i didn't start the new year with a question
i finished the last one
it wasn't a bad year
though i've had better
chief mistake was not writing a whole new show
otherwise... nonstop movement, beautiful p, not bad at all
I’ve just realized how ridiculous my life is
So I had to wait 20 minutes for a ferry and, having no book and not wanting to leave the shade, I decided to count how many places I’ve stayed in this year
And it came to a ridiculous 81, yes 81. Counting the train and 2 buses where I might have slept, and not counting the 4 overnight planes where I didn’t. And not counting the beds I returned to… Calgary, Trat, Camberley, Finchampstead, Dalston, Luang Prabang, Muang Neua Noi, Luang Nam Tha.
So, as this Blog is purportedly the record of a year in a nomadic poet’s life, I suppose I should get all anal and list them. And after that I’ll post an email I sent out from Hoi An in March, a very good bit of the year
So here goes.
It began in…
Copenhagen… we lived there three months, up till mid-Feb, and that was just about long enough… I simply couldn’t get excited by the place… unlike…
Berlin – Which I could get very excited about … but where I caught flu on an ice-cold airbed and went nowhere for 5 days. Bummer. … Then…
Camberley. Surrey - my parents’
Finchamsptead, Berks - my brother Chris’s
Bangkok - the traditional new traveller’s decompression in Banglamphu.
Ko Whai - the first of three great bamboo-hut beach island paradise experiences.
Siem Reap – for Angkor Wat. Truly gobsmacking. Though a tad tragic, seeing how it’s a ruin.
Kompong Chhnang. Great place… mosque on stilts, pottery villages, errr mass murder site, stilted river villages, waterside sunsets, fat Tonle Sap sluggishly heading for Pnomh Penh, lush green riversides, beer-offering Saturday-off policemen and all…
Pnomh Penh- Took a while to get to like the place.
Pnomh Penh again. One of the worst rooms.
Some place south of Kampot on the coast.
Ko Tonsai, aka Rabbit Island- The second of three great bamboo-hut beach island paradise experiences.
Pnomh Penh- An even worse room. Then
Saigon - Least favourite of all the famous and anticipated places. Worst moment was watching The Watchmen bolloxmovie there – the bit where he gets his superpowers in time for the Yanks to not lose the Vietnam War, and the screen gets filled with exploding Viet Cong, was one of the year’s lowest points.
Hoi An- Killer place. We got there after an idio-epic 30km back-of-mopeds journey, and after 2 minutes of looking at streets, P said lets stay here a week. My favourite place of the year. Food streets walks shirts seas beer river paddies lakes birds cactus moon, etc
Hué- Priscilla’s favourite place of the year. The old Forbidden Palace etc, the old Citadel, etc.
Ninh Binh- Great bike rides round the green rice fields between the high Karsts, the vast limestone stacks… If a fifty-mile high giant walked down this part of the coast he would find this pointy bit very painful.
Hanoi. Then a Bus from Hanoi to
Vientiane- Reminded me of Brighton on the Mekong
Viang Veng- Reminded me of nothing except maybe a bonkers Ibiza up the Mekong..
Luang Prabang- Super-elegant French-Lao town way up the Mekong…
Nong Khiew- The boy in the blizzard of butterflies. The muddy riverbank had bath-sized carpets of white butterflies, and if someone walked through one they all flew up and became a blizzard. It was good to walk through yourself and be surrounded by a crazy flying confetti… but it was better to watch someone else… The boy in the blizzard of butterflies.
Muang Neua Noi - No cars no mopeds, not even motorcycles. Only woodcarts ,and boats up the Nam Ou.
Huong hill village a trek away- The trek through jungle, paddy, bamboo, tall grass, slash’d’n’burnt, and down the middle of a jungle river, was an extravaganza of fifty different types of large butterfly, each by the literal thousand. Most amazing experience of year. The village itself was hard: life looked unenviably tough up there.
Luang Nam Tha.
Acha Village a trek away.
Luang Prabang again- So nice we came back. Nearly killed myself on a 30km midday cycle to those wonderful waterfalls south. I got heatstroke which was finally cooled by lying/ floating with arms on the edge of the natural porcelain smooth deep bowl, letting the water flow through me over the edge while I looked out and over way way down the green green valley
Hueng Xai- Lao/ Thai border.
