Weird things

Small victories. It seems I have beaten the lag. It’s 8pm and it feels like it’s 8pm.

Rehearsal in the morning, and then Jack and I drove to Bishop’s Stortford. I’ve got a pin in the map to a place just outside the village of Ugley where there’s a warehouse. I’ve always felt an affinity with Ugley as I drove by. This was the first time I’ve been a passenger.


It’s on an estate, secure up to the nines, full of absurd items with no fathomable use outside of a particular context. Hundreds of fake jars of tinned meat, weird shaped painted carts on wheels, offcuts of timber with random words sprayed on them, “This machine kills fascists” written on a calculator, wood, wood, wood, scaffold scaffold scaffold, a forklift, a load of truss, boxes full of dead phones and dead laptops and perspex and lights and trophies and pictures of people in the eighties and a suit of armour and a giant fish made of chip. Theatre stuff. Buried in the back, not so far from where Tristan and I left them, were four astronomically heavy boxes of Victorian plates. A little bit more broken than they were when I left them from whoever moved them. But mostly present. Eclectic. In no order at all really other than a vague attempt by Tristan and I in the height of summer when I filled the flat with boxes.

Now the plates are the focus of my attention at last. Now I can work through them. I’m loaning some to Adam, who I’ve never met but who is taking on a production role this year and is doing a version based on the script that Jack and I hacked together in Brighton. But we are taking the most bonkers plates for the London run.

They’ll be anachronistic joyful talking points in the show. I was so thrilled to take custody of them last summer, knowing what they might bring. But it’s been a long and twisty road from boxyflatday to dropping them off in Davies Street this evening knowing that suddenly this weight of ridiculous china is going to go to an artistic purpose and be random joyful and brilliant. Many will get broken or fucked in dishwashers. By the end of this run I reckon we will know which ones are worth keeping and I’ll get some catering boxes so they stop breaking when we move them. Then going forward I’ll have a huge collection of serviceable Victorian decorated plates. It’s the sort of thing you could never find affordably if you were looking for it. In the right context I could rent them for Victorian dining events when Carol isn’t running and turn them into an asset. Right now they’re just fun.

The nature of this job with your relation to stuff… People in theatre are more likely to be excited to find a hideously burnt rocking horse than to find one that’s perfect. We love the weird stuff and we provide a context where it can be right.

2 years ago Scrooge had a creepy taxidermised partridge in a glass fronted box. He loved it disproportionately, called it his “creepy bird,” and checked on it immediately when he awoke from his dream. 1 year ago, I watched Max as Gatsby in the syndicate ask a large group of people to take a moment to admire his “creepy bird”. It was the same bird, now a part of Gatsby, with the same exact name. Because it was horrible. That’s the joy. Find weird things, and give them meaning. Hell, that’s why I’m still in theatre. It gives me meaning. And helps pay the bills…

Laggy boy

What the hell is this jet lag? Peter, one of the professors out in Notre Dame, had a theory about jet lag. He thinks that the exciting place is the place where you don’t get it, and the boring place is where you do. I’m not sure. I think it’s to do with going East. Whatever it is it’s a plague on me right now. At about 9pm I can’t keep my eyes open anymore and I have to go to sleep no matter what. At about 4am I bounce up like a kid on Christmas morning and start running around my flat talking to myself.

It’s coming up to 9pm and I’m waiting for some friends so we can eat half price food at Maze Grill on the 50% Monday deal I get for living nearby. That’ll help me stay awake, I hope…

It did. It’s eleven, and I’ve eaten good steak. Now my eyes are droopy again, but I’m going to arbitrarily force myself to stay up until about 1 so there is no chance at all of the 4am BING.

FIRST DAY OF CAROL. Rehearsal. Tom Bellerby, myself and Jack Whitam. In a room. Thinking about sightlines. Working out why I might keep turning around on the spot. It is in a former shooting range. It’s the definition of long thin space. Vocally it means we are off the hook. We can do it with diction. Sound carries beautifully. It’s why they have to wear ear guards when they shoot. There’s room for subtlety, heaven forbid. And it’s not going to be freezing cold. In fact I have a suspicion that it’ll be hot. Lots of happy warm people enjoying a story of redemption while eating tasty food as part of the story and having an all round delightful time. It’s going to be glorious.

