My Top Ten Books

I was nominated by Kristy Muir to list my top 10 books.  Figured I might as well blog it.  Below is the list, and a short justification for each of them (to those that didn’t make it; you’re still awesome):

1. 1984 – George Orwell

It fostered in me a deep disrespect for and suspicion of all authority. And has allowed me with greater clarity to observe quite helplessly the cynical Orwellianisation of Australia through such phenomena as xenophobia, cultural superficiality, permanent war, educational elitism, hyper-surveillance, heavy-handed policing focused on the lower classes (or the proles, if you will) and a concentration of media power in the hands of right-wing elitists.  Of course now I will soon be dead for expressing such a heinous thought crime.

2. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez

In my less cynical moments, I’m a romantic. This book is the pinnacle of romance. It makes Shakespeare look like a self-fellator.

3. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

I tried reading it as a kid but found it too advanced. Such is the genius of Tolkien at creating worlds that seem more real in their complexity than this one. Then I read it several times as an adult until, alas, I left it at an ex-girlfriend’s place. Based on my recollections of her, she’s more likely to have read Twilight (not that there’s anything wrong with that 😉 ) than that gorgeous hardbound limited edition I shall never enjoy again.

4. Welcome to Camp Nightmare – R.L. Stine

The first of the more than 50 from the Goosebumps series I read as an early-teen. (Although it’s actually number 9 in the series.) I read it again within the past couple of years and, if it’s not still as terrifying, it certainly brings back some fearful memories.

5. The Iliad – Homer

It says something staggeringly depressing about Western society, when a book written some 800 years before Christ details a war of staggering barbarism and pointlessness which takes place in ancient Troy – just south across the Dardanelles from Anzac Cove, where thousands of Australians died a little over a hundred years ago in an equally barbaric and pointless feud.

1984, equally quality but very different Marquez book One Hundred Years of Solitude (a mate lost my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera), The Lord of the Rings instead of The Hobbit, Welcome to Camp Nightmare, The Iliad and Odyssey, In Cold Blood, because my copy of On the Road is electronic, For Whom the Bell Tolls, because I borrowed Fear and Loathing and Hemingway was one of Thompson's greatest idols, to Kill a Mockingbird, and The Starlight Crystal

1984; equally quality but very different Marquez book One Hundred Years of Solitude (a mate lost my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera); The Lord of the Rings instead of The Hobbit; Welcome to Camp Nightmare; The Iliad and Odyssey; In Cold Blood, because my copy of On the Road is electronic and Capote apparently didn’t enjoy it; For Whom the Bell Tolls, because I borrowed Fear and Loathing and Hemingway was one of Thompson’s greatest idols; to Kill a Mockingbird; and The Starlight Crystal

6. The Odyssey – Homer

Then things get plain weird.

7. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

There’s freedom on the road. Think I might have inadvertently plagiarised old Jack there. Oh well, he’s gone to the big road in the sky so I doubt he cares. Heavily criticised by both Hunter S. Thompson and Truman Capote, Kerouac’s modern classic nonetheless sucked me gleefully into its pleasurably atavistic and anarchistic ramblings.

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson

I watched the film first. Drunk. Over several occasions in which we’d always pass out before the end. Finally finished watching it at a beach shack a mate of mine once had, at which we one night got so drunk we woke up covered in paint and with vague memories of sitting on the beach good-naturedly screaming abuse at early morning sand joggers and walkers. I read the book in more subdued circumstances.  And only once.  Re-reading it would be both unnecessary and dangerous.

9. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

I despise prejudice. If you’re reading this and you know deep in your heart that you’re prejudiced, please cut yourself off from me as totally as you possibly can. Although, is that prejudiced of me? Human existence sure is complex.

10. The Starlight Crystal – Christopher Pike

Figured I’d end on a romantic note. And the story of a young woman who falls in love, only to then go on a mission far into space where some dubious law of physics means her beau ages much faster than her and inevitably dies (but it doesn’t end there) is certainly an epic romance.

I now nominate the following people: anyone who wants to, and who will be sure that I’m made aware of their list.