Lampong - All-you-can-eat ice cream parlour!!!
Copenhagen- The vicarage …?
Then England before
Winnipeg- B&B. With P’s mum.
Montreal- Doncha just love it? I do. So does everyone else… Stayed with my mate Felix. Start of 7th tour. 62 shows, 110 days
Montreal- Then a switch of billet to Rosemont. New area.
Toronto- Great house, but mediocre reviews of shows which had gone plain great set summer pattern of OKness not fabness.
Winnipeg- Lovely billet but another luke review made it hard. I ran a killer cabaret and was very happy with my own show by the end.
Calgary- Super billet but, with Saigon, worst time of year.
Edmonton- Cheap and v cheerful Commercial Hotel. Great times. Started this blog for CBC. Best showfun of year.
Hinton, Alberta- Motel east or Rockies
Merrit, BC [sp?...?] - Motel west of Rockies
Victoria- Best billet. ORCAS, etc. …This blog took off.
Vancouver- End of fringe tour. I organised a killer cabaret: best show of year…. Eric/ RedBastard etc. Emotional split of everyone.
London, Ontario- First time there. Two last shows before I tottered to…
Dauphin, Manitoba- For some sleep.
Norwich- Cathedral, Holkham Beach, Southwold, etc…
Hyderabad- 5 million people, no centre
Tirupati- An unmitigated hole.
Then a night on a train before
Patnem, Goa- The third of three great bamboo-hut beach island paradise experiences.
Mysore- Great place
Fort Cochin Here.
So that’s, by my count, 81. Dunno, after making that list, who cares?
81. Places. 88 moves. In one year. Crazy.
Has mainly been communist since the fifties
The rickshaws drivers are scrupulously honest and don’t take tips
The bus drivers are the wildest drivers of them all
There is very close to 100% literacy
Beer is hard to find
Christmas bingo reverberates around the streets conflicting with the Boney M Xmas album
There’s beetroot in the masala of my dhosas
Newspapers have little on "Brokenhagen", and little could be learnt from them
Strikes have been known to happen on the day a new business opens
Christmas tat sellers have uncommon similarities to cockney wideboy touts
Chinese fishing nets keep coming up empty
Jews were here since the time of Solomon… arrived in waves after Masada… were smashed by ‘Moors’, bloodthirstily pogrommed by Portuguese and, with Israel’s rise, are now almost gone
Boy from teak museum village has pudding bowl haircut
The big fishing boats are pretty much the same design as the Argos of the Greeks
Its one of the wealthiest Indian states
How many of these things are connected?
Nestorian Church in Thrissur, no pictorial representations of people… very like the 500 year old synagogue in Jew Town, Kochi… not sure its actually Nestorian… I didn’t know there were any Nestorians left
Lots of hanging glass… which design might have looked stunning five hundred years ago but now looks antiquated… surpassed by technologies
There are also the Nasrani here… who might be the Malabar Jews converted to Christianity by St Thomas… who supposedly came here on his long mission of evangelism… [Christian originally meant converted gentile … Nasrani, Nazarene, meant converted Jew]… but how they differ from the Syrian church and the Nestorians I do not know
... and the Portuguese, when they came, gave the Jews of the Malabar Coast much the worst time anyone ever gave them... pure anti-Semitic bloodlust... while they were building the original of the lovely Basilica
The human race… don’t you love it?… yes I do… it’s the only possible way to cope with it
It’s a cliché I know but… looking at this driving… bonkers isn’t bonkers when it’s the norm
I mean, its your life, your body, and you’ve only got one…and there is no way you would ever, ever, try to take the risk of squeezing a big bus through that tiny gap at the very last moment on these roads of all roads … and then do the same thing again thirty seconds later… and again… and again… all day, every day, week in week out, year in year out
And there is no way you would stake your life on judging the acceleration of this old machine on these bumpy roads to get you to that shrinking gap in the nickest of time
And there is no way you would stake everything on a bus or truck not coming round that blind corner in ten seconds time when you’d be hung out to dry with nowhere to go?... course its not…
Yet this is what they do, and everyone sits and stands there, showing no reaction whatsoever to their obvious proximity to accelerating doom… while if anyone did this in Britain everyone would scream NUTTER… whereas here, it’s natural
And its even the norm that he spends half the time in the right lane, the wrong lane… cos he’s always itching for time angles moments gaps spots spaces … while if anyone bar a teenage boy-racer did this in Britain everyone would yell NUTTER…
So you sit there, as calm as everyone else, cos it’s the norm, its sanity, its allday everyday and so what…