Tomorrow I’m going to go and get the Le Foe plates – a huge and varied collection of Victorian plates collected by the parents of a friend of mine and about to be pressed into action in a serious way as eclectic dining for large numbers of people in Mayfair this season. I rescued them from the tip and have been looking forward to what they are going to bring to proceedings. They aren’t universal. They might be pretty bloody weird. But there’ll be joy. There’s always joy.

Coming back into that room today helps me remember why I keep on coming back into that room, outside of the basic “because money” reason. I love this show. It is literally at the foundation of some of the deepest friendships I have in my rather odd life. I walked into the building in Mayfair and immediately recognised one of the building managers – Will used to intern at Sprite with us in Yorkshire. Now he’s here. I took him down to show him that Tom and Jack were there too. All four of us were in a field in Yorkshire ten years ago when he was but a teenager, making beautiful things for the sheer hell of it (and money). Some things never change…

I’m debating as to whether or not to risk my original Gladstone and Distraeli salt and pepper shakers. Back in the day when there were statesmen, not nasty self serving egotists.

They’ll probably get nicked if I do. But it might be worth it.


Christmas yet to come

I’ve been wondering what it would be like, coming home from the US to wintertime and to a new home order. Turns out it’s fine if a little quiet for a Sunday. I’ve been taking stock.

I could argue that I’ve come back from America with no more money than I had when I left the country. That’s what it looks like, but it’s not taking into accou n the amount of debt I paid off. So long as I’m careful with money, I will finish the run of Christmas Carol with a positive balance. A year older, but not an hour richer.

A week today we have a dress run for Carol, and then the madness starts again.

Year 1: Manchester, in a converted Hooters restaurant, with a fake hessian ceiling and chandeliers. Brian hiding behind a pile of cardboard boxes operating the show with both hands, both feet and his nose. Jon Holt-Roberts as Marley with his magic fingers and Christmas Dragons. Then briefly to a tiny room with gorgeous light in York Guildhall.

Year 2 and 3 with India and Jack above The Arts, running out in my nightgown to Leicester Place, worried I was going to get pepper sprayed. The arrival of Belle in the 2 way mirror.

Year 4 in Liverpool Street, freezing our ass off with Anna-Fleur, too many audience all of who had come to eat the tellyfood, and power cuts. I was really sick for pretty much the whole run, as was Anna-Fleur. I’ve never had such a hard run of anything.

Year 5 in Sheffield in a space that Sam, Jack and I had built specially for the show, and where we could have huge fun even if running into the parking lot was usually a little bit of a damp squib. Then to York in a huge vaulted room with a mummified cat in a secret cupboard.

Now Year 6. It would be nice to have a consistent space to invite people back to, as I’ve run into audience members in the street in like June, who recognise me as Scrooge and always ask where it’s on as they want to come back. “Oh it’ll be back. You’ll have to be cunning to find it!”

Off we go again, in London again – Mayfair – with all we’ve learnt and all we haven’t learnt yet. This time it’s in a shooting range. I haven’t seen it, but it’s really really long and really really narrow. I’ll have to be a clever boy. There’s no window, so no run out into the real world at the end, which is a shame but also a challenge to find a good replacement.

Some of the stuff we had in store has been assimilated into various other immersive shows, and I’m not even sure if we’ve kept the top hats. Jack and I could do a decent shift of the show with no props and costume whatsover though. We will make something wonderful because we know it so intimately that we can’t help but do so. I’m going to get an early bed. Eyes are still droopy. Come see Christmas Carol! I haven’t got a ticket link. But I will and it’ll be lovely. It’s not cheap. But you get a meal.



Home blog tired

Flavia met me at the airport, or at least that was her intention. I landed early and shot through immigration. My bag was first out (as last in). I got to the platform before she even got to Osterley. We converged at Hounslow in the sleet. Her professed duty was to keep me awake from then on in. She did it admirably but now I’m on my own again. I’m in bed with a hot water bottle. It’s cold and my body thinks it’s ten o’clock this morning and is properly confounded about the fact it’s dark in the world and there has been virtually no sleep. I don’t have much left in the tank. My eyes are drooping.

It’s good to be home even though home is weird. Things not there, most notably one large human and one tiny cat. I’m going to arrive first and then calibrate. Flavia really helped me arrive.

