the first 5 Chapters

the first 5 Chapters
Once upon a time
(August 2000)
I've got my arm outside a classic 1957 matt black Chevy
pickup truck, with rusting wheel arches that have got tetanus shot
written all over them, so please be careful when leaning on.
Cruising down the well-worn freeway in New Mexico, with the
heat haze rising from the near melting tarmac, flat arid desert
scenery with no more than an odd cactus and tumble weed
blowing in the distance. My arm is going bright red, due to the
searing heat on my English skin, where the other arm keeps its
tradition by staying a pasty ill shade of white. Hot air blowing
over my face as if someone’s left the oven on mark four, with
some seventies classic rock playing in the background, Born to
be wild, Steppen Wolf no less, and a pair of wraparound
sunglasses just to finish off looking cool.
I’m flying high on top of the world feeling free and
pumped with life, with no negativity being able to penetrate the
euphoric mind blowing state that I’m in. Come on yer, can you
feel it, there’s no better feeling in life, blood filled with
excitement, eyes twitching from the second ice coffee, torso tense
and rigid like a stallion.
Rewinding the tape back to the beginning for the umpteenth time, stressing from the twenty seconds of silence, it’s a
long f-in time. Then it begins, whacking up the sound to the max,
leaving the speakers distorted and hissing, making any New
Delhi bus driver proud. This stretched tape is doing a grand job
of drowning out the noise of the knocking pistons and rust
riddled exhaust, all the while singing. “Get ya motor runnin,
riding down the freeway; I like smoke and lighting, heavy metal
Slowing down to cross a large old rusty iron bridge with
wooden sleepers going crossways making the truck vibrate
unpleasantly with its harsh suspension and lack of working
springs in the seat. Taking in the light, dark brown corroding
metal shimmering as if gold, I am marvelling at the beauty of this
1920’s engineering. Odd pot rivets are missing, no doubt, in
strategic places; it’s in need of restoration much like the truck.
Former glory is many laboursome hours from now. The bridge
crosses a gorge like in Wily Coyote cartoon. The road goes
across the bridge but the hard shoulders on each side falling off
the cliffs edge with no barrier for protection.
Stopping mid-way, jumping out for a quick look, with
light headiness from the vertigo I didn’t know I suffered from till
now. Tunes still blaring, I can just make out the squiggly line of
the river deep below, in this seemingly endless valley of
crumbling rocks.
The music track climaxing to a finish, still singing loudly
in the dreadful voice I’ve inherited. I am imagining the truck is
full of beautiful sexy women from all over the planet, Blondes,
Brunettes, Latin, African, Indian, you name it, they’re all with
oversized silicone breasts and wearing the highest quality P.V.C
man can buy, clambering over me in deep lust and love, only
wanting me for sex. Why not? I’m the coolest man in the world at
this present moment in time. And I’m my own time owner, I am
My brain is searching for the next heightened thought of
ego madness, checking myself out in the wing mirror, while the
chicks are tearing my clothes off, when something appears in the
distance. Seeing it’s something on the hard shoulder in the
opposite direction, a hairy type of wildlife is heading towards me
and a good enough size to be interested in. I start to blink and rub
my eyes while driving the steering wheel with my knees. Don’t
worry, I’m well practised at the knee operations of a vehicle with
the amount of joints that I have rolled up on the British highways,
it’s not a problem.
The bloody thing’s skating, and the women are
disappearing one by one, damn it! “Hey, no, NO come back I’m
still the dude, what’s ya problem.” No more than twenty metres
away, I see it’s one of those Afghan hounds on pink rollerblades
absolutely flying, with each of its legs alternatively, gliding
gracefully as if on ice at a number of knots, he’s not hanging
around. Hang on this can’t be right, one it’s not the seventies and
two dogs don’t skate.
Looking in sheer amazement and disbelief at this Afghan
hound with his tongue hanging out panting hard, also wearing
wraparound sunglasses like me, he takes a good look at me and
gives me a big smile and he’s gone. It’s one of those split
moments that seem to last forever. This dude’s even got on a pair
of pink Lycra shorts, the sexy beast; reckon they must make him
go faster. Not really being able to take this all in. Yeah, gimp
suits and transvestites is often a night out for me, but an Afghan
hound rollerblading, fucking brill definitely the next mind warp I
was hoping for. Hang on, shit, he’s on the hard shoulder! Let’s
just stop there for a moment, before I carry on, can we call the
Afghan hound, Elmo? Cool thanks.
If Elmo the Afghan doesn't get onto the road he’s gonna
fall into the gorge a mile back, bollocks. I instantly start
panicking, stressed, freaking out, any human or animal in pink
Lycra shorts is worth saving, in my opinion. Well except those
dodgy middle aged moustache wearers from Switzerland, or
wherever they’re bred, you know the type; the wife is often
wearing a matching pair. Some of them have bicycles, while
others just like the feeling. Well I’m with them there, just not in
public. Okay, at least not without a push bike, sometimes you
might catch me in a city centre in full Lycra, lazing in the
afternoon sun with the bike as a decoy. Sneaky hey?
Banging the brakes on as hard as possible, these bloody
brakes on this Chevy are so spongy; having to grit my teeth,
pulling the steering wheel towards my stomach, so I can finally
achieve that hernia I’d always wanted, to come to a halt.
Now having to do a seven-point turn, due to no power
steering, bloody thing it’s not going my way. I’ve got to save
Elmo, my life depends on it. Incidentally don’t Afghan’s remind
you of Jonathan Ross? Reckon it must be a hair thing, probably
best for him not to buy one, because they say the dog looks like
the owner or the other way around.
Cranking it through the gears, first, second then hitting third
at a shaky forty mile an hour in hope of catching him. This poor
old girl has never been revved so high but we’re talking life and
death here.
Elmo’s now in sight, I start making leeway on him. Stress
to the max, I can't see my eyes but reckon they’re bloodshot by
now. Grabbing that steering wheel like it’s the neck of the
Christmas turkey being slaughtered for the table, getting my head
out of the window screaming.
“Dude stop, stop! Fucking Stop will ya! Christ you’ll go
over the edge.” But he can’t hear me and I’m not too sure he can
understand being a dog and all, now seeing the pink Chinese
made plastic rollerblades glistening in the sun as he flicks the
blades beneath him onto the shiny tarmac, Poetry in motion,
although I wish he wasn’t so fit, come on Elmo please stop for a
breather will ya?
But it's all too little too late like many things in my life,
the bridge is too close and no more than three lengths of my truck
away from this damn crazy dog. Me still screaming and I am
screaming, he disappears into the gorge spread-eagled with his
ears and the side of his cheeks flapping in the wind so you can
see his teeth clenched together, with saliva everywhere and his
pink roller blades disappearing, he plummets into the oblivion of
no return.
“NOOOOOOO Elmoooooooo!”
Suddenly awakening up bolt right with my hands full of
shingle, grasping these little pebbles so tightly you could hear
them screech next to each other, like munching on some
polystyrene, it wasn’t a turkey neck or steering wheel after all. I
find myself on a local beach in the south of England. (Hayling
Island) with no one in sight and the tide out into the distance, on
a pleasant clear blue day, shaking my head side to side in the
hope of reaching normality and familiarity of my surrounding.
Thinking to myself, damn that was bloody crazy, what was that
all about? Telling the boys down the pub after a couple of pints
of sipping is going to be fun.
Seeping back into other intense thoughts, feeling so
insignificant and helpless due to girlfriend problems, with my
hands to my chin and elbows to my knees, when from nowhere
comes a caterpillar. Yeah one of the big yellow metal things that
moves piles of earth in road constructions. Out of the sky it
comes, landing only two inches away from me. Impacting the
ground, like a landmine going off in a Hollywood movie. Raising
off the ground, three or four inches and being pelted by shingle. I
mean these things must weigh five tonnes and to my knowledge
they don’t fly, so surprised I was. Dusting myself off, not giving
it a logical thought, I go ape shit, sending me right over the edge,
trying to come to terms with the loss of my girlfriend and Elmo.
Now this, it’s all too much.
The guy in the driving seat wearing a blue boiler suit with
ketchup stains from his daily bacon and egg sandwich with a
thick white beard and pot belly is looking in a bewildered manner
at the roof of his cab, while being screamed at by me with
uncontrollable rage.
”What the hell do ya think you’re doing! Are you trying to
fucking kill me?” This old boy finally appears out of the
caterpillar in a cloud of bluey grey diesel smoke bellowing from
the exhaust. I start circling with my fists tense and ready to beat
the crap out of him. The poor guy starts looking at me with this
terrible worried look about him. Eyebrows pointing down and
hands up in a submissive way, as if to say sorry it’s not my fault,
I didn't want to land two inches away from you please don't hurt
Bollocks, this guilt comes over me like a tonne of bricks,
crushing me into a thousand pieces. What am I doing here? I
don't fight, this isn't me at all. Putting my hands over my face,
falling to my knees I instantly feel terrible for the driver. How
could I be so cruel with such vicious spite? With this deep
sinking feeling in my gut, I start to spiral downwards faster and
faster through the earth’s crust into deep dense darkness. This is
when I finally wake up, jaw locked in bed at my parent’s house,
slightly shaking with a sweat patch on the sheet running the
length of my back.
Thinking to myself for the second time, God what was
that all about? That was a double whammer, a dream within a
dream. Maybe I’m still living in one now? Well that’s true for
many, with ideologies or peers ruling how their life should be,
and that’s a lot crazier than what I’ve just written for sure.
It isn’t until the afternoon that I realise it must be those
beta-blockers the doctors have given me for my panic attacks and
killer anxiety. This is the second or third time these have given
me some surreal dreams, that, I must admit I do love.
The beta-blockers are taking my imagination to places I
didn't think possible. If I remember, I’ll tell another one later, I
have to say these mind warps even outshine my dear friend LSD.
Though the intense anxiety I am suffering from at the present
moment, being too scared to leave my parents’ house and hoping
life would end shortly. I can really do without.
Anxiety is like scratching fingernails down a blackboard,
clenching your jaw so tight your teeth will shatter, having your
stomach in knots even cramping, clenching my toes in a ball,
while all being held together with so much adrenalin you could
fuel the Israeli army. I would love to fall asleep and not wake,
God what have I done to deserve this; it’s not fair I’m a good
I want to dig my fingers into the plaster wall and let my
finger nails rip out, I want to get run over by a car and be in a lot
of pain or take loads of LSD so I’ll never be the same again,
anything but this. Life is not worth living, I can’t cope with it
anymore. Someone has put a poison in my bloodstream.
I bid you welcome to my life.
(Jan 1985)
Ok let’s start at about around ten, well that’s about the
time I could spell my name properly Howard Brewer, forget
Leverett I was at least fourteen before I got my head around that
I used to sneak to the back of the class at the beginning of
each and every lesson, so I could take a look at my school box
that had my name tag on, which the teacher had written in big
black bold marker pen letters, cellotaped thoroughly for that
laminated effect to protect it from our young grubby hands.
Though far too often, by the time I’d got back to my seat I would
have forgotten the letter arrangement, to be then staring at the
blank page which shared similar blankness of the English
language that I’d grasped. Off I’d go again pretending to have
forgotten my pencil case trying to be light on me feet, not to be
noticed with hunched shoulders and an invisible cloak.
“Howard what have you forgotten this time, hurry up,
you’re holding the class up.” Being snapped at or barked in my
ear. You see Howard was fine, it was Brewer that killed me,
Berwer, Brewre or Berwre, it was quite a talent of mine, every
way but the right way and even if it was right I wouldn’t be too
sure. I remember one day getting stuck on the word ‘how’ I kept
putting down, who, who for twenty minutes of stress and
frustration, then it comes to me How-ard Eureka!
I didn’t think or remember it being odd that I couldn’t spell
my name, more just being amazed that the others could. Keeping
up with the teachers writing on the blackboard did present
problems though. In a lot of lessons I’d be sat next to James
Treadwell one of the smartest kids in our year, each time I’d have
a butchers at his page he’d have done it at the same pace as the
teacher, in near perfect handwriting the bastard. He could look at
a whole line on the blackboard, remember it, and write it without
looking up once, leaving me marvelled at his talent. Me on the
other hand, would have to look at every word and in that word
every letter, with a maximum of remembering three letters in a
row, to say the least it was a much slower process. But I must
admit with all this frustration I never felt thick or stupid even
though this is how I came across in class.
Some of the teachers would get quite uptight, with me
constantly asking for the same word to be spelt. Miss Evans the
evil witch would particularly freak out at me for not having a
clue. One afternoon I asked her to spell Iron Maiden four times in
a row.
“No, no, no, go back to your seat Howard you need to learn
by yourself.” Pointing her scrawny arthritic index finger at my
desk and not even looking up. Bitch.
I had to write about my interests and this at the time was
good old Heavy Metal, though the first record I bought was
Wham, Make it big, that was more from my sister’s influence of
fancying George Michael and getting me to part with my four
pound forty nine. But thank God after this short blip of insanity it
was AC/DC, Motor Head, Led and some Van Halen from then
on, well at least until I discovered my main man BB king and my
love for Classical music, that’s what it’s all about really.
Mr Cowdery an elderly gentleman in his early seventies,
unfortunately didn’t take retirement, black is black, public
school, cricket kind of guy, always banging on about the war. He
was never out of khaki trousers and shirt, often wearing one of
those jackets with no arms but loads of pockets over it, like in
some desert storm raid over North Africa, not forgetting his halfmoon glasses. That man just loved to hate me; I could boil his
blood in an instant, getting me to stand up in front of the class
asking me to do something or other from a text book that was
way above my league. I don’t know why he did it, he knew what
was in store and it wasn’t good for either of our mental states. It
used to really piss him off I was so stupid.
“Ok, ok sit back down Howard.” Looking over his glasses
in an irritated manner, shaking his old wrinkled head: “One day
you’ll learn, let one of the others takeover, ha James please could
It didn’t help that one sunny afternoon in a P.E lesson,
playing football, the ball came to me and I kicked it as hard as
humanely possible for a ten year old, well this ball went flying
high up in the deep dark blue summer sky. Then gravity took its
role in life and the ball came down smack centre on the face of
one unsuspecting Mr Cowdery, breaking his glasses in half and
leaving him with a nosebleed, unfortunately for me not killing
him. Lucky he didn’t have his bayonet handy or he would have
skewed me, but instead, the next worse thing to a death sentence,
having to endure the next few days of torture in front of the class.
