Sheer terror on the B-roads of Scotland

Tour Journal – Scotland

Date: 13 December 2014
Transport: Hire car.
Depart:
 Dumfries.
Arrive: Dailly, Ayrshire.

It began with a contact lens failure prior to departing Dumfries. Reached for my spectacles. They were two hours away. I was now confronted with the choice of driving home with either zero goggles, or wearing a pair of prescription shades.

After considerable comparison, chose the latter.

By 1630 it was pitch black, and there I was on the B roads of Scotland in the pouring rain, with crisp vision but diminished light through the forests of Dumfries & Galloway and the single-lane twists and turns of the farmland of East Ayrshire and the hairpin hedgerows of South Ayrshire.

Feeling like a hero prior to departure

Feeling like a hero prior to departure

Sheep on the road. Mother of god.

Even at 20 miles an hour you have to have a particular connection with both road and machine. Any wrong move, an unexpected aquaplane, ice on the road or a sharp corner could result – at best – in getting bogged, or at worst ending upside down in some lunatic’s paddock in the depths of southern Scotland.

Then it began to snow.

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 7 – One Hobo, Two Tories and the Hare Krishna Mantra

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 7

Date: 21 November 2013
Transport: Train.
Franchise: Greater Anglia.
Depart:
 Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.
Arrive: London Liverpool Street, City of London.
Activity: Busking.

It’s hard to believe the East Anglia tour was over-and-done-with so quickly, but there was little sign of respite on the horizon for me. By tonight I’d be in London, gearing up to boom for Cheshire, and Friday night’s show in Runcorn.

There was little space for reflection. I was just pumped I’d kept up the blogging, to be honest. I was confident about Cambridge, but I was hurting after Norwich. I went to the bank to remove what remained of my money. I was able to use it to get a bus into town, with enough left over to gift a pound to a helpful little bald fellow who approached me in the street as I searched for a pitch.

“May I ask you something?” he began.

“Only if I can ask you something,” I countered.

We got chatting. He was an Australian musician too, and – yes – he knew where to busk in Cambridge. We hit it off, but I knew we were building toward whatever his bag was, so I got straight to the point. I asked him what on Earth he was doing out here in England approaching strangers in the street.

“Well, I became a monk,” he reckoned. This took me by surprise. Who becomes a monk?!

He said he was Hare Krishna. He didn’t really look it. No weird orange robes for this man. He was just a little bald head and a friendly disposition.

“Oh man,” I enthused, “I was just watching the George Harrison film last week!”

He seemed pleased. He told me he lived down in Hertfordshire, just outside of London, in the temple that George donated to them.

This was getting interesting. Little mate’s job was to ask me for cash donations so his crew could feed the poor. I was happy to oblige, silently thankful that they were totally cool with cash, and that I wasn’t getting signed up to any clipboard/iPad nonsense like so many charities will try to do.

Never mind the homeless though, I was keen to tap into the Great Secrets of the Universe. I wanted to know what this whole deal was about. I knew very little about Hare Krishnas except I had seen them out dancing and singing in Oxford Street wearing orange robes and very little else. How often do you get to chat to a monk? I hit him up for a run-down.

Little mate was a quietly spoken fellow and clearly a lovely dude, and I got the impression that perhaps he wasn’t used to getting this far into the conversation. He stressed their focus was on individual agency and freedom of choice as to whether to aim for spiritual holiness or whether to keep on partying here with the mortals for lifetime after lifetime after lifetime. It was all good, apparently. It just depended on what you were ready to do. Made sense to me. Keeping Jesus in reserve, Hunter Thompson said once.

So I walked away with a list of local temples, a book on mantra meditation starring George Harrison and John Lennon, and absolutely no qualms about the fact that I’d just spent valuable time talking about Divine Immortality with a total stranger.

Religion: you are doing it correctly

Religion: you are doing it correctly

I wandered Cambridge that morning, absorbing the truly epic architecture and history, and wondering what life would be like for a student in this town. I was keen to make it as far downtown as the River Cam before I set up to play.

One of the main touristy activities in Cambridge is punting on the river, which I was completely uninterested in trying. It sounds unimaginably boring, but I found time to stop awhile next to the dock and absorb the scene.

As I rested there with my bags and my guitar, I noticed that the young guy working on the punts – almost certainly a student – had started whistling that embarrassing Why Don’t You Get A Job? song by The Offspring.

Interesting choice,” I thought at the time. But the more that I thought about it during the day, the more I became convinced that he was in fact whistling this abomination at me. Presumably he thought I was a bum, which says more about his total lack of comprehension of the realities of homelessness than it does about me. To anyone with more than 12 months’ experience beyond the carefully manicured gardens of their parents’ stately home, I was clearly a tourist – albeit an all-black wearing, rock’n’roll-as-fuck one. A backpacker.

I thought about him repeatedly during the day. I didn’t like him at all. “Future Tory prime minister,” I reasoned.

Funnily enough, I thought the exact same about my first drop that day, too. It was pretty amusing really. A young mother had given her child a bunch of coins, and the kid – who was all of about two years old – just refused to let go of them. He just sat there in his stroller, tight fisted like Margaret Thatcher’s vagina. The mother had to physically pry the coins out of his hands and put them into my case.

“He doesn’t want to let ’em go,” I laughed, but what I was really thinking was that the future of the Conservative Party was in good hands. Still, at least the mumma was encouraging her son to give. That was the important part.

"Freewheelin' East Anglia"

Mission complete: Freewheelin’ East Anglia

All told, this was shaping up as a good day. But business was still pretty slow. I had set up shop next to the local gourmet hot-dog cart, right in the centre of Cambridge. I was wedged slightly awkwardly between the cart and a park bench. I didn’t want to be in peoples’ way.

There was plenty of through traffic. But very few drops. And I urgently, urgently required some money.

“Come here,” said a hobo who had settled himself on a bench next to where I was performing.

“Look at where you’re standing,” he growled. He’d taken interest in what I was doing. He wanted to know whether I’d ever seen buskers in this location before – whether I knew where they usually performed. I hadn’t. But it was a popular spot. He’d resolved to help me, and I’d learned a long, long time ago that this was the kind of guy you listened to when it came to this sort of shit. Complete with his daytime bottle of wine and the tattoos on his hands, this was a man who had spent the majority of his 50+ years living it real. He was the salt of the earth. I was all ears.

