting someone on there’s about as romantic as an arranged marriage. Though there’s a couple of exceptions to this conclusion that I know of first-hand.

Saint Paul's Cathedral, London

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London

Like I said above, I wanted to see recently released The Hobbit in Leicester Square. I was confused by the fact that you have to line up in the blustery cold outside the cinema to buy tickets before entering the foyer and proceeding to the film. In fact for some reason at first I completely disregarded the box office outside the Odeon Cinema, and tried to open the door to its foyer without a ticket. An usher inside opened the door, and told me that I needed to pay for a ticket first. Duh, ya clueless Aussie bastard. I suppose that system discourages loiterers – or automatic-weapon wielding mass murderers. I mis-read that the next showing was at 9.10pm, when presently it was about 8pm and the film was actually screening at 11.10pm. So I went for a time-passing beer at Waxy’s Little Sister, where I’d been two nights before with Jim, Kristy and Tim. The bouncer was a little reluctant to let me in. Asked me how many people were in my party. Just me, I said. Then he delayed opening the door. I may have looked a little fucked from exhaustion, but I was stone-cold sober. So I still have no idea what the dunce’s problem was. Had Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner because the lines at both Macca’s and Hungry Jack’s were simply ridiculous. I both didn’t trust the rest of the area’s food, and baulked at the exorbitant, tourist-screwing prices. Then I returned to the cinema at about 9pm. “Shit!” Finally discovered Peter Jackson’s shamelessly money-hungry three-part adaptation of a two or three-hundred page novel was in fact playing at almost midnight. A lot of the UK seems to use 24-hour time for some pompous reason. Probably pomposity. Miserable, I dragged myself back to Blackheath – where even The Inbetweeners couldn’t cheer me up.

The Royal Courts of Justice, London

The Royal Courts of Justice, London

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Five of Nine

Westminster Abbey, with the London Eye bottom left

Westminster Abbey, with the London Eye bottom left

Miraculously minus modern technology, as my phone had drained its battery, my sense of direction wasn’t switched off – despite a hangover that weighed on my shoulders like London’s squalid sky. So I staggered to Clapham Common station from somewhere within Brixton to the south, after my romantically unsuccessful night with Kristy. On my way there I came across the area’s village idiot. Seriously, though he might also have been the town drunk. It’s largely impossible to accurately convey the experience from any conventional literary sense. I was merely walking along, just another face in the crowd, still not sure of my heading when all of his short, dishevelled, unwashed and not recently shaven appearance loomed out of the indifferent crowd flowing to-and-fro around us. Then he started cackling. This is the part that’s hard to record. He didn’t seem to be laughing out of contempt. It felt more like I’d just said something hilarious to him, although I’d actually said nothing. He laughed, and said a few incomprehensible things, and I kept walking but kept my head on a swivel – pointed toward him in case I missed a special piece of ridiculousness or perhaps switchblade or handgun from his pockets. Thankfully, he had nothing else for me. While filled with unanswerable questions about just how many people other than me he’d been freaking out that afternoon, I found myself at the station. My brother who had been to London a couple of years before me praised the underground, or Tube system. He was right to. That city’s underground makes the Gold Coast’s (Queensland, Australia) public transport system seem more like that from an eastern European city a couple of years after World War Two. Point is, no matter how hungover, tired, malnourished or simply lost you are, once you find yourself at an underground station in London, you’re set as long as you have two things: money, and a destination not too far from another station. Once I was at Clapham Common, all I needed to do was connect the various lines, change trains a couple of times, and I was back in good ol’ Blackheath – and straight to bed for an hour or two to fully recover from the hangover and the ordeal of escaping Clapham.

Me and the Tower Bridge and Tower of London in the background.  Notice the frost on my shoes.  Yep, that's how Goddamn cold it was

Me and the Tower Bridge and Tower of London in the background. Notice the frost on my shoes. Yep, that’s how Goddamn cold it was

