Friday, February 23, 2007

Welcome to England - Here's Your Tiny Bed (Pt 1)

"Art is long and life is short and success is very far off"
J. Conrad

Day 1-2 Voyage to the End of the Dawn
Departed November 8 @ 8am from The Last Resort, Victoria, BC.
Arrived Nov 9 @ 7pm (eight hours in THE FUTURE) at The Blue Bell Inn, Hempstead, U.K.

When was the last time you travelled 36 hours (at great expense) to get to a hundred dollar gig?
I thought as much.

I went out last night to play this new open stage
(times are tough), and the guy I played with
complained that they'd charged him for beer and I was
like "Honey, I've driven 14 hours to pay for beer and
I'm a wino. You only had to come across town and your
girl friend drove you, so shut it!"

10 hour plane ride. Diona slept like a baby. I
couldn't and woke her up in full blown petulant frenzy
to help me find my book. I had looked on my own. I had
gotten all manner of people to lift up their feet and
stand up to look on their seats. Nothing. And I was at
the last chapter too. Memoirs of Montparnasse. I had
to know if there was a later price to pay for youthful
No reason. Just curious.
Anyway, when I woke up Diona, she found the slender
volume in two seconds tucked into the seat ahead of me
right where I'd left it.
It wasn't in there when I looked I swear!
A million hours later, we arrive at Gatwick, kiss our
new best friend DJ GoodcopBadcop goodbye, get the
luggage, clear customs and then...
And then what?
Oh yeah. This part. How the hell to get to The Blue
Bell Inn which is in Hempstead, the mailing address of
which says "Near Saffron-Walden", down a country lane
in the middle of nowhere god only knows how far away?

Damn future. Sneaking up on me like that. Ok. Buses?
Trains? I don't know.
I hadn't slept and was not at my best.
Diona suggested we rent a car and my stomach dropped
to make room for my sinking heart. The whole driving
on the other side of the road thing, the roundabouts,
and the law that any time you rent a car, despite the
advertised price and no matter what country you're in
or for how long, it will cost you 600 dollars.
"No look. It's only 24 pounds a day", she says.
Despite every experience I've ever had, I want to
remain positive.
"Well, will you figure out the whole driving thing?"
"Of course. And it'll be cheaper than train fare for
two everywhere."
We rent something called a Hyundai Getz from the
Europecar kiosk and go meet it in the parking lot.
This is so weird. We feel like ADULTS or something.
Diona figures out the left-handed stick shift and the
other-footed clutch (the signals are backwards too!)
and we nose out into the first of many roundabouts.
For some reason, screaming like Pee Wee Herman as you
go around seems to help. Somehow we make it to the A69
which is what the lady said to do. Okay. Okay. Holy
shit we're in England! Driving! What a world!
Drove until dark and then some, down the motorway and
were both sort of wondering how the fuck we were gonna
find the place and then I started worrying if I had
even confirmed the show. Then I saw a sign for Norwich
which I recognized from the second season of "I'm Alan
Partridge", this culty obscure comedy show. Fuelled by
the excitement of seeing something "familiar", I
suggested that we take the exit.
We stopped at the first petrol station to ask
directions and holy fuck it was the EXACT RIGHT EXIT!!
A narrow winding country lane in the pitch dark save
for the glow of a few tiny hamlets and then straight
on through Saffron-Walden, where it was apparently dog
walking hour, and more twisty country lanes and there
it is. The Bluebell Inn. And in time for dinner even!
We opened the door and the pub was just as we left it
6 months ago, which made the whole adventure seem like
not such a big deal even though on the inside we felt
like mental cases.
My brain rewound back to the last time we were here
which caused me to cringe slightly. If you'll recall,
I slept on the bar room floor after allegedly giving a
clarinet concert and propositioning the bar tender. I
love that they invited me back. But then I guess it
would take a maniac to even find this place.
Cute show. There was a keyboard so we worked it into
the act. D. and I both wore black and white and looked
kind of like music students at a recital. That is,
until I opened my filthy mouth of course. Nice crowd
of about 12 people sat in brightly lit chairs. Very
attentive. Totally freaky.
When it was over we sat around the wood stove with Rod
and Marion the owners, their daughter, their friends
from out of town and the two greyhounds. Except for
the posters heralding the arrival of several other
Canadian bands, it felt like we were in an oil
painting from the nineteen hundreds. Or a rural
episode of Coronation Street.
Upstairs to the tiny beds to sleep the sleep of the
penniless international traveller.
"Welcome to England. Here's your tiny bed!"


