One of the biggest supermarket chains in Uruguay is Tienda Inglesa. English Store. Now I’m in the airport and the place the sells overpriced tut is called Brit Shop. There’s the legacy of our failed state. Shops in South America. A reputation for being good at capitalism despite the fact that we are on fire. Three different types of banana all year round, and a plastic hat.
This is gonna be a long flight back to the cold. This is gonna be a long flight back from the hot. I bought an electric blanket in the heatwave this summer. That’ll come in handy as I don’t want to put the heating on at home. Who knows what sort of state I’ll be in when I land at half six in the morning on Wednesday but I can tell you for absolute certain that I’ll be feeling the English winter. Blazing Sol outside the windows here at Carrasco International Airport. It’s glorious. Can’t I just stay here?
I like it here in Uruguay. The weather, the optimism. The people are friendly. I doubt I’ll ever come back here again though. Big old world. Only so much time.
Now I’m in Brazil. I’m not sure if it really counts as being in Brazil but I exited security and have two stamps in my passport even if I then went straight back through security. Stopover in Sao Paolo. Sometimes they load out your luggage onto the conveyor belt. That happened to Amelia but seemingly not to me. Hopefully that means it’s gone to London. It’s raining. I’ve had a beer and it has made me sleepy and given me indigestion. Or maybe that was the pizza. But… we board soon and I’m burpy. Window seat again. Hopefully not quite so boxed in by large males this time as I am planning on trying to get some sleep on the long haul. London will happen at 6.30am. Then it’ll be a tube home.
I think I’ll sleep for a week when I get back. I’m not ready for it to be cold though. And I feel very odd. Maybe I’ve been holding something off and now my body is beginning the stopping process and no longer holding it off. England are about to start playing Wales. If I can stream the second half in the plane that might replace my bedtime reading, as my Kindle is in my checked bag.
Onto the beach and into the sea with a little bit more vigor than necessary. Here on this stretch of strand overlooking the boat and the Saint Helena, I miscalculate my shallow dive assuming a deeper shelf. I mildly sandpaper the top of my nose and forehead. Salt water is an antiseptic. I’ll just look like I’ve been in a fight for a few days.
My last evening was perfect but for the loss of skin. Now I’m lying in bed in the San Marcos listening to the crickets and trying to make sense of the fact that it’s winter in London and I’m going back to it.
Such a lovely team, so hanging with them on the beach tonight felt the right closure. Then I went off for a steak. They are all here another week or more on the graft of the derig. With the final few hours of my day I was on site with them stacking the heras and getting the pegs out. Familiar tasks now.
I like Uruguay, with the weather and the happy people. They got beaten by Portugal in the football today and I was sorry for them. Happy friendly people here, with good weather and great seas and sharp sand.
Long long flight coming up though and I’ve left it too late to write this. Gonna turn in and bank some sleep. Rest well yourselves.
Big old party happening right now. Noise. DJ. All the crap.
They tried to fuck us over with the bar. They DID fuck us over with the conversion rate, quoting in US Dollars and then charging us in Pesos converted on their terms. 200 people though and a big party. I didn’t like parsing the card on that basis but I’m aware that most people who parse the card wouldn’t even have that thought.
Everybody is on it now. It’s the night out wagon. I’ve found a corner below a speaker that can’t cope with the decibels. It has shorted the lights out around me and cuts out for ten second intervals pretty regularly, giving me a break from the thump thump thump. It’s a little haven, and with my navy suit I’m mostly invisible so long as I don’t move. I realised I need to write this before everything goes south as it publishes at 2am my time and we are pushing to midnight.
Done. A good race. Very fun. Good people. A successful season and I very much feel like a useful part of the machine now. People know what I do and how I do it. I’m beginning to make actual friends, which is an impossibly slow process for me but one that cements over time.
I’m sure someone has clocked me by now though, sitting in the darkest place on my phone. This shit doesn’t write itself dammit. And even though I’m at a party and not in the thick of it, it’s totally fine as I’ve got no real reason to get stuck in. Nothing to prove. Done that already this week.
This broken speaker has started working better now which means I get a flash of noise right at me every few seconds. Awful. I might have to just go and dance randomly to this mess of music. But the DJ is mostly playing bollocks.