Lewisham is a poor-ish borough, or suburb, just west of more affluent Blackheath. I’d already passed through it during my few train-rides from the Heath to London Bridge and back, but never really explored it because it doesn’t give off much of a tourist attraction vibe nor is it advertised, anywhere that I know of, as a touristy area. The reason it’s relevant in this case is because my hosts Jim and Tim recommended I visit the area in order to buy at least a Santa hat for my intended drunken journey around the south of London during the Twelve Pubs of Christmas bar crawl. If I hadn’t known better I’d swear Jim and Tim were trying to kill me by advising a visit to Lewisham. Turns out I just left my run too late. I walked to Lewisham in search of a Christmassy shop. The road I took doesn’t matter. The point is I’d left too late, at about 4 or 5pm. That meant amid deepening darkness I wandered through the area to its train station in a steadily increasing state of fear that I’d be mugged. There were many people of a different colour to me in Lewisham. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not racist. It’s just that other than the fact that most of them were clearly recent immigrants or first-generation citizens, they seemed quite poor. And I was probably not unreasonably concerned that they’d find me to be more wealthy than them, simply by virtue of my whiteness, and might seek to extort money I didn’t have by using a knife or firearm as effective leverage. Of course my fears were unfounded and without incident I caught the train from Lewisham back to Blackheath, where I came across some carollers in front of the worst fish and chip shop in the civilised world. After giving them some money to help the homeless, which from a karmic point-of-view was apt as despite my skills I wouldn’t rule out being homeless myself one day, I visited the local pub. Never got anything blog-worthy out of that place – The Railway – but it was a good convenient alcoholic bolt-hole from the rest of the city. From there I watched The Inbetweeners alone, as Jim and Tim were off on a romantic night together. And went to bed, wondering what might have been with Kristy who at that point was probably running around London masquerading as a thin, female and drunk not on egg nog Santa Claus. Merry fucking Christmas.

Carollers, in front of a fish and chip shop that sold me the worst burger I've ever eaten

Carollers, in front of a fish and chip shop that sold me the worst burger I’ve ever eaten

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Four of Nine

Somewhere in Oregon, US - November-ish, 2012

Somewhere in Oregon, US – November-ish, 2012

Portland, Oregon, was as you may remember a progressive Pacific-north-western American city I missed while riding a dragon (Wicked Camper) from California to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This is a little regrettable because since then I’ve learned without much effort more about the city’s vibrancy, despite its almost year-round wet-and-cold-weather. Such weather was itself credited by I don’t remember who in a magazine I can’t recall the name of as being the reason why Portland’s creative culture was blossoming like a sunflower despite or perhaps in spite of regularly dark clouds above. Because such foul weather more often than, say, on the Gold Coast, forced people inside to paint, strum guitars or write fiction. Now, at this point of my US and UK journal I’m in London, and the reason I’ve taken you back to Portland is to make a comparison between the two cities. By no means am I going to suggest that London is not nor never has been an international artistic centre. Hardly. But while Portland and the US north-west it calls home is known as a cultural “up and comer” (Lonely Planet), I felt London was long past its prime in that regard. Of course even or maybe especially for such an ancient city bohemian blossoming in whatever art form must come in cycles, but I couldn’t help but detect a certain stagnation, weariness or perhaps arrogant complacency in that old world town.

I'm posting either too many or not enough photos of London.  Hard to guess when I've started posting as I write.  Oh well. . . .

I’m posting either too many or not enough photos of London. Hard to guess when I’ve started posting as I write. Oh well. . . .

While this feeling was evident, to me, everywhere I went in London – it was no less keenly felt in Clapham, where I was presently riding the bus with young Kristy. We were sitting atop the double-decker heading along Clapham Road back to her townhouse somewhere in or near the Brixton area. At some point during this trip I remembered, loudly and vocally, that during late-2011 London had been rocked by widespread rioting in response to corruption, depressed economic circumstances and, I believe, isolated police brutality. Clapham itself, as Kristy confirmed, had on August 8 of that year been hit by more than 1000 disaffected youths who laid siege to Clapham Junction – one of “Britain’s busiest train stations” – through an orgy of violence, destruction, looting and general anarchy. When I much too loudly started discussing these recollections Kristy shooshed me, then glanced around the bus as if sensing danger. And finally that event brings me to my point: the only thing progressive I sensed about London during my time there was a distinct undercurrent of social angst and anger. But, hey, the Global Financial Crisis was kind to no-one, not least the British. And at least in the UK, unlike Australia, its people bother to notice their elected representatives’ corruption and contempt and voice their disapproval of such outrages. The whole “she’ll be right, mate” sentiment is something that must make our wealthy and powerful rub their fat pink hands with glee. Back to where I left off with the last blog post. . . .