"In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile-and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together. Not necessarily To Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely."
Hunter S. Thompson

You know it's gonna be a good show when the promoter
goes by the name Fish Finger Frank.
We pulled into town mid-afternoon, hid our stuff
behind the DJ booth in the upstairs bar and ditched
the car. Newcastle was grey and rainy and well, just
how you'd think. We strolled and eyed fashions in the
fancy stores in the main square while keeping an eye
out for the perfect place to eat. Found an Italian
place with red checkered table cloths, thin pizza,
salad, wine and you could smoke at the table!
When we finished it was only 6:30 so we strolled some
more and found a wine bar. Glasses of wine were two
pounds forty but bottles of wine were three pounds
twenty so what's a girl to do? Vocal warm-ups? Oiling
and stretching? Communing with the instrument?
It was a perfectly quiet dark bar for a while until
they blasted piercing Eurodisco through trebly
speakers to welcome the Friday After Work Crowd.
Shit. I was a little drunk. I had noticed something
funny with the gravity when I went downstairs to the
bathroom. Crazy bathroom with a motion activated
Killed the bottle, drank some water and headed back to
the club. The Telegraph. Near the station. Found Fish
Finger Frank pacing around wringing his hands
anxiously awaiting us. There was an opening act named
Mick Oliver. Good songs.
We drank more wine and became his biggest fans.
The bar was half full of lonely dudes. Apparently this
is my Newcastle demographic. My 'fan base' as it were.

We played to the only two people radiating any light.
Two swarthy guys at the front table who seemed to be
Getting It. In the break, we went to talk to them and
discovered that they had just arrived from the
Dominican Republic to take a sustainable agriculture
course (in NEWCASTLE?!), spoke barely any English and
had just randomly come to the bar not knowing they
were gonna be seeing any music.
Us foreigners gotta stick together.
The show was kind of a blur. My throat and fingers
felt thick and it was hard to sustain the notes. Sold
a couple of CDs and procured a local hostage to guide
us back to Fish Finger Frank's house where there was
to be a little after bar party in our honour.
The local turned out to be one of the worst
direction-givers of all time, telling us to go left
just after passing the turn-off and various other
shotgun crimes.
It made me think back to when I was a kid in the
passenger seat and my mother, a nervous driver, would
ask me to check if anything was coming on my side
before she pulled onto the road. I used to think if
was funny to tell her the coast was clear and then
sharply inhale as she pressed the gas. Boy would she
get mad. As we drove with this guy I was silently
apologizing to her for thousands of past crimes of
this nature. And to Diona for making her drive. And
well the list goes on.
I was a remorseful, lonely, boozy chanteuse in
Got to the house. Diona had been here before to score
some hash when we played Newcastle last time with
Po'Girl when it was the big show at the fancy place
crammed with fans. Of course. She had dropped a few
hints as to the condition of the house, but I payed
her no heed as we had no other option.
It was shambolic.
Filthy, the ubiquitous really hairy cat, fur
everywhere and the fireplace was actually a coal
grate! Like, there were actual bags of COAL beside the
We all huddled around on the living room floor.
Fish Finger Frank, his silent wife, the bad navigator,
the simpering superfan, me and Dee, possibly someone
Diona started making some 'well I'm off to bed, that's
it for me' gestures but I implored her with my eyes to
stay for 'just one' as they were doing this in our
honour. I don't think she was feeling well, but that's
not really an option any more. Some travelling
people, presumably the ones that are going to outlive
me, are able to ignore any troubles the hosts have
gone to and simply do what they want, oblivious to any
ruffled feathers. Or maybe they don't even notice. Or
maybe it just takes a giant self-obsessed diva asshole
to succeed in any way in this world. Lord knows people
love to be abused... Hmm I wish I was more of an
asshole but I'm a sucky pack animal with watery
boundaries lacking the integrity to say it at the
time, emboldened later by the safety of being miles
away shut up in my room replaying the events in slower
time and skewing the details with perspective so that
I feel like more of a star.
So we stay up with the men. They play us some tracks
from Fish Finger Frank's band's new CD, the bad
navigator sings me opera while crouching over me, we
smoke some hash, the Simpering Superfan opens this
Special Wine He'd Been Saving. (O.K. so I'm a TOTAL
asshole. A remorseful asshole in denial. The worst
kind.) At some point, Frank left the room and his
mates gathered round.
The Bad Navigator says, "You know Frank's really a
super guy, I mean, despite the whole Ass Burgers
I am taking a haul off the joint, nodding. Agreeing
until I get to the end of the statement, I cough up
the smoke, look up and say "Ass Burgers?!", hoping
it's just accent confusion (It sort of sounded like
this: "ahhz behguhs") but getting the worst mental
flashes that maybe Frank liked to have lady singers
shit in hamburger buns as his promoter fee or
You never know.
The Bad Navigator blinks, not understanding the
question so I say it again.
"Ass Burgers? Like in Ass Burgers?"
Finally the shilling drops. He covers his mouth with a
hand suppressing a shocked laugh. "No. It's a
syndrome. A guy's name. Like Autism.
Oh. Like that book The Curious Incident of the Dog in
the Night. Right. They explained some more details,
like a crippling desire for meticulous order, social
awkwardness and other stuff until someone noticed that
Frank had returned and steered the conversation in
another direction.
We discovered later, looking it up in London, that one
of the things about Asberger's is that you think that
everyone's talking about you. Poor Frank. Made me
think of an interview I read with Courtenay Love. They
asked her why she was so weird that one year and she
said bluntly, "Oh well I think is was the... uh...
She went on to say that crack makes you paranoid and
you think everyone's talking about you only since it
was her, they were!
I don't know. It's kind of a touchy subject for me. I
think everyone's crazy and I'm suspicious of any
sanctioned cures and the motives behind them in a
world where the word 'functional' is good and the word
'shameless' is bad.
Maybe I have become such a crazy loser slacker that I
am looking for excuses to absolve me from my guilt of
not playing along or fitting in. Actually, since I'm
able to 'pass' enough to travel and get gigs, not good
ones mostly, I mean I usually owe a little at the end,
but maybe it's the guilt of fence sitting. Like being
able to pass but not using it to succeed. Like dulling
some of your gut reactions down to even sleep after
being paid like a whore at the end of the night,
underpaid at that, for something you (used to) love to
do. All the discomfort of selling out with none of the
profit! It's like I'm a social agnostic and you know
if I were Jesus I'd hate a fence sitter more than
someone with convictions. Luckily, it's hard to
punish someone who's already in Hell. Maybe in the
next life I'll get to be a dog.

