Red lights, gray morning You stumble out of a hole in the ground A vampire or a victim It depends on who’s around.”
- U2, ‘Stay, Faraway So Close’
When I arrived Berlin was grey, grey, grey. ‘Grau’, as they say in German, three shades of London, there is no black and white, only right or wrong, says Jack Ryan in Patriot Games.
Unwelcoming, as if to cast us out and to say, “Go back from whence ye came, I’m too shrouded for the likes of thee sirrah.” And what’s more it’d been sunny, and near sizzling in May, according to some local sources. But we were there and Berlin was windy, showing her tears and the cold shoulder.
Berlin is an old city, a soul city, one dripping with life and history. It’s got so much culture it could give away half its culture to other cities in Germany and still have enough left over for a UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination. It’s got so much culture I feel like an E.Coli except infected and infecting with art and life. Bullish and bearish Berlin became bastardy whence the Nazi beasts based their banal brutal bureaucracy of death there.
My first instance of culture was the Statue of Triumph, the Golden Angel that sits majestically above, yes, the true high lord of Traffic, governing the flow of vehicles below. I recognised it from World War 2 photos (vaguely) and from U2’s ‘Stay, Faraway So Close’ music video. Like all MVs, it was distracting - the one overriding thought being how the hell did the actors not get distracted by the members of U2 shoving their faces in while they mime playing and how did Bono get up there in the Angel’s arms?
1.Lots of practise or they were Scottish
2. Therefore he MUST be God!
3. That’s more than one overriding thought.
But if it is indeed Lord Of Traffic then it seems she’s got no luck controlling Berlin’s cyclists though. Those crazy bastards, men and women both, rip through the cycle lanes at god-knows what breakneck speed, I got out of the airport shuttle and almost got creamed by a large German lady who was none too impressed by my being a new Wall to her progress. Lucky I had my eyes open and peripheral vision on the ball.
This is Berlin as I saw it, without proper punctuation.
“Grey, stone, steel, glass, the people polite but reserved, the cars helter-skelter, pyramids of glass and matrices, a crystalline structure, old buildings, but not sandstone, the façade new but hiding secrets beneath, fifty years of Communist rule you try to seek for yourself- a Trabant - continue walking, tourists just like you in a group all come to soak in the spirit of History a fine-sipping whisky with a kick like a mule make sure you don’t forget the beggars - a Trabant – are we human? Or are we dung beetles for giving each other so much shit? An empty lot, a hole in the ground, green in the middle of the city, peaceful like a death camp memorial.”
There, that’s a lot to process so chew on it for awhile and go back to where we left off. The first day I chucked my things away in the room as usual then grabbed a map and started walking. Potsdam Platz is a central junction bordered by a huge underground train station, which rears up on each side like a technological Jormungandr with two mouths growling at each other from under the bed. Or is it Cerberus? Anyway, I took a waltz down south-southeast and in less than ten minutes I hit the Wall. Not hard, considering the red line that runs through the map, but the Wall where it exists as one of its remaining, longest bits.
I got there too early for the exhibit’s opening – landing at 0700 and reaching the hotel at 830 meant I finally hit it at 950 - so after milling around outside and seeing a museum sign ‘Freedom For Ai WeiWei’, I forgot that Checkpoint Charlie was just on down the road. Stupid head, I was at The Wall wasn’t I? So off I went.
What remains of the wall is quite literal, it’s like any other wall in the world, maybe twelve feet tall (4-metres plus), sandstone-like concrete with no brick but steel support struts on the inside, like bones laid in the flesh of a fish, many of them visible. If you were to tear a hole in a ribcage leaving the flesh to frame the bones, it’d look something like that. Holes and falling down pieces, decay of the geological and political sort. This piece of wall stretched for about 100 metres or so down the street, then abruptly ended. I look further on down, continuing where it left off. What was once the impermeable barrier is now grass pavement and the most recycled consumer item in the world – cars. Oh how the world has moved on.
I’m sure I’m not the first to notice that the symbol of a divided Western and Eastern Germany being torn up into thousands of tiny pieces to make tourist souvenirs is terribly ironic, this in the city where Karl Marx and Friederich Engels wrote their tome of well-intentioned, but totally brimstone-paved, literature, Das Kapital. They should have called it Arse Kapital and it would’ve worked better. Well technically speaking he wrote it in London and it were The Communist Manifesto that started all the shit, but nevermind.
Checkpoint Charlie was a tourist fest. I felt more like a native of Berlin because I pre-dated these parti-coloured, family-addled beings that waddled from (some didn’t bother) the pregnant nipple of the tour bus, by some two or three hours, like first and second twins, but already had a true feel, or deluded myself into thinking that I had, of what the city seemed to say. I don’t mean to say I’m a Charles Xavier, but it’s obvious they came to take pictures and say that they were there. Well, me writing this does too, but it makes you think. Uncle Jimbo and Aunt Harriet’s holiday photo-show does not, even if they did go to Berlin. I did a ten-minute walkaround of the place and then left – there wasn’t much to see. Sure I thought about how it must’ve been for the Allies, divvying up Germany with Berlin as the lynch-pin of it all, but it was too full of modern to be of any use to a macabre sot like me.
Checkpoint Charlie should be renamed Checkpoint Capitalism. Some re-enactment of it has been done up there (“You are now leaving the American Zone…”) but I wonder how much those guys get paid to stand there all day with an American flag. A kiosk, labelled ‘Visas’ sold old fur hats and mass-produced retro relics. The whole area was swarming with tourists, many American, some European, some from further bits of the world that I’ve never seen nor heard or just can’t place.
What makes Berlin Berlin, I think, is the walking. Because of the work, I’ve wandered around for short periods in cities around the world, usually a stolen hour or two away from the group with no particular aim – just find a map and aim. Sometimes that’s what sticks with me the most, that impression of a place is strongest when formed by yourself without the company of those you know to screen it out. Probably been mentioned before, but travelling in a group kinda misses the point of travelling. I don’t agree totally, but thrown to your own devices you do learn more than you would usually.
The walking in Berlin was good, this time of year. The forecast was for balmy weather but even the dimness was good, the clouds added an edge to all that I saw on my first day. On day two I did a Segway tour around the city centre, but I found myself having fun and watching people, old people with cameras, Euro girls with in their summer gear, tourists blundering into each other, that feeling of a holiday I very rarely get while on overseas jobs. Day two was fun, but what I saw of Berlin on the first day will stay with me the strongest.
At the risk of repeating myself, Berlin is a very gray city overwhelmingly the shade and the feeling, is anthracite, carbon, grau, grey, gray, silver, cold, slate, stone, steel, plated glass and granite chips underfoot. Munich, in contrast, would be sort of brownish-green and the colour of algae-aged sandstone and bronze, with dashes of colour thanks to the Marienplatz. Frankfurt was covered in snow and it was all I could do not to freeze my bollocks off so it doesn’t count. It’s not that Berlin hasn’t got its fair share of greenery, you’ll see later, but it’s a riot of green trying to shoot up between the stones. Walking towards the Wall I looked over a fence into a vacant lot, a depression in the earth, clay and soil, but it was still grey somehow. Even the plants are grey. The shape of the land, the foundations, the constant graffiti. Berlin, like no other city I’ve seen, is the concrete wall and the people fighting to be alive on it, like graffiti. If not for that, it’d be a city with a sort of deadgray exterior, having been drained of blood. There is graffiti everywhere in Berlin – except on the memorial to the dead Jews of Europe.