Didn't go inside Shakespeare's Globe - too expensive

Didn’t go inside Shakespeare’s Globe – too expensive

Even with Google Maps streetview I really can’t figure out which Clapham pubs I’d been to during that Friday night in London with Kristy – a pretty friend of my half-sister and brother’s sister. Even memories of the first pub we visited, after leaving central London with her two full-bodied buddies, are hazy due to the amount of gin and tonic I was drinking. I remember enjoying myself immensely, though, and that the atmosphere was quite amiable – despite the fact that being a long way from home and escorting three women I barely knew through an area I knew even less well was a decidedly foreign experience for me. Still, we chatted and danced and drank and indulged in that time-standing-still atmosphere unique to Friday nights out or pleasant sexual experiences. The pub seemed a microcosm of that not-quite-eternal city; it was standing room only, unless you could actually find a seat on the sides of the room. We had, and it was warm inside so I’d removed my scarf, jacket and second jacket down to but a t-shirt and jeans. Not long before leaving entirely I stepped out for a cigarette quite bravely without wearing warm clothes and when I tried to return, they were closed. Of course the pub wasn’t actually closed, but that’s what the security staff told me. I said my friends and jacket were inside, but they were indifferent. So I stood there jumping slightly up and down with my arms crossed for warmth, until the meat-heads said I could go back inside to get my stuff, under one condition: they’d be following me. Naturally, once I’d taken a few steps inside and turned around to check I was being followed, the bouncers had lost interest and were nowhere to be seen. The fuckers were merely messing with the rare Australian guy who’d mindlessly followed a beautiful woman to Clapham.

London Bridge from the Thames south bank

London Bridge from the Thames south bank

So after I uncharacteristically kissed her friends goodbye European style (one kiss on each cheek), Kristy and I headed for hers via another pub to visit the bathroom and the abovementioned bus ride which could have turned ugly due to my indiscretion. Unbeknown to us, Kristy had lost her wallet at either the second pub’s toilet or simply anywhere within the first. We got back to her flat and I was all ready to make my move – I have no idea how but it’s happened before and hope I manage it again – when she discovered her wallet was gone. That’s a big thing these days. I mean all those cards can be painful to replace and anxiety-inducing to possibly have on someone else’s person. Actually, it probably was worse to lose a wallet back in the days in which money wasn’t electronic. But still, she was hardly pleased. And it was hard to pretend that the hour or two she spent on the phone with places she’d been that night – investigating the location of her misplaced treasured possession – were arousing in the slightest. At least her couch was comfy. In the morning. Well, 1pm really. The next afternoon I didn’t give her so much as a hug before I stepped out of her door and onto a street that was more bewildering than any I’d yet come across during the two months of the trip so far, because my smart phone and hence only real means of navigation had died. I regret not hugging her. At the time I was planning on seeing her again that night, for the 12 Pubs of Christmas. That, I should explain, involves while dressed as Santa visiting and having at least a couple of drinks at 12 pubs (or taverns or bars) – or as many pubs as you can before you wake up in bed the next morning dressed as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick, wondering what the fuck happened. I’ll explain later on why I regretfully didn’t make it to that event. It had something to do with an unplanned twilight stroll through the slums of east-London. I also regretted my phone being dead. Regardless, and filled with fragile confidence constantly battered by a savage hangover, I set forth boldly down the road with extremely little idea of either where I was or where I was going, surrounded by very Dickensian-looking inner-suburban London.

I would have taken photos of Clapham, had my phone not depleted its battery.  God knows my camera would have become lost/stolen, had I taken it. This is Westminster, backgrounded by a simply mesmerising dusk sky

I would have taken photos of Clapham, had my phone not depleted its battery. God knows my camera would have become lost/stolen, had I taken it.
This is Westminster, backgrounded by a simply mesmerising dusk sky

