Thursday, 31 July 2008


I slept on the beach at Simrishamn last night and I couldn't have paid for a better night's sleep. It got dark around eleven, at which point I stopped reading, rolled out my sleeping bag at the chosen location, a distance from the fishermen on one side, and a lone camp fire on the other. And they there were, the stars! Like I'd seen them before in the Turks and Caicos islands, piercing and heavy, and more than one can fathom. Such an alien image for a city dweller, and all the more fascinating. Though they mean nothing to me, I just throw my head back and in awe think "The Stars!".

It was cool outside of my pupa state, but no wind, sand for a pillow, and the waves as my nurse. I awoke naturally to a glorious sunrise straight ahead of me, as the beach I was on faced East. Luminous orange, Estonia beyond it? A couple more dozes before it warmed up, then I stripped off in front of no significant witnesses and dived into the sea, which wasn't as cold as I was expecting, though my skin was in shock when I emerged. Truly life affirming. What a way to wake up in the morning!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Befriended Strangers

I stumbled into the infamous Christiana district of Copenhagen, just as the sun was setting. The first thing I noticed was the complete absence of cars. Wherever you go in a city, at any time of day or night, one can always hear these damn things chugging along some highway for probably the least necessary of reasons. In Christiana, not silence, but machine silence...bliss!

Broken walkways, but still neat. Kept and unkempt communal gardens. The spirit of idleness runs deep there. I was slightly wary as I walked through crowds of weathered looking types, but I guess that's natural when on foreign soil. Of course the first thing to do was to get hold of a beer. A bar with a free table in the sun, perfect. Quietly supping away on that, watching everyone else, contemplating getting my book out to look busy, and then resolving not to. If there's anywhere in the world where people don't expect you to be doing something, it's Christiana.

Within 10 minutes a shifty young fellow sits opposite me on the bench. I greet him politely. I was in the mood for some kif, but only a tiny bit for the evening, and I didn't want to be hassled by explaining this, then being forced into buying more than I actually needed. Should we, shouldn't we? Well, why not?! Conversation ignited, like the universe.

He was from Mexico, in America, and been over in Christiana for 3 years, though he couldn't remember clearly. His sister lived in Copenhagen, has 2 flats, 1 she rents out to tourists, is doing "well" for herself. Is frustrated by her brother's lifestyle: There she is getting up at 7am working 12 hour days, making money, and he drinks and smokes when he wakes at 3pm, every day until sunrise. I see his point. A balance between the two I think is where I should be headed, though leaning more towards his style.

His mother is mexican, and his father was american. They met in Morocco in the 70s. She was travelling and bumped into him in a hotel. He was there setting up hash trade agreements and planning to ship it to Copenhagen. Like father like son. That's a rather impressive heritage for any dealer. To be able to say one's father set up the original hash trade between Morocco and Christiana!

I bought him a couple of beers, he rolled a joint with a huge roach. Must be a Danish thing? I never understood why in England we make tiny roaches and then struggle with the dregs. A lady sat next to us, late 40s, Danish, "respectably" dressed, not an inhabitant of Christiana. She'd just come after work to soak up some atmosphere. She liked Christiana, and thinks the spirit here is so important to Denmark. I have to agree. All movements that ignore governments are important. I bought her a beer too, £1.50 a bottle of Danish lager...I was most impressed!

We all shared the joint. I felt ecstatic and shameless. There was a black girl, beautiful child, playing with a ball amongst all these care free adults. Two old Chinese ladies walked by with cans of beer in their hands, a dog sat mournfully in a bike trailer waiting for his master. It must have been the hash because no-one else found the dog in the trailer the least bit amusing.

I left my befriended strangers and tried to make my way back to "civilisation", with great difficulty. My orientation had quite up and left me, but also, thanks to the spliff, I wasn't bothered.

Out of all the lonesome travelling I've done over the last 6 years, this trip I have been most comfortable and confident with. I no longer canvas restaurants for eternity wondering whether the conditions are right, or fret about in train stations under departure boards wondering if my train really does exist. If I need to know something, I simply ask the nearest suitable looking citizen. Oh the anxiety I used to suffer was overwhelming at times. Now I have my reasoning down to a fine art.