The hobo gave me a lowdown on the pitch I’d chosen. He indicated the flow of traffic. He pointed to where I’d been standing.

“Nobody’s going to walk over there to give you a quid,” he said, “or even a few pence. They think you’re a homeless person, standing over there.”

He showed me where was better. “Stand there instead. Take your luggage with you. Put it behind you, to make it look even better. Give it a few minutes. You will see that I am right.” And he was.

Within a half a song he was gone. Within two songs I had money – real, golden money – and within a few hours I was back in London, with a high-quality Cambridge education under my belt.

I’d slept the whole way back to Liverpool Street, where I awoke in despair at the horrible, busy reality of London Town in peak hour. With all my bags and everything on the Hammersmith & City Line. I found my hostel in King’s Cross: a gigantic backpacking monstrosity. I smashed a long-awaited nap. Then, on a whim, I headed out to test my newfound spatial awareness skills on the monumentally wealthy City of Westminster.

And, what do you know? Success! And the beat rolls on. And the beat rolls on.

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 6 – Norwich Was Just Not That Into Me

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 6

Date: 20 November 2013
Transport: Train
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart:
 Norwich, Norfolk.
Arrive: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.
Activity: Busking.

I’m lying in a ridiculously comfortable four-poster bed, which was priced down for one person, so I said ‘fuck yeah!’ The room is incredible. I’ve just got back from a 20-minute-each-way stroll into downtown Cambridge, which was still bustling with students at 9pm.

I was going to head back in there to play a night time set, but remember that rest day? I never took it; so tonight’s early to bed so I can bang the shit out of Cambridge all morning tomorrow.

It’ll be sweet revenge on Norwich who broke my heart earlier today.

The day started out promisingly enough. I’d headed out for dinner the previous evening, becoming hopelessly lost once again in Norwich’s labyrinthian back-alleys before finally finding my way to a pub that did a decent feed.

Conquered the food and got a bit of work done, before calling it an early night… and becoming horribly lost – again – on the way back to my gaff. But I got stacks of sleep and I had already decided that I had quite the crush on Norwich.

So, check-out was 11am – pretty standard in this part of the world, and that suited me just fine. The dudes who ran the guesthouse looked after my bags. Off I went.

I was gonna drop into one of those chain coffee stores – Costa, so you know – for a panini and a café latte… but I kinda got waylaid by an adjacent pub that sold a full English breakfast and where, I figured, I might as well have a cider.

Nom nom nom

Riverside. Beautiful.

Confidently, I strode into London Street and set up where I thought I’d seen the tin whistler playing the previous day. Gorgeous pitch. Social-comment, anti-austerity poster on the wall behind me — wedged between high-class jewellery and lingerie shops and so forth. Men in gloves cruised past. 60-year-old women in expensive coats.

I played my songs. Looking sharp in my good-shirt. One man wished me well… but aside from that I met with total indifference. Eventually I decided London Street could go and fuck itself with some kind of diamond-encrusted dildo.

Moved back down to Gentleman’s Walk, where I had performed the previous eve. Same again. Absolutely spewing. I’ve never felt so invisible as I did hard-up against that wall outside Lloyd’s bank.

What a waste of time. It was as though Norwich was happy enough to have me around, happy to absorb my affections and let me give it my all but – when it came to it – Norwich wasn’t particularly fussed whether I was there or not.

Norwich was just not that into me. Fuck you, Norwich.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle.
(Not shown: people failing to give me any money.)

I returned to the guesthouse. I’d wanted to give the blokes there good vibes about the town, especially as they’d been so supportive and all. Unfortunately, they asked me how it all went.

“It was rubbish,” I explained.

They gave me some pointers on when might have been a better day to play, and assured me that Cambridge would be more of a win this time of the week. I reminded them that I loved Norwich, it was just the busking that sucked. I took their business card, in case I was ever back this way. But for the time being it was all over between me and Norwich. We’d done what we had to. So I hit the road.

The journey to Cambridge was completely unremarkable. We rolled through rural Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The forest I was looking forward to travelling through appeared and disappeared – looking from the train like little more than a pissy, patchy pine plantation. A shame, as I am yet to fully experience a proper English forest.

What I noticed on arrival in Cambridge was the massive amount of construction going on in the vicinity of the railway station. I managed to get lost again, this time due to roads existing on multiple levels, no signage and poor pedestrian access. By the time I rocked up to the guesthouse, it’s safe to say I was completely rooted.

So the four-poster bed here has been a relief — a comfortable end to a disappointing day. On my way home just now, from my night walk in Cambridge, I went to Sainsbury’s and bought bulk chocolate and four cans of FostersDo what you will, Norwich. Cambridge and I will make our own fun 🙂

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 5 – If Norwich Were A Lady, I Would Take Her To Norwich

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 5

Date: 19 November 2013
Transport: Train
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart:
 Lowestoft, Suffolk.
Arrive: Norwich, Norfolk.
Activity: Busking.

Writing tonight from my little guesthouse room in Norwich, where I’m waiting for the heating to come on. Hopefully it happens soon because I’m not a great fan of having to wear clothes when I’m trying to work.

It’s been a great day. Up in time to get shit done, then a full English breakfast. Exceptional. Even the bacon was how I like it. Crispy as hell. No gross droopy fat on that ham.

"I was just changing a string!" - Lowestoft

“I was just changing a string!” – Lowestoft

The previous night had been wet. I’d gone out after blog time to find food and scored an amazing open doner kebab / salad combo for £4. It had been pissing down with rain. But today was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky. It was time to hit Lowestoft properly.

Old mate at the guesthouse back there had agreed to hold my bags so I was free to work. He also gave me some tips on Norwich. Apparently there was a place called London Street…

Re-stringed my guitar on a bench by the sea. Said hello to the ocean. Went into town to work. Success! Golden rain. Lots of older crew. Perhaps it was pension day. Everybody wins!

