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The ashtray says you’ve been up all night

There gets to a point when it’s 5:45am and you’re still wide awake that you are pretty much trying to waste another hour tossing and turning in bed before you make yourself a slow breakfast and proceed through the day as if by some miracle you woke up early, as opposed to not having slept at all.

The Balfour House Date

So, I’m doing well in London. And yes I have scored a pretty decent job. But that’s not what is making my time here a comfort and a joy.

That’s my home.

I’m living in a three storey place in Ladbroke Grove. The area is synonymous with Notting Hill, mentioned in a Pulp song and is where the Clash and Blur cut their teeth. Nick Lowe wrote a song about Basing Street. Notting Hill the movie was of course set here. Most excitingly, one of my favourite Blur songs, Best Days, mentions Trellick Towers. Those strange looking apartment blocks look down at me as I leave the house every day.

(Also, Trellick Towers was designed by the Belgian architect Goldfinger, a man who would offend Ian Flemming so much that he would name one of his greatest villains after him.)

I love the people I live with and I’m quickly trying to capture something about them before things change.

What I have come up with is the Balfour House Date. It sums all four of us up.

The BHD starts with me. I’m the chatterbox. The ice breaker. I would get a couple of drinks, ask how you are, be genuinely interested in who you are, what’s going on, and all that. I’ll make you comfortable and relaxed.

Next is Isabelle. She’s the more arty, fun and passionate one of the house. She’s an architect, and she would switch to the wine or the scotch as the atmosphere winds down. You would stumble out of the bar with Isabelle, tipsy, happy, talking about meaningful things in funny ways.

Then comes Nathan. Nathan will have sex with you. He’s tall, well built, and a doctor (a research scientist). He’s a good looking man, and a fantastic person, funny and yet has a great curiosity about the world. He also plays guitar. He would take you home, sing you a song, then take you to bed.

Finally there’s Jodie. She will marry you and take care of you forever. The steady head and shoulders when we need it, she is organised, smart, caring and motherly. She will make a great mother. She cleans when she’s restless. She’s a great cook and cooks often. She gives me dry cleaning advice and worries that I still haven’t put a new light bulb in my room for about 2 months (I have a lamp). She’s the last part of the Balfour House date, and the best part.

And she’s the one who is leaving us next week. It’s very sad, but I wont dwell on that. Plenty of time to do that. This week we have been interviewing potential housemates and it’s been a drag. Only one person seemed to fit in with us.

It has pulled the rest of us closer together. Isabelle and I wet through people today, and I just felt like we both loved this place, and we were going to protect it from the spoilt, the daysleepers, the non English speakers and the plain unsettling.

Nathan has been here the longest. Four years or so. He’s sad about Jodie too, but he has a perspective I don’t. People leave all the time. He’s lived with all kinds. Strange feeling, that. But at least it looks like Nathan and I will be pretty stable parts of this house for the coming years.

Home is a time and place. I’ve said it before. Jodie reckons she’s put off her real life long enough. But her last couple of years, her real life has been travelling, and London. As is mine. And nothing stays settled for long these days.


Temple bar is under me

This is a travel blog right?

So I’m about to board a plane home to London after a great weekend in Dublin.

I could have sat around and listened to people talk all day.

I came mainly for the REM show, but I must say the Irish Stew was the best meal I’ve had in the british isles thus far.

And an almost Bono and Edge sighting to boot.

Home tonight… Where things seem to be flooded and scared.


The Lowest Form of Conversation

I’m up and sleepless. With worry.

A weight is in my chest, just above my heart. My throat is a little dry, and my muscle wont move but wont relax. This is what thinking about the future gets you.

It’s come up lately. And the right thing to do is not too far from something I want to do. You know in school, in your last few years, they make you study your ass off for stuff you don’t care about to keep your options open. This terrible idea of keeping your options open.

Options are closing now. But that’s not even really what I’m thinking about. What’s got me worried is coming home.

I don’t think I want to.

Cathy thinks that every traveller here thinks of leaving. They may have been here 30 years, but if you ask them when they are going home, they will have an answer. Maybe it’s a few months. Maybe it’s a few years. But there’s a finish line.

I don’t know where that line is for me. But I know I have to be home soon and I’m dreading it. Johanna always said I was running away. But I just don’t like going back. I just feel like there will be many people back home for whom I will have nothing to say.

