To paraphrase Joni Mitchell
:- ‘God gave man paradise on earth, Man made it into a parking lot.’
And to quote Winston Churchill, “The motor vehicle will be the curse of the 20th century.”
It’s been said that cockroaches are the only living organism that could survive nuclear Armageddon. But in the mechanical insect world, I bet cars would too. They are remarkably similar, if you think about it: pestilent, the same sort of shape, ugly, filthy, crawling all over the place, abhorrent in one’s vicinity, almost impossible to get rid of, terrible for the environment and bad for health.
Some people give up smoking, but, years ago, I gave up driving because I hate cars. No, that’s not quite right. I seriously hate cars. In a single day the average sized vehicle will pollute more than a smoker will in a lifetime. Accordingly, if smoking is getting banned here, there and freaking everywhere, apparently for the good of the general public’s health, then cars have to be too. CARS KILL should be emblazoned on their sides, bumpers and bonnets, accompanied by graphic photos of car crash victims.
Making these facts infinitely worse, a truly awful news story came to me via the South China Morning Post
whereby an eight year old girl, living in a house by the side of a congested road in Jiangsu province, has been diagnosed with lung cancer due to the levels of vehicle pollution she has no choice but to breathe. Not only are the fragile bones of kids smashed to pieces in accidents but their delicate, innocent lungs are being contaminated by toxic vehicle fumes. Reading further, in the USA alone, I discover that 200,000 people die each year from such vehicle emissions, and last month in
Kathmandu I did wonder and worry when I saw kids playing on the narrow streets, dodging the traffic and breathing poison that you can pretty much chew on.
Cars are dirty, dangerous, killing machines that serve only the selfishness of the individual, the oil industry and car salesmen. Throw in a bit of tax for governments, who on the whole are also a pack of self-interested scumbags, and you've got the toe-rags’ equivalent of a royal flush.
Just the other night I was sitting outside my local café and enjoying the very brief, cool weather of winter when some slovenly oaf turned up in his car and parked right next to the packed terrace, a huge and empty parking lot 20 metres away, exhaust pumping in our direction. Not content with that intrusion, the driver put his hand on the car horn and left it there, giving one long blast into our eardrums. It's the local way to attract a waiter's attention. Air pollution and noise pollution in a matter of seconds and he couldn't have cared less about anyone but his slimy self.
Once he'd stopped, I told him to “Shut the fuck up.”
“What did you say to me?” he asked indignantly, moustache twitching, yellow fangs bared.
This is a common refrain that I often hear whenever I pick a fight out here (more and more frequent the longer I stay). I’m not saying I’m a tough guy, but in times like this I am an annoyed guy and can look after myself in this neck of the sand.
“I said ‘shut the fuck up’. Why don’t you switch that engine off, get your fat ass out of your fucking car and go inside to get the coffee?”
“You shut up,” replied the honking wanker. “I will kill you”.
It went on like this for a while before he repeated his death threat and I decided that he was definitely all mouth and no trousers.
“Oh yeah,” I said, standing up. “Let’s see about that.”
Realizing I was 100% serious he drove off, pathetically shouting something as he disappeared. Looking round at the other people sitting outside I saw a few smirks but mostly looks of anger directed my way. I was the foreigner, abusing one of their own, and for sure they would all be driving home like jerks later that evening. There are countless other stories like this that I will relate at a later date, unless someone does kill me, of course.
Encounters on my bike, when drivers entertain themselves by trying to run me down, are also common and stories coming out of London about six cyclists being killed there in the last two weeks jolted me into this rant. Car drivers don’t give a flying fuck about anyone but themselves; it’s simply power between the legs that they don’t otherwise have. That honking, gobshite wanker and his breed would no doubt find the Chinese girl’s story amusing, and, as my anger outside the coffee shop vaguely subsided, a screeching car alarm went off, its owner taking an age to sort it out.
These types of people probably keep cockroaches as pets.
