Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Note on the cathars

Then they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ, for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this. They assert that the host comes from straw, that it passes through the tails of horses, to wit, when the flour is cleaned by a sieve (of horse hair); that, moreover, it passes through the body and comes to a vile end, which, they say, could not happen if God were in it.[27]

Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible and is therefore the creation of the evil power, and cannot sanctify the spirit, but that the churchmen sell this water out of avarice, just as they sell earth for the burial of the dead, and oil to the sick when they anoint them, and as they sell the confession of sins as made to the priests.[27]

Monday, 12 November 2018


There's a to-do list on my computer called 'impressions of spirit'. Basically all those encounters that left a particularly lasting impression on me. Kevin's the first on the list.

Kevin- 07/14

On a grey and drizzly day somewhere in central Norway I got stuck on a roadside bend in the hills. I waited patiently in the face of the wheeled milieu till my brain leaked out through my ears and decided to join the rabble of pines lining the road. We waited in a different mode, peering over the crash barrier-cordon to silently cheer on the trickle of cars. It must have been a race since none were stopping. After about forty minutes of spectatorship a camper van pulled over suddenly and I was a person again, surprised it was a camper van because I’d long since given up on even trying with them. Most of them had Dutch or Belgian plates and a retired couple glaring at me with suspicion behind map and steering wheel.
In this case I didn’t see the driver. As I walked up hefting pack over shoulder the side door popped open and a smiling blonde haired man stuck his head out. Slightly round face, short hair, crow’s eyes framing blue's eyes.

“Hey there, we’re heading south for about an hour if that’s any good?”
“Thanks a lot, that would be a massive help.”
“Oh are you English? Maybe you can help my son Kevin practise his English.”
I follow him into the van and a boy looks up from his place at the table.
I greet him and shake his hand. He is a very relaxed-looking ten-year-old, and minus some puppy fat he is his father’s double. I can see this because the man is standing beside Kevin with his hand on the boy’s shoulder, beaming with pride.

“You see I named him Kevin because he looks so much like Kevin in home alone.”
I briefly wonder how much a newborn can look like Macaulay Culkin in his prime, but I take the veracity of such origin stories pretty lightly given how many conflicting ones I’ve heard about 'Michaelangelo'.

I hear a toilet flush. The bathroom door opens and a startled woman emerges. She looks like she could be Thai and it later turns out that she is.

The father explains he’s picked up a hitcher to teach Kevin.

“Ahh, ok! Welcome to our van!” She beams at me.
Husband and wife climb back into the front seats and off we go.
Kevin and I are left in the back of the van as we wend through the alpine drizzle.
He speaks to me in perfect English, with an accent somewhere between Norwegian and American.

“This is weird. You’re the first hitch-hiker I’ve ever met. I’ve only seen them in video games.”
I laugh and assure him that we are out there in the world, whilst taking out my paper and pen to doodle. Kevin’s relaxed air is interesting. To me it seemed borne of a sort of worldly confidence that I roughly associate with eldest siblings and only-children, rather than the relaxed air of someone whose head is in the clouds (speaking for myself here).
He’s relaxed in the way that someone like Alexander Von Humboldt might be relaxed; prepared to be surprised by newcomers but not expecting to be fazed. In fact, writing this now I bet Kevin had met a thousand hitchhikers and was just trying to make a rudderless traveller feel noteworthy for a moment. Courteous devil. 

“So Kevin, tell me what you like doing?” I am slowly drawing a sort of amorphous monster, the kind of thing I usually draw to let my head wander.
“Well I like minecraft. I mean I’m always on minecraft building things, buying things, selling things. And then what I really like to do is troll people.”
I look up from my drawing, interested. Kevin continues.
“I’ll say I’m selling something and get someone to follow me to a far-out part of the map where I’ve built a trap. I kill them, film their reactions and stick them on youtube. Oh man, some of them actually cry. You wouldn’t believe it.” He is smiling just at the memory of it. My first thought is that Kevin needs very little help with his English from me, given his ability to operate in the cybersphere at a Machiavellian level, entirely in his second language.

