EPISTLES TO POSTERITY
1976, June : Born in Burnley, Lancashire
1987, September : Start secondary schooling at Gawthorpe High School, Padiham
1992, June : Complete secondary education – GCSEs – 6xB, 1xC, 1xE. / move to London & Peckham
1993: Return to Burnley
1994-95 : A Levels in Carlisle
1996, August : Start degree course in popular music studies in Barnsley.
1997, Early : Enjoy my poetical epiphany while reading WB Yeats. Decided to become a poet.
1997, April : Begin poetical training in Portsmouth.
1998, April-May : Six weeks tour of Europe. Compose ‘The Death of Shelley’ from my busking base in Pisa.
1998, Autumn-Winter : Based in Burnley I would tour up & down England composing the first of the ‘Silver Rose’ sonnets.
1999-2000 : Compose ‘Testamundi Imperatrix’ in Brighton
2000, May-June : Compose ‘Waterloo’ section of ‘Axis & Allies’ in France, Italy & Belgium.v
2000, November : Decide upon writing the twentieth century section of ‘Axis & Allies.’
2001 : Compose 400 tryptychs of ‘Axis & Allies’ from my base at Tunbridge Wells. Visit Normandy, Italy, Germany, Austria & The Czech republic. Composed as yet unconnected tryptychs on the 9-11 ‘terror attacks.’
2002, January-April : Tour India, writing sonnets & the Indian tryptychs. Two near-death experiences in the space of a week; caught in a flash-flood off the Andaman Islands, & involved in a fatal bus-crash en route to Murshidibad. Discover the ‘Thirukural’ in Tamil Nadu.
2002, June-July : Complete composition of what at that time was ‘Axis & Allies’ in England & Ireland.
2002-2003, Autumn-Winter : Resident in Leeds. Commence ‘Poetical Essays.’
2003, May-June : Return to ‘Axis & Allies,’ adding 200 tryptychs on the First World War & the Cold War. Visit the Somme Battlefields, Croatia & Ireland.
2003, July : Meet Glenda Rome at the Wickerman Festival in Glasgow.
2003-2004, Winter-Spring : Squatting two houses in London; Bulwer Court, Leytonstone & Dorothy Road, Clapham. Type up & edit the first ‘final’ version of ‘Axis & Allies.’
2004, Spring-Summer : On being forced out of London squats I embarked on a series of poetical compositions, experimenting with many forms & styles including odes. Visit Wales, Ireland, Sweden, Estonia & Italy. In the latter country I wrote a few as yet unconnected tryptychs on the history of Rome. While in Italy I compose the first cantos of ‘The Language of Flowers.’
2004, October : Move into Scotland Street in Edinburgh’s New Town with Glenda.
2005 : Work on ‘The Scotiad,’ an epic poem concerning William Wallace & Robert the Bruce.
2006, Spring : Compose new tryptychs on Napoleon for ‘Axis & Allies.’ Visit northern Italy with Glenda. Finally get round to learning at least some of the Italian language. Work on Italia-themed sonnets.
2006-2007 : Huge effort on ‘Axis & Allies,’ knitting all the disparate sequences into one composite whole, beginning with Troy & concluding with 9-11 & the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Visit the Basque Country, Ireland & Rajasthan. Joined by Glenda to spend the colder seasons in Sicily & Malta. Complete a number of Poetical Essays on the island of Marettimo. Compose tryptychs on the 1565 siege of Malta. Work on Italian & Malta themed sonnets.
2007, May : Move into Heather Lodge, on the Whittinghame Estate, East Lothian. Begin Haiku from Heather Lodge in October
2008-2009, Autumn-Winter: Complete haiku from Heather Lodge in September. Travel to India without Glenda to transcreate the ‘Thirukural.’ Compose tryptychs on the Mumbai terror Attack.
2009, Summer : Working on the futuristic, Nostradamian tryptychs of ‘Axis & Allies.’ Walking tour of the far north of Scotland in late June & early July. Compose Ballad of Rabbie Burns.
2009, September : Leave Heather Lodge after separating from Glenda. Finish the latest edition of ‘Axis & Allies’ at Shelley’s grave in Rome
2009, November : Move into Dickson Street, Edinburgh, with Victor Pope.
2010, Summer : Compose ‘The Ediniad’ grand sequanza of sonnets.
2010, Autumn : Commence historical studies, beginning with the Battle of Brunanburh.
2010-2011, Autumn-Spring : Tour India with Charlie Fairclough. Work on many Indian sonnets.
2011, May : The death of Osama Bin Laden spurs on a new composition period of ‘Axis & Allies.’
2011, October-December : Tour of Italy & Greece, with companions Victor Pope & Paul Underwood. Work on the ‘Homeric Answer.’ Tour mainland Greece alone & write this period’s final tryptychs on the slopes of Parnassus & Olympus.
