travel diary [wales & london - easter 2009]

07.04.2009 - copenhagen to rugby

where we start is many days ago in copenhagen airport. i arrive early and check my bag in, then wait for jølle at the subway stop, desperately trying to finish my book so i don't have to carry it around wales and london. it's a paper brick. the woman at check-in gives us both grief for not printing out tags for our luggage. she even goes as far as to walk out into the hall to demonstrate how it's supposed to be done, only to totally fail as badly as us. in your face SAS.

from the plane the views of coventry and birmingham are as disgusting as you can imagine. there is no pleasure left on this land. it's nothing but concrete and metal decay. and maybe it was here that we slammed into a wall of turbulence, a fracas caused by the plane infront of us. the best turbulence ever.

from here until wales everything is pleasantly uneventful. something about lemons. watching late night tv. drinking good beers. ordering my favourite pizza. the next day jølle gets up crazy late (shutters in his room completely block out the light) and we spent the next three hours in sainsbury's with my nan. we have a nice little explore of rugby, play some playstation, then some time later julie finally arrives. not a minute too early for dinner. not that i can remember what it was. i'm sure it was great though. pasta a la hjem.

09.04.2009 - rugby to wales

thursday we're up early. the plan is to leave by half ten but of course we're all late, and all that ensues. but we make good time on the road and the weather isn't looking too bad. but far from auspicious. the weather reports had started bad and became progressively worse as the weeks went by. so bad that we're expecting it to be quiet at the campsite because of it.

halfway to wales we stop at the usual truck pitstop for a cup of oily tea. they serve proper grub here. greasey trash, and it makes me wish i was hungry enough for a vegeburger, or at least some chips. but it's for the best that we settled for the crisps. those stupid new flavours, 'chocolate and chilli' and 'builders breakfast' etc.

arriving at the campsite it's something akin to returning home. we have a small amount of trouble deciding where to camp, working out where the van can escape from (getting stuck in the mud is no fun), then we quickly erect the tents incase it decides to rain. it's about middayish, but everywhere is evening grey. and it stays like that until it gets dark, we're trapped in the late evening. who could even guess at the time? we sit in the van, enjoying, and watching a recent arrival trying to put his huge tent up on his own. after a minute or two we go over to help and i realise it's actually someone i know (yes it was a bit startling when he said my name).

this was good, as it meant we didn't have to build our own fire. and so we spent most of the night huddled around their roaring beast. drinking cans of whatever that beer was, getting through a few days worth of beer in one go.

10.04.2009 - quarries, the beach and dolgellau

it rains most of the night. i wake up at some non-descript but certainly early time and it's hammering on the tent. maybe more like a relentless patter. but there's comfort in this. i can stay wrapped in my sleeping bag whilst it persists, cosy and half asleep. i don't have to do anything. least of all get up. it subsides before too late and we get up to a sky identical to yesterday's. we're still trapped in the evening.

the plan for the day is drive around and see some stuff. the first stop is the 'blue lake'. it's a good climb up and the view over the estuary is stunning.

what the photos wont show is the sheerness of the pools edge, it drops straight down into a haze of blue obscurity. there's probably a giant freshwater squid down there just waiting for someone to jump in from the quarry's lip. silently feasting on the teems of pale grey fish. it'd also make a great, if not slightly dangerous, venue. what's weird is that of all the times i've been to wales, i'd never been here before.

next stop the beach:

where jolle finds an urchin skeleton. or alien, depending on how you look at it.

we drive into dolgellau for lunch, choosing the "eee sospan" out of tradition more than anything else. me and jolle both have pasties, and i stupidly order chips and a cake as well, not knowing that we already have three on the table. all that and the hot chocolate, i was about ready to sick it all up. grease, sugar and all. i'm trying to be vegan for a reason.

back at camp the sky finally changes colour, erupting in pinks and oranges, all over our game of giant scrabble. we collect some wood and the fire's started, possibly whilst i'm lying asleep beside it. then martin and corey arrive, several hours later than planned (but not than expected). they'd gone the wrong way around birmingham, missed all kinds of turnings, but i'm just grateful they didn't end up in scotland. they've bought with them a box of instruments and a 5meter wide teepee, which goes up surprisingly easy (isn't that the point? i don't know). it's all very harry potter anyway, and huge inside.

maybe we bake some potatoes on the fire (it could have been any night). two bottles of rum are drained, and also our restock of beer. our fires burns crazy colours, green and blue. it all disappears into the night. up into the cold glassy sky. tiny glowing specks merging with the stars.