Kevin’s stepmother walked to the back of the van and came to the table some minutes later, offering us a plate of spring rolls.
We thanked her and continued our conversation, munching away as the road straightened out and we descended slowly into flatter territory. I asked Kevin what sort of outdoor activities he enjoyed and he explained to me that he saw most of the outdoors in Norway as being either dark, wet, cold, scary or exhausting. He preferred to be inside, usually playing videogames. I asked him to explain more about his aversion to the outside world and we carried on, sharing ideas about how differing variables would affect these approaches. He pointed out I was bigger, older and perhaps more weatherproof. I added that I was probably less technologically engaged. At that point in fact I was travelling without any electric or electronic devices, with the exception of a torch. An entertaining decision during the 24-hour daylight of summer in the far north.  I told Kevin that on the solstice in Lofoten I emerged from my tent after an indefinite period of bad weather. I asked a passing walker for the time and he told me 9 o’clock. A moment later I had to run after him to see whether he meant the morning or the evening.
Kevin seemed unable to waste words in acknowledging such a misguided experiment. The conversation turned to art somehow as he began to take interest in my doodling. It was just at this moment that the van slowed to a stop.
His parents told me they were about to turn off the main road and so this was me.

I thanked them for the lift, the spring rolls and the conversation, tore the drawing out of my notebook and handed it to Kevin.
I grabbed my bag, said my goodbyes and disembarked from the camper van. As I stood by the roadside putting my bag on my back I noticed Kevin was still in the doormframe, eyeing the drawing. He looked up at me, waved and shouted.

“You’re a creative genius!” I laughed and said thanks.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Hitch-hiking: On Dangerous Situations

"The principle of pride-in-risk is ultimately almost suicidal.
It is all very well to test once whether the universe is on your side,
but to do so again and again, with increasing stringency of proof,
is to set out on a project which can only prove that the universe hates you."
- Gregory Bateson, Steps To An Ecology of Mind

The question comes up in almost every conversation I have with people about hitch-hiking. “Have you ever been in a dangerous situation while hitching?”
Ignoring studies in the perception of danger versus actual accidents,  I’ll take this to mean “Have you ever felt that you were in a dangerous situation while hitching?”.
The answer is a few times with varying results. I don’t have my journals to hand so these are from memory.

“I was bladdered at breakfast.” 

A petrol station in Nottingham, August 2012. I got there with a lift from an American man living in Bristol. He knew a lot about cold winters in Massachussetts, hunting muskrats, the fur industry and skiing. He worked in a managerial role for a lingerie company somewhere in the UK and went as far as Nottingham that morning. I’d had a bit of an odd summer. A family member had died and I had broken up with my girlfriend. Another family member was in the middle of a mental health episode. Things all felt pretty ethereal and my head was in the clouds most of the time. One weekend I decided to hitch up from Bristol to Bradford to see my brother Pat at university.
Standing in the petrol station with my sign, a middle-aged woman walked past gesturing indirectly at me. I didn’t register what it meant but then she turned back, beckoned me over and said she’d take me close to Bradford. I followed her, got in the car and thanked her whilst putting on my seatbelt.
The instant she turned the keys in the ignition ear-splittingly loud pop music blasted out of the speakers, and we began to reverse out of the carpark. The noise was horrific, and just before we hit the road she paused the music. In the then-deafening hush with my ears ringing, she leaned over clumsily and said to me: “By the way, I was bladdered at breakfast.”
She presses play, the music returns, we join the road and begin one of the most nerve-racking journeys of my life.
A few themes throughout the journey:
-Every CD she had was from a reality TV music competition.
-She forgot how to use the volume dial. It was either play or pause so an immense contrast every time she wanted to say something.
- Her speed remained close to 95mph for the whole journey.
- My level of conviction that this woman was steaming drunk remained at about 95% for the whole journey.