… I bet you’ve had nightmares where you are at the wheel and the roads are just like this… I mean how can he expect to get in that gap… but he does expect to…and he does get in
It wouldn’t be possible for many, if any, westerners to drive on these roads
For a start, its bedlam and you just ain’t used to it, and you just ain’t ever up to this manically full-on Indian driving lark
And what’s more you can’t just tootle along at your own fair pace
Because some car or bus behind you will constantly be trying to overtake… and will be expecting you to slow down …so they can squeeze into the tiniest gap between you and the oncoming traffic… which is also slowing, but not enough that you don’t have to slow down too… or else it’ll be one big three-part total mash-up…
And in fact you have to pay attention cos that nutter behind you, apparently determined on dying in the next two minutes, he’s honking at you, and he’s weaving about and he’s got another bigger, longer, louder uber-horn for when he gets really truly deeply madly serious and he’s using the one then the other then the one then the other whilst dodging about like a particularly demented squirrel on a heavy overdose of base speed
By which I mean, what the other nutters are doing constantly concerns you as a driver… and you have to be watching what’s going on behind you
So you couldn’t drive like this in
And you know what, if he wasn’t such a nutter, I wouldn’t be here now writing this, I’d be stuck in traffic way back on the highway… cos you have to admit one thing, they get there fast …
And so, HOW TO RIDE AN INDIAN BUS…Last time I was here … after a notably bonkers drive south into Amritsar…I decided that the best thing to do is …get on the bus and study the driver… note his age, his demeanour, his hair… and ask yourself, does this man exhibit any outward signs of craziness?... no he doesn’t, none of them do… and the big question you have to ask is, is this man going to die today?… so look at him hard, does he die today?… and you can only answer, no he does not…course, he doesn’t … no, he’s going to grow old and retire… he’s done this route dozens hundreds thousands of times and nothing’s happened to him yet and nothing’s going to happen to him today… and yes, he’s going to live a long time… and so, you don’t die today either…
and so, relax,
enjoy the road,
the existential vertigo of the constant near-misses,
and so, enjoy yourself
… and then I get this thrill going, this vicarious thrill, where I’m kind of in the drivers head, I’m not in his, he’s in mine, and its kinda virtual reality style and I’m going, that’s it mate, go for it, you can do it, now now, foot down, down, DOWN, you can do it mate, go for it, gotta go for it, now now NOW, go for it, good stuff, great stuff, now look at it, too slow too slow, get past him, that’s it, now, now NOW, go for it, nice one my son, nice one, no worries, go for it, go for it, now now NOW!!!… cos I’m behind him, see, behind his ear and I’m with him, feeling the thrill the excitement the go-for-itness... thinking with exclamation marks, not question marks... NOW! NOW!! GO FOR IT!!! ... NICE ONE
Perhaps you shouldn’t come to this country…
And it’s certainly a very easy way to spread some happiness
and in an earlier blog, in September, I wrote about how Canadians smile all the time
all the time
because of them Canadians all having smiling lessons from the age of five
and all being forced to attend smiling gyms… and even summer smiling camps…where all manner of threat bribery blackmail bullying and outright torture are employed to force them to smile…
where …shouting… tears…physical intimidation… pain... violence … moral arguments… pupil-teacher friend-friend parent-child relationships… even child-toy relationships… [come on son, smile…or owlie gets it]…all manner of authority… anything, even god’s mythical wrath… are dreadfully misused on children in a constant drive to get them in the unstoppable habit… and send them on into a life of bright positive Canadian smiling
[lets face it, it’s the best explanation… what have they so got to smile about… its only
… I know where you go to, my lovelies… you go to a place where Daddy and the teachers are all singing Teddy In The Shredder… Dolly in the Dungeon… and even ...Horsey For The Horrible Death
and I also wrote how we in
and how smiling doesn’t come too easily to us English
and certainly doesn’t normally come easily to me
Well I’ve made a big breakthrough
Because I’m always smiling
At the kids who call out smile
At the waiters smile the stallholders smile the clerks smile the bus-drivers smile the ticket sellers smile the fruit-sellers smile the woman on the seat next to us smile
The kids who wave smile
So i'm doing it too
Because it would be mean not to
To not smile and wave at those wide-eyed friendly kids all beaming with youth and happiness
S o its...