11.04.2009 - up the mountain

we're up 'early' the next morning. mountain climbing, this is what we came here for and the weather has perfected itself. i find martin and corey sitting around the grey ashen remains of last night's fire, desperately trying to restart it enough to heat a tin of beans. i let them struggle for ten minutes before telling them we can't wait the hour it'll take them. besides, cold baked beans are cool.

the climb is easier to describe in pictures:

this was another first for me. i've climbed cader many times, but i'd never been to the lake before. who would have thought you could safetly clamber down that scree slope. it was quite ridiculous, and massive fun. we even managed to lose corey on the mountain. that much is true.

the beer at the pub tastes like heaven. then there's lots of wood collecting. sawing. taking a shower in the new shower block, sitting drying on the step in the mid-evening, the view dominated by the mountain we just climbed. fresh air and sheep. curry for dinner. and the night becomes very cold. maybe it's because i'm drinking less, maybe it's the clouds. or the wind. but not even the fire warms me. we get out the instruments and play some songs. we make all these stupid jokes. the nights all blend into one.

12.04.2009 - to portmeirion

sunday's big excusion is to portmeirion, which is also easier in pictures:

i took a lot of photos, despite the whole place verging on the sterile from being over photographed. i had to try.

i remember being here when i was younger, when we'd find giant jellyfish on the beach. jumping off sand banks into the warm water, skinny dipping. avoiding sinking sand. climbing the cliffs. running through the woods looking for a haunted house. scouring the gift shop for excitingly coloured plastic crap. it's much the same now. except now we know what all the different amazing trees are. the place hasn't changed at all.

"this is the most boring place i've ever been too. it's crap. i wish i was dead".

on the way home i eat another pasty. i think i'm trying to kill myself. and my parents buy jolle a kids plastic golf set. it's also easter and we get drunken butterfly eater eggs:

the night winds on, too similar to all the others to distinguish it. apart from the weird norwegian bread sticks. we mix a simple dough, wrap it around sticks, and cook it in the fire. tastier than you might think (charcoal anyone?) and more vegetarian than marshmallows. we definitely benefit from the norwegian traditions.

13.04.2009 - life is a compromise anyway

monday or tuesday or whenever it is. as soon as we're done with breakfast the three of us (me, jolle and julie) set off for a quick walk across to some lakes.

the weather has blossomed. it's radiating pure spring. everything pops in green and blues. all these new lambs and new newness. and so it's almost refreshing when we come across a sheep carcass. so fresh with its eyes still in its sockets, crying blood across its sorry furry face. from its gapping vagina hangs half a lamb, smeared red around its eyes and lips, head and legs dangling in its mother's excrement. here's your life and death. what more do you need?

and so we're waiting at our journey's end, a carpark besides a lake, the land dropping off to the estuary in one direction and up to the mountain in the other. we sit staring at another yet unclimbed peak, wondering quite how long the parents will take to come pick us up, and if it's time enough to scale it. half an hour late, or more, and they still haven't had breakfast. but this is ok, because it gives us time to run up that mountain. hard and fast but thoroughly worth it.

from here we drive to the centre for alternative technology. a cool place that has been growing and developing slowly over the last thirty years or more. it doesn't have too much to teach me these days, but i appreciate it probably did when i was younger, on the countless times we visited before. and their restaurant is excellent.

back at camp it's a little more desolate than before. martin and corey have left, and so have many of the other campers. i cook a dinner of mashed potato, vege sausages and a red wine and onion sauce. this is luxury camping food. i spoil all of you. or maybe that was the night before, i forget.

14.04.2009 - wales to rugby

tuesday morning and everyone is treated to the biggest vege breakfast i can muster. or maybe that was the morning before, i forget. either way it was a beautiful thing. then we pack everything away as quickly as possible before the rain comes, disassembling and collapsing everything down, deflating the already half deflated sofa that we never used in the end anyway. we lucked out the whole extended weekend something shocking on the weather. we are true champions, obviously.

halfway home we stop in montgomery, a small town with an old broken up castle and gorgeously cute little tea room (many cute little tea rooms, and the obligatory ubiquitous spa). inside the tea room it's a traditional front room affair. doilies and homemade cake. the woman running it is a vegetarian and the menu blows my mind somewhat. jolle eats another pasty. i have a pale and celeriac-esque soup of an exact description that i forget, but it was incredible. the castle is just a bunch of large stones, but the view across the plain is worth the walk up the hill. it's flat for miles. it makes me wish i had a crossbow and a catapult.

then we take a weird detour over some random mountain with a terrifying road up and down. "i wish i was dead". and i guess that was all of wales.