We slept until four pm the next day waiting for our
nervous hosts to leave so we could use their phone and
computer and make The Next Plan. I don't like missing
the light in a day. The evening always feels like I'm
on a movie set waiting for the shoot to be over so
they can turn the lights back on. Diona is still
quite queasy and the filthy house isn't helping. Also
it's been 24 hours since we've eaten anything. We are
sharing three brain cells between us. I want to go
find C.R. Avery and go crash his gig. Diona wants to
go find Charles in Ireby. So get this: Our research
informs us that that night Charles in Ireby is putting
on the C.R. Avery show, so everyone's a winner baby!
Just as we were escaping, Diona realized that the cat
had pissed all over her jeans and she almost puked
into the coal grate. Luckily she had nothing left to
Ended up at a falafel stand and where the vegetarian
souvlaki was a pita stuffed with french fries, a
couple strands of purple cabbage and drowned in
mayonnaise. Blah.
Many round-a-bouts later we wound our way down the
thin rain-slicked inky roads to Ireby to a cute little
hall and open arms and a nice house to stay at and
they let us open the show. It was sold out and they
dug us which felt good. C.R. Avery and his band were
fabulous. They even got the audience on their feet
DANCING at the end which takes work over here.
Back at the house down the lane later, a piano
playing party with C.R. and the boys broke out and
Charles agreed to be my U.K. booking agent which is
encouraging except for the having to come back to
England part...
The next day was a twelve hour drive in the rain
culminating with London traffic and Diona was really
sick and puking yellow foam and unable to eat
anything. Couldn't really blame her. The food was all
disgusting. So even though I was mildy terrified, to
atone for and quel the disgust at my own lack of
empathy, I offered to drive so she could rest in the
back seat for a while. We were in the parking lot of
the Motostop after having spent some time pushing some
mashed potatoes around on a plate near this family
who's son kept asking "Can rabbits swim? Mummy, can
rabbits swim? Can rabbits swim? Can rabbits swim?" But
they had a new baby now and were ignoring him. We left
right when I was about to snap and drown them all in
the rabbit pond for being so ugly.
Okay. Get in the driver's seat on the left. Put on the
seat belt no problem. Okay. No that's not the gear
shift that's the door handle. Right. Um okay clutch.
brakes. Nope. Other way round. Let's see. Shoulder
check. Can't see shit. It's just all red. Okay well
maybe the windows are backwards too. Let's concentrate
on this clutch situation. Backing up, backing up, not
stalling, BANG!
Smashed right into a mail truck, which explains why
the window was all filled up with red, and promptly
burst into tears thinking of the expense and the
bruised ego of my inner man. I wanted to save the day
not ruin it.
So now Diona not only has to drive, she has to console
me too as projectile tears splash down on 'my side' of
the dashboard. About five minutes later I can tell
that she is trying to suppress a slight smirk. Six
minutes later we are laughing our fucking heads off at
the sheer comedy of how fast the whole thing went
down. I was seriously in the driver's seat for under 2
Twelve hours later we got to London and somehow made
it to my friend Paul's place in Stoke Newington. Other
than seeing Paul, London was so horrible this time
that I can't even bring myself to think about it let
alone write it down.
I think you can get the gist from a letter I sent to
my mother, and maybe like eight other people:

