All my life, I’ve been haunted. Or scared. Or missing something I could never quite comprehend, much less expect to discover. With the sometimes benevolent and other times malevolent benefit/detriment of hindsight, I’ve wondered if it’s been because I was born 10 weeks premature. Or because I was never truly born, but instead surgically removed from my mother (via caesarean section). Or because as a result of my prematurity, my first few days and weeks were spent in a humidity crib, when they otherwise would have been spent bonding with the most important woman, at least by virtue of creation, I’d share my (but not all of her) life with. Maybe. But I’ve since realised it almost certainly (albeit not actually certainly) had nothing to do with missing something I’d had trouble finding. Or holding on to a never productive pain I probably just imagined from an immediately but progressively (but not always quickly enough) less painful childhood. It really was about imagination. Or more particularly paranoia. But that’s all. I’d imagined certain horrifying realities about my life and ignored or repressed actual, more pleasant ones. I could never be as free as I deserved until I accepted that some pains are normal; and others are the product of fantasy and fear and paranoia and, simply, poor influence or advice or treatment. No more. No more. No more.
Phil Collins has always been an artist I’ve admired and enjoyed, albeit not known a lot about or patronised to any serious degree (I’ve never bought any of his music. I plan on doing (or downloading) so. And at least reading a Wikipedia article about him. I wonder if he has a biography/autobiography?). An ex-girlfriend of mine used to listen to his music in order to get pumped up for our first few dates. It worked (arguably to ill-effect, eventually). I for one, like I said, have always enjoyed his music but, and this relates to the point of this piece, whenever I’ve heard it I’ve had frustrating difficulty figuring out what his name was. It was always on the tip of my tongue or brain. And even with time it would never pop into my head. (Apparently when we experience such “tip of the tongue” moments, our conscious mind might give up but our subconscious usually continues working on the problem and offers the revelation later on.) I’d just hear his music again at some point later, and experience the same frustration at not being able to figure out who it was by. Over and over again, kind of like how life feels when you’re not enjoying it. Or avoiding enjoying it.
Again, no more. It fits perfectly with the enormous corner my life has turned, and the not so horrifying or debilitating truth about who I am and my current and potential place in the world. I used to struggle to bring Collins’ name to my mind and/or lips (perhaps it’s no coincidence that my first name is “Colin”), just as I used to struggle to be honest with myself and avoid engaging in paranoid fear about the almost completely self-invented lies I for some reason perceived as terrifyingly true. Not long ago, after I turned the corner (unashamedly aided by psychoanalysis and depression/anxiety medication) in my life I was listening to the radio and one of Collins’ songs came on, and I was able to summon his name. Pretty well straight away. Finally! It felt so good. So symbolic of what I’d been struggling for. Struggling to be honest with myself. To love myself, non-narcissistically. To be unafraid. And my reward, or one of many, was the ability to put a name to some wonderful music which, it’s now obvious, so tellingly and symbolically happened to be by someone who shared my name (albeit switched with his surname, and an extra L added. It’s always annoyed me when people add an extra L to my first name). Fear is useful, sometimes. But even if I still had rational fear, I had forever, I hope, lost the fear to rationally realise. I was free, of that.
A much older one. From probably 2009. A former tutor directed a subtly snide remark toward me once, about my poetry. He was discussing professionals versus amateurs, and made eye-contact with me when he mentioned the latter. But as if I care about being a professional poet. Whether 10 or 10,000 people are interested in anything I write, I’m not going to earn much either way. Though I do wish to be read, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging. The point is I don’t expect anything in return (though there is much that I yearn for):
What do you want!?
Money? Power? Sex?
Or all, in no particular order?
Expect not, dark existential holes,
To be stuffed with fleeting whims.
Indefinitely, the eagle flies not,
But for purpose and necessity;
With every beat of powerful feathers,
The wheel of life spins further.
Take heed, of the lined face,
With bandages, binding legs.
Blood seeps through,
But still he hobbles,
Pushing his cart of bread;
His cart of boulders.
When finally, the world crushes him,
To his grave, he will take,
The mirrored smiles and hellos,
He gives through his pain.
Though frail of body,
And with a mind which withers,
Like a rock enduring eons of wind,
He will leave a permanent mark,
With his smiles and greetings,
On those who may wish,
For things which matter not.
I haven’t written poetry in a while. Below is what is known as a narrative poem, in that it doesn’t necessarily rhyme and instead focuses on telling a story – albeit perhaps in an abstract, interpretive way. Maybe I’ll pick up writing poetry again. Maybe I’ll post my old ones. Maybe not. To this day, as during university, I’m really not sure what the difference is between a good narrative poem and a bad. Probably the popularity of the author among her/his writing community. Either way, I won’t be posting all of them to Facebook. So don’t despair:
Alighting from the train of life,
You stepped right on my heart.