Being handed a piece of porous chalk, that’s sucking up the sweat
off my fingers to write on the blackboard something I most
certainly couldn’t spell. With him standing only a metre away,
staring at me intensely with his little bandage over the bridge of
his nose. I’d only get to scrape the third, almost unrecognisable
letter of the word down before being shouted at that it’s wrong,
with the chalk crumbling in my fingers from the amount of
pressure I was applying to it.
Even though the football was a complete accident, looking
at it now what a bloody good shot it was, at the shrivelled up old
rat. Still bless him, but someone must have had him as a
granddad the poor sod.
But overall I think I got away with it quite lightly, more to
do with fact that they just didn’t care. A teacher’s job is hard
enough as it is, let alone dealing with a kid who is struggling
behind, and the more you struggle the further behind you fall.
The best marks I achieved would be a -D and that would be on a
good day, putting as much effort in as possible, thinking I’d done
well this time, to only be handed back the next day a piece of
paper covered in red ink.
Could you imagine me in some well to do public school at
fifteen grand a year, talking about wasting money down the drain.
The money would be better spent on liposuction on the wife’s
hips, than getting me to spell basic English. To date, one of the
most frustrating words for me to learn has to be tommrow,
tomrrow, tomrow or whatever the hell it is, I’ll die trying. Bloody
predictive text on mobiles, can I get it?
The many dictionaries I’ve been given over the years were
of no use either. Slowly filling up my empty bookshelf, staring at
me each night with the hallway light glimmering on them,
making me feel inferior, they just may have been written in
French for all I cared. Red, green and dark blue, well of course I
remember the colour of the book cover that’s as far as I got. I
guess people were only trying to help, but what a crap birthday
present for any kid, let alone one who can’t read. So you see, if
you can’t read the word, where do you start looking for it and if
you’ve got an idea, all the words look too similar to know which
one is the right one, best to just give up, and play football in the
back garden with my neighbour.
Not much changed in secondary school, the teachers would
just put me in the lowest classes to be forgotten about, along with
the other kids who struggled. Some like me with more than mild
dyslexia, some just stupid and others who couldn’t be bothered to
learn, in my year of around three hundred pupils, I’d say I would
have ranked in the top three in the lack of understanding our great
ancient script.
During year eleven, being our final year at sixteen, in one
of our classes called Life Skills, you and a friend would be sent
off to a junior or infant school in the local area to help out for the
afternoon. To then be sat down with a group of ten year olds
helping them read and spell. It didn’t take long for me to realise
that they would get stuck on the same words which I didn’t get
either and these kids were six years younger than me.
It was the reading out aloud in class that I’m sure helped
me towards my mental state in years to come. Dropping my head,
no eye contact with the teacher, in a deep penetrating thought,
trying to enter the mind of the teacher to miss me out, wanting to
feel invisible and then.
“Ah Howard would you please read pages 34 to 35
please.” I’d think why me! Fuck ya know I can’t do it. Is this
some kind of sick joke you’re playing? I’d look directly into their
eyes for sympathy wanting them to feel my anguish but it was too
late, Goliath had been reborn and wanted his revenge on David.
Standing up from my seat, I felt smaller than sitting down,
the trembling within had started the moment my name was called
out, mind gone blank making my reading skills a whole lot worse
than they already were. Hot flushes sweeping uncontrollably
through my body with sweat seeping from my pores, book
slightly shaking, with a labyrinth of words in front of me. Every
sixth or seventh word I’d get stuck, with everyone’s eyes burning
holes in my back. The teacher would ask me to try and say the
word but I never would, umming and arring would just make me
look more stupid than I already felt. Eventually she’d have
enough of her fun and games. Well thanks for the entertainment
Miss and next time give me a miss, I can’t handle loss of water
through sweating and the dehydration, God I need a drink of
water. I bet she’s into S and M at home the bitch, beating up her
husband for fun and making him wear a gimp suit.
“Ha, you know what, Harold I think I’m going to fuck up
little Howard tomorrow and make him spell his name in front of
the class, he’s a cute boy just not much upstairs.” While she’s got
poor old Harold’s head down the toilet making him lick the pan
clean, in her high boots and French maid outfit, whipping him,
while sipping on a Bombay Gin and tonic in the other hand.
Do you have any idea how many hours of the day, turning
into years of sitting in classrooms with it all going over my head,
I could hear what was going on but couldn’t put it on paper, I
used to have a sleep in R.E (Religious Education) classes, I’d
look forward to them.
At the grand age of sixteen, wise summers behind me
barely able to read basic English and write the simplest of words
with zero understandings of grammar, I achieved a few U’s and
F’s for grades and was more than ready to take on the world to
never return back to school again and who can blame me. Being
treated like an idiot for the last eleven years in the education
system wasn’t much fun. I remember teachers saying these are
the best years of your life, I’m thinking God they better not be,
and luckily they’re not, life is amazing. And the teachers saying
this bollocks should get into another profession.
It’s quite crazy to think that ten years later, aged twenty
five, I would be asked to go back to my secondary school for a
careers day they had for the kids about to leave school.
“Yeah Mr Brown I’ll do that with pleasure.” And enjoyed
it, I did, telling them what’s out there and what countries they
could work in, surfing, rock climbing, mixed in with a few tales
of travel and horror.
Come lunchtime, I went down the pub sucking up a few
beers and got stoned; I was pretty damn high by the time I got
back. Yeah, yeah I know it’s not cool, but trying to influence
these kids with my brain all messed up was fun and that’s what I
was doing back then. You should have heard me going on I
couldn’t hardly keep still, like a chicken trying to lay an egg,
that’s what my mum would say. I just remember thinking
Howard, Howard please don’t swear or talk about drugs, going
over and over in my mind, anyhow I’m giving it some, while
peaking nicely and losing my trail of thought on and off from this
weed I scored off the building site earlier in the week.
Thinking to myself where can I go for another sneaky
joint to keep me interested in the confusion surrounding me? The
more I don’t understand and the more surreal the experience the
better. Being confused is what I’d be seeking on a daily basis in
my twenties. Normality is boring, though I didn’t realise that
confusion becomes a natural occurrence when we get older.
With the RAF and the Police two tables along in the
sports hall, well presented and professional attitude handing out
laminated leaflets, talking serious career opportunities, banging
on how good the pension schemes are, and how much they need
bright young boys and girls to join. They didn’t appreciate this
long haired laughing hippy mumbling his words, banging on
about the wonderful snowboarding in the Rockies. I said hello,
giving them a general nod in their direction when I saw their eyes
waltz pass me on several occasions, but only got ignored. So I
babbled out a laugh while passing their table of glittering plastics
and shrugged my shoulders. Looking back at it, my eyes were
probably blood shot and clothes stained with the unmistakable
sweet smell of marijuana, can’t blame them really.
The police I think they do a great job, I wasn’t so fond of
them back in the day, when constantly in the possession of hash
stuffed in my pocket, or driving around in a car with no tax and
MOT. I thought they were against me, that’s probably a common
misconception held by many stoned paranoid idiots. These days,
being the law abiding citizen that I am, I have the utmost respect
for the boys in blue.
Often I’m stopping them in the streets of London giving
them my opinion, putting the world to rights and telling them at
what corner drugs are being sold in Camden (far too often). One
time in High Barnet a community officer knocked on my door,
saying good evening, we are doing a door-to-door research on
what the police in the local area could improve on. Me, armed
with a bottle of red wine sat down on the garden wall and didn’t
let the poor guy go for nearly an hour. It wasn't until the other
officer had been door-to-door all the way down his side of the
street and back up to me, that he politely told me he had to go and
that I should join in the local community talks they have once a
month in the local schools. Hey if Boris Johnson made it to
London Mayor then there's room for me yet.
I can’t stand drug dealers, yeah I know I sound like a
reformed drug user, but that’s because I am. Alright! I’m happy
to have made it out the other side. Not being held under the false
pretences of happiness you’re hoping to reach, from the pill
you’ve just gulped down, making you dance like a dancer, feeling
the music like never before, rushing your tits off, kissing and
hugging your mate and his girlfriend, sucking up a pack of
cigarettes bringing you to the next platform of euphoria, then
another pill, then another, ya got to keep it going. You don’t have
one on ya, for me do ya. Damn it be fine, real fine let’s have one
together, now, yeah right now.
It’s just that the problem lies in the need of a personal
ambulance outside, waiting for the crippling panic attack that
might occur any moment. I don’t know who’s unleashing those
fuckin Hyenas, but they’re chasing me around the nightclub
snapping at my heels, heart pounding through my ribcage, having
to rush to the toilet, sucking up water from some shitty cracked
sink clogged up with hair and soap, trying to come around before
those boys start ripping chunks out of my limbs, with their
vicious snarling teeth.
Drug dealers wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t wear those
stupid all in one shiny tracksuits, sometimes with Donald Duck
or another cartoon character on them, yeah that makes you look
real gangster. Life would be so much more pleasurable if these
twits had some class about them.
“Excuse me sir, would you like some weed, coke or what
about an E, they’re very nice this time of year.”
“Well no thank you, not today.”
“Oh, no problem, have a nice evening.” Well it would be
better. I see them all the time no more than fifty metres away
from the police at different tube stations pestering the public,
wanting to sell drugs and that’s no exaggeration. Don’t worry sir
we’ve got undercover cops in the area and we’re fully aware of
the problem. So what are they doing, sitting in a coffee shop
talking about the amount of dykes in the force and not being able
to get laid?
I could go to certain areas of London and arrest twenty a
night, blindfolded. Lock them up I tell you, rehabilitate the lot of
them by sending them to northern Russia for some hard labour
digging coal or working on the road of Bones. Ok, ok the flight
would be too expensive and all that thing of the carbon footprint.
Hull will do just fine. Hey if ya do fancy some good crack
though, Peckham high street isn’t a bad place to start looking,
just up from the fire station and before you get to the new library.
Maybe these drug dealers are all dyslexic and it’s the best job
they could come up with. I bet it’s true in the majority of these
cases, I mean what do you do after school if reading and writing
is a difficult task for you, become a builder like me or a mechanic
or some other labour intensive job, well it could be worse.
Looking back at my dyslexia it does amuse me, it’s made
me who I am today and I wouldn’t have ended up in the places I
have been without it, trying to get to some town in Guatemala
that I couldn’t pronounce or in a country I could not even spell,
often ending up where I wasn’t intending. Though it does make
me feel jealous when meeting people along the way who are a lot
more academic than myself. Knowing what’s going on,
particularly in the region I am visiting, the historical background
or its religion to more of a degree, that you hear on the news or
what it says in your travel guide. My reading skills today are not
so bad but I still can’t read what I like. About five years ago I
gave ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ a try and didn’t get past the second
page, then just recently I’ve picked it up again for another bash
and it pushed me right to my limit, in fact it was just too hard,
that’s a bit of a shitter because I know it’s a great book, this can
be very annoying for me at the grand age of thirty five.
The times I’ve got myself a book to read, on a long bus or
train journey anywhere from six hours to forty hours, I’d want to
be entertained one way or another, “do her? wouldn’t do her?”
game quickly runs out of steam after half an hour, so to find out
my reading material is too hard for me to understand can be
rather frustrating. Some bright spark would see the cover and say.
“Oh you’re reading that, it’s a great book hey, I really
enjoyed it”. I’d just shrug my shoulders and tell them I hope
they’ll make a movie out of it. Then and always then, yer you lot.
“Oh it’s never as good as the book is it, they always miss
so much out.” Nodding your heads up and down in agreement.
Mmm wouldn’t have a clue. Still I can use the pages as toilet
paper; it’s got me out of a few tricky moments, that’s providing
it’s not that shiny paper, that’s never a good scenario.
The closest I get to really enjoying a good book is listening
to Radio Four, or one of these audio books in the car wrestling
through the traffic of the M25. Just listening to their voices taking
on the characters, that’s what I’d like to do, to feel what I’m
reading not struggling through it, not feeling exhausted after
twenty minutes. Knocking up concrete for twice the amount of
time takes less energy out of me. I think dyslexia must be
hereditary because both my brothers have struggled through their
course work in college but they’re nowhere as good as me at it, I
win the race, in fact I’m brilliant at it, well it’s good that I’ve
exceled in something.
A lot of people jump on the bandwagon and make an
excuse when they’re just lazy. I once had some silly ass women
at a party in the early hours of the morning going on at me.
“Don’t let it hold you back, that’s just an excuse, my son’s
dyslexic and he’s in college getting a degree in history, he just
had to work a little harder.” Yer right lady I know my boundaries,
good for him I still get my B’s and D’s the wrong way round.
Any time I’ve had conversations like this, it’s been from
someone who doesn’t have dyslexia and one of their children had
it but they’re better now. They always talk to me like they know
better and it really pisses me off, anyone who I’ve met who is
dyslexic and not mildly, that’s if you can be, we have a right
laugh about it. You know some people just are not as
academically clever as others, big deal.
“Oh well little Jonnie you’re not stupid you’re just
dyslexic.” and maybe he is but he just could be an idiot, ha. In the
UK you’re not allowed to be stupid, there must be a reason, it’s
not PC. Look, someone’s got to work at KFC or Homebase, what
am I going to do on the way home from the pub fancying a bite
of heart stopping chicken, or Sunday afternoon in need of a bag
of plaster for Monday morning. I like stupid people they’re great.
Bodybuilding, 1987-92
No wonder why I took up weightlifting at such a young
age, that and playing the guitar hour after hour was all I had. My
life would start the moment I would leave school at three fifteen
each afternoon. Arnold Schwarzenegger being the hero of the
day, yer you know but I was young. Twelve years old and
pumping iron with my brother’s dumbbells in the garage with a
Flex magazine gently resting on the chest freezer. Come thirteen
and on the protein wagon of milk and eggs, now convinced of
becoming a pro bodybuilder and training as much as possible. By
the time I was fifteen I was the strongest kid in my school
including the teachers, well it got me known, Howard the
bodybuilder with the physique of man. I loved it, having these
bulging muscles as a nipper, it got me lots of respect in the gym
and I didn’t have to say a word to anyone.
Sitting at the back of class, arms crossed with these biceps
protruding out of the school shirt I was quickly growing out of, it
somehow balanced out my poor performance in the classroom.
Well ok, no it didn’t, but it made me feel better about myself and
I needed that to compensate for my lack of understanding
schoolwork. I didn’t realise this until I started to write all this
down. Also weightlifting helped me not worry about my future
after schooling, convinced that this was going to be my career.