‘Remember When…’ is the lowest form of conversation. Remember when we did this? Or that? I know some people love it, but I hate it. And I’m dreading, really dreading, from the bottom of my washing machine stomach. Just writing this – it’s making me want to throw up.

This might sound mean. I don’t know I feel the need to write this down. And maybe it’s good. I’ll have low expectations. But from experience, people see you with old eyes. First impressions are hard to break. And people dislike change. Generalisations, yes.

And it’s not everyone, of course. The people who still mean a lot to me, and I hope I make it clear who you are when I speak or email (or text) you. But the rabble. Oh god.

I don’t want to sound like the arrogant prick who says “I’ve been overseas and nothing’s better than that.” I don’t think it’s that. You might not think so, though. But I’m on the defensive already.

I’m trying to think of the point of this rant to sum it up. I’m not sure there is one. All I wanted to say is I’m coming home. And I’m worried. I guess, I don’t like change either.


Boys And Girls On Earth

I don’t throw parties.

Historically, I’m an introvert. There’s a clear way of spotting introverts. Recorded music versus live music. I prefer to stay home and listen to CDs (or the ipod). When I played music, I preferred writing and rehearsing to playing live. Even the great live bands…I prefer listening alone, in comfort.

Take the Hold Steady, a band that Q magazine are touting as one of the 10 hottest bands on the planet. Their sound is bar band – Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, etc, and a hot one at that. Yet I put that disc on (yes, the disc) and I’m taken away. I lie in my bed and imagine I’m at the gig. If you don’t understand that, then I’m never going to be able to explain it to you.

The Hold Steady album is amazing. It’s called Boys and Girls In America and it’s just that, a snap shot of drunken nights out, big nights, the meat market of modern dating and suburban life. As Jarvis cocker said – we drink and dance and screw cos there’s nothing else to do.

The album cover has a bunch of kids cheering, as if at a gig, looking up at the sky. It’s been quite a lauded album. All it does is celebrate normality, maybe even mundanity. But maybe that’s where we are heading.

So my household threw a party. I thought a lot about the Hold Steady song ‘Massive Nights’, and enjoyed it for what it was. Meeting people, dancing, wasted myself and more, and less, and all around. And I loved it. And we built nothing useful. We wrote no songs, made no progress, but we laughed and had fun and kissed and hugged and fell further and further away. The opposite of the Rimbaud tortured artist. Rimbaud can go get fucked. I never liked the guy anyway.

So maybe it’s not artistic. It’s not big. Maybe every orgasm we have is another novel lost. Myeh. The Zen revelation I had when I sat on my back step a good 16 hours later with a cup of tea is that you have to enjoy every moment that lets you enjoy it. And maybe we are passive. Maybe we could have left the house and saw some painting. Maybe we could have been chaining ourselves to a tree.

The party was great. It ended. We survived. And by surviving – we lived. It’s good enough for now. I put on the Hold Steady album, and listen and become introverted again. So yeah, like that dude John Mayer says, we are the generation that is waiting for the world to change more than doing something about it. This is life on earth, 2007, London. It’s as valid as anyone else’s. And we had some massive nights.

I smoked too much.


It’s almost dawn

I have been so busy.

And up so late.

I never get a chance to write.

So much stuff happened this week. Time to pull my socks up.

Planning a week where I do nothing but write emails and myspace messages to you all.

Then saving some money to see YOU soon.

And to pick up my reading slack. To get better on the guitar.

And do right.

Why not smile?


Where Have All The Billy Braggs Gone?

I have been writing a lot. I know. It’s an experiment.

Who are your heroes?

I know who mine are. Like most people, I have many, not just one. You see those people on the street who have just one sometimes. You can tell they want to be Keith Richards, or Liam Gallagher, or Woody Allen.

But I have many. How could I not? I’m just a big sponge for culture anyway. So many influences come rushing my way.

Just think for a second of how many people you’ve ever met in your life. Then add people you’ve read about, or seen. Then add fictional characters from movies, books and all. Must be thousands. Tens of thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. How many names do you know? Friends, family, famous and fictional. How can it not rub off on you? How can you not have a million heroes.

But there’s one type of hero for me that I keep returning to. A bunch of guys with familiar character traits that make me think, and think often – I want to be like that.