The Bagpiper Whisky (a disastrous molasses-based beverage, regrettably ‘distilled’ in India) had made me feel so rough that I was considering giving up booze full stop (re. Buddha) until I stumbled into the Jungle Joint by clambering up a steep steel ladder from the dusty Sauraha main street into a rooftop bar glowing orange as the sun set on it. I put on my shades as the jaws of crocodiles snapped at fish from their camouflaged traps in the muddy banks of the Rapti River.
There are certain bars scattered around the world that have a certain vibe: an air of heady expectation rippling through them, anytime; a steady stream of expressive punters, dressed down, attractive, chatting and laughing easily; good tunes seeping from speakers; and when you’ve got seven tonne elephants plodding by, down on the street, as quiet as mice, this bar was most certainly one of them.
Taking a seat and ordering an Everest beer, Santos, a drunken Nepalese, bumped into me, almost toppling over, reefer dangling from his lips. More elephants trumpeted contentedly from distant stables, on a bed of straw for the night, while tigers prowled the jungle floor for deer, or anything else that looked edible.
The drunkard Santos garbled some nonsense in the language that only drunkards understand, apparently forgetting the joint in his mouth, so I extracted it and took a long drag as the palm fronds, at head height, gently fanned away the heat of the day. A look of surprise came over his face, narrow eyes attempting to focus, sobering up just a little.
“Hey man … where you from?” he slurred, and it’s a good job that I have a strong enough grasp of the English language to reply.
“Yeah? Me too!”
From that moment on the bar seemed to melt into one. Joints went round, came back, and went round again as more were rolled. Two absconding English guys turned up, former soldiers, whose names now escape me, taking a roundabout route on migration to Australia, although I got the feeling they were in two minds about that, and, later, Santos reappeared, the second coming, somehow making it up the ladder with a huge bag of grass in one hand and a couple of German chicks in the other. The jungle was becoming multi-national. There were other characters who passed through, players on the jungle stage, but by that point they were just darkish shadows with hazy faces and unfathomable personalities, leaves dropping from trees. The Jungle Joint boss got his guitar out and we all sang and danced and spilled our drinks, the wooden planks creaking and rocking, and an old lady came up the ladder too and shouted, “Who want momo! Who want momo!?”
Christ knows how we made it back to the Jungle Hotel, a good mile away along the pitch black track, dense undergrowth on either side, hillsides matted with webbed tree canopy enveloping all beneath, waterfalls pouring through ravines. There are beasts in there; some big and dangerous, some small and dangerous, but I woke up late yet alive in the steamy morning, pretty much lunchtime, the pockets of my shorts crammed with dried jungle ganja and sipping jungle coffee I rolled one up in the deserted jungle restaurant – all the guests out on safari in search of invisible tigers – trying to piece together the events of last night while the waiter asked, “Do you have elephants in England, sir?”
“None that I recall.”
The thought of at least five hours on a bus bouncing along the jungle highway, diving into every pothole known to man and woman, didn’t appeal so I booked $75 tickets on Buddha Air and the 40 seat propeller-driven plane lurched skywards, jungle below, fine views of the Himalayas rising from the clouds to the north, and 25 minutes later we smacked down onto tarmac at Kathmandu airport, screeching to a halt, burning rubber, a long way from the terminal building, and where we got off, walked through a creaking iron gate and out onto the city street.
“Want some hashish?” was the first question one of the gaggle of taxi touts asked, and so the rest of our time was spent in the Garden of Dreams, an oasis in coloured, joyful madness, the eyes of children peeping out from darkened shops, gigantic, leggy white European trekkers photographing the stupas and shrines, dressed in ethnic clothes that I've never seen the locals wear.
The following morning was spent rolling up on the balcony, puffing away, watching the school kids exercise then pray on the yard beneath the hotel as great tresses of purple clematis ruffled on the Himalayan breeze.
Gotta love Nepal.
Having survived the Hotel Ramshackle in Bharatpur
I headed into the jungle proper where I hear the tiger population has increased from 120 to 200. Still didn't see one. My old friends Mr and Mrs Elephant are still out and about though and the bus rode us through the flat Terai
plains that stretch across the entire southern border of Nepal's frontier with India. I was there last year, but, thanks to the elephants and the people and enchantment in general, it's the sort of place that pulls one back.
