Sunday, July 4, 2010

Walking the streets

Katya has gone away to visit her boy-friend in Hanover, we have the flat to ourselves. But anxious to become orientated we set off to view the city, happened upon the 12th century church half-levelled by world war II and left to posterity, came accross poetry emerging from under our feet on a boardwalk by the cathedral.

On crossing Rosenthaler Platz Germany score against Argentina, and folk erupt all around in suprised applause. Grinning people grinning at each other, grinning at me. Walking a busy city thronged with folk can be alienating but not today. Near there we fall upon a leather couch outside a tatoo shop and forget about walking and the disgruntling owner.

Upon Kastanienallee every bar, of which there are many has a television oustide and a good crowd of people around it. All bikes take to the road, and for us walkers we party-hop from screen to screen.

Flat back at the flat, I return to the open highway in search of dinner ingredients, and am further beaten up by the sun. Home again and fed and a minor domestic disagreement later we embark upon the town and though a little foot-sore it is nice for there to be two unsunny sides of the street so we don't have to crisscross. Guided by Map-Nav we get to the bar we aimed for, but the drinks are too expensive so we down an hour with a bottle of red oustide an off license with a down of mood gentleman. Bolstered by the bottle, we flew around the dance floor of another bar as if on the Wall of Death, and thus expediating the process of alcohol recyling I could just about manage to make basic conversational manouvres with some nearly scrupulous english people. We were lucky, nearly scupulous is good for strangers in a bar, supiciousness or over-eager-egging-the-puddingness will shade over any faces fixed under the sternest atificial lighting. Home, bed, tune in tomorrow if you are able still...

My friend arrives

Didn't get up til 2pm, hadn't slept well the previous night. Berlin is very hot, and had been reaching 35C on occasion, and by midmorning my duvet was clinging to me like a greco-roman wrestler. I dunked it off the bed. It was nice for that freshening gesture to represent my mornings sucess and not some abstract reconciliation in spreadhseet land.

Football screens strew the city, and I believe within there is even a football mile within a city park. It is called the Tiergarten, the inner city green lung that is the canopy to the trunk of the citie's main street, unter den linden.

Nothing much happened after I become erect either, other than shopping and sorting out my new room. So we fast forward to my sweaty trek to the railwaystation, Hauptbahnof, a vast greenhouse where someone has interlaced a life-sized train set. Nathalie arrived on time, but by car, dropped off by one of a network of car sharers taken all the way from the Savoie region of France. We caught up on the way home, drank some beer I had bought on the walk back and had another at a bar. Home, brief tour of flat and sleep, another good day.

Ich bin eine....

...Berliner! The flat is lovely. It has wooden floors and tall ceilings, and a Mary Poppins rooftop with lots of chim-chimeney chimney stacks. I sat up there on the first evening with Xavier who was subletting the room to us, and Katya who is our flat mate, and had a beer in the growing dark.

Nathalie would arrive two nights later, my friend I met in Amsterdam while couchsurfing at her house. I have come to Berlin to embark on a few tentative creative ventures and enjoy a 2 months sojourn from employeedom.

Both Xavier and Katya have been very friendly. Katya took me to a local coffee house the first day, where the man who made us our drinks was also the improbable face of the cafe on their postcards. An effeminate man he is seen posing as Wolverine from the X-men with a cookie struck bizzarely on one of his claws.

Nathalie unfortunately had been legged up by wrongly imputting her details onto the flight booking, and what with her noit living in Switzerland had to make other arrangments. She came the next day, stay tuned to here more...