Before I hit CC I actually wandered into something else entirely. Across the road from the Tableaux of Terror (laughed when I saw that, naturally) was a nondescript modernised oldhouse of the type commonly found throughout Europe. I’m not sure what you call it, but these always house souvenir shops, art galleries or nice, funky dwellings. In it was another exhibit (free!) about the Stasi, the secret police that the German Democratic Republic instituted. I’m sure they offed and disappeared a lot of people but I think their chief crime was bureaucracy, in that way that Fascists often are. They left something like a gajillion miles of filing cabinets, UHU glue, liquid paper, staples and tried to destroy it all before Glasnost came calling but they failed. In the GDR, everyone spied on everyone, apparently 1 in 5 people worked for the gubmint in some way or another. Tells you all you need to know really.
I breezed through the exhibits. The Stasi failed to destroy the leagues of documentation because Der People stormed their headquarters and stopped them. Also the sheer amount of stuff meant it couldn’t be destroyed even by a thousand monkeys on amphetamines with scissors. I read about life under the GDR where you couldn’t make jokes and where they kept a file on everyone. I wonder if they kept files about themselves, that’d be so meta-fictional I think their stupid Fascists heads would explode. Apparently they stole people’s scents, kinda like soul stealing only less hygienic, so that they could use tracker dogs to hunt them down in case they decided to go native on them. There is an obvious, deeper connection that you can make between these Stasi agents writing shit about people all, threats to the regime, and to literature and newspapers, but my brain is too addled to mine it.
I expected most of the dissidents to get disappeared, but they mostly did funky shit, got thrown in jail for awhile and then were deported to the West. They were terrible, evil bastards but even they were kinder than the motherfuckers across the street.
Across the street was the Tableaux of Terror. Like all those dedicated to the war, the concentration camps and the entire six years of insane shit that was the Third Reich of No-Reach Around, where men became beasts and people burned, it was extremely sombre. What they call the Tableaux of Terror is a timeline of how the National Socialist Party engineered its rough way to Bethlehem to be born, from the Weimar Era all the way until old Adolf thought, nuff z’nuff, no more fun and games, cool while it lasted, buy the ticket take the ride seeya wouldn’t wanna be ya innawhile crocodile.
The loop descends into the foundations of an old building, which just so happen to be the headquarters of the Gestapo. It stands from something something something police, but basically it means evil murdering fucks. It’s just bricks, stone and pockmarked mortar until you read you’re standing in the basement of what was quite likely, hell for many unfortunates. I wouldn’t want to be there at night and stifle a shiver thinking of how much blood this place has seen, blood and teeth, limbs, screams and pain, all for some insane bastard’s dream. But it was the peoples’ fault too, for not caring and for voting for the beasts into power. Democracy is a bitch sometimes, and the Nazis knew how to tie her and her mother down. I fancy I see bloodstains on the walls, maybe a bullet hole or two, but it’s not likely. It’s been scoured by the gigantic hand of destruction and time, but the point is Good, the point is made if people do not forget. I walk the exhibit back to front, up the stairs, and come out onto the museum complex, again another wrought steel edifice shot through with glass. Bordering the three sides of the complex (away from the basement stairs) are fields of, you guessed it, grey granite pieces about the size of a fist. Close up it looks bumpy and coarse, but let your eyes zone out into a macro view and it becomes almost like a Zen rock garden.
Somebody taps me on the shoulder. It’s a girl, not a woman, and presumably German, and she has a laminated piece of paper. It’s something about orphans and the underprivileged, and the mute. She can’t, or won’t talk and is asking for donations. I haven’t got the train ticket system wrong until tomorrow, so I give 1.50 – probably because she can’t talk and is polite - and notice I am the least generous contributor on the page. Damn these well-paid Europeans. I continue my way through the gallery rogues and horrors, but it seems emotional thuggery is not done with me yet. Another girl, also not a woman, is questioning people in sequence. I am too engrossed in the thuggery of Ernst Rohm and the Sturmbahnteilung or whatever they’re called, SA, until I notice her. She has a shawl, or burqa, on her head, and is obviously not German, and quite scruffy. She asks, in the manner I expect the Gestapo would ask Jews, gays, lesbians, or gypsies, “Do you speak English?” Brusquely and without a care.Answer me now, schweinehunde! I’ve got a lot of tourists to question!
And I’ve met a lot of beggars in my time, but if you want to take up begging as an occupation and shrug off the rules of society then at least have a fucking USP. Hers is rudeness. I’ve seen beggars in worser condition than her, and maybe she has no choice, but nobody’s going to give you any dosh if you’re not nice. It costs nothing to be polite, even if money sometimes maketh manners where there were none before. I don’t give her anything, The words are on the edge of my tongue but I have the presence of mind to just look at her stupidly and shake my head. “German?” she ventures. I shake my head, and she moves, barges, karate rolls, on.
Berlin is many colours, as any city is. But it’s grey in the sense that it doesn’t have the soft of Starburst™ primary and neon colour explosion of a place like Tokyo, Seoul or Bangkok, or Hong Kong. It’s strangely smell-less too – Munich smelt like shit the last time I was there, and HK smells like boiled stomach. Singapore smells like the forest, a heavy, wet and green smell you notice only when you come back home.
Muted, is the word, except when in the green grass and bright sunlight outside the old Reichstag, then it comes alive.
There’s a long green corridor that runs what seems like the entire length of the city centre. I’m probably wrong, but you can’t blame me. All I know of Berlin now is the U2 video, blindly following a GPS, walking around the city centre and taking a train to a far off industrial estate. We swing by that green hall on the way in, I noticed it through the windows of the shuttle, that’s why I hate travelling by car some times, and thought I should go give it a gander.
Why Berlin is such a cultural city reason #3: I make a wrong turn out of the hotel and immediately trip over four or five more museums, monuments of interesting places…who knew the Musical Instrument Museum was only a block away? But I do find that green corridor.
It’s always a pleasure when you walk into the forest. Like I said, Berlin (in summer, at least) has undergrowth to match the rest of them, it’d take Kuala Lumpur on in a straight up ‘who’s got more weed’ fight no worries whatsoever, climate be damned. It’d lose the Bangla and Ah Tiong fight to KL and the Pore though. The park seems more like a wood that’s decided to exist in the middle of the city. I cross over behind the immense Sony Centre, which is opposite my hotel, and cross the road, watching for maniac cyclists (I am becoming a native! And restless.) my feet translate from concrete to grit. All the paths in the park are gravel or dirt paths and that’s the way it should be. It’s a uniquely Singaporean conceit to create tons of parks and green zones and then pave the fucking things. I walked in there to get away from the urban sprawl you arse eejits.
But it’s lovely how trees mask out the world. Cutting through the glass and geometry which channels the wind even stronger, funnelling it, until my coats flapping around like Batman, the stillness and quietness of the green is still amazing. The wind diffused by the trees, leaves, shrubs, and where the medium is turned into rivulets so is the noise of the outside world. The traffic and the snarling bicyclists fall away and the only sound left is the noise of my feet on the path.