Yep, I’m tempted to hide under the table or go sit on the loo for an hour. But it has to be done. People have noticed me in the darkness. It’s only a matter of time before they send an envoy and the whole “I write a daily blog, it’s not for general consumption, I don’t care who reads it, I’ve got nothing to prove” kinda dialogue comes up.
Pump up the Jam? Are you kidding. I’m gonna pump it. I don’t want a place to stay.
I just hit the boogie. For a glorious moment. We started ‘aving it large, but then Abba happened and now I’m on the beach. An empty strand. There they all are. Haddaway is asking “What is love?” but he’s not waiting for the answer before he tries to protect himself which makes sense of why he’s asking. The Atlantic waves are lapping over my boots. How the hell have I made this role work? But I have because it is needed and I’m good at it. As Suzanne Hansen observed in Tabuk, right man in the right job. I secretly balked at it when she said it more than once because I’m an actor etc etc. But yeah. Actually yeah. This work makes sense with me and the world. I’ve done it Arabic and South American and both worked well. So long as I can get some filming in the gaps it might become a thing. Never count on anything though, eh? I’ve learnt that the hard way. But for now, a lovely thing and lovely people. Win.
My jobs list has taken me back to CasaPueblo just before sunset. You could argue that it’s a combination of my jobs list and my cunning arrangement of said jobs list. The unusual requests are overlapping the mundane requests, and often the mundane ones are harder to fulfill.
“Can you get a strimmer?” Yes. Petrol or electric?
“We need twelve umbrellas.” In Uruguay? Yep. Just walked past a row of them.
“A few more black sharpies?” … I can get you a rainbow pack of 24 multicoloured sharpies one of which is black. “We just want the black one. Times 24.” Nope. Can’t be done. This is Uruguay, the country that defeated stationery. You’ll get what you’re given.
“A print with a local bird on it by a local artist that can be rolled up and put into a suitcase?” Fuck yeah, I saw one of those in CasaPueblo, the beautiful sunset place that takes your money and then takes more of your money and then takes more. Come to think of it I should’ve put my entry on the Coutts card I’m carrying around but honestly I’m too happy in his job and I like it here. I’ll pay eight quid to catch one more sunset from this terrace, and listen to that lovely poem that I’m not allowed to quote or post and think about things.
The birds are coming home to roost. It’s an hour until sunset but they know it’s coming. The sun is falling, tracking that golden pathway across the ocean to the horizon. There’s red in the scattered clouds already. A mild breeze. And of course they are playing the sort of Mediterraneanish downtempo electrotwot music you’d expect from a warm place near the sea that sells beer.
I’ve just told Clayton I’m here. He’s staying in my hotel. Corridor buddy Clayton. He arrived a few days ago. Helping with the fan zone. Ex rallycross director.
I forget what a big deal this all is. If my CV was a thing, this would be doing wonders for it. We had the qualifiers today. Very good racing and now they are letting fans in for the first time. I went down to the big area they’ve prepared for them. It’s like a festival site there, but with big screens showing those incredible Odyssey machines racing. I have been off site but local today mostly and bringing things in quickly. Nice to have a day without the big long drive.
Fifty minutes until sunset. I’m gonna switch my head off again and just be. I had to go to Uruguay to find myself in a position when I’m willing to try to meditate. On my own terms right now. But it’s a start. Om fighting with NMHRK. Likely there’s room for both and more. I don’t think this will be my last time round the wheel.
In Tabuk airport in Saudi Arabia there’s a little office the other side of security that deals with left luggage. If you can talk your way through the barrier you can talk to a patronising overweight misogynist and you can get assurance that works that your bag is coming. He will tell you when it will arrive. If you go at that time he’ll belittle you a bit and give it back to you. He seems to understand on some level that people’s bags are quite personal and they might want to have them. Even if he likes to rummage through the women’s bags thoroughly and he honestly can’t countenance women with crash helmets in their luggage.