Monday, March 29, 2010

High in Preston

Rolled out of bed and onto the straight tracks, slick steel speeding me to chorley for my first day back after my anaphylactic reaction to brazil nuts. Everyone at social services central was very kind, even more helpful than my GP even, and i am to have a risk assessment. The professionalism of lancashire county council.
Being a fish out of water is almost like the famous evolutionary step, to grasp the vitamins of air after the thin gruel of water. Aeons down the drain, literally. And so my far off thoughts and fish like looking into space i can find a niche within life's glittering bowl of fruit to be myself. And gobble it up for a while yet, the fresh air! The weirder you are sometimes the more leeway you have - i am at my funniest when i embrace the voice of madness within. Speak with your own voice, and burn the boats of suffering. Or whatever!
So i strolled out of the box that is our office and after cheesing myself with two slices from the booths deli i pedalled my stretching legs over to the chippy to add some chips to my defrosted bread and 2 portions of cheddar. Delicieux!
Another block of almighty typing, mouse wiggling, clicking, and reminiscing about having a poo in a chair in accident and emergency (all the wires in my arms, it was hard to remember how to do it when i was so scared about wrenching my life giving pipes from them), and hey presto,5pm and i am like out of there! Knowwhatimean?!
Back to the Bud Pad for tea, a wander in the garden,is this boring? And then a drinks gathering at Isobell and Laura's house (after having a shower, a new thing for me, i actually practiced Vaudeville stage act in there! complete with songs and stand-up routine) where Was was playing a Japanese computer game called Salary Man suicide. My high kite of mood had fallen out of the wind and by now i am peaceful again.
Good night whoever you are and thank you for reading!

Monday, December 7, 2009

a review

Touching the past – joyful theatre to help you remember!

LAST THURSDAY in the Continental Pub’s art space I witnessed mementos coming to life. “Human Remains”, a play devised by the whole company, a group called Touched Theatre, came from member Beccy Smith’s idea to recreate and celebrate her Great Uncle’s life, the African adventurer James Tunstall. And they did so using the things he had left behind!Uncle James was born in Manchester in 1927 and forged a successful career in Africa working as a crocodile and locust hunter and even discovered a new species of locust. His life is dramatised here through the lens of a young photographer called Stanley (played by Gilbert Taylor) who inherits his Uncle’s artefacts and uses them to make mock-ups of his life and experiences, capturing this “still living” in photography.We live his life once more through inventive puppetry and unusual use of his objects, enjoying the song he once sang, “I’ll hunt for you”, accompanied by his violin bow playing a saw, and his letters are flown around the stage in the manner of Savannah birds! At another point his stick is used to reflect his old age as it is limped across the stage. When it is finally leaned against a table, the beeps of a life support machine becoming continuous signal his death.The beauty of this lovely play was that it showed the value there is in making an effort to think about memorabilia. James in one letter wrote: “I think I am losing touch with you all back home”. It is easy to do, but through this play we are able to connect with him again in quite an unexpected way. So the next time you come across mother’s letters or a friend’s treasured gift treat yourself and go on a wonderful trip down memory lane. You might enjoy it and who might even feel real again!

The Continental is on South Meadow Lane, by the river Ribble. For upcoming events and tickets call 01772 499425

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bilsten Protest site

And we turned off the road by the VW garage and entered the wood, looking back in the dark the neon VW sign seemed to simplify into a Peace image behind the lattice of trees. A further 400 yards of dim and dimmer plodding we were in the Site.

Our steps triggered the first line of defence, the dogs. Yapping and growling, we called out over them to their owner John. With dreadlocks and a flashlight on a band around his head, he led us down a pathway and over the river on a little wooden bridge to a corral of huts and awnings where a warm fire awaited us. We were there as couchsurfers and were immediately accepted even though we had not notified them we were coming! We took a seat around the fire which when lit to its full shone a pale orange light upon a sign - "Welcome to Bilston Vasey - you'll never leave." The site had been here for 7 years and though the people had changed it appeared the site would never - until the Bailiffs came. A local industrial estate was to be extended here, and a connecting road was to be built through this glen, so a group of environmental protesters had set up camp among the trees to try to block its construction. And every environmental protester must eat, so off we went to the local Marks and Spencers in a retail park and raided its skip of its discarded edibles. "I wouldn't want to spend the Queen's currency if I could help it," said John. Three or four very large bin bag sized bags including the wonders of Sushi, top range mince pies and a feast of lovely muffins, scones and rolls, not to mention bagfuls of potatoes and veg, were hauled campward and a supermarket trolley was requisitioned (to be later turned into cutlery in the fire!). And to damn the establishment further we hurled two bouquets of pink roses at the M&S security cameras to lodge them in the protective grid, a moment where the flowers became Molotov cocktails of joy in an impish show of disobedience.