On Socialising

Social life has always been a bit of a not too distant and infrequently visited island for me.  And it’s not without its ironies and contradictions.  I’ve read articles about introverts, and how they’re generally able to fit their friendship group in a phone box.  That’s me, pretty much.  The irony lies in the “reading” part.  You’re not usually doing a lot of talking or otherwise interacting while reading a book.  And talking about books is largely boring unless the person you’re addressing has read the book/s in question.  So of course I couldn’t categorise myself as an extrovert while reading an article which quite accurately describes me as somewhat the opposite.  Though I read less these days, as a child characters in books were my most reliable friends.  I was a journalist for a total of a couple of years for two different organisations.  Another irony.  Obviously, you have to write well to be a journo.  And it’s difficult to write well without also being well read.  But journalists also have to be very social people, even if that means their socialisation mainly involves the asking of a lot of questions – which has tended to be my conversational staple.  But how does a person who reads a lot also socialise a lot?  Difficult.  It’s possible, at least early on, that the best journalists aren’t necessarily the best writers.  I know where my strength lay.  But there are only so many hours in the day, and I’m less effective at everything without enough time spent sleeping.

Me, far right, back during the old uni days with a bunch of people - most of whom I don't even know.

Me, far right, back during the old uni days with a bunch of people – most of whom I don’t even know.

I’m vastly less painfully shy and anti or a-social now than I was as a child, when I was known to sometimes hide when people would visit.  That growth and change was due in part to my coming to terms with myself, over the years, even if there are elements of my external world which I may never be fully accepting of.  It’s still an energy thing for me, in that as an introvert socialising drains me.  While extroverts apparently and plausibly, in my opinion, are energised by socialisation.  I’m not sure if I envy the latter all that much.  Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I’ve long held the opinion that I’ve never met anyone quite as intellectually stimulating as some books I’ve read.  In fact I’m sure that’s unfair, as people when broken down could easily be likened to books or series of books.  And of course books don’t just magically manifest themselves, and are written by people who talk to other people however often.  But when looking at the issue through introverted eyes, it’s quite an accurate appraisal.  Extroverts don’t necessarily read any less than their opposites, but I imagine what they gain from books and the like differs from what I tend to – in a word: escape.  Or in a few words: a journey for my mind that my body could never take.  I’m quite comfortable, as I should be at almost 30, engaging with people whether in person, by phone, in writing or by whatever other means.  Though the more directly such engagement takes place, the more draining it is for me and the more likely it is that I’ll need my engaged to take the conversational lead.

My biggest, albeit not constant, grumble with my latent social timidity is of course the matter of the fairer sex.  I’ve dealt with the nature of my relationships with women previously, but in this particular case the grumble I mentioned relates to the fact that rarely do women (at least in my environment) find men who are not the or close to the centre of attention attractive.  (Assuming I’m right about that, I should probably be grateful I’m not a bad looking bloke.) Plus, they’re simply more likely to be drawn to extroverted personalities.  It’s frustrating, and kind of ironic once again because naturally if you’ve a wide and dense social circle you will have less undivided attention to give to a particular woman.  That said, another about face on such reasoning is that I don’t require excessive amounts of undivided attention from a woman I happen to be close to.  And I expect her not to require me to live in her pocket 24/7, too.  But as I alluded to, in a kind of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, it’s hard to get romantically close to one female if you’re not well-connected with other men and women.  Like I said, I’m relatively at peace with this element of myself, though I do from time-to-time detect a certain amount of self-perpetuating awkwardness from others at my lack of social integration and low frequency or duration – though in my opinion high quality – association with women.  Whatever the positive and negative consequences, as I once said to a mate after I entered a catatonic state for an hour after smoking a joint with him: I am who I am.  Superficial problems can be solved, created or dismissed, but at the core of who I am lies, I assure you, a very good yet not un-blemished and at the same time uncompromising heart.

I socialised last night.  Admittedly, while drinking – which always, erm, lubricates socialisation.  And a couple of weeks ago I attended a function during which I not only talked to several people I had never or only once met, but also spoke to all of them at once through reading – quite well, if I do say so myself – a fictional short-story I’d written for the occasion.  I’d post the video link to that, but I’ve only got it on Facebook so you’ll have to make do with the written words, if you so please.  Another admission: there was another meeting of the group last week, which I did not attend.  My justification in my own mind is that I am currently unemployed, and have been for almost four straight months, and need to concentrate on getting a job before engaging more often in such indulgences, however pleasurable and stimulating they might be.  Though if I’m being a little more honest with myself I’d have to first admit I only attended the initial reading night at Griffith University, which preceded the event at the library at which I read to a wider audience, because I was invited by a friend and former peer; and secondly admit that when I do gain work I might use that as an excuse to not have enough time in which to attend the regular meetings.  One of the elements at the core of my social being is that I am not aggressive.  I am literally a pacifist – which developed from the fact that I have visited physical violence on people and had it visited on me (and don’t care for it either way).  But what I mean is I’m not socially aggressive, in that people will mostly engage me socially and not the other way around.