Occasional mud and then the park opens up into a wide field and trees built in that uniquely temperate way. Green, fine grass all over, except where the trees are, dead leaves underneath, you walk beneath without having to fear a boiling army of invertebrates clambering up your feet. There’s an exhibition of stones sitting cow-like, plastered across the grass. One circle of seven or eight boulders, each about the size of a refrigerator, with brilliantly polished tops and feel cold, smooth and almost living. Some enterprising Berliners have been using them as an entertainment centre - beer bottles litter the floor. Speaking of entertainment, past a bench I find not one, but two condoms, one pink and one the granny-bra colour, all floppy and spent on the floor. They’re strangely empty.
A few people are in attendance; a lady playing fetch with her Jack Russel, three women having a picnic, the occasional intrepid cyclist and jogger, a man in a blazer walking quickly by. I pick the most obvious path and continue on my way, Berlin offers up its secrets. Undergrowth again, thick, purple flowers and dandelions, and fields of bees. I spy a rabbit in the park, a real-life brown rabbit, not the domestic abandoned ones I keep seeing in Singapore. It’s smart enough to know I intend it from the way I cock my head. A few steps after I see it, it’s gone, bolted back into the undergrowth. The Nazis hunted for Jews the way Ahab hunted Moby Cock, the way Winnie the Shit hunts honey. That is to say, it’s not just the doing, or the object, but the under-the-skin, it’s personal sort of vendetta that’s not so much about the hunted as the hunter himself. I exit the park and I come straight to the Jewish Memorial. I thought it was much further away, but the scale and size of the thing means I have to cross the road go touch it for myself.
No prizes for guessing what colour it is. It’s abstract, architectural and alienating. It does represent six million deaths, after all. It’s like a cemetery, but not. Imagine a keyboard with regular shaped but slightly more flat oblongs, arranged all in a perfectly aligned grid. Now imagine the keys are all of different heights and that you’re an ant walking the troughs between them. That’s what the memorial is like. The centre furrows into the earth, so the columns sprout from foot height to well over three metres. Sight down the perfectly-spaced rows and people blink past, here and then gone, before you can eyeball them properly. Much like ghosts. You ever heard the story of the man who saw a shadow at the corner of his eye? Like something flitting away at the edge of peripheral vision. One day his eye caught up with it and he was scared to death. The stones being so low it I didn’t even realise I was stepping on them, and the urge to hop from one to another like the Giant’s Causeway was unquenchable so I did. I wanted to hop all the way to the middle, the distance between each stone wasn’t near, but not far either, and it was a long drop down. I thought the better of it, it’d be disrespectful, so I hopped away. But everyone else did it too.
Life jumps up and gets away, despite everything, wars, murders, programmes of ethnic cleansing. In 1936 Adolf said to his homeys, I want to kill rule the world, kill all Jews, homosexuals, communists and bleeding heart liberals. I want you to make a car that everyone can afford while you’re at it. Fast forward fifty years and old Adolf’s wonder machine has become a cult classic because of its cute shape and relative affordability. And who loves it more than Jews, homosexuals, communists, liberals and artistic type? We shit on your grave Adolf. England prevails.
Do not grieve at the passing of mortality, for life’s but a thing of terrible gravity. And the planets gravitate around you, and the stars shall dance about you, and the angels in heaven adore you, and the saints all stand and applaud you. So faraway, so faraway and yet so close.”
“I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say
I come home in the morning, I go to bed, feeling the same way.”
- ‘Dancing In The Dark’, Bruce Springsteen
Soundtrack: 1990s Pop & Alternative Rock
That’s Just What You Are – Aimee Man
Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth
Duncan Sheik – Barely Breathing
Sugar Ray - Fly
I Only Wanna Be With You – Hootie & The Blowfish
I get up in the morning and I turn the computer on. I log onto Grooveshark for the tunes. I read a website. I still have magazines and books, but nowadays I do most of my heavy reading on a Kindle. I haven’t carried a portable music player around for the past five years. If I need music on the go I plug into my smartphone.
My relationship with music came too late in world history to enjoy the giganticness of the LP record, the flipping and the needles the hugeous record sleeves and all that. I grew up with cassettes: the 1980s, the boombox, the Walkman. We had one in yellow and grey ‘waterproof’ disguise and huge rubber buttons, also the small, sleek version that was only as big as two packs of cards. It was so small! Wow! Of course now everything is so tiny you sneeze you fucking lose it, like one of my SD cards I no longer own.
I say ‘we’ in that it was probably my brother’s or my mom’s but everyone stole it so often it didn’t really belong to anyone, sort of like a family dog. We had one of those too but it ran away, got found on the Harbour Bridge and eventually went berserk.
My 15-year-old sound scape included various and fragmented things and no real preference except it be loud and angry. The lynchpin of this was the Mortal Kombat soundtrack. All things considered, it’s really not bad – KMFDM, G//Z/R, Sister Machine Gun. It set me up for the excellent Batman Forever OST. But I think what would channel it the most was listening to Nirvana (Wishkah), Everclear (So Much For The Afterglow and that album with the dark cover and yellow words). There was also a very awesome compilation which I cannot remember the name of. It could’ve been a ‘NOW’ compilation, or two, one in green and one in blue. The listing was pretty good – ‘Back For Good’ Take That, ‘That’s Just What You Are’ by Aimee Man, ‘Out Of The Blue’ Michael Learns To Rock (remember THEM?! When I went to Genting once they were having a reunion tour) and a techno song called ‘It’s A Rainy Day’. I suppose I could The Google the entire listing, but I’m very sure one was a pirated thing that never existed, only as a zombie-like extension of some pioneering Internet pirate’s idea of modern pop music. Footling somewhere around in that muggy period was also Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales, whose album cover helped the entire experience so much despite the hard to rear lyrics.
By this time, 1996 and onwards, the formats I had were a combination of cassette and compact disc. By 1998 I had my very own Walkman. A Sony, of course, a dark grey slab of music playing fun. I can’t remember anything about sound quality, because I’ve never been too fussy when it comes to that, as long as I could hear the damned thing, I don’t need a ‘deep and multi-layered soundscape’ to make up for having a short penis and no social life. It had silver buttons, you could fast forward from one track to another although if you waited too long the bus ride would be done with anyway, and it had – the coolest of all – a remote control on the wire. Wow.
On that Walkman I made my own mixtapes, which I think I still have lying about, a mishmash of Metallica is all I remember, because I liked some of the songs on Ride The Lightning and most of Master of Puppets but not all of it. In that young and singleminded-mode I could listen to Met and Zep all day long. Robert Plant irritated the fuck out of me but Zep had the groove even the chug of metal couldn’t win out. The fact that I’m still playing rock n’ roll but not metal nowadays says it all I suppose.
One of the bedrock reasons for all this music consumption was of course, the bus. Public transport was, and still is, a bitch. If you can’t have your own cocoon of a car or bicycle or whatever, then you make your own. Why do you think Singaporeans buy earphones like tampons? Actually condoms might be a better metaphor since it’s to keep out, and not keep in. Well keep others out and keep sound in. But I’m pretty sure in my teenage angst I never had a floppy haircut and shuffled around staring at my feet. I snarled at the world with the choppy beats and my own anger to sustain me.
A lot has been made of the subject but listening to music that way was an entirely different mode. If you didn’t have a track, you simply didn’t have it. You couldn’t The Google it, you couldn’t download it, stream it or pirate the fuck out of it, there was no app to tell you what song just played and stuck in your head; you had to go around singing it badly like a curse until someone finally recognised it, “Oh yeah I know that song! It’s on the radio, but I don’t know who it’s by.” Nabei.
