Tuesday, August 11, 2009

London - Yorkshire - Wales

Recap - back in London having said bye-bye to Doug. First night back there was a party in the dive I called home in London, Derry Downs.

I slept in after the party, until around 11.00. It was soooo good not having a deadline, nothing to do except catch up with Jerry (Wally) and Chris (Jim). I had a shower and packed my dirty clothes into a bag and took them to the local Laundromat, set them for a nice drink and went next door for a fry up. The English know how to do them well and it whipped my hangover back into its cage. After dropping off my clean clothes I headed to the Walkabout, or Wankabout as it had become christened. Back in the 1980's England still had these weird licencing laws which forced pubs to close for a few hours in the afternoon. I could never figure that one out. In one of the prime cities of the world, London, you'd get turfed out on the street just after you'd settled into a digestive ale. Primitive fuckers. These licencing laws however had certain exceptions, including some clubs. Luckily the Wankabout fell into the exempt category, hence its popularity with us travellin' dudes. It had a travellers' mail drop area sorted alphabetically, a travel help desk and an agent for one of the camping tour operators, Autotours. Downstairs was a bar with wall mounted TV's, a bar snack service, lounges, regular bar tables and stools plus a fair range of booze behind the bar. And the fucker didn't close in the afternoon. The downside was that it was mainly populated by Antipodean types, hardly making it a typical London watering hole. For the latter we used to head to places like the Moscow, the Pride of Paddington or out to Hammersmith to catch a gig.

I went into the bar and settled down to writing some postcards and aerogrammes for the folks back home with a fresh pint as inspiration. I finished the scribing and the pint at the same time and put the mail into the outgoing slot upstairs. When I got back down to the bar they had just put on a video, Apocalypse Now, so I settled in and watched it. Somewhere between Marty Sheen doing his Tom Sawyer best on the river and Dennis Hopper weirding it up I spotted Chris doing a reccy of the bar. "Fuck him" I thought, he'd missed the RV in Basel so he could wait until I finished my beer. He didn't look very carefully and went back upstairs. About ten minutes later both he and Jerry walked in, looked around and spotted me. We started in on our usual round of shit stirring before having a beer. I had to find out what had happened in Basel. It seems they got there a day after I'd scarpered off with Doug 'n Dave. They'd spent the past month or so tooling around Europe, pretty much as I had. Jerry had brought his flight back home forward by several weeks and was in his last week in England.

These two were brothers, born in Yorkshire and emigrating to Australia in their teens. Jerry and his other brother, Richard had led Deb and I around a brief tour of Yorkshire in our first weeks in England four months previously. Jerry and I had become friends through working together and I subsequently became friends with his brothers. We knew each other pretty well so were able to sort ourselves out reasonably quickly. We came to a plan where we'd hang in London until Jerry flew home and then Chris and I would go to their old home town, Micklefield and stay with their relatives for a couple of days. We then would hire a car and drive around Wales.

With our plans laid in we went back to Derry Downs and I went through some travel pamphlets for cheap Oktoberfest deals. The Autotours mob gave a five day return trip with breakfasts included and sleeping in tents for not much more than it cost staying at Derry Downs for a week. Looked like a winner to me but I'd wait for last minute cheapies before hooking in to anything.

The next two days were pretty much a blur of pubs and cheap cafes. For Jerry's last night we went to Dingwall's somewhere near Hammersmith and checked out a couple of bands. Ivan, the Contiki courier who'd led us through Scandinavia, the USSR, Poland and Germany came along with us, as did Alex. Alex was this spunky blond from Western Australia with whom all blokes fell in love. She was attractive and a really nice person. Ivan was the only one who had actually done the deed. We all had felt it was inappropriate that a bloke from Melbourne would land a nice girl from Perth. It was a most ridiculous state of affairs which we put down to the fact that chicks always dig the tour leaders, lead singers, centre forwards, chief accountants etc. Well, maybe not the chief accountants. The bands were rock with a hint of blues thrown in. Beer swilling originals with an occasional cover. During the second band's final set I was looking at an attractive blond girl who was quietly bopping away, minding her own business. I let them finish the song before pouncing on her. I introduced myself and asked her what she thought of the bands. It was difficult to understand her as she spoke broken English in the manner of my old mate, Colonel Klink. Her name was Garbi and she was in London for a week before heading back home to the Fatherland. Instinctively I checked what she was drinking (beer) and went and bought two each with the excuse being that the bar was crowded and this would save time. When I got back I asked her a bit about herself and she said she was a musician. Okay, that was fine. We chatted a bit more and grooved through another couple of songs. We finished our first beers and by then I was sure that I had done enough spade work to deflect any shenanigans from the rest of our crew. I'd even agreed to lugging her keyboards across Europe in the spirit of Aussie-German relations. I took her over to the crew and made introductions.

