Archive for the ‘Blah blah’ Category
Of the albums I listened to yesterday, the two I enjoyed the most were those I listened to on headphones, going to and from a night out with friends. Ssss, this year’s album by Vince Clarke and Martin Gore, is really good. I hesitate to add “if you like techno” at the end of that last sentence, mostly because my interest in techno isn’t what it used to be, so I don’t really know where techno is at these days. For me, though, it’s incredibly enjoyable. I really like that two members of a band that last worked together 30 years ago got together and made an album of music of the type which a) you can hear they both love, and b) won’t hardly sell any copies. It sounds to me like Richie Hawtin and late period Kraftwerk. And it’s a good thing to listen to on the subway and walking to a friend’s house, ready for a night’s boozing.
After we’d boozed, it was gone midnight, and rather than get a taxi, I decided to walk home. It was only about a 40-minute walk, so nothing major. I think, though, I’m the only person I know who will choose to walk home. As far as I can tell, the danger of walking around in Mexico City at night is exaggerated. As is the danger here overall. Don’t do anything stupid and touristy, and you’ll be fine. Or you’ll be unlucky. So far, I’ve been fine and not unlucky. And I really enjoy walking around. I enjoy walking around at night, too. I was a bit drunk, and listened to Power, Corruption & Lies all the way home. For a long time Technique was my favourite New Order record because it was the first one I really loved. And before we go on, New Order are way more important to me than Joy Division. I don’t dislike Joy Division, but I enjoy New Order’s music a heck of a lot more. Maybe it’s because I’m not really a lyrics kind of person. I really don’t pay attention to what is being sung about very often, which, sometimes with New Order, is a good thing.
Power, Corruption & Lies feels to me like the first New Order album. I never really got into Movement as much as their other albums from the Eighties. It sounds like they’re still Joy Division, but with a different singer. Power, Corruption & Lies still has elements that can be traced back there, but it’s also got the seeds and shoots of what New Order were to become. Humour and a lightness that wasn’t present before. As I walked home, alcohol tilting my brain in a certain direction, I became convinced that Power, Corruption & Lies was the best album ever made. I was utterly convinced by it. I typed stuff into my pocket device regarding this. Waking up this morning, though, it’s not really true. That was the booze pushing it up the charts in my head. It is, though, one of my favourite albums. Definitely in the top ten. But, when I think of my favourite bands, there’s always three that come out straight away: The Beach Boys, Kraftwerk, and New Order. I wasn’t alive when the Beach Boys did their best work; I was too young when Kraftwerk did their best work; but New Order did their best work when I was in my teens. But I wasn’t really paying attention back then. I remember hating “Blue Monday” when I first heard it, when they were on Top of the Pops.
I was into a lot poppier stuff (Human League, Duran Duran, Wham!) than what these four bored-looking people in normal clothes were doing. It’s a crappy performance that does nothing to show how great that song is. I got more into them, but only in a passing way over the next few years. It wasn’t until I saw them live at the Reading Festival in 1989 that it all clicked. “Blue Monday” sounded amazing. I clearly remember having a feeling like, this is why this song is so popular! I get it now! Maybe there’s something about not being there for any of my favourite bands’ high points, maybe that’s why they are my favourites. I try to think of bands that are in my favourites that I’ve been actively aware of and enjoying contemporaneously, and I can’t really think of any. Maybe that’s it, though: not being there allows me to look at those bands differently, to view them how I want to view them, not how they are presented to me. Whatever it is, there’s something beautiful about walking home in Mexico City, alcohol in your blood stream, feet hurting a bit, and listening to “Your Silent Face.”
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Entroducing….. – DJ Shadow
De La Soul is Dead – De La Soul
World Clique – Deee-Lite
The Singles 81>85 – Depeche Mode
The Singles 86>98 – Depeche Mode
Ssss – VCMG
Power, Corruption & Lies – New Order
This is the blog post that I’ve been waiting to happen. The recent spurt of writing has been good, and using the idea of writing about the records I listened to as a clothes hanger upon which to hang some typing has worked pretty well. But today… I dunno, can’t really think of anything to type about, so what follows is just coming out of my head without any real thought.
I woke up with “Me and the Farmer” by the Housemartins in my head, planned to listen to one or both of their albums, then found, unexpectedly, I didn’t have them in my iTunes. So I settled for what I still think of as Paul Heaton’s “other band,” a band that were going for almost four times as long, The Beautiful South. And this is the first day since I’ve been doing this that I’ve listened to a best-of compilation. I listened to two of them: this one, and the Erasure one.
I’m a fan of best-ofs. That wasn’t always the case. I still am to a great extent, but I used to be more of a music snob. And the idea of best-ofs used to rub me up the wrong way. One should hear songs in the context the artist had designed them to be heard. Singles are an artificial way of hearing music. Those songs are supposed to be heard as part of a collection of songs written and recorded during a period of time. That, of course, is horse shit.
It’s the album that’s (mostly) a fake concept. A musician writes a song. Can be two minutes or five minutes or 20 minutes, but it’s a song that starts, middles, ends. Then when he or she has a bunch of them recorded, that’s an album. The album is a great idea, I love it, but it’s just a convenient way for record labels to sell something first and foremost. And this is the great thing about best-ofs: we get no rubbish songs on there just because they were written around the same time as the few good songs. B-sides are (were?) b-sides for a reason: they were the crappest songs written and recorded during the album sessions. And, while it’s a massive generalisation, you can say the same about three or four of all album tracks. I’m not talking about albums like Pet Sounds or What’s Going On, albums which we have collectively appreciated for being great works, but there are very very few albums which couldn’t have at least one song removed without the overall thing being affected adversely.
I’ve bought a couple of other Beautiful South albums in my life. I can remember virtually none of the non-singles from those albums. I always got the feeling that when a band was described as a “singles band,” it was said with a slight sneer, like they weren’t substantial. Fuck that. There’s 14 songs on Carry On up the Charts, and all but a couple of them are fantastic songs. There’s a lot more enjoyment to be had with that album than any of their proper records. Similarly with the Erasure best-of. That one is an absolute cracker. And Erasure, looking back with an, at times, faulty memory, possibly the first time in my life that I actually noticed a gay singer using the word “you” all the time instead of being specific about gender. It’s nice to be inclusive like that, and it’s kind of clever in a way that back then sexuality wasn’t talked about as openly as it is nowadays, but it’s kind of sad that there’s probably still a great chance that a gay singer is lunikely to have massive hits and sing lyrics about a “he.”
For a moment, let’s just pause, sit back, (and in my case, listen to it again as I type), and reflect on how absolutely lovely “A Little Respect” is. Such a pretty song. One of the 100 best songs of my lifetime. (This is something I really should write down one day. I’m so wont to say it’s this, it’s that, but I don’t really know. Perhaps this is in the top 50, or maybe it’d be number 101 on my list.)
And here, embedded in the page for your enjoyment, is my favourite Beautiful South song, “Prettiest Eyes.” I’m such a sucker for a pretty melody and lyrics about the sort of couple one would love to be half of.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Carry On up the Charts – The Beautiful South
Storytelling – Belle and Sebastian
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
About A Boy – Badly Drawn Boy
Pop! The First 20 Hits – Erasure
A good day yesterday. A good, productive day. The lack of bothering to choose music to listen to makes it apparent to me that my brain was occupied. I started with one Bruce Springsteen album, and listened to four more. That’s not choosing music, it’s letting the Bruce Springsteen section of iTunes keep going after the end of one album. A few notes on Bruce Springsteen. When I was fifteen or so, I never really formed it as an actual thought in my head, but I kind of viewed him as a cool, American, uncle who I’d never met. The first album I got was Born in the U.S.A., obviously. I don’t remember ever hearing of him before that. I don’t really think he was that popular in the U.K. before that. The second album of his that I bought was The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. I seem to remember his first two albums were a bit cheaper than the others at the time. It seemed so different to me than Born in the U.S.A. But it became and remains my favourite Springsteen album. All the details made the United States seem both normal and exotic and the same time.
The reason I was occupied was I was working on the Beagle Channel drawing that I mentioned the other day. To save you going back and reading that, I started a drawing in November, 2009, worked on it a little that day, and used the mountains I’d drawn in the banner at the top of Flip Flop Flyin’. The intention was always to do a 360˚ panorama of all the mountains visible either side of a section of the channel near Ushuaia, in Argentina. The northern side of the channel is Argentina, the southern side is Chile. I went there in 2008. My memory of the place, as with most places on the trip I took that year, is that it was simply lovely. And it was. When I look at the place in my head, though, it’s a small, ordinary town in an extraordinary location. But, I think of my time there fondly.