The dedication of my training was next to none, nothing
would get in its way. The moment that school bell went. I’d rush
home, down a bunch of tablets and a protein shake then cycle
twelve miles one way to the City gym, that was a right grizzly
sweat box, a shithole full of Pompey hooligans and bouncers, you
could only imagine the clientele, but it was vibrant and exciting
for a teenager who didn’t know any better. Fortunately I found a
gym just up the road from my parents, after cycling backward
and forwards for almost two years at twenty four miles a day, six
days a week.
It’s quite easy to get addicted especially when you see
changes in your body. Lifting the weights, feeling the muscle fill
up with blood seeing the veins protrude and making your skin
tight, the bigger your muscles become, the better the sensation is,
it can make you feel like you’re floating on air. After training
shoulders and chest, my skin would feel so stretched that I
couldn’t lift my arms past shoulder height from the cling film
tightness, to this day I have some thick stretch marks under my
arms pits where my muscles would grow faster than my skin
would allow. Sometimes on a good day you would even feel the
muscle ripping, that’s what happens when you lift weights and
overdo it. The fibres in your muscles actually rip and when they
repair, the scared tissue makes the muscle larger in size. And
what helps the muscle repair is protein, well amino acids, the
breakdown of protein. That’s the theory behind it. Though if you
train the same muscle group day in and out, then you don’t give it
time to repair the scaring, so you won’t end up with the desired
muscle mass, but you will become stronger and your muscles will
become rigid like a tendon.
It would be chest and triceps on Monday, benching an
easy three hundred pounds for the climax. Tuesday, was legs you
either love or hate; I’d be looking forward to squatting four
hundred pounds of low grade steel, up and down in sheer agony
thinking I owned the world. Wednesday off, well sometimes if I
could handle being away from the gym. Thursday back and
biceps and Friday shoulders, calves and stomach. Then the best
thing of all, you can do it all again, brilliant.
The moment you stepped in that gym nothing else
mattered, just full love for oneself, I don’t think it’s a bad thing in
the right way, though bodybuilders in general are self-indulgent
twats. It’s great to love yourself, believe me, though from twenty
six to thirty one, I couldn’t be further away from the truth of the
chasing hyena hell.
Bodybuilding has got to be one of the most egotistical
sports going, lifting big heavy weights and looking in the mirror
at every opportunity, what a load of manifested macho bollocks.
God I used to love it, but when I look at grown men doing it now,
it makes me cringe, thinking how sad. I’m happy I got it out of
my system at a young age.
Eating egg whites by the dozen, milk by the gallon, tins of
tuna that I’d hate, and a load more healthy tasteless food,
cramming as much down my throat as humanly possible,
munching on vitamins and amino acid tablets all in the hope of
getting bigger. I have a friend who is currently a pro bodybuilder
who just hates food. He’s either force-feeding or starving himself
before a show. I’ve seen him get boiled chicken breasts, add
water, then liquidised them so he can drink the chicken, he says
it’s easier than having to chew them. Nice one Eddie. And the
mood swings he’d go through, well you can imagine a twenty
stone man not eating for a week due to a contest.
The things you have to go through as a professional
bodybuilder are quite horrific. A lot of them have their own
doctors to tell them what dosage of steroids and Growth
Hormones to take, or which diuretic to get ripped before a
competition. Getting cut or ripped is the dangerous part, in which
these guys each year will lose their lives to. And it’s not a nice
way to go, from starving your body from water, salts and
minerals just so you can see the striations and veins more vividly
on stage, bollocks to that. A lot of them, in fact all of them will
go through muscle cramps while on stage and be in agony, due to
the lack or salts in which they have depleted themselves with the
There are no regulations or set of laws on the amount of
steroids one can take. I’ve met people in the past who have been
on some type of steroid for the last three years solid. Often
making them more aggressive, so if you’re wondering why
you’re stuck outside some crap nightclub, not being able to get in
for no apparent reason in the early hours of the morning with
some doorman being a complete dick, that is a widespread virus
throughout the country. If you look closely enough you can
sometimes catch one of them eating a bowl of pasta and low fat
meat of some variety, behind the door cramming it down his
throat, Yeah man, keep loading up on those carbs and protein,
you’ll be huge dude.
The five hundred milligrams of testosterone rushing
through their body instead of the three milligrams that the rest of
us have, seem to make quite the difference. It’s so blatantly
obvious the guys on the gear, you can see it a mile off, their skin
would not look good often covered in spots, or their muscles
would look bloated with water retention. People used to think
that your willy would shrink, but that’s not true, though your
balls will shrivel up into raisins due to not being used, because
that’s where testosterone is produced and they’re not needed
when “roided to the eye balls”. Well that’s what I was told; I
can’t say I ever experienced the shrinking of my manhood.
I remember convincing Mum and Dad not to take us on a
two week holiday to Spain once; just the one week would be
enough without pumping iron thank you. The ‘Works’ in
Waterlooville is where I moved on to after finding out it was only
two and a half miles away, and what a place it was. The things
that would go on in there, I’m not going to say because most of
people there are still friends today. But it was a good eye opener,
to what goes down in a small town, the feuds and fights, of who’s
sleeping with who, there’s no way I’m going to hang around
here, in this suburban madness for too long.
Come sixteen I knew that if I was to succeed in my mission,
I needed to take truckloads of steroids to become a monster like
the guys in the magazines. And these were the boys I aspired to,
even the girls were massive. I just love women bodybuilders, it
must be the abnormality about it, these days they’re just
outrageous they’re so big with overgrown jaws and facial hair;
they’re on so much male hormone. Without a doubt, some of
them would be as strong as the boys in the scrum of the All
Blacks. Fancy that do you, a little slap and tickle and before you
know it, you’ve got your girlfriend’s hand around your neck with
your feet two inches off the ground being shaken like a kitten,
bring it on baby.
In some of the magazines I was buying, there would be
blatant advertising for steroids, so it wasn’t the hardest thing to
get hold of, though I’m told you have to watch out because
there’s a lot of counterfeit gear on the scene. This concerned me a
little, though the risk was worth taking at that time.
With some of the money I’d saved from working with dad
on the weekends, I put the cash in a brown paper envelope and
sent it up north to a Nottingham address. Each morning, up at six,
I’d be waiting for the first post (thing of the past) in great
anticipation while everyone in the household was still fast asleep.
The excitement I was in, waiting for the steroids to arrive
so I could put on loads of muscle would make me fidgety
throughout the day. Though I was quite chunky without the gear,
but however big you are, it’s never going to be big enough. I’ve
got a photo in my bedroom of me at fourteen and look a damn
sight bigger than I am now. My primary goal at the time was to
be the most muscular man on earth, so I wouldn’t be able to fit
into any clothes other than those stupid elasticated tracksuit pants
and to be able to walk into rooms and stop people in their tracks
looking in horror or amazement. Being four times stronger than
the average man and getting respect for it. Oi, I don’t have a
mental illness yet but this doesn’t sound too healthy does it? It
makes me cringe when I’m in the gym nowadays and see the
skinny guys looking up to the big overgrown babies. My dad
always told me that the biggest muscle you’ve got is between
your ears, now I don’t know if he was joking but damn he was
Finally Tuesday morning overloaded with anticipation and
excitement, they arrived and to my memory it was two vials of
Decca 250mg, syringes, needles and a pack of Pronable 50 mg
tablets all for around the grand sum of sixty pounds.
Ok here we go, everyone still fast asleep, I’m not a
morning person but this particular day I was wide-awake. Good
start, off up to the bathroom with my toes hardly touching the
stairs due to the adrenaline pumping. Undoing the package that’s
full of bubble wrap, a little nervous by now I get the syringe and
this big big fucking needle, looking far too big for what I needed
it for. I had only seen a needle this big used on cattle and horses.
Just maybe, I’ve bought this lot off a vet doing a side-line
What was I going to do? I had no choice; I didn’t know
any heroin addicts at the time, or my good friend Dave Gordon
who now runs the needle exchange in Southampton.
With the drugs laid out on the lino floor, I reach for the
Decca piercing the needle through the silver foil on top of the
vial, then just like in the movies, slowly drawing up the syringe
and flicking the end of the needle to get rid of the air bubbles.
That’s the last thing you need to do, but I’m sure it’s more
dangerous to the average heroin user because they inject straight
into the vein and it can be lethal having air in your bloodstream.
Now I know it has to go in the top of my glutes (bottom)
because there are not many nerve endings there, so the steroid
hand guide tells me, in the broken English I’m reading it in. But
what a great book, you could buy it off the shelf, luckily for me
there were pictures of what the packages and vials should look
like, easing the stress of them not being counterfeit. I was
checking this out while sitting on a fluffy budgerigar yellow toilet
seat cover that incidentally you don’t see around anymore, I think
they’re quite useful, taking the cold edge off your bum when
naked. Light blue the colour of your Nan’s hair rinse and pink
were the most popular colours in the range. With my eyes
looking at the bathroom door latch every twenty seconds making
sure it’s locked, like checking you have your passport on you just
before you go on holiday.
“Hi mum, well I don’t know if my GCSE’s will come of
any use, but don’t worry this little medical kit of mine will put it
all right. Can you use the toilet downstairs the mirror isn’t very
big there, cheers”.
So I drop my pants, get on my tip toes so I can see my ass
in the mirror over the sink and get ready to inject for fame and
fortune. As I press this bloody big needle in, it just won’t go, so
harder and harder I push it, it just keeps making an indentation on
my skin like using your mum’s blunt sewing needle and pushing
it through some thick leather. It hurts like hell. After a good ten
minutes of sweating and shaking on my tip toes and not helping
that everything is back to front in the mirror. I stop to wipe my
face with a towel hanging on the radiator, breathing through my
nostrils to calm down sitting on the edge of the bath thinking I
can’t do this, but I’ll give it one more go.
Grasping that syringe, placing the horse needle once again
on the patch of skin I’ve just cleaned with pure alcohol, I press
steadily and hard to finally hear a crunch similar to a bite out of
an apple. When I look, the needle is, to my horror, in by about an
inch. I know from the description in the book that it needs to be
two to two and a half inches in. So I give it another little push and
to my surprise I see this thick piece of metal slide into my gluteus
maximus without too much more effort. I can hear it pushing
through the muscle tissue. This all happens very swiftly once it
has broken the layer of skin. I impulsively grab the top of the
syringe and inject far too quickly. Mistake! The thick liquid ends
up hurting me as it goes in too rapidly, bruising the muscle tissue
in the surrounding area. I can feel it disperse, turning my
As soon as the deed was done, I wished I hadn’t, feeling
the world falling down on me, staring in the mirror at myself
nodding my head side to side. God what have I done? Am I
going to be ok? Is it going to kill me? Should I go to the
doctor’s? Cleaning up the evidence, with my heart racing, not
wanting anyone to know what I’ve just done, I leave the
bathroom that morning stumbling around the house, knocking
into walls not thinking straight. I go outside in the back garden
trying to cool down from the hot flushes that I’m suffering from
at this particular moment, wearing only my boxers and socks that
are soaking up the cold October morning dew. I get the other vial
of Decca and throw it straight in the bin along with the spare
needle and syringe. Fuck it! Ain’t going to do that again. It’ll be
tablets or nothing from now on.
By the time I got to school my ass was killing me, not
helping having to sit on those hard plastic seats. After hobbling
around, one school block to another in agony that day, half
relieved to still to be alive, from this morning’s saga. I didn’t
even make it to the gym that afternoon; the thought of cycling
was a definite no, no.
Come the next morning, waking up to a proud-as-can-be
erection, yeah cool well that’s normal for any sixteen years old,
but this thing didn’t go down. The whole of the day passed
without letting up, sitting there in class trying to think of the least
sexual thoughts possible, didn’t make a blind bit of difference.
Six harden days this went on, as you could imagine it was quite
worrying and with no one I could tell. It was just there throbbing
in my pants, even with an imaginative mind of a randy teenager
wanting to shag everything in sight, it soon became boring, but
would it go down with boredom alone, no chance. I just strapped
it up in my belt and got on with it. Though having a piss did have
its challenges, I resolved to pissing in the shower and lets not talk
about having a number two, if ya didn’t watch out you’d have an
eye full. I was starting to think this bodybuilding game might not
be for me.
Not long after this episode I left school to become a road
sweeper. A dream come true, but I did need to earn money to get
me to Venice beach (muscle beach), California. Fifty eight
pounds a week getting paid fortnightly not including any work
dad had to offer. I told my parents what I was saving for, but I
don’t think they believed me and I only got silly remarks at my
idea, that’s a mistake on their part. I mean what else would one
do in life than save and go to California. Though at sixteen I
couldn’t be told what to do, I had such a powerful mind-set, a one
track mind that I kept going until my mid-twenties. Whatever I
got into was the best thing in the world and I was going to do it
forever and ever, like weightlifting, travelling or drugs, now let
me teach you something (never say never or ever) there’s too
much to do out there to be stuck doing one thing all your life.
After sweeping the roads at HMS Mercury, a naval base,
for the last five months I’d saved four hundred and sixty pounds
for the flight and six hundred and thirty pounds in my pocket.
Without hesitation I was in Lunn Poly (travel agents) in
Waterlooville booking a ticket the hell out of there, most of you
have no idea where Waterlooville is, please don’t go. It’s about
as inspiring as a Little Chief or Wendy’s menu in the eighties.
June the sixth was the departure date. So come that night over
dinner asking mum and dad what they’re doing on the sixth of
June, well mum says.
“Why, where you going to take me, on my birthday.”
Happy I managed to remember, so well in advance.
“Oh yer right, but guess what, I’m going to California
that day, any chance of a lift to the airport.” Crushing her
moment of thinking she had done a rather good job in bringing up
her son. The rest of dinner they didn’t say too much, in fact that
evening in front of the T.V not too much conversation was to be
had. I don’t think it was the best birthday surprise my mum had,
that her sixteen year old son was off to the States alone. But all
will be cool I’m not the average teen by a long way.
Hitting Venice, yes feeling a little nervous but it didn’t
take long to find my feet at a friendly backpacker’s hostel. People
would come and go from all over the world travelling, transient I
believe the word to be, up and down the coast or on their way to
Vegas. I felt quite at ease in my new surroundings, training in the
morning and early evening, chilling on the beach, sucking up
kilos of spaghetti and being well looked after by the owners, an
English couple from somewhere up north. Who couldn’t quite get
their head around my age and having to show them my passport
to prove it. It became Toni’s favourite pastime, someone new
would arrive and without fail, Tony would say.
