Once whilst waiting for Shar, I watched Tibetan dancers dance a routine for the dead. They had cloaks and straw masks and canes and they stamped muffled boots and rang cowbells and men and women around me clutching pints stirred in panic thinking it was last orders.
Later on the green lake there were palm trees and patio lights and empty sun loungers. The whole brick affair abandoned in the dim light. Squalid and haunted. Our dog-ends on the green water, floating in a film of filth and oil.
We had watched the tempest in the church. Sat in the press seats. Lit by a hundred house lamps. Aerial on stilts. I have seen that play so many times and I don’t know why. And I had changed out of my suit by a wide mirror in the toilets. A janitor had watched me. He said something about the weather. It’s winter, I think I said.
Dreamt I was at the scene of a violent crime.
Kettled by police on a rooftop. One officer lay on his back and dictated to his colleagues, reenacting some final moment.
On the street, far below, there was a mess of blood and meat.
Somewhere, somebody was shouting.
One of the officers said that once a person had died it was wrong to keep calling them by the same name. She said that there was the alive person and the dead person and that they were different.
She had named the mess of blood and meat, Daisy.
She looks like a Daisy, the officer explained.
I am a boring person. I am the most boring person you have ever met. If you believe you have met a more boring person then you are mistaken. I am boring to a professional standard. I have air and heat and the sounds of paper tearing where the non-boring parts of a person should be. The word boring does not fully express how totally boring I am. A new language would have to be invented to express how boring I am and this new language would be like English only it would consist solely of vowels and people would have to wrinkle their noses and purse their lips and croon for hours to say a single word.
Last night I dreamt I killed a mouse with my hands and when I woke up I was squeezing my thumb.
I WAKE UP early and in my clothes. Dante surveys his kingdom, mewing and strutting and looking for ghosts. Olivia leaves for work and a little later the three of us leave too. We move down the rainy Seattle freeway. Flight of the Valkyrie’s is playing on the stereo when we cross a suspension bridge. A valley of lake water and pinewoods and clouds below. It is exciting to leave the city. To see forests. Flying from Heathrow to Seattle and never seeing out of the plane windows, I felt as though I hadn’t gone particularly far, that Seattle could be another suburb of Greater London, that I was never more than a tube journey from home.
Roxy Music is playing on the stereo and Brian Ferry welcomes us into Sequim. Sequim is wooden box houses and trading outposts and a church on every corner. The Olympic Game Farm is announced by a hand painted sign. A zebra head and block capitals. The ground is dry soil, pounding up into clouds as we approach the kiosk. A blue container crate encircled by a chain link fence has the word, “AQUARIUM” painted on its side. Beside it is a barn labelled “PETTING ZOO”. The woman at the desk sells us a loaf of bread and assures us with a knowing smile that we can eat it too.
I had imagined the Olympic Game Farm to be a literal retirement home for animal celebrities. Sly bungalows and geraniums, former orangutan child actors mowing their lawns, veteran alsations rocking on their stoops howling their tales from the war. In reality it was a dirt track safari ride through peacocks, llamas, bison elk and yak, around matted grizzly bears who sat up on their hind legs and waved their paws for bread and rotten black bears rocking on their heels staring at the ground and African lions in little enclosures laying with their faces shied behind bloody swathes of cow and bobcats and mountain lions and timber wolves and bengal tigers cramped and lethargic in the dry, captive sun and rabbits lazing everywhere outside of each enclosure panting and watching the carnivores pace before them as though they were something playing on TV.
“Where are you boys from?”, said the man at the road side coffee shop. “London”, we replied in chorus, holding 20oz cups of coffee. “Then what the hell are you doing in Sequim?” he cries. We take westwards, along the Olympic Highway, there are Native American trading outposts and lumber wagons. We stop at a supermarket to buy pasta and 32oz cans of beer, the woman at the checkout scrambles her words when she hears our accents and tells us how she will run home and tell her 17 year old daughter, who had just discovered The Beatles, that she had met three British boys at work. Lake Crescent is so spectacular we have to stop the car. Piss on its shores. We dip our toes in its freezing water and look at the beginnings of the rainforest.
The Olympia National Forest is a cloudy wonder, the spruce trees there are as tall and still and ludicrous and menacing as prehistory. Moss hanging off their branches in green escape braids that reach the spongy ground. “We’re in snake country now, boy.” Burno tells Tom, as we pull up and take a wander through the ferns and misty undergrowth. There is a wilderness there I have never seen. It is patient and wordless. There is a freeway driving through it. We reach the campsite by following the Hoh river, which growls in disdain and is fed by a thousand years of rainfall and is the colour of pale, pupilless blue eyes. Its gravel banks and bars strewn with wind fallen trees, naked of bark and looking like whale bones and all pointing in the same direction. There are black mountains protruding from the clouds.