It was a happy group who got a last drink in while the final encore was played. The band had chosen The Jam's "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight", pretty much as a hint that it was time to leave. I negotiated for Garbi to come back to Derro Downs with us. The mini cab was crammed. Ivan had Alex perched on his lap whilst Garbi was nestled on mine. We couldn't give a stuff about the others. We dropped off Ivan and Alex at their nesting spot and ended up in the Downs in time to hit a couple of whiskies, baileys and whatever else was lying around from our various Duty Free stocks. Garbi and I eventually slinked off into the night to further the cause of international relations.

The bad bit was having to listen to a few tracks of Garbi's music. It was shocking synth-rock with a bit of screeching, some Germanic beat poet lines and not much rhythm or anything driving it at all. If she was going to hold me to lugging that set of keyboards across Europe I'd be ditching them in the Rhine at first opportunity to save the ears of Western Europe. In fact the European Society of Audiologists were already lining up a Perpetual Trophy in my honour if I'd do something to put a halt to her incredibly bad music. However the good bit was the night time activity. In the morning after we'd showered and tidied up we had a fry up breakfast in the local
grease merchant cafe. Garbi had decided that she wouldn't be trekking across Europe with her keyboards so I was safe. She had decided that she'd go back to her studies of Norse Mythology as Interpreted By Late Ming Dynasty Tea Leaf Dancers or whatever basket weaving nonsense it was she tried to sing about. I encouraged her to stick with writing essays and get a degree. Anything but music. I escorted her to Paddington Station and we bade our goodbyes. It was a wistful sort of experience, I wouldn't have minded backing up for seconds as long as the only music was orchestrated by myself.

Then it was time to escort Jerry to Heathrow and make sure he got the hell out of Europe. We drank expensive airport drinks and pushed him onto the plane. He'd brought his flight home forward and was eager to catch up with his mad girlfriend. Relatively mad anyway. Chris and I went back to Derry Downs, taking some of the tall cans of Carlsberg with us. We loaded our packs with enough gear for a week and set the rest of our crap in storage. The store room was a dogs' breakfast but somehow we always seemed to be able to retrieve what was rightfully ours.

In the morning we set off by bus to Micklefield. The bus station had its usual share of students, ratsackers, waifs and tarts. A Scottish version of the latter latched onto us and from the off was pitching for money. There was nothing further from our honest wishes than forking over hard earned to this bint. I blamed Chris. He was unfortunately good looking in a George Michael kind of way and attracted all sorts of examples of females to his orbit. While this was generally useful in terms of scooping up extras it also had its drawbacks including the appearance of struggling Scottish tarts. This one would have been better off working as a research assistant for Haggis Stuffers Inc than scouting for coin in a London bus station from hungover Aussie ratsackers. The one thing about long haul coach rides in England was that they made British Rail look good. We made it to Micklefield and went to Uncle Albert's place where Mrs Uncle Albert fed us quiche and chips. We sat around telling tales of our adventures and this was punctuated by their Yorkshire quips;

"Oooh, I see" or,

"So t'breakfast were nobbut bread and jam?" or,

"Eh, that Belgian t'wor a bit wick ye say?" or,

"Oh Chris, ye had to go down snicket in Berlin ter find our Jeremy".

It was priceless. During this Albert brought out a couple of 'visitors' beers and seemed to enjoy it immensely as we sat around having an ale and talked about cricket. I could see that having international guests was out of the ordinary for this old Yorkshire couple so we played our part in regaling them with our travel stories, as well as discussing the fortunes of our cricket teams.

Traditional English breakfasts in Yorkshire include bacon, eggs, black pudding and fried bread. with tea and toast. It was thus fed that we were driven down to the local cheap hire car yard by Albert with his best wishes for safe travels. We ended up with a small Ford sedan and as I was the most sensible I took the wheel. We headed for Wales which wasn't really all that far. English people seemed to think that a journey of a hundred and fifty miles was a major expedition as opposed to a simple day trip. Wales was interesting with its Celtic language variant and history of being put upon by England giving its natives a narrative for expressing their differences. They have a history of doing this through language, song and Rugby; the powerful cultural drivers of Wales. In Caernarvon we went and found a cheap Bed and Breakfast then went looking for pubs to find other cultural drivers.

After an ordinary dinner we settled into a pub for a few beers, catching a bit of local culture. The locals didn't seem very animated despite our efforts at engaging them, so we had a few games of pool while we drank our pints. Not an inspiring evening. I started wondering why the Poms ever bothered.

