Karavados

“Can I have an ouzo with a drop of water and 1 ice cube?”

The barman is so used to serving the English abroad that he pours me a rosé. Ouzo / Rosé. It all sounds much the same when spoken in a language that isn’t yours. We iron out the mistake and I end up with both. Lou doesn’t want either, so I head back up and onto our balcony double-fisting.

Tonight we are in the Karavados Beach Hotel. It’s cheap, so we weren’t expecting much. They cater largely to tour groups and then list the remaining rooms online. We are in perhaps their furthest room from centre. It’s miles away from the swimming pool area where they play Ricky Martin and give you the wrong drink. We are in a far flung corner. The sort of place I like best. It’s dark here, and peaceful. I’m on the balcony. Mosquitos play happily around my legs and feet as I write. We all deserve a good meal from time to time. I had chicken souvlaki. They are getting some of it second hand. I went trekking in the Amazon in rainy season and they were on me like a carpet. This is mild by comparison. Let the little things munch.

The local beach has an orthodox shrine and next to it there’s a steep drop where old people are supposed to have gone in order to take the leap and make space for those younger than them. Lou takes me up there at night. I look over the top. Nobody pushes me, which is good. I’ve still got fucktons to do. A truly great friend of dad’s shuffled off his mortal coil this week, and there was still space for him. He was looking backwards, digitising old photographs of happier times, making gnomic comments on Facebook. Maybe he missed his friends. Surely he did. But we will miss him. There’s a great big party up there and he will have been very much awaited, sticking with us and keeping us all entertained. I’d seek his company first whenever I landed in the Isle of Man. I truly believed he would never stop. There are some friends of dad’s left, but this particular passing really marks the end of an era for me. I’m sure I’ll be able to get over to the island for the funeral.

Meantime it seems the onus is on me to LIVE. I hope I’ll work the next few races for Extreme-e – if they’ll have me back. I can fit my year around it, make some money, see some incredible far flung places and help build an interesting ethical future for racing – my father’s industry.

Meanwhile though I’m gonna listen to the cicadas and the dogs here in the gathering Ionian night. The stars are bright when my phone is off. The Rosé is nothing but an empty glass. My ouzo has been my nightcap here. Fresh, local and that sharp bite. I will sit in the dark awhile and sip my ouzo as the culicidae sip the blood from my veins.

We did things today. We lit candles in a hermit’s grotto. We saw a watermill powered by sinkholes. We went to a lighthouse. We swam in the sea. We did many more things. But yeah. Ouzo, mosquitos and old people jumping off cliffs. HEY GUYS IF YOU WANT MORE CONTENT ABOUT MOSQUITOS, HIT LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE OR WHATEVER.

Lou just switched off the light the other side of the glass balcony doors. Then she opened them “for a breeze.” We are gonna get eaten alive tonight. But sitting here with my phone screen the only light source finishing this I AM BECOME FOOD. I RETURN MYSELF TO NATURE. COME SUCK MY BODY EAT ME I AM YOURS NOW OH SIX LEGGED HIGH PITCHED PARASITIC … fuck this I’m going inside.

Museum Hotel George Molfetas

I woke up later than intended, to discover that my laptop had been in direct sunlight out on the veranda and was absolutely cooked. I haven’t dared to switch it on yet, I just put it in my bag. I’m willing to believe that all the circuitry has fused together in there. Bright bright wonderful summer sunlight. I folded up all my dried clothes and repacked. I very nearly took a large female cricket with me. She made me jump out of my skin when I picked up one of my shirts. I’m not used to fast moving creatures of that size. She didn’t seem particularly bothered by me though. She just watched me as I repacked my bag.

Twenty minute drive to breakfast in Argostoli, and an hour or so of wandering to follow. It seems that The Bay of Argostoli plays host to some sea turtles. I was surprised and pleased to see them bobbing around in the placid waters. Little shoals of fish and turtles. A good sign.