The next day after a night in the ground level gypsy caravan, the drapes of the evening had been taken down and the mazy spread of tree houses and walkways sprawled across the canopy above us like lazy orangutans. Rachel had seen this place on, reading something like "couch spare in a tree house - turn up any time, no need to ask!", so we did just that arriving here in the scenic border country 30 minutes outside Edinburgh. Today we learned tree climbing, via ropes, abseiling down afterwards. We also took a stroll to get some wood for Tom who was constructing a musical instrument, a cross between a mandolin and a fiddle he called a "Mandifiddle". The day after we went a wandering up glen and down burn, tracing our way around the genetic modification epicentre that is Roslyn Biotechnology to arrive at the centuries old medieval church at Roslyn that has been made famous by the Da Vinci code. As we were now down with civilisation, we merrily leaped the fence and saved ourselves £7.50.

Back we tramped to the site, tramping an appropriate term, wet shoes sludging through the draining fields to the mesmerising glow of the fire. Talk goes around the fire from 4pm in winter, as there is light there, and if you have nothing to say you stare into the fire. Some people had been here for a long time, others had diffused here from a protest site in Ayrshire where a coal field was going to be plumbed very soon, the bailiffs were expected at any moment, the eviction order had been served. £100,000 a day is the fee for the specialised eviction team - you would have to recycle a lot of M&S roses to pinch that sort of sum. One man, a scouser named George, knew and was friends with "Swampy", the face of the Newbury bypass and an environmental protester celebrity. In that siege the protesters dug deep in tunnels and eeries high in the trees and kept the eviction team at it for many months. In fact John had had to leave Ayrshrie taking his dog and a friend's dog with him to save them from being taken away.

However our time was up and Rachel and I were to be evicted by commitments of our own, Rachel with her Ba (Honours) studies and me with my graduation ceremony and first day working at Social Services coming up over the next two days. As we left the gathered companeros who were sitting around the fire Tom turned to say "Good luck with everything, Job, Career, Degree" (i.e. the trappings of society which he mistrusted so). And as we tramped back to the cold light of the VW sign, part of me was also mistrusting, doubting and finding the life i would return to a bit hard to digest. Here we had had lungfuls of woodsmoke, glens with gushing rivers, 500 year-old yew trees, folk singing by the fireside and small adventures padded out over carelessly slow measures of time. It was a sad feeling to leave, but I am still warmed and inspired by the experience and the people there and if it is at all possible I want to go back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Down and Out in Paris - Home to Preston