In Carrasco airport in Uruguay there is an information booth staffed by disinterested smiling people who want to prevent you from actually getting anything done. There is no dedicated lost luggage staff, so it is the responsibility of the airline staff, on top of everything else they do. They are only on site for check in and for flight arrivals and probably paid shorter hours than they work based on somebody’s projection. As soon as there is no activity related to their airline, they grab their stuff and get the hell out of Dodge. If there is a lost bag then it is the very very last thing they consider. If they consider it at all. They might leave it there. They might pull it out but only if they know there’s somebody waiting. Lost luggage is perpetually an SEP. Somebody Else’s Problem. There is no equivalent of me on this job at the airport, trying to hoover up the SEPs, make them ABPs and yo I’ll solve it check out the hook etc. I don’t have to make this my job. Nobody will ever look askance at me if I DON’T make it my job. But I make it my job because somebody has to.
I was waiting today for over two hours again though. That’s the shitshow of it when you’ve got a jobs list that needs to be finished before the shops close. I was getting more and more frustrated.
Information changed shift and the new one with no idea how long I’d already waited eventually told me I had to wait by a door and someone would come. Nobody came. After twenty minutes I went back to ask for a time frame. “No no you must wait by the door,” she said. “How long?” “Twenty minutes.” So I went back and waited twenty minutes with expectation. Then I went back and mimed a telephone to her from a position where I could see the door. She just shook her head and her mouth moved. I went closer to hear what she said. “By the door.” I went back to the door and waited another fecking twenty minutes. There’s an hour.
The shops were getting closer and closer to closing and it’s a two hour drive to the port. The extent of the not giving a fuck about people’s lost bags here started to bother me. Surely they must understand how much thought went into that bag? These people are a long long way from home. It’s so badly organised. It’s so laissez-faire.
I got so angry with the nothing that I decided it was time to try to meditate just to bring my temperature down. All I could do was wait. Might as well wait well. I’m crap at meditating. I sat cross legged before the door, not in anyone’s way. For maybe ten minutes I managed to be still. Then my phone rang and my brain went back into gear so I switched to the old familiar Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo of the Nichiren society of simplified secular Buddhism. Not loudly mind you, I wasn’t being passive aggressive here, I was trying to remain calm in an increasingly frustrating situation. I chanted at the door, and the people behind it, at the shop I was going to where they HAD to have what I needed or there would be no time to look elsewhere. Another twenty minutes. From walking in before 6 full of optimism because that’s the time I was told, we are now passed 8pm.
I try another tack. The door is busy. It’s a staff door. I smilingly ask everybody going in or out if they are Latam, always as if I expect the answer “yes”. Eventually someone looks momentarily perplexed and says “yes”. I explain the whole situation again. I show him all the paperwork. I even have a letter from a lawyer giving me permission to collect on her behalf as honestly they’ll try anything to avoid just getting the thing.
He photographs it all from my phone and asks me to wait once again. I wait. Then he comes back and actually appears to be the first person I’ve met who appreciates the human side of this lost bag thing. He understands I’m waiting on somebody else’s behalf. He just seems to actually give a fuck. He gives me the bag. We check it against the claim number. It works. I thank him. I hug him a bit. And I’ve got the bag. I don’t think he’s the person I was waiting for. He’s just a good person. The person I was waiting for was likely having a fag after a long shift and phoning their mum.
Shopping and a long drive through darkness gets me to the port just in time to see the tender leaving without me and a call from a PA to tell me that’s what’s happening. There was a VIP on the tender. VIPs don’t wait for bags. So I hung out at midnight at the port with snorting sealions and the bag of a woman I’ve never even met and kinda let myself settle into the fact that, when I’m not at that airport, my slice of Uruguay is a pretty quirky and happy place right now. It’s warm enough in the evening to hang out. The sealions are friendly. I’m a valued team member, capable in my own specific way. The skill of some of the global crew is way above my level, but you learn by doing. On the rare days when I’ve got time to plug into them I probably don’t speed things up much but I upskill myself at an astonishing rate.
Then through these thoughts, the tender showed up. Mark took the bag.
I went to the next hotel to persuade the night porter to help me unload the rest of my cargo. Then… Well I went home to write this to you and sleep. Just an account of the last few hours of a busy day cos it’s freshest in my mind. The rest of the day … you get the gist.