I remember a basic feeling of being pinned to my chair by the speed of the car, coupled with the shock realisation that she was a wild one, followed by self-enforced calm and ruminations about what things I could and couldn’t control.
I think my initial internal monologue was “Uh oh. This is shit. Well, you can’t do much until you take in more information so relax into it. There’s no way you’re climbing out of this car on the motorway….and after all, everyone dies when they die and at least it’s a beautiful day.”
As we sped through the morning light on the mercifully empty motorway I crept out of my philosophical gazing and back into my body. I eyed my driver suspiciously as she demonstrated an audacious capacity to multitask. Between her left index finger and thumb a lit cigarette, between her right index finger and thumb the small birchwood paddle of a large dripping ice lolly. With the six remaining fingers she maintained control of the wheel. I calmly (threw up inside) took this in and thought some more. That particular CD’s roaring wall-of-shite production drew to a close, only to be followed by what appeared to be the same track. She hit pause suddenly. Ears ringing, I leaned in for her next revelation.
“That’s the problem with these artists, they all sound the same.”
I didn’t point out that the track was on repeat. I merely gasped in horror as she frowned like a scolded toddler and six-finger steering wheel contact turned to three-finger steering wheel contact. Her now off-duty right hand lurched forward to take the offending CD out of the player and I realised this was a moment when I could turn from death-wish passenger to survival-oriented crew. I snatched the stack of CDs from the dashboard and told her “It’s ok, I’ll deal with the CDs, you can just focus on driving.”
We continued at close to 100mph down the motorway. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown, noticing the hedges blur past whilst flinging shitty pop singles into the CD player with all the aspiration and effort of an Olympic discus-thrower. I just hoped each one would wipe my memory of the last. Well I also hoped I would survive but I was distracted.
She on the other hand was on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough as she carefully mediated the sacred dialogue between cigarette and ice-lolly. Her tongue must have felt like a child in the midst of a divorce. Occasionally she’d side-track to tilt us out of the path of sudden and bloody obliteration, with all the focus of someone remembering to stir a soup.
People usually ask why I didn’t just get out of the car. I still ask myself that sometimes. What I remember is the feeling that the only way to get out of that one would have been gradual inception. Slowing that car down with conversation was like trying to melt ice with nothing but your hand. I was getting results towards the end by engaging her in conversation about her son, but by the time I noticed a slight improvement she came to a full stop in Leeds city centre and said : “Here you are, close as I can get you, it’s a five minute train ride.”
I thanked her and left, swiftly.

Come with me all the way and you’ll only have to take a two hour train!”

Dear me, this one’s closer in the memory banks but seems farther because it happened in the middle of so many lifts. I was just saying goodbye to Kevin and family. Their camper van was pulling away as Kevin cried “You’re a creative genius!”, I laughed and shook my head and before I had time to ascertain where I was, a car stopped and a rather twitchy man in his 40s jumped out and ushered me in.
Confused? So was I. Where was I? Somewhere in Norway. It had been a long day, I think I’d done about 250km in fits and starts on a night of very little sleep in a cold ditch.
Anyway I jumped in the car with this guy and off we went. He was Romanian, living away from his wife and children and working somewhere in the southwest of Norway. He was talking very excitedly and kept turning his head to meet my gaze and see my reactions to what he was saying. I felt uneasy pretty quickly. I was on my way to see a friend in Oslo. I got my map out to look at where we were going and work out how long I’d be in this car with him. We were headed down the same road for something under 100km. I pointed out a likely point to part ways and he looked very anxious. He tried to persuade me to go the same way as him but I politely insisted I needed to go to Oslo. “But?! Don’t you see? Come with me all the way and you’ll only have to take a two-hour train!” Inside my tired brain a tired young man slaps his hand to his forehead.
“Err, let’s see how long it takes us to get there. ”
You’ve been here before. No sudden movements, just be patient and find the opportunity to escape the situation, but actually do it this time. A couple of minutes of him talking more about missing his wife and children whilst my mind wandered over different escape plans. I was thinking of asking to stop at the next petrol station to use the toilet, then bailing, but it was easier than that in the end. He suddenly said to me “I need to stop here to buy a phone.” The car stopped and I’ll just sum up the situation before I relate what I did.
I regret forgetting this man’s name and not having my notebooks to hand. To this day, I don’t think there was any ill intent. He was lonely. Loneliness manifests in people in completely different ways and I guess I view it with the same mind-set as I view a mental illness with the sense of chaotic potential. Something to the effect of ‘empathise heavily but carry a big stick’…haha no, more like ‘enter with empathy but keep in mind what is and what isn’t your problem’.
I grabbed my bag, got out of the car and said to him “Right, I don’t want to offend you but I’m travelling on my own and I have to act on my instinct. Your energy level is making me uncomfortable so I’m leaving now.”
His response: “Ok, have a nice trip.”