2012-13 : Resident in Albert Street, Edinburgh. Further historical studies haunting the National Library of Scotland
2013-2014, Autumn-Spring : Tour India working on the Jesus Jigsaw.
2014, Spring-Autumn : Back in Edinburgh, compose ‘Junkie Fucks’ after an unfortunate residence with drug-dealers.
2014-15, November-June : Resident in Burnley at Laithe Street, working on historical studies & creating the final assemblages of ‘Axis & Allies’ & the ‘Silver Rose.’ Commence ‘The Language of Birds.’ Meet Emily Beeson at the Eden Festival in Galloway.
2015-16, July-April : Resident in Dalmeny with Emily. Complete the ‘Language of Birds’ in November. Compose the ‘Battle of Bataclan’ not long after.
2016, April : Move into Baro Farm Cottages, East Lothian. Begin to finalise further ‘Axis & Allies’ & ‘The Silver Rose.’
2016, September : Visit Italy & Paris with Emily. Commence the ‘Honeymoon’ finale to the ‘Silver Rose.’
2016, November : Begin ‘The Insanity of Donald Flump.’
2016-17, December-January : Visit Seattle with Emily. Incorporate visit into the ‘Honeymoon.’
2017 February-June : Resident in Herdmanflatt, Haddington. Begin assembling the Pendragon Collection. Compose Sylvermane, The Last Wolf of Scotland.
2017, July : Holiday in Crete, in which time the ‘Letters from Crete’ assembl’d.
2017, September : Begin Stars & Stripes
2018, January : Begin Walking East Lothian Blog.
2018, March : Resident in Carfrae.
2018, July: Complete the Insanity of Donald Flump
2018, Summer-Autumn : Complete the Pendragon Collection First Series
2019: Begin assimilation of the Conchordia Folio – Writes Malmaison / perform Alibi
2020, Feb: Marseille & Provence – working on Viriathus / relationship with Emily begins to break down
2020, March-July: Coronoavirus lockdown – complete Viriathus, Leithology (first 5 parts), The Flight of the White Eagles / Begin The Fight of the Century
2020, July-September: 2 month Greek Odyssey – 2 weeks in Burnley then Thessalonika / Sithonia / Samothraki / Ioaninna / Corfu – complete composition of Axis & Allies
2020: Sept / Oct: Return to Scotland – lockdown’s eased – 2 weeks in Germany making music
2020, Nov-Dec: 6 weeks on Malta working on the Maltiad, including a new conchord entitled The Siege Of Gozo – by process I completed the composition of The Silver Rose / complete The Fight of the Century conchord
2021, Jan-Feb: Lots of work in Edinburgh organising all writings – the Silver Rose pretty much finished, Axis & Allies just needs mottoes / The Chisper Effect extended, Stars & Stripes completed as a conchord
2021, March: Leave Edinburgh / week in Glasgow – begin Walk-UK / arrive in Burnley / begin Burnley Boy poems – complete Sunshine Showdown conchord
2021, April: Leave Burnley, visit Peniston (Andrew Buggey), Nottingham (Duggy Naisbett) & Birnmingham (Chris Baldy)
2021, May-July: Work as the breakfast chef, at the Corrie Hotel, Arran, start research for Madchester
2021-22 : Live in Brodick, open up bookshop ; relationship with Emily ends in September; October-January complete the Ballad of Black Watch Brodick,
2022, February first draft of Seeing Sally Cinnamon completed, begin work on Madchester the conchord full time, begin work on Saraswathi Song & The Scented Sutra
2022, May: Completes Madchester: The Gathering & The Scented Sutra, finalizes the 39 conchords –
2022, June: Starts work on a new conchords – Atahualpa – epihanizes an arts festival on Arran – the Arran Fringe
2022: July: Germany for music in Krefeld – visits the Battle of the Teuterburgerwald site / Stays at Koblenz from where he visits Bad Ems & Trier
2022: August Successful return to the Edinburgh Fringe for the Mumble
2022: September: Visit to Navarrenx – picks up Exes & Axes again -driving tour of the Pyrenees, northern Spain & Portugal with Teri – flies from Porto to Bilbao, returns to England with the Baron / completes Exes & Axes / begins serialising ‘Adventures on an Indian Visa’ on Mumble words / death of Queen inspires the creation of an Oratorio
2022: October-December: Takes an extra room in Glasgow with Teri – tos & fros between Arran & Glasgow / Completes Atahualpa / reads Black Watch Brodick on Remembrance Sunday in B Hall / secures first painting to be exhibited at Xmas, followed by a larger event the following July / reviews Glasgow music scene for the Mumble / finishes Rock & Roll Apocalypse & In a Man’s Garden – this makes 18 conchords which is half of Shakespeare’s 36 – the new revised target on the verge of the 400th anniversary of the First Folio
2023 Jan-April – resident at Fell View. Complete Bella and the Brownies and Float Like a Butterfly. Also begin Gaston Dominici and Rumble in Jungle-Thrilla, in Manilla Work on Pendragon Papers and settle on 24 conchords as the total
2023: April – Play a gig at the PHT on Lamlash having learnt 30 covers songs off by heart since January. 11 days in Majorca – 8 with Burnley family Magaluf , 3 nights on own based in Esporles. Completed both Poems 1998-2023 & the Pendragon Papers 17-19 April in Esporles.