The North Sea

The North Sea – Lowestoft

The only low point was dealing with the local tweaker. Remember how I mentioned gnarly characters yesterday? Well specifically I meant this one lunatic who had attempted to sell me a speaker for £3. While I was playing. He sold it to another guy a few meters away before motoring off, calling at me “I don’t hate you by the way!” and then doing a few laps of the block while peaking out of his skull.

He was ruining Lowestoft, and now he was standing in front of me, his big black buck tooth captivating my attention.

He wanted money.

I was pissed off. This would never happen in London. London beggars can be selfish jerks – and no busker worth his salt will tolerate a comparison between the two professions – but no matter what you’re doing on the streets of London – buskers, beggars, touts, pushers and pimps – there is an understanding that we all have to make a quid. So we leave each other alone. But it happened once in Blackpool and now it was happening again. I was this cunt’s pigeon.

“No way,” I said. “I’m on the bones of my arse trying to make a quid here. Go and hit up any of these people. There are people everywhere. Go and ask them.”

“I’ll pay you back two quid later,” said the useless, useless arsehole.

“I won’t be here later,” I snapped. Eventually I gave him 20p to fuck off. I never want to see him again.

It was time to go. I said goodbye to Lowestoft and its little port, which appears to be solely used for servicing the North Sea oil industry these days.

Out on the broads

Out on the broads – train from Lowestoft to Norwich

We rolled through Oulton Broad and out onto the Suffolk Broads and on into Norfolk – through truly scenic farmland country – with the broads of course and windmills and the famously flat countryside. Every so often you get a train ride like this: truly classic.

In no time we’d made Norwich, and the first thing I noticed was that the women were incredibly stylish and clearly educated. Excellent.

“Come in, Stradivarius!” said the guy at the guesthouse.

“You’ll want to go down to London Street,” he said. The street was assuming mythic proportions.

“We’ll hold your bags in the morning as I assume you’ll want to make the most of the day tomorrow.”

There were two dudes running the place. I liked these guys.

I made a beeline for London Street, which sits in the shadow of Norwich Castle. That part of the city is incredible. Cobblestone pedestrian roads are ubiquitous. In some of the alleyways you couldn’t fit a car down if you tried.

London Street

London Street

There was a dude playing tin-whistle down in the guts of London Street, so I set up on nearby Gentleman’s Walk.

Money came at me from a bunch of local kids. By now the skies were grey, but I got in a decent set before the afternoon became too late. Even in sunny Lowestoft, earlier today, the wind had been fucking freezing.

After a while I felt safe in the knowledge that I had Norwich sussed for tomorrow. I packed up. It started raining. “Excellent timing,” I said out loud to myself and the Universe, and set off up the Walk, confident that I was going in the right direction.

I wasn’t. I power-housed ’round a corner, up a hill, past some ruins from the 14th Century, and out onto flat land at the rear of the hill that Norwich Castle sits on. By now it was bucketing down. I’d left my umbrella back at the guesthouse. There were no maps anywhere. I was going to have to ask for directions.

14th Century ruins

14th Century ruins in downtown Norwich

It made sense to me to approach the most attractive person I could possibly find, and there she was, crossing the road to my right.

After three months as a flyer boy on the streets of Camden Town, I’m pretty well sussed on approaching strangers in public. She was happy to oblige. But the streets of Norwich are twisted and weird. She was going to have to do some explaining. I was getting saturated. She had an umbrella. She invited me in.

Woah! I thought. Who the hell is this?! I knew she had legs till Tuesday, but I didn’t expect her to have eyes like Jesus Christ. I instantly recognised her when she spoke. Perhaps we’d met in another life. We made sure I knew where I was going, then I thanked her and strode off in the rain.

Who the hell was that? I thought. We were definitely kindred souls, of some form or other. I really should have made small talk.

I walked for about five/ten mins and made it to a building she had mentioned, where I’d probably have to ask for more directions. Some bloke pointed the way. I walked down a ramp towards the traffic lights. There she was. Asking whether I’d got lost.

For the next fifteen minutes we were instantly best friends, falling over ourselves to find out who each other was, what we were doing, where we were going and how on earth I’d managed to walk so far in the opposite direction. It was absolutely pissing down with rain. We got so absorbed in conversation that the umbrella became largely irrelevant. She spoke fucking Danish. I had to suss this out. She had classes tonight. I was leaving tomorrow. Damn it. I resigned to the fact that this was all it was gonna be.

We got to the station, which was my stated destination. I went my way, she went hers. We were still walking in the same direction. The parallel paths converged.

“We really must stop meeting like this,” I said, and on we carried again, till I got to my street. And that was that. By the time I’d walked down the street to the guesthouse, it had stopped raining.

What the hell was that, I wondered, then I got my shit together, and went back into town in search of food.

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 4 – Thrive By The Sea

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 4

Date: 18 November 2013
Transport: Train.
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart: 
Oulton Broad North, Suffolk.
Arrive: Lowestoft, Suffolk.
Activity: Busking, songwriting.

Today was always going to be heading toward Rest Day – the glooooooorious half-way mark in any week-long travelling showcase. But things didn’t exactly go to plan yesterday. I didn’t quite comprehend how isolated I was going to be out there on Oulton Broad. Don’t get me wrong, there were some cool little spots, and at least a couple of great pubs. But there was no way a nighttime trip to Lowestoft was going to work. 40 minutes on foot, I was told, or a ride on the diesel inter-city train I’d rode in on. I didn’t fancy it. And there was nowhere to busk out there either. It was a one-road town.

Had dinner at a place called The Wherry, down on the wee lock that joins the eponymous Broad to Lake Lothing and the North Sea. Gorgeous little spot, gigantic pub and the food was absolutely magnificent. Plus their wi-fi actually worked, which was great for getting some work done, not so much for blogging at the end of the night, which is essential routine. The last thing anybody needs is to wake up with a blog to finalise – they are a shitload of work, and there are other things to do. Like booking ahead to the next town. And trying to earn some money. I could go on and on.

