Nearly... nearly... I've just stuffed 95% of what was left of my worldly goods and chattels into 9 very big black dustbin bags. Now it's for the fine men - and women - of Islington's refuse service to bicker and quarrel over my old pants. I wish them well. The men that is - I no longer care what happens to my pants. Our relationship, stout and true though it was, is over, and there's an end of it.
Here's a picture of what's left:
I know what you're thinking; How in the name of the sausage-fingered Christ-child is he gonna get all that shite into two boxes a foot across?
I'm thinking that too. Oh crappy buggermothers. Not to worry - I've got literally all night to come up with a plan, and plenty of dustbin bags with which to execute it.
Anyway I'm having a breather at the moment and at times like this, even men of granite souls and steel brains like myself become thoughtful. Last night, in a beautiful rock and roll loop, I went to see Rush - Canadia's leading pomp rock trio -
- with Amazing Cousin Jake (pictured left) -
23 years after they were the first band I ever saw, in the same venue. That makes me, depending on whether you like Rush or not, either (a) an arse, or (b) not an arse, but it doesn't -in itself- make me a bad person. Unfortunately they've written a helluva lot of songs since I last bought an album of theirs, in 1983, but - strike me down God if I lie - the old ones were daisy-fresh and spanglesque.
A lot of Carling Black Label was consumed which interfered rather forcefully with my enjoyment of my 9am doctor's appointment this morning.
Anyway, I've got to go and put things in boxes. Cheerio Merrie England!
Catch you later London Town!
Bring on the two-wheeled mayhem!
Next stop: Cherbourg...
What just happened here?
It fits. I am stunned.
Carteret, 30 miles south of Cherbourg - 12th Sept 04
Le OUCH! 67 euros for the last hotel room in town. Note to self - arrive earlier in future. On the way down, every single French biker waves. It's what your left arm's for, apparentement. It's day one. One giant leap across the channel for me. Tomorrow I shall witness with my own eyes the glittering splendour that is Mont St Michel. Unless I get lost or something.
I wake up by the sea in Carteret with a slight "where the hell" feeling. Shortly after breakfast the rain starts.
It's not exactly coming down in sheets but there's enough of it to bring a wry smile to my chops. I've got to do about 150 miles a day to get to Lisbon for the 27th; lucky I've got my waterproof trousers and socks.
I set off damp but light hearted in the general direction of Coutance. It gets wetter and greyer but progress is made, and about 15 miles into the day, I start shouting with cretinous mirth at the fact that I am actually on my way to - whisper it - Cape Town.
Whizz past Coutance towards Mont St Michel. 20 miles later it becomes clear that the following items are not, in fact, waterproof at all: (1) my boots (2) my waterproof socks (3) my waterproof trousers, particularly in the oh-so-important frontal area (4) my 300 quid/reduced to 150 Belstaff jacket (5) my Aerostich gloves.
I eventually squelch to a halt at a service station somewhere between M.S.M and Rennes, having given up on M.S.M as I'm too waterlogged to appreciate it. Jambon Baguette and a soaking wet roll-up for lunch. Onwards. I aim for Rennes, which will be reasonable progress for today. It soon becomes clear that there is one more item to add to my "not-at-all-waterproof" inventory: my skin.
Arrive wetly in Rennes around 3pm, and find a very nice looking hotel. "Non monsieur - complet". And near here? "Rennes est complet". I don't believe her, so I ride around the town stopping at every hotel, dripping pints of rainwater onto every reception carpet, until it becomes clear that she's right.
Oh fuck. I really need to get out of these wet things. I'm shivering and having to make up songs (e.g. "The sun'll come ouuuuut, TO-MORRAAAOOOOWW! You can bet your bum it will be boiling") in order to keep my brain ticking over. I decide to head towards Nantes - much further than I had planned to go today. I stop at the first exit that has a nearby village signposted, and find a hotel. "Complet". Piss and shit. Onwards to the next town. No hotel of any kind. A campsite - I don't fucking think so.