Blog posts about Ushuaia from the time:
I took a boat trip to look at seals and to go to one of the islands in the channel. I took lots of photos, but just tourist photos, I had no plan. A year or so later, though, I thought about the pixelly panorama thing. I had a root through the photos and found that I more or less had photos of every section of coastline that could be seen from the island and/or Ushuaia town. I got excited, and worked on it for a little, and didn’t bother doing any more. In the space I’d allocated for the full panorama (over 3,800 pixels in width), I’d drawn 14.4% of the mountains. And there it sat in a folder for three years. On Tuesday evening, I did some more, bringing the total up to 25.6%. And yesterday, I really rocked it: 72.5% of the mountains are done. Barring any accidents or power cuts, I should finish it today.
I’m still undecided, though, on how to present it. I could play it safe and present it naturally, with daylight (first example), or with slightly-exaggerated moonlight (second example), or the one I’m leaning towards, with a totally-unrealistic pink sky (third example).
The one thing I really need to stop doing is referring to it as “the Beagle Channel drawing.” It had a name before the pesky Europeans turned up, and, apparently, the Yámana people who lived there called it “Onashaga.” Which is what I will probably call it once it’s finished because it means channel of the hunters, which is a lot cooler than being named after an admittedly lovely dog breed.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
Darkness on the Edge of Town – Bruce Springsteen
Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen
#1 Record – Big Star
Grand Prix – Teenage Fanclub
Songs from Northern Britain – Teenage Fanclub
No Marvin yesterday. Didn’t feel the need, and goddamn it, I’m not gonna listen to it if I don’t want to. The main thing of note yesterday was that I listened to one album twice. Got to the end, and started again. The new-ish Dexys album. The last Dexys Midnight Runners album, Don’t Stand Me Down is one of my favourite records. It’s a beautiful piece of work. I even liked the Kevin Rowland solo covers album My Beauty. But, it’s thirteen years since that solo album, and 27 years since a Dexys album.
That’s a long time, isn’t it? It can be an odd experience as a fan when a band you like puts out a new record. It seemed like such a long time when we were all waiting for the second Stone Roses album. But, really, five years between albums doesn’t seem that long now, does it? A three year gap these days seems pretty normal. And five is just a couple more, isn’t it, maths fans? But, I suppose with Dexys, nobody is talking about them, they’re not in the music press regardless of their absence, like the Stone Roses seemed to be during their five years. With the Stone Roses, it was like waiting for a bus that you know will come at some point, but the act of waiting is a very front-of-your-brain thing. With Dexys, I wasn’t actively waiting. Maybe there’ll be a bus at some point, but, the radiator is on, and I’m quite happy sat here in my living room watching Trading Places on DVD.
It would be wrong to talk about time between records without taking about Kraftwerk, of course. Seventeen years between 1986′s Electric Café and 2003′s Tour de France Soundtracks. Seventeen years and the occasional rumour that something was going on. That seemed like a long time, but, it’s nine years now since Tour de France Soundtracks and that hardly feels like any time at all. Time is all stretchy and interesting.
The other end of that is too many records. I used to quite like Ryan Adams. Saw him live one time in a church in Berlin. Lovely, it was. But: too many albums, dude. I just couldn’t get to know a record before a new one came along. Looking at Wikipedia, he’s done thirteen albums since 2000. And the time that I was into him, he did eight albums between 2000 and 2005. When he put out three albums in 2005, I kinda gave up after the first of those.
Blah blah blah, all in all, it seems like one album every 18 months to two years would be just about perfect. There: sorted out the music industry. Next!
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Electra Heart – Marina & the Diamonds
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple
Arular – M.I.A.
Red Apple Falls – Smog
One Day I’m Going to Soar – Dexys
P.S. The new Dexys album is pretty good. Enjoying it.
Brains are great. I love how certain things can conjure up memories. Stuff you’d forgotten about. Sometimes in Mexico City, there will be a whiff coming from the sewers. A nasty smell, but a smell you get used to after a while. I could be walking somewhere, get the whiff, and right there, my brain double-clicks a memory of being in Chiapas, on my first visit to Mexico. The first time I smelled that Mexican sewer smell. I like the sense memories. When something comes back that you can’t fully describe. and music is very good at that sometimes. I’ll hear a record that reminds me of the coldness of my un-radiated childhood bedroom in January. And Josh Rouse’s album, whenever I hear it, makes me think of peacocks. Just peacocks. And if the image in my brain has to be expanded, it’s peacocks on a chilly, sunny day. I had a look through a bunch of old photographs to find out exactly why and where those peacocks came to be associated with Nashville, and that album came out the month before my ex-grilfriend and I took a day trip to Wörlitz, a town about an hour and a half southwest of Berlin. And there, in Wörlitzer Park, were peacocks. Here’s a couple of photographs of the ‘cocks, and one of Billy checking a ‘cock out.
Similarly, the Elbow album will always bring back the coldness of standing in Battery Park, New York, looking out at the Statue of Liberty in December 2008. Everybody already loved that album by the time I bothered to listen to it, and it seemed to fit my trip to New York perfectly at the time.
The Grizzly Bear album is an album I don’t particularly like. But yesterday, I figured I’d give it another go. Still a bit unimpressed. Some good songs, but overall, it’s just not for me. And it reminds me entirely of the first time I listened to it, in my room in Berlin at the end of 2009, starting work on a drawing of the mountains that surround the Beagle Channel. Part of that drawing ended up being used in the banner at the top of Flip Flop Flyin’. The idea was to draw a 360˚ view of the mountains. Every last one of them. This is the space I’d allocated in the image for those mountains:
And this is how much I’ve done of it. I never got beyond that part of the drawing that was used on FFF. But, listening to Grizzly Bear has reminding me that I should finish it. I’ll be working on it today, in fact.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Nashville – Josh Rouse
Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now – Justin Townes Earle
Blue Horse – The Be Good Tanyas
Sweet Heart Rodeo – Dawn Landes
The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple
Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear
All Quiet on the Noise Floor – Jason Falkner
It’s Heavy in Here – Eric Matthews
The Lateness of the Hour – Eric Matthews
And, yes, I did copy and paste the title of the Fiona Apple LP.
Well, Sunday was interesting. Before we get to the interesting stuff, though, let’s talk music: forever, forever, ever, forever, ever?
I was reading an amusing account of Rihanna’s recent flounce around seven North American and European cities to promote her new album on Popjustice. It’s worth a read. In the account, the writer mentioned a Swedish pop group called Icona Pop. I am not as up on my Swedish pop music as I should be. So I Internetted around a bit, and found a place that was streaming their six-track Iconic EP. I have since found out that I am totally behind on this, but damn shit, their song “I Love It” is utterly fantastic. I listened to that one song a ton yesterday. I’m listening to it again as I type these words. Just in case you are out of the loop like me, here’s the YouTube thing:
While we’re on the topic of ace pop music – and really, is there any type of music as good as really good pop music? I’m all over some Pink Floyd, but gimme a “Holiday,” “Better the Devil You Know,” “Never Ever,” “Push The Button” any day of the week – here’s a couple more that I’ve been listening to recently. First, Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing”:
And here’s the amazing amazing amazing so-damn-awesome “Losing You” by Beyoncé’s sister, Solange Knowles.
Incidentally, “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera was number one in the UK this week ten years ago.
And while she’s damn hot in that video, she looks even better nowadays:
Right, let’s get on with it. I should first explain a little about my living situation. I live in a strange building. There’s a salon de fiestas directly beneath my apartment, and on the ground floor, an out-of-business restaurant. The function room can be annoying at times. There are often parties on Friday and/or Saturday, but on the whole, it’s tolerable because they usually finish at 2am and there’s plenty of Fridays and Saturdays when I’m not even home at that time. But this Saturday night’s party didn’t finish until gone 2.30am, which would not be a problem were it not for the regular thing that happens every Sunday morning: a church group. You don’t see many black people in Mexico City. I see more if I walk down the stairs while the church group is arriving or leaving than I will the rest of the week. Not sure where they are from, but they all speak English, and the service is English. The leader of the group is always yelling “Jeeeeeeeeeeee-zus!” They aren’t particularly loud, apart from the first 30-45 mins when they have a drummer and they sing some songs. So, if I’ve been out, I’m woken up, without having had enough sleep, by Christians. Does nothing to make me feel any warmth towards the church, quite frankly. So: late party noise, six-ish hours sleep, early church noise, and then a mid-afternoon party going on upstairs. My upstairs neighbours are complete and utter cunts. I’m sorry to use that word. I’m not actually sorry, because I can’t think of another word strong enough. We need one, actually, that doesn’t apply negative vibrations to a slang word for vagina, don’t we? We need the strongest swear word to be one that isn’t about a female body part.