Me in the red t-shirt, with a mate and some American tourists/students, back in 2009 or '10

Me in the red t-shirt, with a mate and some American tourists/students, back in 2009 or ’10

I am less lonely when I’m alone.  And please don’t misinterpret that.  In the context I’m leading to, there can be a difference between being lonely, and being alone.  For example, I can feel very alone, and content, at a music festival; surrounded by thousands of like-minded people.  But put me in the crowd at, say, a car race, and I will feel lonely, and quite discontented.  The difference is simply common-ground.  Extroverts, too, value common ground, but from observations I’ve made they are more ready to profess to or even outright lie about sharing the marginally or completely foreign values and interests of others.  Conversely, I am not.  Actually, I am comfortable stating to people with different values and interests that while I might respect their difference, I might also not be inspired to either pretend to or actually start sharing their values and interests and thus reduce the difference between us.  One contradiction in this case is, for example, that I am not interested in sport and will rarely discuss it, watch it on television or read about it.  But, I don’t mind participating in some sports and have been to the occasional live match.  It’s not hypocritical, it’s just . . . limited.  Or managed.  It would be prejudicial for anyone to describe it as lazy.  I am genuine when I say that I’m capable of deep respect for people with different values and interests to mine.  And if I’m not often with people whom I’ve spent time with before, doing things they’re interested in, it’s not because I’m hateful.  Or disrespectful.  Or anti or a-social.  Or a loner.  Or vindictive.  It’s because I refuse to patronise or outright lie to people about things I simply do not have in common with them – which inevitably means I’m sometimes or often absent.  It’s because I’ve retreated to my comfort zone in order to replenish my energy.  And if sincere socialisation steadily drains it, bullshit takes it from me quick as an opening trap door.

Watching the Watcher

The following is an ode to Charles Dickens, written for and read at the Griffith University Smallroom Writers Collective’s Masters and Slaves Auditions and Reading Night, to which I was invited by the principal author of wideworldseeker.wordpress.com – and to whom I owe my gratitude for the invitation and his ongoing albeit long-distance friendship:

There was only one thing I found, in me days as a young street urchin, more displeasur’ble than the cold cobblestones o’ the pre-dawn night.  It was that old gentleman we’d all see, by and by, stalkin’ the slums, alleyways and river-side hovels.  Always at night.  And for no apparent reason.  Always a tattered leather notebook ‘e’d keep, ‘e would; but ‘e was no reporter, no ‘e wasn’t.  They’d all be asleep in their comf’table warm beds nights, they would, and rarely be seen enquiring in the affairs o’ the likes o’ us.  Nor was ‘e brutal enough o’ face and truncheon arm to be a bobby; nor was ‘e bloated enough o’ stomach and red enough o’ nose to be a beadle; nor again was ‘e stern enough o’ count’nance and skinny enough o’ limb to be a pastor.  Of vaguely unkempt character, ‘e was: wild, dark greying black hair tumbling in a tangled waterfall over the left side of ‘is ‘ead; bird’s nest beard descending chaotically from a close-cropped moustache bordering a curious thin-lipped smile; and penetrating brown eyes that seemed to linger on people and objects long enough not just to ascertain their form and function, but also their origin.  And perhaps even fate.  I ‘ated ‘im.

Only once did ‘e cause me any trouble.  But once was enough.  I’d spent a generous portion of the morning following a drunken member of the judiciary – I could tell ‘e was one o’ them, ‘cause ‘e’d babble incoherently about “blasted no-gooders should all be shot” and the like, by and by – under the steaming yellow Thames-side lamplight from the Dancing Damsel tavern one early, moonless morning.  I’d finally judged ‘im to be almost ‘ome, on account of ‘im fumbling in ‘is pockets for ‘is keys while maintaining a meandering gait.  I’d lifted ‘is coattail and was moments away from removing ‘is pocketbook, after ‘e stopped to concentrate on searching for the elusive keychain in ‘is front pants and jacket pockets, when I spotted ‘im: the bearded brown-eyed stalker of black mornings.  ‘E stood at the end of the block, just outside the lamplight, by a building.  Smoothing ‘is beard with ‘is left-hand and holding that notebook by ‘is waist with ‘is right.  Otherwise motionless; passive.  I froze in ‘is far-flung gaze, and all the while the magistrate ascended ‘is stairs, having finally found the keys, and entered ‘is ‘ouse.  Unaware o’ the loss ‘e’d narrowly escaped.  After straightening up, I was just about to direct a rude gesture toward the unwelcome voyeur, when ‘e put both hands in ‘is pants pockets, turned, and walked away until swallowed by the darkness.  I shuffled quite dejectedly in the opposite direction north across London Bridge back to the cellar I called ‘ome – where the master was sure to be cross that I’d returned empty-handed.  As ‘e beat me I silently nurtured a growing ‘atred for the spectral note-taking stranger.