“Short back and sides please, mate,” Thank God he wasn't handling the cut-throat razor.
He stood with a beatific smile on his face, a little nervous in his cricket attire, holding a pair of steel scissors, unsure what to do, not understanding a word, eventually putting down the weapon and rubbing his hands on the grubby cloth draped over his shoulder.
After a game of mime and hand gestures he got the gist and I settled back into a creaking bar stool while he prepared the cut-throat razor. My face was smothered in some sort of watery white oil, then foam, before receiving the most gentle shave of its life; the blade caressing the skin.
The Barber of Bharatpur then took his ancient pair of scissors to my hair and sorted out the short sides and back, giving what’s left on top a little trim. Every now and then I’d open one eye and catch sight of various characters in the shop entrance craning their necks to gawk at me in the barber’s chair, pale legs sticking out from beneath the cape, yellow hair scattered about the place.
Next up was a kneading of my face with his fingers starting at the chin, then over the nose, squeezing and molding and pinching, circling my eyes with fingertips before rubbing vigorously, open-palmed on my forehead. After that he ruffled my hair and pulled and pushed it about for a bit, massaging each follicle. Deftly he snapped a length of cotton thread from a reel, and bizarrely, kind of coolly, gripped the thread between both hands and ran it over my entire face, raking off the scraps.
I mistakenly thought it all over and started to get up, but with a speed of turn to rival Johann Cruyff, he wrenched my arm back, and back further, until I yelped in pain and he laughed and kneaded the length of the arm, yanking and cracking knuckles before swapping to the left.
Then I was pushed forward so my arms lay on the counter, my head on them, and he punched my back so hard with the base of his fist that my breath exploded from my mouth and he kneaded down through the muscles and flesh and made me giggle with a ticklish pinch of my waist. We all laughed at that and it did signal the end of the 30 minute/ $5 session.
Outside had become dark o’clock.
Out of Saudi, first in a taxi then the SABTCO causeway bus and a busy border with hundreds of cars using the bloody bus lane. Delmon Hotel lobby for buffet lunch and tea then breezy walk across town via the Shiaa ghetto, skirting the Diplomatic Quarter, and took a room in the Windsor Tower Hotel with supercute receptionist Lamlaya and a cool blue pool in the car park.
Felt like stretching my legs so I vaulted a highway fence and padded through sand to Juffair. En route there was an argument with a guy who had nearly run me down then wanted to be best buddies. Dust-up over, it was onwards and upwards for a night at the Hotel California with US Military and Militaryettes, England 4 v Montenegro 1 on the TV while a band played Blur and Katy Perry covers. There was plenty of whisky on the bar as well as a mellow vibe despite the drunken, whooping GI Jar-heads, biceps like logs, dancing like white men, even the black guys.
Felt rough after booze and the humidity made for a tetchy journey via Abu Dhabi at midnight (no change), onto Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi at 5 am in the smoking room and a great bookshop. Short flight to Nepal in cloud and landing in Kathmandu rain, a refreshing cool drizzle pattering from the Rhodedendrons. I hooked up with my old mate Rads then a power nap before delicious dinner in Gaia restaurant and a pleasant chat with the boss in trainy courtyard. Movies sent me down into to deepo sleepo.
Say no more ... I'm just about to head off to Nepal!
I’ve had a dodgy left leg for 25 years. It’s been a debilitating affliction that I’d always put down to cricket (the sport not grasshoppers): charging towards the stumps in a forlorn attempt to emulate my hero Michael Holding
, leaping at the crease and landing on my left leg while delivering the ball. It had to take a toll and it was this action – leg hammering baked earth again and again, weekend after weekend - that led me to assorted quacks, physiotherapists and Chinese doctors to determine and, fingers crossed, solve the chronic pain that was shooting up from knee to lower back. Nothing happened. Jack Schitt rode into town and never left, the medical world baffled and uninterested.