So anyway, they started having their party which was a little frustrating, so I upped and went to Starbucks for a bit (see previous post). When I came back, I saw about fifteen people arriving. Sigh. That means this is a proper party, not just a loud gathering. It felt like my cue to go out for the evening, and hope that, being a Sunday, it wouldn’t go on too long into the night. So I went out, to a place called Tortas Jorge. It’s a nice place. They usually have a guitar player singing all night. There’s loads of bullfighting posters on the walls. And the service is terrifyingly slow. But, you can sit down at a table, mind your own business, and have a few drinks. It’s nice. So, I did just that: had a few drinks, had a torta, listened to the man singing, wondered exactly how young the girl across the way was, who was caressing a man who was knocking on sixty years old (she couldn’t have been more than 22 or 23). Generally, a pleasant Sunday evening. I left there around 10pm.
With the optimism of a Belieber asking for a retweet, I walked down my street towards my apartment. From about 100 metres away, even though the lights from the apartment were dim, I could still make out figures on the balcony, and from about 50 metres away, I could hear the thud-thud-thud of music. Of course it was too much to hope that it would be over, regardless of the day of the week. So I went to a bar in my neighbourhood that I’d walked past, but never been into before, called Micheladas el Camellito.
If i told you it were a gay bar, and you had a peek inside, you wouldn’t be shocked by my description. It wasn’t a gay bar, though. There were no women in there, just a few tables occupied by dudes. A late middle-aged dude in a sweater sat on his own near the back, and two pairs of husky dudes sat at separate tables near the front, and a couple of guys sat outside in motorcycle leathers. The walls were black, the lights were red, the music was trance-y, and the TV was showing the Packers-Giants game. I ordered an Indio. They had no bottles, so it would be “barril.” Fine. Half litre or a litre? I guess I’m gonna be here for a while, so litre, por favor. It came in a plastic cup, the sort you get at sports events or concerts. The beer was shit. And I was starting to get a headache. Could do with going home. The game had finished, so the bar staff had fired up YouTube and we could see what they were choosing on the TV screen. Sound and picture quality: not good. It was nearing 11pm: no way the party will be over. But the bar was grim. Colour photocopies of caricatures stapled to the wall: Bono, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Lady Gaga, Mr. Bean, Barack Obama.
Then things got interesting. One of the pairs of husky dudes got up to leave. They stood for a while outside near a parked taxi. And then they got in. One of them in the driver’s seat. As he pulled out to drive away, he rammed into the car parked in front of him. As it happens, a bar employee was stood outside smoking while it happened. They had a wee chat through the driver’s side window, and being a nosey bitch, I went outside to “have a cigarette.” As I lit up, the car pulled away, and the barman ran down the street thumping on the window for as long as he could keep pace. One of the other husky dudes from the bar came out. As did the other barman. This barman grabbed his keys, and opened the door of the car that had been rammed. The husky customer grabbed his keys, too, and went to his car. They both sped off. Like, way too fast. TV car chase fast. It was kind of thrilling to watch. It didn’t happen at the time, but for the sake of this re-telling of events, let’s just pretend that the “Starsky and Hutch” theme tune was playing in my head as it happened.
The other barman and husky dude stood around talking, peering down the street in both direction, and I went back inside to finish my beer. The sweater man coughed. Then cleared his throat. Then I heard him spit on the floor. Then I heard the sound of chunks being blown. He’s not-? Is he? He is! He was sat there, throwing up all over the floor. No attempt what. so. ever. to get to the bathroom. I couldn’t smell it, but it still made me retch a little just knowing it was there on the floor a few metres away. I glugged down beer a bit too quick. Didn’t taste good. Thankfully, to distract me from vomitty man, the husky dude and the barman’s cars came back around the corner and parked outside. And so did the taxi. At this point, I got money out of my wallet, put it on the table, and got ready to leave: I don’t want to be a part of a bad Mexican scene.
And this is the amazing thing: everyone was really calm and amiable. When the cars pulled up, I was half expecting the taxi driver and his pal to be dragged from the car, taken out back and given a good going over. Didn’t happen. The taxi driver was all, hey sorry about that. The barman whose car had been pronged was all like, whatevs. The husky dude came back inside to get his beer, caught my eye, and we raised our beers towards each other and “salud!”-ed. He went back outside and told his husky pal about what happened. I didn’t hear it, but could see his arms indicating a pincer movement. The vomiting guy got up, struggled with the one step in the bar, and stumbled out into the night. I asked the barman for the bill, and if his car was okay. He told me it was fine, in a manner that sounded like, “yeah, we do this all time.”
I walked home smiling, desperate to write this all down. The party was still going on, so I put on my big headphones and listened to Daft Punk. It’s 1.30am right now. The party died down about an hour ago. There’s still house music going on, and there are still loud shoes clomping around, but sleep is definitely possible. Good night, y’all.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Stankonia – Outkast
Iconic EP – Icona Pop
Since I Left You – The Avalanches
Pesents Author Unknown – Jason Falkner
Congratulations – MGMT
Let England Shake – PJ Harvey
Homework – Daft Punk
Discovery – Daft Punk
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s time to rejoice. My name gets spelled incorrect a lot in Mexico (see Wreck section of FFF for more details), but this afternoon, it was spelled correctly. Not only that, when I told her my name, she asked “Greg o Craig?” Be still my beating heart.
I think she used a fake name for herself, though.
I messed up the order a bit yesterday. I woke with “Reptilia” from the Strokes’ second album in my head, so listened to that one before What’s Going On. The Nik Kershaw album… I loved that when I was thirteen. That record was a present from a friend of my father’s. He was working in a town called Skegness, a town on the coast of Lincolnshire, about an hour away from Lincoln where we lived. Can’t remember whether it was a work-related connection, but he was friends with an Indian family. I remember going there once. They had a nice house. And the daughter, Varsha, who I guess must’ve been in her twenties, bought this album as a present for my sister and I. And she wrote a greeting on the front of the record sleeve. In blue pen, on Nik’s face. At the time, that was a real bummer. I was very particular about my records. Plus, the thought of having to share one with my sister was horrifying. It was incredibly nice of her, though. As with a lot of pop records from the 1980s, it hasn’t aged well once you get beyond the singles. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” is still amazing, a really lovely song. “Human Racing” also holds up, mostly because it’s a well-written song with a pretty melody. That time in music, that time when we were all waiting to be obliterated by a nuclear war, was pretty good for catchy, slightly-melancholy, pop songs.
I have kept a thought in the back of my head that if I ever meet a woman who loves Nilsson’s The Point! record, I would be a fool not to woo her and spend the rest of my life with her. Hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time. I own three copies of this album. It is my dream – a dream I will never realise because I don’t have the patience – to draw and animate a new version of the The Point! The original is great, but it’s so of its time, as, I guess, is the story; a story that, apparently, Nilsson thought of whilst high on acid looking at some trees. It’s such a lovely story, wiith some heartbreakingly lovely songs, that it could really do with being popular again, and somewhat egotistically, I reckon I could do it. But I never will. The idea is filed away in the folder in my brain with all the other too-much-work ideas.
Here’s the full original animated movie, narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Watching it will enhance your Sunday. And the rest of your life.