With the cassette, you needed to listen to the entire track until it was done. Fast forward and reverse were false economies, the thought of waiting 20-30 seconds while your blood was up for another run kinda lost the entire point of it. Eventually the tech moved on so that you could fast forward to blank bits, an early form of tracks skipping. Bitching technology man!
By the time junior college swung around I graduated to the Discman and thus had to contend not only with the sheer size of the bloody thing (it was shaped literally, like a large silver discus. If you haven’t seen a discus, it’s like a UFO-shaped bowling ball) but the spare double-A batteries and the discs too. It was like carrying around a fucking jumble sale and pilgrim family. I wasn’t advanced enough to have a multi-CD sleeve, so I had to bring the jewel cases around, discs double-stacked inside. Of course now you could skip tracks at ease, but fast-forwarding was still a bitch. The upside of this, and carrying jewel cases around, was that you could display you musical tastes to the entire world proudly.
A word on this. I’ve always considered the people who go everywhere with earphones or headphones on a bunch of fucking wankers. Are you so vibration-addled you must listen to it, can you not walk without your shit pumped into your ears? Pardon the vitriol. JC was full of them, the I’m So Cool people. Well, there were a lot of them who didn’t listen to music constantly, but it was always so funny to see how young kids bolster their identities.
Actually walking around with a pair of headphones all the time isn’t that bad. There used to be this guy, who was obviously cool, who walked around with a guitar all the time as if to say, “Hey. I play guitar. I’m cool.” No prizes for guessing he probably played the syncopated C and then G, “Say that I love you, is not the words I want to hear from youuuu…” What a dickhead. And then there was that guy in NUS who constantly walked around with a motorcycle helmet. It’s cool to play guitar, and it’s cool to ride a motorcycle, but it’s not cool when you walk around all day standing in staircases with a pose and giving girls the raised eyebrow. The man who has to say, “I am king,” is not king.
I’m a connoisseur man, I’m an artist. Oh shutup, you’re a lout. Artist? Paint my house, bitch.
Anyway, mini-discs, with long-play ability (120-240 minutes of music? Holy fucking SHIT! And only one AA battery! Sweet Jesus I love this format!) came around 1999 and it was then that real portability came to the fore. I’m quite sure I did a few bicycle rides with it, my Marin Muirwoods, in and about the East. But it was essentially the mix-tape convenience of cassettes combined with the tracking ability of CDs and it hardly ever skipped thanks to a big fat memory buffer. The only problem with the long-play is they never said it was fucking LONG RECORD too. So I could shove four hours of music into a disc with full-compression, but I had to do it manually. You know, analogy. No drag-n-drop here I’m afraid: play each track you want to record and then zone out and forget to do the track split. Made you feel like a DJ just doing it.
But always having the tunes around helps memory too. Like how certain albums and songs will always be associated with a time, place and occurrence. The Victoria Junior College canteen will have The Matrix OST embedded into its walls, along with Rage Against the Machine. The outside of the reading rooms will be Zep’s ‘Rain Song’, while inside the rooms is GnR’s ‘Estranged’ as is the canal outside the school, the scene of my very first break-up. The Cranberries for a certain be-spectacled friend of mine who was too Christian. Marti Pellow’s ‘Close To You’, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple, Sade’s ‘By Your Side’, aha-shake heartbreak.
It’s not good to stay in the past, and I would like to think I was never one for that sort of thing. But, like I said to so many people who couldn’t let things go, the past is what makes you, it is you, and you can’t run from it. If it predicates what you do now then you are stuck in that feedback loop. The lap run is part of the lap, but nobody rides a race looking backward. They’re not even looking at where they are now, they’re looking far, far ahead, into the next bend, beyond the next hill.
My books are still on my shelf, but the CDs have long been consigned to storage.
You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. - FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Chaos reigns, rules and justicates with a swinging spear, a falling arrow, the sinuous savage slink of a morning star. Unlike Justice, Law or Peace, it does not use the sword, as the blade is too direct and too penetrating, too unimaginative and concentrated. Chaos never infects, it does not reveal, like the surgeon’s scalpel, the essential nature of things. By its process and own nature it is an obfuscator, an oscillator, a facilitator, agitator and sometimes a bull alligator. A punky instigator, to borrow a quaint phrase from a mad Englishman. There is no adjustment period to Chaos - either you embrace it or you Fear it. If you fear it, there is still hope for you. If you embrace it then there is no hope for you, but you will not regret it.
Is it any wonder that the progression of science, and physics in particular, would branch out from the search for the infinitesimal building blocks of reality (gravity, muon, quark, neutrino) to the more practical, yet no less easily achievable, explanation of how these things react and interact. Stirring the spoon into the soup of life - that spoon is time, the pot is space, the ingredients are the matter. How the ingredients react, that is the study of Chaos, as it is formally known to physical science.
If we get the ideas right, then in Chaos logic and theory, it is possible for a single, small occurrence to affect a system in any number of ways. It differs from Classical thinking - classical thinking is your proverbial fish tank and the ripples in the pond. Life is a sea, and ocean, and the ripples that occur are much more wide-ranging. A butterfly flapping its wings will cause a tornado across the world - but equally, the catfish flapping its tail will cause the tornado to become a giant fart. Such is the world of Chaos.
In my mind, the peril of the relationship (with anybody) was captured at a young age. Youth is where our ideals, dreams and hopes are shaped, sculpted and honed. For the lucky, it’s lovingly sculpted, cut sharply here and there, but that’s about it. For everyone else, it’s a case of bludgeoning the unresponsive material, mastication and regeneration, hack and slash and regrowth on a colossal scale. But that’s how you get closer to perfection, I think.
The peril is the static idea, the embryonic form cannot consider life beyond the womb and in every stage of living we are still stuck there, except with jobs, money and responsibility to float in instead of amniotic fluid. But we do not stay there all our lives (although it has been said men spend the rest of their lives trying to get back in), we emerge into being. And being with someone else in a Life, the constant should be a moving equilibrium. It’s not even about literal change or wearing a different shirt everyday. If the souls are in flux, then let resonance and harmony take care of the rest - you just have to worry about stagnation, personal stagnation, not interpersonal.
Classical science considers the idea of an experiment. Your control group, to show the basic principles of the ‘normal’ universe. Your experiment, with one variable factor then you change and switch and see which is which. Easy. But life is not an experiment (well it is, but not in this sense), it destroys walls, floors, ceilings, mazes and cheese with ease, but not in the way you think - it just goes under, around and disregards those barriers. Of course if life was an experimental polar bear, that’d be different.
Chaos is more subtle, as chaos relies on the feedback loop. The results alter the factors which affect the results, a closed loop, a singular mathematical ourobouros in this case. And what about life in its infinite variables? You do get what you put in and it forces you on to other things, greater heights and achievements.
Now the two-person monogamous relationship is the same thing - but keeping it alive is the constant feedback between the two, maybe spiking, overloading at times, yet maintaining that bubbling, vital equilibrium. Space and time are the variables again, we can zoom in or out, go quick or slow, the turbulence amongst the rapids may be calm to view from above. Like the quiet trickle of a dried creek, but always flowing, changing, finding its way through the wilderness. As it grows it might carve out different sections of the riverbank, it might pull into a sandy area and become a marsh, it might flow into peat and become a swamp. It will change, and so will the lives it supports, but it can equally run dry as turn into a massive inland sea. It ends when it reaches the ocean, back to the sea of fertility and eternity.