As I got older, the leg got worse. A few miles walk saw me limping home; a jog had me out of action for a week afterwards; even getting out of bed could be painful; and putting on the left sock was sheer torture. I won't bring getting my leg over into it.
This summer, back in leafy England, to see the dog and my mother, the latter told me about a remedial therapist she knew and so, on a sun-kissed afternoon, I went along to a home-based clinic in a pretty village, somewhat skeptical about the outcome.
“Your posture is all wrong,” the lady said by way of introduction, diagnosed after a brief glance at me standing in the doorway.
She soon found a trapped nerve in my left elbow, explaining the central nervous system going up the arm, down the torso and into the leg.
“But it isn’t just that,” she added and rubbed my leg for a while, which was quite pleasant I have to say. Then she poked and stroked and pressed my left foot and asked, “When did you break your leg?”
“I’ve never broken my leg.”
“Yes, you have, about 25 years ago,” she continued. “It was broken here on the metatarsal running along the top of your foot.”
My mind delved back in time and came to a halt at a football match in the late 1980s when an opposition player had deliberately stamped on my ankle, leaving me writhing about on the pitch then looking up to see sponge man Alan Jones, fag hanging out of his mouth, laughing and telling me to stop whining. We only had 11 men (those weren't exactly the glory days of Hadlow Rangers FC) and had to win to avoid relegation, so I carried on, scored a goal and we stayed up. One of the highlights of my career!
The next day my ankle had swollen to three times its size and I took myself off to Kent & Sussex Hospital where an entirely unsympathetic NHS doctor (I can still see his face, the useless fucker) dismissed it as a sprain. He didn't even do an x-ray. I carried on playing football and cricket for years after, struggling through the pain for the joy of sport.
“You must have been in agony for all that time,” the lady said as she massaged the bone back into place - a five minute operation costing £20, which had eluded all the other doctors (the useless fuckers) who had blindly looked at it.
“Yep,” I answered and told her about the football match and the National Health Service’s treatment of it, or lack of (the useless fuckers).
Hugely grateful I left her clinic thinking that if I ever make a fortune, she’s going to get the holiday of a lifetime, and walking along the village street on my new leg, smoking a cigarette in celebration, waiting for my mum to pick me up, a girl wearing a horsey outfit at the bus stop shouted out, “Oi mate! Got a spare fag?” I gave her one while she told me about her job in the stables and then asked what I was doing there.
“Getting a new leg.”
“What you on about?”
The relief of being able to walk without pain is still, two months later, sinking in. It’s like a new life. Although at first one side effect was that I was using muscles - the outer thigh and calf – on my left leg that I hadn't been using for 25 years as I kind of dragged that leg when walking, and those muscles were now crying out in pain. Man, give me a break!
After countless hikes with the dog, followed by an energetic holiday in Portugal, those muscles were tight and taut and in serious need of attention and so on the third Magnificent Journey That Not Many People Know About
of the summer I found a traditional Chinese medical clinic in Amsterdam and had a masseuse knead my leg and entire body back into shape. Even though it appeared to be an establishment of a non-erotic nature, she did offer to jerk me off at the end, but I was in too much of a blissed-out state to even think about getting a boner, and so I almost ran down to the pub for a final hurrah with friends before embarking on the next day’s trip back to hellfire (47 degrees centigrade on landing; humidity 80%) and my leg still works!
It was with a real heavy heart that I left this beautiful part of the world and had one more night in Lisbon where I got a last-minute 4 star hotel deal for 50 Euros, floated on a super soft bed all afternoon, smoking bifta (gotta love European hotels where you can still get smoking permitted rooms) and watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
before taking a train out to the suburb of Belem to look at the bridge and the Rio Tejo before flying back to Amsterdam
for a final night on the tiles. It's been an awesome summer via Arnhem, A'dam, London, Kent, Lincolnshire, Lisbon and Cascais so all the best to those who 'sailed' with me!
Other than the stagnant industrial acid bath that is the Arabian Gulf, I haven't had a seaside holiday for donkeys years so it was refreshing to spend time by the sea in Cascais (see previous post) and this is what I found on the beach.