It is raining when we unpack the car. It is getting dark. We start a fire with half our guide book. Burn all of the pages about Seattle. We burn wood scavenged from the rainforest floor and the fire struggles with the dampness in the branches and with the rain. There is a notice by the restrooms on what to do if attacked by a mountain lion. It advises fighting back. We sip on 32oz cans of beer and hide inside our hoods. The fire smokes and hisses. We pitch our tent so close to the river that all three of us sleep badly. Dream all night of drowning. It rains and rains and rains. The smell of rain and engine roar of the rapids is everything.
On Sunday we went to Battersea Power Station and it was a sort of government hosted dress rehearsal for an afterlife.
We queued for hours. Strangers of the world. Creeping forwards in some sluggish cliché of international communion.
We were led down and through its doors along a carpeted entrance ramp as though we were boarding an aeroplane.
The power station itself was roofless and we stood in a huge crowd surrounded by rusted iron and rubble and burnt bricks and sheer walls and pale weeds and crude graffiti and overcast sky.
And everyone was waiting for something to happen. There were birds flocking off of the scaffolding and looming chimneys above of us.
In the morning the room the others are staying in looks like an Hieronymus Bosch painting, naked arms and legs, before the frog people and the bird creatures arrive.
We wake up to Skip James playing on the phonograph and then King Crimson. There is a warship on the water outside the house. Burno aims a telescope out across the bay. I dreamt that there were lizards in my parents’ house and that we put them in glass boxes on a sort of bed of meal worms and risotto in order to keep them safe from the dogs.
Last night we drank in the backseats of the car. The sun setting off the motorway over Bristol. Refilling at service stations with cans of pre-mixed cocktails and bottles of beer.
Fahad’s house is all chillies and sound systems and electrical parts. He has a sort of temple to Pearl Jam upstairs in one of his rooms. There is a working men’s club by his house which is decorated in a faux Ancient Egyptian style with looming columns and hieroglyphics. In the early hours we had tried to gain entrance and a man on the steps outside had said, sorry mate, only members at this hour.
On the road to Coverack, behind a walled car park, there is a man with a wrench standing in a mountain of rubble and broken bathtubs. He is stealing a toilet.
At the campsite, the campsite owner cycles ahead of us gesturing theatrically to the showers and the bins and waste water drainage points. Tom asks him what his policy on nudity is. He says the more the better.
Later we hold a barbecue in the pitch black on the cragged rocks above the high tide line. A high sea wall behind us and the village above that, headlights moving on the high road. Search and rescue aircraft shining spot lights on the sea. Our torch lights struggling through the fire smoke. On the dark walk back there are stars, the cloudy band of the Milky Way.
In the English Sea, the following afternoon, outside of a crowded Poldhu beach, we surrender something to the water. Laying back into that cold and sound and nothing and buoyancy and space and distant fears of large wax skinned animals passing underneath.
Men standing on the rocks far out, black figures on the horizon. Another reclining in an inflatable chair, being carried backwards from the shore.
We are on the beach, after the swimming is finished. Microscopic shells and rocks, sticking to us all over our bodies. The sunlight is rolling indecently in the sand and it is gulping and splashing and sinking in the water and there is a sense of shame and longing and violent excitement in the sunlight and everyone is here to acknowledge that.
There are parts of the beach I can’t remember. Drunk on the hot sand and in the water. Saying that maybe there is more yellow than blue in the sand but the blue is more important.
Earlier we bought a saddle and reins from a horse charity in Helston. We had breakfast in a café where we were called outsiders and we drove aimlessly past satellite dishes and RAF bases and pork farms and cider presses. We had gathered by a life boat house on a cliff edge and looked out at the ships moving on the water. Hard edged and silver and impossibly big.
At sunset there is a mist on the fields and the roads and the sea. It rolls over the grass, a foot above the ground, or else at head height, lapping at the hedges, on the sea it blurs with the horizon and the cargo boats and oil containers are tenement block size aeroplanes floating sluggishly in an unending sky.
When I wake up there is a moisture over everything. The tent sags amongst the wet grass. The sky is white. There is a bag of sick, sealed neatly and left sloshing by one of the tents. In the pub, the night before, they had waited for us to leave so they could close. A man had talked about the Falklands and watched the others play pool badly.
There is a freedom and sickly confidence in money. In the thought of money. There is a moneyless unease in Penzance. It is boarded up and walking on crutches, it is stooped over and scrunching its face as though in worship to all the ugly things in the world.