“See tut lad there, I Howard get up let them have a good
look at ya, have a guess how old tut lad is.” Pretending to be
embarrassed and sheepish I’d take a deep breath of air, stick my
chest out to the maximum expansion of my ribcage while
flattening the shoulders, in the hope of a disbelieving remark. Just
to add wood to the fire helping the flames of my ego burn higher
than they already are.
Pumping iron in the world renowned Gold’s Gym the
size of two supermarkets, I was starting to become less convinced
about the bodybuilding world. Most of the guys had their head
shoved well and truly up their ass and I’m surprised if they ever
saw the light of day. The arrogance of these guys thinking they
were so wonderful. All they do is lift heavy weights above their
head and slap baby oil over themselves, it’s not the most diverse
lifestyle known to mankind. The amount of steroids needed to
become like one of these twats was all quite off-putting. Being a
realist and looking at my body, I had the beginnings of a huge
pair of legs that any cannibal would salivate over, but my calves
wouldn’t grow, they say you’re either born with them or without
them and they’re the hardest muscle group to grow as the fibres
being so dense. I’d train them four days a week and they didn’t
respond, I was starting to look like a seagull about to topple over.
Diving in for another attempt of giving some tablet
steroids a go, though quite reluctantly knowing this wasn’t really
me. Nonetheless I’d started to take a little more than the
recommended dose of six tablets a day instead of four. After just
one week at the high dose I get pain in my right-hand side around
my liver area, with my skin now having the yellow tinge of a
corn-fed chicken. Having read the best I could from the steroid
handbook stating that you can get jaundice from the toxins in the
steroids, it turns out it can be very dangerous. It’s meant to be
safer to inject the steroid than to be taken orally, because
apparently injecting goes straight into the bloodstream, whereas
with the oral form they have to be digested first before entering
the blood making it more toxic. And there’s no way I’m prepared
to inject myself once a week to achieve my dream, but that’s the
reality of a bodybuilder’s life, it’s not the greatest prospect for
one’s career.
It was a Friday night I remember it well, just crying the
whole night in my bunk bed in the dormitory thinking my life has
come to an end. I continually went back and forth to the
bathroom looking at the now yellow eyes. I just wanted to get
better and stop having these sharp pains shooting up and down
my body. It didn’t help knowing that some of my grandparents
died from liver disorders. A few of the guys came in and checked
on me, hiding away for the whole evening being out of character
blatantly not being my jumpy happy self. For the first time in my
life I felt despair and loneliness, feeling so insignificant, not quite
believing how stupid I had been. I’d been training for the last five
years without a break and just about loved every moment of it up
until now, but from that one night my life had changed. I no
longer wanted to be a walking freak of nature, it just wasn’t
worth it and the health risks I was putting myself through. I’d got
to 207 lb. and strong as an ox but this road had ended, me and
steroids don’t work, it’s time to find something else.
Grizzly and the farm, 1992
Well thank the lord, letting him be my Shepherd and
pointing me in the next logical step of a fully reasonable
teenager, still suffering with the occasional outburst of spots and
the urge to watch crap T.V. You see the only other thing that lit
my fire as much as bodybuilding was the legend himself, Grizzly
Adams and faithful pet bear Gentle Ben. Maybe I can have a pet
bear too and live in Alaska. Well why not hey? I used to love
watching that programme so much, wide eyed in full
concentration, every time it came on Saturday mornings. Leaving
me emotionally exhausted, dazed, bewildered, humble and free
from the expectations of college, career or whatever our peers
ladle us down with, one moment the spoon is full of warm
vegetable soup to keep out the winter cold, the next moment
turning into mercury, heavy and poisonous, suffocating our
The Littlest Hobo too, he was a dog who used to go
around saving people, like Lassie but a lot cooler. At the
beginning of the program the intro music really struck home and
little did I know I was about to live my life through these lyrics
by Terry Bush back in 1979 and may I say I still am today,
eighteen mischievous years later.
There's a voice that keeps on calling me.
Down the road is where I'll always be
Every stop I make, I'll make a new friend
Can't stay for long, just turn around and I'm gone again
Maybe tomorrow, I'll want settle down
until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on
Down this road, that never seems to end
where new adventure, lies just around the bend
So if you want to join me for a while
Just grab your hat, come travel light - that's hobo style
Maybe tomorrow, I'll want settle down
Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home
Until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on
Maybe tomorrow, I'll find what I call home
Until tomorrow, you know I'm free to roam.
Corny I hear you say, but not to me these well placed
words have been lodged deep under my callous skin like the
thorn of a beautiful rose. I think it was the freedom that these two
characters had. One living in the wilderness and the other going
from one town to the next, free from the clutches of normality, it
all seemed quite appealing. I’d walk around my grandparent’s
farm, taking the dogs for a walk across the fields thinking of
Alaska and being free from society.
And how lucky I was to be privileged, growing up on a
two hundred and fifty acre dairy farm as a child, Dunsbury Hill
Farm was the name just two miles from my parent’s home.
Bringing in the cows for milking early in the morning, with the
mist just hovering over the wet dew grass. Uncle Michael puffing
on a cigarette with me and my brother Phil stuck knee high in the
thick mud, like having two large black sucking leaches for
wellington boots, not being able to move one way or tuther, often
with a semi trotting herd of Friesians heading towards us. Though
if you were in full motion uncle Michael would be shouting at
you to stop the herd from shooting off down the lane where the
grass grows long and rather irresistible to a cow, though rather
terrifying for an eleven year old. Frantically waving our arms
trying the best to coo them in a low voice of a barely testicledropped child.
“Woooooo, coooommme on thennnnnn!” After surviving
this ordeal, it’d be up to the farmhouse for a good morning drink
of milk, still warm from udders with the odd bit of straw floating
in the white porcelain jug. If you let it stand for a while it would
become a dark thick yellow at the top were the cream was so rich,
we’d bottle it up in jam jars and I’d have it with my cornflakes
for breakfast, I probably should of had a heart attack at the age of
nine. Most of our cows were Jerseys and Friesians, we even had
some Angus that I always called teddy bears, and would be
pulling the arms off my mum on a Sunday evening before tea,
rain or shine half dragging her down the lane for a glimpse. It’s
just a thought, but maybe that’s where I got my fascination for
bears, those Angus did look very kissable from a distance in fact
almost irresistible. Where is the line drawn from loving a cuddly
toy to the real thing?
Hay bailing with my uncle at the end of summer, sitting
on the tractor hour, after hour. Smelling the fresh bailed hay
being churned out, then going back to the farmhouse for a thick
slice of Batten berg cake and a cup of tea. We would have to
watch out for my nan, cos if she had anything to do with the tea,
it’d be as sweet as syrup, even sweeter than the cake itself. With
the television in the background up so loud, us shouting at each
other and granddad changing from one news channel to the next.
What I never understood was, what didn’t he get the first time.
I’d be waiting in great anticipation for Bonanza or the O’
Sitting down at lunchtime was always entertaining,
granddad munching on a tongue sandwich, horse radish to go,
tomato half bitten into, then add salt and vinegar. Two Alsatians
refusing to be ignored, poking me with their noses so not to be
forgotten. But how could they go hungry with Nan’s pastry thick
as a mattress and stale bread carpeting the table, along with
spring onions, fresh or pickled, and every order of vegetables
from the garden. Then came the feast of rock cakes, which nan’s
recipe took rather literally, followed by the festival of snoring
performed by one or the other of my grandparents - sometimes
simultaneously if you’re unlucky. Glastonbury could do with
these two as a sub-woofer, banging out the bass.
Rummaging through the larder, crammed with homemade
jams from the fruits of Nan’s garden, one time I came across a jar
at the back of the shelf with a rusty flaking lid, sepia label,
reading Strawberry jam 1963. I unscrew the lid removing the
cooking paper and disintegrated elastic band to reveal a very
potent furry jam, harsh to the nasal that would put any city centre
smelly begging pain-in-the ass alcoholic to his knees.
One Sunday morning, as a nipper I find myself at the end
of an old bit of nylon twine they use for hay bailing. Half of the
buses and trucks in India would be held together by this string,
substituting large bolts missing from the engine and chassis,
anyhow this twine had been tied around the front legs of a dead
calf, with me pulling as hard as possible trying not to look at the
expression of the poor old girl we were pulling it out of.
The smell of the fresh cut grasses is unforgettable but my
favourite is cow dung, I just love it, nice and fresh, that deep dark
but sweet taste in the back of your throat. Inhaling deeply to
achieve the full flavour, I become quite the connoisseur. Cow
dung deodorant for men would be the go. The ladies in India love
it too, they’re always carrying it around, proud as can be; they
dry it out and cook with it.
When driving through the countryside of the South
Downs these days and getting a whiff of some fresh dung, I
revert back to the memories of my childhood flowing back.
Cooking on the Ray-burn; the dead rabbit or pheasant hanging on
the front door, that would scare the living daylights out of you
when you didn’t know they were there. You’d push the door open
in the dark of a winter’s evening to find yourself grabbing a
pheasant’s neck, still warm. Screaming while the rats would
scurry around in the yard behind, I’d be wiping my hands on me
trousers to get rid of the feeling of death off my palms, scurrying
inside to huddle in front of the fire as soon as possible.
I’ve never been fond of dead animals, since the age of six
running down to the yard and straight into the spine of a dead
cow, flying right over her doing half a somersault on her soft
stomach and landing just by Daisy’s head staring into her eyes
with her tongue hanging out, covered in blood and white froth.
From what I saw as a young kid and teenager, my
grandparents had a hard life but a good one: never any money for
luxuries, but their lifestyle was golden. My Granddad a thick set
man always wearing a trilby hat, collarless shirt and polished
shoes, wasn’t the best business man, always buying junk from
Hayward’s Heath market, like boxes of odd buttons, shoes that
didn’t match or gallons of paint that was of no use. I saw five
twenty-litre pots of gold glittering paint; I think he got it for my,
Dad being a builder and all. Granddad (Frank Knight) carried on
working, doing what he loved best, all the way up to this death at
the age of eighty. Then the farm closed down, I was seventeen, it
was a very sad time in our family, the end of an unforgettable era.
Grandmother Gladys was the backbone of the farm, hard
as nails, wearing some kind of tea cosy on top of her blue rinsed
hair. With a new rinse from my mother every other Thursday
afternoon before dinner, enough cardigans for three people and
that would be in the midst of summer Gladys did much of the
work around the farm. You didn’t get much love from her
though, other than. “Don’t get up to any mischief!” or “that’s just
cupboard love, that is.” They’d be the nicest pleasantries you
would receive from her harsh tongue. Though Gladys was a good
person at heart, she’d love ringing the life out of a chicken’s neck
or killing something. If one of her dogs or cats wasn’t looking too
good that was the end of them, I’d come back next week and ask
where Jill or Lassie were.
“Oh she had to be put down, didn’t want her to suffer, now
drink up your tea ... asking all these questions.” She looked pretty
good to me last week you don’t want to sneeze around my nan if
you’re an animal, because vets didn’t seem a priority on our
farm. Gladys would have been in her element with this avian flu.
Would have killed the lot, my dad can be the same, one time he
went on holiday for a week or two, so thought better kill off the
‘’What ya do that for, next door’s would have looked
after them.”
“Yer but they’re getting a bit old”
“Why weren’t they laying?”
“Yes they were fine but getting old, it’s only time before
they slow down.” I think my nan put the ruthlessness in him,
though she did soften after her husband passed away. Gladys
Knight left the farm then. She died last year, just shy of a
hundred years old bless her.
A parents’ friend by the name of Nicolas Witingham came
around one evening when I was 12 to give a slideshow of Nepal
and Guatemala that made a huge impression on me. Blown away
at his photography, I was lost in a world of magical
bewilderment. He was the one who planted the seed in my brain
at that early age, not knowing that it was going to turn into a wild
uncontrollable, tropical forest.
I remember at school we had to go one by one to see some
careers teacher they had brought in specially, to help us along our
way to becoming responsible adults, and choosing a career path
that would be exciting and challenging. So there we are together
sitting here in this little office with this well dressed middle aged
lady with her notepad.
”Ah so Howard Brewer is it? What would you like to do,
when you’re older?” Studying my mock exam’s, which I didn’t
manage to get any better that an F grade. Like you really want to
know now, after the last eleven years of being in this school
system, which has been a complete and utter waste of my time.
Two months from now, I’ve got to find my way in this wicked,
wonderful, world, almost illiterate, what and now you care? Of
course this is what I should have said, but instead managed to
shrug my shoulders and say.
“I don’t really know.” Making me look like the next stupid
teenager, I wasn’t going to say a pro bodybuilder; I’m not going
to make myself look a total half-wit. So when she pushed for an
answer once again I boldly said.
”I’m going to travel the world.”
“Oh, what a good idea.” She said condescendingly, though
being happy she could write something on her notepad of great
“What do you think of the Navy or Army?” Yer right I’m
just coming to the end of a long term sentence. She starts
badgering on, telling me about seeing the world with the forces
and how much her son has enjoyed himself, after she gives up on
this idea seeing she’s not getting any response, she’s got it
tapping on the note pad the clever little so and so.
“A travel agent, that’s what you can do a travel agent.”
God that sounds like a life of entertainment, when is this going to
end. Idiot.
“Mum and Dad, guess what I’m doing!” and well, they
did make some attempts to get me to college after my Muscle
Beach expedition, but I ended up getting a job at IBM as a store
man, saving every penny I could to get me to where I needed to
be: Alaska.
I think it took me about eight months to save up enough
for the flight to San Diego, leaving me with £970, not much for
the 16,000 miles I was just about to hitchhike with the experience
of seventeen summers and winters behind me.
The art of Hitching
Hitch hiking out of the big cities such as San Diego, L.A
or San Francisco wasn’t easy, first you’d have to catch a local
bus into some unknown suburb, to find you’re the only Caucasian
around, having some black dudes or Hispanics slowing down in
their blackened out car’s to check you out, while standing there
on the junction to the freeway, it was intimidating to say the least.