2pm happened quickly and I knew I could check in to our hotel for this evening – Museum Hotel George Molfetas – a beautiful and considered labour of love. I arrived and found myself surrounded by weird old antique things and bits of fabric and costume and hats and wood. The last month has mostly been IKEA. The experience of something more like home went right into me and I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon more or less as soon as I entered the bedroom. It’s only their little room, but it’s still gorgeous and comfortable and homely.

Lou landed at 7pm, by which time I was awake again and picked her up from the airport Extreme-E style. We came back and she loves it here as well. A beautiful shared home.

I’m lying on the sofa now with my feet on the radiatior. It’s dark outside. Lou is sleeping behind me. Beyond the mosquito screen in the window I can hear the night time sounds of the island. A dog is barking. Occasionally an engine. Gusts of night time wind. But mostly peace.

Katerina bought this place, the former residence of the poet George Molfetas, and she transformed it into a very special small hotel. It’s all handmade and considered – her labour of love. The old stuff is old and beautiful, but the modern bits are well judged and blend with them. We have a state of the art aircon unit on the wall that doesn’t look out of place and isn’t particularly loud. There’s a little old friendly dog, there’s all sorts of art and pottery everywhere, considerately placed. I’m very happy here. A chance to properly unwind. Even just for one night.

Island

I’m so lucky.

Here I am in another unfamiliar island. Kefalonia. Louis de Bernieres painted a wonderful and nuanced picture of a haphazard and heartfelt community here when he wrote his breakthrough novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s worth a read, despite the film. It’s the final part of his audition for the new Lorca. He’s not the new Lorca. But it’s a gorgeous book. And his South American trilogy is world-class magical realism and genuinely up there with what inspired it. Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord is one of those rare books that I can still remember decades after. Cochadebajo de los gatos. A book with great light and great dark. Good strong world building fiction.

I see what de Bernieres saw about this eccentric and friendly island. It’s far easier to just go to the Cyclades via Piraeus and hit the party. But the feeling is totally different in the Ionians. As with Ithaki, so here. Grounded but expansive. Extremely friendly, but also just getting on with life. There might be more shops on Kefalonia than Ithaki, but it feels very familiar from my week on Odysseus’s homeland. The goats still run the place. I wish I could work out how to communicate with the woman who invited me to the dress rehearsal of her play in Ithaki over a decade ago. The leading actor took a dislike to me back then because I was a foreigner. He kept making weird fisting gestures at me and glaring. I was embarrassed and rushed off after their dress rehearsal and the only way I had of contacting her was an Ithacan landlords website that has been extinct for years.

There’s still a clear drive towards communism in these islands though. As with when I was last here, the KKE and their hammer and sickle still take up a lot of visible space on graffiti targets. In Sardinia it’s independence – as with the Catalans. Here, it’s communism. Everywhere it’s just a hope that we might momentarily be able to have things run by actual humanpeople who have been to the post office before. Remember school groups? “Who wants to be in charge?” It would always yield the sociopathic narcissists. As then, so now. The cardboard people in the UK are trying to out-hewmon each other. The only thing that’s certain is that whoever ends up in charge won’t know what a real person is, but will happily tell you tales of how they were once accepted into realpersonland.

I took it easy today. I got a rental car, which makes everything possible. It’s expensive but worth it for the freedom and for the little bit of space that’ll be ours. If you have a car you are never homeless. Lou gets here tomorrow, so tonight I sat on the balcony and I drew up my invoice for Extreme-e. It’s a fuckton of money. Yay. Good to know I’ll get it back. I’ve spent a few grand on things like printer cartridges and Aircon.

Boats

They know how to operate boats around here.

These vast ferries come perfectly in to land every time, hauling people and cars around the perfect calm of these Ionian waters at this time of year. They swing their backs round so close to the cars by the road. Watching the process can feel like jeopardy, but you can feel the experience of the skippers. A touch of wind, yes, but the Mediterranean is contained and it largely knows how to behave itself.