“We’re going to have dinner in Bordeaux if you feel like it.”

I’m writing this at home in a sparsely furnished front room awaiting fumigation. I read some of the first story to my friend/flatmate and he reminded me that I had a recent lift I had to terminate early. This is a good one so I’ll put it in while it’s fresh.
Somewhere near Hendaye about two months ago. Slow day, one prior lift from a kind young woman named Araotz. A veterinary student who walked past me three times and decided to eventually free me from the petrol station I’d been in from the night before until the mid-afternoon that day. She was flying to London that weekend and it was going to be her first ever flight. If I was born in that part of the world I doubt I’d have travelled anywhere near as much. It’s so culturally, environmentally and gastronomically rich it makes my toes hug the ground.
She dropped me in Hendaye  where I walked into a petrol station with sign for Baiona/Bayonne in hand. Of course, I don’t expect much but a van driver beeps at me and beckons me over, puffing furiously on a cigarette. Young, Spanish-looking man with mad hair. Throws open the door and says “I hope you like dogs” before a massive American pitbull looms into view and barks in my face. He tells me she’s really very relaxed and that he needs to go and buy tobacco. Her name is Frida.
Yet again. “Here we are, stay calm, obtain information.” I think to myself with Frida on my lap, who may as well have been made of marble for how disturbingly heavy and powerful she felt. I stroked her box-shaped head and slowly shook my own in disbelief. Anyone scared of dogs can sort of relax, Frida was not the ultimate reason for ending this lift prematurely. Our driver returned surprisingly quickly, and dealt with the queue of beeping motorists behind us by speeding up onto the road and cutting in front of not a few grateful drivers. He then introduced himself as Guillermo. He was from Segovia and had been working a few years doing seasonal agricultural work around Europe. That day he was on his way to Switzerland. He explained to me that he should have a licence for Frida but doesn’t, and also that before joining the motorway he’d like to stop at Toys R Us and get a toy.
“Stay calm, obtain information about this man’s toy.” I think to myself, with Frida on my lap, praying to the God of Dogs to keep me safe outside Toys R Us in the idling van. I definitely remember trying to think if I knew how to begin killing a dog like that if it came to it. Hope the Dog God didn’t hear that one, but I suppose not since I still have both of my testicles.
Guillermo returned surprisingly quickly, with a toy wrapped in his jumper. We sped off and he threw the package to me. A sort of marble-run obstacle course built into an orb. He told me he was obsessed with them. Somewhere near the motorway entrance we have a conversation to the effect that Guillermo didn’t want to pay the French motorway toll and if I didn’t mind he would drive through the barriers. He explained that the barriers automatically spring forward under enough pressure and that it wouldn’t damage the car, but if I was willing to help him by running ahead of the van and pushing the barrier it might be useful. I responded that I didn’t mind how he drove but that I wouldn’t get out of a vehicle on a motorway.
I fell asleep soon after this conversation and awoke to a loud snapping sound followed by shrill beeps. “Ah yes, the motorway.” I thought to myself blearily as Guillermo floored it.  Somewhere in the first 40km or so of those roads there is a September audience of very tall elephant grass. We were driving so fast I wondered if the police were coming for us, and I remember passing through the middle of this verge-side valley of feathered grass in the sunset, calmly pondering whether we might die there. I fell asleep again and awoke to the same snapping sound followed by the beeps.
“How many more of these are there?” I asked Guillermo.
“That was the last.” What followed felt like driving along southern France’s clandestine Nazca lines for 45 minutes and suddenly we were back on the national roads.
Guillermo gets a call from his friends in Bordeaux and rattles off in Spanish for a while. I listened to the conversation. Talk of dinner, some beers, a lot of weed and if there was any speed or MDMA, Guillermo would keep driving for the rest of the night. What Guillermo relayed to me was “I just spoke to my friends and we’re going to have dinner in Bordeaux if you feel like it.”
I looked up at the foot of the barn owl, swinging from the rear-view mirror. I thanked him but politely declined, explaining that what I needed was sleep and I wouldn’t get it as the passenger of someone under such a cocktail of drugs, regardless of their actual ability to drive.
He understood. I gave him a chorizo from my backpack to share with his friends and I hopped out into the woods.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Nick and Marcus