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I resolved to stalk the stalker one night, after Jimmy “Bones” Jones assured me ‘e wasn’t a deviant or police informant or nothin’.  “ ‘E’s a writer, Paddy,” said Bones.  “Goes by the name ‘o Dickens, ‘e does.  But as for ‘is Christian name, I don’t rightly know, by and by.”

“A writer?” I said, not terribly surprised on account o’ the notebook.

“Mmm hmm,” mumbled Bones by way o’ confirmation.

“But what’s ‘e write about, then?”

“Uz.”

“Uz?”

“Yeah, uz,” Bones spat on the mouldy pavement.  “Me, you, them,” ‘e motioned to some older street people hovering around a fire in a metal barrel.  “Creatures o’ the pre-dawn hours.  Like ‘im, but not like ‘im, if you’s savvy to what I’m sayin’.”

“Where’s ‘e live?”

“I don’t rightly know.”

“Where’s ‘is family?”

“I don’t rightly know.”

“Ooo does ‘e work for?”

“Look, Paddy,” Bones added ta the phlegm on the cobblestones, “ ‘e don’t mean you no ‘arm, ‘e don’t.  ‘E’s a watcher; an observer; a neutral native o’ the cold gloom o’ London mornings.”

For weeks I didn’t see ‘im.  ‘Is wanderings were random like that.  Unpredictable.  And from me own enquiries it seemed none o’ me fellows had taken such an interest in ‘is moonlight activities.  But sure enough, soon enough one night I did spot ‘im.  While I was playin’ cards with Bones and the boys in the full-moon shadow of Saint Paul’s.  ‘E strolled out o’ Distaff Lane and turned east onna Cannon Street, in slow pursuit of a young dame who’d just left The Wine Tun in a subtly sodden state.  I cashed in me pennies and bid the boys goodnight, before tailing the erstwhile hunter o’ literary inspiration.  For many blocks we moved in a spaced procession o’ three between Cannon’s lamps, all stopping as one when the young lass was inevitably accosted by lecherous drunks.  Whom she’d quickly, but quietly, brush from ‘er path.  It was after she turned up Saint Swithin’s Lane, and we followed suit, that I noticed the fourth member join this grim theatre.  The old man and I stopped at once upon seein’ ‘im, standing on the other side of the lane, about halfway up its length, watching ‘er pass; unnoticed.  Then when ‘e started to follow ‘er, we promptly fell in behind – remaining as unnoticed by ‘im in ‘is dirt-streaked, grey great coat and battered top hat, as ‘e was by ‘er in ‘er best weekend dress and somewhat sight stiflin’ bonnet.  Every few seconds ‘e’d raise ‘is right hand up in front of ‘is face – an action accompanied always by a sniffle and sometimes a sneeze, indicating a cold or fever of some description.  She’d hear these em’nations, turn briefly, then quicken ‘er step.  It was at the junction with King William Street, near the Saint Mary Woolnoth Church of England, where the miserable bastard finally made ‘is move.

When ‘e broke into a jog then sprint toward the young lady’s back, the old man and I immediately mirrored his actions in pursuit.  From me greater distance away the mongrel appeared to tackle ‘er into the bushes at the feet o’ the old church, after which the old man followed suit on top o’ the assailant.  And I stopped.  A single punch and ‘e’d immobilised the creep, and the woman promptly screamed before running up Lombard Street deeper into the city’s north.  I stayed put as the writer all calm-like got to ‘is feet and pulled out the leather book.  After producing a pencil ‘e scribbled with it for a few seconds.  Stopped.  Continued scribblin’.  Paused again, and looked down at the criminal.  Flipped to a new page, scribbled for a few more seconds, ripped out the page, threw it on the unconscious degenerate at ‘is feet, then blew a whistle I ‘adn’t seen on ‘is person thus far.  Then turned and walked away back in me direction, where I’d hid in the shadow of a silent doorway.  As ‘e passed I could still scarcely make out the rage present in ‘is eyes and lips.  I fell back in behind this man, about whom I’d be lyin’ if I said hadn’t presently grown in me esteem, and followed him back down Saint Swithin’s then up Cannon to where the sordid journey had begun.  ‘E stopped, upon which so did I only metres behind, and sat on a bench within view of the boys playin’ at cards in me absence.  The notebook reappeared and received its pencil once again, in appreciation of the lads’ clumsy card handling and naive, adolescent boasting.  Until ‘is hand rested, ‘e turned, and ‘e looked me in the eyes.  They seemed somewhat sad, they did.  It was me who broke the stare, by stepping back out of the lamplight into the familiar gloom within which so much of the city’s evil dwelt.