Filthy and Sweating

After a horrendous night's sleep on the train from Köln to Copenhagan, a 15 hour journey, with 4 of the dullest people I've ever had the misfortune to share a compartment with, I am now sprawled out in a park, sun and wind filtering very agreeably through the trees, pipe filled with Danish tobacco infused with port, 2 cans of Tuborg and the bustling city of Copenhagan behind me.

The compartment was just as big as a normal sleeper and could easily fit 6 bunks in it. Instead there were 3 giant seats on each side opposite each other. Giant, one would naturally assume to be a good thing. However, with seats that big, it's hard to rest your head and body against anything when you want to sleep. One has to delicately balance the head in such a way that it won't roll off and wake one up...just at the crucial moment of dreamy oblivion.

I imagine the discomfort was designed so the train company can charge two separate prices, the sleepers being the premium of course. If the sitting compartments were bearable, then less people would pay a premium for a sleeper, making them less profit.

The company was made up of 2 young chubby Nordic fellows, who actually seemed rather pleasant. Then there was a young couple. She appeared to be plain Russian. He, Swedish, and chubby, yet masculine...oh how men can get away such a look! I would have thought nothing of it, and may have even attempted some polite conversation, if it weren't for their complete lack of concern for their immediate surroundings. The first thing they did after putting their bags up, was to open their filthy, sweating Burger King meals in front of everyone, releasing the most repulsive of odours, made worse by the heat of the evening. Could they not have eaten in the corridor with the window open? Could they not have simply bought bread and cheese like a respectable and well seasoned traveller should do...and done every one concerned a favour?

Next was the young cretin's reaction to some over excitable youths in the corridor. Didn't bother me, as I couldn't understand a word of was just noise, a few joyous yelps over the machinery of the train. In the company of 3 people he did not know, he relayed to his girlfriend "Urgh, Norwegians. So irritating. That's the one thing that you can tell the difference by with Swedes and Norwegians, they're so damn loud."

Now I know I'm not completely innocent when it comes to perpetuating national stereotypes, but I do so for the sake of banter, which I see little wrong with. But this man, was overly serious and sincere. He was also complaining about how slow the train was going within 15 minutes of alighting! The train will get there when it gets there, you numbskull.

So, yes, now in Copenhagan, too many sites to see in one day, so an aimless wander about stopping in parks to read, drink beer, smoke a pipe, and write some nonsense in my notebook. All these historic statues I've walked by, bustling hordes of tourists consumed by some particular detail. I've not the faintest clue of any of it. And does it really matter? I'd rather read in depth in books, the history of nations, than on tacky plastic signs, patronising summaries.

I am on holiday after all. Though life should always be like this of course. Let Copenhagan, and every city, town or country, be a backdrop to an agreeable experience of idle wandering, park loafing, or barflying.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

My Father's Son

Entering German territory on a train bound for Köln. I spy my reflection in the window, as the sun is setting over endless fields of corn. A young man's face with a neat mustache and an upside down smile. My father was this exact description at my age, in Germany in the mid seventies. He had something of a purpose though, no, an obligation...the military. Patrolling the Berlin Wall. Oh, and to visit his 16 year old German fiance, Claudia. My god, Pater, what were you thinking?!


Now in Brussels, sipping my second pint on a sunny boulevard, only after searching for half an hour for a bloody cash machine. Just one ATM in the whole of Brussels Midi, would you believe?! It simultaneously horrifies me and delights me to see a city's lack of access to cash.

It horrifies me because I'm so used to having no barrier between my material desire, and the item on sale. In England, they make paying for goods and services as painless as breathing, supposing one doesn't have emphysema. In Tokyo there are about three cash machines in the whole city. Two in Narita airport, which is 70 miles from central Tokyo, and one in Roppongi, in a Citibank, on the second floor of a suspiciously unassuming looking building.

It delights me however, to know that access to things one doesn't actually forgettable kebabs at 3am, or taxi's 2 miles up the barred through infrequent installations of cash dispensing machines.