Cher Maman,
I imagine you are wondering about the new level of
debt currently accrued on the old Mark Family Visa
card and well, I can explain.
It ain't pretty and I'm not proud but here's the story
to date:
Firstly, I'm in Italy now, having left the grey
Orwellian misery of England that leaves one filled
with ineffectual rage, screaming at the skies like
Basil Fawlty. I can see now why you left the first
chance you were able.
Yesterday was, in a word, frustrating.
To bring you up to date, upon arriving at Gatwick, we
priced out the cost of taking trains for two
everywhere and decided to rent a car. �24 pounds a day
all inclusive. All was well. Diona said she'd figure
out the whole driving on the other side of the road
thing which I think I could have done but also it was
a standard. Then Diona got The New Fall Flu and was,
among other things, puking yellow foam and feeling
terrible so I offered to try driving so she could rest
and in under 5 seconds, while backing out of the
parking spot, I hit a postal truck and creased the
door (�75. I'd ticked the insurance waiver)
In Newcastle, we rang the rental place to see if we
could keep said car (a Hyundai Getz, for the record)
for a couple more days, figuring that to return it to
Gatwick and then take the train into London and then
out to Luten would cost about the same.
I asked them if there was a fee to change the drop-off
destination because, hey man, I've been around, I
ain't no rube and the woman said it would be �13
pounds which I thought sounded too good to be true but
since I'm working on this Positive Thing now I thought
maybe I'd believe her.
Well, she lied. It was �150 and we phoned the number
and pouted at the woman and asked for the manager but
we ain't in Canada anymore which we'd began to notice
when we came out of my friend Paul's flat in Stoke
Newington earlier in the day to find the car 'clamped'
(Just like on Ab Fab) with two tickets on it even
though we had a perfectly valid guest pass displayed
prominently in the window. We phoned the number and
asked to speak to the manager but we ain't in Canada
any more and nothing's fair and do you think they
actually want more people in London? It's survival of
the fittest baby, like a game of chicken, like if you
can't handle feeling this shitty all the time, well
you're clearly not cut out to live in London so shove
off sister!
It's �115 to unclamp the car which is EXTORTION but
the plane's gonna leave and we have to return the car
by 3pm or else it's another day's charge so what are
you going to do?
And the tickets are �100.
Oh yeah and we're exhausted of course, partially due
to my sketchy knowledge of England's geography-put
1000 miles on the car between two gigs, and on top of
everything, man is the food crappy. (What do they
gotta do that to the tomatoes for?) So a thousand
dollars poorer, we boarded the discount flight to
Italy and I put on sunglasses, buried my nose in a
book and cried hot hot tears of deep despair thinking
it's not just about the money, it's the feeling of
being covered in loser dust and being made to pay
because you're trying things a different way and well
maybe this is the cost of all the joy etc.
I'm thinking of you and how you'll worry about the
money and how I don't want you to because I know
you're having some unexpected expenses now and I'm
grateful that you help me at all and I'm gonna pay it
back as soon as I can by hook or by crook.
Sorry about all this.
love you,