Word Journeying

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Serendipity: it’s gotta be one of my top 10 favourite words.  It happens, sometimes.  And I’d be very interested to hear examples from people reading this of it happening to them.  For me, and I guess everyone, it’s when a strange and seemingly coincidental confluence of events conspires to a certain result or series of results.  In the dictionary it’s defined as a fortunate thing, and obviously its antonym is simply “misfortune” – which is self-explanatory.  Why am I blithering on about this pleasantly effecting and sounding word?  Well, the other day I was just about to pull into my street after driving to check the waves and have a beer at the surf club, when a song called Freaking Out The Neighbourhood by Mac DeMarco came on the radio.  So, not really having a lot better to do, I dis-engaged the indicator and kept on driving in order to “freak out the neighbourhood”.  I wasn’t actually going to try and freak anyone out, you understand.  It’s not true to my character.  I did think about screaming something out the car window at some guys playing cricket, but I consider people who do that (screaming out car windows) to be wankers.  If any other song with similarly accessible inspirations had come on the radio – such as a song about driving or exploring – I would have done exactly the same thing.  I do have “my family stickers are stupid” stuck in multi-coloured letters to the top of my car’s rear hatch, but that’s designed more to convince people that the stickers themselves are for various reasons stupid, not that I necessarily think anyone who buys them is.  And I doubt anyone would describe it exactly as “freaky”.  If you can’t tell, I try to be a diplomatic, as opposed to definitively aggressive or submissive, yet not always quiet person; which in my mind works better for the playing out of serendipitous, as opposed to unfortunate, events.  I did graze my face and almost break my neck on a sand bank while surfing a couple of days earlier, but that was merely a result of a slight misjudgement on my part.  Plus I hadn’t surfed in a while, and was clearly out of practise.

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So anyway, I’ve kept driving past my street and through not terribly less familiar roads.  I didn’t plan on making this the start of some kind of four-wheeled Forrest Gump-style rambling around the country deal, however.  Instead I was just going to drive around the area until the song finished.  Call me crazy, but I felt at the time like something interesting was going to happen.  It was almost like a premonition.  So I kept intuitively going along for the ride I’d found myself on and, after passing the cricketers, came to a road that I’d only driven down once, when I was much younger.  A mate, my brother and I were hitting golf balls during the night at the nearby sports field.  A couple of the balls landed heavily on the roof of the netball clubhouse during this particular act of misspent youth, and inevitably we heard a siren sound somewhere in the distance.  Without being quite sure what type of siren it was, nor exactly how close, we jumped in the car and hid for a while down the street in question.  Equally strange, if not serendipitous times.  This time, I chose to drive down the street for political reasons.  All things considered, about who I am, what I value and how I perceive the world and my humble place in it, I would consider myself a politically centre-left-aligned person.  So I decided to turn left into this street because of that factor.  Kind of silly, but there it is.  Obviously I turned 90 degrees to the left instead of the 135 that would have accurately symbolised the centre-left, but had I done that I would have crashed into the house on the corner; which was well more than any even incidental freaking out of anyone else that I intended on doing.  So instead I’m cruising down the street with the intention of then returning home via whatever route after the song which inspired the whole journey had ended, when I spot a bunch of stuff out the front of someone’s house accompanied by a sheet of white ply-wood with “free” written on it in black lettering.  As far as four letter words go, at least when used in a positive context, that would have to be my favourite.  The song ended and passed quite seamlessly from my mind, as I did a u-turn and drove back to investigate.