+++ In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order. CARL JUNG, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” Chaos is a friend of mine. BOB DYLAN, Newsweek, Dec. 9, 1985
There’s a very simple and easy way to tell if a news story is bullshit or not. Using this you can also tell whether a newspaper is bullshit or not at the same time, but you have to apply the principles in a broader manner and collate the information in your head.
Depending on how you see the development of a child or its according molestation, I did not grow up here, here being The Island, Isla Sauna Concrete Fauna, The Red Dhoti. What I enjoy most about being from somewhere else, other than it giving me the possibly misguided sense of being Special, is the difference in point of view.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda has been one of my favourite books since forever, and I emulated her in her appetites, consciously or no. I tried the moving things with my eyes trick, though it didn’t work like reading cards like Henry Sugar. I read because I enjoyed it and always have (one of my earliest memories is of reading The Sydney Morning Herald with Bob Hawke on the cover, though not entirely understanding it and reading less and less in accordance with font size).
Now many things changed when I came to The Island. Many of them were unpleasant, though I don’t think I had a terrible childhood after I arrived. I do think it was a lot less fun and enjoyable than it would have been if I had stayed, but I do not regret opening my big mouth and agreeing to come back here when my folks asked me, as I recall, when I was moping around in their bedroom just after my second brother had left, being asked the same Question.
One day I will detail the cultural shock and my refusal to tell fully grown-up people to commence eating at the dinner table, but the thing that struck me was how crap the newspapers were. You see, reading a newspaper that is not run by the shadowy hand of the people in charge is actually very informative, fun and enjoyable. The reverse is obvious, painfully obvious, and any journalist who could put their names behind such drivel should rightly be ashamed. Of course this is me the lifestyle journalist who never had to fight weighty issues in his life speaking. But I speak as a writer and reader of The Truth (or I try to be, in my version of the truth etc disclaimer blah). It exists - don’t doubt that for a second. What they say, don’t believe the lies.
There was a time when I began to learn to read quickly - that were the formative years of a voracious reader. I did not skip paragraphs (okay I admit to skipping all the songs in Lord Of The Rings because it was about honey and bees and shit, and I had no interest in that as a 14-year-old).
When I came here I continued my habit of reading the newspaper. The wonderful thing about being a child is that you don’t have to think about anything, or if you do, it’s easy to brush things off unless a Big One lands in your juvenile plate as my grandmother often did in her misguided but affectionate attempts to feed me.I didn’t recognise a lot of local staples as food, they wasn’t processed enough.
At first it was fun - wow, they’re making me read about pond life and biology in school? Awesome. But I would like to suspect that even from that tender age that I realised something was rotten in the state of Denmark. This was not a conscious thought, but a subcurrent that required a good number of years of learning critical analysis and some political reasoning to crystallise.
Two things do spring to mind at this point.
I admit that I am fascinated by Nazism, but not in a good way, in the same sort of way that it’s interesting to read about serial killers and ask all the big questions about humans slaughtering each other for no apparent or good reason. The Nazi symbolism is attractive on the surface. They wore all those snazzy peaked caps, shiny jackboots, charged runes of lightning bolt and Totenkopfs for a reason - because it looked cool. Had I been co-opted into the Hitler Youth as a child I would not have protested, one because my brain was a malformed and spongy thing and also because the uniforms were pretty cool. I have a love-hate relationship with authority and regimentation. The first time I ever saw a Nazi was not a war movie, but The Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood have to tangle with the Illinois Nazis. I guess that tells you all you need to know about my skewed world view. Predictably I thought Nazis were a sort of community group that could be found anywhere in the world - rather a hilarious thought and sadly not too far from the truth either.
I thought they were very serious and funny but also quite cool, so I ended up drawing lop-sided swastikas in liquid paper on my blue-green tartan pencil case. Nobody seemed to notice or care either so that was alright. So Nazism had a certain charisma, thanks to Mr Goebbels. I think John Galliano couldn’t get past those jackboots neither.
And when I came, at certain periods I noticed flags springing out of the ground like obnoxious mushrooms. I had no idea what they meant, much like I referred to taxicabs as ‘Nuh-Tucks’. ‘Nuhtuck, pie, eck-p.’ Pie 25, means you get pie 25-metres down the road. The flags had a single circle with a lightning bolt down the middle - and it reminded me of another cool and interesting symbol I had seen, this time from Tintin and the Cigars of the Pharoah. The symbol was that of the secret society of Kih-Ohsk who dressed up, like Tintin says, like a jungle version of the Ku Klux Klan. Oh ho ho, we’re getting somewhere now.
So that lightning bolt flag plague stayed in my memory. And I read the newspaper everyday just like a good boy, because there were no Internets or nothing back then loves, you had to get your news the old-fashioned way.
By secondary school I was not reading the newspaper in any particular fashion. I would get up every morning, brush my teeth, make some tea (if disturbed I would actually brush my teeth and then get up, but that’s a story for another time) and flop the newspaper out on the kitchen table (I always liked being the first to do it, nowadays I don’t even bother) and flip through the main paper in a matter of minutes. If I stop/stopped to read, it would be to check out things like “Man Robs Himself Blind” or “Robber Fell Asleep At Scene of Crime” or something equally silly.
I scanned the headlines and didn’t bother reading the stories, especially the local ones, because they ended up saying nothing at all. Sure there was news in the tree falling on a guy, some new park system or manufacturing plants investing here, whatever, but more often than not it was completely useless shit.
Things that were most pointless occupied the front page, and they still do. This is how you tell.
Stories that begin with the formula: “XXX YYY says, “123456”.
XXX is whatever authoritorial acronym. It could be LTA, DPM, PM, MM. One day it could be National Socialist Party.
YYY is the familial cognomen of the authority, if it is a person.
123456 is something so stupid and obvious and unquantifiable it insults intelligence or it’s a direct order in code. “Singapore will grow in 2011”, “Singaporeans will need to work hard during the recession.” A good example would be, “PM Lee says you need to fuck more.” But that’s got a little too much truth in it.
The other way of telling bullshit is to reverse the headline in your mind and see if it makes sense or if they would publish that. For example, a recent one “So and So Politician is unfazed by new role.” The only proper response to that is “ORLY? WTF” followed by an owl face.
If in Spain it would be
An equally appropriate response is
*These owls are not mine, but grabbed from the web. I take no credit for them.
Of course he’s not bloody fazed, because if anything goes pear-shaped he can always blame the people directly below him. Duh. The reverse of that is “So-and-so politician is scared shitless by his new responsibilities.” And if they ever printed that then I would sit up and take some notice. Not much more, but it would be a start.
So there you have it, go take those principles and let ‘em rip.
"You know, it’s damned hard to make sense and keep the rhythm." - Robert Lovell
Maybe one day I will look back upon the fecundity of this period with longing and happiness when writing was easy. Maybe I will not look back at all and just have continued writing from now until then - that would be good. Maybe it’ll be next week, next millennium.
