Getting heDonistic in Dudevalla

If Don had feared his salad days were over, then it was only to be his potato salad days. Meanwhile, his red pepper and meatball days were well and truly nigh.


milf island
We were offshore from Uddevalla when the cucumbers began to take hold.

Cold, watery, and contained in cheap plastic to protect them from the elements, they were nearly the perfect allegory for our current predicament.

Us, stuck into our plastic kayaks with a tasteful skirt that was hard to get into; the cucumbers, stuck onto crisp breads by a bacon-cheese squirt that was also hard to get into.

The crisp breads themselves were hard to crack. And that’s were the analogy with our party ends, for we by comparison sat around whingeing about the shitty weather and headwind, which had seen us advance 1 kilometre in 75 minutes.

If that was a slow advance; it was in direct contrast to the one Don had made towards his 40th year. In 12 months he had left Paris, worked in San Francisco, quit San Francisco, returned to Australia, travelled through Queensland, visited South-east Asia, come back to Europe, and settled in London, while also working here and there around Belgium and making plenty of necessary visits to Paris. It was a year of so much change that Don was in need of a new coin purse just to hold it all.

We were 8 friends in 8 kayaks, who found themselves brought together after answering the same 8 thousand emails for the most he-donistic of weekends. And we had nothing to lose, except ourselves, our dignity, and Attilio, which we did with free abandon, despite 2 nautical maps and one of us working for TomTom.

For 3 days and 2 nights, of which 7 hours were actually spent in a boat, we poodled piddled paddled the inlets, channeling our energies, and breaking the waters.

At the end of each day’s hard ka-yakka, we would find a beautiful island and get camper than 8 tents.

And then the feasts would commence. If Don had feared his salad days were over, then it was only to be his potato salad days. Meanwhile, his red pepper and meatball days were well and truly nigh, as that was essentially all we found upon opening the 8 bags of dicks bags of Willy’s supermarket produce.

There was also wine, beers, wining about beers, and some Teacher’s whisky, which as its name suggests, came on strong once it was dark around the site and the responsible ones had retired to bed.

And when the alcohol ran dry, the promise of wetness came not from capsizing, but the equally impossible task of finding the local “café-bar-restaurant” in the archipelago. This was marked with a green dot on the map, which had it been to scale, would have been the size of a small sea-side industrial zone, of which there were plenty.

Alas, in the event, the only bar we found was of the Allah-Akbar variety; boat-crashing a summer camp where young ISIS recruits were having a truckload of fun, jumping from the pier to perfect their bombs. They smiled and waved; there was no doubt they were having a real Nice time.

Of course, unlike one of Richard’s anecdotes, the nice times couldn’t go on forever; and so it was on Monday, a little earlier than expected, a little closer than planned, we clambered into a troop carrier and returned to the relative comforts of flushing toilets, and female humans.

Don was reassured: he had passed his milestone without incident (passing 2 milestones would have been much to ask given the headwind).

And neither had we buried his youth: instead, it lay safely stored, behind a rock on an isolated island, and covered it with some twigs, waiting to be discovered anew.

Don’t drink and surf – a cautionary tale from San Sebastian (but it’s not why you think)

Don’t drink and surf they say, but it’s not for the reason you may think.

San Sebastian, mid-August, the biggest weekend of summer. It’s Festival of the Virgin: ostensibly a Catholic celebration, but no-one’s told the hoards of young stoners and surfers who are swamping around, perhaps erroneously then, in the bars of this mini-Barcelona looking for a love story (or, if you’re over 25, then you’ll probably just have to settle for a story).

Everyone’s got one, a tale of debauchery from San Sebastian. An editor friend arrived planning to sleep on the beach. It sounded romantic: and then someone stole all his clothes when he was skinny-dipping. But he did meet a French girl there who he later married.

Visiting the dreamy surf town is a young Australian’s rite of passage, like growing up in the bush, working two years in a London pub, or wasting 8 years of your life in Paris waiting for life to happen.

It’s where Australian surfer boys go to play – or Australian boys go to play up the fact they saw a surfboard once, whatever.