2023: April-May – Back on Arran, complete part 2 & 3 of the Gods of the Ring Trilogy, with an eye on its development into an epic poem for America. Complete part 5 of No Nay Never. From May 24th (a Wednesday), begin Squidgy Black, continue part 3 of GOTR, extend Mamaison & Samothracian Mysteries. Camping trips across Arran: Fairy Dell, Coire Fhionn Lochan, the beach at Torey Linn.
I am writing these words on the 22nd of October, 2018. The future awaits both for the rest of my life – the less youthful portions I’m afraid – & of course Humanity. It is to the Damo sat in his comfy chair on his seventieth birthday, reading through these epistles with the finest brandy, & anybody else who takes an interest in my work, that I leave my travel writings in which, I hope, are stored at least a little portion of my personality & my soul. Yesterday morning I was in Rome. I was there with the family of my American wife, Emily. On the Friday night I returned once more to the Forte Prenestina with her brother. After a vegan feast, I showed him around the fort’s interior, then took him to the theatre where we saw an avant garde physical piece called Double Trouble. It had been twenty years since my first visit to the fort two decades in which my training as a Pendragon had been pursued & quite recently completed.
Just over a week previous to that trip to the theatre, Emily’s father, Ed Beeson of the famous Gigs4U in Seattle, & his partner Ramona had flown into Edinburgh for the Scottish leg of their continental tour. They were here to see Ed’s grand-daughters, my step-daughters, Roxy & Ivy, & we took them for fare & traditional skittles at the Sheep’s Heid Inn, Duddingston. The next evening, while the girls were with their real dad, we took Ed & Ramona to a night I put on down the Pond in Leith, where of course Victor Pope was regaling them with his unique blend of folk-anarchist pop. This gentleman, & very old friend of mine, is a man who will be popping up from time to time in these epistles. As for Emily, she only arrives at the every end. I’d met her in 2015, after which I wrote the following blog post, which serves as an excellent embodied introduction to these epistles.
I am currently sat with my fiance – yes fiance – the beautiful miss Beeson, of Seattle. She is scrolling through the text messages we have sent each other these 5 months past in which we have found ourselves in a love of the marital kind. She – we – live in Dalmeny, by the gorgeously scoto-cosmic Dalmeny Estate, a perfect poet’s playground only a few miles from Edinburgh, my choice city of residence for over a decade. I see her love as a reward for completing Axis & Allies earlier this year, in the same fashion as when my muses spirited me onto a Swiss Air Jet & flew me home to England back in ’98 after dedicating myself to the art of poetry on the continent.
So with this shift in my life, I feel its time to wrap up my blog for the forseeable future. I began it back in 2010, shifting into it my group email journal-making, which in turn had sprung out of the hand-written journals that had accompanied my first poetical composition missions pre-2002 (when I signed up to Hotmail). Between these three methods of life-archiving I have recorded the 15 years spent on writing my epic poems. At present it is unpublished & hardly known – mainly on account of the public taste for poetry at the turn of the 3rd millennium, in which the trend is for short snappy pieces rather than for anything of substance. In spite of this I remain confident that as the years pass, & as the publish taste for poetry evolves, my poems will take their proper place in the pantheon. So, in time-honoured fashion, I shall now take & bow with a cheeky smile leave the stage. It is now time to enjoy the rest of my life with my beautiful wife-to-be my side.
I didn’t quite leave the stage, there was still a couple more years of composition & craft to go, which I recorded with the occasional blog, three of which conclude this book. The final of these is set in the US, where I met Emily’s father for the first time. The next time I saw him was yesterday morning, in Italy, the journey to which country had begun a week last Sunday, a couple of days after the concert down the Pond. It was an extremnely early flight, which meant leaving Carfrae in East Lothian at 3.30 AM, with me driving our 7-seater to Edinburgh airport for the 6-30 AM Ryanair flight to Roma Ciampino. It was not my first flight to the airport just south of Rome, as you will see in these epistles. Indeed, the trip was bubbling with the ghosts of a former me, the next one being the first stop-off on our seven hour drive to Italy’s heel.