Today I went and sat in a work of art that responds to nature. My day was finished. Sunset was at 7.33 this evening. A few days ago, driving Christine Gutierrez to her hotel, I turned a corner into Punta del Este and she told me about a house on the right as we went in. CasaPueblo. HouseVillage. In Punta Ballena.
It’s the work of a local artist, now deceased, Carlos Páez Vilaró. He was born in Montevideo. He bought this incredible home with a view of the sunset sea. He built unusual whitewashed sculptures and gradually created a remarkable place that responded to nature. His legacy has been to leave it to the Uruguayan government, with the understanding that it stays open to the public. He has a poem to the sunset that he recorded with Spanish guitar. It plays to every sunset, and people come and participate. I had to pay an entry fee and then I wasn’t allowed to sit on the terrace without buying something. So there was no stipulation in the bequest that his art was meant to remain free. This happy-go-lucky country can be happy go lucky because of these taxes and charges everywhere. The Uruguayan government is very very good at extracting taxes, but they give back and it works – because the population is low. At some point the balance will tip to too many people as it always does, but right now there’s opportunity here. It’s too late to buy property unless you’re from here in which case there are workarounds. A lot of the tax is for visitors. If you say it’s a company you pay more. But also I think this whole bureaucracy exists now as a wedge because this place was built on laundered money and they don’t want to be what Rishi wants us to be anymore.
But I paid and sat in a fine seat at Carlos’ old gaff. I looked out over the ocean. The beautiful sun dropped into the sea. The poem played and I found myself thinking about time and about endings. I thought about how happy I am right now, all the way over here. This one -time loner is integrated with a group of humans who are trying to lead change by example in a traditionally dirty industry. I thought about happiness, generally. I thought about my parents today as I watched the sunset. I thought about all the sunsets they saw. I thought about how they both would have severally engaged with this work I’m doing here. Nuts and bolts but in one of dad’s old industries. “The Godfather of Speed”. Ha. And mum would’ve loved the sunset even if she had internalised The Daily Mail enough to worry for my safety in the foreign place. We watched so many sunsets together, holding that hand that is now a ghost of a memory.
Carlos made CasaPueblo into a work of art. He could’ve been robbed or burnt or something. He wasn’t. And this is why we have to make. It still stands and helps pay for the fact I can stagger home tipsy and clutching an expensive phone in South America and still have both my arms and all my money and my phone in the morning. Bad things happen occasionally in the world. But if we don’t risk anything in case something goes wrong we eventually atrophy to bitter little stumps. I’ve seen it.
I watched the sunset. A poem played in Spanish. I understood some of it. I let it wash over and let my own thoughts come in. I wept with joy and loss. I was happy and sad and I knew both deeply. I could not tell you if the tears were joy or grief. They were sunset tears, knowing the losses, knowing the privilege, knowing the luck I’ve made. We all stand between what we have and what we don’t. All we can control is the direction we face.
I was going to post an extract of the sunset poem now. It’s lovely to hear and to read in translation. Like much great poetry it is simple thoughts well expressed. One of the surprises for me is that the poet knew many would weep about the parents and the grandparents that saw other sunsets. As I say, I was going to post… But looking at the internet, sites get taken down for quoting it. There is no way in hell the poet intended his home and work to be turned into a moneymaking exercise, but the safety in this country has to be paid for and this is part of it. If I post an extract some bastard will ask me to pay or cut the blog. It’s not Neruda…
I’ll give you the gist.
Sun. There’s like loads of sun all over the place yeah? Other countries get sun too. It’s leaving us but you know right like other countries will have it still yeah I think um yeah. So like goodbye and all that huh. I mean my parents must have had these feelings too yeah? Like watching you go into the sea and knowing you’ll come back. Cos you always do come back, sun. And we all have eyes and our eyes see things different but the same or something. Great. So there it goes. Sun go now. Bye bye sun. Go Go sun. Sun here now gonegone.
That’ll be 400 pesos. My PayPal is email@example.com.
I feel incredibly lucky to be here. We are all part of a huge team making something ethical but edgy. We are many weird cogs in a very unusual machine.