“I’m a surfboard shaper,” said one glassy-eyed lad with shoulder length blonde hair from the Northern beaches. He was going to have no trouble pulling, and in fact was having a harder time shaking off the girl he’d met the night prior.

His mate, however, who looked like a lankier knock-off of his better-looking friend, was having a harder time with his “I’m just bumming around, but I’m interested in odd jobs” angle.

The namesake Saint Sebastian, you’ll recall, survived being shot by arrows, only later to be clubbed to death. In actually fact, the nightclubbing life is healthy.

The Sirimiri bar, opposite the cathedral, attracts young international types like a piper to the cave outside Hamlin. We went in on Friday and only emerged, bleary-eyed in the wee hours of Monday.

This bar served brilliant old fashioneds, so good they were drunk in half the time we were. Barmen spent so much time preparing them, that after 11pm, with lines two deep around the bar, it was considerably un-fashioned to order them.

And it was while waiting in this line that I realised why not to drink and surf (finally the point of the story awaits).

For we had spent the best part of the afternoon in the heady swells off Zurriola surf beach. Stef, confident on his rented surfboard, and me on a body board – don’t call it a ‘boogie board’ okay, thanks – at the end of which I’d been dumped numerous times and washed up on shore, water pouring out of every orifice.

And by later that night, the water was still pouring out, though sporadically and with no warning.

Well, I’m not sure who’s margarita it was on the bar waiting to be collected, but they probably regret not having removed it earlier given what now happened.

For as I stood there, arms on bar waiting for the barman’s attention, a healthy serving of saline fluid emergency-exited from my nose and straight into the drink.

It would have been impossible to detect on the palate, what with salt being an essential element of the drink. The only witnesses to my crime were two bystanders who rubbed their eyes, unsure they’d seen what their eyes told them so clearly they had.

I had no option but to pretend it hadn’t happened, though now stood two steps to the right to avoid it happening again.

When people swarm in such close proximity to food and drinks as they do in San Sebastian, perhaps the odd “unsanitary incident” is only to be expected.

For while the tapas – Pintxos – bars are delicious, they would also be a health inspector’s nightmare.

A healthy variety of savoury bites, from octopus to chorizo, blood pudding and baked cheesecake, and an unhealthy range of teaming, steaming, sweating tourists leaning over the food, pointing, gasping and spluttering about what they’ll have next.

As for me, I’ll have la cuenta, por favor…

Partying with Pete Doherty on the Rockstar to Bender-town

The period that started within three months of Wingman and I becoming single, is one we refer to as “Bendertown”.

Over many a weekend those months, both of us threw caution to the wind – read: pissed money against the wall – in pursuit of the hedonistic (read: destructive) pleasure of enjoying ourselves slightly too much.

It was also a period we both made the trip with fairly regular occurrence on the Eurostar – or as my friend’s baby niece thought it was called, “The Rockstar”, to London Town.

But where would this libertine lifestyle logically end?

Funnily enough, with the Libertines front-man himself.

It was a Monday night at St Pancras. Wingman had been in London for work (on the Monday at least) and me solely for fun, and were taking advantage of the cheaper tickets available for travelling outside of weekends (one of the meagre perks the freelance lifestyle permits).

The extended weekend had involved the usual antics. We’d raged from The Eagle through East London and into the depths of Fulham Broadway, leaving a trail of mischief, mayhem and broken hearts (Wingman) and watermelon stands (me) behind. Margaret Thatcher had also died, but I don’t think we were implicated.

Now Monday night and discombobulated the both of us, we had made it through the Eurostar customs and were walking the ramp up to our respective carriages (Wingman travelled Business, me not).

For whatever reason I looked to my right and saw a lanky figure hauling a guitar case, and wearing a familiar looking black leather hat.

Could this be Pete Doherty, I wondered? Poet extraordinaire, ex of Kate Moss, recovered addict and rumoured housemate of Macaulay Culkin in Paris (tip: you’re rarely Home Alone when you house-share).

For Pete’s Sake, I think it was!

There’s no doubting Pete Doherty, front man of the Libertines/Babyshambles, has had a lot of hits. And he’s even written some decent songs *boom boom*. Here his eyes were spinning counter-clockwise to each other, and he seemed to be sweating profusely, but when our eyes locked, he held my gaze steadily and smiled.