Lying in my bed I’ve got tinnitus again for the first time since I left the flat which implies to me that the “tinnitus” I thought I had in London is actually something making a horrible noise near my head. I’ll investigate tomorrow though. I’m too tired for digging through electrics tonight. I can barely throw words down here. My eyes are heavy. But there’s an advantage to three months in quiet rooms. I can come home and know that either I’m exhausted and it’s a coincidence or I need to get a good electrician and I’ll sleep a lot better for it.

I like my home. I feel at home here too. But it looks like the nomadic existence might be carrying on for a few more months pretty soon, so getting the electrics sorted etc now there’s no Brian could allow for a time of dropping the place on Airbnb while I sod off around the world having fun with other people’s words.


Flight home was fine. I watched The Last Jedi and enjoyed it much more the second time. I think Star Wars films, for the kids that grew up with the mythos of the first three, are always going to be an exercise in recalibration. It was odd thinking that both Chewbacca and Leia have actually died in real life since the movie was shot. Two lovely humans vanishing just after the wheel had spun them to the top again. I suspect the last film is gonna be a bastard to edit using what they have in the can and cgi. I imagine I’ll catch it in the cinema.

Anyway. Bla bla bla. It’s half six. I literally have no waking left within me. I’ll try to write something better tomorrow, life permitting.


America Day 75 – Bag Drop

Two and a half hours before my international flight from San Francisco, I was placidly ambling down Crissy Field. “Oh look, a seal,” I thought to myself happily. Check in officially closes two hours before an international flight and I still have my bag in the trunk of a car that’s a 40 minute drive from the airport. I’m not even pretending to be in a hurry.

I drive through the streets of San Francisco to the airport, still in no rush. La la la. Driving in San Francisco is an ugly thing. Narrow streets thronged with people with no depth perception and a desire to always be in front, and who behave as if they’ve just discovered their car has a horn. I’m still pretty calm though as I poodle to the airport. I’m listening to The Magnus Archives, a podcast that has taken my full attention for a while now. Spooooky.

It’s not until the woman at Avis says “You’ve got an international flight? You’re supposed to check in 2 hours beforehand,” that I start to worry. I look at my bag. Uh oh. Cue adrenaline.

The car rental is as far from International Terminal G as humanly possible on the Skytrain and suddenly I’m overheating as my heart rate goes through the roof. People hold the doors for their friends at every stop we crawl through. All the while I’m working out which of my possessions I’d be happy to throw away if I had to strip down to just hand luggage.

I’ll lose the hot sauce. The clasp knife. They’re both gifts. Sad. They can’t pass security. I’ll have to chuck most of my clothes but they were largely chosen with an eye to disposability. Of course, they might let me put the bag on but I’m running worst case scenario so I’m ready if I meet that human that should by rights be returned for a better version. I’ve met them too many times in the past.

Like the woman at Thai Airlines Heathrow twelve years ago who insisted I wake up the entire Bangkok production team for a film I was shooting in order to verify the credit card that my business class flight was booked on. “It didn’t happen with any of the other actors,” said the extremely put out production manager when I eventually arrived on set, persona non grata before I’d even started. I had been excited to fly business. Happy when I arrived at the desk. She just … decided she didn’t like me, perhaps thought I looked too scruffy to fly business class, and gave me the old “fraud check, it’s out of my hands” routine. I can still see her thin lips, pulled taut, and her little piggy eyes with just the hint of cruel satisfaction. She made a lovely job hard for me, just by exerting the tiny power she had. I still hate her for it, and still wish her ill when I think of her. Which is rarely.

I’m thinking of her when I get to the desk though. I’m assessing the faces, trying to choose someone who looks kind. I find the right person, and my bag goes on. “Just as well you checked in online,” she reprimands me. But it’s done. I’m coming home. Ten hours in the air. I’m not tired or drunk so sleep might be an issue. But there’s my bag, on the conveyor. Phew.