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Three of Nine

The Serpentine, Hyde Park, London

The Serpentine, Hyde Park, London

This journal was apparently not updated again until I’d reached Dublin. Here’s a selection, verbatim and erratically hand-scrawled: “Thursday (in London) – I struggle to recall. Drinking too much Guinness in Dublin. Probably slept late. Pretty shitty day, I also think. Jesus, what’s wrong with me? I mean it was all pretty touristy stuff, really. Actually think I spent the whole day in Blackheath. Had an alright burger and chips pub meal, or maybe a really shit burger at the local fish and chip shop. Yep, spent the whole day in Blackheath. Still got a few drinks in. Ate a lot of sandwiches while in London – very cheap from the little supermarkets. May have finally written and stamped a postcard on this day. Still carried it around for another few (days) before finally posting it at Charring Cross Station. Watched some TV with Jim and Tim – bed. Friday – think I visited Hyde Park and the Natural History Museum. Both pretty boring but I may have been hungover so needed leisurely activities. Winter Wonderland in the park was pretty cool. Had a mulled wine and strolled past the ice rink, (which was) sponsored by Ice Age 4 (the movie) I believe. One of only two (ice rinks) I didn’t get a photo of, much less enjoy (skate on). Beautiful diversity of birds in the Serpentine – the park’s large, non-tidal waterway. Had to negotiate my way back to the Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square station to meet Jim for a drink nearby with her pretty friend Kristy. Jesus – politely decline a request for a cigarette (outside my Dublin hostel) and I get grumbling and cursing in response as the nicotine starved chav (bogan) walks off. Most Irish are more (well) mannered. Yeah I’m getting off topic but my long-term memory’s foggy at best.”

Saint Paul's Cathedral, randomly, London

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, randomly, London

Well, dear reader. I know what you’re thinking: “This fucker’s lost the plot.” Yes, I agree, but there’ll be no more unedited drunken rambling about barely recalled memories from Dublin of London. Well, one more sentence: “Kristy – a very interesting beauty.” And it’s here we need to go back a little. It was Friday night in London, right, and there was no way in Hell I was going to not have at least one night out during possibly my only weekend ever in that behemoth of a city. My hosts – Jim and Tim – were meeting Jim’s friend Kristy at a Leicester Square-adjacent pub after work. So, invited, I decided to join them. Jim, after all, was and always will be an attractive woman so I figured her friend might be, too. Bingo, I was right. But first, events leading up to our meeting: Jim had, just like during my first evening in London, failed to tell me exactly where in the large station Leicester Square’s was she would be meeting me. Plus, I’d never been there before. Fortunately the in and out gates were located at 45-degree angles away from and on each side of a cylindrical, tiled on the outside room within the underground station. So all I had to do was keep an eye on “out” for a diminutive, pretty brunette with greater quantities of hair on her head than Fran Drescher from The Nanny. Success! She appeared. And we found ourselves after negotiating the square’s dense human throng at Waxy’s Little Sister – a pub just north of the square on the corner of Wardour and Lisle Streets. Where we met her prettily snub-nosed and of course fair-skinned friend Kristy.

Ice rink outside the Natural History Museum, again randomly (I didn't take many or any photos during my drunken sojourn through Clapham so these are mostly filler)

Ice rink outside the Natural History Museum, again randomly (I didn’t take many or any photos during my drunken sojourn through Clapham so these are mostly filler)

I must admit while I talked with her and Jim, they did the most of it. Talking, that is. Plus unfortunately I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. Despite some damage from loud music and interpersonal employment over the years, my hearing itself isn’t too bad. The problem was first that the bar was very crowded with other loud people. And second that British – whether native or imported – women do have a tendency toward low-talking. At least the attractive, classy ones seem to. I first learned that with Emma. Of course with her it’s possible I was experiencing that million miles away sensation one can experience while witnessing great beauty and charm. Tim eventually joined us at Waxy’s Li’l Sis, which is weird considering he was an electrician and would have finished work sooner than his wife. Whatever. The main thing is I could hear him better than his bride or her friend, despite the fact that his deeper voice should technically have been more difficult to discern. Who knows? Perhaps the ladies were discussing me in hushed tones? Regardless, it was a “very enjoyable Friday night in London”, I wrote many days later. We moved on to another pub. Then parted ways. But I stuck with Kristy who did or would promise I could crash at her place in Clapham, about 50 kilometres from Blackheath on London’s south-western side. At Waterloo Station we met up with Kristy’s two pudgy friends Harriet and Lisa within (of course) Burger King. This is about (it’s rarely under such circumstances possible to be certain) where the alcohol intake made things hazy. The four of us proceeded to a Clapham pub playing awful ‘90s/’00s pop music. “Was fun”, apparently. I should have made a move on Kristy and thus ensured residence for the night in and beside her warm bed and body instead of alone on her couch, but – for my sins – I was still hung up on Emma from Brighton. Plus I’ve always had difficulty separating sex from love unless the female in the situation has been particularly aggressive about it. “Thanks Dr Gonzo! (‘Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex’ – Hunter S Thompson)” I wrote. “Can’t remember clearly – pretty drunk. Lots of gin and tonic, and that’s after starting on Guinness and mulled wine. May have danced a little.” Madness. Anyway, Emma wasn’t the only reason I didn’t make it as far physically as I would have liked to with Kristy. There were complicating, drunken related influences on her part later on in the night. But I’ll leave this admittedly odd compared to the rest of them post here. See you next time, gentle reader.