On arriving at Ciampino, we were met by Emily’s half-brother & Ed’s son, the 28-year old Michael, & off we drove – with Michale at the wheel & me piloting via the satnav. fter an hour or so we pulled into Cassino, which the Americans found fascinating on account of the attack on Hitler’s ‘Soft Underbelly’ instigated & perpetraed by the old imperialist, Winston Churchill, wanting to secure the Meditteranean for the Empire. This gave me a chance to practice my Italian, something I’ve pick’d up over the years, & it went well, ordering up a meal for us all – which I even paid for (85 euros). This is all a far cry from my earliest visits to Italy, as you shall see.
So we continued our drive, with Ed going way to fast on the motorway between Bari & Brindisi in a rush to just get there. There, by the way, was the Masseria Montefalcano, near Supersano. A converted mill with a ‘molto freddo’ swimming pool, this was our luxuriant base for five nights, from where we explored the Salento peninsular. Otranto was wonderful – amazing, serene beach & a sensational old town – as was Gallipoli (minus the beach) on the other side of the Heel. We even returned to the Santa Catarina area, & leaving everyone but Michael at Santa maria al Bagno, I retraced the steps taken seven years ago with Victor Pope & Paul Underwood, part of an adventure recorded in my penultimate epistle. On that trip me & the boys experienced the amazing folk-music/dance craze that is Pizzica, & I was delighted seven years later to take Emily & Michael to a live concert of it in a piazza of Migianno. This is travel – this is culture – this is poetry!
On one occasion I stayed at the Masseria for the day while everyone returned to Otranto. Starting on the red wine at 10 AM, by the early afternoon I was ready for my adventure – a bycycle ride throgh epic olive groves to Scoranno, during which time I completed what appears to be the final sonnet of my Silver Rose sequence. I rather did feel quite poetic during this five day stay, including discovering a new stanza form in Supersano’s local library after asking the librarian for books by a ‘poeta famosa della localita.’ She passed me a series of essays on a certain Rocco De Vitris, among which I found a short-measured stanza rhyming ABABABCCB, which I really should experiment with & call the Supersano. I also began composing a couple of possible poems – on the Senones attack on Rome in 380BC, & the Otranto martyrs. Time will tell if they are ever completed, but as a poet it is a pleasure to at least imagine composing your poetry, & reading thro’ the final version. Indeed, as I write in October 2018, I am happy to say I have very recently completed not one but two epic poems, & a good deal of Epyllia (Little Epics).
If any of you out there are considering the writing of an epic poem. & really mean it that is, then a cautionary word of warning; it takes time, a lot of it. As to my own undertakings in the epic sphere, this book contains just a portion of the record of my journey. It has been quite an adventure writing my epics, Axis & Allies & The Silver Rose, & with proper diligence I recorded my travels for the occasion on which I could collect them all into a single volume, i.e. now. The tri-media form taken by these Epistles to Posterity was decided by the technological evolutions of my age. The first epistles were written as traditional journals while I roamed Europe composing the first few thousand lines of Axis & Allies. The next cluster of epistles were then sent out as group emails to friends & family.
At the turn of the Millennium the world was just beginning to be turned on to the wonders of the internet & in the days before Facebook & other social media, it was used with greater frequency. I also realised that sending off group emails was a more efficient way of keeping a journal. Sitting down for an hour in an internet café in some random corner of your tour was always a pleasant experience, & the central bulk of my epistles were written like this. The later epistles – Savin’ Charlie & Marchin on Parnassus – were taken from my blog, which I began in 2011. This was group emailing taken to its next step of evolution – now all the world could read of your adventures, not just those subscribing to your friendship.
It can be said that I have been a working poet at an incredible evolutionary time for humanity. The changes during my adult lifetime have been profound – when I began my studies in the mid-nineties, nobody really had mobile phones, & people sent letters to one another by post. By the finale of Axis & Allies, global communication has come to the whole of humanity as easy as leaves come to a tree. Despite such advances in society, I have remained dedicated to this planet’s massive historical tradition, & so I feel myself to be something of a cross-fire artist, one connected deeply to the past, but embracing the technologies of the future. Wikipedia, Google, Rhymezone – they have all helped my work at a mouse-click button away; just as the 1825 Hawkin’s edition of Milton’s works has also. I have lived on the crux of two epochs, from which collisional & fermenting energies I have created my epics. The journey, as they say, has been a good one.