The humdrum of travel is at once exciting and utterly boring, at least if you’re travelling for work. The leisurely (I refrain from using the word ‘tourist’) mind is predisposed to fun, the business mindset is different altogether - get in, get the job done and get out. Overlapping Venn diagrams do happen, but I probably compartmentalise too much.
Perhaps the difference is… no, there is no difference. Back then I was writing for myself and for the audience. Not going so far into private revelations perhaps, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. At this point in time the prose only remains open to a select few.
I’m quite misguided in the idea that I’ll build up a magnificent octopus and one day boom, here it is, success. So why not start right here and now, as Wolfy said, and build it up brick by brick? It all started out as a bunch of short blogs (stories, excerpts, whatever, but I do feel they somehow are significant) but have now taken on a life of their own. It’s quite exciting, if only I can shed the feeling that I’m writing complete shit to a disinterested party. I had a talk with Osama, who I found out about the links I found the quote from Lovell from. Human link, hyperlink.
“It’s amazing the amount of good writing that’s available for free out there. And depressing.”
“Yeah it is, but that’s no reason not to start I guess.”
I’ve returned from Geneva and then Bangkok, all that travelling must seem like a point. When I recount it to persons they’re always wide-eyed with envy, or so they say. If I say yes, you’ll say I’m showing off, if I say no, you’ll say I’m being modest, the words of Bruce Lee. In any case, being sent around the world on someone else’s dollar is not something one should be proud of, I finally realise it. I will take that experience and forge it into something else. I’ll take what I see and put it onto the page and hopefully, at the end of it, if and when it does conclude, I hope that there was some kind of point to it all. That’s the best I can envision at this point in time.
This form of writing, loose, genial and rambling, I’m not used to. Poetry is prose, and vice versa, says Faulkner, so in a sense I was really writing poetry all these years. Lyrics don’t count, to me, but then again, that’s another whole bag of worms. Stretchhh out. Let’s see what happens.
Today, after what seems like years (months, if you count the enduro) The Motorcycle Diaries returns to the bastion of two wheels, the temple of zoom-zoom. Sick of the low-level buzz of international air travel, being carted around like so much goods, arriving somewhere coherent, bruised, if not leaking juice all over the carpet to sponge and absorb, then flung back across the world…fuck where did my sentence go.
Sick of that, I jumped at the chance to do some riding, even if was just a commute and even if it was drizzling. This marks a big change - I refused to go out in the rain because I’d nowhere to stash my coat, helmet, gloves, etc. Maybe one day I’ll tally all the things I missed and it might never have been worth it. The point is I was stir crazy, I had skull-cabin fever, the bent-knee, elbows-out cricked-neck squashed-pillow de-hydrated, intercontinental syncopated air-conditioned blues, man.
It rained all the way to the office, all the way through publication night and now I’m writing this in bed with the laptop on my ribs and it’s still raining. Getting back was worse, as the fine spray made visibility fucky and as usual I was trussed up like a spaceman. Ground control to Major Tom. Clown control to Mao Tse-Tung, can’t see shit, feel like Stay Puft. Can’t see much ahead at all, just navigate by streetlamp and avoid mad fuckers. I never would’ve made it if I didn’t know the road so well.
Ripping spray, ripping spray, when the mice are out, the rain comes and washes everything away. Wet all the way there, even wetter all the way back. As I parked my bike sidestand, warm water accumulated on the engine block began to flow down. I checked it, warm, thinking I had a serious coolant leak. Clouds of steam would erupt at every red light and toss the world into mist. I’ve been in the rain before but never in this kind of rain for that long.
The thing is, a pain in the ass as it was, I trooped home with my soggy boots and a sense of pride and honour that is not misplaced or delusional. I made it back in one piece through all that crap - part of that was I knew I could, long as no mad fucko decided to make me a human metal sandwich. But I doffed my helmet and I was perspiring and I felt the same way as I do when doing some proper laps in a car or on a kart, felt I had acheived something. That is important.
++++ The Chao Phraya teems with life, a sibilant surface dark and deep, punctuated by flashes of silver as something has something else for breakfast. A heron floats by, perched on its own raft of water weed. Four feet above your head, the air is thick with spirits. ++++ Madness? This is, Krung Thep! I have rediscovered the meaning of fear. Fear is not exams and it is not pregnancy, fear is not skimming across the ground in a ramshackle go-kart, thousands of miniature explosions propelling you forward until your neck hurts, your arms hold on for dear life and the horizon lurches towards you like a unpleasant drunken acquaintance.
Fear is a lurid pink Toyota Corolla Altis piloted by Mr Bangkok Taxi driver hurtling along the streets, locked in battle with a Honda Cub going at around the same insane velocity, which is twice as fast as any self-preserving, civilised person would go in these circumstances. Also, Mr Honda is not wearing a helmet. There’s an accident on the left, I see the cop standing around (Thai cops are suspiciously military looking with their khaki and white, Sam Browne belt and boots) and the usual cloud of trauma ghouls/affected. It looks like two Cubs have tried to mate head on, and I see a slipper on the floor along with a strange half piece of wood. I try, and fail, to make sense of that. An ambulance takes up the rear and like every accident, I hope everyone is alright. That’s fine, really, because I end up at my destination in one piece. It occurs to me to put on my seatbelt but I want to be able to leap out in case anything happens. I arrive in one piece and am happy with my wholeness. There is a method to the madness. Like Italy, or a prison, go for any hole you think will fit, and sometimes those you think will not fit anyway. It is a given that at any moment a tuktuk, motorcycle, bicycle, thingy will erupt from your peripheral vision and present itself, lemming-like, as an obstacle to break yourself upon. The fact that Thailand is perhaps the most dangerous place on earth for motorcyclists contrasts the friendliness of the people: Bangkok, twice the love and half the law. Our return journey is considerably more exciting. We leap into a cab whose tyre pressures and suspension were last looked at when it left the factory as a brand new Toyota Corolla Altis. Now I begin to understand and see the depth of Toyota’s engineering expertise. It’s not about snob factor or cost, it’s about not falling apart in conditions German engineers would never in a thousand years think of. The biochemical abuse of the Southeast Asian subcontinent. Our guy is Jarno Trulli, ‘cept he doesn’t know it yet, so accelerator is not a precise instrument to be modulated, but a lift button. Press and wait for results. When nothing happens press again. When bored press again. Jarno only knows one speed – full ahead. We rip out onto the highway, crusted and dirty, and the engine protests, then the gearbox and then the entire vehicle. It feels like we are running on wood rollers, the air threatening to rip the car to pieces. My Hornet is quieter than this thing equipped with springs made of egg noodles. The tyres and wheels feel like hula hoops revolving around bearings that are barely holding it together. It feels like we are going at light speed, or at least a speed twice of what the Altis is rated for, probably 335kmh. I ask my friend to peek, he says 130km/h. Only 50 above the limit then, time to fasten the seatbelts then. There are no buckles. In Bangkok, no one can hear you scream.
Dated March 6, 2011 "Mount Sumeru hides mustard seed; mustard seed contains Mount Sumeru." -
The Nirdesa Sutra
Hope will keep you alive, the truth will set you free.
The Zen riddle says an immense mountain can exist in a tiny seed, or a lallang flake, to use a more local and apt example. After walking through the brush, my feet are alive with them, if I were to walk the terraformed surface of Mars, life would spring up in my wake. I am a tiny God! Or a fertiliser plant.