Title TK isn’t the best Breeders record, but it’s got “Huffer” on it, which is aces. Not got owt to say about the David Bazan album (I bought it from him after his show in Berlin a few years ago, and he seemed like a pleasant chap). Or the Bill Callahan abum. Or the Gillian Welch album. Underworld, though: of course I’ve got stuff to say about that puppy. Beaucoup Fish is a stunner. Not a bum song on there. I was pretty into the Tomato aesthetic at the time as well, so it was perfect. “Jumbo” is, of course, the best song. Can’t hear it without thinking about my friend John. There’s one moment in the song near the end, five minutes and 47 seconds in, when it has broken down, and there’s a little shuffle-y bit of drums before it kicks back in. John and I both love this moment of the song. One time, around the time when they were touring this album, they played live at Brixton Academy. We went along, took what people take when they go to see Underworld, and danced the night away. There was one point in the night, though, when my legs gave up on me, so I sat down at the side, back against the wall, dancing in my head. There was a woman in front of me who was really going for it. She had delightful calves. And because of my heightened state, I leant forward, tapped her on the back, she leant down, and I told her she was a great dancer. She smiled so big at that point, thanked me, and told me she was studying to be a professional dancer. I smiled back, probably did something dorky like a thumbs up, and she got back to dancing on her legs, and I got back to dancing in my head. It was a beautiful moment.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Room on Fire – The Strokes
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
McLemore Avenue – Booker T & the MGs
Human Racing – Nik Kershaw
This is a Pinback CD – Pinback
The Point! – Harry Nilsson
Title TK – The Breeders
Curse Your Branches – David Bazan
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle – Bill Callahan
Time (The Revelator) – Gillian Welch
Beaucoup Fish – Underworld
Into the Great Wide Yonder – Trentemøller
It is, by the way, entirely a coincidence that for the first three days of doing this, I’ve listened to twelve albums each day. I’m happy about the coincidence, though, because it fits into the three-by-four grid nicely.
I’m finding that my atheist thoughts regarding the lack of an afterlife and my desire to get three stars on every level of every Angry Birds game are at odds with each other. Finite time available, and I’m pissing it away smashing drawings of birds into drawings of pigs.
Note: title of this post is used ironically, of course. When I typed “why are atheists” into the Google thingy, it autofilled “so angry” as the top search option. I love that Christians have their own way for centuries, but if an atheist gets into a discussion about science and logic, they are “angry.”
I figure this is possibly a good way to keep up the recent spurt of writing. I like writing, but sometimes I just can’t be arsed. And once I get going, I feel like I should keep going, keep pushing along. So, with the lack of daily baseball podcasts to listen to at this time of year, it makes a wee bit of sense to listen to music and maybe write about it. After Thursday’s day-long enjoyment of album after album, I did the same thing yesterday. Once again, I began with What’s Going On. Figured it could be good to start with the same record and see where it took me. In a way, it took me to a similar place as Thursday. Then, it was Blue Lines by Massive Attack, today a vaguely related album: Raw Like Sushi by Neneh Cherry. That album’s best song, “Manchild,” was co-written by Robert Del Naja, and the album was co-produced by Cameron McVey, who also co-produced Blue Lines. The album as a whole hasn’t dated particularly well. Still enjoyable to listen to, but aside from a few songs, mostly for nostalgic reasons.
I’m already coming across a problem with writing about these albums: how do I do it without just saying “it’s great”? Got to try to avoid that. Got to push myself to go beyond that and see what my head can come up with.
Even though Morning Dove White came out before I met him, it always reminds me of an old friend called Darren. He loved One Dove, especially their singer, Dot Allison, and who can blame him? We worked together at a record distribution company in the late 90s. It was a beautiful time. The music industry in the UK seemed to be going great guns. People still went to record stores and bought records and CDs. And we’d get awesome bonuses if the records we were distributing reached their targets (£100 bonus for getting this record into the top ten, £500 bonus if that record gets to number one; that kind of thing). Best of all, though, was the atmosphere in our part of the building. We did telesales. Not telesales in the sense that we were calling random people about double-glazed windows; we called the same bunch of record stores every week. You get to know people on the other end of the phone, and generally, it was an incredibly enjoyable job. You’re talking about music all day: what’s not to love? I was there for three-and-a-half years, and I’m still friends with many of the people I worked with. In a way, it was too much fun. It was my first office job, and no office job could have a hope of living up to it.
Dancing comes back to me when I hear certain records. If I listen to the Happy Mondays, I find myself shuffling around in that late eighties/early nineties white British man way. And listening to either of the first two Prodigy albums has a similar effect. If I walk to the kitchen, I won’t walk, I’ll end up doing some ridiculous rave-y hoppy skippy dance all the way. And it’s not just when I’m on my feet. If I’m sat at my desk, my work rate slows significantly. My hands are too busy dancing to hold a mouse or do keyboard shortcuts.
When I worked for the aforementioned company, I had the chance to go to the offices of the record company that released the Gravediggaz’ second album, and briefly met the two members of the group that weren’t RZA or Prince Paul. I forget their names. I’m useless in such situations. They were just two dudes, but, really, what the heck of interest did I have to say to them? And why would they give a shit about what I had to say? I can’t remember what I actually did say, but I can be fairly certain it was a whole load of meaningless nonsense.
I’m at a point in my life, I think, where I’m finding it pretty much impossible to sing along with David Bowie songs without slipping into a bad impression. And there’s a certain amount of Rolling Stones songs where I’m pretty much doing an impression of other people’s impressions of Mick Jagger. It’s strange that Let’s Dance was Bowie’s biggest selling album. Beyond the first three songs – “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” “Let’s Dance” – it’s not overly consumer-friendly. I can’t help but imagine that a lot of the people who bought this album after hearing those singles were probably quite disappointed with the remaining five songs.
I saw Brendon Benson live in Berlin in 2003. I think the venue was called Magnet. I remember enjoying it, but I don’t remember much of the event other than it was the night that the Iraq War started. The next day, on Viva – a German MTV-ish channel – instead of the usual happy smiley VJs, there were serious-faced VJs, sat around wearing CND t-shirts, discussing war with German teenagers. That’s nearly ten years ago now, but the images from that first night of the war are still really fresh in my mind. I’ve had very little hardship in my life. It’s been a relatively normal life so far. There have been a few small earthquakes that have rocked Mexico City since I’ve been here, and the first time, I was like a baby. It didn’t feel nice at all. And the aftershocks for the next couple of days weren’t fun either. It was difficult to sleep. The rumble of a big truck going down the street would nudge me awake: is it another earthquake? I would be so utterly terrified and crying and useless if a war were to happen in my city.
Jason Falkner is one of our time’s most underrated musicians, I think. He’s written and recorded some wonderful solo records, and he’s also been involved in lots of other great things. He was in Jellyfish, he’s worked with Jon Brion, Paul McCartney, Air (he sang on “Radio #1″), Eric Matthews, Beck, Aimee Mann, Ben Lee, Daniel Johnston, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Glen Campbell, and he co-wrote five of the songs on the Brendon Benson album. He is aces. If you have babies, and you wanna get them enjoying the Beatles early on in their lives, you could do a hell of a lot worse than buying Falkner’s two Bedtime with the Beatles albums, on which are his instrumental versions of the band’s songs, arranged as lullabies.
The last song on Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown is called “Untitled” (YouTube). It’s one of my favourite ever songs. It’s incredibly beautiful. For about two minutes it goes along, being all lovely, with a few strings coming in here and there, and pretty much exactly halfway through, it shifts into a fully string-laden coda (not sure if that’s technically the correct word) with the same two lines repeated over and over again: You may not have been able to change the world/But at least you changed my world. I was listening to this album a lot when my mother’s second husband died after having had cancer for a while. My relationship with him wasn’t always wonderful; he was, after all, not my father, and that was a difficult thing to get my head around for a while. But he was a good man. And when he died, those two lines from the end of Jason Falkner’s song went through my head a lot. Like most of us, he wasn’t important in the grand history of the planet, but he was important to the people who knew him. Which is pretty much what we can all hope for, really.
And on that somewhat sombre note, here’s the names of the albums pictured above just in case you don’t recognise some of them. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Raw Like Sushi – Neneh Cherry
Morning Dove White – One Dove
Space Is Only Noise – Nicolas Jaar
Actually – Pet Shop Boys
Music for Jilted Generation – The Prodigy
Queens of the Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age
Niggamortis – Gravediggaz
Viva! La Woman – Cibo Matto
Let’s Dance – David Bowie
Lapalco – Brendon Benson
Presents Author Unknown – Jason Falkner
Yesterday was one of those magical days. I woke up, made coffee, and put on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It was a joy to listen to first thing in the morning. Next I played Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and it just continued. Every album I decided to listen to was brilliant. And I listened to every song on every album, too. Can’t remember the last time I did that with more than a couple of albums in a row. It was a fine time, Lucille.