America Day 74 – Auld Lang Syne

I reckon I haven’t seen Leslie for a decade. We met in Edinburgh during the festival something like fifteen years ago, maybe more. We went to watch Daniel Kitson and he did a routine about someone in a train. Then we drank all the wine. Come to think of it I think we met before then, at The Elk in the Woods in Islington back before it was bullshit. I had my birthday party there. Either way…

We hung out in London for a good while thereafter, whilst our lifestyles and needs converged. She used to play water polo as a striker, and she worked as a lawyer but loved theatre. I was in a deep depression, trying to work out how to reconcile my expectations of life with my reality as everything crashed around me. She was living with a friend of mine by sheer coincidence. Circles bleed into circles. The world is very small. With the miracle of Facebook we are still in touch. But I haven’t messaged her for five years. Last time we messaged I was doing a job, writing the official blog. Late one night she sent me “I don’t hear your voice in these blogs you’re writing.” I told her it was because my voice is a bit too anarchic for the company I was writing for. We exchanged pleasantries and went back to our respective lives. 8 hours is the most antisocial time gap, London to San Fran. It’s hard to keep anything together. I tried to maintain a nascent relationship with that gap once and it fell apart utterly in less than three months.

The night before last, up in the big trees, I sent her a message just out of curiosity. I told her I’m flying out of San Francisco tomorrow, asked balls-out if I could stay tonight. She’s in Oakland. She has two kids now, and lives there with Fishtea. Her oldest, Samuel, is 4. I know it’s full on and said I could stay in an Airbnb near them and just hang out, but they were welcoming. They put me in Samuel’s room.

I’ve just finished doing the washing up after some glorious jerk chicken with rice and peas. The first home cooked meal I’ve had for three months, here in Oakland as the trains honk their horns. It’s been lovely to catch up. Friends stay friends if they’re friends. And our friendship covered a lot of ground, and carried an intimacy that is unusual and was mutually beneficial.

Fishtea has made me feel welcome in this home despite never having met me. He welcomes me because I’m an old friend of hers. He’s Rastafarian and carries huge kindness and depth. He was a deep sea fisherman. “You learn in the near sea. Then you go to the far sea.” He went to the hard places. He was loading and emptying traps for lobster mostly and occasional groupers etc. He tells me of times when the boat was so laden that one asscheek was in the water as he ran the engine, and there was an entourage of thirty clued up sharks following sniffing the food…

I’m getting ready for sleep on my last night in America, here in the family house of someone I knew in a very different breath back when the world was an unfamiliar shape and we were younger and more certain and less aware.

The length of life is the thing that amazes me now. To see the two of us in such utterly different contexts. To appreciate how far we have both come and also to notice how much we have remained consistent to who we were back then. This tiny life, compared to those trees. We still shift and change all the time. Sometimes it’s the seasons. Sometimes it’s just life.


Let’s keep shifting, knowing that the heart of who we are cannot change. Leslie is designing gardens now. She’s acing it, with two kids. I tell her I’ll have to get rich in the next ten years and then bring her in to do my garden. I can buy a coastal estate somewhere and plant three Redwoods, one for each of my parents and one for me. My prep school had two in the grounds. They were doing fine and they were in East Sussex.

I’m off to bed I’m Oakland. Night night America.

America Day 73 – Bears and the Ancients

The thing with trees is they keep on growing. I’m here to see the biggest ones. I’ve got the secret location of the tallest living thing on earth. My plan is to go bother it. It’s protected to stop people like me finding it. It also happens to be completely surrounded by other trees that are within a few feet of its height. There’s already a known younger tree that is predicted to beat it in a decade or so. (These races are slow for trees.)

I’m in one of the Redwood National Parks, bordering on a reservation. I have to go first to register and get a free permit. Daily numbers are closely monitored. They also need to keep track of who goes into the park to make sure they come out. “There are loads of bears and lions,” she tells me. “Stick to the path.” “Of course,” I tell her. This isn’t grizzly territory. And “lions” are basically cougars with a sexy name – they’re only still alive because they prefer not to eat humans. Anyway, they say this stuff because they have to, right?

I drive for miles up a long dirt track. Eventually I find the cast iron gate I’m looking for. I put the combination into the padlock and pull it open. It screams like a wounded teenager I drive through, and close and lock it behind me. Then down the dirt track into the park.

The parking area does have a few cars in it. Despite the isolation this is a known and frequented area. I hit the trail. It goes down hard, but only for a mile or two. And all around, these huge ancient trees. These titans. Many have fallen. Their husks lie where they fell, except for where people have come with chainsaws to free up the pathways for people to follow the trail.