They say ignorance is bliss and on these occasions not a true
word said. Looking tough as possible with my tent and sleeping
bag strapped to the outside of my backpack there I stood
sometimes hours on end. I mustn’t have thought of the danger I
put myself in because I wouldn’t do it now. I mean I’d be a little
worried, who would pick me up, but all I ever had was good
experiences along the way, even if a few of the lifts were from
the misfits of society and being a misfit in the USA is something
My hitchhiking days are no more, but sometimes I’ll pick
the odd person up here and there on the English roadside, telling
them tales of a real hitcher. Not so long ago I picked up this old
boy just off the A3, on my way to Elaine’s (my then girlfriend) in
London and this guy had me in stitches. Bob was his name and
the next twenty miles we had together were very memorable. He
had on two pairs of overalls and a baggy pair of trousers so he
didn’t get his new overalls dirty, cos he’d just bought them from
a second hand shop in Leigh Park. (A large council estate). He’s
turning over the material to show me what good quality it is.
“100% cotton you know.” Spraying me in saliva from
his excitement.
“Well you don’t often see that in the shops these days do
you Bob” I say, massaging him the best way I know how.
”No, no you don’t.” Smiling back at me with his
scratched pair of glasses that must have be half an inch thick, set
in a black plastic frame, sitting there with his old steel toe cap
boots with the leather worn through to reveal scratched shiny
metal that had been polished the same colour, a well placed cap
of a pigeon racer, to only show off his grey greasy side burns, a
succulent little bit of dribble on the side of his mouth while he’s
talking, and to finish off with a hit and miss shave this morning
with tufts everywhere, come to think about it, his bloody nose
hair keeps staring right at me two foot away, long enough to pick
up radio. Hey the signal did become cleaner when he jumped in, I
could almost understand what Wogan’s going on about. I fancy
getting him in a head lock and having a good tug on them nasal
bristles. As I say, my knee driving skills aren’t too bad from back
in the days of rolling joint after joint crusin’ down the motorway
in the slow lane.
”So Bob where we going.” I say in a cheerful manner.
“Oh just to Hindhead I’ve got some work there today.”
All enthusiastic.
“Cool what ya doing.”
“Well ya know that fast food van on the other side of the
Devils Punch Bowl, well it’s my mates.”
“Yer I know the one course.”
”Well he gives me a fiver if I clean up the place you
know, pick up the plastic cups and make the place tidy and that.
And a bacon sandwich, yer a nice bacon sandwich, fried egg too.
Bill can make a good one and as much tea as I want.”
“Damn Bob, what as much splosh as ya want hey,
sounds good to me how often you come here then.”
“Once a week, or whenever I get the call.”
This dude is hitching nearly thirty miles, that’s one way,
each week for a fiver; he has to walk twenty minutes to the road
where he can start catching a lift. He says that his wife is at work
so he does what he can to bring some extra cash in, well hats off
to the man.
When he finds out I’m a builder he gets over excited
fidgeting in the car seat like he’s got ants in his pants, telling me,
just give me a call I’ll be right up, don’t worry about where I can
stay, I’ll find a park or something. Bob finally pulls out an A4
piece of paper that he’d been fidgeting for, from the many layers
of clothing he’s wearing, to read. BOB THE STRIPPER in big
letters at a slant on top of the paper then underneath Bob the wall
paper stripper, in smaller letters with his mobile number at the
bottom of the page what had been crossed out and re-written
because he got it wrong the first time and all in very bad hand
“So what ya think funny hey? I thought of it myself ya
know. Bob the stripper (like I didn’t get it.) Ya got to make them
laugh; I’ve got fifty of them printed out at the local post office.
2p each they were, and it took me all afternoon, I hand them out
when people pull over for a cup of tea or sandwich, I’ve not got
any calls yet but it be only time when they start coming in. You
know I’ve got one of those steamers yer, corrr the real thing,
Black and Decker yer from the catalogue.” Well I had to agree
what a marvellous idea with us both nodding in level agreement.
Now as much as I’m enjoying the conversation this is
when Bob tells me he’s thinking of giving it all up, he’s seen an
ad in the local Portsmouth Newspaper for male escorts .Will this
day get any better I mean come on, someone up there is tickling
my fancy.
”Yer really I’ve been thinking of doing it myself I reckon
it’d be good fun Bob.” I’d better give him some reassurance and
extract out what I can in the short time span we have left, so he’s
already phoned up this company and found out what he needs to
know but it will cost him eighty pounds to join, which he’s a little
concerned about, it’s a lot of money, well at the rate he’s earning
it is.
I said. ”You’ll have to get dressed up in a suit and look
good for the ladies you’re going to take out, you know. “
“Oh I’ve already sorted that out, there’s a lovely suit in
Oxfam. For five pounds and it’s not one of those cheap ones its
real wool you know, yer I can slick my hair back, have a shave
and polish up my boots.”
”I reckon the girls will go for it.” I mean he is so
endearing I wanted to take him home with me, lock him up in the
shed and bring him out on special occasions.
”So Bob what about the hanky panky (slapping my thigh)
if the girls want some action.” He looked at me horrified.
“No, no, no, none of that, I’ve got a good wife indoors
we’ve been together for thirty four years, I’ll be just taking them
out for a good chat and I’ll make them laugh that’s what they
want, I’ll be good at that, make them laugh.” Well I did my
utmost, humanly possible to persuade Bob and his genius idea.
“All the best mate, take care and if I see you needing a
lift again you can be assured I’ll stop. Hey maybe we can do a
mother daughter thing together.” Giving him a wink as he closes
the door.
(July 1992)
A couple of weeks go by when I finally get just north of
Seattle to the picturesque college town of Bellingham to catch the
ferry through the inside passage (South East Alaska) on the way
to central Alaska. It’s an amazing ferry ride and I can see why it’s
so popular with the large cruises.
The islands through the passage are a continual supply of
sheer stunning scenery, of what this world has got to offer, with
the fragrance of the sweet pine, infused with the fresh sea waters,
naturally energised me with life. You just want to build a cabin
and live there forever, it’s so idyllic. The superb wildlife, eagles
circling above, Orca’s arching in the distance and Porpoises
constantly following the bow of the ferry. The blueness of the sea
so intense with only green pine trees thick and dense breaking the
serial fairy-tale landscape. It was a lot to take in for a young man,
rushing with endorphins, walking around the deck listening to my
headset, Ry Cooder and Ray Charles were the favourites of the
month. I got myself a good Sony Walkman just before leaving, it
played long play, so with a one hundred and twenty minute tape
you’d get two forty out of it, and you didn’t have to switch the
tape over at the end, yeah this babe, was double action or auto
reverse being technical.
Lap after lap of strutting and shoulder swagging, felt good,
real good. All the hours of being stuck in that store room saving
the pennies to reach my destiny was worth it, a thousand times
over. And lifting pieces of metal above my head ten times while
chewing on a protein bar, seemed worlds apart, my life had just
On the second night on-board a storm kicked in hard and
solid, if you’re on a budget like myself, you were camping in the
open, on top deck. Well this was quite the monster becoming
stronger and more gruelling throughout the night, rattling away
hour after hour of relentless pounding. Much in the need of a
piss, I resided to my water bottle, not wanting to go outside to be
blown off deck. Still wide awake, say around three’ish, the poles
had worn through the fabric due to the steel flooring and friction.
The pole slaps me in the face from the tension similar to that of
my cold rigid body. With the tent flapping away like a loose sail,
with the poles rubbing over my face. Well you would have
thought that just maybe you’d get out of the tent and go inside
out of the harsh elements. No not me, it didn’t even cross my
mind. With no ground mat and a juicy sleeping bag, sucking up
the rain like a sponge, comfort didn’t seem a priority. Finally
arising out of the flattened soggy plastic mess just past sunrise in
a dopy haze of sleeplessness, emptying out the water bottle over
the side, I find out I’m the only camper there. All the tent’s that
had littered around me had been packed up and moved inside
sprawled out on the couches. Feeling a little foolish and
exhausted, someone mentioned that the winds had got up to one
hundred and twenty miles an hour last night.
Lessons need to be learnt at a much quicker rate, than my
naive organic wet carcass, if I’m to survive the hardness of the
great north.
First stop Ketchikan, being one of the wettest places on
earth, raining three hundred days of the year that didn’t fill my
heart with joy, due to all the contents of the backpack still damp
from the storm. I walk out of town two miles north to find a
logger’s road that switched back and forth up the side of the
beginnings of a mountain, coming across a nice patch of thick
carpeted brown fallen pines, amidst the trees to comfort my
aching kidneys from the previous night’s accommodation will be
this evening’s home.
Clearing a small area from pinecones and grabbing
clumps of pines to scatter where the earth is revealed, due to no
grass growing from the acidity of the pine and lack of
photosynthesis I carefully place my tent and get the camp stove
and butane bottle prepared for boiling up some water to cook my
two minute Ramen noodles, being the staple diet for the
foreseeable future. At twenty six cents a packet, with beef,
chicken, vegetable or shrimp up for offer, I’d always have two
packets, sometimes mixing the flavour sachet‛ together, dunking
in unbuttered bread soaking up the watery soup.
Thick porridge made with dried milk and spoonfuls of
sugar, sloshed down with a cup of instant bitter coffee, would be
breakfast. Leaving only lunch in which I’d become accustomed
to, the all-time American great, the peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches and a tin of tuna if feeling wealthy enough.
The other travellers who’d got the ferry that afternoon
all headed to the hostels and campsites available, there wasn’t
many to choose from due to the town being no more than five
thousand inhabitants and the idea of spending fifteen dollars a
night was out of the question, that was much more than I
intended for budget of the day.
The nights alone were of no problem, with a fully
occupied mind, in this new obsession for adventure and survival.
Being the beginning of a long and passionate affair, two-timing
any women who came in my path without remorse, sorry girls,
but the land, hill sides, lakes and weird bastards win, and still do
eighteen years later, well not really, I just can’t find someone to
put up with me.
Sucking up the last noodle, I popped into my newly
gaffer taped tent and moist sleeping bag, smiling in contentment.
Come the following morning well rested and up at the crack of
dawn. I decide to go for what I came here for, so off to the tourist
centre for some information on day hikes. Deer Mountain seemed
to be a popular destination, with a three thousand foot accent of
switchbacks, zigzagging its way up the side of a misty mountain.
With knee popping torture and deep muscular thigh burn until the
body would become accustomed to the vigorous exercise you’re
subjecting it to. Climbing high swiftly with the steep incline
glimpsing a view through the dense woodland along the way, I’d
not come across another soul in the last two hours of heart
banging hiking.
Clouds fall upon us like the sky had just collapsed,
covering my face in a haze of thick cold vapour with the sweat
running down my back making me shiver. You could even see a
spray of droplets barely holding onto my fleece. I don’t know if
you know about weather fronts in Alaska but they can change
rapidly, in all fairness I’d been informed about this, but you don’t
know until you know. From one moment basking in the sun, to
the other wiping drizzle from your eyebrows and the temperature
dropping ten degrees in an instant. Determined to carry on with
the relentless switch backs to the top in limited sight, similar to
that of well passed dusk and concentrating on the strategic
placement of my muddy boots on the narrow pathway.
When, out from nowhere in front of me is a large
concentrated mass of fur of a Black Bear. All three hundred and
fifty pounds, grazing happily on some blue berries. FUCK OFF!
Taking in a gasp of air that seemed to go on for an eternity, I’m
amazed I didn’t inhale all the clouds straight out of the sky. And
yer I’m pissing myself right at this very moment, ejaculating
urine, not controlling my bladder whatsoever. Clouds are swirling
and dancing around us, one moment I can see the beast fifteen
meters away then he disappears to only hear Fred munching on
the flora of sweet berries. Now the one thing you shouldn’t do is
run, because their natural instincts is to chase thinking you’re a
funny looking pair of chicken legs, and you don’t want that do
you? Because you’ve got no chance, they can run the same speed
as a race horse over short distances, climb trees better than the
average man and a bloody good swimmer too, that leaves you
with no chance of a good chance and a bad chance of any chance.
Apparently you’re meant to wave your arms up and down
trying to create yourself larger than you really are while shouting.
“HEY BEAR HEY BEAR!” Fuck that, I can’t even see him now;
I’m not calling him over for a free meal. Though over the years
of being back and forth to Alaska, meeting with the furry boys on
a regular basis, what you will. I have used this method, but not on
this particular occasion and never this close up, spooking them is
a no no. Anyhow bollocks to it, four large steps backwards whilst
he’s out of view, pirouetting on one foot that Torville and Dean
would of been proud of, I make a run for it and run I do,
galloping through thick cloud, barely seeing the path, adrenalin
pumping, waiting any moment for some sharp claws to sink into
the back of my torso, tearing my spine to out.
Fifteen minutes at full pelt in clumsy boots, surprisingly
not falling to my death off some cliff edge from the visibility,
something catches the corner of my eye. Without hesitation I dive
head first into some bushes, getting scratched to pieces on the
way through, when realising it was a deer grazing on some grass
in the mist. Slowly pulling myself out bleeding with thorns
embedded into my palms there was no time to tend to them at the
moment, I carry on scurrying down the mountainside back to
town. Well that’s that then, no pet bear for me.
When it comes to these momentous decisions in life, it’s
amazing how your body will react without asking it. I had no
choice in the matter; my body was flying through that bush
before I knew I did. A nervous reaction, springing into action and
it’s just down to luck that you don’t injure yourself where you
land. How many people have car crashes and have no idea at the
moment of impact, they often pull themselves to the opposite
direction from the oncoming vehicle that’s one thing, but seeing
where you might land is another.
I’ve encountered many bears, over the last two decades,
I’m happy as can be, sitting there watching them in bewilderment
of their freedom in total respect. Though one thoughtless
occasion I got out of the car to have a closer look at this beast a
hundred metres off the road side. Whilst walking over, another
black bear comes from behind and traps me from the car. You see
my favourite little trick is to get out the car, leave the door wide
open with the engine running, so if anything happens you have
time to do a runner into the car, slam the door shut and put the
metal to the floor. But here I am stuck in between two black bears
and the car, but I was cool. They have a very easy temperament,
I’d say similar to a placid Rottweiler can be, until you come
across a pissed off one. I just stayed in the same spot, made sure
they knew I was there and all was fine with tightened ass cheeks.
It wouldn’t be so bad but the bear spray was in the car.