16.04.2009 - the londons!

our first stop in london is denmark street, ironically. jolle needs to buy a guitar so we can play our gig. and this street is the shit. if he can't find a guitar here he wont anywhere. i've never seen so many guitar shops in one place. so i have to restrain myself somewhat, and to save the girls we decide to leave the boys to it and take a wander around london. tottenham court road, soho, covent gardens. julie is looking tea and we hit the tea shops hard. fastforward to copenhagen and this is how much tea we dragged back with us:

and trust it to be the bag of tea that i chose that pops in her bag.

but i enjoyed walking, avoiding the tube. the islands of london join together and you can begin to understand the city. its size becomes somewhat more comprehensible. you take a couple of rights and lefts, lose yourself a little bit due to the total lack of a grid system, but then suddenly know where you are. you have solved london. welldone.

back on the corner of denmark street jolle is looking happy with himself, a huge hardcase stands at his feet. "check it out, the case has a built-in amp". we celebrate at the nearby dark and not-so-scary rock pub. guiness and acdc. from here we try to find garlic shots, the extreme garlic experience restuarant that lies somewhere in soho, but insufficient directions make it impossible to find, even with julie asking every scary looking bouncer we walk past. by the time we find what street it lies on it's too late, we've already settled for redveg. vege burger joy. the incredibly slow woman (what is it with the service industry in this country? the woman who gave us oyster cards was practically asleep at her kiosk) completely messes up our food but we are all happy and satisfied.

after all the running around we decide to keep it simple and try the pub next door, where we find seats upstairs amongst walls covered in trendy art trapped inside ulgy plastic casings. the window's open, either wafting the oily fry stink from the kitchen out the to street or bringing it in from the ventilator outside, so it's a bit cold, but it's cosy. we almost meet up with grilly but don't due to a brewing headache. and somehow after all this nicola gets us back to her apartment with very little trouble.

we rearrange sofas and wreak havoc on nicola's previously tidy living room roof. i promise not to pull down the curtains to use as a blanket, and then try to sleep. it's kind of difficult with the cramp conditions, me and julie both on the large sofa (she moved sometime during the night) and the beastly snoring coming from one of the boys. it must have been around 4am when i got up to use the toilet, we'd left the door to the baclony open a crack in an attempt to neutralise the smell coming from certain people's feet, and outside the sky was a dull but bright pink.

being in the city throws up such huge contrasts to wales. here it never gets dark. and coming from the beautiful silence of the mountains to covent gardens is quite disconcerting. this constant and deafening babble of a thousand conversations. random words and phrases shooting passed you in one big monotonous drawl. "..the right way?", "hey look there's..", "couldn't decide between the red or.."

17.04.2009 - the big day

morning. we drag ourselves slowly out of bed, each getting up for our turn in the shower. poor nicola was up super early for a dentist appointment and we were now being as quiet as possible to let her sleep. we waited (quietly sipping julie's new tea) til around 11am before dragging her out for breakfast. we chose the perfect greasy cafe, serving every classic breakfast item except fried bread (they even had black pudding). our table was filled with humoungous food and we left little remaining. breakfast was defeated. friendly owners too, kept offering us free drink top ups and extra tables (we were a little crowded), making polite conversation. and then kenneth went and forgot to pay (he did go back afterwards, when we were in sommerfields buying more tea).

so we zigzagged our way to grilly and rachel's, surprising them with the full band and all our luggage, me cringing and trying to not be a burden. from here we had all kinds of plans, but they all collapsed down into going to hackney city farm. i can't think of a better way to spend a semi-rainy friday in london. it's just a short walk from their apartment, down through broadway market, passed all these lovely looking small independant shops and what might be a squat, a corner shop where i can stock up on flapjack and malt drink. and the farm is brilliant. a healthy breathing space in the middle of rotting concrete london. ginger pigs and geese running around, a substantial garden, donkey things. and also a sexy cafe, where from a strange corner of my brain comes the reasoning to buy a hot chocolate, a chocolate brownie, and a chocolate truffle (of some amazing description that i've long forgotten). it was 100% dreamy. and not a little over the top. we get talking about pigs, how they have half-hour orgasms, and suddenly the place seems a whole lot less sexy. or more sexy, depending on how you look at it, i suppose.