I leave the path – of course I do – and I hit the creek. My notion is to cross the creek and head upstream a bit, then strike up a hill. But the creek is in full flood. There’s no easy crossing place. I cast around. I see a semi-dam of fallen logs a way down. Perhaps I can ford it there.

I head towards it, but there’s something there that hasn’t expected me. I startle it, and it startles me. SPLASH. Whatever it was leaps into the creek heavily. “A beaver!” I hope.

Then I hear the growl. My instincts beat my rational brain immediately. Millions of years know that sound in a remote area. The hairs go up on the back of my neck. My arms go above my head bent to make myself as tall and wide as possible without any real thought and I’m backing away gently and firmly even before I see her as she hauls out of the creek shouting.

I become acutely aware of the bag of jerky in my back pocket which might distract her if she runs at me. “I should record this,” says my social media brain and a hand almost snakes down to my pocket for my phone. No, Al. No. I’d sooner maximise the chances of not getting eviscerated by this wet bear here in this remote place. It’s just a black bear. I mostly get angry with people who are afraid of nature. But she’s growling low at me, and that sound is full of threat. I’ve surprised her, and she’s got wet, which is enough to piss her off. There might be cubs involved too…

I go backwards downstream, never taking my eye off her. She hasn’t run at me, nor away. I go backwards up the bank and turn when a tree blocks me. I return to the path. Phew.

I spend the rest of the day on the trail, surrounded by ancients in this valley. Peaceful giants, protected for the moment in this national park. Beautiful and serene and old. I’m glad I drove all this way. I don’t care that I didn’t get to see one tree, off the path, that someone recently worked out happens to be a few foot taller than the ones I did see. Let it be protected by the lack of paths, by the National Park, and by the bears. All I would’ve done is marvel at it, and trust me I have had plenty to marvel at already in the last few days…


America Day 72 – Redwoods

I’m woken from deep sleep as my whole wooden hut shakes. It feels as if someone just … shoved it. I’ve slept in a cabin in a forest before and last time it was surrounded by deer as we slept, seeking warmth. They banged it occasionally, I remember. So … I’m not afraid, but I AM wide awake. Immediately. “Hello?” I ask, and pad barefoot to the door. I open it. I’m curious. Madness? Nothing. No chainsaw wielding lunatics. No Bigfoot. Just … mist. Mist rolling over my bare feet on the threshold. I stand and admire the trees through this full-moon fog. They really are majestic, these statuesque giants. Whatever it was that banged me, with a strange peace I allow it to be the unknown and go back to sleep for a few hours. It’s only hours later, and hundreds of miles covered, that I finally find some internet and my nagging suspicion is proven correct. I was woken by an earthquake. 3.2 only, but the epicentre near Ukiah, very very close to where I was sleeping. I’ve never been woken up by an earthquake before.

Yesterday was about the miles. Today, the trees. The morning brings fog again, but I’ve still got a couple of hours to cover so I smash the remaining miles out in the morning, up the disappointingly foggy coast, but heading to the giants.

I can’t complain about the fog. It’s the fog that brings me here, obliquely. The redwoods wouldn’t be here without fog.

These ancient tall red slow beings – they blanket this area. The loggers never made it this far, which is why I had to drive a day from the bay area before the old ones started to show.

But now I’m here among the titans – they live for the fog. It’s the warmth of the climate and the damp of sea mist that has allowed these prehistoric throwbacks to still thrive in a very different climate. They absorb moisture from the air. They grow tall and throw branches high to catch the mist in their soft bark and their needles.

These trees are huge, old and unstoppable. I drive through one of them, where some guy has hacked a car sized hole. It’s still fine. That one, the Chandelier Tree, is 400 years older than Jesus. Next to it is a poem in couplets on a redwood plaque telling us we should love God because trees.

In the surrounding park there is evidence of fire damage. One of the trees has been felled by fire – but just one and it was a huge fire by the look of it. The blackened corpse still lies in the path. All around it the trees stand proud with deeply blackened trunks. “Oh yeah – that fire? I remember that fire,” they say. “Charlie fell over.”

I visit a tree a bit further up – The Chimney Tree. It’s still very much alive despite almost impossibly massive fire damage. The bottom was completely hollowed out by a fire in 1914. You can stand in it and look up through the holes where the smoke came out. I do so.