Awoke today in the Death Star just before 5am. I’d managed to put away enough Guinness to get me to sleep for a few hours, but given the small matter of the corpses downstairs, and the fact that I couldn’t get my online shit done properly as I had hoped, it was never going to be the best night’s sleep. This all might sound ridiculous, by the way, if you’ve never woken up in the middle of the night in the midst of sleep paralysis. There was no way I was going to be able to tolerate that kind of shit out here, in the middle of nowhere. The huge, cold room already felt deeply lonely.

I spent the early morning songwriting, which is something I haven’t taken the opportunity to do properly since I left Australia back in early April. I tend to be a sporadic songwriter, putting up my antenna when I’m ready and tuning into a frequency, like Keith Richards. Some songs (like Bulwer Street Waltz) come fully-formed. Othertimes you just get a little pip – a signpost or two – and you have to try and build the rest of the thing based on that. Today’s song is in the latter category. Musically, it’s pretty damn watertight. The tune will stay with you for weeks. It has anger, power, conviction, emotion, melancholy; all hooked in tight like a fist. Making the most of that lyrically is the challenge, and the sucker ain’t anywhere near ready yet. But it’s nice to have new shizzy in the works.

Pretty consuming work, songwriting, but eventually I was able to walk away from the thing, pack my bags and make my way to Oulton Broad North, which is literally around the corner from the Death Star in the opposite direction from its counterpart station. Had to wait about 15 minutes on this 19th Century platform that probably looks much the same now as it would have in 1950. Enjoyed the historicalness and the prospect of finally making my destination – Lowestoft – literally seven minutes down the line.

Oulton Broad North

Oulton Broad North

What surprised the absolute shit out of me was the considerable size of Lowestoft, and its unexpectedly large port facilities! I cannot remember the last time I was in a port city – it would have to be Fremantle, back at home, and god knows when that was. Oh, I tell a lie, it was Hong Kong, in April, but TST is a long way from any portainers.

Here, peering out of the little diesel train, I had an aesthetic pleasuregasm at some of the run-down 20th Century industry. The heavily overgrown in situ rails in the goods yard at Lowestoft station looked amazing. That’s the kind of stuff I grew up around, a kid amongst the wharves and rail-yards of declining late-80s/early-90s Albany.

As a kid, I would wander abandoned rail lines and wonder where they went, how they ran, what it was like in the heyday, before road freight and bulk handling rendered them obsolete. It all seemed just so out of reach. Lowestoft has that same sense of romance. The goods trains fizzed out in the 1980s, but the rails are still there – still operable, too. I liked this place immediately.

I’d made it to the easternmost railway station in the UK, and just as importantly, I’d made it to the sea. I’d seen the sea in Blackpool back in August, but this was The Sea – with ships, docks, cranes. The real deal. And the main street of the town was paved as a pedestrian mall, just like in Ipswich. Outstanding! I made a beeline for a local coffee shop, fired up the lappy and checked the train timetables. Originally I had planned to head inland to Norwich for a total of two nights–give me some time to explore and take a rest from the check-out/train/check-in/busk cycle. But I’d decided to take this opportunity to explore the coast more instead, so I was going to go north to Great Yarmouth for the night.

No train!

The trip between the two towns double-backs on two lines, which is a bit awkward, so trains seem to only run once a day. There was probably a way around it – perhaps a road coach – but my mind was made up immediately. We would stay here tonight. Somewhere half-decent. I booked a guesthouse around the corner. 12pm check-in. Amazing. And it really is such a nice little place. Everything is so dainty and ridiculously English. I think the landlady got a shock when I rocked up on her doorstep, dressed totally in black, carrying two black bags and my black rock’n’roll roadcase with my pointy shoes. But we had a nice chat, talked about travel and study and her son who went to Australia. There’s a full cooked breakfast tomorrow. Free of charge. Haven’t had one of those for while. I needed this.

So finally, at 4:30pm, I headed down the main drag – the London Road North mall – set up a pitch and played some tunes. Late afternoon can be a very depressing time for a busker. But it was OK, I just wanted to play for a bit, and I think people needed it. It had been a grey afternoon, with intermittent rain. Like any port town, there’s a definite rough edge to this place – some gnarly dudes around, and times are lean right now. But people in general were very forthcoming. I met another bunch of lads on push-bikes, one of whom made his entrance by skidding up in front of my case. I wasn’t so sure about these guys. But I showed them what I did, and they respected that, I think.

Then I busted my g-string and called it a day.

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 3 – Duelin’ Banjos on the Long March to the Death Star

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 3

Date: 17 November 2013
Transport: Train
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart:
 Ipswich, Suffolk.
Arrive: Oulton Broad South, Suffolk.
Activity: Busking.

I’m typing tonight from the slightly-sterile downstairs bistro-bar located just across the way from my hotel accommodation in Oulton Broad, Suffolk. My target destination for today was actually Lowestoft, which is the next village over—although since the mid 20th Century the two towns have grown together into one.

Lowestoft itself is the easternmost point of the United Kingdom. When I finally get there, I’ll be 110 miles out of London Town, on the very edge of the Norfolk Broads, and I will be standing in a community that has been settled by humanity for at least 700,000 years. (Yes, that long!) Oulton is a couple of miles inland. It’s the boondocks.

Ipswich Station

Ipswich Railway Station was pretty gorgeous

Here is what I just posted on Facebook:

At less than £30 for a night, the fact I’m staying in a huge open plan apartment w/ full kitchen facilities could easily offset the fact that the wi-fi doesn’t work, and neither does the heater for that matter.

And I can handle the long white hallways with fire doors all the way along, flicking from pitch-black to fluorescent illumination thanks to motion sensors on the ceiling

Simply stride dramatically through the hallways in my long black jacket going DUN DUN DUN, DUN DUN-DUN, DUN DUN-DUN!! and hope someone hears and gets it

Yep, I can handle everything about this eerily-silent, ultra modern rabbit warren hotel built in a small village on the distant, easternmost tip of Great Britain.

But I really, REALLY wish I hadn’t looked up from the bar just now and noticed that I am sleeping directly above a funeral home.

Letter to the undertaker

Then I wrote a letter to the undertaker

Frankly, I never, ever expected today to end up this weird.