A timid step, a fragile muscle;
Shocked by its own weakness.
I lay there gasping on the concrete,
As you walked away oblivious.
Exploring the inner-workings of my world,
Dragging yours behind on wheels.
You were not there to see me,
Nor I there to visit you.
Yet together we were,
Not near, not far, but still, we.
Thrust by a gust of fateful wind,
Into each others’ minds.
But to this day I fear I do,
Yours heeded less than mine.
Kingswood rocked so hard it was almost scary (and were in fact blurry, going by the above smart phone photo). This is about all I can remember from their Red Deer Music & Arts Festival 2013 performance. Not sure if it was the bass bleeding my ears or the BYO beer soaking my brain cells, or both, but the devastation their set wreaked remains but a shadow on my rock and roll soul. Then shit got real hazy. I can vaguely remember my brother hoisting the empty of all but soft drink esky on to his ex-personal trainer and labourer’s shoulders, as we prepared to depart for more alcohol. Then I recall us saying hi to three couples gathered around a campfire on a property between the festival site and the house we were staying at. They said nothing in return. One of them may have cocked a gun and spat tobacco at our feet. Then finally my brother passed out in front of home base and, despite my best efforts, would not be roused so we went to our beds instead of catching headline act The Grates. I woke up with barbed-wire-wounds on my hands, possible concussion from falling over deer fences and to sunlight hitting my hungover eyes like a truck.
In regard to malevolent figurative or actual trucks, as proof “these things come in threes”, the festival’s story from my perspective began early on Saturday September 7 – while most of my fellow countrymen and women were busy misguidedly ushering in Tony Abbott’s xenophobic and economically elitist right-wing government. Brisbane City had gloriously revealed itself from my mobile vantage-point atop Mount Gravatt, as I steered my car north along the Pacific Motorway. Presently one of those orange-texted traffic conditions signs stated there was congestion on the Riverside Expressway, beside the CBD. “How bad could it be?” I thought of the expressway, that I’d never had any trouble with especially at noon on a Saturday. Margaret, Elizabeth, Turbot and Herschel Streets into the city were all missed as rat-runs I could have used to escape traffic inching along the expressway. I needed Kelvin Grove Rd, which after becoming Samford Rd would lead me to Mount Samson, under whose evening shadow Red Deer would be projecting its progressive vibes north, south and eastward.
After an hour spent feeling the skin on my right arm sizzle in the spring sun I finally discovered the source of the congested calamity, where the M3 split from Coronation Dr and usually took cars north toward the Sunshine Coast. All manner of emergency vehicles had blocked the ramp, where a truck (the first of “these things”) had apparently lost its shit and crashed. Trusting in my metallic-voiced GPS, I had no choice but to continue along Coronation Dr then turn north along Park Rd, Milton, and get back on track. When I was confronted my yet more traffic, and I swear my sun-shrivelled right arm shrieked in alarm. An ALDI truck (second of “these things”) was sitting under the rail overpass, and someone was motioning for it to reverse. “Ah,” I thought, “it’s ok: he’s just waiting for the right moment to back up and deliver his German-owned and probably Asian-made goods.” Then the truck driver got out and wandered around his truck, shrugging. The horrific reality of the truth finally hit me and almost had me returning home convinced the gods were angry with me that day: the ALDI rig had gotten stuck under the rail bridge.
Eventually, of course, I found myself on Kelvin Grove Rd, from whence there were no more traffic related problems. I was frustrated at a service station about 30 minutes later by a fat old guy in full bits-per-inch futuristic army camouflage, who was taking forever to choose his brand of bogan juice (energy drink) and blocking access to the good old fashioned water I wished to purchase. Talk about two worlds colliding. Then at Samford Central shopping centre, I left my wallet open while handing over money for my salmonella chicken wrap to the decayed-teeth late-teen chick apparently in charge of the entire shop at lunchtime. “That’s a nice photo,” she said.
“Thanks,” said I.
“I look like a criminal in mine, because you’re not allowed to smile anymore.”
I tried not to hesitate too long while also trying to avoid staring at her brown choppers, before saying: “I guess I’ll keep mine (taken about a decade ago, when I was 20) until I die, then.” The awful drive had all but killed my good spirits. Had she not been friendly, I may have snapped when after a 20 minute wait I brought the food toward my lips and noticed a piece of chicken at the wrap’s edge was barely cooked. With valiant calm I threw the offending morsel out, took the plunge on the rest of it and continued on to the house I was staying at nearby the festival – while trying to ignore imaginations that my stomach was already sending bad-meat-bacteria to my brain that might ironically render me a vegetable for the rest of my life.