A couple of days I mentioned on Twitter that I was happy that I lived in a world where “Little Red Corvette” was a thing that exists. And these albums make me happy to be alive right now, too. But, of course, I can’t help but think of the music I will miss once I am dead. That really great album that will come out one day or one month or one year after I die. And it will come. And then there’ll be another and another and another. I’ve often thought of all the great music my father would’ve liked had he still been alive. I think he would have loved Supergrass and Wilco and Richard Hawley and Baxter Dury and Super Furry Animals, and probably stuff that I wouldn’t even imagine he would like. Ho hum. It awaits us all.
Anyway, sometimes it’s nice to not let music drift by your ears because it’s just there in your iPod and on your journey. It’s nice to listen to things and be thankful for all the great musicians and songwriters out there.
This is what I listened to yesterday. Great albums all.
If a sock has come to the end of its life, you can have fun before you throw it away. For example…
I was just in the supermarket buying some milk. And spring onions. And mustard. And Tic Tacs. “Señorita” by Justin Timberlake was playing. I like that song, and hearing a song I like in a supermarket is one of the little joys of life. It adds a nice swing and shuffle to the tedium of putting things in a beige plastic basket. So, I’m walking around, singing to myself in my awesome falsetto, even doing a spot of whistling now and then, and just as it got to the back-and-forth guys-and-ladies bit, I was really gearing up for a good ol’ under-my-breath sing-along. And then some woman who worked at the supermarket turned on her microphone and started blabbing about the special offers they have today. It’s like the revolution was all for nothing.
Sometimes, in the course of a life lived as a male human being, you are called upon to go to a strip club. I have been to such a place on several occasions in my life, and have enjoyed them to varying degrees. I’ve only been to strip clubs in London and the States previously, and at the weekend, I went to one in Mexico for the first time.
In a bar in the Roma Norte neighbourhood, at some point in the early hours of the morning, after having drank a decent amount of rum, one of my friends was insistent that we go. So insistent, in fact, that he told us he would buy a strip club-priced bottle of rum for us to drink whilst watching ladies dance in (or out) of their underwear.
How could we refuse? What are you as a man if you turn down such a plea?
So we went to a strip club. A strip club called Caligula, (stylised as CALIGVLA). There were few empty tables available; all of the darker areas of the club, where lapdances were occuring, were occupied. We were escorted to a small table next to the stage. We had a first class view of the entertainment. The stage had two poles, and the dancers would cavort around one, then move to the other. But, really, what was going through my mind while an attractive woman with breast implants and weaing only the very smallest of underpants was dancing, was how the Pittsburgh Steelers would cope without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This was because behind the stage, on a screen about four metres wide, was a NFL Network programme, where muted heads talked about the Steelers’ quarterback while clips of the player and team played next to them. Nothing say erotic entertainment like a bulky man in a suit silently yapping to a camera about sports.
It’s an odd experience watching attractive women dance naked in front of you. On one level, it’s very enjoyable; my brain does seem to enjoy looking at it, it’s pleasant to see beautiful bodies of different shapes and sizes moving in a way that’s expressly designed to arouse. Also, without wishing to sound like an arty prick, it’s good to look at people in a different way, from a different angle, people moving without clothes, the muscles, the green, pink, and blue light on the skin, the differences in thighs, breasts, arms. It reminded me once again that I really should sign up for a life drawing class.
There’s also the grimness of looking at other men in the club. It’s just a mass of depressing cliches. Groups of young men getting drunk and not hiding the boners in their eyes, and the men who look like they could be dangerous at some point in their lives, and the ones who look like this is the closest they may get to a relationship. Men flashing their money to spend twenty minutes with a woman sat on their lap. Of course, when you are sat there, looking up at the dancers (and looking up really is a clever angle to have us view this, the legs are longer, and when you get to the end of the legs, it’s all ass and vagina), you are one of those men, too. It feels uncomfortable for a while. It takes my mind some time to get used to not feeling like I should avert my gaze (I wonder how the Jets will do this weekend?), and occasionally, the dancers, looking for a next lapdancee, will make eye contact and smile. I smile back. That’s what humans do.
It was refreshing to see a couple of the dancers without implants. Implants seemed to be overwhelmingly part of the uniform in Caligula, so to see real breasts was enjoyable. Interestingly, the women with real breasts also looked like the youngest. That made it a little depressing, to think that the career path probably dictates surgery at some point.
One woman danced to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.”
Later, salsa music came on, and two dancers took men up to dance with them on the stage. I cannot possibly imagine doing such a thing. Aside from not being good at any form of dancing unless it involves early Nineties house music and big fish little fish hands in the air nonsense, my brain would hold me back from actually getting up on stage in front of all these people and dancing with a woman way too attractive for me, and wearing more or less 100% less clothes than me.
My friend had a woman come sit next to him. She put her hand on his thigh, and after a few moments, he got his credit card out, it was taken away and returned with a receipt for him to sign, and off they went somewhere, so he could get his lapdance.
I’ve re-arranged events a little so this next bit appears near the end of this post, as it really is something that should’ve happened near the end of the evening rather than early on. It helps to make a better story if it’s at the end. A blonde woman was dancing on the stage, she was entirely naked. She got down on to the stage, cavorted a little, and ended up sat down, with her legs apart. The people on our side of the stage had a view right up in there. She was smoking a cigarette, she had a drink and a bucket of ice near her. She took the ice bucket, and somewhat inelegantly poured its contents onto her breasts. Huge chunks of ice ricocheted this way and that, skidding across the stage. She smiled at customers like she thought she was being incredibly sexy. She took the straw from her drink, and pushed it almost all the way up into her vagina. Still throwing out smouldering looks, she shifted so she was on her hands and knees, so she could shake what her momma gave her. She took a drag on the cigarette, reached her arm around to her backside, and pushed the end of the cigarette into her bum hole. She shook her ass again. I’m fairly sure it’s the least sexy thing I’ve ever seen a naked woman do. She took the cigarette out, took another drag, and the MC encouraged us to give her a round of applause.
My friend came back, with his lap freshly danced upon, we finished up our drinks, and left. Not through the same entrance we came through, though, oddly. Through a brightly-lit corridor of white-painted breeze-blocks that was definitely a staff-only part of the building. There was a shelf with cups and a microwave. Had I not been a bit tipsy, I might’ve been paranoid about where we were heading, but as it were, a security guy opened the fire door, and we stepped out into the car park.
I’ve previously thought about that Rihanna song “Only Girl (In the World),” that, were that actually real, what a truly horrible experience it would be to be the only girl in the world. And being at Caligula brought that back. A handful of security men and the development of social and moral codes is all that separate this place from being a really ugly scene. But that didn’t stay long in my mind, it was gone five o’clock in the morning, and there were tacos to be eaten.
Every morning, I make coffee, turn my computer on, and open the balcony door and throw out a handful of sunflower seeds for the house finches. There’s a lot of them; sometimes there can be ten or more at any one time. This is the only one I recognise because of the weird thing on top of her beak. She’s also by far the bravest of the finches. She doesn’t fly away when I stand up (my desk is near the door). She often perches on the metal bar on the balcony and looks straight ahead at the apartment. This, it would seem, is her way of telling me there’s nothing but empty seed shells on the balcony. She’s an ugly bugger, but she’s my favourite. I call her Bullet.
I will never tire of the feeling of waiting for a bus to go to a town I’ve never been to before. Leaving Placencia featured a lovely way of doing it, too. The place where I was staying was a few hundred metres from the end of the 20-odd km long peninsula, and the bus I’d be taking would go to the end, turn around, and pick up passengers along the way. It took nigh-on an hour to travel the length of the peninsula; so many people were scattered along its length, we were stopping and starting constantly. Most of the passengers were heading further north than I was, to Dangriga. I was getting off before then. When I bought the ticket form the conductor, I asked him to let me know where to get off so that I could get to Hopkins. He ignored my request, but thankfully, the guy sat behind me had heard me ask, and told me when to get up.