There are oily, ugly creatures in the Cornish sea and their fingers are all pointing at Penzance and there are pottery idols to boils and nervous disease buried in the Cornish peat and they are all nodding their pottery heads at Penzance and there is a sort of sickness and sense of nothing clinging to the green stones of the Tregiffian Burial Chamber and that sickness and sense of nothing is moving like fog and radio waves and drowsy bees all over Penzance.
We stop and drink in Newlyn, in a place overlooking the grey harbour and the clouded outline of St. Michael’s Mount out to sea and inside we sip soured ale whilst women at the bar order crab baguettes and carry a cat called King Henry outside for a walk along the dock. I leave the pub in a whisky fever and in the parking lot I see the sun reflected in a car window, stirring with black clouds and so pale it could be the moon.
We buy beers from a cove-side café ran by two teenage boys and we sit drinking looking out over granite cliffs and a vast blue horizon of thrumming water. Later when I lean over the cliff edge and look down onto the rocks, I can see a young, grey feathered seagull screaming at and hopping in circles around an older bird and I am overcome with a sort of nothingness as though my whole body was an arm or leg heavy and alien and distant with pins and needles.
The sun is setting on the stone circle. It is called the Merry Maidens and we roll around on the grass in a delirium of beer and irony and secular self-satisfaction. In Penzance, there had been tall, strange, long-haired characters looking burnt out and pacing between book stores and herbal medicine supermarkets. They had been looking for the stones. An old lady had told us that she would like to live to a hundred but she was happy to die and that people had to die to make space for those who would like to be born.
We drive back from St. Ives through the midnight fog. The road is a head sized hole in a white wall of cloud. We had reached St. Ives in a haze of beer and now we were leaving through an almost overwhelming indistinctness, a kind of testimony to drunkenness and forgetting, as though it were the memory of the road that was dissolving and roaring with nothing and turning as white and weightless as cotton.
We wait around in the morning sun, revolving the tents around square patches of sunlight in the hopes that they will dry. In Falmouth there are horse drawn carts and oil strewn docks and vegan Cornish pasties. We buy pina coladas in the can and the others drink theirs playing crazy golf and I sit on a white pebble beach which is stirring with dust and desolate as a quarry and watch a barrel chested octogenarian swim in slow, arthritic orbits and two women in wet suits disappear below the water.
Later we are lost on the trail for Stert Quarry Farm. The satnav leading us half way down a narrow lane and then declaring that we had reached our destination. It is late and pitch dark. There is no light for miles. There is grass growing in the centre of the gravel road and the hedges on either side brush the wing mirrors of the car.
Tom knocks on the door of a dark mansion. No one answers. We wait in the car, the engine running. Our headlights glaring. We park up outside another house and stay in the car deliberating what to do. Worried shapes appear in the house windows. They peer uncertainly from a glowing open door.
When we finally find the gates to the farm, Richard is walking along the lane. He smells of bonfire smoke and cider. He welcomes us.
Sat around a burning tree stump, Maisie tells the story of lancing a ram’s cist and then sealing it shut with super glue. She says that the ram had seemed to enjoy it and that it had looked like its brains were oozing out. We talk about tree climbing and closed circuit scuba diving and whaling in Scandinavia. We drank beers and ate halloumi and talked till late and insects gathered around the fire as if to listen.
On the way to the Dartmoor prison museum we take a shortcut beyond a row of garages and find ourselves in the grounds of the prison itself. A sign says, Ministry of Defence, no unauthorised persons. We can hear the noise of the prisoners over the prison wall. We walk sheepishly past a crowd of prison wardens smoking cigarettes and eating sandwiches. Laurence says, great, we’re on holiday, in a prison.
Take eat this is my body, says a prisoner’s painting in the museum. Christ as an inmate. We take eat of chips and Dartmoor ale. A communion on the cut grass of vegetable oil and alcohol. Tom wrestles with me on the Princetown green and tries to force a kiss and I cry out that if he kisses me I will fall in love and that he doesn’t want that and a regiment of royal marines marches past clutching their rifles and looking exhausted.
At Carnglaze Caverns we howl into the subterranean. The green neon pools, freezing and strange. We had been told not to shine our torch into dark corners lest we wake the bats but we were allowed to scream. Curdle our voices underground.
There are a thousand unlit candles on the slippery rocks. We are on our own in a vast underground hall and we skulk around leisurely wearing yellow hard hats and nudging rubble with our feet in a sort of parody of the miners who built the caves.