On the contrary. It began happily. Another six hours sleep. That wonderful room in Ipswich. The complimentary breakfast. When I walked out the door this morning I felt great. I headed straight for the marina, because I felt that when I dropped in the previous eve, perhaps I had missed part of it? I didn’t want to say it was dead, only to later find that I was misrepresenting it through my lack of knowledge. It wouldn’t be right.

I was right though, it was dead during the daytime too. Many, many boats. Yachts, some cafes, restaurants, some facilities for the local university, but nobody. No kind of population density to speak of. Nothing to warrant busking.

It was then I realised that my busking brain maybe needed to shut the fuck up for a little while and simply enjoy this tranquil marine atmosphere on a cool but clear Suffolk morning. I looked at it for what it was and realised that it was good.

Then I headed straight for the main drag—the Buttermarket—where I had been yesterday. Full of people as before, and although the markets had gone, street vendors sold gourmet hot-dogs from carts, and the town was bustling again.

Spied myself a little pitch outside the Vodafone store and began setting up, with my bags propped up in the background. Decided I was going to sit for a bit first, psych myself up, then I would play. But before I could do that, three local kids about 12 years of age rolled over on BMXs and started talking.

“Do you have a guitar?!”

“Sure do.”

“Are you gonna play it?!”

“Sure am!”

“Go on, then!”

“Yeah man, just give me a tick…” I hadn’t planned on this.

“Do you make much money?” – this guy was clearly the leader of the group. Before I could answer, he continued.

You don’t need money.”

Oh lol, I thought. I was wearing my goodshirt. It’s important to look good.

“Mate,” I said to him, “you always need money.”

“Well,” he responded, “play us a song then!”

So that was it. It was on. I played ‘em Worst Day Since Yesterday. I played ‘em another. And again. Then they asked if I knew any songs they’d know. I asked ‘em what they knew. We established we all knew Smells Like Teen Spirit. I showed ‘em some bits, and explained it was going to sound terrible with just a guitar and no bass.

Realised what needed to be done. With no introduction: About A Girl.

“That song,” I explained, “was written by the same guy.”

They seemed to dig that. One of the guys suggested I go on X-Factor.

“I write my own songs,” I said, “and they’ll try to tell me what to play.”

A song or two later, the kids apologised for not having any money, but said they’d give me some if they could. Jesus, I didn’t expect these young fellas to have money at hand! So I said it was OK, because it was.

I kept on playing. They were always going to leave at some point. Before they did though, the leader of the group dropped his sunglasses into my case. The next guy dropped a wristband. The first countered with a wristband of his own.

Finally, the third dude – who had suggested I go on TV – dropped an army dog-tag style neck chain. Then they got on their bikes and rode away, telling me that if I ever went on X-Factor I should give a shout-out to Conor. Duly noted!

My haul from the lads

My haul from the lads. Thanks lads!!

Rest of the set was great. Introduced a couple of new songs. Very satisfying. This is what I was looking for the day before. I’d done Ipswich proper now. Enjoyed a sausage in the town square, watching a production crew put the finishing touches on a stage that had appeared overnight in front of the old town hall.

Ipswich has a large arts community, I remembered.

Then Xmas carols started playing through the PA.

Oh, hell no! I thought. And then – What the fuck!? – they tested out a fake snow machine that launched god-knows-what kind of weird plastic foam bullshit into the air. Sure enough it began snowing in the general direction of my hot-dog.

It was time to go. An hour wait for the train to Lowestoft, but that’s OK. Two carriages. Diesel powered. Jesus, we’re getting regional now. An old man in a beanie sat opposite me. There was a poor fellow with Down Syndrome who made seemingly random noises at top volume. Then just before we were to depart, sheer insanity hit.

Some kind of psychotic argument was going on between what I initially assumed was a mother-and-son duo – he no older than 20 and her at least 55 – but it’s possible they were actually lovers. I don’t even know. But I’m talking screaming unintelligent nonsense about whether the train was going to stop at this-or-that station, or about who paid for lunch? (Whoever didn’t was a “THIIIIEF!!!”)

For fuck’s sake. They were so far down the rabbit hole it was embarrassing. Beanie Man and I looked at one another. God, I felt so over-dressed. The horrible noise started again. Without even thinking, I turned around and said “Oh, shut up!!”

Then I pretended nothing happened. Fired up the laptop and listened to the UK cassette version of Raw Power, then some ZZ Top as we rolled through culverts, past fields, under grey, grey skies and rain, beneath ancient archways, past towns where kids were playing football in the park. Ah, England. This is what it’s all about.

The accommodation I had booked for the night was an absolute fucking steal, and it turned out that there was a station closer to it than Lowestoft. Good, I figured, better than walking for yonks again.

So I got ready to disembark at Oulton Broad South – and so did that weird woman and her ‘son’. I packed my shit into the vestibule for ease of departure.

Ridin' the rails

Ridin’ the rails: Holed up in the vestibule ready to hop off

Then I saw him lean over from the seat in front and grab her boobs.

Mother of God, I thought. If they’re related, then I don’t even want to fucking know what is going on here.

After all the psychological violence of earlier, they bid one another fond, creepily affectionate farewells. Then, as the train rolled out of the station, she thumbed her nose at him. He rolled off to Lowestoft. She stood there on the platform.

And so did I. Looking around. An unmanned platform. No map. No local info. A stone road bridge soared above. Around it, mossy trees and rotting wooden structures sagged together in the greenish-grey light of a distant Suffolk afternoon.

Jesus tittyfucking Christ, I thought. Where am I?

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 2 – Richard Alpert In Chains

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 2

Date: 16 November 2013
Transport: Train
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart:
 Colchester, Essex.
Arrive: Ipswich, Suffolk.
Activity: Busking.

There’s probably some completely sensible astrological explanation for today’s over-arching sense that somewhere, just around the corner, What Really Needs to be Done for Today to Achieve its Full Potential is lying in wait, safe in the knowledge that this is not the day I will discover it.

Or will I? Like Richard Alpert in chains, extraordinary things have already occurred, and extraordinary things await. Yet one still feels trapped inside the Black Rock, with the key to the shackles just out of reach. I have come to Ipswich. I have conquered. I am hungry for more.