I’m often the first person you meet. This immediately involves being swept up in my world. You arrive after the overnight flight from somewhere and I’m there with a Panama Hat and your name in flashing neon on my phone. I’m usually standing in a gaggle with the Enterprise lads – who call me “Barclay” and the VIP drivers in their hastily washed branded white shirts. I often keep my hi-vis on as well when I’m greeting as when I’m fixing. It makes me visible. It’s a helpful costume.
Amy arrived a few days ago when I was mid argument with the information desk about a lost bag. She stood quietly by and watched as I hauled out bigger guns than I normally like to use. Clayton was by me today when the result of those guns came in and somebody from information randomly came to to me in the middle of a conversation and told me “They say it will definitely be with you tomorrow,” to which I reflexively responded “I need to have that in writing please.” Poor thing, she went off and scribbled it on a piece of paper for me. Better than nothing. Iberia Airlines? Don’t. Just don’t.
While I was marshalling people and sorting out where the merch would go, I was also on WhatsApp messaging anyone in Montevideo who had a print shop and who would be willing to make a bit of money by finding me that fucking A3 printer. Gustáv was an early contender but took himself out of the running with a lack of trust.
Then I rang the right man. Alfonso Ponce de Leon. He took the bull by the horns by WhatsApp. He knew where he could get it, and knew what he could ask for and was willing to commit to getting it for me today. I held him off a little when I got an offer from a local fixer: two lads were willing to bring in a local second hand one for $450 US dollars cash. That got thrown out though when I ran it by the client, and frankly I get why. This one went through the books, it has a manual and guarantee and generally all the things you need. It had a hefty 22% tax hoiked on it which I might have avoided had I bought it on behalf of one of the Uruguayan contractors or said it was personal. You live and learn… And it might not have been possible. Alfonso sent me a “welcome to Uruguay'” message when I expressed my shock at the tax. He wasn’t there when I bought it. Just maybe his mum and maybe his son. An older lady who was a stickler for bureaucracy and a strong young man with no precision.
“You know we fished a printer out of a Dolav today,” says Todd. “It was wet so we’re letting it dry out but it might be fine tomorrow.” Aaaargh. Well. It is a good printer. It will find its use.
Oh so much driving. When I was planning the Majorca trip, I didn’t allow a day when I was driving more than 6 hours. Today was a new record. I had driven 8 hours before noon. It’s half nine in the evening now and it feels like I’m buried in sleep. There’s already a whole new game for tomorrow. Finding a printer that prints to A3 paper in Montevideo, and doing it around my pickups. I usually manage these things… But I’ve already written about how Uruguay is not an office culture. It really isn’t. Nobody gets status here from giving a fuck about printers, and most of the businesses are independent. I’m gonna have to find some wayward son-of-a-bitch who is going “screw this freedom, we should all be chained! I sell office stuff nobody else needs!” I’ll love her for it.
I’ve covered every shop in Maldonado. Some guy said he can order it in but it’ll take a few days and I need it now. These things always come up last minute. Montevideo is my shot.
This morning at 4 I drove through the darkness to pick up Christine. She’s one of two Italian drivers of more or less the same age that I know very well now. Tamara was championship driver when I met her in Saudi. Now she’s on a team and strong there. Christine was on a team when I met her. Now she’s championship – for now. I get the sense that mostly they would prefer to be on the team, and that’s the hierarchy. But observing these two rivals being friends with each other and completely reversing status in the course of a season has been really positive for me. My adrenaline game is performance. Theirs is speed. But… with those two I see two friends, true friends, who are also rivals.
I’ve brought my self tape studio with me. I’m expecting to have to do at least one tape before I get back… Fingers crossed.
Meantime I’ve got an early bed tonight, which is no surprise considering I was up at stupid o’clock. The rain seems to have stopped. My alarm is still uncomfortably early. I’m off to sleep.
Rain. Rain on the palm trees and the streets. Rain on the beaches and the sea. Rain on the site, churning up the mud and collapsing the tents. Rain on Global Crew as they all go into work early and dry and come back filthy and drenched with another early day tomorrow. Rain on my car as I drive 8 hours without a break before two in afternoon. Rain gathering in huge puddles on the roadside, semi visible barriers of deep hard puddle. Rain on the broken wheels and shattered farings of the cars on the long road to the airport. “Oh look, that one’s in a hedge,” or “Whoever was in that scooter didn’t make it”. I was careful and watchful, exhausted with concentration. I still lost the back end right at the end of the day. Only for a moment. The tyres don’t know rain like this. Nobody’s do. Accidents all the way.
This rain has bodyguards. This rain needs multiple extra syllables like the wedding rain Alanis told us was ironic. This rain does whatever the heck it pleases. This rain… Hard hard rain. Raining constantly out of a dark grey sky. This is the rain the electric storm last night heralded. This is tropical rain. Rainforest rain.
I pick up a scientist. “This is in a big band of weather all the way from the Amazon, I’ve been watching it live on a map. It’s fascinating to be inside it.” I pick up a security guard. “I’m glad I’m not on site today.”
Yeah so I’m working slightly longer hours than they are. But I’m doing it in a car. It has a roof. It has soft seats. It has temperature control.
I get myself to site in time for dinner, loaded up with hose. I grab falafels with Will. He is absolutely drenched, head to foot, and has been all day. He fell in a puddle before 8. All the Global Crew look exhausted. They’ve been at it in the downpour while I’ve been driving, keeping the whole damn village above ground. They’ll have trench foot. They are washed out. I really hope they have good showers in those rooms.
“The rain’ll stop tonight,” says Will. We are standing on tarpaulin that slides. Beneath the tarpaulin the mud is already Glastonbury Festival. I almost lose it beneath my feet. “It’ll be dry in time for the race,” says Will. “You think so?” “Remember how dry it was when we arrived?” … … CAN it be dry? Is it possible? I absolutely value his optimism but I’m really not that sure. I think he might have been delirious from cold. It feels like I’ve just witnessed a catastrophe of rainfall. The Uruguayan government threw tons of gravel into the site and at the time we all thought it was way too much. Now it makes sense. The course has been closed all day. Likely it will be all day tomorrow as well. We need a hot day. We need a hot week.
Outside my bedroom window there’s an electrical storm raging. Solid forks of lightning in mist with no rain. The air has been hot all day but not so humid.
Wildlife is proving interesting as people on site are beginning to discover genuinely dangerous things. Casual disturbed black widows on their arm. Various reasonably serious snakes. Mostly this stuff doesn’t nibble you. But occasionally someone gets unlucky I guess, particularly if they panic. I’ve been in my car today watching the world go by, meeting people and just watching the WhatsApp group tick over. 8 hours on the road and time in between shouting and carrying.
My first pick-up had to watch me squabble with the information desk at the airport. “You keep telling me manāna manāna and I take you at your word but now I’ve come back tomorrow every day for four days and I get the sense manāna genuinely means ‘never’.” They lost some bags and the owner didn’t do the proper paperwork because she had to fly to Sao Paolo on a different airline. Everybody who put bags on with Iberia at Munich got them taken off the plane at Madrid by a Spanish baggage handler who was a stickler for the rules. The printer was broken in Germany so they were handwritten. Safety.
All the other bags have made it to Montevideo now but this one couldn’t because if you don’t fill in the paperwork on the day it is lost then you aren’t in the system and then manāna manāna manāna and never anything. I ended up in very very heated discussion, to the extent that I was totally adrenalised and my legs were wibbly. It actually had an effect. They bypassed the paperwork, or so I’m told. They are putting the bag on the plane to Montevideo from Madrid. Just like homeless people in Uruguay are given a function helping to park cars, so all the clowns in Montevideo have been given work with Iberia Airlines. Who knows what’s gonna happen to Alice’s bag now. She just has a little handbag. “Ah I’ve got the basics,” she tells me.
“A lot of people I know would be considerably less sanguine about this,” I remark to Alice as I drive her from the airport to the boat where she’ll be staying. “It’ll come good one way or another,” she responds. This is how I tend to approach the world as well so I get it. By the time I drop her at the tender we are friends. I almost join her over to the boat, as it’s the end of the day, but I remember that I’m supposed to get up at 4am tomorrow and the boat can be messy. Would’ve been nice. Would’ve been carnage.
Now I’m trying to wind down. It’s 8pm. I want to be asleep in an hour. Oh dear I’m not very good at this. The sun only just set. Maybe I’ll have a shower. Must. Sleep.