Dreamt I was walking with Joe in Shropshire and that there were others with us too, with vague names and blurry features. We see a wooden sign in the hedge, pointing over fields and it says: London, 100 miles. And I realise that it is a path that I had taken as a little boy.
I tell Joe that the path leads to a stone church and a graveyard on the hill where William Golding is buried and that there is a grove of cypress trees bent crooked by the wind with green and silver bark and outcroppings of smooth granite that frame a shocking blue horizon, the air like boiling water.
I say that I am often here in my dreams and there is a sense of ecstasy and childish longing coupled to the wooden sign in the hedge and the grove of stirring cypress trees on the impossible hill.
Later, I am in the church yard with a girl I do not recognise. We are under the verdigris and copper coloured cypress trees. There are burnt pine needles on the ground. We climb clumsily down a rock-face of granite and bracken and moss and know immediately we have gone the wrong way.
We can see patches of green turf below, bordered by the granite. They are cut neatly into rectangles and framed with white wood. The girl points to the patches of grass and says that this is fresh ground, people are being buried here. Suddenly, I have a taste in my mouth which is like pork chops and soil. And I am filling up with horror.
There are children here, she says.
When Neil Young was a serial killer they still loved him, loved his music, loved what he was about.
Last night I couldn’t sleep and I lay awake looking at the gap beneath my door where someone had left the light on and I had the feeling that something was ending, that something was coming to an end.
When Neil Young was in the docks he sang a little bit of “old man” and everyone smiled and the judge pursed her lips and shook her hammer at him lovingly as if to say , you’re not so bad Neil Young after all.
When Paul McCartney was a serial killer they released a charity single to help raise profits to make his bail.
I’ve been teaching myself to be a human being again, since I’ve forgotten. I’m like a detective in a book and instead of crimes there are human characteristics, and I am figuring the human characteristics out, being pensive and mysterious and fallible and still getting the job done.
When Paul McCartney was a serial killer they also investigated Ringo Starr and he was proven innocent but then after the newspapers said he was probably a serial killer too.
I WAKE UP in my clothes. At the breakfast reception the man behind the counter says that he lost a friend in a car accident and that he was all out of tears. We visit an antiques fair with Chelsea, Mary and Lucas, our friends from the hostel. There is a man playing a banjo and a kick drum tied to his boots and he plays and dances in a trance. Tom Hula hoops in the sun. Tiny, ugly dogs wriggle around their owners in ecstasy. I buy a yellow hat for five dollars, it is so bright it looks like post production. Later I would stand on a beach in southwest Oregon and throw it towards the pacific ocean and it would blow back on land carried by the tidal wind and Burno would chase it down the tideline holding his trousers up with one hand.
We drink free coffee and eat free chocolate samples in a chocolate factory and we joke about asking the lady behind the counter where we could find some quality pills. At a garage sale we pick up a free CD of mariachi music. We split from the others at the hostel and say we will meet them later at an underground comedy tour or in the shadow of the space needle, though we never do. We wait and wait for a bus and Tom guesses that the bus driver will have long brown hair and rolled up sleeves and sunglasses and he is right. We try to pay with tickets from the day before the driver is not impressed.
At Olivia’s Tom is as pale as a napkin and sleeps for a little while on the couch. Burno and Olivia talk about illustration. Olivia tell us about the wilderness in Montana. How she grew up around wild water and empty forests and looming mountains. She tells us how she moved to Seattle. I imagine her on the rocky slopes, in boots and gloves, smelling of camp fires. When Olivia mentions Montana for the last time, reflecting on her childhood there, her voice becomes serious and she says, “really, you have to go, believe me, there’s nowhere like it”. Then she picks Dante up and shakes him playfully and repeats, “There’s nowhere like it”, whispering into Dante’s fur.
Tom starts to feel better and we take a walk through the wooded housing estates of North America. We play on the swings. Talk a little more about wild macaroni, about it kicking and wriggling in fierce fishing boat nets. There are plastic swords and broom handles on the grass around us. Children fleeing. We buy food at a mammoth superstore which sells two gallon milk cartons and jars of mayonnaise the size of beer kegs. Tom sees himself crossing the street, he says “hey look, there’s me.”
We sit on the benches outside and Tom discovers he has lost his debit card, we call the music venue from the night before and then pay it a visit, the bartender showing Tom a wooden box overflowing with lost cards, the three of us speeding up the interstate on the way there screaming “Does he mean it?” in reference to Tom’s sarcastic doctor. Later, Tom does his banking on a dimly lit payphone around the back of the supermarket and Burno and myself eat cheese and jalapeno bagels on a plastic bench and the three of us forget altogether where we are.