Moored just near me as I write is the Alessandro 1, a huge and shockingly beautiful sailing yacht out of Split. 48 grand a week if you want to charter the damn thing. I was pratting around taking photographs of my shadow before realising that the current squad of lucky rich folk were on board watching me.

“Lovely boat,” I told them. I have to be honest though, I was trying to work out how the sails work while I took those photos. Do they just run it off the motor? Do the sails unfurl automatically like the screen in a primary school, or does the crew have to run them up? How many crew members do you get for that 48k? It’s rigged. It must be possible to run it cleanly. But I bet there’s a great big engine too, and I bet they get lazy because of it. I reckon right now the sails are stowed and they only come out for show while they run the thing off diesel for the summer season.

I love the age of sail travel though. No surprises, with my matrilineal bloodline plugging down through grandpa Os de las Casas, (promoted from midshipman to lieutenant commander and covered in medals), his grandfather Napoleon’s biographer Emmanuel de las cases and his great great I dunno how many times great grandfather Saint Bartholomew de las casas. (I literally went on line just now for an easy link about the family and found somebody who has done some research) That’s Emanuel… Don’t get tangled up in Bartholomew being connected to Columbus. He was morally almost totally different. There’s a lot of sea in this family past though, and a lot of biography. “You have the sea in your blood,” I was always told. I do. And life writing. I have that flowing down. The others just did it for profit while I’m not quite sure why I do it.

If I could take a year off for anything, it would be to crew a tall ship around the world and connect with those boaty wanderers in my bloodline – never settling, learning and accommodating, sailing the world’s waters… I’d bring my accordion… But… But ..

There’s only so much time every turn we take at this life nonsense. I’ve got my acting to think about this time round and I sense that it’s as important as the wide angle discovery thing. But maybe the sea can be a part of it somehow. Can I blend the two? I remember being desperate to be considered when the Globe went to every country in the world with Hamlet, but back then my agent was actually a literal fish. Roll on the casting director wondering how they’ll ever be able to find an actor willing to live and work on a tall ship in South America for two years…

Right now, I’m looking at restful days. I arrived here a day earlier than intended, so now I can stop. I’ll do my laundry. I’ll do some admin. I’ll plug in to this slightly larger island next to Ithaki where I spent a week in the off season and wrote daily – a precursor to this blogmess. You can find aspects of it here, from when my blog was more sporadic and hosted elsewhere . The hosting was free too… Unlike WordPress. Maybe I made a mistake coming here. But here I am. I might read over those scribbles.

Soon Lou will show up and we will not have to do anything and it’ll be wonderful. Meanwhile I’m gonna have an ouzo and look at boats.

Getting to Kyllini

The problem with using Google maps for your travel plans is that it doesn’t have a clue most of the time. Even in London you’re much better off with Citymapper. If you’re trying to get from Athens to Kyllini digitally you are fucked before you’ve started. I knew it would be possible analog in a day though, even with a late start. I struck out on the dot of noon.

Vasileous picked me up from where I had gone wandering in search of coffee, down by the sea in Artemidas. Here the prevailing wind is evidently very persistent.

Vasileous is a very precise man. I closed the boot of his yellow Skoda uber and he opened and closed it again with an air of reproach. We drove to the station in companionable silence. On arrival I was deliberately out of the car and round to the boot quicker than him. I had my bag waiting on the pavement and the boot shut when he got to it. He glared at me. Then he opened the boot at me and shut it again. I smiled and tipped him on the app.

My first hard wordlearn is “Thank you”. It’s a starting point. Efcharisto. Of charity towards you. It’s a start.

I got on the train, then changed at the place that looks like “Kate Axapval”. God I’m ignorant of Greek. Then onwards to the end of the line. Kiato. Duolingo will be totally pointless in Greek as in Arabic. By the time I know the basic alphabet I’ll be in Chelsea. So I’m trying to hack the basics by being convivial and remembering my more youthful wanderings. An hour at Kiato propelled me seawards to an unpronounceable place that served me spaghetti right by glittering waves. I was just back in time for the bus.