In spite of the general disinterest to epic poetry in the English language, I have known for some time now that I am an epic poet, for just as the world needs its plumbers its painters & its pimps, it also happens to need its epics. I am not exactly sure why we pop up from time-to-time, but we most definitely do; it is like a relay race where the baton is dropped for a few hundred years then gets picked up again by the next lucky fellow compelled to spend the better years of their life on a single poem – or even two. The first of mine is Axis & Allies, which details the history of war on Earth, with an especial focus on the Second World War of the 20th century – one whose participants were – & still are in some cases – alive during my composition. Being born in 1976 meant that I moved among people who could remember the First World War, but also lived in age when the loose ends of the global conflicts of the Twentieth Century were finally being tied up, such as the ending of the Cold War. This, of course, would be my Iliad. The Odyssey, then, would be my sonnet sequence, the Silver Rose. This is a semi-autobiographical psuedo-truthful account of my superego’s journey through the world.
Each of the tours I have selected for this book show slight but definitive differences in character & attitude. As the reader follows my progress from the mid-twenties into the late thirties, they may observe the maturing evolutions of both poet & poetry, resulting in a final epilogue in which my epic efforts reach their climax. There has been little in the way of editing; perhaps the most obvious spelling mistakes have been corrected & anything particularly irrelevant; but all-in-all the text preserves the moment I sat tip-tapping at a keyboard in the first decade & a half of the Third Millennium AD.
Tomorrow I am for the Continent. I have passed the earliest months of this new Millennium studying quite vigorously all aspects of the Battle of Waterloo. My place of residence for the composition period has been Brighton, & as a bright-eyed 23-year old it is definitely a cool place to be. I feel free & young & ready to devote myself to the cause that is the perennial, pantheonic perusal of poetry. I have settled upon a singular poem 60 tryptychs in length, & I shall compose it across two trips to the continent, the first of which has been expediated by my first ever internet purchase of a cheap Ryanair flight to Italy. It is now cheaper to fly to places like Milan & Barcelona than it is to travel from London to Manchester by rail! For this first mission I shall be accompanied by my housemate, Brynley Warlow. He has an amorous attachment to a lady in Venice, so we have decided to travel to the continent together for ten days. The first half shall be a tour of the scenes upon La Route Napoleon in France, the road the rogue emperor took on his return to Paris in 1814. The other half shall be a whistle-stop tour of Italy, the chief aim being to satisfy my friend’s youthful lust. Bring it on!
Began day at seven-thirty in the arms of Kate. She called round last night to bid me adieu, so I’m a little tired right now. Bryn cooked up some breakfast, I made some pasta for the road & away we went. On the way to the airport we jumped two trains & had to buy a one-stop single (3-1) en route. To our surprise, the Stanstead Express was having a training session for conductors, two per carriage, but we still jumped it. On the way we stopped off at Bishop’s Stortford, a mad little Fenland market town. It was Bryn’s brother Gareth’s birthday (MC Hiaraki to those in the know) & he had some pills waitin’ fer us. We necked two, the others pocketed, & proceeded to indulge in some messy pool table shennanigins.
After an hour or so he dropped us off at the airport, where we got thro’ customs quite smoothly, despite Bryn having a small knife & being so trashed he forgot to hide the pills. Luckily the knife distracted them from any further searchin’ & we were soon on a lovely jaunt over the clouds… especially when the tips of the Alps peeped their ragged peaks thro’ the oceans of cloud. Of our two Ryanair Irish stewardesses; one was moody & the other gorgeous. We were still tryin’ to chat em up as the plane descended into Genoa, our first Italian breaths inhaling in a fine city stacked against the mountains.
We caught the bus into Genoa, which was hardly enticing, it being night & a little seedy – not like the Italy I remember. At the stazio we skinned up a skunk spliff curtesy of the birthday boy & chilled out til the train to Ventimilia came. The jump was easy, a nice ,late train & a half-hearted sweep (5-1) & we arrived at the hotels of San Remo at about half-past midnight. The town was almost deserted & as we were on a bit of a come-down it was all rather bizarre; the acclimatization not quite having kicked in yet. We wandered out of town a little & found a nice secluded beach, where we put up our tent in the moonlight & drifted into pleasant, pilled-up dreams…
Woke up to the luscious sounds of the sea. It was Bryn’s first time abroad & he was instantly enamored to the experience. We bought wine & bread to go with yesterday’s pasta & breakfasted by the sea. The weather was warm, if a little windy, & we set off along the Riviera (6-1). After passing thro’ passport control at Ventimiligia, we arrived in the stately streets of Monaco. We pottered about a bit, but soon found ourselves sat in a little market square, drinking in the sun… getting quite drunk in the process. Our next stop was Antibes (7-1) from where we found the Golf de Juan, the site of Napoleon’s landing in 1815. After a swift look around we headed to the campsite at Boit, put the tent up, dipped in the pool & prepared to go out.