17.04.2009 - the gig

soon enough it's time for the boys to leave the girls behind and head for the venue, an easy and short bus ride. and maybe here's a good place to say a few things on the very obvious gender divide in music. the majority of gender imbalances can be directly blamed on the constant bludgeoning that patriarchy deals out to retain its power. our society still has mechanisms in place to oppress and segregate our numerous genders, to split them into clear and easily defined catagories. and as an individual, the victim of wage inequality, skewed custody laws, or rape, can not be blamed for their predicament. but with music, all you need to do is pick up the guitar. the responsibilty is all yours. maybe i'm being superficial or have missed the point, so, discuss.

we soundcheck and everything sounds good. to the boats soundcheck and they sound amazing. it's going to be a fine night. then hunger starts to set in and we wander out for a curry, despite my better judgement. a sit down meal was a bad idea. we wander for a long time before finding somewhere suitable and everything is going way too slow for the time we have. i start feeling stressed, i hate rushing food, and we have so much. we're constantly on the phones, trying to direct other people to where we are. it's all rushed and overpriced (for what i needed, at least). but this shouldn't be a reflection on the company. had we another hour it would have been pefect. and the paratha really was excellent. i just felt bad because friends were arriving at the venue and we were going to miss the first band, the sound engineers birthday acoustic set. we'd come all this way, we had to be there. kind of.

back at the venue and i don't know where to put myself. it's rapidly filling up with friends, old and new, and everyone is in the best mood. i want to talk to everyone but just find myself bouncing back and forwards, trying to catch up and win as many pints as possible.

'to the boats' were excellent. there are complicated emotions involved in setting your friends up in a band this good, mostly jealousy. but i have my own band and i can appreciate the role (however minor) i've played in getting them together (not to mention my minor involvement in at least three of their songs). i knew they were good, but i'm actually ready to gush about it. they're tight, complicated, ass kicking and pop. and fun, above all else. you just can't help but love them. some photos:

then finally, what we came here for. and our gig is just a blur of rocking fun. my glasses slipping off my face, me backing into the cymbal. trying to not knock the headstock on the wall. i announce that i need a beer and grilly delives me a leffe. very classy, only in my haste to quench my thirst i tip the bottle a little too fast. damn these fizzy volatile beers. the foam rises and bursts forth, covering my strumming hand in sticky sweet beer. i'm immobilized at a crucial moment, trying to lick my hands clean whilst not fluffing a riff. it's my most drunken messy concert yet, but i'm thrilled. it's that perfect mixture of alcohol and exaltation.

since we are playing last (and have travelled so far) the sound engineer has given us freedom to play for as long as we want, and we relish it. as 'the song' draws to a close (jolle warned people it was 25 minutes long, but no one really believed him) we dive/drive head first into noise, spazzing the amps, the three of us on the floor twisting knobs and pushing buttons. some drums crash behind me. everything is wonderful. and just before it becomes obnoxious the wave relents and the tide recedes. i am spent.

18.04.2009 - london to reading

after the gig i went back to rachel and grilly's, helping them carry all the equipment and following through with the various obligations, whilst the others carried on the party late into the night. we settled in with tea and crumpets before i took great pleasure in the huge and comfy double bed. the thought of sleeping on a sofa or floor again, and without sleeping bag this time, was more than i could handle. that was what waited for the others, and i'd feel bad for them if only it wasn't completely their fault.

i woke up way too early, 7am style, and began to quietly clean up the kitchen and do the washing. grilly joined me a while later and we made a breakfast of fried potato, scrambled egg and crumpets. it was a beautiful few hours of calm, where i had no responsibilities for anyone else. i could relax in the company of a manageable number of wonderful friends.

then hungover chaos arrived, mildly mannered and subdued, with stories of inflatable dick dispensers ("i wish i'd bought that inflatable pecker", kenneth tells me), terrifying cats, and the blind beggar pub (where ronnie kray shot george cornell). something about a tiger. they'd made it back to nicola's some time around 4am, so there's no sympathy required.

after the obligatory round of tea and long goodbyes we were shortly back on our way. getting out of london felt good. we had to travel its width, a joyless task, but once at paddington, with our oyster cards cashed in, we were free.

reading isn't a lot nicer than london, not with it's 'no photography' "public" areas (although you can't take photos in london either, since it's illegal to photograph police and they're fucking everywhere) and it being reading and everything, but walking out of the station you could almost imagine the sea breathing in and out just behind the buildings. pretend all the gum on the pavement is seagull shit and you're halfway to the seaside.

martin took me on a nice route to his house, through some green and along the oscar wilde trail, whilst the others went in the car with our luggage. i treated myself to an icecream, my final dairy binge before heading back to my semi-vegan denmark.

so we took a walk in town, along the canal, laughing at all the surveillance cameras ("no photography"?) and the 'pizza in a cone'.

actually it's completely unfunny. a doughy cone filled soley with liquid cheese? what is wrong with you people? i ate fried rice balls instead, so i'm not much better. we rested for a while at the 'nice' grassy bit passed the oracle that i always end up at when in reading, the boys' underwear smiling at the sky, then we walked back to find martin in a rather dull bar.