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There was a whole range of stuff like tools, clothes and kitchenware there of various degrees of use to certain people.  The only thing I regret not grabbing was a jigsaw puzzle or two.  As far as I know, besides helping out with them, I’ve never completed one on my own before and was at the time keen to give it a go.  But just like the song which started all this, it slipped from my mind.  This was possibly because of some the books on display: a quite impressive collection of classics such as Homer’s Odyssey and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (both of which I already own and have read gleefully).  I had in fact read the about four or five or a couple more classics arrayed before me, so my eyes turned to the others.  You can tell a lot about a person or indeed a family by what they read, and had I bothered I could have gleaned a fair bit from really scrutinising each one of them.  But I was keen to go surfing that afternoon, so wished not to tarry long.  I ended up settling on five books, which was perhaps excessive considering I was at the time going through a phase of not reading as much as usual: When in Rome by Penelope Green, Blind Date by R L Stine, Dad and Me by Sarah Bryden-Brown, Song of Songs by Beverley Hughesdon and Christine Marion Fraser’s King’s Croft – the latter of which is unfortunately the first of a series, so I think I’ll be looking to move it on.  Two things troubled me, as I finished a cigarette and put it in my car’s ashtray: even in our burgeoning age of digital media is it ethical to take five perfectly good books from someone’s possession despite the fact they’d advertised them as free; and is it insulting to ask someone who had advertised something as free if they’re sure they wouldn’t like money in return for its transfer of ownership.  I decided on the latter course of action; figuring it was instead considerate rather than insulting, and said to the teenage boy who came to the door: “Just making sure you you don’t want any money for these books?”

“No,” he said.  “It’s fine; they’re free.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said, and left.  Then I went surfing with a mate.  It wasn’t very good, and a lifesaver on a jet ski came over to us at one point and told us a tiger shark had been spotted in the area.  So we got the hell out of there straight away and as quickly as possible, without appearing to be panicking.  As my friend said: “I’m not going to risk losing a leg for those waves.”  And obviously at the highly unfortunate possibility of being maimed or killed by a shark, the serendipity ended.

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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 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 – 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 – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part Five of Five

Ridin' those rails - 59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

Ridin’ those rails – 59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York


It’s so appropriate that New York gets five blog posts. A real testament to its imposing in every way scale. Plus I know I, predictably, got enough photos to go with so many words, which is reassuring. This bit is worth the extra thousand words or so. You’ll enjoy it, I guarantee it, or your money (by which I mean time because of course you didn’t pay for squat besides data allowance to view this blog) back. Here we go! 5.15am. If that’s not shocking enough for you, I’ll spell it out: quarter-past five in the God, damn, morning. That’s after many drinks, loud music, enjoyable yet draining (for an introvert) company and going to bed at, oh, I dunno: 3am? And at the risk of throwing chronology out of kilter again so soon after getting it back on track, I’d say it must’ve been Tuesday, December 4, 2012. Not even 6am. Jesus. I would pay for it later. Pay with my heart. But at this moment it was prudent to live in the moment, or at least the very short-term future. In this sorry state I had to while hungover, savagely sleep deprived and carrying about 50 kilograms get to, then ride the subway through one of the most densely populated areas on the planet – thankfully before rush hour, and going in the opposite direction to most commuters. I had to go back the way I’d come when first landing at JFK International Airport a week earlier, which simplified matters. But the kicker was how it all began. I’d set an alarm, of course, but what I actually woke up to was Carlo shaking me because I’d slept through my alarm. I’d become the drunken alarm sleep through hostel staying wanker! The horror! The fear and fucking loathing! Unfortunately, I had no time presently in which to reflect on this episode of severe pain, because I was running late, so I mumbled thanks to my saviour – who promptly returned to sleep – endured one last trip downstairs on the Slowest Elevator in the World, threw my key card at the reception staff, and burst – as much as it is possible for anyone to “burst” anywhere considering my condition at the time – out on to Amsterdam Avenue.

A photo within Central Park, that I used at the end of my New Orleans blog posts, that by virtue of its singular beauty deserves to be used again

A photo within Central Park, that I used at the end of my New Orleans blog posts, that by virtue of its singular beauty deserves to be used again

