Out Now!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sunday August 8th.

'May you live in interesting times' is traditionally interpreted as a curse. Sunday 8th of August then was blessed. But boring. Nothing happened.

And yet boring is grossly under-estimated. Every child should be bored - should endure long tracts of it - so that their imaginations can be kick-started, rather than merely consuming the imagination of others. Books are excluded from this fine theory because in fiction, two imaginations are necessarily involved. I endured huge tracts of boredom as a child – long, wet Sundays in Liverpool and two years on my back in hospital. Boredom is an undiscovered continent, a cerebral jump-lead.

But I wasn’t pontificating along these lines on Sunday the 8th of August. The morning was spent somewhere close to a toilet, the rest of the day we read, sun-bathed and swam. Some would call this a perfect holiday.

Things picked up in the evening. Reports came in that a major hurricane was heading our way. Earnest discussions ensued; should we take refuge in flight, or put down our tents and seek refuge in more substantial buildings. To my relief the latter course was chosen. I’d never seen a hurricane.

But this was Sunday 8th of August, and so nothing happened – other that a squall of heavy rain as commonly experienced on Blackpool Pier. Someone came on to me quite strong, but it was Sunday 8th August for her too. I spent the night watching an evangelical preacher on TV. He was good value, strutting the stage and bellowing damnation. It wasn’t convincing. It was Sunday the 8th of August.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Trauma in Florida

August 7

It was time to say goodbye to New Orleans, and be kind to our livers. We spent a leisurely morning at the CafĂ© De Monde in Jackson Square, sipping coffee, writing postcards and taking the occasional picture. Having nurtured our livers for a good two hours we headed for Pat O’Brians for a farewell Hurricane - and Mint Juleps I wish I’d discovered earlier. I tried to make up, but time was against me.

It’s interesting how memory plays tricks; from the vantage point of time tedious journeys are telescoped into warp factor nine. On the map it seems a reasonable distance but looking back we were one moment sipping Mint Juleps in a tropical garden, and the next building a bonfire on a Florida beach.

I’ve often read in books, dense, atmospheric paragraphs where the author has struggled to convince that the air could be a soft, viscous pink, the sea milky blue and both equally smooth on the skin. I experienced it that evening and watched as the ocean darkened beneath an orange and grey sunset. There was a solitary chair on the beach that remained unclaimed. The more I looked at it, the more I wondered who had been sitting there, and where he was now.

It made a good marker for my clothes and I stripped and swam, as solitary as that chair, in Florida water. I dreamt of Spanish galleons, pirates. . . and sharks. From nowhere the Jaws theme tune began its soft but remorseless beat, and I imagined my legs, dangling temptingly like sushi for a giant killer white.

The stars had come out but I was glaring at the beach, which now seemed unaccountably distant; and I realised at last the fate of the poor bastard who’d sat in that chair. I kicked and I clawed my way out in raw but self-induced panic, and staggered across the surf-line like a beached pig.

Kim found me and told me the sausages were ready, and my spirits rose. Partying on a Florida Beach at midnight beats anything, though perhaps not the dysentery that shortly afterwards followed. A dodgy sausage or post-shark-trauma. It was bad enough for both.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Steamboats and Transvestites

Friday 6th

I was dead. And they dropped us off at the right place: a New Orleans cemetery full of ornate and gothic looking tombs. Had there been one opened, I might have just stepped in and gone for a very long sleep. Instead I slept on the grass surrounded by props from an Anna Rice novel.

Later, but only partly recovered, I joined Laura, Evelyn, Dorita and Bret. Together we wandered over to the Confederate Museum: the un-dead in T shirts and shorts. Enroute we passed soup kitchens less than a mile away from the Tourist area. It’s good to be reminded that real life is less pleasant beyond the febrile tourist bubble.

The Confederate Museum was dark and evocative and reeked of romance and despair. Or maybe that was me, still badly hung-over. What was interesting was a beautifully made ‘crown of thorns’ given by Pope Pius VIX to Jefferson Davis. With it came a note, comparing his burden to that of Christ himself – though resurrection has yet to come for the Confederacy. The note was interesting though.

With no sense of direction, and no pigeon to follow, we took the wrong tram back, and in consequence, had to change trams somewhere in the business quarter. Unexpected moments can prove to be golden. The sky turned a sudden, biblical grey and the heavens opened. The downpour was immense, too much for the drains. A New Orleans flash flood - and businessmen, their trousers rolled up to their knees, paddling down streets with briefcases covering their heads.

We were running too. We had an appointment to keep. We ran through water – Evelyn struggling to keep up - our minds fixed upon Pier Six and a Mississippi Steamboat. Just then we could have done with one.

The boat was magnificent. All it needed was Bart Maverick on board and an animatron of Mark Twain. Sunshine would have been nice. Instead we had grey skies and rain, but hey I was on the Mississippi, trying to imagine those early French explorers in their flimsy canoes.