The bus threw us all out at Patras. Last time I stayed in Patras it was because I’d missed my ferry to Ithaki. This might have been a decade ago. A big fat man with a moustache insisted that the cheapest possible price was £100 to stay in his knocking shop hotel. He started bidding at about £150. This was before phones could do what they do now (Nokia era? It all blurs. Time. Time. Time.), so I had to walk round the corner to a bar with wi-fi (that existed!), tether my laptop – (still not traveling light. Did I have a portable modem?) – and yeah somehow I bought a room online for £40. I remember I had other options nearby but I wanted to defy the guy. When I went back to the man I pretended like it was a totally new interaction. “Hi I’ve got a booking with you.” He didn’t like it. I should’ve been smarter.

He likely put me in that memorably shit room on purpose.

All night long through paper thin walls I heard the same three working girls encouraging their tricks to get that bollocks over with quicker. “Ooh ooh aahaah yes yes finish just fucking finish please I’ve got stuff to do aaaaa yeah you’re so good etc whatever”. I shared a bathroom with two of them and one was directly above me. It was a strange night. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in that port again. This is why I had already booked my ferry from Kyllini tomorrow and not from Patras. Trouble is, Patras is the beaten track. The internet has no obvious routes to Kyllini. It’s only an hour’s drive though so I know it’s going to be possible.

The first taxi driver I speak to is burly and friendly – also with a moustache… Could that still be a thing here after all these years? Having scoped the distance and the going rates, I’ve decided that taxi is not my best option. I’d be paying a minimum of €40, and this is high season so probably much more. The burly guy is willing though. He downs his beer. “Ninety euro!!” he proclaims. “Nineteen?” I say, pointing at my ear like I’ve misheard. He laughs. “Ninety… … … Ok eighty. Eighty, no less.” I smile and point at my watch. “Maybe later,” I say in oops in Italian. He understands and goes back to his friends, his cards and his beer. I ring the local taxi firm. “Ninety five!” “Twenty five?” “Ninety. Five.” *click*

I make a cardboard sign. The beery taxi man lends me his pen. It’s all very convivial. He doesn’t want to have to take me. He’s having an evening with his friends. It would be worth it for eighty. He’ll help me on my way for free. It passes the time. The sign may or may not say what I think it says. He helps make some of it. I know it says “I am English. Kyllini.” I think it says the same in Greek. It might say “I’m a bastard!” But I trust these people. The waiter goes away and returns with a sharpie. For a confusing moment, the portside lads in Patras all welcome me in helping me fashion a sign with which I can escape. I finish with a sweaty smiley face. “It is beautiful,” one of them remarks with joke indulgence.

I go down the road as I don’t want them to see me fail in my hitchhiking after their companionable work. After a good twenty minutes walk I find a good spot with traffic lights ahead and room to pull over behind. I stand with our multilingual sign bright in the evening light. I’ve checked that “direction-thumb” is the language here. It is. Nevertheless: nobody stops. Some people honk including a train driver. The tracks are near the road. Just opposite. I’m catching people as they drive out of the station car park. But nobody stops, even if many make eye contact and smile. I’m in direct evening sunlight. It’s over 30 degrees.

One thing I notice is how full the cars are already compared to how it is in England. There are very few people traveling solo here. Everybody drives alone in the uk.

An hour passes. It’s a hot evening.

Towards the end of the second hour a young woman approaches walking down the pavement. She is at the edge of her territory, holding two plates. She has a staff badge. She beckons me to her nearby roadside bar. There are no clients at this bar. Sport plays on the screens. She has a plate of warm potatoes and olives and another of cold meat and cheese. She puts them in front of me. “It’s ok. For everybody.”

“Nobody does this here,” she says. “It won’t work.”

I buy a beer, thank her and persist. “Nobody does this in England either.” I know her English and context isn’t good enough to grab my next utterance but I say it anyway: “But I made it work in fucking Oxford once,” I say.

Then I tell her I honestly don’t know how else I’m going to get to Kyllini. I ask if she has an idea. Turns out she does. Booyah.

The ferry to Zakynthos has a bus that serves it. The bus goes to Kyllini but isn’t listed as doing so. The bus doesn’t go on the ferry. It drops ferry passengers at the port on a huge empty concrete platform. Then it goes back to Patras. One of them leaves at 8pm. She shows me where it leaves from. It’s half past seven.

I get there in time and buy a ticket.

The bus gets to Kyllini and it’s a slightly odd interaction with the driver. For a moment I worry I might have to actually go to Zakynthos and then come back tomorrow morning. It is resolved though, and I get my bag from the hold and walk my wicked way across the concrete concourse and off to the cheapest hotel in the area. You even have to put your own sheets on. It’s far from the worst place I’ve ever stayed in but it’s further from the best.

I spend some of the money I didn’t spend on a taxi and a good hotel by having fresh sea bream and calamari by the windy sea.

Su Nuraxi

“The interior of Sardinia is full of dolmens…”

This is pretty much the only thing I knew about the place before I went there to help build a race. Hot. Beachy. Dolmens.

On my one half day down before I leave here I decided to head to the nearest place of ancient significance. Su Nuraxi. It’s about 17 thousand years old. People mostly just thought it was a hill, like the one that carries Acquafredda castle. I think in the fifties somebody figured out that there were complicated man made structures long buried under the earth of this hill. They began to excavate. They quickly realised it was significant enough to give it UNESCO World Heritage status. They carved the whole thing out again.

It’s old enough that every attempt to make sense of what it was for is going to be guesswork, but people were using it and they put thought into building it.

I didn’t have long there, and you have to go with a tour guide. They won’t let you go unaccompanied. I shelled out and struck off with the first available tour, which happened to be in Italian. He kept talking about defence. We seem to understand everything through our warlike prism. I had a feeling that yes, defence was part of this story but only a small part. Sure, you’re a small organised farming community, so you have food and stuff, and there are some less thoughtful nomadic types out there that have found that a good way of getting stuff is by killing organised farming communities. You need to make sure it’s not worth their while trying to kill you so they can eat your goat. So… you will have some defence – you’ll have to. The more peaceful and well fed your civilisation looks, the tastier it looks from the outside, which is why I will always maintain that searching for extra terrestrial life is madness. They must have done things together for a long time before enough short term thinkers swarmed over what they had built, ate all the goat, understood nothing of how it all worked, and left it to be buried.

We had a bit of time in the structure. At its heart there are a series of underground chambers organised around an open central shaft. Most of it is built of black basalt. It’s pretty stable – the Sardinians have no idea what they were used for, and neither does the guide or Wikipedia. I managed to be alone for a few moments in the deepest one. I improvised a ritual. Why not? A bit of sound. Some intention. A flash of something. The deep old ones there haven’t had so much of that for a long time. Maybe they were grateful. Mostly people have just chucked money through a grate into a well, asking for things through wishing. I didn’t ask for anything, I just did some random shit.

Now I’m in a plane. I’m stuck in the middle and my legs are too long. We land in twenty minutes. Athens ho! Not for long though.

Stuck in a cul de sac

Sometimes your plans have to change. Your attitude to that change can completely affect your experience during and after that change.

I picked up my hire car for this job from the airport. Stands to reason that it would be returned to the same airport… So for tonight, my first night out of the job, I booked an airbnb in a shit cul de sac in walking distance from that airport, knowing that I could drive in, drop my bags, drive out, grab some food, see a bit of evening Cagliari, then drop off the hire car (they told me how to do late night drop off when I picked it up. It costs no more money.) Then walk home.

I told my friend who books the cars what I was doing. Suddenly… Suddenly the car needed to be in Porto Pino tonight in order that *nebulousperson* can drive it because *nebulousperson* might need a car for *nebulousreasons*. They won’t. I don’t believe a word of it. It’s a huge great big porky pie. You rarely obfuscate specifics when it’s true. And this person is usually extremely precise with specifics. I like her, but she ain’t a good liar. Nor am I. That might be part of why I like her.

I tried to offer options, so that *nebulous person* could get full use of the car.

Every option I tried that involved me not being stuck in a cul de sac in walking distance from the airport was shut down. It feels like, in order to prevent me from having some basic freedom of movement she has cost the company about €200 unnecessary euros on my transfer plus likely a further fee from Enterprise to pick up the car from a different location. Maybe as much as €250 wasted euros to help nobody and inconvenience me. Plus she’s left me stuck here. This is the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face. I thought about not telling her where the key was, knowing that she wouldn’t ask me for days, but that would be unprofessional.

So here I am. I tried to go for a walk and look for food locally. There’s nothing. And I started to get angry.

“What a ridiculous thing to do,” I kept saying out loud. “I shouldn’t have told her my plans. For fucks sake. Stupid behaviour. Pointless, stupid stupid pointless stupid stupid stupid controlling behaviour. What a ridiculous thing to do”. Etc etc round and round It was a lovely evening and I was walking around the shitty streets of the industrial zone swearing to myself despite having just finished a lovely job.

Then I pulled myself up on it.

I’m tired, yes.

It’s ridiculous, yes.

But… I need a rest. Now I get to have one. No social distractions. I’ve ordered Deliveroo. I’m going to eat well, have a hot BATH for a change, maybe read my book, and eventually drift off to bed happy and warm and fed and early. I honestly might otherwise have walked all the way to the airport to eat an angry Macdonald’s just so I could send photographs of crap food saying “I wish you’d told me I wouldn’t be dropping the car off at the airport!!! I would never have stayed in this shitty area.” As it is I’m getting mixed grilled vegetables and local sausage from some lovely local place that delivers, I’ve found some incense which I lit from the hob as no matches and I’m lying on my back on the sofa. And I’m not sending passive aggressive messages. And I’m pretty sure (ha ha let’s see about that one) that this blog is a closed enough loop that she won’t come across me moaning about it to you here.

I’m happy. My body is well used from heat and work. My hands are used as well, and a bit cut up. Swimming in the sea this evening stung them clean, and was a beautiful way to end this leg. Most of the Global Crew were in the same little patch of beach. I wound out with them until it was time to leave. I doubt I would have had a very adventurous night here anyway, if I’m honest. I just didn’t like having my options shut down for no logical reason, and I really hate it when people aren’t square with me. But… I’ve been here for WORK. I guess it’s important to have a separation. Now that I no longer have the wheels I know that the work is done. I can let myself relax into a different state of existence. I don’t have to get up and get at it tomorrow. I will do, of course, but on my own time. I’ll go explore Cagliari in some way.

I still think my friend exhibited weird behaviour. But … Maybe somebody genuinely needs the car. There’s often a whole world you can’t see. It just smells funny. Hey ho. Bedtime.

Castle

My way back from my last drop off found me driving past the entrance to Acquafreddo castle at ten to five. On an impulse I swung the wheel down the path.

At the bottom, there’s a little café where somebody charges you five euro to go up. I got an espresso as well. Then I started up. “Only go through the ropes if you don’t get vertigo,” he told me. It’s cooler than it has been but still sweltering. And it’s a long way up the dormant volcano to the ruins at the top.

I’m sitting at the top now though, in a shady patch. I’m looking out over the fertile valley that such volcanic activity some 25 million years ago made possible. Below me I just saw the trailers carrying the Odysseys back to wherever they’re going to be loaded into freight for Chili. I can hear the goat bells. The barking of a dog. The wind through the stones. The birds. When the road is silent I can imagine what it was like here back in the thirteenth century when this was a fortress and hamlet with sophisticated water capture and storage, basic agriculture, and no cars.

Two songbirds team up to defy a hawk just to my right. To my left the ground falls away to a dam and reservoir. Nature and human activity feel slightly better blended here than deeper into Cagliari. Even the olive groves have a slightly haphazard feeling to them, as if they have grown how they please despite the farmers best efforts at regimenting them.

Up here of course there’s ruined stone. A building designed to be the ultimate weapon, cracked open by time, thoroughly redundant a reminder of our hubris. Some of the medieval ramparts have been shored up with more modern earthenware bricks. Basic structures of rusted scaffold have been placed to discourage people from standing where I’m standing. This defensive weapon is just an overgrown hillock with some stone bits sticking out. It wasn’t even destroyed by catapults. It was just taken by time. It was redundant. I’m gonna stop writing and drink it in – the views and the history and the nature. I like it up here. It’s pointless and beautiful.

I drank it in, and then went and joined the throng. Plugging into social, plugging out of airhead. It’s a balancing match.

This is my last night in Bravo Resort Porto Pino. Tomorrow I will sleep in Cagliari and then off to Greece. I wanted to have some sort of connection with this land here – an hour’s walk up this volcano helped. Volcanoes plug deep down into the earth. I returned to the port with strange memories crowding into me. Something has unlocked through this strange dance around my nearly fatal dental abcess flaring up again under such odd circumstances.

I ran into Doctor John first thing this morning. “I feel like a new man after one of those things,” I tell him. “I know with antibiotics you should finish the course. I’ve got ten of the fuckers. How long should I go?” “You might do with one, frankly. They’re really strong. We use those things for bullet wounds normally. Take one today just to be sure it’s flushed.” I’m gonna have one tomorrow too, as I know how deep that abcess goes. Plus I had some pizza tonight. Cheese obstructs your stomach putting it into your blood. I’ve got seven left.

Just because I’ve got them in the bank though, doesn’t mean I’m gonna go back to inaction until forced. Roll on Hungary. Time to get this done proper, like a grown up adult manperson.

Dental pain is the worst

An old dental abcess from some eight years ago carved a huge hole in the right side of my skull. I had that tooth rooted, but something has clearly gone very wrong with it again. I first noticed it was going south a while ago, but I’m an eternal optimist even though I really know this pain. “I’ll be fine,” I told myself. Nevertheless, it’s not my first rodeo. I went to the medic and asked him for some antibiotics in case of emergency.

I hate taking antibiotics. I held off as it got more and more persistent. That deep internal twisting sensation in the gum up near my brain. The beginning of a course of pain in waves – pain so all encompassing that it made me sweat in air conditioning and made me shout in empty rooms. The night before last I woke up semi feverish, but then it abated. Last night again it flared with pain and propelled me from deep sleep at about 2am. I went into work on fire, barely rested with my breakfast banana soaking up sad ibuprofen. I needed to be clear headed for driving. Pain wakes you up. No codeine. Bad idea. Not with passengers. But ibuprofen wasn’t touching the sides. I went to the chemist. Ketoprofen in a packet? Worth a try. “Will it make me feel tired?” “No.” It makes me feel sick though.

I’m glad of Lou. She can be clear headed.

“Why aren’t you taking the antibiotics?”

I didn’t want to have to. That is the main reason I left it this late. I didn’t want to have to. Last time, I didn’t take the antibiotics until it was much much worse, but last time… it was so bad that the emergency dentist in some out of hours student clinic in Kings Cross said I could have got septicaemia, and that it was boring into my skull. Waiting that long again would be foolish in the extreme. In the heat of the afternoon, just as the last race started on site, just as my stomach recovered from that ill advised burpy ketoprofen and I started to walk back into the land of constant pain, I chucked that first dose of cipromax down. I’m allergic to penicillin. This is Saudi cipromax – part of the haul from Doctor Jesus. “It might give you diarrhoea,” the medic said when he gave it to me. I didn’t care anymore. This needed stopping. Fast.

Two hours later, I was trying to help take the ped down while occasionally nipping off to the nasty on site portaloos. I had informed a few people I had toothache but didn’t want to make a big fuss.