We dropped the pills on the way into Cannes & arrived off our heads. It was the day before the festival started & the place was beginning to buzz, with huge film billboards lining the front. After a pizza we hit a few bars; never seeing any stars, but at one point this Italian lady entered a swanky place & the barman led a round of applause. Didn’t know who she was, but she would definitely have got it. Our only hiccup was when we stumbled into a whorehouse, got stung 4 squid a beer & had to refuse their advances – tho’ on his pills an over-rampant Bryn was sorely tempted.
Back at the campsite we hooked up with two English chicks who took us to a few caravans full of script-writing English. They seemed bemused when I told them we were here to visit La Route Napoleon & not the festival. I managed to help myself to this geezer’s weed, which finished me off, & it took me half an hour to find mi fuckin tent. Bryn turned up later after getting off with a bird & we both snored ourselves into oblivion. At this point getting our heads together for the rest of the tour seems molto difficile.
We woke up proper spangled, but a quick dip in the exquisitely cool pool proved enough of a respite from our frail noggins & we were able to pack & head out to Cannes. It was the first day of the festival & full of noisy Yanks, so we soon got out of dodge, striking inland on a bus to Grasse, a lovely town stacked high against the hillside. We had a couple of hours to kill so wandered around a bit & to our delight found it very swell, with lovely narrow streets & great prospects of the Cotes d’Azore in the distance.
After sending off our postcards we hopped on a bus north along La Route Napoleon. The view was spectacular as we climbed & wound thro’ the mountains, each one clad in trees giving a baize effect, & I could imagine Napoleon & his column following the same road. A rapid mist descended, however, followed soon after by heavy rain which showed no intention of letting up as we were unceremoniously dumped in the wee hamlet of Seranon. We dived into the only bar around for shelter & refreshment, obtaining a few funny looks off the funny looking locals.
Eventually we found out the bus North didn’t leave til the morning, so we were stuck. We didn’t fancy puttin the tent up in the rain so opted for a hotel. A friendly couple drove us a half mile down the road to their mate’s hotel, which was closed. Luckily the mustached madame opened it up for us (a whole hotel to ourselves), but we were forced to share a double bed (with pants on obviously). As soon as we paid our 15 francs the sun came out & we heaved a table up to the roof’ bought wine, cheese, bread & sausage & had a most pleasant supper among the mountains. It was cool, me musing & Bryn sketchin’ & it felt nice to be doing spot of real travelling, the only sound being the constant chuckle of crickets. Bryn very correctly brought up the point we were stuck in a one horse dive & had less than two days to get to Venice, but I re-assured him all would be reyt. We made a chess-board out of paper & stones & played to the setting of the sun, before all the wine & well-thought-out moves took their toll & sent us both a-slumbering.
We woke early & made a half-hearted attempt at hitching (I remember now why I prefer the trains), before catching the morning bus out of town. It was very expensive, but luxurious, & took us into the wonderful townlet of Castellane. It is set amid a great amphitheater of mountains, spread underneath a huge chapel-capped crag. Beyond Castelleane we wound along a road hewn into the rocky surrounds & the driver had to honk hard at each bend. We were dropped off in a sleepy village called Barremme, where Napoleon had slept on his march to Paris. After buying some fresh bread we finished off the sausage & cheese, plus a wispa Bryn had pilfered off-his-nut in Bishops Stortford. We left the tranquil station, where a woman controlled the level crossing by hand, on a tiny, impossible-to-jump train. We had to pay to a place called Digne (7-2), passing along the bottom of a deep gorge, by a scintillatingly blue river. Digne was the largest town we’ve seen for some time now & we idled an hour in the bar waitin for the next bus. This took us to Saint Auban, where I breathed a massive sigh of relief as we had now reached the main railway line. It felt as tho’ we’d been an arrow, slowly pulled back on its string as we travelled thro’ the almost comatose Provencal backwaters, then fired away at a hundred miles an hour in the direction of Briancon.
After two successful jumps (9-2) we meandered through’ the mountains, our train driving thro’ sheets of dramatically pouring rain. We were so high the clouds hugged the ground, while the Alps towered above us like stunning, hungry beasts. At Briancon (the highest town in Europe) we were suddenly thrown upon our wits again as we rudely discovered there were no buses between France & Italy. It was pushing 7PM when we set off on the 5 mile hike to the border, the light fading but in good spirits as we crossed the Alps… both Napoleon & Hannibal had done it & now I was about to… buzzing’! Fortune smiled on us once again, for not 200m into Italy we were picked up by a proper friendly Algerian truck driver, taking empty bottles back to San Perrignon to be filled with water. He spoke about as much English as we spoke French, but somehow we managed to carry on a pidgeon conversation for the next few hours (mainly about cannabis, which none of us had any of) as we headed West. Just outside the city he pulled over for the night & much to Bryn’s annoyance I got the bed while they slept in the seats… benne notte!