Nick and Marcus are sitting together in the cabin one calm evening, drinking tea.
They’re both lost in thought. Gradually Marcus discerns a ticking sound above the swaying creak of the boat’s timbers.
“Yeah, it’s my titanium valves…”
“Wow….that’s sort of soothing.”
“Fuck off! Soothing for you maybe. When that sound stops it means I’m dead…."

This story was told to me by a driver named Marcus who brought me from just outside Tours, in France, to just outside London, three weeks ago. There are holes in the details, for example the fate of the person driving the petrol tanker or the nature of Marcus’s first job, but I suppose they just weren’t necessary. The Acropolis has a lot of holes in it and nobody seems to mind.

During my last trip to England I found myself standing at the entrance to a petrol station between Tours and Le Mans, sometime in the early evening. A large petrol tanker drives past. The body a chrome barrel with the effect of a funfair mirror. As it passes I see myself reflected. A barrel-gnome in a fluorescent orange vest, standing in France’s finest interpretation of the deserted central asian steppe. Dun grassland as far as they eye can see. Just the view I needed to bring home the unlikelihood of another lift at that point. I thought about heading out to find the nearest woods and sleep when a silver volvo with an English licence plate drove straight past me, ignoring my freshly serifed sign (“Je Vais Au Nord- Paris/Calais”).
When a man emerged from the car in a rush and began filling it with petrol, I decided I may as well check in case he either hadn’t seen the sign or was put off by the French. I slowly walk over to this man. A stocky and thick-set man in his mid-40s. Blue jeans and a grey t-shirt. Shaved scalp, thick stubble and a pleasing proportion between his well rounded-head and a square jaw. I’m reminded of diagrams I have looked at on the subject of drawing heads. I also have an impression of keen intelligence from him.
“Excuse me, you’re not going to Calais are you?”
“Err…” He looks at me, mouth open and petrol pump in hand. “..Yeah, actually that’s exactly where I’m going. Go on, I’ll give you a lift.”

We drive, north, fast. This is the story.

Nick and Marcus

Marcus was an avid sailor in his youth. From my brief meeting with him I could see he took things on directly with both head and hands, and he sounded like he’d have been quite an industrious teenager. At the age of 15 he went on a normal sailing weekend with his family somewhere in England when a fancy-looking yacht anchored up nearby. When a man emerged on deck Marcus went over and said “That’s a nice boat you have sir, can I help you sail it?”
In that moment he met Nick.