Woke this morning in Colchester after at least six hours’ uninterrupted sleep. Absolutely fucking amazing. Once you get out of London, the English really, really know how to accommodate. Luxurious, uncompromising mattresses. A snack in the fridge in case you’re hungry when you arrive. All the colours of the tea-and-coffee rainbow. A little sash over the toilet seat – just so you know in the back of your mind that Civilisation has graced this particular incarnation of Thomas Crapper’s legacy with disinfectant – and a sash on the pillows too, to indicate firmness.

And let’s not forget the horizontally-positioned duvet cover cover, which allows you to sit on the bed in your disgusting London Town jeans, and not have to worry about whether Such Filth will be transferred later on to your freshly-showered ballsack when you are rolling around with no clothes on. The Queen probably has a word for that item, but fucked if I know what it’s called.

With breakfast conquered, enthusiasm ensued. Train to Ipswich in seven minutes. Had a window seat to myself. Beautiful scenery as pretty-verdant Essex gave way to famously-rural Suffolk. I suddenly realised how much I loved what I was doing and how deeply I had missed travelling town-to-town; staring out the window every day, reading the landscape like God’s greatest and most important novel.

This is how you get to know Country, folks – by travelling through it, over it, under it – watching its endless subtleties unfold as town morphs into countryside and back again. It’s possible to do by coach or car or bike of course, but it’s the seamlessness and efficiency of trains that makes them the undisputed kings of transportation. Simply grand.

Ipswich town square

Epic town hall overlooking the markets in Ipswich town square

Within twenty minutes I was on the platform in Ipswich. New county, new city, new possibilities. I’d chosen to visit solely because it is Suffolk’s county town (capital). It was an unknown quantity. Lonely Planet Guide snub it completely – in print and online. Greater Anglia‘s tourism pamphlet said something about shopping. I supposed it was a place that people were from, rather than one they went to.

In fact, everywhere I read, Suffolk seemed to be derided as a sleepy backwater that peaked in the middle-ages. And, having been here today, I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Ipswich on a Saturday is a bustling city that mixes thriving (post-)modernity with an epic town history that dates from the rule of King Rædwald in the early AD600s.

Several blocks’ worth of Ipswich’s town centre is paved for pedestrian malls, full of just about every kind of shop you can imagine existing in a small city. The gorgeous town square facilitates an enormous market. It was Saturday. The market smelled like an actual farm. I soon realised this was a big day out for these people. The wellington boots had been exchanged for smart sensible footwear.

The farmers of Suffolk had come to town with their families to shop. And… wait for it… there were no other buskers around.

I just about jizzed in my pants.

Quick! To the pub. Lunch. Think about what to do with these bags. Just bring them. Scout for a pitch. Found one I had spotted on the way in, played two songs… 3 pence dropped. Shit! Too quiet. Scout. Set up slightly awkwardly between two shops that had a gap between display windows, so no shopowners could complain that I was blocking their advertisements.

Commence busking in earnest. Confident now. Success!! By about 45 minutes into this set, I felt absolutely bloody fantastic. Yesterday’s throat problems were long gone, the weather was awesome, the street was packed to the brim with shoppers.

There were shitloads of kids there, and grannies too – which is great – but I did ease up on the throttle a little for their sake. Rockaway Beach is fine; but perhaps spare them having to explain the consequences of sectarian alienation on disenfranchised youth in Belfast in the late-1970s – at least for today. But make sure Old Fatty is in there, with all its gravitas. Make them think, but give them no ammunition.

Ipswich lodging

Ipswich bed has been waiting for me all day.

My room was 15 minutes out of town, but my god, it’s a comfortable little abode. When I walk into a room like this I think well… perhaps I could stay for a couple of days? – and, of course, I could, but it would be shit. Do the job, get out, do the next one. The universe thrives on industry.

Back into town – and again the curse of the sun going down so early in this part of the world. Tried a couple of pitches but nothing quite gelled, and you could tell that an exodus was coming. Trucks rocked up. Stalls were unpacked. Someone let off a jackhammer.

What the fuck? I thought. No!!

I wanted to play again for at least 70-80 minutes – maybe 90 – I wanted to knuckle in and take a hold of Ipswich and make it my bitch. I could tell Ipswich was up for it. Wonderful golden pounds began to drop. A woman gave me a fistful of silver and said “buy yourself a beer!”

But people had places to go. Farms, I reckoned.

I wandered down to the deserted marina, where a small handful dined at a PizzaExpress. So much for the restaurant district!

Damn it Ipswich, you turned me on and left, and now I am going to wander around the house all night wondering whether it’s my fault.

Decided to return to the pub where I had lunch. Beautiful wooden panelling in there…. but they’d cut off the food. Damn it! So I settled for a nearby Wetherspoons – yucky corporate pub chain, but at least you know what you’re getting.

Ordered bangers and mash and immediately developed a crush on the barmaid. Spent the meal pondering – not for the first time – how on Earth to get to know hospitality staff, when they’re working, and I’m drinking, and they’re serving me. And here she comes again…

Don’t be That Guy, I thought to myself. Nobody wants to be That Guy.

I mean, I am pretty sure that I am not That Guy, but what if I am? Nobody wants to feel uncomfortable in the workplace. And what is this anyway? I am quite sure I could could get to know this woman, but will I like her as much when she’s not working..?

So I bought some cans of Guinness and reviewed a George Harrison record.

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Freewheelin’ East Anglia – Day 1 – Back Like Kerouac

Tour Journal – East Anglia – Day 1

Date: 15 November 2013
Transport: Train
Franchise: Greater Anglia
Depart:
 Liverpool Street, City of London.
Arrive: Colchester, Essex.

Spent the past three days holed up in Paddington – a ridiculously posh area of London where some joker has purchased a hotel and elected to rent the rooms out budget while they’re renovating.

There I was, in amongst the intergenerational mahogany bookshelves of the City of Westminster, sitting in the cheapest hotel room that side of Stratford, attempting to acclimatise to possessing only things I can carry with me. It really does get easier every time.

In fact, moving on from five months settled in West London has been the cruisiest and happiest and most organised move of my whole life – still, I was pretty damn sleep-deprived by the time we rolled out of London Liverpool Street just after lunch.