Now bear spray is an awesome invention, similar to tear
gas that the police use, but six times stronger in potency and
sprays out over thirty feet. It’s the size of a large aerosol can and
very helpful when needing a wee at night for security. Testing it
once when at a loose end in some campsite, spraying the air and
walking into the cloud of brown falling toxins, what a mistake
that was. Instantly eyes burning to a blinding degree, throat
burning on fire the moment you inhale, with chest tightening up,
not being able to breath, straight to my hands and knees, disabled
for a good twenty minutes, in sheer misery. Some people say that
the spray just pisses them off even more. I don’t believe them, I
reckon it would take out most wild creatures, but who knows a
Kodiak bear, the biggest of the lot, or a salmon sucking grizzly,
maybe it’s just giving them a taster before dinner. If that being
the case, then the last thing I’ll be doing is spraying myself so he
might spit me out.
The info given to you if it comes down to an attack is that
you put your hands around the back of your neck, curl into a ball
and play dead. Well doesn’t that sound like a bunch of fun;
apparently they’ve got a taste for testicals, how true this is I’m
not sure, but give them a spray any way. But most of the time
they snap your neck, have a couple of munches and walk off.
If you want to know the difference from them all, then it
kind of goes like this, a black bear weighs in at 200lb to 400lb
and eats berries and small furry creatures such as ground
squirrels, but are known to be unpredictable, aggressive and are
good climbers. Then you’ve got the brown bears, who live inland
also living off ground squirrels, berries and stuff alike, similar
weight to the blacks but with the obvious colouring difference.
Then you got the big boys who are brown bears, known as
grizzlies with a large hump between their shoulder blades and
these guys are bigger than their cousins, in fact gigantic, due to
the amount of salmon they suck up, ploughing through up to
thirty kilos of fish a day.
The more skilled bears kill the fish, squeeze on their
belly lapping up the caviar eggs and discard the rest. The amount
of protein in their tummies is the reason of their outrageous
growth of well over one thousand pounds, in fact sometimes up
to one thousand six hundred and over ten feet tall standing on
their hind legs, and with polar reaching over twelve feet,
munching on all those seals. These dudes would slap anything in
African Lions and Hyenas would run a mile, but I have seen a
documentary on TV where a crocodile grabbed a four hundred
pound wilder-beast and swung it side to side. But I tell ya now,
the Tiger in Kathmandu zoo is massive, he’s got be to well over
five feet tall and that’s on all fours, one thousand pounds of pure
killing machine. I can see you all now disagreeing with me, and
no Brian Strudwick ya can’t start adding in sharks, how can they
have a proper fight? Well I’ll see you down the pub and we’ll
have a pint of the black stuff over it.
Just one last thing while I’m on the subject, if this
inspires you to go to Alaska then take heed, there’s a standard
procedure in the art of camping in the wilderness, that you often
get taught after your first bear encounter. So let’s get to it, when
camping you always make a triangle effect and by this, I mean
you cook and eat in one area, cleaning up all the food debris such
as dirty pots laced with beef stroganoff, then when the cooking
area is all sparkly clean, pack up your food in a sealed container
or at the very least a plastic bag to reduce the smell of the highly
tempting food to a minimum. Walk fifty meters away from the
cooking area, preferably in the direction of a tree, so being able to
tie out of reach from the wild life. The next step in being the
erection of your tent, another fifty meters away from both areas
creating the triangle effect and this doesn’t mean taking chocolate
bars and cheese puff’s to bed, their sense of smell is that of a
blood hound. So in theory, if the bear comes a walkin’ through
and remember this is his neighbourhood, he should only visit the
food storage and cooking areas for an easy meal.
Knowing from first-hand experience, with a bear
munching on some left over spaghetti bolognaise, that I didn’t
manage to clear up or bother with the triangular procedure,
because of getting drunk and thinking all will be fine with the
armoured alcoholic cloak of steel on. But when reality hits,
wakening from a noisy rummaging of a hefty animal outside,
feeling dehydrated and needing the loo, the steel cloak seemed to
have diminished its powers, turning the thin piece of nylon fabric
of my North Face tent, into quite a horrific experience. Live,
learn and teach...
Several months go by, with my life radically changing.
Denali National Park won’t be forgotten in a hurry, being lost
two days in the purest of wastelands, (the same place the guy
died in the true story ‘Into the wild’, that happened to be the same
year I was there.) The feeling of being lost in the true sense is a
desperate experience of dismay and hopelessness, maybe as
much fun as death row. Just to say if you want to know what
anxiety sufferers go through, it feels like this, it’s like getting
lost, having done something terribly wrong, panicking, not
knowing which way to turn and wandering if you’ll ever be
found again. I had five long years of this excitement in later
The problem was going out hiking with little knowledge
of map reading and general survival skills in a nature reserve
twice the size of Britain, still thinking I’m on par with Rambo
and other action movie stars alike. Ray Mears wasn’t to be found
for another fifteen years yet, and I’ve got a feeling the fat bastard
would have been of little use other than licking up the last of the
peanut butter. Look I attended cubs and scouts, but granny knots
weren’t much use or making pancakes out of flour and water with
chunks of ash for flavour.
This bloody snow storm comes in and we’re talking
mid-August here, now hiking for only a day and a half and more
than ten miles from the roadside of the park, due to having a great
understanding that in the other direction there’s eight hundred
miles of nonstop wilderness with no roads, no towns and no
nothing. So orienteering one’s self back to the park side road is
the only option.
The snowflakes were large in size, falling quickly from
their density, carpeting the floor in an instant, not leaving me
much choice in the matter of where to situate the tent, thinking it
will only last for a short spell. I erected the tent in the open as
quickly as possible, with my body temperature dropping from the
chill of the low pressure above and dampness of my ever
increasing clothing. I’m in the need of curling inside my sleeping
bag and hibernating for a short while. Early evening arose with
the flurry still continuing, leaving me shivering in the sleeping
bag, placing my damp trousers and fleece at the bottom of the
sleeping bag to warm up the damp moistness to body temperature
so I can fully clothe myself.
Having to cook the noodles in the tent and being very
careful not to burn holes through the nylon, I tear the cardboard
packet of my porridge oats into three pieces and folding them
over for maximum protection, placing them under the tri metal
stand to protection.
Evening turning to night, hands under my arm pits
shivering every five minutes, tensing my body trying to shake the
chill seeping further into my body. Still the next morning the
silent white coldness is falling, slowly creeping up the outside of
the tent making it concave. Having to push the snow away with
my feet still in the sleeping bag, wriggling around like a
caterpillar. I did venture out once that day for the loo, but it just
made me colder than I already was. Two lingering days, in fact
forty nine hours to be precise; with me, hour by hour, reaching
for the zip checking to see if had stopped snowing.
As beautiful as my surroundings were, I’d become very
anxious to get back to Denali’s main camp site, where the
laundry mat, shops and shower were and to thaw my chilled body
out. I’d left four days ago now but it all looked so very different,
covered in ten inches of snow. The mountain peak I oriented
myself from seemed to look the same as all the other hillsides
leaving me rather confused. I’d stupidly left my hiking boots
outside of the tent for the last two days and they had become rock
solid like a frozen joint of beef, leaving me with only a pair of
Nike trainers for the hike out in the snow. My map reading skills
were not up to much, so I headed to where I thought was the right
direction hoping to find something familiar in the landscape. The
snow was knee high in some areas with my feet soaking wet and
toes in constant shooting pain from the cold.
The afternoon passed with me walking to the high points
of ridges surrounding me, trying to study the contours of the map,
what made it all the more confusing, to then walk back to my
original position. Feeling more desperate each time, wanting to
cry but knowing it wasn’t worth it, for there was no one to listen
to my anguish and despair. Exhausted at the fourth attempt with
the sun setting, I put up my tent in the same spot I’d camped the
previous night, feeling sick to the stomach with worry. I stayed
awake until the next morning, wide eyed staring at the blue fabric
with no sleep for the third night in a row, scared wanting to feel
secure again, it’s like having jaundice all over again. I just
couldn’t believe I’d put myself in this vulnerable position once
again. There’s nothing more that I would like to do, other than be
sitting in my parent’s living room with my feet dangling over the
edge of the sofa watching some nonsense on the box. Not die
from hypothermia in the middle of nowhere.
First light, bag packed and poised like a loaded gun, full
of nervous energy. It was a good five hours of torment going
back and forth, until I saw the river in the distance which I’d been
searching for, seeing the glitter of the sun reflect off the slow
flowing river, helped subside my anxiety ridden body. Knowing
that by following it, it will take me back close to the road and the
safety I’m craving. Twice this has happened to me, with both
experiences as dreadful as the other. Having no experience of the
wilderness is a very hazardous thing, which most people don’t
take seriously enough, with many fatalities occurring each year.
Respect for Mother Nature is a must, because she’s a hard bitch,
taking no prisoners. Being well prepared and taking as little risk
as possible is the way forward, the last thing you need is to be
Recuperating for a couple of days from the ordeal, I’m
back on the side of the road heading south to Anchorage. An
elder gentleman pulls over in a truck, offering a ride in a sincere
voice with soft trusting eyes, wearing a proud thick white beard,
well ingrained wrinkles from squinting through many harsh
winters, checkered shirt, jeans and tanned boot’s, the perfect
representation of how an Alaskan should look. By now I’m
thinking I’m the dog’s bollocks of the universe, yeah mate I’ve
seen it all. Mmm, now looking at it, just an arrogant teenager,
after I finish with my ranting and raving about my wild
experiences, reminding him I’m only seventeen on numerous
occasions. Calmly and collected this guy starts telling me a few
of his own adventures. I forget his name in fact I don’t think I
ever knew it, but he’d rode a push bike from London to Tibet
four times, and on his last trip carried on across China, down
through South East Asia, cycling through Australia, God that’s
thousands of miles, oh yer to finish off with, the north and south
Island of New Zealand because he was that way. Leaving me
dumbfounded at the possibilities of what one can achieve in one’s
life. That last trip, he was sixty eight and cycled for eighteen
month’s straight. Well I bowed my head in shame; I didn’t know
where half of the countries he’d been to were. My mind was
ticking; I need to get a better story line. Then it comes to me.
(ALASKA to MADAGASCAR, in ten years), yeah cool well it
rhymes and sounds cool. Though to this day I’ve not made it to
Madagascar, but at some point before I finish writing this or
after, I will have to go to complete another chapter in my life.
The government give people who are employed in Alaska
for over nine months of the year, a hand out of one thousand and
seven hundred dollars as an incentive to stay the winter, due to
many people only coming for the summer months working in the
canneries or fishing boats, cashing in on the lucrative months, to
then high tail it out of there for a warmer climate come
September. Personally they’d have to give me a lot more than
that to stay up there in its dismal conditions of minus forty for six
months. They all turn into raving alcoholics, with the highest
suicide rate in the states. And babbling on about how terrible the
lower forty eight states are; well actually they do that all year.
“I left there fifteen years ago and never been back since.
Don’t trust them and want nothing to do with them.” The amount
of guys who have retreated too Alaska from the Vietnam War is
amazing, or some other battle the U.S have put themselves in, it
would be quite an interesting statistic to know how many people
live in Alaska as a retreat. The other half, are hanging out in
Mexico, believe me I know.
The end of September had arrived with its sharp teeth
gnawing into my bones. Eight long days it took hitching out of
Alaska to the Yukon, North Canada which is no warmer but a
milestone southward bound. It was a miserable slog, not for the
weak hearted. Two weeks before I hit the road the last coaches
had departed for the season. They don’t run all year due to the
road conditions, safety and probably lack of people wanting an
Alaskan winter holiday.
Minus fifteen it said on the tag of my Kelty sleeping bag,
bollocks sub-zero and your balls were shrinking. The night before
the decision of my migration, it was so cold that when I woke up
the tip of my nose had frozen. Literally it was the only part of my
body exposed, wrenching my lodged arms out from the bag, I
squished the tip of my nose to hear the sound of a crunch similar
to that of a child munching an icicle or half frozen chicken wing
not quite thawed through. Then squishing it in the other direction,
this time horizontally and it crunched again, staying in the
flattened position. Damn it, I started rubbing it to get some blood
circulating, burying my head back in the bag frantically trying to
get some friction going between fabric and skin for some
warmth. Come the afternoon it had become bruised and tender,
turning black by the following day. It didn’t help matters not
possessing a ground mat, to battle against the bitterness of the
now regular morning frost, letting the coldness of the ground
soak directly into my body, with the expected painful kidneys
from the hard surface, practising to become a Tibetan monk, I’m
At the beginning of my migration, it began with a two day
stint on the outskirts of rainy Homer, a small fishing village two
hundred and twenty miles south of Anchorage at the bottom of
the peninsular. Hiding under the branches of an ever-green and in
sight of oncoming traffic, to see my sorry looking face; I’m
trying to stop the drizzle dripping down my neck to give rest to
my Gore-Tex jacket that hadn’t been dry for the last week. My
feet had been drenched in water for so long now, that the meat of
me feet had become water logged, turning a very pale white,
bloated, wrinkly and starting to rot.
On the second day under this tree I finally catch a lift back
to Anchorage, with luck on my side the following morning, with
a four hundred mile ride to the tiny hamlet of Gelennallen. Tok is
the next town in sight, another three hundred miles north east,
without a single dwelling in-between. Four pleasurable days I
stood between Gelennallen and Tok, have a go some time, stand
in a field for ninety six hours by yourself. I was going fucking
mad, with no music the batteries died two days ago, nothing to
read well couldn’t, just me and my mind. I was losing it,
screaming and shouting to myself, kicking stones was the past
time for entertainment, its days like this that you realise how long
a day really is. With day light ever decreasing, four p.m.,
darkness had landed, until eight am the next morning that’s
sixteen hours in the tent each day. The excitement of seeing a
vehicle on the horizon was beyond words you could see and hear
it miles off with the road being so straight, taking fifteen minutes
for it to finally appear. The third day I only counted four cars
passing. With each one, I desperately tried to penetrate their
brains from the power above. Come on stop, stop will you please
Finally my two knights in shining armour, came to my
rescue in the shape and form of American Indian dudes,
(Athotobaskin Indians) and were they pissed as rats. The driver
cradling a bottle of whisky between his legs and looking like he’s
missing a chromosome, the other dude had a six pack down by
his feet with empty crushed cans on the back seat. It wasn’t the
greatest situation to be in, but the cold had beaten my soul
enough not to decline the ride. Instantly leaning forward, doing
my utmost to befriend these guys with the music up loud, they
have no interest in me whatsoever and continue with their
conversation of last night’s fight at the bar. Other than offering
me a beer and a swig on the whisky bottle, all I could do was sit
back and listen, edging in where possible, still trying to push a
conversation. More to do with not talking to anyone in the last
four days.