The beginning of the end began as it always does: with that first sip, while we sat on the veranda looking down the valley toward Lake Samsonvale. Red Deer was audibly already in action somewhere nearby. After a short walk down the road the four of us set foot through refreshingly lax security into the dual-stage festival while Bec Laughton was in the middle of shaking her little pink hotpants through a jazz and hip hoppy set. I’d decided to take the $400US Canon I’d bought last year in San Francisco. And it was the catalyst for my being accosted by a Hawaiian shirt wearing rugby union playing type. He insisted on taking my photo, citing the somewhat dubious observation that photographers rarely have their photos taken. At some point during his drunken rambling a young blonde woman poked her head past him to wish me a happy World Beard Day, and disappeared. Then my brother joined us after using the men’s and immediately clashed with the large loud shirted and overbearing photographic sympathiser. Understand, the only “music” festival my brother has ever been to is the pill-popping and flesh flashing Gold Coast Spit event: Summafieldayze. Moments later, I told him he needn’t bring the same levels of testosterone-fuelled defensiveness required at that aforementioned celebration of boganism to Red Deer. We sat down with our two friends as triple j’s Sarah Howells began a very blues and rootsy dj set, and were almost immediately confronted by a horrific sight.
Many people had returned to their BYO couches and beers from the stage-front after Bec Laughton. One young blonde woman, carrying at least 40 kilograms more than was healthy, had also returned to her group which happened to be sitting right in front of us. It was time for her to change out of her party dress into warmer clothes and, my God in Heaven, did we get a show. Details aside, let’s just say we by her getting changed in front of us had unwittingly and not pleasurably been ushered “backstage” to her performance. I tried harder than most around me to avoid looking at, while stifling laughter, the train wreck unfolding in front of us. Think of my reaction as being similar to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, repeating: “The horror. The horror.” Fortunately, a man wearing a bear onesie who had just won Howells’ costume dance competition walked past, and I put “the horror” behind me by congratulating him. One of our number headed off to get and then return with pizza, and we sat in the last of that day’s early spring sunshine washing them down with cold beer while Bobby Alu strummed his way through some folksy reggae grooves. All 1000-or-so of us were collectively aware that Tony Abbott’s iron-budgie-smuggler right-wing reign was about then being ushered in across the nation around our left-leaning, progressive bubble. Such anxiety could have contributed to the couple of scuffles that broke out nearby. Or it could have as usual been about women. Or perhaps some bogans might’ve gotten through hard to spot security. Impossible to be sure. As the sun set behind Mount Samson and the temperature dropped, I headed back to the homestead to collect my jacket – a trip for which I sacrificed listening to The Dashounds’ apparently bunny-suited drummer bash out some tunes.
Turned out the best way to get past the deer fence separating the festival’s VIP camping area and the property at which I was staying, was to simply fall almost spastically drunk over it. Then another couple of barbed wire cattle fences were surmounted, and I was away, my possibly emphysema-afflicted lungs struggling to power me up the hill. I was momentarily stopped by the fact the former serviceman head of the household had locked up the house tighter than a hillbilly fortress. Fortunately, some of the beers were stored outside. Plus his wife ended up responding to my text messages in query of a hidden key, and eventually appeared to unlock the place so I could get my leather. The return journey was vague. Memory had already become unreliable. The alcohol had reached my brain. Chance Waters’ future car commercial indie pop was lulling Red Deer’s crowd into a false sense of security upon our return. I remember by this point we’d lost the other two of our number, one of them being pregnant and all, and the other being her husband. I’d become engaged in a deep and meaningful bromance with the guy sitting next to me on the esky, who was literally my brother. We continued our D ‘n’ M as Kingswood took to the stage and shattered the peace for kilometres around. It was a lot like trying to carry a heartfelt conversation through the first sparks of a violent revolution, so great was the noise and so frenetic the mosh pit. And considering what was taking place in Canberra about then, I wouldn’t have objected to an actual uprising. It was about this time that things had started to become weird, in the form of the attractive lone young woman who had been loitering close to my brother’s left for several minutes. I leaned in front of him and said something like: “Hey, how are you?” And she vanished to our rear in a flurry of blonde hair. Then we had other problems. Kingswood had finished, as evidenced by rivers of blood from peoples’ ears beginning to dry on the grass and in a large pool in front of the stage. The Grates were yet to hit the stage. But alas, we were out of piss. And we both fully intended on returning at the time, but barbed wire wounds to my hands remain better evidence than actual memories that we even tried. And ultimately failed.
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.