Got an awwwwwesome seat on the train. Quite by accident, I found the quiet carriage.

Unusual noises. Cute woman transporting a kitten. Jet black in colour.

"Une pussay noir"

Une pussay noir” – a very different cat – encountered around the Quartier Pigalle, Paris, France on 3 November 2013.

“Oh, it is a kitten!” I rejoiced.

“I’ll try and keep him quiet,” she replied.

End convo. That’s not what I had meant at all. I probably should have proposed to her instead.

Ride to Colchester takes about an hour through grey Stratford, brown terraced outer suburbs and beyond into gorgeous green rural England.

Finally – after nearly seven months – I’m out of London.

But not very much notice prior to reaching my stop. Collected my belongings. Left my ticket on board. What’s the bet some cunt asks me for it at the gate? Indeed. There was no going around.

I approached the two security men confidently.

“I left my ticket…” I said to one, “uh… you know, in the bit… on the top… of the seat. Where the tickets go… on the train.”

“Okay sir,” said the other, “I will have to ask you to step over here to one side with me.”

Instantly I knew this guy was going to rubber stamp me – after all, I had the appropriate credentials.

Still, whether an official procedure exists for this type of thing, or whether he was just going to make a procedure up as he went along, he was definitely going to make sure he enjoyed every millisecond of our ensuing conversation.

“So you left your ticket on the train,” he began. “And Colchester is your final destination?” I felt like I was going through airport Customs.

It continued. Phone out. Showed him the booking confirmation. He asked approximately what price my ticket had cost. Then we double-checked the email again to make sure the location was correct.

Then he asked for my bank card. I didn’t even know this was a thing. I think he caught on that it was weird. But he had to follow through.

“I’m very sorry about this sir,” he finally said with that distinctive reading the procedures manual inflection that police and security personnel worldwide all seem to have mastered.

“Ordinarily I would be forced to convict you for fare evasion,” he continued. “However you are lucky, I am in a good mood today.”

“Are you in a good mood?” he asked.

“Yeah man, I am.” I couldn’t believe this was still going.

“In future you must remember to keep your ticket with you at all times,” he continued, before explaining again that I could be convicted.

Finally – and very professionally – he saw me through the gate and I was set loose in Colchester. He was a good dude, really, with a different accent to what I am used to. Welcome to Essex.

Act: Benny Mayhem
Activity:
 Busking
Location: Colchester
Time: 5pm

I set up outside a bank on High Street, and sat around till the bank shut at five so as not to piss anybody off. Sun was fully set by 4:30pm – very strange seeing banks open at night time.

Short set – about 45 mins – felt really good but I cut things short when my throat hit a hurdle during Shivers. Not risking blowing a gasket this early in the week. Look after that bastard.

You know you’re starting a new level when you’re literally working for the coinage to buy a bottle of water to hydrate your throat. Did so.

Happy with that. By 6:00pm the entire city of Colchester appeared to be striding urgently toward home, and none of the pubs was vibing even for a meal, so I did the same. I got a big week ahead in unfamiliar territory.

Colchester so far? Quirky. Has potential.

My preconception was “Essex = chavs”—thanks to Lonely Planet guide for reminding me of that particular nugget of casual popular classism.

But I do like to generalise, and all I could think of pre-gig was chavs. How was this going to go? I do look forward to witnessing a chav, but was having visions of men in tracksuit pants attempting to mug me in a kebab store. Conflicted.

Instead the punters were all friendly (if reserved) and seemed to enjoy having a tune or two for the bus ride home.

Colchester itself is 2,500 years old – the oldest city in Britain. In fact, it was the capital of Roman Britannia, before local Queen Boudicca arked up and raised the place to the ground. Romans re-built but the title of capital got hand-balled to London, and the rest is history.

Anyway, I’m absolutely fucking destroyed, having written this, so it’s time to locate the healthiest and least expensive food from the closest possible location, and to weigh up whether to accompany it with a nice cold can of beer from the servo down the road.

We’ll see about sneaking in some Roman shit tomozza… xx

NB: No pics from today sadly. Some issues with acquisition of new photo footage. Equipment and storage problems mostly. 

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Grim Reapers of London (Part I): an Epic Excursion in the Execution Zone

Grim Reapers Tour – Tower Hill to London Wall – May 2013

So I was hanging out at my immigration agency in London the other day and one of the dudes asked me whether I’d had a good weekend.

“Absolutely,” I informed him. I explained that I had been focussing on doing the touristy stuff.

“Oh, you gotta get that outta the way,” he reckoned… otherwise it never gets done, you see, and I am only in town for a year or so.

So I went on to tell him that these cunts do this Grim Reapers tour of the East End where you go around to all the old execution sites and shit.

Office goes silent. Tough crowd. “It’s pretty grim,” I added.

One woman giggled. I felt she enjoyed my use of the word ‘grim.’

OK, so I’d lost ’em. But who cares – ghost tours are rad and London’s history is dark as hell – you’re at BRITISH EMPIRE GROUND ZERO, for fuck’s sake, so become involved.

Picked this baby up in a hostel

I’d picked this baby up in a hostel…

Anyway so we kicked off, forbiddingly enough, at the sundial on Tower Hill at 6:30pm… which is a long way from sunset in London at this time of year, but it still feels like evening. Here we met our guide, who turned out to be a complete champion.

Of (presumably) Indian extraction, he was nonetheless the most East End dude in recent history. Hunched over his kick-arse rabbit’s head umbrella – which he used mostly as a cane – he seemed to delight in getting straight down to business.

Here he is enthusiastically discussing beheading

Here he is enthusiastically discussing beheading

Our first stop was the site of the beheading scaffold, which was located in some weird little corner directly beneath the sundial, right next to some war memorials. It’s the kind of shit that commuters walk past on a daily basis, totally unaware of what it is… such is the nature of London history I suppose. But anyway, beheading was – we were told – exclusively reserved for the nobility, and we were quickly instructed to dispel any notion of ‘clean’ French-style guillotine executions.

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The tiny little memorial to the chopped necks of Britain

The Limeys apparently preferred to use a bloody great axe. And, as beheadings were rare, the executioners didn’t tend to get much practice. They tended to fuck up the executions. It often took several blows to cut through those large English necks.