Hopkins is about six or seven kilometres off the highway. The bus stopped at the junction, I hopped off. There was an old guy stood around. I asked him if there were any buses soon. “In a few hours, yes.” So I started walking. I’d been warned about this, but figured it doesn’t hurt to ask. I plugged in my headphones, turned on “The Wall” and stomped along the side of the straight, sandy, road. I’d been told that the best way to get from the highway to the village was with a passing vehicle. It was hot. My shirt was drenched, and sweat was dripping off my face. Ten vehicles passed by before, about 40 minutes into my walk, and, as it turned out, about halfway along the road, a truck with an open flat back part (what are these vehicles called?) pulled up. A guy sat in the back gestured for me to get in. I took out my headphones, threw my backpack over the back door thing, and jumped in. The guy and I had a wee chat. He told me I’d come to the right place to relax. He was friendly. We stopped at a junction, pretty much the only junction in the village. The guy and I said goodbye, he wished me a good time in his town, and I chatted to the driver while another passenger got some stuff from the store. He asked where I wanted to go. A friend had recommended a place to stay. The driver, Johnny, told me it was nice there, and dropped me off right outside. Not to be, though. They were closed during the off-season to do some renovations, but the woman swinging in a hammock recommended another place a bit further along.
I traipsed along the road, ten minutes later saw the sign for Tipple Tree Beya, and walked up the stairs to ring the bell to see if there was a room. There was a room. About 40 dollars a night. Splendid. Two nights please. The room was one of three that faced out towards the sea. Small wooden rooms, with wood slats covering bug screens for windows. And a hammock on the deck out front. Perfect. After spending the last hour or so sweating buckets, I just dumped everything, put on my shorts and went out for a swim. Swimmy swim swim. Brain is there going, “hey relax, dude.” And it was nice. Two days here in Hopkins, then off to the western border, nip across to Guatemala to see Tikal. A couple of days there, then back up to Chetumal to fly back to Mexico City. The couple in the room next to mine were a lovely German couple. You really couldn’t ask to be sharing a hammock-y deck with nicer people. Spent some time in the hammock as the sky got darker, drank a couple of beers, and I was in bed by 11pm. It was still hot. I opened the window slats at the front and back of the room; no need to turn the fan on when there’s a lovely ocean breeze there to keep me cool.
With the windows open, a new room, thus new bed, I woke up around 5am. Just in time for the sunrise. The sky was all pink and dark purple. I walked down to the water’s edge. The husband of the woman who runs the place was raking the sand. He has the best job ever. Every morning, he does something nice and gentle and repetitive like raking sand while the sun rises over the ocean. Plus, he told me, it’s good for the back to spend some time each day walking backwards. Advice I have failed to heed, simply because I don’t have any beaches nearby, and walking backwards down the street would be mental. I had my iPod in my pocket, so I tried to draw a quick drawing of the sunrise. I did another a hour or so later. I did another 30 of them during my stay in Hopkins. It became a lovely ritual. To stop, have a look at the see, really look, and that flat block of water beneath that airy stuff changes colour so often. (Those drawings can be seen here.)
I had breakfast at a place called Innies. It looked a bit crappy from the outside. A concrete building painted pink and yellow with some kind of shower-strength leak coming from somewhere on the upper floor. Like a lot of restaurants in Belize, the glass doors and windows were tinted glass, so you can never really tell if they are busy or even open. It was open. Terrible instant coffee with what I think was condensed milk. I ordered an omelette, which came with beans and fry jacks, a local thing that’s basically like a puffy tortilla. The omelette had Cheez Whiz on top; a little daunting, but my gosh, it was delicious.
Lounge in the hammock, listen to music, read a bit, watch the grackles flying around, and squawking at each other. I like them. I like how strident they look when they walk, like, I’m. Going. Over. Here. They were brave, too. On the edge of the deck in front of the rooms were bowls of water for us to wash the sand off our feet. The grackles would hop up the steps and onto the edge of the bowl, drop big seeds in there to wash them, fish them out and fly off to have their snacks. Swimming, hammocking, swimming, hammocking. At one point in the sea, I realised that I only had a few vacation days remaining. Could I really be bothered to trek all the way, on three buses to get to the western side of the country to cross into Guatemala, change some money for a couple of days, come back, re-change money, just so I could spend the last day on buses all the way back to the northern border with Mexico? Nope. I chatted to the owner, two more nights please. Bingo. No more things to think about until I had to actually stop being on vacation. I borrow a bicycle and went for a ride to see what the rest of Hopkins was like.
I headed north, and after about 20 minutes of leisurely cycling, found myself at the top end of the village. On the beach, at a bar called Driftwood. I’d been told about this place by a guy who runs a bar/restaurant in Placencia, and it was as good as he’d said. They do pizza. Really good pizza, actually. It was pretty dark and empty inside. The guy who runs the place came out from the back room. I told him there was a few dogs, including a mean-looking pitbull/mastiff mix outside the door. He thanked me, cos she’d got out of his garden, and told me the dog was a sweetie. He gave me a menu, a beer, and I went and sat outside where the bar area has an open window and a, y’know, bar with stools. Not poop. High backless seats. We had a chat. He was, I guess, early 30s, originally from the northwest of England. The three dogs outside were all his and his partner’s. It was nice, in this country with so many stray dogs, to see people adopting some of them. One of them did a weird dipping-the-head motion every ten seconds or so. Apparently he’d had distemper, and the dipping was a tic he’d developed since then. He was a cute, friendly dog, though. A few afternoon beers and I was nicely buzzy. Cycled back to my room. Did a bit of swimming, hammocking, reading, and was truly knackered. At twenty past eight.
There was a big thunderstorm during the night. The whole room lit bright by the sheet lightning. Early to bed, so up before sunrise again. Same as the morning before. Watched from the water’s edge, had a wee chat with the raking man, did a couple of drawings, and then made a coffee in the drippy drip machine, after the Germans had given me half a packet of coffee that they didn’t need when they left in the morning. Back out on the balcony, and I had a chat with my new neighbour, a British woman from Newcastle. She could talk. I’d barely said hello before I was knee deep in her life story. Not that she wasn’t pleasant, you understnad. Although she did use the word “Chinaman” once.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but sat with my flip-flopped feet in the sand outside the pizza was a problem. I was bitten to fuck by sand flies. Mean little bastards. I estimated that I had about thirty bites, but when I counted, it was over seventy. Itchy. So very very itchy. I had a walk to go to a coffee place a bit later, they had Wi-Fi, and my willpower was weak. As it happened, when I got there, there’d been a power cut throughout the village, so no Wi-Fi, but I did get a coffee that had just brewed. I asked the teenage-ish girl who served me where I could get some cream for my sand fly bites. When she saw that both of my calves were covered in bites, her eyes widened and she said, “O! M! G!”
I walked back towards the room/hammock/sea. Stopped off at a place called Iris’ for some breakfast. Other guests from my place were there. We chatted. Dutch. Nice enough people. She was allergic to loads of things so ended up eating air for breakfast or something. Back to the same old swimming/hammock ritual for the remainder of the morning, until I fancied a change, so went for a wee ride up to a bar called King Cavassa Club near the centre of the village; that is, near where the road out of town is. A few beers in the sunshine, while the bored but pretty young woman who served me flicked through TV channels.
More swimming, and I think I got to the point, after two nights in Hopkins, where I was actually relaxed. In the water, not really swimming, my feet barely touching the sea bed, though, not thinking about anything other than the waves that I’d rise up to crash into a little bit. Kept on doing this. And after I’d been out there for 15 minutes or so, I saw a pelican dive bomb into the sea, and he/she righted him/herself and gulped down a fish. This was about 15, 20 metres away. I was bouncing as the waves pushed me up, the pelican just stayed still and let the waves pass underneath. The waves, though, were pushing him/her towards me. He/she didn’t seem to care. I stayed still, kept my arms under the water, and eventually, the pelican was about two metres away. It was amazing. we were that close to each other for maybe ten seconds. Then a few flaps of the wings, and he/she was off to get more snacks.
That night, the non-relaxing crept in. I woke up several times in the night thinking that I’d missed the sunrise. I hadn’t. It was still dark every time. Another lovely sunrise, though, slightly tainted by some guy a couple of house down using a circular saw before 6am. Another incredibly lazy day. Back at King Cavassa Club for lunch (stewed chicken, rice and beans). While I was there, a Hungarian family wanted to know when the next bus was. They asked in Spanish, and the waitress didn’t speak Spanish. She tried to tell them that the last bus of the day would leave at 2pm. It was 1.55pm. They somehow managed to have a vacation here without speaking English. They didn’t understand that they needed to get their arses into gear. The bus stopped across the street, so it’s not that far. But they’d just bought coffees. I got up in there, told them the story in Spanish, and they gulped down there coffees and got to the bus on time. I feel that that should be enough to get me into heaven if this God character really exists. I got up to pay for my lunch, and saw the guy I’d first met on the back of the truck when I came into Hopkins. He smiled, and said “Hello, Craig.” He remembered my name. I had not remembered his. We had a little chat and said goodbye. As I cycled back, I was heckled by a kid, “Hey, straight hair!” He and his friends giggled like crazy.