“You ‘right, mate?” I asked with genuine concern. If he was going to cark it on the platform, I probably wasn’t the first person you’d want to assist.

“Yeah, good, cheers,” he said with a grin. We walked side-by-side briefly, me sensing a kind of camaraderie, before I arrived all too early at my carriage.

“Well, see you, then,” he offered, trotting off towards the pointy end of the train.

As we often did, Wingman and I had arranged to meet in the bar carriage after an hour or so. This would give him time to take reasonable advantage of the free service in Business Class before sharing some beers charitably with me.

It was here we hatched out plan. There’s only one time in life you get the chance of partying with Pete Doherty, we figured. I mean, literally, so many people have died at his parties, (three deaths in a decade is nothing to be sniffed at…or snorted at), that the tabloid press talks of ‘The Curse of Pete Doherty’.

The idea was simple: we deduced that he was travelling in First. We, by contrast, were 18 carriages, a couple of hundred metres, behind. When the train rolled into Paris, we would run like the be-Jesus to the front of the train, and, drawing on my chummy banter with our new friend Pete, ask him if he wanted to come for a beer.

Then we could expect to be invited back to his party mansion, and spend the night regaling each other with stories of Kate Moss (him), stories about knowing Kate Moss’ former assistant (Wingman), and stories of, well…watching Home Alone?

As the train rolled into Gare du Nord we readied ourselves by the door. Backpacks on, and rolling luggage at hand.

When the doors opened, it was on. The quai at Gare du Nord is flat, but we were admittedly pushing shit uphill. Had it been an open route we may have fared a chance; but already we had 17 carriages of other people to navigate through, and not all of them seemed similarly intent on catching up with Pete Doherty.

Well, we finally arrived in the station proper, ourselves now also sweating profusely. Alas, by now he was nowhere to be seen. We hung around another 5 minutes in case he was having trouble disembarking, but finally gave up.

All things considered it probably wasn’t a bad ending. I was a few days shy of no longer being 30, and perhaps it was time to slow time*. And, after all, we had made it to Paris with the Rockstar, and unlike some, hadn’t died in the process**.

(For a more even-handed, and illuminating insight into Pete Doherty, with less cheap shots, read this excellent profile by Angelique Chrisafis in the Guardian.)

Editor’s notes:
*I didn’t end up slowing down as much as expected.

** I did see Pete Doherty again, but he was on stage at a public gig in Republique, still recognisable in his silly hat. 

Early morning sex louder than a careless whisper

It was the end of my second week at a vast, mysterious international company (not even THEY knew what they did) and a majority of the younger staff were celebrating the Friday with margeritas at La Perla, a Mexican bar specialising in tequila and, ehhr, sport fishing paraphernalia, in the 4th.

It was a chance to get to know my new colleagues; an international bunch, the majority of whom were young interns.

By midnight the night had followed the most obvious trajectory, with Wingman being wing-manhandled off-premises after launching a glass at a mouse on the bar.

“Trip Advisor will here about this!” He’d said, not in a threatening way, but rather in a suggestive tone: he was angling for a free drink, but being a sport-fishing bar, they presumably could spot an angle a mile-off.

The barman’s response was to come around the bar and take a swipe at Wingman, who replied, “You can’t be serious.” In Wingman’s deep-voiced growl, there was a more than sufficient pause after “You can’t….”, causing the barman to hear something else entirely…

Anyway, we were out, and Wingman notched his first black-listing from a Paris bar…(which was still enforced 6 months later, and might still be to this day).

By now it was late, and I was more interested in gaining notches of a different type.

With Wingman sent home to reflect on what he’d done, a hardened party of three had made it into the pumping gay bar Tango, located in the upper Marais: myself, a South American girl and another girl of mixed Northern European lineage.

We were fairly sozzled on a couch, my shirt a sticky mess of lemonade and low-grade tequila, rimmed with my own salty sweat.

I decided to add something else to the mix: a dubious proposition. Essentially, unable to decide which of the girls to try it on with, I decided to not make a decision, and instead propositioned them both.