We awoke in an Italian service station layby at about 8… a little tired but very happy for the fact we were just one train jump from Venice. Our guy had dropped us off on the outskirts of Milan, from where we took a train into the centre (10-2). The women on the train were stunning, & for the first time in my life I was forced to give a perfect ten. We proceeded to spend a couple of hours in the wide avenues of Milano’ me indulging in a little poetry while Bryn checked out the architecture. Then, after a swift Burger King, we hopped on a train to Venice (11-2). The journey skimmed the Alps, looming high upon our left, while to our right stretched the lowland plains to the sea.
On arrival at Venice Bryn tried to ring Linda, but she didn’t answer… has she bottled it? As a safety precaution he came with me to Finistra, where we put up the tent with a fine view across the sea to the island. Necking a bottle of vino we trundled into Venice (12-2), where Linda was waiting! She’s the boss of a million-per-year turnover sunglasses factory up in the mountains… & Bryn is her toyboy. She very kindly bought me a meal before I bid them ciao & fucked off… twos company! Back at the campsite I drank more wine & looked out to Venice. I’d been there back in 1998 & was just happy to know that somewhere amid those velvet streets (hopefully not in the streets), Bryn was getting laid (mission accomplished).
Woke up early feelin’ fresh & funky. Breakfasted on chocolate milk & pastries by the waterside, admiring the splendor of distant Venice, a shimmering sea between us. Bought a bottle of wine & idled a little while longer, skimming thro’ a biography of Lord Byron. Eventually I got going & hopped on a bus into the old city where the Grand Canal was still a wonder to sail upon on the unofficially free waterbuses. Composed a little to the splish-splosh of the sea & the beating of a serene sun. Hooked up with Bryn & Linda – he had a smile on his face – & we visited a facing island, which in stark contrast to the chaos of San Marco Square was a tranquil seat of serenity. The wine began to flow, & after Bryn returned from a museum with some interesting postcards of stairs, we jumped train back to the campsite – it was Linda’s first fade & she performed admirably.
My gigalo buddy changed his clothes & was whisked back to Venice to be wined & dined, while I spent the evening with some young Aussies. They roam Europa on busses with a firm called Buzzabout & were good fun – that was until, after a few bottles of wine, I brought up the fact they were descended from botty-boy convicts. The wine soon told for me so I’ll leave you with Bryn.
Spent evening walking around close to San Marco’s, stunned by the beauty of Venice… it’s also nice to see Linda again. Fumbled our way to the hotel where there was later further fumblings. Had a meal with clams as they are supposed to be an aphrodisiac – they worked! We then hit a jazz bar for Hemmingway cocktails, after which I was pretty damn fucked. Met a man called Virgilio, a Salvador Dali lookalike. We then went dancin’ by the piazza Margarheta, downed more beers, had a few arguments & a lot more sex.
I’m goin’ back to Venice!
Awoke to a couple of creamy lattes & some pastries. Spent the mornin’ readin’ & writin’ then packed up the tent just as Bryn returned from his Venetian porn adventures. We breathed in the city one last time then hopped down to Bologna (13-2). The city is a bit messy & we didn’t stay long, nipping further south to Firenze, i.e. Florence (14-2). These last two jumps have been the most difficult of the tour so far, especially the stench emanating from the bogs on the Boulogne-Florence train.
We arrived in the sultry Tuscan capital just as a warm rain was chuckin’ it down. We spent a funny couple of hours tryin’ to locate a suburban campsite… only for it to be closed. So we headed back into the city, past the epic gates & walls & into the fairy-tale streets that cluster at the foot of the absorbing Fiorentine hills. We strolled to a new site & blagged our way in a la Glasto (over the fence) & put up the tent. After a shower we hit the town for some much needed food & some much-more needed beers as proceeded to tour the centre. It remains one of the best places I have ever visited, the cut-out-&-glue-the-cardboard-flaps Duomo a wonder to behold, & it was in a very pleasant mood that we retired to our campsite.
The view of Florence on waking was superb. A sea of roof tops with the Duomo rising from them like some grand Poseidon. After a swift breakfast we plunged into the city & were soon swept up by the buzz of the place. The chicks & the tourists, mopeds & the money! Me & Bryn parted company for a while, he busying himself with sketching the architectural delights while I composed poetry over a couple of cappuccinos, sat outside a cafe. ‘Waterloo’ is coming along well & I hope to be able to complete it later this month in Belgium. We took our lunch sat in the courtyard of some student campus, then packed up our tent & simply sauntered out of the campsite – great blag! The sun was just setting thro’ the Ponte Vecchio in all of its golden splendor as we made our way to the stazione.