Friendly English all-face iffy-teeth wide-eye round-cheek smiles
With full-handed waves
Giving my much-neglected smiling muscles a much needed workout
Rescuing them from desuetude
Because, lets face it, smiling is the easiest way to be understood
Maybe the only way to be understood
Especially when you don’t even know which language it is that you’re not understanding
And most of the Indians are Super-friendly
And they want to know you want to smile
And you want them to see you smile
So why not smile?
Traditionally English people always found Indians impossibly courteous and polite… and often obsequious… unnaturally so
And there’s no doubt they are extremely polite
But, and I may be wrong, I reckon this stems from the fact they… want you to be happy
And the Indians think that being very courteous is the best way to make you happy
there is much misunderstanding across the language and cultural barriers... there are many ways this makes communication difficult so if you simply smile alot you have the best way of achieving what you want... the happiness of the visitor
Though I may be wrong here
AGE… or your twenties last forever
I turned 47 in Ottawa.
Where I’ve had my last six birthdays.
[But not my next.]
And people said to me, weren’t you 47 last year?
And I said, no I bloody wasn’t.
Last year I was 41.
And the year before that I was something like 36.
And the year before that I was something like 32.
And the year before that I was something like 29.
You know what I mean?
Lots of people know exactly what I mean.
Especially the ones over 40.
Blimey it all speeds up on you, don’t it?… My 40s aren’t far from over, and they’ve been a blink.
My 30s sped up as they went on… I’m not really sure what happened at, say, 38, or 41, or 34.
While my twenties lasted forever.
In fact that’s probably a triusm. Your 20s last forever.
[Mine did… and what’s more, it took me a very long time to uncoil myself from the post-adolescenjt torments]
And some Life Advice would be. Your 20s go on forever, so you’ve got loads of time, but you do have to do something in the end.
The other Life Advice would be, life is long.
Why did no-one ever sit down and din it into my head: LIFE IS LONG…?
Why did no-one ever say… You’re going to spend along time being the you you become, so it pays to be becoming a you you like.
And I know it’s a cliché, though I don’t know who first said it but… time does get all scrambled on you.
I ran a poetry club in North London from 94 to 99. Which seemed like decades
And I ran one in Edinburgh from 2001 to 2005, and that seemed very quick. Yet I lived there the same amount of time and it felt I was there for years and years. It was a whole lifetime.
And I lived in Stoke Newington from 86 to 88, and that seemed like ages.
And I’ve been doing Canada since 2001, and touring since 2003. And that doesn’t feel that long.
I dunno, but you know what I mean… The passage of time is all scrambled. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve had three lifetimes since I was 32. Without mentioning the one or ones before.
for its just
and me again
hauling the unwieldy
luggage of my
with my grimy
over clutteredly catching terrain
the rickety train carriages
and wheelless rickshaws
and unfunct pantechnica
of my years
with this lumpy
a day too many
the cold creeping into our bones
we feel like the wall of black cloud eastwards into tamil nadu seen from doddabetta... we were of a level with its height ... and it was a wall of bad weather like none i have ever seen... people have been dying in the rains and landslips, which puts our passing clouds of grey gloom into perspective
still we had a nice stroll rather thnh trek over the hill and tea plantations... the great view invisible in the mist/ cloud... it all looking decidedly welsh... or shropshiresque... with the pale grass cropped by the sheep ...except for the toda temple of the nilgiri animists
the nilgiri are the original people here... before the british came it was only them... while now many tamils have moved up... and, what with the tea the sheep the gorse the eucalyptus the rhododendrons the conifers the tamils the tourists the anglo-indian houses the catholic churches the hindu temples the mosques the race-course the internet the arboretum the botanical gardens, we wonder how much up here is original apart from the nilgiri and the few remaining bits of forest
maybe i like india because here, in part at least, i can only be an outsider ...which is a secure thing ...when i have spent most of my life feeling like an outsider, or on the verge of being an outsider, neither in in nor out, out nor in... which has been a both a good thing and a destabilising thing...
so i never expected to belong... and here i know i never can
...next stop sultan bathery, kerala, west and lower and warmer