Nick came from a family who owned a large lumber yard. At some point a few years previously, he had been in a car accident where his car collided with a petrol tanker. The resulting explosion slung a sharp metal bar through the car’s windscreen, piercing Nick’s heart and pinning him to the car seat.
The emergency crew arrived, sawed his chair out of the car and took him to hospital where he was thought to have a 5% chance of survival. Three of the four valves in his heart were broken and replaced with titanium ones. Nick spent two years in hospital, slowly recovering. When he was sufficiently fit again he sold his inherited lumber, took around £2 million and decided to carry on living his life. Boating became a priority, and from the day of their first meeting  the two became firm friends, sailing together whenever they had the chance each summer.

Four years after their first meeting, Marcus has finished school and is excited about his first job. An excitement dampened by the sobering realisation that, now out of school, he would no longer have school holidays. Nick asked him about that summer’s sailing possibilities and Marcus replied that he’d be able to manage two weeks but not more.
“Well we can do Ireland at least.” said Nick.

Two days into their Ireland trip, Marcus says to Nick “It’s a bit odd that we haven’t seen land yet.”
At this, Nick shrugs and walks down the steps into the cabin. Marcus senses something is up. He finds Nick inside making tea.
“Err, Nick? What’s going on?”
“…Yeah Marcus…we’re going to America mate.”
“What?!…Oh for fuck’s sake! You can’t be serious! It’s my first job, Nick! I have to be back in there on Monday.”
“Come on Marcus, this will be so much better.”
“Nick it’s my first fucking job. They’re going to fire me!”
“Not if you resign first.”
“We’re on a fucking boat in the Atlantic!”
“Yes, but I have a satellite phone.”

Marcus pacing back and forth on deck.

“Hi? Yeah it’s Marcus. I know I’m meant to be in on Monday but I’m on a boat in the middle of Atlantic and we’re going to America. I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can really do about it. It was sort of a surprise. I’m just calling to give in my resignation."
Marcus’s boss: “Well I can’t say I’m impressed Marcus. It’s all fun and games for you but we needed you this summer. I’m sure you’re aware that formal resignation can only be processed in writing so I’m afraid I’ll have to give you the sack.”

Marcus returns to Nick, loudly lamenting his impending dismissal.
Nick: “Writing eh? I have a satellite fax.”
Marcus faxes his formal resignation letter to his boss and the two sail across the Atlantic.

Florida, some weeks later…

A fancy-looking yacht anchors up in a port somewhere in the Florida keys.
A gaggle of tourists in floppy sunhats and oversized sunglasses canter up the pontoon, arriving beside the yacht slightly out of breath.
When two men emerge on deck, someone in the crowd calls to them.
“What a nice boat you have, do you day-charter?”
Nick eyes the crowd cautiously.
“Err, yeah. Yeah we will…” he says, scratching his head and scanning the ranks of hopeful faces. “Come back in two days.”

Nick and Marcus investigate the boating scene and come up with a business model.
“Well it seems that for this to work all we have to do is sail people around the place, keep an icebox full of beers, pull a couple of lobsters off the reef and barbecue them. Well we would have done all that anyway, right Marcus?”

Marcus and Nick spend two weeks day-chartering the yacht. They charge $600 dollars a head. At the end of the fortnight the yacht is back in the harbour and the last tourists have left. Nick turns to Marcus and hands him the lion’s share of their accumulated loot.
“Alright Marcus, I’m sorry I lost you your first job, but it was worth it. This should be more than enough to fly you home and keep you going through the summer.” Marcus flew back to England the next day.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Sufi

Just back from ten days travelling to London and back from Madrid. Excerpt here, rest to follow.