Hangovers don’t last for ever and by early evening I was hungry. We ate at Seaport, a restaurant serving the obligatory Creole Gumbo and Jambalaya. I remember having two servings.

That evening me and Laura hit the French Quarter again. We went to a place called the Bouree and saw a fine Cajun band – the melodeon player using the stage like a young Elvis Presley.

We also went to a Transvestite Bar, and that was an eye-opener. The only thing that has ever made me uneasy about transvestites or those who’ve gone a stage further is that so few of them look quite right. They may have achieved perfect peace in side of themselves, but often you look at them twice in a street, out of curiousity, and then look away again out of politeness. It’s a shallow response, but not judgemental, at least in a moral sense. For me, it’s a matter of sexual aesthetics.

But the ‘women’ in this club were beautiful. There’s no other way of putting it - as the actress said to the bishop. And there was none of the boredom shown by the ‘real’ women in the strip club of the night before. They were sharp and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

In the club were a bunch of young rednecks who felt obliged to heckle just in case anyone thought…..

And so another night in New Orleans came to an end

Thursday, 10 March 2011

A night in New Orleans

Thursday August 6

Today we drove over the longest bridge in the world. It may be true. It seemed like it. A 24 miles bridge just to get there: New Orleans. It had to be good.

And that night we ended up in the French Quarter, strolling from bar to bar. In Pat O’Brian’s we drank ‘Hurricanes,’ ominously named - and nicer than the real thing. Then I moved on to something called ‘The Climax’ which isn’t nicer than the real thing, but strong. I can’t remember what it tasted like or how many I had.

In several bars we were ripped off but ‘climaxed’ out of our minds it was hard to argue. So we accepted our change and soldiered on.

In one place, Jazz musicians played standing on the bar and you bought your drinks between their dancing feet. It called for concentration which might have been lost had they been women. We stayed there for some time, syncopating drinks and dollar bills between flailing limbs and carelessly aimed trombones.

What I found interesting was a Stripper’s bar. I’d never been to one before and wondered what facial expression to employ. I needn’t have bothered. I couldn’t believe how bored the women looked and in consequence how tedious the event. Woman after woman walked on stage, stripped, twirled and walked off again. It was a conveyor belt operation. They must have had a small army of them backstage, either that or they re-dressed behind the curtains and walked on again. I don’t think we’d have noticed, but disappointing, yes. You want a little more from Sodom and Gomorrah.

In the early hours of the morning, I returned to camp for a beer or two. Evelyn and Laura joined me. They may have been instrumental in persuading the Superintendent to re-open the bar and joining us. There was plenty to think about as the beer slipped down… the world’s longest bridge, bored strippers and grinning bar-tenders who played strange tricks with change.

Friday, 4 March 2011


Once, a long time ago, I read an article about the Stones. It may have been about their tour of America in 1976. They were into Tequila. Everyone was into Tequila…except me, living in a bed-sit in Newport.

I went to my local, The Hand-post, and asked for Tequila. They had none. I asked for gin instead and a small packet of Smith’s Crisps. In those days each packet came with a tiny blue bag of salt, which you sprinkled as you wanted on the crisps.

I sat in the shadows of a wooden booth, regarded my gin and tonic, its garnish of lemon, and tried to remember how it was done. I’m easily embarrassed, but fortunately the pub was half empty. Just as well. It didn’t make a pretty sight: sucking a lemon, licking a small mound of salt and downing neat gin in a gulp. It didn’t taste very nice either.

But infinitely preferable to what was to come.

Somewhere around the Great Salt Desert, I bought a large bottle of Mezcal, its tiny cactus worm curled and defiant floating at the bottom.

Yes, like all those tired, sad drinkers everywhere, I’d heard about the hallucinogenic worm, and had no qualms in chewing it. Suck it and see, as they say, and I figured I’d earned my dues with that miserable gin and salt concoction all those years before.

The first taste of Mescal was…interesting, before my mouth seized up. I’d never tasted alcoholic diesel until then. I tried it again, and admitted defeat. There was no way I was going to drink this, and the worm knew it and glowered in triumph.

‘Mix it,’ Roland said, and a sense of purpose returned. This guy had come second in an Austrian cocktail championship. ‘You can disguise anything in a good cocktail.’

We tried it with orange, and lime; we tried it with gin, vodka, lemonade; we tried it with everything we had on board, and made emergency stops at out of the way off-licenses, but to no avail. Every time we thought: this it, success, evolution Vs the worm - a taste like smoked petrol seeped through tongue, mouth and oesophagus. We could, of course, have taken it half-a-teaspoon at a time, but life was too short.

And yes, we could have simply tipped the entire contents of the bottle into the earth – our little bit for the Texan oil industry. But that went against the grain of all I hold holy. We either drank it or we didn’t and the worm went free.

Just outside New Orleans, the worm went free, probably now part of a voodoo gris-gris, one of immense power and malevolence.