My last night in Hopkins, early to bed, awake at 4.40am. Plenty of time to make coffee and enjoy the sunrise one last time. Hopkins is a beautiful, sleepy place. Could happily have spent another week there. But it was time to leave. On the 7am bus. It was already packed. There are only a couple of buses a day, so, y’know. The conductor was young-ish guy, baggy jeans, a basketball vest over a t-shirt, Miami Heat cap, and, awesomely, a Hannah Montana backpack. It took about an hour to get to Dangriga, the next big town, where I had to get another bus. Stood outside the station, having a smoke, this guy comes up to me and asks if I wanted to buy some DVDs. He had about ten in his hands. I didn’t recognise any of them.
Then he offered me a CD, “It’s by P. Diddy!”
He asked for a cigarette. I gave him one. “Can I have two?”
“Can you give me a dollar so I can get a burrito?”
Tired of him, I just gave him a one dollar coin. A cab driver nearby rolled his eyes and asked why I gave him money. I shrugged.
The guy came back and said, “A burrito is two dollars.”
That’s not my problem, so, “Sorry.”
He then made sure I noticed that his blue shirt was a Snoop Dogg shirt. He pointed to the logo on the chest, then turned around so I could see a cartoon dog drawing on the back. He held out his fist. I bumped it with my fist. And then he left.
The bus from Dangriga that would take me to Belize City via the capital Belmopan was not a school bus. It was a Greyhound bus. With air conditioning, and seats big enough for adults. It was luuuuuuuuuuxury. Never in my life did I imagine a Greyhound bus would feel like luxury. A very pleasant journey. I enjoyed it on the way south, and I enjoyed it again on the way north. There was a sun halo for a while, too. But I needed to piss like a race horse by the time we arrived in Belize City. Off the bus, straight to the filthy bathroom. Utterly disgusting. I had my backpack on, so there wasn’t space to stand at the trough with two people already there. Had to use a stall. There was some sort of foul-smelling casserole in the toilet. I daren’t touch the handle to get rid of it. There were casserole stains on the wall, too, that seemed to have been put there with the intention of writing something. Graffiti told me that this was “THE SEX BATHROOM.” Other graffiti described things that could indeed happen in a sex bathroom, and in a country where most people are not white, there was graffiti that demanded that N-words should leave Belize. The floor of the bathroom was wet. I was wearing flip flops. I would spend the remainder of my journey wondering what the hell hideous things my feet now had crawling on them.
The next bus I needed would take me from Belize City all the way to Chetumal, across the border in Mexico. And as luck would have it, it was right there, filling up with lots of people. I nipped ’round to the back of the bus to avoid the queuers at the front. One spare seat, right at the back, next to the pile of luggage. I dropped my backpack on top, sat down, and spent the rest of the journey wedged between a whole load of luggage and a small old man with awesome, yet quite greasy, long hair. By the time got to Corozal, the closest town to the border, there were just a handful of people left on the bus. Me, an old Mennonite couple, a mother and her two toddlers, and a couple of German backpackers. We trundled towards the border. We all got off the bus to get out passports stamped exiting Belize. Back on the bus into the queue of traffic over the bridge that separated the two countries. As the bus sat there in the queue, we all got off and walked to go through Mexican immigration. The guy there barely looked at my face, didn’t say a word, scanned my passport, and I was back in Mexico. Eight-and-a-half hours on buses, and I need a place to stay. I had no idea at all where I would spend the night before my flight back to Mexico City the next day. But the bus passed a couple of places near the bus station. First one I went to, Costa Azul, was cheap, just 19 dollars a night. And I soon saw why. Basic. No towels. Less than half a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. Horrible lighting. Plastic coated remote control. The people who worked there – seemed to be an extended family, various members of which were behind the reception desk at various times – were all really happy. To each other. Whenever I needed to ask a question, they suddenly stopped smiling and answered in a monotone, bored, manner. After all the travelling, I had no real desire to spend my one night in Chetumal doing anything other than watching telly with the air conditioning on. I’m not proud of myself, but I got a pizza from the Domino’s down the street, and settled in, watching “Hitch” and “Rush Hour 3.”
And that, aside from the scanning machines not working at Chetumal airport, and having my backpack searched by hand like a man artificially inseminating a cow, was my vacation.
The bus from Punta Gorda was, like most buses in Belize, an old U.S. school bus. It was hot as hell in there while we waited to get going. But, the journey north was only a couple of hours. I was heading to a place called Independence. When the bus pulled into the “station” (what seemed like someone’s driveway), there was a guy, as is often the case, targeting the tourist and insisting I take his taxi. Sometimes, I’ll go with it, but this time, I was in the mood for a walk. I had to get to a place where the water taxi would go across the lagoon to Placencia. I said no to taxi man, and walked. In the wrong direction, as it happens. I was walking in the exact opposite direction. Stupid, really, to think I would know where I was going in a town I’d not been to before, but I have a compass on my watch, and assumed that because Placencia is directly east of Independence, I’d be walking towards the water. Wrong. The lagoon curls around, so I should’ve not been heading south and east, but north. It was hot. I bought a bottle of water, chatted with the lady in the shop, and she told me where I needed to go. By the time I got to the water taxi place, I’d missed the 12pm water taxi.
The place was called Hokey Pokey. I bought a ticket for the next one, at 2.30pm. Two-ish hours to kill. Couldn’t really be bothered to go back out to the town and explore, so I sat there in the covered waiting area, as it started pissing it down. Which made me glad I’d missed the noon taxi: I would’ve got absolutely drenched. There were a few other people in the waiting area. A couple of them looked to be expressly ignoring the sign that said “NO LOAFERS.” The woman who was running the place looked like Proposition Joe. There was a Jackie Chan film on the ridiculously loud television. Everyone there, myself included, was entranced. The film was about diamonds or something. At the end, a hovercraft drove over one of the bad guys and all his clothes came off. Prop Joe found this hilarious and shouted, “his batty red!” Aaah, how the time flew by. Eventually, one of the loafers got up and shouted “Come on!” which was our queue to board the boat. We bombed across the lagoon, my enjoyment of the lagoon tempered slightly by having to hold onto my cap to stop it flying off. (My hair was just a mess underneath, and I was already feeling a bit self conscious after a less than satisfactory encounter with a mirror in the morning.) Twenty minutes or so later, we pulled up where water met some wooden planks supported by wooden poles, and it was time to find somewhere to stay. I’d been told of a couple of places that were reasonably priced, and headed off looking for the one that sounded best.
After a bit of a walk, I found the Sea Spray hotel, about 35 U.S. dollars a night. The Mayan receptionist was pretty and smiled a lot. Made me a little melty. The room was simple: bed, shower, toilet, unplugged fridge, fan. But it was only about about 20 metres from the sea. It was situated on the Sidewalk. The Sidewalk is technically a street because it is, apparently, in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest street in the world. It’s about four feet wide. No cars would be able to use it. And there are signs saying that cycling is against the rules, so, not very street-y. I dumped my shirt, put on a clean shirt, and headed off. Walking down the Sidewalk, I heard “Hey white boy!” from behind me. I ignored it. “Hey brother from another mother!” It was an old-ish guy with dreadlocks. We exchanged general pleasantries, then he asked if I liked Bob Marley? I told him no, sheepishly. He wished me a good afternoon, turned around and left. (Later in my trip it dawned on me, after being offered a handful more times, that he was probably going to ask if I wanted to buy marijuana.)
Time for a beer. Went to the first place that would sell me beer, an open-sided bar called Barefoot Bar. They had Wi-Fi. So, moth to flame, iPod whipped out, and I started checking things. A few emails, some Twittering, some Facebookery, and checking on baseball scores. It was kind of like when you give up smoking, and then you have a cigarette, and it’s just rubbish. Tastes crappy and you’re full of self loathing. Really, what had I missed? Nothing.