but it's nice to just wait. rather than having to get anywhere complicated. that i can deal with. but i still have this urge for something i can't quite place. food or drink or sensation, i don't know. i'd eaten a proper breakfast, the others had sandwiched and bageled at paddington, then i'd had an icecream. now the boys were eating wraps. we were out of synch and i'd missed dinner. i walked up to sainsbury's, enjoying my own company in the last sun of the day, reading centre with its hilarious pop-up urinals. i'd had nourishment drink on my mind ever since corey had mentioned the cocktail of guiness, rum and nourishment. so i bought a can, what was i to lose? i ate some sensible food too. incase you worry about me unnecessarily.

by the time we found the venue it was starting to get dark. a smartly dressed man asked us if we were here for the rock, which should have elicited a comedy response, but surely none of us were in the mood. he asked us to follow him downstairs and we were literally escorted into the tiny basement room where the rock was about to happen. as if he couldn't have just told us to go downstairs. it was all very weird.

and it was a shame too, because we should have been playing tonight. it would have been perfect. but nevermind. next time we can do this whole tour thing a bit better. maybe. from now on i shall pretend that we had played.

bordoms in the bathroom were on first. and i'm not just being nice because they're my friends, they're well good. better live too, although since they have a drum machine it might just be the loudness. also it's refreshing to see a band playing at a reasonable volume, where you can actually hear all of the music. all they need now is more singing and live drumming over the machine. also more songs. visual representation:

the rest of the bands are too loud. we're brutalised by a band with four guitarists and horrible screaming. i could have enjoyed them another time, but not now. a private party upstairs means the only options are down here, swimming in the thick air of the dark oppressive basement, or up there outside in the cold. what i want is just a ten minute sample of each band. that would be plenty. the third band is dethscalator. they start slow and sludgy, and when the singer joins the fray i fall in love. i'm reminded of the first time i saw velcro gloves. an echoey rumble. a comforting blanket of grimy sound, and the most entertaining drummer i've seen in a while. i tell kenneth to take note. the final band is n0ught (great video from john peel's sound of the suburbs here). i was blown away before they even started, just by looking at their equipment, the two meter long pedal board (maybe only a mild exaggeration). but at this point in my evening the music is almost incomprehensible. all i can recognise is that i'd think it was amazing any other time. right now i want it all over, to be back at martin's place and on our way home.

20.04.2009 - reading to copenhagen

the tiredness boundaries finally broke. so the only clear moment between saturday night and now is the hour we spent waiting for the coach, standing in the cold in a huge sainsbury's carpark. of all the stupid fucking places we could end up in england, we're stuck between a mcdonalds drive-in and a petrol station whilst three angry girls quarrel with the women at the garage. i presume it's due to her refusing to sell them cigarettes, rather than them not stocking any vegetarian pasties or sandwiches. "i'm gone wait til she's off and fack er up", say the charming children of reading. i can't imagine the girls had better luck at the mcdonalds, where they "don't serve walkers". kenneth and jolle were forced to walk all the way around the building, but that just serves them right.

i'm having trouble understanding what any of these people are saying. when resorting to directory enquires to find a taxi number the kid on the other end has serious enunciate problems. "right yeah, it's free free aye, then free free oh, yeah?". i'm surprised we found ourselves a taxi at all. but we did, and despite corey's warnings the taxi driver didn't try to rip us off, infact he only charged us 15quid from martin's house to calcot, just amazing considering we'd booked a people carrier at 1am. friendly fellow.

the coach arrived and i passed into sleep as soon as it pulled away. i woke up just before we reached heathrow, where we had to wait for fifteen minutes for our connection. onboard i fell asleep instantly again, waking with a start as we approached stansted. was that really two and a half hours of journey? it felt like five minutes.

and luckily stansted was easy. thanks to my obsessive weight limit compulsion we were all bang on the 15kg limit (i kept quiet about jolle packing his boots rather than wearing them, so i'm getting better, maybe). we stumbled through security and sought refuge in a pret-a-manger, about the only place where we could get a semi-decent sandwich and some juice. jolle with his endless coffee and julie with her endless tea. this is the point you start approaching delerium, when the sun's rising and you have to think twice when looking at a 12h clock. the stupidist jokes are hilarious, and then that they're hilarious is even more hilarious.

the flight is a blank, the only memory is the amazing view over copenhagen as we flew over. i can remember boarding, but that's only because kenneth's name was announced over the public address system whilst i was taking a leak, requesting him at the gate immediately. the morons had put the wrong name on jolle's guitar. they'd also given kenneth speedy boarding, something i should check they haven't charged me for.

and that was all that.

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