And then Waseem tried to hitchhike with a Motorway Servicing truck using a stolen motorway sign, saying "Direction Paris" and we were apprehended and the sign returned to the authorities. The man was very kind and dropped us at the motorway service station.
Here we were whisked northward after not much waiting by Nicolas and Celine. They dropped us in Tours at the busy central square, where we went to buy food from the supermarket. A quarter of an hour later we found ourselves at the edge of the town forming a one-two combination of Waseem with his thumb and me with the new sign. Kangny, an artist from Paris, whizzed to a halt and we almost didn't spot him and then seeing him dashed up the road to jump in. The drive was still quite a long one to Paris, but he was going all the way and could drop us in the St Denis region where we were to meet Muhammed and the rest of the rap group. So we relaxed and talked, the landscape mellowing as the sun set and the broad flat french fields accentuated the endless rhythm of the car speeding along the autoroute. Waseem called Muhammed and it seemed things were difficult for them to get accommodation for us as their apartment was very full with 5 staying in a 3 bed apartment, and what with all their music things it was difficult to find space for us. But they were going to sort something out so we remained hopeful. Kangny offered me a coffee but it didn't help, at this stage I felt abject and was finding it hard to keep chatting.
At 10.30 we arrived in Paris. Kangny took a photograph of us with our sign, saying "Paris", and we said goodbye to him and went into a nearby cinema to change. Here Waseem called the rap group, and we got some awful news - they had no accommodation for us. We had travelled all the way from Spain to reach them and they had let us down. I was actually drunk on fatigue, and quite enjoying the feeling so I didn't get cross and neither did Waseem. We both resolved, however, to go back to England as soon as possible as we had had enough.
It all called for a kebab, so we strode over to the eating area, skirting the Stade de France as we did so. Suitably sustained, I popped into a bar to use the toilet and widdled into the hole keeping well back with my flip-flops. And I then held down the flush button. This was not a good idea, as a cascade of water plunged down into the sunken bowl and splashed up over the lip onto my sock-covered toes. So I had to wash both the flip-flops and my feet, and when I came out and made a joke of it to the man at the bar he laughed and bought me a drink. I called Waseem over and we had a drink together, but when I returned the favour and bought him a drink and one for me I was shocked to find it costing 6 euros for a Ricard and half a lager. They also new a hotel with a free room, lucky as France were playing football tomorrow at the nearby Stade de France, so they walked us around and dropped us off there.
The next day when we emerged over an hour after check-out time, we went to the Internet cafe and booked a bus to London and a bus from London to Preston. Calls to home and to cancel my card concluded business and so we decided to explore Paris by bus, first traversing the extensive multicultural areas of the north and north-east, and then taking a bus to the centre (jumping off for 10 minutes outside the megalopolous Louvre building) and back, descending from the bus at the international bus station. We we were lucky as there were seats still left at the Coach desk, but while we were waiting I heard a shriek and there running towards me was a familiar face yelling "Helloooo Thooomaaasss!". It was Rachel, who you may remember I stayed with in Heidelberg and travelled to Munich with. An incredible coincidence, she was travelling back to England too, after a time surfing on the west coast of France, and was very brown. She had stayed the previous night on the banks of the Seine, literally, in her sleeping bag!
So we all travelled back together n the 10pm bus from Paris. There was an incredibly funny snorer on the coach, and at Calais we had our passports stamped to the pleasure of the customs officials. On the boat we sat on deck and gazed around the immense blackness for the short crossing, not feeling too cold. Then we were back in England and soon after, in London where we said bye to Rachel who was getting a different bus to Preston. We left at 7am and when we were out among the fields it was clear that England lacked the brightness of the European countries I had visited, things were dim or even dreary. And perhaps because of this the landscape emanated colour and made me feel glad to be back.
And back in Preston we found Rachel again and after 10 minutes there was mum too. I was home. We drove Waseem back to his Preston home and mum took me back to Simonstone where food and home cooking awaited.
Well, that's it, here is where it all comes to an end. In all I had travelled for 10 weeks, covering some 10,000 kilometres mainly by hitchhiking and had visited 12 countries, alone and in turn with Rachel, Kieran and Waseem. Not bad really if you also consider it had only costed £140 per week, a price massively inflated by the hotels and hostels we had been forced to use due to the lottery of hitchhiking. But then again, it wouldn't have been the same if I and we had planned things. Nothing that I did was planned anything more than a week before, and even then was only accurate to within a day or two and to a region. Only the one way plane ticket I took from Manchester to Brussels was genuinely premeditated - everything else was either whim or reaction. But that was the beauty of it and why I would recommend it to others.
But if you try it, you must remember that you are a drifter and have your wits about you, not for your safety but for your sense of your self. It is uprooting and alienating, so make sure you are willing to fight for who you are and have a clear sense of what you want out of it. Honestly, I travelled out of panic, out of having most of my goals in life fulfilled and of having lost direction, and so when I look back at the difficulties I experienced, such as loneliness or sleep deprivation, I only wish I had more of a clear reason to persevere. If I had, I think I would have got more from it and have been a better person too. It was good, yes, but for me it was not in fact brilliant.
So now, it remains to say thankyou to mum and dad for giving me the money was a graduation gift and also thankyou for my travelling companions for being good friends. I hope you have enjoyed it as readers. I am sorry for finishing it off so late. And well, I shall hope to see you around the planet sometime. If you need somewhere to stay you can of course come and sleep on my couch anytime and if you are hitchhiking I will pick you up. I would have to! I am in debt now so I don't have the choice.