We were treated to a good couple of gory stories – most memorably about this one character who got so nervous when it came to the chopping of necks, that on one particular occasion it took him six chops to take a dude out… so Old Gregory was lying there still alive and conscious – bleeding all over the shop – while he copped axe blows to the shoulder and the back of the head. Big Gary finally sconed him, but the gigantic crowd of onlooking paupers – who came to see a show – were less than impressed. They wanted to watch a nobleman cop it sweet. Outraged!

Welcome to the Grim Reapers tour.

Next stop: Tower of London, which is apparently so haunted that they no longer allow guests into the place after 3pm. Yes, 3pm.

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According to our guide, an estimated 3000 people have disappeared in the Tower over the past 935 years. And when he said disappeared, he was talking literally, because nobody knows what happened to the majority of people who went in through those gates. Convicted traitors were generally executed publicly, but mostly if you went into the Tower, that was the last anybody heard of ye. The Princes in the Tower are probably the most famous example. It’s little wonder that the Tower was the most feared place in England pretty much from the time it was built. Today, it is truly an Island of Lost Souls.

And for those lucky enough to be destined for the chopping block? If I remember this correctly – and I am sure the Internets will correct me if I am wrong – a suspect accused of treason would be taken out of lock-up and rowed down the River Thames, in the dark of night, toward the Tower, which would be illuminated by fire. They would travel beneath London Bridge, where the heads of previous traitors were displayed on spikes.

Then they’d enter the Tower through forbidding Traitors Gate, were held inside and – perhaps – tortured by various gruesome methods until they admitted their guilt. As a rule, they were always found guilty. And they were always executed, then their heads were cured in some chemical or other and it was their turn to go on display at London Bridge, as an example to others, until such time as the birds had picked the skulls clean of flesh.

London wins Gold at the Grim Olympics.

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At this stage of the tour we weren’t technically in the East End, we were in the City of London, which is a whole other deal entirely. The City of London, we were informed, was historically a relatively safe place to live. The East End, which lay outside the ancient walls of said City, was a whole other matter entirely: a dog-eat-dog world where people literally fought to survive. A den of vice: gin palaces, prostitution, murder, disease, poverty and every criminal activity imaginable. I think the dude said the average life expectancy was 25. Good times!

So, after briefly swinging by the dock where all the convicts were shipped off to Australia, we headed for the Roman Wall and on into the den of debauchery.

…and that’s when the story started to become intense.

[Part 2 to follow]

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Beer & Loathing (Part IV): Vigorous Efficiency on the Dunedin City Shuttle

A Volunteer Lumper and the Scarves of Auld Otago

Date: 9 October 2012
Transport: Shuttle Bus
Carrier: Super Shuttle
Depart:
Dunedin International Airport, Momona, Otago
Arrive: Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

The shuttle bus was approached with vigour. We were finally on the ground and there was zero prospect of further flight. Naturally I was elated. I looked around the airport as I went. Not massive. It reminded me of Hobart’s airport, perhaps, but more of a classically rural situation. Many miles from town.

Certainly, Dunedin International Airport is remote. Located 22 kilometres south-west of the city centre, which itself has an urban population of less than 118,000 peeps, it’s a bit of a drive to get back to civilisation. We later supposed that the airport’s location must have been due to a lack of flat ground near Dunedin. (Dunners is fucking hilly.) But we never did find out for sure. (Please comment below if you can confirm/debunk!)

At the time though all my awareness was lost to exhaustion and pragmatism. The asking price for the shuttle was around NZD$15.00 per head, which certainly seemed reasonable and congruent with our earlier discussion with the baby-faced scarfie on the plane… and taxis, we had all agreed, were expensive in New Zealand. Shuttletown confirmed.

Flying Nun logo

Naturally I was also well aware of the city’s musical heritage, but as Destination: Dunedin drew closer I was still largely ignorant of what bands – if any – would be playing while we were there. Close to three weeks later I found this platter on the back wall of the local Mac’s pub. Tucked away in a corner near the dunnies along with some other local memorabilia, it almost seemed to be hiding from the majority of the public… but it was there, and it wasn’t too bad at all.

Get to the bus.

I was in absolutely no mood for fooling around. I noticed that the driver and his assistant were busy loading bags into a covered trailer behind our minibus.

It was now 28 hours since Perth, 52 hours since I received my bachelor degree from some washed-up Western Australian politician, over 100 hours since I had bailed on my old house of five years with very little time for sleep in between and high levels of importance placed upon every single task that was to be completed previous to our departure from Perth… and all the while subject to the tyranny of time; and the subtle, extremely unhealthy bastardry of high stress lifestyles. Enough was enough.

On some vague level I suspected I was starting to act like a bit of a cunt, but I felt I had no time left to entertain laidback notions of quaint Otago hospitality. There were tasks to complete, my room was waiting; and besides, I wasn’t actually being unfriendly or rude in any way, I just wasn’t going to wait around for anybody any more. And why should I not help these fellows out?

To this end I approached the trailer directly – bypassing the shuttle bus dudes – and put my bag down inside the trailer next to the other pieces of luggage that they had been loading. In it went: in as neat and efficient and geometrically agreeable manner as possible.

And fast, too. Boom! Pat! Slap! Get it done. Hand luggage stays with me. Guitar still missing.

‘Are you in the union?!’ one of the shuttle bus dudes asked in good humour, clearly surprised and possibly affronted by my direct approach to the task at hand.

‘I am!’ replied one of our crew, who is indeed in the union. Mild humour; situation diffused. We sat toward the rear of the minivan.

The rest of the shuttle bus was choc-a-block full of scarfies. The overwhelming majority of them seemed to be young women in their 20s. Excellent, I thought, I am sure to like this town. Awesome, awesome, awesome…

For a brief moment the prospect of Dunedin was glorious. There was an awareness in my mind that we had no way of knowing where these people were headed right now, or indeed what club I might meet them in later tonight… and I am a musician… oh man, I wonder what the bars will be like!

Fruitless though. Our time with these scarfies was up. It was the last we would see of any of them.

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