I was hoping for lunch, but the grill next to it is shut today. Everything is shut. People are recovering after Veteran’s Day.

I’m on The Avenue of Giants but I’ve done absolutely no research so I’m glad there are no crowds. Time is limited and things that are interesting are sure to be signposted, I rationalise.

That’s how I find the Grandfather Tree. The sign for her on the highway is to signs as the Grandfather Tree is to trees. She’s huge.


Grandfather is 24 foot in diameter despite being young for her title, at 1,800 years old or so. She’s astonishing. She is surrounded by wooden carved Dibsney bears, great big yellow banners and bright signage – by all the filth of mankind. You can’t really photograph her from any angle without bullshit being in the photo. The gift shop is shut. Autocorrect would easily fix that last sentence were the gift shop open.

The trees with classical names that I’ve seen so far are all gendered male, and grandfather would imply that as well. But this one feels like a woman, as have some of the others.

I guess that’s to do with the culture at the time they were named. I’d love to know if any of them have older native American names and if so what they are. As ever with this country, the stories of the colonists are plastered on top of the true stories, obscuring them. This guilty history where a developed culture that believed land could be owned met a primitive culture that found that idea of land ownership impossible to comprehend, and took full advantage.

But with that in mind we can call these trees what we want, like the colonists did, and if we do it with enough certainty it’ll stick.

The tree is called Babushka. Babushka. Babushka. Ya ya. Or it should be. Or just Grandmother. The men shouldn’t have a monopoly despite the whole hard wood thrusting up into the sky thing that these long trees inevitably have going on.

Whatever we call her, she’s a bigass tree.

America Day 71 – The One

I’ve just arrived in my Shanti in Little River near Mendocino. “Shanti” is the California word for a shed. It’s built out of “reclaimed redwood”, at Pegasus Farm, hosted by Steve. He’s a local artist. In the grounds of his farm are the stumps of four burnt out redwoods, victims perhaps of some half forgotten fire. After all I’m near enough to where one of the big fires is currently blazing. But California is VAST. Maybe Steve used the wood he got from the remains of the burnt out redwoods on this property to build my shanti. I’ve seen a few laden logging trucks on this road bearing trunks with the distinctive soft bark, though, so some bunch of bastards is still axing these things for profit. But that’s humanity.

I’ve driven up the Pacific Coast all day, on Highway One, heading inexorably north from San Francisco. I took it easy in the morning and started at 8, a bit later than I should have.

Driving up from Daly City, the Golden Gate Bridge surprised me as I turned a corner. My first experience of it was driving over it, but I immediately jumped off the interstate on the other side and went up through a load of switchbacks to a viewing point. Jesse the park ranger was there, at war with a coyote. Someone must have fed it recently as it’s emboldened even for a coyote. It’s coming up onto the viewing platform every few minutes until Jesse drives at it or honks his horn. “I’ve seen them take small dogs,” he tells me. “It’s a beautiful animal,” I respond. I reckon I’m too big for it. I find myself thinking of the inefficient pugs Claire and I were feeling sorry for on a hot afternoon in Colorado two days ago. They wouldn’t stand a chance.


I take a few photos, and get into the car. Emboldened, the coyote comes right to the car window. I drive off carefully and hit the road. As I go, I look in my rear view mirror. Is that the coyote I see, constructing an intricate booby trap with dynamite and paint and rope from Acme? Uh oh. Beep beep!

Breakfast is of disappointing huevas rancheras at Shoreline Coffee Shop in Mill Valley. Lunch is of tasty takeaway crab sandwich on a headland over Bodega Bay, bought from Spud Point Crab Company, and well worth the Veteran’s Day queue.

I foolishly followed a sign to a winery, where a slightly neurotic older lady sells me some corked Pont Reyes Vineyard merlot. For thirty bucks.

(I thought I’d pay the extra for a good bottle of local 2007 merlot expecting something remarkable from a vineyard here right by Napa Valley. They were clearly saving money on the corks. I’ll never get through this glass and believe me I’ve tried. It’s still just on the side of wine over vinegar but the acid reflux would be hideous in my sleep and I’ve got a long drive tomorrow. $30 bucks worth of expensive fertiliser. This is supposed to be wine country so perhaps it’s worth a second look for tomorrow night. So much for luxury though. The usual point of buying at source is it’s cheaper and better. Not this time, though, damn you weird lady! In retrospect, perhaps her weird behaviour was because she knew she was offloading a bad batch on me.)