The sun comes out! It stops raining! I stop and take off the most drenched items of my outer layer, and hang them, steaming, over the bike. Manage to roll a cig that doesn't collapse. I remember Dan Walsh's (a very great man who's done what I'm going to do) mantra, "wet now, dry later". It's true. I take the next exit off the Nantes road - Bain de Bretagne - and find Hotel des 4 Vents. 30 euros and it's absolutely fine. Dry clothes on! To the bar! Blimey - this is my first beer of the trip...
I found myself thinking today, while I was drenched and stationary, "Wouldn't it be great if a fantastic French woman came out of her house now and breathily insisted that I come in for a feed and a *ahem* lie-down." I snorted with disbelief a mile down the road at the vividness of it. Or is it vividity? Either way, it didn't happen. In case you're in any doubt.
Sept 14 - La Rochelle
I had a notion on the way here that L.R. was going to be the Santorini of mid-Western France; i.e. bastardingly expensive and full of yacht people. In reality it's only quite expensive and the yacht people have all gone to Monaco or somewhere.
The numbness of my backside after getting on the bike at 9am and off at 4pm (plenty of rural detours) forced me into the first hotel I saw. (Actually the second - I went straight past the Novotel. This is not a business trip - if it was someone else would be paying, no?) Chalk up another 67 euro hotel on the blackboard of shame.
Anyway, sod it - La Rochelle is absolutely gorrrgeous and it's also hot. Every few miles south winds the clock a minute or two back into summer.
Washed my jeans, which were on the verge of photosynthesising, in the bath, and hung them out of the window to dry, attached with an Aerostich luggage strap. Ingenuity! That's the ticket.
A late lunch by the harbour of Camembert and Kronenbourg. I really need to eat some fruit soon. Or bran. You know what I'm saying.
Sept 15th. La Rochelle - Bordeaux.
Check out. A certain amount of dicking about ensues, as, having said goodbye to the receptionist who's going to South Africa exactly a year before me, I realise I've forgotten my helmet. Go and get. Then my sunglasses. Go back. Get. Then I can't get my bike off the stand as I jammed it up close to the wall last night without the boxes on.
On the road by 10.30am. A late start as I sat in "McEwans Pub" in the harbour last night watching Chelsea giving PSG a bashing, which was not what was required, and drinking Grandes Verres of Loburg. A couple of tubby berks from Blighty were unsuccessfully employing the "English-But-LOUDER" method of ordering in French.
11am - blue skies and empty, perfectly surfaced winding roads all the way to Bordeaux. A lot of shouting and laughing takes place inside my Shoei (that's Japanese for "hat"). The landscape changes from cornfields, where the corn is as high as, if not an elephant's eye, at least a giraffe's ballbag, to dead sunflowers, and then abruptly it's Wine Country and I start wondering if I've ever drunk a grape off that bush, or that one, and then Bordeaux itself, which is one great snarling, boiling gridlock. It's the first traffic jam I've seen in France.
Having swallowed me whole, the beast shits me out in what I hope are the southern suburbs of the city. "Le Jadian" bar/hotel/restaurant looks nice and cheap, and Oui! Bien Sur! - they have a room.
I stopped for a fag and a gulp of water in another empty French village this afternoon. Some dude on another Dominator rumbled into view, and as he saw me he began to slow down, ready to stop and help, until I gave him a thumb to let him know I hadn't broken down. Gawd bless you old boy, whoever you were!
Sept 16 04
Blimey - I'm in Spain. And Ow! Ouch! Ooyah! I'm in pain. The pain in Spain falls mainly on the neck. Some sorta trapped nerve or something which no doubt will go away soon. Please.
Anyway - Espana! Another day of uninterrupted blazing sunshine, now with added mountains. Up at 7am (in Bordeaux) with a rough plan to get to Bayonne, which in the event I sailed straight past, in order to have lunch by the sea in Biarritz. Very fancy, but not somewhere you'd want to stay the night without a platinum Amex tucked into your slacks. And Spain was beckoning.
I was expecting some sort of border post; last time I drove this way (in a car) I was practically strip-searched by the side of the road. But there's nothing. Not even a "Bienvenido" sign and a picture of a comedy bull.
Suddenly there's much more traffic and the driving is a whole lot worse. Mine included. I nearly say "Hola" to Senor Tarmac when a gentle right hand bend decides on a whim it would really rather be a hairpin. Otherwise it's all "Wow - the Pyrenees" and "Ow - my perineum", past San Sebastian and on to Zarauta (sp?) and a very nice hotel with CNN.