The Master says to Li Po, “ ‘They call you Li of a Thousand Volumes’, because of the knowledge you carry in your head. Why cannot Sumeru exist in a seed?”
He was talking about a thumbdrive of course - how can the entire collection of the Immoral Lesbian Undergarment Saleswoman series fit into something smaller than a condom? It is possible, Grasshopper. But I think that the Zen masters were not having this particular example in mind, of course, and there is another interpretation.
To consider all things and the truth behind them, that is to see the essential-ness. The writer sees the ‘point’ and reports it to the outside world. The artist paints the truth as he sees it, or as he tries to express it anyway - and therein lies the ear-cutting, soul-splitting immortal pain.
I’m fine, myself. I do not mean to brag, but I am a motherfucking genius. When I was young, I realised that if you keep asking why, you eventually arrive at the truth of things - Why did Arnold Schwarzennegger kill the Predator? Because he was ordered to by the director, John McTiernan. Why did the director make him do it? Because the studio paid him to. Why did the studio pay him to because money, because survival, because life. And if you listen, observe or perceive carefully you can grasp immense and complex truths without having to think, they slide up next to your heart like eels and leave you breathless. You will know because your heart tells you so.
What possesses the possessed to descend like a horde of Mongols upon a piece of empty land every week? Empty save for a bunch of grass, roots, dead trees, baked ground, stones, gravel and countless dust - in other words, an acre full of Big Fucking Empty. The Mongols have a very raw deal. Go spend thousands of dollars on a beautiful machine and now go risk it and your limbs going around in circles in the dirt. Does that sound fun to you? Does it even sound remotely logical? No, it doesn’t. But consider the idea of paying even more money to obtain a piece of paper that you’ll put on your wall where nobody can see it - this will be your ticket to existence! It makes even less sense, but few things do when expressed in absolute terms. And until we are all soldiers, doctors or priests, we will not deal in absolutes. We have no business in doing so.
It’s the same reason 22 grown men chase a black and white piece of synthetic leather around a grass square while millions of people watch them do it, then proceed to murder each other if one side all wearing the same colour puts the piece of rubber into a net more times. The same reason why some sit in their homes at night and paint minuscule pieces of plastic that look like things from a bygone age. The very same reason why others hit vibrating things and send resonances through the air that make your spine tingle and your hair stand on end.
“We all love Torque, and some of us have taken it straight over the high side from time to time - and there is always Pain in that… But there is also Fun, the deadly element, and Fun is what you get when you screw this monster on. BOOM! Instant take-off, no screeching or squawking around like a fool with your teeth clamping down on our tongue and your mind completely empty of everything but fear.”
- Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, ‘Song Of The Sausage Creature’
Dirt, dust and the smell of two-stroke oil. The smoke doing its little Spanish dance into the atmosphere. A diabolical sub-type of hexabranchus sanguineus worms its way straight into my amygdala.
I love the smell of two-stroke in the morning.
A flasher jumped out at three nuns. The first nun had a stroke, the second nun had a stroke and the third one didn’t touch him.
To be human is to embrace chaos and tame it. Before the square and twenty-two malformed men stupid from headbutting there was only the lallang field and fuck-you-mimosa. Before the classes and 67 riders there was only a path in the sand, now there is a choice of line for each rider. Before there was the wheel there were log rollers. Now there is a pair of wheels to make a vector - you can’t have a journey without Point B - and in between the contact patches of your tyres is destiny. Now there is an aluminium beam frame to hold the engine of desire, handlebars to evince that drive.
It’s alright to live your life completely as you want to, even if you die without achieving anything significant to yourself, as long as you realise this yourself. But if you have even one moment of realisation, that eureka-freaka where you realise the difference between the finger and the amputated one, and you turn that into something, then it’s worth it. .
Life sometimes creeps up behind you and sticks its boot up your arse, but if you look around before that, sometimes she come around and tap you on the shoulder and whisper something important in your ear. You’ll give that Lassie-type look of absolute dumbfoundment, “I DID NOT know that. Wow, thanks.” After it has sunk in, you ask yourself, “What the hell have I been doing all this while and the truth sat before me like a motherfucking stone Buddha?”
And then you go do what you have to.
“In Wales, Petts, who died in 1991, decided to offer the only practical thing he could – his skills as an artist. “An idea doesn’t exist unless you do something about it,” he said. “Thought has no real living meaning unless it’s followed by action of some kind.”
The Guardian UK “http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/mar/06/racist-attack-alabama-1963-gary-younge”
“You sit around getting older, there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me I’ll shake this world off my shoulders, come baby this laugh’s on me You can’t start a fire, you can’t start a fire without a spark This gun’s for hire, even if we’re just dancing in the dark.” Bruce Springsteen - ‘Dancing In The Dark’
Dated March 2, 2011 - En-route to Singapore “All of you think that when you take a shit, candy comes out from your ass. Of course it’s only actually true of me.” ++++ Everybody loves to travel, that much is certain. I’m convinced it’s as much about the process as it is about getting somewhere new and discovering new snails under the stones. Purple snails with needle-like teeth that sing ‘Hallelujah’. Travelling itself is not interesting. What the core of the thing is, is movement, both as a physical occurrence and a metaphysical concept. Let’s get moving. I’m moving, Time to move. I like to move it, move it. What is ‘it’? You, your ego, your sub-conscious, your desires, sexual or not, let’s get it on (not Stephen King’s IT thank you very much, though it could be if you swung that way). Klaus Bischoff says his interest as a car designer comes from objects that move. The whole point of car design is not sex or fucking. Some people term a Ferrari ‘sex on wheels’, but that’s just the Freudian maniac in them talking. It’s about the flow of the wind over curves rather than the hand over the cusp. But you do have to be moving to have sex, and streamlining comes in handy then too, so make of it what you will. The point is to render the immovable, static object, and to transform it into a body in motion, imbuing it with fluidity and grace. Computational fluid dynamics – don’t you just love that term? Sounds like slush. A motorcycle, and I rip this off from a far better writer, is the perfect example. At its most basic, the common, ideal motorcycle (say, a Honda CB750) is nothing but a motor and two wheels. Sitting on its stand, a motorcycle does not imply movement by itself, the headlight is standing up against the wind, the frame, the forks and brakes function as their own windbreaks. The air passes through the bones and heart of the machine rather than being sidled away by a fairing, and even more so in the case of an air-cooled engine. Cooled by water and oil? Even worse, as the chunky wafers and fins seem to hold out a hand to stop before progress has even begun. If you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle then you’ll know that isn’t true. You might already think that isn’t true, if you’ve never seen a bike in motion. But how could you think ‘stationary’ when you’ve seen Brando roll up on the Triumph, when you’ve heard and felt Rossi scream past on an M1, or even some bo-hick delivery rider splicing the lanes and dicing with traffic inner city? Motion transforms the motorcycle like magic, and all of sudden this collection of awkward parts starts to make sense, from a destitute shambling Picasso to Nijinsky on gravel and tarmac. We could go on and on, the rider’s body as a dynamic and living part of the equation, the paint and canvas analogy of Graham Hill, but I’ll save those for another day. Motion, mobilis in mobili, as Jules Verne/Captain Nobody would say. If the life of Captain Nemo ever appealed to you (‘The sea is my country blah blah, never eat another chapatti again, fuck you Old Blighty’) you are possibly of the sort I am going to describe. Motion is good for creativity too - aren’t I seated in a plane at how many thousand feet banging out something about being on a plane and writing? My God it’s fucking brilliant. Motion gives you new experience – you fly headfirst into new territory every single moment, you see new things even on a road you’ve been down a thousand times, you bump into new bugs on the air and get to know them inside out. You leave your stationary cares, the shackles of the daily grind behind, and if you don’t like something that sticks at you then just fling it off like so much toilet paper snagged on your side view mirror. Time to saddle up on your high horse, Ranger, and light out for the territories then? Hold your horse(power) a moment, pardner. Listen to uncle Emmo before you take up that mare and make sure it isn’t a moral high horse in disguise. “Travelling is a fool’s paradise.” – R.W.E Uncle Emmo does not mean travelling is bad for you, no one human could visit Machu Picchu and go away unmoved, even with the basic idea of just experiencing the utterly different and to be a stranger in a strange land.