The Welsh version of breakfast was similar to an English one, including black pudding and fried bread. It was brilliantly artery-clogging but we tore in regardless. We took off down the west coast and ended up in St David's, a seaside village which Chris' family had visited on several holidays when he was a child. We walked around the sandy cove and he recounted the antics of his brothers. He even showed me where Richard has pegged him with a flat rock and opened a gash on his forehead. I laughed and reached down for a suitable rock and mimed a throw at his head. He picked up a rock but didn't mime. Missed by that much.

When we got back to the car I asked Chris for the keys,

"You've got them."

"No I haven't. I gave them to you when you went back to get your smokes from the car, before you went to the shop,"


So it went on. We retraced our steps up to the beach but I was sure we couldn't have lost them there, it would have been too obvious. Nevertheless we looked with no result. Fuck! To get a new set we'd have to go back to Micklefield somehow, and then return to St David's. Fuck that for a joke. Surely we could get it started by the Automobile Association and just drive it back non stop. Chris went to the shop to get the phone number. He returned with a giant shit-eating grin.

"The keys were in the shop." Chris waved them at me.

"You fucking moron." I snatched the keys, " Let's find somewhere to stay, then a pub." I gave Chris a fierce look, he responded;

"The shop owner suggested a caravan park a couple of miles down the road."

We checked it out and found it to be a cheap option. Good, more money for the pub.

The local pub patrons were amused to find a couple of Australians stroll in. It wasn't really the sort of destination you'd expect to find two eucalyptus sniffers. Once again we found ourselves answering all sorts of questions and as long as the lager flowed, we were only too happy to oblige.
Following this little jaunt the next few days were pretty much carbon copies. We'd land in a town, find a cheap dive or caravan, check out the local sights and settle into a cosy pub for the evening. The Welsh were good hosts and an amusing bunch, particularly with their daft language which had outlawed more than one vowel per sentence. But there was one last invasion plan I had yet to fulfil. Oktoberfest.

From Wales we headed back to Micklefield where once again we were treated to fine Yorkshire food 'n chips and a couple of Albert's visitors' beers. When Chris dropped me off for the bus back to London I handed him a 20 pound note with the advice to buy them 'something nice'. A double ticket to the theatre or some such and some flowers. Maybe take them out for a meal. Twenty quid was a reasonable sum back in the Eighties and he'd be able to get something half decent. I later found out he shouted them a slap up feed, bought some wine and flowers and wrote a thank-you note. Good lad. I reached London and headed back to Derry Downs. I ran into a Canadian guy (Gary) I'd had a few beers with previously and a couple of Aussies he'd toured with on an Autotours invasion. The tickets for the Oktoberfest were still going cheap so we headed to the Wanker and I bought one. The other guys already had theirs. The bus was due out at 6.30 p.m. the next day, so it was time to get in some practice (not that I really needed it). In any case the day after was my birthday and it promised to be a many-layered cake. That's how it turned out, with a couple of surprises thrown in.


  1. Yeah, there are parts of Yorkshire that look like they're at the ass end of nowhere and the locals don't see strangers for months at a time. I'm sure your troop fit in fine!

    A good series so far-nicely written!

  2. Good stuff. That mid afternoon closing thing does nothing for anyone. About as much use as the six o'clock swill. Thankfully just historical curiosities by the time my generation kicked off.

  3. YD - thanks. Some of those villages we'd visited earlier in my trip were archetypal Yorkshire towns. The pubs were generally good.
    Dr Y - it was ridiculous. The first time it happened I was shocked and asked the barman WTF?!
    What made it more silly was that you could go to one of the many "off-licences" (bottle shop) and buy take aways.

    Oktoberfest to come and that will be the end of this little trip. I'll go through my north American diary and drag some crap out of that next.

  4. YD - just read your road trip riposte- very funny! 1986 - guess where I was? That's right, avoiding you and your mates. Between June and September I travelled up the West Coast - L.A. to Vancouver using Greyhound, crossed the Rockies by train to Calgary then Greyhound across Canada, tripped around the eastern provinces a bit, down to Boston, NYC, back up to Canada, then down to Buffalo and flew over to L.A. for my flight back to Oz.

  5. Yes, I see you skipped the Midwest on your trip here.

    Are you going to write up that trip to North America sometime? Both coasts and Canada, eh? A good journey!

  6. Therbs, these are great. Really enjoying them. Keep them coming.

  7. Agree with Bangarr

    Great Stuff

    Have enjoyed these travelling tales - I remember you telling me one when we caught up for a beer - nicely done!

  8. YD - I'll get that trip together once I can piece together what happened at the Oktoberfest.
    Bangar - thanks! There'll be more.
    Lerm - cheers. Next time you're in Sydney we'll crack a few more sharpies.