The Australian War Memorial below the Wellington Arch, once again quite randomly - Hyde Park Corner

The Australian War Memorial below the Wellington Arch, once again quite randomly – Hyde Park Corner

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Two of Nine

Blackheath Avenue

Blackheath Avenue

When I’d first booked a return flight from Gold Coast Airport on Friday October 12, 2012, Wednesday December 12 was meant to have been the end of the greatest geographical, physical and intellectual journey of my life, at LAX International Airport to Brisbane via Auckland. Instead, blessedly, I was setting out from Blackheath, south-east London to explore Greenwich, also south-east London, England. This was after probably the best sleep I’d had in two months, and waking up neither to cold, snoring nor a fellow backpacker noisily packing their shit before departure. No. I was blissfully alone. And perched on the precipice of beginning an oh-so-long-awaited plunge into exploration of arguably the greatest city the modern civilised world has ever produced. Blackheath, though, to be honest, felt like a little British village far removed from the enormous yet beautiful and labyrinthine metropolis London surely became – which in many ways was a positive reflection of it. But first I needed a leather jacket button mended, so I wandered out into the biting cold while wearing it and another jacket and handed it in to a dry cleaner just across the road. Swear I would not have been surprised if I’d seen Postman Pat and his black-and-white cat ambling along the street bringing letters to people’s doors. Ready, but less well-layered than I’d been in weeks of Northern Hemispherical winter, I headed to Greenwich Park. All Saints Church farewelled me into the park’s tree-less southern depths, and after walking straight up leafless treed and dull green grassed Blackheath Avenue I stopped beside the Royal Observatory. Where I would have seen London in its totality for the first time, but for the glorious yet foul weather settled over it like a cold, dirty blanket. In Greenwich proper the Cutty Sark sailing ship lay landlocked beside the Thames (pronounced “Tems” in case you didn’t know) in an undersized dry aquarium of glass and steel. Soon I got my first view of a brown, certainly frigid yet wide and fast-flowing Thames before heading through the Old Naval College and briefly checking out the National Maritime Museum. I learned there about Arctic sea-passages of old often sought but rarely and hardly found, and about the forging and defence of North Sea World War Two shipping corridors to Russia. Strangely, I saw little of the unprecedented naval empire established during the reign of Queen Victoria. Figured I’d given them enough time at this point, so headed back to Blackheath and retrieved my jacket from the dry cleaners, stopped in at Jimmy and Tim’s, then boarded the aboveground train from the nearby station, for London.

Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark

Alighting at London Bridge station on twilight provided not the dramatic entrance to outer-central London I’d expected. Until I emerged on the southern bank of the Thames and was confronted close-quarters by an immortal city weighed flat by its thousands of years of history. By its many millennia of great wars, artistry, politics, empire, architecture and romanticism. Lights astride the river twinkled gaily through air thick with cool moisture and speckled a black Thames with reflected illumination rivalling the stars in Heaven. I let forth a deep exhalation of visible carbon dioxide, and traversed the Tower Bridge. Then walked west past the city on the river’s north-side, crossed back over London Bridge and continued along the south bank past the Southwark, Millennium (footbridge), Blackfriars, Waterloo, Hungerford and Westminster bridges. After gazing upon Westminster’s governmental splendour for the first time, I got lost amid the St Thomas’ Hospital grounds before passing the Lambeth and crossing Vauxhall Bridge and catching the Tube train from Pimlico to South Kensington Station, a short walk south of Hyde Park. I’d considered ice skating outside the National History Museum, but decided not to for some reason (it must have been busy) and wandered east back through the city to London Bridge and returned to Blackheath, at about 10pm. This is where I’m puzzled by my own notes. Between leaving Greenwich and returning after a very lengthy foot-journey around the city to London Bridge Station, I wrote probably only 50 words of reminiscence. It’s pretty simple, really: London is boring. That might sound contradictory considering I’d already said my first visit to it was “oh-so-long-awaited” and had referred to it as “arguably the greatest city the modern civilised world has ever produced”. The most positive thing I can say under these changed circumstances is that I’m sure London really always is what I expected of it, but you really need a lot of time – probably no-less than a year – in which to appreciate it. Not just a week. Not less than 12 months, I’m sure, would really be required in which to properly appreciate its physical vastness, its cultural depth and its timeless atmosphere. Positives aside, it is the most impersonal city I’ve ever experienced. That’s what bored me. While walking through any city whether in the UK, North America or Australia, a certain aloofness from fellow inhabitants is granted. You won’t be calling hello to everyone, or anyone, you meet like in a good-hearted small town. But in London this was taken a further step to the extreme. As people bustled around and toward me I didn’t feel just as though they saw me blended within the broad, thick brush strokes of moving human paint spread within the streets. You get that in any city. In London, it felt as if to every inhabitant of the pavement and tarmac I and every other were instead offensive graffiti that might be cleaned with but a malicious scowl or not-so-subtle bump of the shoulder. There was an animosity, a teeming, angry jagged flow to London’s streets which didn’t sit well with me despite the physical beauty of its design. So, when I arrived back at London Bridge Station two hours before midnight, I quite with relief boarded a train and fell asleep in Blackheath’s relatively tranquil embrace by 11pm. I would sleep well in London – one of the least sleepy cities in the world – in comparison to those many others I’d visited during the preceding weeks. Possibly too well.