The Sufi

This Friday just gone I was waiting in a petrol station in the Basque country trying to get a lift south. The petrol station was a bit too close to the city and situated right where the roads forked, so it was hard to know where the majority of the traffic was going.  Most people seemed very well-dressed and looked like they were on their way to weekend plans. After about an hour and a half of standing there the daylight was fading and I was getting ready to find a place to sleep.
At that moment a man came past, looked at my sign, said he wasn't going that way and wished me the best of luck. He struck me as being someone worth talking to for a couple of reasons. One was his appearance. He was quite short, dressed in black working clothes that looked well-used. He had a bandana tied over his long brown-grey ponytail, wore round glasses and had a big bushy moustache. He looked a little bit like Robert De Niro and a bit like Elmo from Sesame street. I'd had a few shrugs and smiles that evening but there was something that suggested he was open to talking, so I asked him if he knew where I could camp around there. His smile straightened out and he looked at me carefully for a few seconds before saying: "You look like a good person. If you like you can stay at my place. I live in a converted bus in the woods."
I thought about this and said yes.  He asked if I'd eaten and we drove to the supermarket to buy some salad. Whilst finding onions we bump into a friend of his. They speak in rapid Basque before the friend introduces himself to me in Spanish then laughs and says in English 'This man is a cowboy.'  I wasn't quite sure how to take that one but we said our goodbyes and went to the till. I offered to pay for the salad and the cowboy refused.

 During the drive to his it became apparent that he had been living alone for a long time, and it showed. There's a certain level of madcap thinking that comes from being alone which I tend to think is permissible but I wasn't sure on what side of the crazy line he fell. Later we drove past a pub and he said he doesn't go out much to bars as he's liable to get wild in them. At that remark I began to have some doubts and for the sake of posterity I decided to send a location-drop to a cool-headed friend who I knew would relay it to my family if I didn't re-appear in a few days. By that point we were actually in an area without reception and I had to abandon the idea. I sat there as we drove deeper and deeper down a thickly wooded mountain road, replaying our meeting in my head and reminding myself that it had been me who approached him initially.

Twenty minutes later I am sitting on a folding chair, watching big grey slugs sliding around the wooden surface of the improvised cable-reel table by candlelight. The man stands in the near distance washing the salad in a little basin screwed into a clump of hazel. He's shown me his horse, his numerous cats and kittens and the large french bus which he calls home. The interior is wooden-paneled and it must have taken a long time. There is a bathtub, a fold-down bed, a wood-burning stove and a large empty space at the back waiting for his time, money and thought.

He comes over with the food and suggests we eat in the bus. By this point I've reached peace with my initial feeling about his character and if there are further doubts I'll insist on sleeping up the hill in my bivi-bag.

In the bus we sit down to a small table laid with two plates of salad and some bread. The man goes outside and brings back a bottle of cider, explaining that his friend grows the apples and he helps press them in exchange for a couple of crates. I said I wouldn't drink a lot but would have some.

Well, we ate, drank and talked for about an hour. We talked about trees, woodland, family, expression of character, consumerism, time, money, perception of both and what things are necessary for living. He kept saying he had 'sufi'. This is a contraction of Spanish 'suficiente' and seemed appropriate to his mode of being. At this point he doesn't have much work, but he is a self-trained mechanic.

After dinner he explained that if I wanted a shower I was welcome to one and he'd leave the bus for as long as I took. I declined and he shrugged and laid out a thick folded blanket on the floor as a mattress for me. I fell asleep listening to the river and had the best night's rest I'd had in ten days.

In the morning I woke up and went outside. He was up washing his clothes and handed me a cup of coffee. It was about 9.30 and the sun was pouring into the valley. I walked around the place, inspecting the battered old minivan where he lived before the bus, the stable where his horse lived, the little garden where he was growing courgettes. After a brief conversation about gardening and a demonstration of scything he drove me back to the garage.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Hitching: A-A

So here's an excerpt of a time this year where I waited 5 hours, was offered one lift going the wrong way and decided to give up and get the bus. I'm including it on this page because the experience still put me into the frame of mind that hitching puts me in, whether or not I got any lifts. I'm not putting as much time into a write-up as normal, just copying in what I wrote on the day with a few notes.