Alright, and perhaps not so obviously: I made it. It was not, and I stress NOT, fun, though. While I was slumped within a carriage hurtling underground, and contemplating the positives of death, some bum moved through the carriage asking everyone within it for money by using some fabricated sob story. He got to me, looked me in my bloodshot eyes and moved on without even having a go. My aching, angry soul was clearly hanging somewhere beyond and around me, warding off anyone whether their disposition toward me was positive or not. A friendly yet probably naive young Indonesian woman unknowingly tried her best to improve my mood, when she asked me if I was going to JFK. Because, duh, that’s where she was going. She reminded me of the short amount of time I’d spent in Indonesia, in Jakarta, particularly, before a flight home from a surf trip in which I’d spent about 10 days on a boat with eight other Aussie gents and three native crew members – around an island west of Java called Panaitan. The boat’s crew, and my brief experiences with Indonesian mainlanders, imbued in me a lasting impression that Indonesians are beautiful, generous, if largely impoverished and sometimes corrupt people. I never saw her again after leaving the train. And I suspect she went in the wrong direction, because she was nowhere to be seen as I awaited the airport connecting Air Train. I hope her travels then and future journeys through the grand theatre of life treat her well. I arrived with plenty of time before the flight. It must’ve been later than I thought. I had a gin and tonic, which had by now become my airport drink of choice, and read and used the airport’s wifi. In between drifting in and out of badly needed sleep, I enjoyed watching movies – Total Recall and The Campaign – and TV shows – New Girl and Curb Your Enthusiasm – during my third international flight (not counting Vancouver-Vegas via San Fran). And finally, after looking out at darkness that might as well have been the endless emptiness of space, I was struck by lights below sprinkled across the flat expanse that was England, west of London and Heathrow International Airport. The Old Country. In many ways, despite my Irish and Scottish heritage: home.

A quite cynically and kind of bitterly hashtagged photo from my former Instagram account, which accurately conveys my mood at the time - while connecting to the JFK Air Train

A quite cynically and kind of bitterly hashtagged photo from my former Instagram account, which accurately conveys my mood at the time – while connecting to the JFK Air Train

US and UK – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part Four of Five

Looking toward Mighty Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry

Looking toward Mighty Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry


A sleaze-bag hassled me for my metro card at the Bowling Green subway station. If he had simply asked me for five bucks or something, I might’ve given it to him. But my metro card? I could’ve had $20 or more on that thing. How the fuck was I supposed to know? Plus giving it to him meant I would’ve had to have gone to the trouble of getting a new one from a machine. No. On the other side of more than a month in the US, and recovering from a terrible illness, I’d had quite enough of his type by this point. But I didn’t get angry. Wearily, I simply waited until he was distracted then stepped around him through the turnstiles to get track-side. Let the poor bastard hopefully forget a train ride and get on the Staten Island Ferry. Let the Statue of Liberty remind him of his freedom to not spend all of his train money on crack and smack. Unpleasantness aside, I hopped the Seven train to Grand Central Station. Pretty damn cool. I don’t know why anyone ever decided that it was necessary to build a train station to look like an ancient Greek or Roman building, but I’m glad they did. And the star-constellation painted ceiling was spellbinding. I think the proverbial “they” call stuff like that “art deco”. Again, I have no idea of its purpose, but like with any type of art: even if I don’t understand what it means, I know what I hate. And I far from hated anything inside Grand Central Station – a place which really is just one big piece of art dedicated to, of all things, train travel. I couldn’t figure out where the Empire State Building was from street level, and it was starting to rain, so I decided to track it down for obligatory photos later on. Which I did, but my notes don’t mention it and I’ve drunk a lot since. Considered going ice skating again, but probably due to hangover-induced dehydration I was experiencing strange light distortions in my eyes, like the heavenly figures on Central Station’s ceiling had imprinted themselves on my retinas. Plus I was missing a certain diminutive British dame. So I returned to the hostel to drink one Budweiser, one Brooklyn Lager at a late-teen obnoxious French people invaded welcome party and looked forward to getting my arse over to the Old Country. Emma, in the meantime, was “dominating my mind”.

Grand Central Station, from East 42nd Street

Grand Central Station, from East 42nd Street

Grand Central Station, zoomed, from East 42nd Street

Grand Central Station, zoomed, from East 42nd Street

Grand Central Station ceiling

Grand Central Station ceiling

Woke up late again for some reason. Probably the prior night’s (small amount of) booze. It was Monday, apparently. How time flies when you’re seeing a butt load of cool shit. I “lit a fire under” visiting the Rockefeller Center. The elevator to its roof was certainly faster up many more floors than the hostel’s, plus an indecipherable film played on the lift’s glass ceiling while it rocketed upward. This helped its inhabitants cope with the dizzying vertical speed. The photos I took on the roof, of Central Park to the north and Empire State Building and the rest of downtown to the south, were obviously the most clichéd and done before ones I took during the entire journey, but they had to be captured nonetheless. And luckily the weather wasn’t awful. Some guy back at the hostel had generously torn a free coupon for the New York Museum of Modern Art from a booklet and given it to me, but moments after walking through its doors I realised the coupon was “void if removed from booklet” so I threw the useless slip of paper in a bin and caught the subway a few stops south. Probably to around about NOHO or Little Italy. Wandered through Chinatown and the Lower East Side’s strong smells and edgy sights, and due to quickening my step managed to catch the sun setting behind the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. I followed, in vain of course, the sun around to again visit the Whitehall Terminal (where the Staten Island Ferry leaves from). Caught the subway back up to the New York Public Library, which was disappointing and didn’t look anything like it did in that film The Day After Tomorrow. Probably because it wasn’t surrounded by water and then snow. Not to mention frozen corpses and a Russian cargo ship complete with man-eating wolves. But it surely had a ridiculous amount of books in it. And that, on its own, is awesome.