Not everyone was as into the idea as I was, but two of us did end up at my shoebox flat above the champagne bar and overlooking Top Sexy on Rue Saint Denis.

Since getting booted out of my expansive flat around the corner on Rue du Temple (I’d never moved by shopping trolley before), I was existing in 25m2 up six flights of stairs.

Other tenants included a friendly prostitute on the first floor, a couple of interior decorators immediately below, and my sexy neighbor young neighbor M., who had the lips of Brigit Bardot, and regular noisy sex on a bed that creaked above my ceiling.

It was 4am, and with a threesome off the cards, I figured I could swing the mood back to sensual romantic. It was at this point I remembered my saxophone, which had laid in its case, unplayed for several months at the foot of my bed.

I assembled it and, sitting in my underpants, started on the first bars of George Michael super-hit Careless Whisper.

Perhaps I should have mastered the Sound Of Silence instead, because before the first chorus was up, there was a furious banging on my door.

I opened and should have been less surprised to see my neighbour M. Up till then I’d only heard her banging above my bed.

I profusely apologised, and stowed the saxophone away under my bed.

When it comes to apartment living in Paris, it’s perfectly fine to have loud early morning sex; but better than not to keep your loud morning sax under covers.

Calling in an urgent wingman favour

“I’m calling in a wingman favour.”

I was desperate: it’s not often I invoke the code of wingman, but I had gotten myself into a predicament from which I saw no escape.

At least, not without covering fire.

Wingman already had an evening planned – though nothing he couldn’t easily escape from (a first date or funeral or something).

His willingness to assist was not surprising: He had long ago proven his worthiness to be a wingman – either that, or after my “kamikaze wingman from the Melbourne days”, I had such low expectations for wingmen that their duties were easy to meet.

In any case, his reactivity was appreciated.

“What’s up?”

The whole predicament was impossible to detail within the constraints of text message. “No time to explain: just tell me you can be at Chez Prune tonight at 8pm.”

In short, 2 weeks earlier I ‘d met a young French girl at drinks in a dingy place in the 10th called Xeme. She worked at an international company I was freelancing with, and bore more than a little resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence.

The night had been nothing if not efficient: short discussion in bar in front of colleagues; evacuated quickly to a hip neighbouring cocktail bar, Syndicat, and whisked back to mine.

In fact, efficient was perhaps all it was, as by 6am she awoke startled, told me she was late for brunch and fled (though not before I forced her to leave her number on a post-it note).

We were both busy the next week, or at least she seemed to be, though by Thursday it was hard to ignore the grinding feeling of being ignored. A week later my work birthday drinks came and went, but alas she couldn’t make it.

By the third-week mark, ever the optimist I still held out hope. And one Tuesday morning, it was duly rewarded.

She’d sent me an email, responding privately to the group email invite to the birthday from days earlier. “Sorry I couldn’t make it, I was in Germany: but we should try to catch up.”

“Excellent!! Tonight or tomorrow?” I immediately wrote back, not wishing to betray my excitement.

“Wednesday is good.” And so the date was set.

With Wednesday afternoon upon me, I wrote “Jennifer” an SMS to confirm.

“Okay for 8pm tonight by the canal.”

Given this was basically just a formality text, I was a little surprised by the response.

“What? Was this for me?”

“No.” I fired back sarcastically, and then, with slow-dawning horror, realised the email had not come from the French Jennifer Lawrence look-alike at all.

Instead, I suddenly realised, I now had a date with a German woman from the company’s legal team.

And, being now 6pm, it was too late to cancel or postpone with any politesse.

And thus I called Wingman for backup.

The plan was to make like the apparent date was anything but: in fact, I would let on, the plan all along would be to join numerous friends (okay, friend) for a “casual apero” by the canal. It was the best cover story I could think up.

We met at the “canalside institution” Chez Prune at 8pm. On the dot (me knowing a thing or two about German punctuality). I loathe this bar, and for this reason it’s always unfortunately foremost in my mind when I need to suggest meeting places by the canal.)

By 8:25, two things were apparent. Firstly, I had had no reason to be worried: she was good company and drank beer by the pint.

And secondly, at any moment my wingman was going to turn up and awkwardly crash my date…