“Yeah I’m from England, ya know England, well thought
I’d come to Alaska, check it out.” No response at all, in fact got a
good feeling they had no idea where England was, time to take a
different approach.
“Yeah in England, that’s Britain, we don’t have gun’s ya
know, we’re not allowed them.”
“What you don’t have a gun.” Shouting, over the music.
“Yeah it’s against the law mate; I’ve not even shot one
“Fuck, that’s shit man.” Both looking at each other in
“Give him a gun man, stop, stop.” Excitedly draining the
last contents out of the beer can, to open a fresh one. ‘Downsyndrome’ boy hits the brakes at sixty mph, throwing me forward
and spreading black rubber behind us in a dramatic screech. No
one around for a long way, with two very drunk child-men out of
control, leaving the car in the road, opening the boot, to grab a
rifle and a cardboard box of bullets.
”Yeah, I’ll have some of that whisky now.” It feels the
right thing to do; taking a few large gulps of the fire water to
calm the nerves. As drunk as they were, there was no problem in
loading the rifle, they could have done it blind folded with their
effortless gliding motion. It was loaded in an instant and being
handed to me. I was shown a branch, sixty meters off sticking out
of the lake we were driving past, after five rounds, close, but no
contact, the driver has enough of this fooling around, bangs the
bottle on the bonnet, grabbing the rifle without asking, aims, fires
and hits.
I’ve never been good at accuracy, golf, snooker, pool,
darts or kicking a ball in the right direction. I get too excited and
just whack it and hope I don’t know how people do it, we’re all
wired so differently, it amazes me, how we react to different
situations, some people play it cool through life and others are
pulling their hair out.
We get back in the car with me wondering what all the
fuss is about; shooting a gun is a completely boring activity,
pulling a trigger and seeing where the piece of metal lands. I
prefer sitting on a beach with a pile of stones trying to hit a can.
Carry on drinking that’s what I need to do, all I could think about
was coming off the road with no help for miles, this idiot was
swaying from one side of the road to the other. I was doing my
best to talk to him, trying to keep his mind occupied in the hope
that it would help his concentration on the matter at hand,
because a few times I saw his eyes wander in a floating drunken
haze. Sucking on another beer, I’m in the middle of the back seat
leaning forward, with my fingers in reaching distance of the hand
brake, ready and poised and fully expecting to crash.
Driver boy is showing me his swollen hand, that’s been
cut to pieces and still swollen from last week’s escapade, when
someone bet he couldn’t smash one of those thick plastic ash
trays with his fist; he thought he’d show them. Of course while
drunk as a skunk. There is a large problem that looms itself over
the North American natives, with alcoholism, they just can’t
seem to handle it whatsoever and become very addicted. The
government hand them out money each and every month because
of their entitlements of having their land stolen three hundred
years ago. It seems to be enough to get by which doesn’t give
them much incentive or inspiration to work, instead many spend
their time drinking cheap alcohol and feeling sorry for
Going to a native reserve sounds like a romantic idea,
hanging out with the chiefs, but in reality it’s not recommended
to anyone unless chaperoned; it can be quite a dangerous
experience with plenty of prejudice. Burnt out cars doted along
the streets, washing machines, cookers, stoves littering their
gardens with the grass growing knee height. Most of the houses
looked ransacked, broken windows; it’s an eerie feeling, and not
a welcoming one. Unfortunately this has been an on-going
problem for many years with no real answer other than to keep
throwing money at the situation. Some chiefs have banned the
consumption of alcohol on the reserves and not all of them are as
bad as I’ve explained. But of course you’ve got the human rights
issue, who’s to say that you’re not allowed to drink a beer or
spirits with your own money. Well I’m not going to argue with
that one, being a borderline alcoholic myself. It’s a bit of a catch
twenty two and the looming stigma of the stereotype continues.
Education over all is the answer, but it’s a slow process
at the rate the government is helping and of course you need to
want to learn before you can learn. The Australian government is
no better about their problems with the Aborigines, it’s quite
horrific that there’s such a divide, earlier this year there was a
recent change in government and the new power to be, decided to
have a National day and say sorry to the Aborigines. What in
2008 and you say the word; SORRY and on top of that the
speech was given on a Thursday morning before people went to
work so it didn’t take time out of the working day. I thought it
was the biggest pile of shite, but people around me seemed to
think it was a good thing. I just thought it was embarrassing, oh
yer say sorry and all will be fine, we’re the government who
cares and of course two months later people had forgotten about
all their good intentions and nothing had changed. Anyhow this
story is about drugs and mental illness, so I’ll shut up. I don’t
want to bore you before we get there.
We did make it to Tok, early evening thank God, just on
the border to the Yukon and a lot more relaxed than I started with
these foolish idiots. Man it was cold that night, stumbling around,
trying to erect the tent in the dark, drunk for one of the first
times; the alcohol had thinned out my blood that left me
shivering all night long.
Two more long non-amusing days to equal the eight,
standing road-side like a second hand turkey at the end of town
wanting a lift. On the second day after I’ve just about had enough
of this, my patience had worn thinner than cling film.
(Incidentally please don’t put cling film in the microwave, even if
it says so on the packaging.) On top of it all I’ve got this woman,
who keeps staring at me from her window, then hiding behind the
curtain the freak, this went on for hours and was giving me the
right shits. Finally turning around square on, to meet the
deranged stare of this shrivelled up old goat, in an aggressive
manner. I realise it’s a mannequin in the window, with the curtain
blowing back and forth from the draft of this rickety old house. I
don’t need to put this in, but remember it so well. It isn’t great to
be so angry over something that’s not there, compiling it all
together in a whirlwind of our mind; it’s such a lovely relief,
making you feel small and stupid. Though life’s not always like
that, is it? Sometimes those dark thoughts are real.
Any how this hippy gives me a lift, after me pleading with
him at the one and only gas station, I thought I’d head there after
the mannequin incident. The cling film had now got holes in it
where it had been stretched so much leaving me having to grovel.
We’re talking minus two to four at night, I need to go south. He
says “yeah”, but not enthusiastically. I even offered to pay half
the gas that goes against the rules. With a few hours down the
road the dude asks me if I mind if he takes some weed across the
border into Canada.
“Yeah mate, that’s fine.” I don’t know what weed is
anyhow, like it’s your car just get me out of here. Weed, hash,
marijuana, dope, blow, gear, puff or any other terminology
people would refer to. I mean I've heard of marijuana before, but
didn't know that all the above meant the same thing, or close
enough. In fact up to this moment I’d never even seen weed
before, let alone understood the legal implications or effects it
has on oneself. The dude keeps offering me a toke along the way
and I’m saying.
“Na mate, your cool it’s not my thing.”
With six hundred miles under our belt by the second day,
hippy dude just finished rollin’ one up, when we hear the sound
of a hissing puncture.
“Arr man, I’d better see what’s happened.” As he pulls
over, upsetting his Kramer, leaving me with a pure weed joint on
the dash board, so I thought I’ll give it ago while no one’s
around, what harm can it do. Finding matches in the glove box, I
light this baby up, inhaling it and instantly cough and wheeze as
the sharp hot smoke burnt the back of my virgin throat. By the
time the dude had finished changing the wheel, I’d managed to
suck it all up.
“Dude where’s the joint?”
“Oh sorry mate, I smoked it.”
“You smoked all that joint.” In a surprised manner.
“Yeah course, why this stuff doesn’t affect me dude.”
How naive can one be? Five minutes had passed with something
radically changing, physically and mentally. Being hit with a
sledgehammer would have left me less confused and
disorientated. Completely wankered, like never before, I didn’t
know what was going on around me, or what was happening,
other than this rushing feeling of a tidal wave ploughing through
my blood. Leaving me holding on to my legs with an ever
tightening grip, similar to that of making it over the brow of a
roller coaster, knowing there’s no way out, other than to grin and
bear it.
The dude’s now changing into the members of the
Eagles, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, from the corner of my eye, with
‘The Ungrateful Dead’ playing in the surreal background, a thick
dense and vivid wall of sound. The intensity of the finger
clamping around my thigh had now moved to a dagger like pain
in my right hand side of my rib cage, from immense laughter. In
fact there wasn’t too much laughing at all, I went straight past go
into a complete spasm of dribbling, manifested-madness, my
consciousness of breathing had thousand-fold, and the surrealness
of how I perceived normality to be was exceptional. The love for
life and the planet had just become mind blowing, with my head
stuck out the window watching the scenery of The Great Alaskan
Highway, cruising by. With the cold crisp air in my face and only
being able to say the word, Wow! Over and over again to express
my feelings, from that moment on, life was going to change
somewhat for me. A beginning of a long taunting journey
downhill, which I would never thought possible. Smoking some
pure strong weed is definitely the go, don’t go in slowly and see
what might occur, no of course not. Still ignorance can be bliss,
depending on the outcome.
A few floating hours passed by, of draining
entertainment, until we pull over at a gas station because of the
lack of food in the car, which was much needed by now. The
thought of food had entered my consciousness and I’m just about
to discover the real meaning of the munchies. Wandering around
this huge supermarket the size of a small village shop and as
confusing as a labyrinth, going from one aisle to the next, looking
for something, I don’t know what I’m looking for, to be then
eventually armed with a feast of junk food, cheesy whirls,
sneaker and banana milkshake, that’s definitely needed if
suffering from a bad case of the munchies, there is enough E
numbers and artificial flavourings between that lot, to satisfy any
grazing hippo.
Lining up for the till with two people in front, still feeling
a heavy daze, before I knew it I was pulled into the magical land
of the Duracell battery, lined up in different sizes and well
organized just by the counter next to the chewing gum and
chocolate. They looked so good, black and gold. Man they’re
cool, yeah the gold is such a rich colour like the earth of the
outback in Australia. You know I love these things, they’re better
than that Eveready any day, red and blue they were back then,
yeah not as good, no way, we’ve all seen the bunny advert he
goes on forever, I mean who would think.
“Hello, hello, sir, sir, sir excuse me.” Hearing something
in the distance, far off at the back of my brain.
“Errrrrrrrr, hello, oh yes I was just looking at your
batteries hummm.” Shit, bollock’s and crap, better play it cool,
looking behind me, there’s someone waiting with an impatient
look upon their face and a large gap between the counter and me.
Fumbling through my pockets, just getting my money out was
overload and apologising constantly telling the lady about the
batteries and how I might need them for my Walkman; she looks
at me totally disinterested. Better get out of here fast they might
come after me, you never know they may want revenge for
waiting an extra forty five seconds. Dude, dude come on lets go,
looking over my shoulder wondering if they've called the sheriff.
How am I going to act normal, if questioned?
Paranoia soul destroyer as Inna would say. Though the
paranoia subsided the moment I bit into the snickers, with the
cheesy whirls’ between my legs, munching on them
simultaneously, both the flavours mixing well, adding a succulent
gulp of milkshake to thrill my forever peaking taste buds. The
chocolate seemed to linger on the roof of my mouth much longer
than normal and being able to taste the difference between the
sugar and the cocoa. Over all it was a wonderful experience and
extremely satisfying. What a hell of an afternoon. Not being able
to battle against the lead filled eye lids, sleep comes upon me,
without a worry in the world, other than awakening to a crocked
neck and feeling drowsy.
Another month goes by with the Canadian fall taking place
around me, in all its rich colourful beauty of ambers, reds,
oranges, yellows and browns. British Columbia is stunning and to
this day I love travelling around the area and will keep on visiting
until I’m old and grey. If camping is a passion, hiking and the
outdoor life, then North B.C is the place to be.
While out hiking around Mirror Lake in the Rockies that
incidentally is printed on the Canadian twenty dollar bill, and as
picturesque as one can imagine. I find myself talking with some
French guy by the name of Michel Germain, a short man with a
balding head and ponytail to suit, intense beady eyes and
chiselled facial features of a fit and healthy man. Not seeming to
be bothered with the art of fashion, wearing some flashy coloured
shorts from the eighties, hiking boots and by the looks of it, a
home knitted jumper. We hit it off right from the beginning. You
could write a book on him alone with the shenanigans he gets up
to. Let’s just say, Michel is the eccentric type, though extremely
welcoming and hospitable, but at the same time happy to poodle
along by himself. I find out later that he rubs some of the locals
in his hometown up the wrong way, with his eccentricity without
meaning to. But everyone knows him and people seem to be fond
of him and his crazy ways. I never heard a bad word spoken
about Michel, just.
“Ahhh, you’re a friend of Michel’s are you.” Nodding
“Harold (he never could manage to say my name right)
I’m a Buddhist, you know it’s the way you should live life, is
through ones karma.” And he does, until his uncontrollable
French flair is unleashed, ranting and raving about something or
other he decided to become fanatical about for the moment or
time of day, I do love him. Michel offers me a lift with him back
to the Cootanies that is very much worth a visit, just south west
of the well-known Rockies, without the thousands upon
thousands of tourists.
Rossland the town Michel lives in, is just such a
gorgeous little town set in the hill side with a community of five
thousand people. It doesn’t take long before Michel asks me if I
would like to stay for a while and of course I happily accept.
Crashing on the floor in the spare room with a well-used
mattress, feeling as happy as a pig in shit and getting a bit of
relief from the tent and camp stove. I felt very much at home in
his old style wood house, in need of a little love and care, with
creaky floorboards and Tibetan Prayer flags blowing in the wind
outside on the veranda. Constant burning incense sticks,
bellowing smoke over the black and white photos, barely hanging
off the wall of some Nepalese elders. The classic uncomfortable
couch, years old probably left from the last owner with three
layers of Indian throw over’s to hide the fact that the best thing is
to burn it.
Six weeks of fun and arguments glide by. I become fond
of his eccentricity never knowing where you stand day to day,
though knowing he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He’s
like an older annoying brother who you can’t help but adore.
Michel being a chef and French one at that, had passion
for his food, his somewhat flamboyant personality unleashed
itself in the kitchen, opening my eyes to the true meaning of taste.
His wooden spice rack filled with cardamom, coriander, cumin,
saffron, fennel, open bags of chick peas and spilled orange
lentils. Marvelling at his mastery when asked to hand him one
thing or another, a dash here and a dash there, wondering how the
hell he knows what goes with what. Most of us put in what we
think armed with a bottle of red wine. God it’s horrible, for some
reason, people in the UK think they can cook good spaghetti
Bolognese, being their signature dish.
