Long time no see.
I’m sitting in Helsinki, on the fifth floor of an apartment block on Hämeentie. I’ve been travelling for a month now.
It started with me loading a pack at the last minute:
- iPhone loaded with Lonely Planet guides to London, Berlin, Paris, Helsinki, and offline maps of London and Helsinki.
- A wad of British pounds and a Moleskine notebook in my jacket.
- Moneycard loaded with pounds, euro and US dollars.
- Swiss army knife.
- Keyring with keys for the TSL locks, two flash drives, iPhone sim key, silver cowskull and golden lion pendants (soon to be braided to my arm or sewn into my jacket), key for house in Melbourne.
- French audio course loaded onto iPhone to keep me busy on the flight.
- Fateless loaded onto laptop, manuscript in bag.
- Passport and ticket in travel pouch.
- Two copies of The Music of Razors on the offchance I need them.
- Pretty much what you'd expect in the pack: vitamins, rubber bands, small roll of gaff, toiletries, pared-down everyday clothing selection, one good suit, thin LED reading lamp, one-piece top and bottom sheet and pillowcase for less salubrious hostels. One clubbing outfit just in case. Camera, gorillapod, power converters.
- Taking one pair of boots to cover everything: GPs. Amazing what they can pass for, incredibly watertight and sturdy as hell.
May 14th, 2010.
I found myself at Heathrow after a 24-hour flight and a stopover in Doha. High point: getting enough sleep to roughly be in synch with the UK. Low point: dropping toothbrush on the floor of an airliner's toilet (there was a forlorn millisecond where I actually thought “It’s still good!”)
Got onto the Tube with my mouth feeling like it’d been upholstered, but otherwise chipper as hell.
I kept thinking about Doha though. It was so goddamned desolate. Dry, hard-packed clay. The whole place was one big hazy pancake of it. Made me want to just pick a direction and walk. Wishing I'd gotten some shots out the window on approach (instead of departure) as the architecture of the area really leapt out: the kind of boxy, narrow, stepped, rectilenear architecture you just don't see in the Western world - themselves arranged in rectileaner plug-and-play patterns. And some beautiful salmon-pink mosques contrasting with the sandy colour of everything else. It was really something.
The last time I was in London I stayed at St. Christopher’s Hostel in Camden. Did the same again.
Half-asleep but not realising it I stowed my gear and found myself in the bar downstairs. I walked in and the sound system was playing Dominion/Mother Russia. I’ve rarely heard bad music being played anywhere on this trip. It’s almost like the Spice Girls never happened.
The bearded Irish bartender did me a favour and looked up how to make a flat white on the net. The degree to which he got it wrong was kind of adorable. It came in a massive mug and tasted like roast dirt, but I needed it.
In the time it took to get the coffee two people actually ordered pints of Fosters. One with lime. Had a moment of feeling like I was standing in the Australialand exhibit at Disneyworld. I think the last time I actually saw Fosters advertised we'd just gotten our first colour TV.
Everything was pretty much as I remembered it being 9 years previous. Striking how much it felt like I'd never really left.
As I sat there sipping revivifying dirt, J texted me: she’d just picked up our tickets to Wave Gotik Treffen. I remember sitting there, lightly stoned on sleep dep and smiling, thinking that in a week I’d be in Germany finally seeing bands I’d been listening to for years.
J and I have known each other for about ten years. We first met at a goth club in Melbourne sometime in the late 20th century. Later I started seeing a girl named C, and J was her best friend. There was always a sort of chemistry between us but we never did anything about it, figuring neither was interested. J was the catalyst for this trip in a lot of ways. I hadn’t heard from her in years and then one day in August 2009 she spammed her Skype list just to say hi. We reconnected, she suggested I should come over to Helsinki, I said that actually sounded like a great idea but I was broker than I’d ever been. Then things just happened. J and I came clean about how we felt about each other, I got a well-paying job, cash materialised from other unexpected areas and eight months later I’m sitting in a bar on Camden High Street. I should mention, however, that in the intervening period between ‘coming clean about our feelings’ and ‘Camden High Street’ it became clear there was no chance of me getting a residency in Finland without an EU passport. As we’ve both just come out of long-term relationships, and neither of us are up to long-distance relationships, the situation took care of itself. I’m at J’s place right now, as I write this. We’re good friends, she’s fun to travel with and I’m glad to know someone like her.
Half an hour later I was down by Camden Lock. Met up with K, a friend from the net, and drank good English cider. It was a good way to see out the first day.
A major scene from Fateless – the first I ever wrote – takes place just to the right of that shot, across the canal in Camden Market. It was quite a thing being back there, effectively in a scene I’d been living with for 9 years.
Still struck by the stark difference between Qatar and England.
May 15th, 2010
Got a reasonable night’s sleep, woke, and set up in the bar to get some work done for an hour.
You haven't really had the hostel experience until you book a bunk, enter the dorm, and find the three frat boys you’re sharing with have managed to sleep in all 8 bunks and used yours to store beer.
This night was club night. K and I met at the Dev before heading to Slimelight. And then someone I knew from Melbourne walked in the door. Very weird. Talked for two straight hours, traded contact details, and I came away with the rising conviction that I might be able to live in Berlin for a year.
I love the Dev. There's just no place like it in Melbourne, or Australia really. It's the Gothpunk embassy. We own it. It's great. Inside, outside, spilling onto the street drinking, laughing, hugging, the way it used to be in Brisbane in the mid-Nineties before the entire scene vanished up its own half-smart boutique sensibility. Effing brilliant, seriously. And some seriously striking-looking people.
Went to Slimelight. They opened early as it was the final UK gig ever for Voices of Masada. They were supported by Mumbles (2-piece, v.good impersonation of early-era Eldritch, right down to the Porsche sunglasses), and Luxury Stranger (the best of the three). Watching them set up I figured we were in for something heavily Cure inspired, if his hair and paunch were any indicator. Turns out I was only partly-right: Luxury Stranger is what The Cure would sound like if they let go. Singer came on with thick whiteface and a red-painted hunter's mask across his eyes. Wasn't sure about it until they started. The paleface gave him a kind of Pinhead-esque cast to his face and mouth, and once he started sweating the mask bled thick and red down his face. Combined with their energy and the exultant sound of the music... pretty damned good. Worth a listen. I bought their CD. If you ever have the chance to see them live I'd definitely recommend them. I took a few photos.
May 17th, 2010.
The Irish bartender, who looked like Erik the Red, loved goth, usually wore dark blue eye makeup and told me the one place an acupuncturist won't touch is the tongue. Apparently a misplaced tongue piercing can paralyse the face for life, poison the blood, or give you a somethingorother endocarditis - meaning your heart valves rot but all you get are flu symptoms. He had his done, his mother flipped, and at that point he went into a tongue-piercing-related seizure. Had to go to the doctor and get it removed with pliers because it'd scabbed over. Had to bargain with the doctor not to tell his father as they were best friends.
The next day I met up with Matt Rosemier, the cartoonist responsible for Edible Dirt, and visited the Worst Toilet in England.