Central Park and most of the north of Manhattan, from the Rockefeller Center Building

Central Park and most of the north of Manhattan, from the Rockefeller Center Building

Empire State Building foreground left, and Statue of Liberty extreme background right, from the Rockefeller Center Building

Empire State Building foreground left, and Statue of Liberty extreme background right, from the Rockefeller Center Building

I managed to return to the Upper West Side in time to join Carlo for a bookending (this was my last night in New York, I should state) visit to the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club. There was a big band playing. Best jazz I ever heard across the US or UK. Damn I assure you I have no idea why I didn’t note the name of the band, though. Perhaps I do later. The most interesting part separate to their performance was when the black, erm, I think he was a trombone player, came out quite randomly with a joke. And it might be a joke you can only tell if you’re black, Italian or Jewish, but indulge and tolerate me, please:

An Italian woman, Jewish woman and African American woman are seated together on a plane. And it’s going down. The Jewish woman starts putting all her valuables into a little safe.

“What are you doing?” the other two ask.

“I don’t want just anyone getting my jewellery,” she explains.

Then the Italian woman gets out her makeup kit and starts generous application.

“What are you doing?” the other two ask of her.

“Well, I want to leave a beautiful corpse,” she explains in turn.

Finally, the black woman strips naked.

“What are you doing!?” her shocked seat sisters ask.

“They always find the black box,” she states.

I’m not sure I got that joke quite right but it’s pretty amusing, wouldn’t you agree? Of course it was one of those jokes in which everyone at the Smoke kind of laughed with a closed mouth; unsure of whether they were supposed to be amused, offended, or experiencing a potent mix of both. Personally I think no one person or group should be above satire, as long as it’s skilfully, respectfully and genuinely done.

My first big band experience, Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

My first big band experience, Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

Anyway, despite the fact I had a pretty early flight the next day. About 9am from memory. Carlo and I decided to hit another bar. The reasoning we agreed upon was that if I got rotten drunk and only slept for a couple of hours before the flight, I could spend the bulk of my time in the air on the way to London asleep. A good plan, and as you well know from reading this or knowing me personally: I like a drink in good company (and while writing) anyway. So yeah, another bar, but I can’t remember what it was called largely because of my alcohol intake. I recall it was a sports bar. There we met Tao – a well-travelled, partially with the US Navy, dude, who was still jealous of what Carlo and I were doing (blowing money we’d saved on lengthy overseas travel instead of houses and share portfolios and boring shit like that). Carlo, I might add, obviously had a lot more cash saved than I did, which is not surprising as he was almost 40. He’s somewhere in South America as I write this sentence. The lucky bastard. My last memory of Tao was that he bought a cigarette from me with about a kilogram of silver change. American shrapnel, that I still have because from that point on I didn’t spend enough time in America in which to trade it for goods and services. The fucker. Would’ve worked out better if I’d just given him the smoke and received a “Thanks”. Oh, also, another interesting thing happened back at the jazz club. One of the musicians asked Carlo and me to look after his instrument case while we were outside inhaling tobacco smoke through New York’s frigid air, and he ducked back inside for a drink or to chat with someone. Or both. Point is, after about 20 minutes, he still hadn’t returned. We ended up having to ask some other random to look after it, who for all we knew or cared took off with the probably expensive wind instrument as soon as we’d walked away. Surely rule number one for New York survival, though in general I found its inhabitants to be friendly, would be to trust no-one. I just hope the talented man knows what he’s doing, and has a safe and fortunate life. I could not want anything less for anyone who is capable of producing one of the best types of live music I’ve ever encountered: jazz. You hear that, N’Orleans? I’ll see you again one day, and it will be glorious. God willing, I’ll even live and work within you and as intimately as possible discover the secrets held by your singular music, culture and geography.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below  Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan