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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The city of Lights... Newry, Paris, Budapest, Stuttgart.

Memory is selective. Selfish. Escaping a society built on hate, so ingrained its form goes from obvious knuckle- dragging spat hatred, through to subtle, almost imperceptible whispers indoctrinating the next generation, sounding right and good.

This piece can only be a snapshot. Memories, unrelated except by music and selfishness. All informing my present. Cherished memories, but not the whole story of selected relationships- and of course, one sided.

I'm older and wiser, still learning though.

Me on a roof in Stuttgart, Christmas1994

My first kiss was by a telephone box on a dreich night in my hometown. She is in this story. 

“Your ballroom days are over baby
Night is drawing near
Shadows of the evening
crawl across the years"

Growing up is selfish and every bit as much steeped in the want to escape banality and boredom -and doesn't stop at school.


Like the U.S. East Coast hippies, moved by their own personal revolutions that coincided with political upheaval, and dotted with their liberal kindnesses. Who doesn't want to seem kind? But self preservation prevails and the barefooted hipster soon becomes the pipe and slippers da', misquoting nonsense about being left when you are young and a practical selfish right wing racist little UK'er when you realise you have to kick the 'scum' to the floor to ensure your taxes don't go up one penny more.

Personal, selfish struggle can morph through the emergence from the self aware, self gratifying child and teenager. And preserving a sense of self will always prevail if adults are given time to reflect and learn.

Education comes in often disparate events, separated by time, linked by selfishness and yearning and naivety and self importance. Running towards what?

"No-one gets out of here alive."

She looks tired, but every bit as beautiful as I remember. Memories can be sepia stained and rose lensed, but I know my memory of this day isn't. I don't remember the end of the day, but I think we all boarded a train to Bayeaux for The End. 

She smiles down the lense, our quest successful. In those days, finding our way with a battered Euro-travel book and really basic, sub-GCSE French and graffittied gravestones proclaiming "THIS WAY TO THE MORRISON HOTEL,"- a much more immersive journey than today's electronically guided, cold, logic, screen. The old ways to see Paris were the best. On another visit, emerging from St. Lazare Station, and sleepily asking a news vendor where the bus station was ... I would never have walked all the way round the block had I never asked and sleepily followed his instruction, tourner à droite, tourner à droite, tourner à droite, tourner à droite. The main bus stop had been right across the road from the vendors stall. Tres witty, but hey, I saw a part of Paris I wouldn’t have seen without asking.

Before our seeking Père Lachaise, I knew only Jim Morrison was buried there. During our trip around, I discovered Bizet and Chopin and Proust and Wilde and Piaf and Daladier and Dąbrowski and the 147 Communards who had been sacrificed to keep the status quo.  All of them pointed the way to Jim. All of them pointed to The End.

"It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies."

She would be gone and my summer of freedom would be over.  A hot summer of sleeping on trains with a book as my pillow. Of drinking cheap, sweet beer in Eastern Europe, with Jim, Ian, and Evan and the guys from the shipyards, Austin and her.

She who weeks before had stood like an angel in white at the top of the steps. She who had, in the dead of that hot Budapest night, introduced her smiling, radiant, funny, clever self as Catherine and talked about Jim and music and total carefree happiness. She who I had kissed and who had disappeared, off to another country before I woke and me moping to Vienna, longing to meet her again. Then days later, waking hung-over beside a pool in Corfu, seeing her wave over as if she had never been away. Our tour around Europe was full of perfect coincidences like that. And everyone we seem to have met along the way seemed to congregate in Corfu for a week of drunken fun.

I'm not supposed to love the Byron-esque, sexist hedonism and white boy usurped pseudo-mysticism of Jim Morrison and The Doors, but I do. I see, plainly, the negatives, but the beauty of the images and the teenaged kick aimed at the midriff of regimented middle class America by a spoiled brat of a self loving/loathing rock God really appealed to this working class boy who was bruised and battered through the school system ruled by vicious, middle class, hard knuckled, self loathing, fearful women and populated with damaged, hard knuckled, poisoned tongued bastards. Morrison, of his time, still ignites a "fuck the system- fuck them-  let's get the hell out of here" emotion in me perhaps greater than any other muso.

Two songs, for me, capture this rebellion best. LA Woman and The End, and like all great pieces of music, they dredge up memories from when they were immediate. When they were young in my head. And memories of four connected, but different cities - connected by my want for rebellion and want to break on through from a life of pre-destined Sunday boredom. An attempted escape from pre-ordained numbness and order. But almost succumbing.

Newry, Paris, Budapest, Stuttgart.

"Driving down your freeway," the irony hits me as we head towards Armagh on the "A" road in the Mini Metro. I was 24. In retrospect, I now know how patient she was with me. How serene and how balanced she was. And how fucked up I was by a dog eat dog system in which resentments rode high and lashed out at the poverty trap, usually at perceived compliance. My rebellion was not to be a Nazi. Not to wear their badges. Not to revel in hatred of the other. As soon as an "other" was identified, they became my friend.

My head full of Highway 66 and getting out of there, where and whatever "there" was. My head on repeat, Kerouac whispering, "I hope you get where you're going, and be happy when you do." A small town couldn't contain me, but nowadays I know it was too big for my narrow, damaged, teenaged dreams. The subtleties and the histories, richness and the meaning all lost on someone like me who thought everything was happening somewhere else, with someone else. Lost on me who had to escape a kicking for my loud mouthed opinions and "fuck you and your misunderstanding of punk." Their misquoting of The Exploited and wearing of sectarian badges alongside Nazi symbolism as "punk." I cheered inside when the old teacher crushed and stamped on their swastikas, foaming and shouting at their sneering faces - "My friends died for your freedom!"

My hatred of containment only remains of routine. My hatred of fascism is stronger.

She lives their bullying daily. Her family move out of the village every year during the "Twelfth Fortnight," escaping the bands drumming, purposefully, intimidating at her gates. Choosing to clear out from the marching seasonal hatred of neighbours who politely make small talk the rest if the year, when they come home.

She doesn't particularly like The Doors, but listens while she drives.

"It sounds like a journey," I say.

"It doesn't end, just fades, like a never ending journey. Imagine driving forever! Yeuch!"

The conversation bolsters my feeling that "she just doesn't get it." My condescension knew no bounds in those days. I suppose my escape from my thoughts of my failure to break on through to another side of life, one promised by L.A. and The Doors, or New York and the Velvet Underground; a life of hedonism and beautiful or strange people doing as they pleased was personified in her. A life of safety, shining cars on Sunday and 9 to 5 on week days. And making her angry by cursing her Irish God and his ma.

When she dumped me for a more exciting, though stable model, I was devastated, but deserving. The illness that followed had something to do with the realisation I had entrapped myself in resignation to mowing lawns and that my teenaged dreams were all but dead. So I threw off the 9 to 5 and went back to school. Escape wouldn't just happen, I had to find a key. And my two keys were drink and education.

The pub is a bit run down. I can't remember why we were there, but she was with me. I was 19. She was like me. We were both lost. Rebelling from something so insidious we barely knew what it was. We'd crawled from the nightclub at 6am, blinking in the morning sun and lay on the pavement outside the small shop in the housing estate, staring into each others eyes, babbling our teenaged dreams of escape. She had escaped from abuse and sectarianism for a while to England, but had come back to find safety. But he, the safety, had been caught rebelling with another rebel, in her bed. And now she and I drunkenly planned our route to a world away from daily Sunday's. We needed a drink and we needed cigs, our ears ringing from the thumping beat and drunken, shouted conversations.

When the shop opened and we bought our lucozade and Embassy Regal, we lit up and staggered up the road, past neat gardens and temperance halls to her bed, where we slept till late afternoon.

When we woke I drove to Newry and found a pub with a juke box and ordered burgers. Her laughter filled my heart and we topped up with a few beers. The pub wasn't that busy, and the jukebox was silent, so I pushed a couple of fifties in and, surprised at the selection, chose Bob Dylan and Jokerman, Roxy Music and Virginia Plain, The Velvet Underground and Venus in Furs and The Doors, The End.

"I'm gonna have to stop drinking. The car."

"Stick to beer, you'll be OK."

The few old blokes seemed to tolerate our laughter and drunken petting.

"He was a shit."
"I know. I won't be."
"You aren’t my type."
"I can be."

" ...the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands,"

"We could live in England. I could get a transfer to a factory in Northhampton."

"There's nothing there. I want away from all of this shite. Route 66."

"Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand."

The music started to pull my mind further, the beer oiling the tracks.


"Now your talking!"

I stood up and lifted her empty glass. At the bar, as I ordered a couple of whiskey's and a couple of pints, I vented my disgust at the barman for switching off the juke box just as Morrison was mid " fuck me fuck me" rant. We were asked to leave and I drove thirty miles to a village where the jukebox and petting was unfettered and then home to sleep a couple of hours before work.

The escape hadn't happened by the time we met in Budapest. But this was the first step. My escape was under way, the vague plans and dreams had transformed into digging, tunnelling, moving towards the goal. A summer away from monotonous provincial town in which all seemed shut down except churches and pubs and off licences.

And a week of Corfu, eating, drinking, laughing so much we fell in heaps and slept by lapping Mediterranean water under a huge, black sparkling sky.

From Corfu to Italy, then Paris and Jim. To a cemetery that educated and a thank-you to a dead rock star who pointed the way to a never ending need to escape.

Then Bayeux with "Sweet Dreams," hash and wine and cheese and bread and The End in Cherbourg, sipping wine before the ship left, my throat nearly closed in grief.

The following year I would be at University, unfettered by my past, or so I thought. Hedonism contained. Rebellion only from my own demons and barely a mark on the world.

Time and learning are strange things, sometimes you don't realise they are happening until it is painfully or joyfully obvious that they have.

1994, Stuttgart. I quickly drafted a letter to her, arranged a temporary passport and arrived in Stuttgart airport, not knowing she would be there.  Luckily she was.  We took the tram into the city, dumped my bag in the beautiful, ricketty old attic flat and hit the Christmas decked German town.

"What will we do?"

"Nothing.  You've always been quite unstable. Let's have a nice week."

The late nights of drinking, the jealous girlfriends and boyfriends and the falling out, getting back together again, secret meetings, seemed to come to a close that week.  That chapter of my life really closed far far away from that phone-box.

"This is the End, beautiful friend..."

She smiles over her beer and says, "She was the love of your life... your life so far.  But you hadn't realized."

Maybe.  But only "so far."

The End did not come. Seeking freedom did not finish. But the parameters changed.  I hope I am less selfish. I realised there was no hedonist holy grail. I enjoyed learning; my selfish times were amazing and selfishness can evolve into dogged determinism - I know I have that trait -  and I would not go back, but I have some fantastic memories.

The love of my life criticizes my cooking, my instability and loves my cooking and my instability. 

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