Tokyo's inhabitants have to draw money out from their banks and...budget...*gasp*...until they can get to the bank again. Budgeting is an alien concept to me I doubt I will ever master. That's certainly not an admission of being in funds that never deplete...far from it. It's just in my nature to always spend more than my wage. Gordon would be proud of me, I guess I've done my bit for the country in that sense.

Frugalism should only be romanticised when it comes to convenience items. When it comes to having drinking..."put another round on the credit way of knowing".


I awake from one of those cosy mid afternoon naps exiting the Channel Tunnel. I am being transported across a landscape of yellow grass and scores of spindly grey behemoths as far as the eye can see...France.

Every time I see this drab scene it never fails to conjure Dirk Bogart's witty response to the customs officer in the film adaptation of The Tale of Two Cities. At the height of the French Revolution, Sydney Carton, the idle lawyer and enthusiastic drunkard, enters France at Calais. When asked what his business was in the country at a time of great unrest, he replies in the driest of tones, "The wine...what else?"!

Casting Off

And so today I have embarked on a short tour of northern Europe, for pleasure and pain, of a purely individual nature of course, as that is how I was bred. I break into Hodgkinson's 'How To Be Idle' in the Eurostar departure lounge, and that has instantly set me in a jovial mood. Less toil, more contemplation, less material desire, a more recumbent outlook...all make for a wiser individual.

I couldn't agree more with the sentiment. However, there is one issue I fail to reconcile completely, and that is the aspiration to create profound, strikingly original, and durable popular music. I've always strived towards such a goal, and have reached nowhere close to where I'd like to be. Why should I lay in bed idling when there is work of a musical type to be done? That has always been the question gnawing at the back of my mind, lashing me with criticism, like an old Victorian Beadle.

Certainly all evidence of late has pointed in favour of idleness, when it comes to satisfying desires, though unfortunately in the least important areas of my life. Doors remain closed if you continue to push them, and yet fling open the second you turn your head, allowing you to walk backwards blindly through them.

Is it right to "tut" at The Blue Nile for releasing about 6 short albums in the space of 30 years? To scoff at their encore at a rare live performance, being not only their biggest hit, but also the last song they played before the encore! Is it right to expect, or worse, demand, of creative types that their output be frequent, consistent, and of staggering quality?

Of course the answer to that is that I'm being unfair to myself and to those I respect as artists. Let them and I do as we pleased, be buffeted by life's heady stimuli, and try not to regiment the unruly.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Joy in repetition

"You live beneath another star..." sings Paul Buchanan, as the last light from the star that we all live beneath gradually fades, thanks to the turning of the Earth. Somerset House on the banks of the Thames, with seagulls sqwauking overhead, and lachrymose cherubs looking on, was the perfect setting for a Blue Nile concert.

His voice is the richest timbre I've ever heard, the most satisfying tone to come from a human's throat. Gymnastics are for show-offs, the polar opposite of what The Blue Nile are. Humble to say the least. They've been playing music for well over 30 years and only released a handful of albums. One could raise a family in the time between each album...

Doubt and apathy, chasing eachother around the dinner table like 2 obnoxious children with an exponential amount of energy, is enough to hamper anyone's ambition. Don't I know these two bastard fiends all too well!

I love old standards, and pop songs of all eras, which often might seem contradictory depending on the vehicle they're delivered in. It's the simplicity of the lyrics that I find so compelling. Abstract and suggestive to a point, but not so much that one doesn't have a clue what the song is about. Direct and poignant verse can be more heady and rewarding than the opposite. Extremely hard to strike a balance between simplicity and vapid lyrics. This balance is the holy grail of song writing. The Blue Nile strike it.

I often wonder if there really is any more emotion than I've already experienced, or can at least imagine. I generally conclude that this is it, as Evgeny found out early in his twenties. That sentiment lines every song Buchanan has written. Why convolute what is well known?

"I love you, and so I shall simply say it, but still prepare the ground around it, with decorations fit for such an expression". And then he will say it again, and the band will not solo, but find that sound and loop it, because there's joy in repetition. There's joy in repetition.