Wine disappointment aside it’s lovely to be out here. A day’s drive from the city and I already feel like it’s remote. There is feck all internet here though, despite allegedly having WiFi at the farmhouse. Since I’m sober I’ll probably drive a few miles to Mendocino and have a meal and an actual glass of wine and get this scheduled.

The sun started going down on my left, over the Pacific, slightly earlier than I anticipated. I knew I’d have to step on it to get to this place before it was so dark I couldn’t see the road. There’s an advantage and a disadvantage of booking accommodation in advance. The advantage is that you get to stay in interesting places and it’s cheaper, the disadvantage is that you can’t follow your nose. 

The last two hours of sun saw me spanking down Pacific One on a single-minded quest for Mendocino. I made it just as darkness fell. And I was right to rush. Darkness has fallen profoundly, and brought a spot of fog.

Now I’m in my little hut, in a pool of light. The farmer’s collie is going mental at something and I’m thinking that the something might be me, but I’m gonna get into the car and see what’s local with food and internet and hope the collie isn’t allied with the coyotes. Come to think of it I can hear them howling not far from here. That’s what’s got the dog worried. They’re out there painting fake tunnels through the mountains…

America Day 70 – Gear change

The fog is down in San Francisco, and by the time I’ve got into my hire car the light is almost gone. I’ve got a hybrid which will help with costs considering the large amounts of ground I’ll be covering in this half baked trip up the 1.

The Airbnb is in Daly City. I booked it based on price. Turns out it’s right by a canyon named after Daisaku Ikeda, the President of the society through which I practice secular Buddhism. I take this as a good omen. I’ve been quietly worrying about all the unknowns on this hurried road trip. I’m glad of a positive sign at the start.

I open the door to the airbnb flat and it’s dark inside. Looks nice enough though. It feels like I’m alone so I say “oh, this’ll be fine,” only to notice somebody stand up at my voice. The oldest man in the world has been sitting at the table on the far side of the room, plugged into his laptop. He pulls his headphones off.

“Are you James?” I ask. “No, I’m in 4. I’m your neighbor.” He plugs back in. No conversation here. I go on the internet to try and decide where to go out in town. I stick a random finger at a bar in SoMa where I might get some decent recommendations, and book an uber pool. The oldest man in the world finely chops a single strawberry and eats it on bread. “I’m going out. Any recommendations?” He looks at me a while. “All the places I know are for lunch.”


I wait on a foggy corner for Asadullah. He picks up two other passengers who are sitting in the car with me as I write. Uber Pool just WORKS in California. It’s significantly cheaper, a little slower, and always full. In the UK it’s the same price but you have to walk somewhere for pick up and the chances are nobody will get in with you anyway.

I greeted both my fellow passengers with a hello. Neither of them responded. We didn’t even say anything to one another about two minutes ago when Asadullah literally came closer to rearending someone at 60mph than anyone I’ve ever been in a car with. We all looked up for a moment, then looked back down. They both have earpods on, these young men. In fact, the first three humans I’ve met so far in San Francisco have all been wearing headphones and been immersed in screens. The Matrix is looking more and more like a work of prophecy.

Now I’m in Tempest, starting with a quick pilsner to fuel a walk around the streets in this area. Everybody at the bar is glued to the football or dunked in their phones. This world is so weird. But the internet is what made this trip possible. Airbnb let me be relaxed about the fact I had no idea yesterday where I would sleep tonight in this totally unfamiliar city.

Google maps will be providing my route, whilst Reddit and some blogs are giving me ideas for stop off points. Spotify, mobile phone data tethering and perhaps some podcasts will be streaming through the stereo in the lovely cheap to run semi-electric car that I booked through Expedia. I’m in the centre of town for less than ten bucks thanks to Uber. I can write this blog in this bar using a swipe keyboard and people all over the world will pick it up and read it on a train or while having a shit or at the breakfast table or in bed.

Job’s pretty much over. I’m on my own again. I reckon I’m gonna love it for about three days and then I’ll get lonely.

I’m going to get out of the city early tomorrow morning and go look at trees. I’ll have to come to this city both longer and better another time.