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. . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New York. The Big Apple. And particularly in reference to my journey, what I’d term Mighty Manhattan. A place that has enjoyed arguably the greatest economic and cultural flowering of any one city at anytime in humankind’s history and endured probably the worst example of human ignorance and hatred in the form of the September 11, 2001 terrorist destruction of the former World Trade Center towers. Without forgetting the Holocaust and other war crime related tragedies, of course. Shit. How even and especially through a highly personal perspective do I adequately convey just how large in every way that place was, and is? I guess whatever I write will ultimately be dwarfed by that cultural colossus even as it joins countless creations laid at its artistic altar, so I might as well just quit stalling and get started, hey. A complicated yet not insurmountably difficult journey lay ahead of me from JFK International Airport, in Queens, through Brooklyn and under the East River to my Upper West Side, Amsterdam Avenue, Hostelling International New York domicile. It was late, about 11pm, and after trying to figure the logistics out on my smart phone, I gave up that approach and asked a random for their advice. It was to catch the Air Train to the E train which, within Manhattan itself, would connect me to the (what would become very familiar) One train. Keep in mind I’d never experienced a subway before, unless you count the one occasion while at San Francisco in which I went underground simply to buy a tram ticket. Which I don’t. Count, that is. But the friendly advice was sound, and I checked in at the hostel about 1am for one night – because my room was booked the following night. This meant I had to wake up after not nearly enough sleep, lug all my stuff downstairs, check out of my second floor dorm room and check in to one on the fourth floor I was lucky enough to be able to stay in for the rest of the week. This, and anything else I had to do within the hostel over the next few days, was more taxing than usual because of what I’d describe without exaggeration as the slowest elevator I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. I remember one day while waiting on the ground floor and bitching about it, with Jayapel the Indian guy with whom I’d shared a few beers and cigarettes out the front of the hostel. He made the astute comment that it was weird for a city famous for its frenetic pace to have such a slow elevator located anywhere within it. I suggested “Maybe the lift (as Yanks call them) engineer had a healthy sense of irony”. He chuckled, after which we probably waited another 10 minutes for the bloody thing to take us upstairs. Regardless and especially after the disappointment, due to my own health, of New Orleans, I wasn’t going to let that kill my Big Apple buzz. No fucking way! And, in any event, the glorious albeit grungy subway more than compensated for any time lost due to that slothful stair substitute.
A place to rest my sure to be nightly wearied head secured, I walked around the corner to and followed West 104th Street straight to Central Park. This being early December, after the trees had lost all except their every leaf but before a snowfall: the park was quite dead. Few people, biting cold wind and intermittent cloud cover that kept most things, mostly, shadowed. Brown leaves drifted with wind gusts along and to the ground like mournful snow. But every so often, while for example standing on the Great Hill, looking downtown across the placid Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir or admiring a single weeping willow caressing the surface of The Lake in front of The Loeb Central Park Boathouse. Every so often, the sun would peek from behind passing cloud and reveal an almighty city seemingly hewn by some godly sculptor from a solid mountain of glass and concrete, within which I was presently standing he or she had also grown an enormous rectangular garden. The mortal awe it inspired was boundless. Deeply, instantly in love with the city and its heart and lungs that I’d found myself within, I spent the rest of the afternoon ice skating the Wollman Rink; alone but amid other tourists and New Yorkers, under Mid Town’s twilight shadow. It was “very pleasant” according to my notes, which is in some ways accurate and in many others a dramatic understatement. I visited the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on Broadway that evening. The music was legendary. Really what I’d expected of New York. But the only problem was some bastard tried to ruin the atmosphere by launching into a loud coughing fit. That bastard was me. I still hadn’t completely escaped the unholy affliction that had dragged me down and almost killed me in New Orleans. I swear the woman running the joint was quite not empathetically shooshing me from behind, until an attentive barman passed me a glass of iced water. After sucking on the ice I managed three Scotches and Coke, enjoyed the rest of the gig and retired to bed – which was conveniently two blocks to the south-east. My first visit to Times Square came the next day, on Thursday December 6. Wow. I mean I wasn’t exactly impressed in many positive respects. More struck dumb by the greatest monument to advertising and natural resource wasting electricity I’ve ever seen. While surrounded by so much unnatural light concentrated in a roughly half-mile stretch of road, night turned to day and stayed that way eternally, in Times Square. After the obligatory few photos I made it back to the hostel on the good old number one train for some free beers and good music in the form of Baam! Formerly known, minus an “A”, as Bam, http://www.reverbnation.com describes the young musician-songwriters as “an energetic indie rock band with a strong jazz influence”. Couldn’t – I really couldn’t – have put it better myself. Supporting them was the darkly humorous, languidly melodic Superhuman Happiness. Possibly the best age-appropriate music I heard the whole trip, and I’d stumbled across it by returning to the hostel early. No plans: it’s the only way to fly. Or perhaps Publilius could put it better: “Malum est consilium, quodmutari non potest (A plan which cannot be changed is a bad one).”