"Metro line 1 to Pinar de Chamartín. 26/03/18 6-something AM

A long time since the last voyage in this direction. That was late August 2016 and I had the sun on my side...well for half a day, anyway.
Feels as if time already has a different edge to it. Does it come from choosing to perceive it in this way, or is a free day* the genuine requirement that allows this perception? Look forward to passing through the keyhole and getting on the highways. Every time is always the first time.


5.20pm Bus to San Sebastian/Bordeaux
Of course for 5 hours of standing there, reality did bear certain fruits. One was the sunrise.
Not spectacular by any standard, but the first I've seen in what feels like a long time.
For all of Tarkovsky's words on mise en scene in cinema betraying the raw incongruence of real scenes in life, I was presented with the arrival of a van of taoists disembarking beneath the row of blossom-laden cherry trees outside the Fountain of Mora.
(Fuente De Mora, train station)
Of course the driver came over to offer me a lift, except she was heading towards the national road to Barcelona.**
So at least I've proven to myself that hitching when you have a place and time to be in is a bad idea....though of course if I'd been struck by one of those occasional but completely possible (and perhaps statistically inevitable) miracle lifts, I wouldn't be saying this.
Any damage done by the experience? I don't think so. I know travelling like this is about patience, gratitude, time and hope, and today the thought that 'hitch-hiking is about forgetting' became a sort of mantra. I may've forgotten just what I meant by that.
Now on a surprisingly cheap bus up to Bordeaux and ready to soak up overland travel on the first warm spring day, in stimulating surroundings."

*What I mentioned before was a free day in terms of work. But it was the first day of the Easter holidays and I was falling in love with someone who at that point still lived in Bordeaux.
** She came walking up to me slowly with a calm smile, car keys in hand. Khakis and taoism-t shirt. First interaction in a few hours. The warmth of her personality and the scenery and arrival of that van made the whole morning worth it.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

"The only condition of fighting for the right to create is faith in your own vocation, readiness to serve, and refusal to compromise. Artistic creation demands of the artist that he 'perish utterly', in the full, tragic sense of those words. And so, if art carries within it a hieroglyphic of absolute truth, this will always be an image of the world, made manifest in the work once and for all time. And if cold, positivistic, scientific cognition of the world is like the ascent of an unending staircase, its artistic counterpoint suggests an endless system of spheres, each one perfect and contained within itself. One may complement or contradict another, but in no circumstances can they cancel each other out; on the contrary, they enrich one another, and accumulate to form an all-embracing sphere that grows out into infinity. These poetic revelations, each one valid and
eternal, are evidence of man's capacity to recognise in whose image and likeness he is made, and to voice this recognition.
Moreover, the great function of art is communication, since mutual understanding is a force to unite people, and the spirit of communion is one of the most important aspects of artistic
creativity. Works of art, unlike those of science, have no practical goals in any material sense. Art is a meta-language, with the help of which people try to communicate with one another; to impart information about themselves and assimilate the experience of others. Again, this has to do not with practical advantage but with realising the idea of love, the meaning of which is in sacrifice: the very antithesis of pragmatism. I simply cannot believe that an artist can ever work only for the sake of 'self-expression'. Self-expression is meaningless unless it meets with a response. For the sake of creating a spiritual bond with others it can only be an agonising process, one that involves no practical gain: ultimately, it is an act of sacrifice. But surely it cannot be worth the effort merely for the sake of hearing one's own echo?"

Andrei Tarkovsky- Sculpting In Time

Sunday, 11 February 2018


Just heard about this through an interview with Swamp Dogg, who produced the album. Absolute gold.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

"To see a candle's light, one must take it into a dark place."

Rest well Ursula Le Guin. I can't see the lucidity fading that fast.