Bruce Springsteen. Elvis Costello. Joe Strummer. Billy Bragg. Lloyd Cole. Paul Westerberg. More I can’t think of right now.

(Funnily enough, all men who were at their prime in the 80s as people)

It’s got nothing to do with the music, but them as people. There’s a mix of strength, of rocking, of doing, mixed with passion and emotion, and quite a bit of smarts. All those men you can imagine rolling up their sleeves and changing a car tire. All those men you can imagine have had their fair share of dark moments in love. And all those men are well read and are articulate.

And it’s the mix that’s most important of all. Of Tough, Romance and Intelligence. Obviously there are those who lean highly to one of the three. Steven Segal is all brawn, rock, and physicality. He can fix your shed, but not much else. Romance taken to the extreme and you get the flowery poets. No one likes them. And all intellect is another cartoon – Steven Hawking?

When you mix it up a little it gets more interesting (for me). Romance and Intellect gets you into Niles from Frasier territory. It’s a character I love to pieces, but useless more than not. Romance and Tough, you get Rocky Balboa. Emotional, and can only bash at things to express his emotion. He would attack marble with a mallet. Intellect and Tough? You get Henry Rollins. I hope than man gets into politics. Personally, I need a bit of heart.

And it seems each has a detractor. The indie nerd eschews toughness. The Silent Types eschew emotion. The jock eschews intelligence.

So I go on about this for a very good reason. I feel like that kind of guy is lost. Or at least it’s been a while since I met one. Especially in greater culture. Where are the artful, emotional and strong role models? The man who understands the world, who can feel for the world, and can change the world?

We need another Billy Bragg. We need someone who can play and sing and spit with every muscle behind him, can write a sad song about girl he once loved, and use a line as intelligent and witty as ‘I put you on the pedestal, they put you on the pill.”

Where have all the Billy Braggs gone?


I am an island…

I don’t usually do these sorts of things. But this was funny and I think, worth keeping.

What Kind of Music are You?

You are Rock!You are articulate, likeable and popular. You have a taste for living large and you don’t often look behind you to see the damage you leave in your wake. You can influence lots of people very easily, you just need to determine which issues you feel are most important. Also, watch out, many people you call your friends might just be flakes along for the ride. Try to figure out who really cares about you and who you really care about in return.
Take this quiz!

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I think what I like best is this quiz also dispenses life advice. How to cope with being the music you are, and to enjoy a full life regardless of your condition.


What are you running from?

When I first started meeting people who have been traveling for like 18 months, at first I was judgmental.

What are you running from? That’s what I wanted to ask these people.

One of the many, many great things I’ve learnt from Bob Ellis is the idea of a witness. Someone who is your closest friend for a short time. Friend is not even the right word. The word IS witness, someone who can testify who you are for a certain time and a certain place. And that’s it. On the road for 18 months, sometimes more, how would you know anyone other than witnesses?

What are you running from?

Has something hurt you in your life? Was your old life so bad? Did you run the routine life into the ground? Do you just love the unknown?

Here’s the thing that changed my mind about it. With maybe less than a half a dozen exceptions, it seems I don’t have much more than witnesses myself. And in most cases, the people who knew me best, who knew me intensely, for a night or a couple of years, they are not with me.

So maybe if you ever meet one of these people, somewhere, and ask them about me, they can tell you who I was, back in a time and place. But I’m not the person they know, and they aren’t the person I know.

I came across a photo today of someone I used to know. For a year or two, we knew eachother better than any other human beings known us. I think she’s married now, and I’m not even sure. She got sick a while back, and I don’t know with what. She doesn’t know where I am, I doubt.

And I have to say, the memory hurt. I’m not unhappy to be faraway from that. And part of me, a big part, just wanted to run. For god sakes, stick me in a forest somewhere in remote South America. Or Holly Golightly in the desert with strangers. Hide me in a hostel in a European city, one that is the same as hundreds like it. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to deal with it. No connections. Just witnesses.

And I’ll tell you just enough about me so you don’t have to think about me again. And no more.

In a world where you basically can’t be a hermit anymore, I think the best alternative is to pass through people’s lives at such awesome speed that you leave no trace. You don’t have to be the Invisible Man, when you can be the Flash.

What are YOU running from?