My phone rang and somebody wanted a lift back. Reader, I took the opportunity. The boys watched me leave them to their labour. With a full car, I went back to the hotel. Dougie was in with me. He knows his way around toothache. “Get some rest,” he suggested. Bloody right mate. I looked at my phone. One of the drivers needed picking up… It wasn’t directed straight to me. I very very nearly turned round and collected him anyway. I think if I had been directly asked I would have done despite my pain. But no. Sometimes I can look after myself. I went to my room, drank a sachet of burpy ketoprofen, put on the Aircon, showered and fell into bed. About an hour and a half later I woke up and realised that I’d been feverish. It was breaking. I could feel it leaving. I hadn’t noticed until it went. Too much to do. I no longer feel the weight of it.

I got up, still in pain but no longer all encompassing. I thought to join the lads at a party at Aldo’s, just to get some food to line my stomach for those painkillers that will get me through the night. Part of me wanted to avoid joining the group just to leave, but I wanted the chance to say farewell to some and figured a brief show was better than none.

“Where you going,” asked Todd though as I tried to sneak off. I explained.

“Oh that’s convenient. You’ve got toothache. Are you sure you’re not hungover?” That’s Joe. He’s still got the knives out, bless his heart. “Always looking for the low blow,’ says Lou of him when I describe such behaviour. I think he just needs a bit more time. He’s got the bones of a decent man. The sarcastic streak seems to be mostly directed at me alone – the unwanted old man he had to share with in Saudi. Lucky me – although: “The job of a bouncer is to instinctively spot the troublemaker in a group and put them down,” Lou said at one point regarding him getting pushed over.

I still like him though. He’s a solid man and a good worker, and he knows his to smile when he lets himself. He’s just a little wrapped up trying to look cool cos he hasn’t realised that it’s more fun to be an idiot.

We have a late start tomorrow, although I might start earlier. I’ll be asleep soon. Just popped a codeine on top of my chicken and bread. Antibiotics. Magic. Phew. Thank you medic.

Winding up / winding down

Ten past seven in the paddock and as the sun drops low in the sky, the pit lane is BUSY. All the teams are working hard in their tents. Drilling, sawing, hammering. Soundtracks compete as I walk down past the flags. “Oh what a night” next to “Gold” next to drum and bass. Bits of chassis lie out in the rocks and sand, urgently stripped. Quick businesslike talk around the cars in many different languages. All the teams, working so incredibly hard. Security guards sitting around chatting in Italian. The creaking of the flagpoles in the wind. The ringing of my phone…

The ringing was Liv. She was ready to be collected. I had rebounded to site in the evening light knowing that she might get stuck there, and I was enjoying the atmosphere of the teams as they prepared for race day tomorrow. I hauled Liv back to the hotel, very aware that the sun was dying for the night. Parking was tricky, so then it was a very swift walk down the boardwalk to the beach. The boardwalk crosses a wide point of the lagoon, and it is long enough that the sealife below you as you walk seems fearless. Huge fish breach the surface, smaller fish jump. Weird things flubber. Weirder things just sit there. I crossed as the sun fell, clutching my towel and trunks.

Everybody was already out and playing frisbee as I got to the easy entrance patch of beach next to Aldo’s bar. I know it and know there are no rocks, so I was able to run into the sea. The last of the sun saw me thrashing about like a drowning giraffe, laughing uproariously. Then back onto the beach to pretend – for a moment as the last of the sun died down – that we were all on holiday. Fuck yes. What a delight. Liv and I shared a Quattro Stagione Pizza and found a moment of shared mischief as we both disarranged all the ingredients. I found myself thinking again how lucky I am to be attached to this rare ethical motor racing thing. It’s a true joy.

I carried someone from the legal team today. “You know I write a daily blog,” I told them. She is relaxed, and understands that I’m here because I’m trusted. It’s a huge thing, that trust. It’s the trust that makes you want to live up to it. There’s nothing quite like trust to spur loyalty.

Race day tomorrow. It’s really really interesting the way it works here in terms of the drivers and how they compete – where you can have a 21 year old Norwegian woman fighting for racing line against a 60 year old Spanish dynastic racing father – el matador. I’m looking forward to another strong race tomorrow. And this time I’m sure I won’t have to follow a helicopter.