“Oh yeah my Kev loves it, don’t ya Kev.” With no
response from the living room, as he’s flicking through the Sky
“Here sit down Howie, it won’t take long love.” The
moment I hear Marmite or Ketchup being added it makes me
cringe, thinking do I have to eat this shit again, topping it off with
over cooked pasta, yes you, you stop it. At least try some
balsamic vinegar.
I ate like a king, whatever Michel put his hand to in the
kitchen it tasted great. You’d be out walking and before you
realise it he’d gone and leapt over a garden fence rummaging
through someone’s vegetable patch, pulling up strange looking
roots and a hands full of rhubarb for the evening’s dinner.
Turning into a feast any food lover would love. With the
weekend coming up Michel decides he wants to throw a party,
for it’s been a while.
“Yeah, Michel cool, why not.” Let’s just say this guy is
quite an easy going person, well at times, so he invites everyone
around for a shindig the coming Saturday. With an hour before
the guests arrive and a spread of cheese dips and other
concoctions of tasty snacks, he says.
“Harold let’s go down the bar for a beer, I’ll leave the
door open, put the music on, and they can start without me, I
always do it, saves me having to say hello to everyone, and
pretend I’m happy to see them.”
“Cool, Dude like your style.” Well we get to the bar, get
a beer in and Michel pulls out some tin foil, that he is carefully
unfolding, to revile a tiny piece paper, say a twentieth the size of
a first class stamp, jinxed with the drug L.S.D. Known to the
people in the know as a trip or Acid.
“Harold, you ever had this before.”
“Nope, why, what is it?”
“Acid, ah don’t worry, maybe you shouldn’t bother,
you’re crazy enough.”
“What this little thing, what’s that going to do? Na mate
give us a go, I’ll be right.”
“Yes, well just try a half then.” He cuts the tiny morsel
of paper in half, with his penknife on the wooden bar stool. So I
lick my finger, to dab it off the stall, and hesitantly gulp it down.
Yeah doesn’t do anything for me anyhow, what harm can it do, in
my mind’s eye.
The moment I’ve secured myself mentally, another dude
rocks up to the bar and starts talking to Michel who he doesn’t
know from Adam, and you know it, they’re best mates before the
end of the beer glass and he’s coming to the party. But not before
he pulls out some more acid, liquid L.S.D this time, with Michel
studying the capsule and dropping a drip into to his beer, this
time in the open on the counter.
“Fuck man, I’ll give it a go.” Now feeling brave, with
the armoured beer cloak. Michel is looking at me apprehensively,
as this dude drops the acid into my drink with me thinking
nothing of it. Twenty minutes have gone by and nothing has
happened from that bit of paper, so I happily gulp down the beer
thinking nothing of it and have no idea of the consequences that
might occur or any clue of the meaning L.S.D, acid or trip, I
didn’t even know it was a hallucinogenic.
I’m happy as can be, thinking all is good, we all leave
the bar to head up the hill back to Michel’s. My heart beat is
increasing from the steep incline, making the chemical rush
through my blood stream; I instantly feel the toxins taking a hold.
Concentrating on the effect, trying to work out what’s happening.
With the next step landing on the pavement it felt like a puddle,
and then the other footstep the same. The pavement slab felt like
a watery substance, with my surrounding becoming more and
more confusing. By the time we got to the front door the sky,
buildings and ground were all moving out of sync leaving me
feeling rather anxious and drained.
On arrival, the party was kicking off with fifteen people
or so, standing around, sipping on a glass of wine or a bottle of
beer, swapping pleasantries with some creepy Asian waterfall
music in the background. It was all way too much, just dealing
with the up and coming new recipe in my blood was enough, it’s
not seeming to hold any prisoners in its pathway and taking all
my energy not to get locked up in maximum security of my mind.
I’ve got my hands on a kitchen chair steadying myself from the
whirling room, with the sensation becoming ever stronger,
worried I wouldn’t have what it takes to hold it together, which
I’m not, in the slightest.
People are introducing themselves to me, and I’m having
to blank them, verbal communication was simply impossible. My
lips were sealed tight in concentration, eyes popping out of my
head, gripping tight to the chair and breathing heavily.
What the fuck have I done! Deciding best for all, to hide in
the toilet and have a talk with myself, in the hope of calming
down and regaining composure. I struggle over to the loo, feeling
like I’m on a tight rope with Hyenas circling beneath waiting for
lunch. Finally an eternity passes and it’s my turn. So I shut the
door, with the weight of my shoulder, allowing me to double lock
it, with latch and key. Feeling safe from the socialites outside, I
turn around to look at the cubic space in front of me, neck
twitching, eyes flickering, totally baffled why I’m here.
Looking from left to right, checking no one’s playing a
game on me. I take a seat on the lavatory with my pants down to
my knees, fully conscious there’s no urine in my bladder, but I’m
in the loo for some reason. So, I thought I’d better go through the
procedure and feeling a little better that I’ve managed to get my
pants off. With my mind still galloping at five hundred miles an
hour and eyes darting through tunnel vision. That is until my eyes
fall upon the grout between the tiles, spine jerking to an upright
position, in disbelief. OH MY GOD IT’S AMAZING! What the
hell? Simultaneously the hyenas ran off after some grazing
wilder-beast and my feet have become rock solid, set in granite.
Elbows on knees, hands on chin, not believing the beauty
unleashed in front of me. This yellowy, browned, dirty pissy,
highly unhygienic grout, that in its former glory would have been
a bleached gleaming white of a news reader’s smile. But this was
perfect; it was just phenomenal. God look at it, how can someone
do something so brilliant, there all perfectly in the right place.
Even the ones, that are cut wrong going off at an angle or slightly
wobbly with the grout thicker at one end. I can see the grains in
the grout, like mountain peaks.
Wow! Looking down the track lines of the grout they
changed from an off white, ivory at waist height, to the colour of
autumn leaves that scatter the streets outside, behind the pan
where us boys had missed the toilet on the odd occasion over the
last ten years. I mean if you could see what I’m looking at, you
would realise that there was a God after all. To all you atheists
out there get a grip will ya, go into the bathroom and have a look
at the grout. In fact, sod that! Jump on to your electrified
motorbike and ride the lines of grout at warp speed, the world of
“Tron” is seeping into the left corner of my brain.
A sharp knuckle, knocking at the door from an impatient
person, snaps me out of it.
“Yep, just coming!” I shouted louder than I was
expecting, charged with an accumulating surge of energy.
Zipping up my pants, winking in the mirror and snapping my
fingers together, making a clean, crisp, crack, the mission was in
sight. I need to get out of this port hole, people need to know
what’s in here, the poor souls who’s introductions I had politely
discarded, one moment to the next, asking them to have a look at
the grout when the next person comes out of the toilet, and when
in the mood I can be quite persuasive.
“I’m a turkey snapper, what about you, you like turkey
snapping, it’s about the time for it. Ye old turkey snapping hey,
yeah, cos. Ah, ah, I’m from England dude, you been in the loo
yet? It’s amazing in there, we don’t have toilets like that back
home, well maybe we do, don’t know, who the hell would,
certainly not this time of the year anyway?.” Mmm, this
bystander’s looking a little scared; better explain a little more,
you know precisely to the point and speaking as fast as possible.
“You know it’s the time of year for a turkey, Christmas
coming up and all, we kill turkeys back home, grab them by the
neck. How have you been today anyhow?” Damn it, what the hell
am I gibbering on about? I can’t help speaking twisted nonsense.
“Are you a mouse with a goose or a goose with a mouse,
I really don’t know, I like the goosy, ar goosy mousey, mousey
goosy ha ha haaaaa.” As I fall over the coffee table seeing the
cucumber sticks and plate suspended in the air momentarily as I
land on the floor.
It’s about now that Michel lowers the music after hearing
a few of my conversations and condiments spilling to announce
his apologies that I was tripping for the first time and I’m A OK.
At this announcement I’ve now got forty people staring at me
with all different facial expressions with me counteracting with a
Cheshire cat smile and two hundred volts stuck up my ass
making my foot thump the floor like a distressed rabbit seeing a
fox prancing in the distance.
The night goes on with events transpiring like never
before. Circumstances were coming from nowhere, just being
thrown into my eyes at full force without being asked. Some
fucker, decided to grow a pair of horns like the devil for the
night, making me laugh at him like a cackling witch, whenever
our eyes crossed path. I thought that would put him at ease,
knowing his secret is safe with me.
The perception of time was incredible, every
conservation having a vivid beginning and end. And the clarity of
objects, crisp, vibrant, brittle, pulsating beauty, brilliant,
flamboyant, garish and any other word the thesaurus can come up
with, it was. Not including the intensity of my personality, it was
being unleashed with no hostages. Everything had become a
golden delicious apple.
The morning arriving without being asked, with a story
board of events, that would have fired up a soap opera for the
next five months. The night felt like it had been a summer
holiday of entertainment, who ever came up with the definition
‘trip’ was on the ball. With the glow of the teasing sun on the
horizon, I find myself lying in a patch of icy snow in just a t-shirt
looking at the fading stars, with a new outlook on life. Me and
LSD have just become very good friends, and a few years from
now, we’d go out wandering the neon streets and bars together
looking for fun.
There was a definite difference between the hit of weed
and LSD, the trip you could feel was chemical and lasted hour
after hour, with colours becoming more vibrant and the time
pattern so precise, that of a laser and with your awareness
heightened to an extreme level, seeing things you were not aware
that existed before, even though they were always there.
Marijuana on the other hand, can be of a similar effect, but
without the constant clarity, leaving you in a relaxed state of
carelessness, then to become drowsy and lazy several hours later.
Though these days, the high breed marijuana cultivated under
halogen lamps, known as ‘skunk’ from its intense smell, that’s
easily accessible on the street, can have similar short term effects
to that of LSD. The plant is force fed chemical fertiliser and
twenty four hour sunlight, which in return will produce a lot more
THC, the chemical that gets you high, leaving you with a tripping
effect similar to that of acid. Both are as bad as each other for our
mental health. So be very careful, even smoking a little bit of
weed could send you momentarily insane and more than you can
chew. Though with LSD it’s guaranteed you’ll have a night of
madness without no escape or exit for the next six hours. So if
you’re enjoying the ride then sit back and enjoy, but it could very
well turn on you, like your worst nightmare, imagining dark,
intense, anxious thoughts comparable to how we perceive Hell,
be warned.
Let me fill you in with a few facts about LSD that might
be of some interest. Is LSD poisonous for you? Well from the
research I have recently read, it seems to be one of the least toxic
chemicals known to mankind, even less poisonous than aspirin.
The chemical makeup of LSD comes from Ergot, a fungus found
growing on Rye and other grasses, the well-known myth of it
containing Strychnine has never been discovered in over two
thousands samples of street LSD, and if being the case, then there
would never be enough on the blotting paper to do any harm.
Flashbacks are mainly codswallop. I’ve personally taken
a good hundred trips over the years and have never experienced
one yet. I feel as if I’m missing out, though some of my friends
think I’ve never made it back to normality. A flashback
apparently is meant to bring you back to a trip, weeks, months
even years later. I’m not convinced about flashbacks and research
say it’s very rare, despite what anti-drug organisations tell you.
Look I’m not telling you to give it a go, of course not; it
might just ruin the rest of your life. But having the right facts is a
lot better than what you may have heard down the pub from a
mate who thinks he knows it all, you know the one. Will it make
you insane, well it can do while you’re on it and if you take
enough that is? For me that’s the fun, being pulled into an
abstract world in every way possible, constantly smoking joints
to help me peak, leaving me disorientated and disillusioned,
coming up with your own reality that make complete and utter
sense at the time. The problem lies in the underlying mental
disorders you may have and it could well appear its nasty ugly
head. After trying LSD just the once, you may never be the same
again. Underlying Schizophrenia can quite easily be activated
and that would be a right shitter. How are you going to know if
you have a mental health problem that’s been undetected, it’s a
risky game to play?
They say LSD is a non-addictive drug, though I seemed
to be rather addicted to the madness of it. From what I have read,
it seems that I was quite a heavy user, at once or twice a week
over a prolonged time period. Though your tolerance builds up
quickly, leaving you to have to wait three or four days before the
LSD will work to its full potential again.
Lysergic, Acid, Diethylamide is a hallucinogenic drug,
meaning you’re likely to experience distorted views of objects,
time spans seeming to be short or long and reality of normal day
to day life will seem extremely peculiar. Excellent. LSD is often
called Acid and the experience is a trip, if good, then happy days.
If a bad trip occurs then you’ve got yourself a problem, because
the experience can be terrifying. This happens when the euphoria
of the trip changes into something sinister leaving you with
intense paranoia, fear, anxiety, hallucinations of spiders,
monsters, skulls, a deeply traumatic state to be in. The best way
to help oneself or friend out of a bad trip is to change the
ambience around you, the music, lighting or people and keep
calm, it will wear off. If your friend stays in this state of mind
then stay with this person, people have been known to harm
One time, a few years later, I was in New Zealand and
decided to munch on some acid just before I had to go to court,
then just before I appeared in front of the judge for some small
drug charge, the trip kicked in hard. Thinking it would be a fun
experience, but turned out to be a damn nightmare, leaving me at
the gates of hell, desperately trying to hold it together with every
bit of energy, not to enter those fiery gates. Fortunately I won the
battle, leaving me in a super state of euphoria owning the world
and riding the knife edge of insanity. It’s a dangerous, dangerous
game. Back in the sixties when they were testing the drug, some
stupid ass doctor thought it would a good idea to give it to
patients in a mental hospital; I’d imagine that would be the last
think you’d need to get back on track.
My strong suggestion is do not try LSD, but if you DO
decide to give it a go, then first make sure you’re not a person
who feels like they need to be in control. Make sure you’re in a
happy mood before even thinking of going tripping, due to LSD
heightening the mood in which you are already in. I gave it a go
after breaking up with a girlfriend once, highly un-recommended.
And when taking the trip for the first time, please don’t
take the whole trip in one, you may come unstuck. LSD is more
than often found on tiny squares of blotting paper, cut a small
corner off no more than a quarter with a glass of water, and wait
for at least half an hour to see what occurs. Then if manageable
try another quarter and slowly build up like this, because there’s
no going back for the next six hours at least... it’s a powerful drug
not to be taken lightly. Good luck, I’ll see you on the other side,
hope you make it out.
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