No, what he means is the kind of person who travels to escape. Yes, you with the funny hat, the artistic aspirations and the cargo terminal full of emotional baggage.
“Poor Joey. She has all the anguish and anxiety that the artistic personality requires…without any of the talent.” - Woody Allen
What is the apotheosis of this Travelling Fool? Eat, Pray, Love a movie so hideous in its conception (frazzled American lady flies to Italy to binge on food and a foreign guy), so terrible in its aspect, and made even more so by its slick production and that fact that everyone, even me, secretly wants to be Julia Roberts.
Travel to gain new experiences, to meet new people, to immerse yourself in a bacta tank full of something else rather than the nourishing, if not particularly tasteful support system of daily life. Do it for leisure, if you can, unmolested by the agenda of Big Money is the best. Everyone tells me what an awesome job I have, but they don’t know about all the cul-de-sacs, hidey-holes and Ancient Curiosity Shops I’ve had to fly past without exploring, absorbing and making myself richer. Is it better to travel and miss out on what you want or to not travel at all? I thought so too. Anyway, don’t travel to get that sense of being in a movie, for that is a false economy of movement. It is delusion. The sort of Fool Traveller is the one who mentions all the places he has been to, the people he has met, the women he fucked, the people he killed. Oh yeah Ernie, how many people have you killed? People who gave you shit. Do not travel simply because you have the money and because you want the hotel you stay in to have a perfect view of the Arsehole of the World. “These are lofty concepts we toss between us,” said the Joker to the Thief. Travel the world because you are that frog in the slick, algae-covered well and though you might get out and run around, it’ll never let go of your small, well-shaped mind. When you go to Panama, all you see is six-inches cut through the valley of your heart. But you won’t tell yourself that, you’ll say, ‘Back in West Bumfuck, nowhere, we ride horses. Not these boaty-boat things.’ Travelling is not about comparing things back home y’all. Captain Nemo had the world at his feet but he chose to roam the seas collecting shit from the sea floor and eating it. He is an awesome character and one of my favourites, but think about what he could have handed the British had he bothered, had he focused, had he not run around the Indian Ocean with a floppy fringe, staring at his shoes. When you travel you should ideally become Sakyamuni, if not an arhat of some sort. At the very least you should attempt Gandhi. You should have infinite patience and give them the benefit of doubt, no matter how they appear, remember everyone is essentially human and to be treated with kid gloves, in the manner of a retard child, if not with mutual respect and love. I’ve tried to do that, but mostly failed. I am a Business Traveller and they are not a fully human species, able to infiltrate a lounge and eat three bacon sandwiches, two orange juices and a coffee while making off with a packet of potato chips and a muesli bar at the same time. They breeze through customs, whipping out laptops and belts, sneering at the less experienced. The fly to foreign countries in anything but coach, raise a ruckus when things get delayed (“Do you know who I am?” they demand, “because we don’t ourselves,” finishes the sub-text). I’m sure they would drive fast cars and fuck movie stars and think of themselves as people that are to be counted when Judgment Day rolls in too. But I demonise. When I get home I am going to go for a run, and then let the bike out for a spin and clear up all the existential cobwebs I’ve gathered from three days of walking around an exhibition centre with a thousand other fuckos. Surely there must be some price to pay for this eventually. Apple pie, press kit, show girls, shiny cars. Gild the lily darling, but remember the smell of spider-lilies in the evening, the smell of heartbreak. I don’t mind, if I can continue to put this sort of thing out. Sometimes the movement helps but that’s not the whole picture really; hard to write good and coherent when you’re head is full of cotton wool and hot sand. I know why the Muse is here right now, I just hope to cut her in half and transform that part into Jesus the Carpenter so he can keep me company always.
“Devil’s in the jukebox, jumping on the rhythm, Kinfolk say you got to take what you’re given,” ‘Devil’s In The JukeBox’ Ray LaMontagne
I’ll live with it.
There have been cars that I really wanted to love. The small difference is, of course, not loved wholeheartedly, but wanted to love wholeheartedly. Come to think of it there have been very few cars, or almost none that I would sell my right leg to get just like that. It’s as much the astronomical prices they’re asking for an automobile in this little prick island as it is the fact that none could meet my standards. Standards might be the wrong word actually, I think ‘requirements’ is more accurate.
I do have this one car in mind, but I drove that thing six laps around Ascari Race Resort in the middle of Spain, and will never have one, at least on this little prick island. The BMW E30 M3, which was so complete and awesome in its brilliance it made me feel like I was 13 and Ayrton Senna, all at the same time, in a strange manner of speaking.
And it’s the same with women. You get into something and you got to weigh that balance everyday. Maybe some days you feel it and other days you don’t. You step into that door and it slams shut and you’re back in the cockpit once more, can’t find the damned switch again? Why’s the light on? Wish they didn’t put the goddamn handbrake there.
You know you’re onto something the less shit happens. But you go with that car, say the E-Class for two, three years, you want a new one. If not you’re stuck with it, then that Porsche starts to look like a good idea bucko.
What do I want in a woman? I’ve never actually put this idea down on paper. How I answered it was always, I know what I don’t want in a woman. I don’t want to be the sole source of someone’s happiness. I want to be the person who shares, grows, builds and causes some of it, but she’s got to bring her own stuff to the dinner party. Excitement, a lust for life, imagination, intelligence, that’s not too much to ask. Common sense? Not being a constant bitch? Being able to cook to save a refugee camp helps too.
There’s only so much garbage a man can take before he snaps. I’m no saint, but I’m not the Devil himself neither.
So we go back and forth and I chase you through the weeds. You turn back at me and laugh, I’m bleeding at the ankles. Ain’t no laughing matter when you’re fighting for something very much like life. Isn’t that why I feel like I’m dying when you’re not around? You ain’t been no good for me, all you’ve done is give me shit and bursts of happiness. Maybe if you pulled your own head out of the sand, or your arse, and stopped being so damn scared of everything you could talk to me properly and tell me just what the hell is going on in that lizard brain of yours. Never rationalise her actions, say the guru, but I got nothing left to do. Men and women there isn’t anything between them, but boys stroll onto the battlefield of love empty-handed, while women are locked and loaded. Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas? Pah. Child’s play, compared to a woman’s wiles and intuition. When you learn about the Game, that revelation erupts before your eyes. But then comes escalation and mutually-assured confusion. I’ve shot myself in the foot more than once.