I have said it before, and I will undoubtedly say it again, but white people are funny when they are travelling. Not all white people, tends to mostly be younger folk. In my experience, Belizean people are friendly, and will say hello on the street. You get into the habit of doing it, too. Walking along the Sidewalk, I passed a white guy, mid-twenties. I said hello, he glanced at me like I’d called his mother a whore and looked away. Dude: you are not an explorer. This is a tourist town. Seeing other white tourists may be spoiling your delusional thoughts of having discovered a pure gem in the wilds of Central America, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a cunt.
After a good, solid, twelve hours sleep, I was up and at ‘em. There’s a coffee shop in Placencia now, called Above Grounds. It’s on stilts, so y’know, ho ho, funny name. Sigh. Decent coffee, though. Went there every morning during my four-day stay in Placencia, and spent my time using the Wi-Fi, and drawing. The next couple of days were pretty much all based around swimming in the sea, drinking, eating, lying down, repeat. The swimming schedule was retarded by not putting on sun block early on in my stay, and having to stay out of the sea when it was really sunny, and having to coat myself in aloe vera at all other times, but now, a few weeks later, I’ve still got a nice bit of a tan, so, swings and roundabouts. One of the benefits, though, was it meant that when it was really cloudy, I’d go swimming. One time, it rained while I was in the sea. That really is one of life’s greatest things, I think. Getting your head down as low as possible in the water and watching the water bounce Tic-Tac-shaped drops back off the surface.
I only spent two days at Sea Spray, they were fully booked for the next two nights I’d planned to stay, so found another place. A bit closer to the shops, bars, etc., a bit farther from the sea. But it had air conditioning. And I used the hell out of that. Not ordinarily a fan of air conditioning. I’ve never lived in a super hot part of the world, so my view of AC is probably different to someone who lives in, for example, Phoenix, Arizona, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to live my days like that. Cold home, cold car, cold office, only ever experiencing the real temperature in short bursts. But, I did spend the whole of my Saturday night with the AC on, lying on the bed in my pants, watching movies on the telly.
My brain was beginning to think it’d be nice to be back in a big city again. But, brain: you’re a dick. I wish I could properly relax and get rid of those thoughts. I did a decent job of suppressing them, but they still found their way through the gaps now and again. And as the holiday went on, the thoughts got fewer and farther between. And that really started properly, as I left Placencia. I waited on the road outside the hotel, jumped on the bus heading north, and an hour or so later, I was off the Placencia peninsula, heading up the highway, toward Hopkins. Which we will discuss in the next underwhelming blog entry.
Punta Gorda is a town. I’ve just sat here looking at those five words for a good ten minutes. It was going to be a longer sentence, but in the end, I just added a full stop. It is indeed a town. A fairly sleepy town. I had the express intention of doing nothing on my holiday. I wanted to do nothing but sleep, eat, drink, walk around a bit, do some drawing. And Punta Gorda was the perfect place to begin that. I purposely didn’t ask for the Wi-Fi password at the place where I was staying or elsewhere in Punta Gorda. I didn’t want to know. And that lack of access was delightful. Back here in Mexico City, because I have taken to using my iPod touch as the clock in my bedroom, the first thing I do pretty much every day, is press the button, check the time, and before I put my glasses on, before I do bathroom stuff, or have coffee, is check email, Twitter, Facebook, blah blah blah. It’s rubbish. Easily solved obviously: put my watch by the bed instead of the iPod, but when things are there, they’re more difficult to ignore. Being away from the Internet for five whole days was fantastic.
And waking up in the jungle was fantastic, too. Waking up in the jungle heat, the smell, and waking up to the wonderful coffee they serve at Hickatee Cottages; just spending the start of my day sitting on the verandah in a shirt, shorts, and flip flops, watching hummingbirds humming. Next up on my great lazy adventure: a walk along one of the jungle trails around the back of the cottages. Jungle is ace. Yes, there are tons of insects and you get sweaty and a bit uncomfortable, but I love that when I walk around, there is so much there, so much to look at, and to be aware of, that my brain stops whirring with other stuff. It’s not overly dramatic to say that there is a chance, when in the jungle, that you could die. Of course this is true about the street outside my house, your house, everywhere; but in the jungle, there are creatures that could injure or kill you. Knowing that however unlikely it is, there’s a chance that there could be a jaguar out there, is quite thrilling. I saw lizards, plenty of birds and insects, I could hear the sounds of howler monkeys. The trail, though, was kinda swampy after the rain in the night, so it wasn’t as long a walk as I’d hoped for. So it was back to the room for a shower, and then hopped on a bicycle to ride into town to find somewhere to watch the European Championships final.
I ended up at the northern end of town, at a bar called Waluco’s. This was the only time during my stay that I knew anything was going on outside of my immediate environment. I sat at the bar, had a few Belikin beers, chatted with the guys sat next to me. They were Dan and Antony. They were old school friends who still meet up for a drink now and then. One of them worked in construction, currently building a hotel further north in Placencia, the other was recovering from a stroke. He was only about my age. His right arm was pretty limp, but he was getting some movement back in his hand. He spoke about the work he did before his stroke as if he really missed it. He drove (piloted? captained?) cruise ships. We watched Spain beat Italy, I paid as little attention as my mental brain would allow to the scrolling baseball scores at the bottom of the screen. We bought each other drinks. In fact, a guy who dropped by to pick up some takeaway food was in a good mood and bought the three of us beers on his way out. An afternoon of drinking, a bit of a fuzzy head, a cycle back to the cottages, some drawing, dinner, and the realisation that when I was having breakfast in shorts and flip flops, I’d been bitten by a doctor fly.
The doctor fly, called a yellow fly elsewhere, is a vicious little fucker. Over the course of my two-week holiday, I was bitten eight times by doctor flies. Each time, the same reaction: the area around the bite starts to feel a bit tender a few hours later, then itchy, then starts puffing up like a balloon. I’d been bitten twice that first day in Punta Gorda. The bite on the top of my left foot was blowing up so big that the next morning, I couldn’t fit my shoe on. One of the other guests gave me a couple of Benadryl. I took one, and after having been asleep for nearly nine hours, felt sleepy again and spent another five hours in bed. I went out for a bike ride in the afternoon. No destination, just a ride around. Some guy asked me if we’d met early near the Catholic church. Nope. After ten minutes or so more riding, I saw him again. He introduced himself as Ivan, telling me he was sure we’d met. We hadn’t. I rode off, and later found out that Ivan is wont to do that with tourists. If I’d've stuck around chatting, he’d have tried to scam some money out of me. On the dirt road back to the cottages, there were loads of dead, crushed crabs. Apparently, they live inland and take the trip to the sea quite often. I saw a couple of them scuttling across the road on their back feet. Not walking like crabs normally walk. I’ve never seen crabs go two-legged.
Next day: nothing. Just did some drawing, some reading, a little walk, some insect bites, heat rash, a blister on my foot after not putting socks on before my walk. Same thing the next day, my last day in Punta Gorda. Spent a good chunk of the afternoon drawing on the iPad, listening to music, getting bitten by insects. It feels weird to be experiencing this after being a professional illustrator for over ten years, but those few days in Punta Gorda really made me love drawing more than I have ever done before. Specifically drawing from life, not from photos. It’s something I don’t do very often. And something I should do a lot more. The insects were getting pretty hardcore about halfway through the drawing I was doing, so I took some photographs and decided to finish up in my room, but it just wasn’t the same. The colours were, of course, different, and the jungle-y garden looked different. (The drawing I was doing, btw, is the third one from the top here.) So I covered up as much as possible, covered the rest of me in aciete de citronela, and went back out there. Half an hour later I was done. And so were the doctor flies. A couple of bites, one on the hand, another on the thin area of skin between my jeans and the hem of my t-shirt that must’ve been exposed for a few seconds.
I would be leaving the next day, so packed up my backpack (I like being organised and ready to go), and about to take a shower, stood looking through the window at a couple of awesome woodpeckers pecking wood on a tree behind my room. They had red heads. They were lovely. Kate, Ian, and I went out to have a few beers and some food at a place in town called Asha’s. It was a wooden place on stilts over the water. It was nice to spend some time with them away from the place they run, and work at seven days away. There’s a joy in having friends in places around the world. It’s great to know you can go and visit them, catch up, and that. But it’s always sad knowing you won’t see them as often as you’d like.
Next morning, I said goodbye to Kate, and Ian gave me a lift into town to get the bus to my next destination.