I really need to get rid of some more weight, either from me or my belongings. There's no way I'm getting rid of my mini-electric guitar though. No way. Do you hear me? Maybe all that camping shit...
Later I'm in the hotel bar. It's me and two impossibly old women, and it's clear they don't fancy me. "Crash" by The Primitives is playing. "Slow down you're gonna..." etc. Wise words. And what a blooming great song.
Where my appalling French is solidly rooted in fine, decent British O-level, my Spanish is built on a foundation of half-truths and misconceptions garnered from
(a) hispanic characters in US cop shows of the 70's and 80's,
(b) Sesame Street, and
(c) an erroneous belief that all European languages apart from German can be conversed in using a home-made, distinctly personal form of Esperanto based on a mixture of the user's mother tongue and some mumbling.
"Donde esta", I believe, means "where is"; unhappily I don't know the word for whatever it is I need to find.
Aaaaaaah! I really need to have a conversation in English, with jokes, soon. I once spent four weeks working in Tokyo, and when I came home I could not only not speak Japanese, but had also forgotten how to speak English. And think it. And, er, write. It.
Tapas! Ain't that just the greatest thing ever? A little bit of mystery food with every beer. And - Oh! sweet Jesus on a penny farthing - that Spanish ham...
Decision time - west, across the Northern coast of Spain, or south-west, into the probably-drier interior? The rain in Spain falls not on the plain. That's exactly where it's least likely to fall. Mountains - bring an umbrella and a kagoule. Coast - better off staying indoors.
Five days into the trip, and a bunch of annoying doubts have finally gone to sit on the back seat of the psychological bus. They're now just staring out of the window, and look as though they may nod off soon, leaving me to get on with the business of doing whatever the hell it is I'm doing. Quiet at the back!
Sept 17th '04. La Puebla de Argazon.
A roadhouse, somewhere between Vitoria and Burgos.
Christ I feel manly! I've just spent an hour in a dusty truckstop in el centro de nowhere, oiling me chain, pumping up me tyres to near-roadworthy pressure and checking me lubricants. Missus. A great Sopa (soup) de (of) Pescados (fish) for lunch and a very clean, cool room for 32 euros.
It's about 85 degrees. Sodding fantastic mountains on the way here, marred only by jabs of neck pain which is now thankfully on the way out. People continue to offer help out of the blue. A young studenty chap came up to me in Vitoria to talk about motorcycles and and offer directions. Thanks buddy! I suppose I do look a wee bit like a refugee, with my whole life packed into bags and boxes on the back of the moto.
Having checked into the roadhouse - man that's cool - I dumped several kilos of luggage and went in search of fags (Hey there Mr Yankee Doodle Dandy! Quit sniggering!). The quest took me to a village called Trevino. With the bicycletta almost back to racing weight and just a t-shirt on, it became one of those perfect 10-mile round trips. You know what I mean. Spunky throttle! Windy road! Sunny Blue! Ooofff.. nearly scraped me boxes on that last corner... and then roll into a dusty petrol station, where a lone nipper on a moped gawps wistfully at my throbber - stop it madam - grab the fags; and can't get onto that fantastic 5 mile return stretch quickly enough. Whaaaaaa! That's what it's all about. That, and ice-cold Cruzcampo in a dusty roadhouse, somewhere in Spain, at a time of day when anyone with any moral fibre AT ALL is in an air-conditioned office, straightening paperclips and making rubber-band spheres.
This is the best thing I've ever done, ever. In my whole life. It's even better than when I had it off with a minor TV celeb. And that was a moment of shimmering glory.
I'm having love thoughts towards my moto. Naturally, it aspires to be an animal that, while slightly fat, can dart off quickly if the need arises. A wild pig, if you will. I am forcing it into donkey mode by loading it up with tons of crap and expecting it to cope with minimal food and water... and I feel sorry for it. Sometimes, though, it seems as if it's enjoying itself as much as I am. Spurting past a Czech juggernaut on an uphill Pyrenean bend, for example.