London Eye and Westminster

London Eye and Westminster

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part One of Nine

Sunset on my final day in Brighton - December 2012

Sunset on my final day in Brighton – December 2012

Back in Brighton, one of my more bitter memories amid mostly positive ones was when I returned to St Christopher’s Hostel early one morning. It was still dark, and I’d been out wandering the streets for several hours after probably waking up late the previous night. And the sleep deprivation had me in a weird state. I still blame that state for my romantic failure with Emma – the British girl for whose heart I’d flown across the Atlantic from New York to unsuccessfully capture. My hollow, anxious demeanour this particular morning caused complications when I approached the side door to the hostel’s closed downstairs bar area. I needed access to my upstairs room through the bar, but had nothing to identify myself as a hostel patron other than a featureless key card. So I just stood there. At the door. In the rain and freezing cold. Like a newly re-animated zombie, hungry for warmth but minus cognitive abilities and tools needed to get it. And kind of stared vacantly at the tall neanderthalic-looking bloke and short pretty chick inside who were chatting while holding a mop each. They probably thought with my several days’ facial growth, dirty leather jacket and blood-shot-and-bags-under-them-eyes that I was just another homeless junkie looking for a free feed or couch to sleep on. Eventually, the guy opened the door. Then he said something insulting. I can’t remember exactly what. Something like (kind of to the girl and me at the same time): “I couldn’t figure this guy out. I was wondering ‘Is he staying here? Is he a moron?’” Something to that egotistical effect. I’ve since pegged him as the type who enjoys torturing cute little puppy dogs.

She giggled at his snide remark, while looking at me instead of the actual moron of the situation. I took this as a consolation and decided not to utter a witty retort – both because I didn’t have one and wasn’t in any condition in which to deliver any I otherwise might have had. Then I limped dejectedly upstairs. That hostel wasn’t all bad, though. It had featured Bob the paranoid-delusion-inducing fake weed smoker. And, during my first few days there, there was Cassie the Australian chick working at reception. I can remember no specifics from our conversations, but man was she gorgeous in every way (unless she had a little tail or an aggressive streak I hadn’t noticed). In fact, if not for Emma, I might have asked her out for a drink.

Blackheath, from Greenwich Park, south-east London

Blackheath, from Greenwich Park, south-east London

I still miss her. Emma. But only while writing this journal. I’m not actually a moron, I don’t think. My reason for this reflection from Brighton, you may be wondering considering the fact that this series of blog posts last left off at Blackheath, south-east London, is that for the first time almost two months into my trip I was not going to be sleeping at a hostel, or a hotel, or the back of a campervan. Or a bus depot. Or, a Yosemite National Park jail cell. Nope. I was going to be sleeping in a nice, quiet and warm private house, or more accurately a townhouse, with people I at least vaguely knew. Without realising it at the time, I had almost desperately come to need such comforts. My first morning – well really my second but to be particular the first of a series of consecutive mornings – in London, I woke up in a comfortable bed on the floor of the spare room of a domicile that I wasn’t even paying for. Unless you count the pork chops and Christmas card I left in the young married couple’s fridge as both a payment and present, upon departing for Dublin a week later. But I was only there to sleep, use their wifi and have a couple of beers with my hosts, so I wasn’t much maintenance at all. Yep, pretty much the best blow-in housemate, ever.

London's calling. . . .

London’s calling. . . .