Mind you, the moment it becomes an obstinate ass and refuses to comply with my every demand, I'll have the bugger shot and made into glue. Only joking darling! Love you! xxxx
Last night I had a dream I was going out with Britney Spears. And she was the most incredible pain in the arse.
18th Sept '04. Saturday Night.
Young women of Valladolid, I salute you! I can only stand by, mute, and feebly applaud, as my chin hits the pavement *CLANG* and my eyeballs spring out onto my cheekbones *SCHLUP* for the hundredth time tonight.
19th Sept '04.
Oh holy mother of sodomy! The smell coming from my trousers as I sit down to breakfast in my room suggests - and it's rather a firm suggestion - that my legs and related areas have died without me noticing. One could mould the air like ice cream with a scoop.
Thank the Lord! It's not me. It's some outrageous German cheese I bought yesterday. Whatever will the maid think though?
20th Sept '04. Miranda do Douro, North-east Portugal.
Quick! Get to Portugal! They're literally giving stuff away! 20 euros gets me by far the biggest, best, gleamingest hotel room of the trip so far. A further 10 buys me a basket of food in the supermercato that would feed 4 unusually greedy adults with ease.
The proprietor of the shop, who looks like Charles Aznavour's more ingratiating brother, draws me into conversation about where I'm from and going. I warm to him until he tells me that, having spent time in Africa, he has reached the conclusion that no less than 90% of Africans are "bad people". He balances this rather bald statement by conceding that "small people" are "good". For a moment I think he means that, having lived among Pygmies, he found them both honest and companionable. Then I realise he means "a few".
Expanding on his theme, he goes on to warn me that a similar proportion of Arabs are dissatisfactory in some regard or other.
Oh well - his food is great.
Washed my 800-mile jeans in the sink this afternoon. The water that came out of them was the colour of the urine of a severely dehydrated man who has been on a spinach-only diet for a month.
Later, in Bar Jordao, lager and VH1... How in the name of Beelzebub did Billy Crystal get to shag Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally"? The man is an unadulterated goof, and Meggy, while occupying (at the time) the coveted "America's Leading Pseudo-Virgin" spot, is in reality a white-hot sex monkey of the most frotterrific variety. Gurgle.
Everything But The Girl: Three words - Ow! My! Eyes!
If you're in a restaurant and see "Godley and Creme" on the menu, avoid it. It's a frightening British pudding with a hair garnish.
Oi! Everyone in the world! Stop saying "conclusive proof"! What other sort of proof is there? Inconclusive proof?
21st Sept '04
Beautiful day. Coffee in the square. General dicking about. A small tumble during some off-road larks.
22nd Sept '04. Miranda - Guarda.
Breakfast of bread, jam, coffee, fags and Ibuprofen, necessitated by a bash on the shin and an insulted wrist from yesterday's drop.
Hot and sunny! Hot and sunny! The sainted ghost of Bill Hicks appears on my shoulder and whispers "What are you - a fuckin' lizard?"
135 miles of Douro valley hairpin mayhem later, it's Guarda.
A city on a very tall, very steep hill, with what looks like its only supermarket at the bottom. This means that if you live in Guarda and you don't have a car, you are going to
(a) starve to death within days, or
(b) develop calves like cantaloupes and thighs even Geoff Capes would swoon over.
The Douro valley is a hard, rocky, arid place. To describe the people that live there as "extremely wizened" would be to understate the situation laughably. It's also very beautiful indeed.
There seem to be as many horse-and-cart operators (if that's the accepted title) as car drivers, which suggests that the approx. 10 zillion euros that the Portuguese government receives from the EU each year is not wholly being distributed as equal, per-capita cash handouts.
One thing is certain. They're not spending it on the N221 from Mogadouro to Pinhel, which is surfaced with sharp rocks stuffed into a form of proto-tarmac. Loss-of-control fans might like to look out for the pot-holes filled with loose gravel that have been placed conveniently close to several barrier-less, cliff-edge hairpins along the way.
Joy beyond measure! There is a Portuguese word for "pint", and I have just used it, with thrilling results, in what may or may not have been a sentence. The barman has also bought me a small plate of whitish beans in salty water. New and interesting? Yes. Nice to eat? No.
Drinking beer? Then smoke cigarettes as well! They're Nature's Crisps...
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