The train to Pisa (15-2) wound thro’ Tuscany, & I was much joyed to return to the city, for it holds a special place in my heart after my sojourn there two years ago. Unfortunately, the Macchia Nera social centre in Pisa closed down 5 months ago, & is now a building site. It was quite sad really & I felt a little link to the past extinguished. Luckily, I knew of another place to crash, & we tromped by the side of the Arno to the Old Arsenal. While a very tired Bryn was sleeping I took a stroll along memory lane, calling on old busking spots & sleepin’ areas… it was surreal, but pleasant. Back at the tent I listened to the trains for a while then drifted off to sleep.
Our funds have begun to run seriously low, so I trudged thro’ the blazing sun of a very hot day to the giant supermarket in Pisa. 20,000 lira (& three pockets) won us 4 cartons of wine, 2 baguettes, 2 tunas, 2 bananas, 2 oranges, 1 chocolate bar, a jar of jam, a jar of seafood dressin’, salami, a sausage, anchovies, bread & water. We proceeded to dine on our feast in the grounds of the leaning tower. I caught the sun while Bryn did his best sketch yet. Five hours just flew by as swift as birds & as calm as their flight.
The penultimate leg of our Continental tour dawned, & we set off, pissed as fuck. Being that drunk & so close to our departure, I let mi guard down & full of bravado set in a first-class carriage next to four chatting conductors. Unsurprisingly we were caught (15-3) but I do consider this one more of an own goal. Luckily we weren’t travelling far & got kicked off where we wanted to go… Le Spezia. It was close to sunset as we arrived & caught a bus to Portovenere. As we wound beside the Gulf di Poeti, Bryn became enchanted, as I was when I first saw these sights. We pitched the tent amid some ruins overlookin’ the Med, the 11th century church & Byron’s grotto… completely enamored to the idyllicity. After gorging on the last of our supplies we took a stroll by the harbor & passed our last night in a very amiable manner. While I fell asleep Bryn was full of poetry & climbed & scrambled all over the place, bathing in the starlight. It feels strange to return, for this place is here is where my poetic sensibility first blossomed only two years ago, but an immortal lifetime in my soul.
Our tour’s last dawn broke over the Med & the view from the tent was sublime. After spending our last 3ooo lira on bread, plummed tomatoes & aqua, we gained enough energy to swim in Byron’s grotto. The water was cool & beautiful & while we splashed a couple of big-titted Italian chicks came down to sunbathe – a suitable send off. So, we jumped train to Genoa, & got caught on the very last train- the only official time of the tour (16-4). We had 5 hours to kill, so I checked my bank, found cash & drew out 1oo,ooo lira – wuhu! This money was soon spent on booze as we pottered around the charming centre of the city, before headin’ thro the industrial outskirts to the airport.
The flight back was cool, following the sunset, a constant glimmer of gold ahead of us. Below, the scattered clusters of lights shewed the dwellings of man & was very pretty. We returned to England in good cheer & were picked up by Gareth. In his local pub he shouted the absinths & we rolled off the choice anecdotes of the tour… it sounded pretty good! Needin’ some proper nosh I bought a kebab & headed to Buntingford to spend the night in Bryn’s mate’s caravan. Unfortunately, after a couple of reefers & some Italian wine I whiteyed, staggered out into the chilly rain & vomited dodgy meat all over the garden… thinkin,’ ‘It’s good to be home!’
Woken early (6:45) in Leytonstone by Nichola as she took little Adam to nursery. I walked with her & she bought me a hearty breakfast for the road. A couple of train jumps later I was at Dover, spendin’ my measly tour funds on some supermarket food. The voyage to Belgium was furnished by a beautiful, clear day & I could actually chill out on deck without fear of being blown into the sea. The journey took us past Dunkerque, where 60 years ago the sea was a phalanx of boats & the sky full of planes. Further down the coast, Ostend reared its tower-block facade & I was soon enough jumpin’ a train down to Brussels. Obviously I didn’t linger long in Europe’s dullest city, & jumped a train down to Chaleroi, passing by the Waterloo battlefield en route, when a couple of miles to my east the Butt de Lion stood tall in timeless defiance. Around me the flat Belgic plains began to undulate & become peppered by scarecrows.
Charleoi was peaceful, but I wondered what it would be like when the English turn up for the Euro 2000 match against Germany… it seems poor Belgium is always the battleground between these two nations. From here I jumped train to the small town of Ligny, where a friendly local showed me somewhere to camp beside his scout hut. After pitchin’ my tent he took me on a tour of the town, showin’ me where the shops & museums were. Then we hit a friendly bar for a much needed beer… there were two old queens, however, who were perhaps a little too friendly. The guy bought me a few beers & my school-boy French began to flow. On the wall was a picture of Napoleon & I knew right there & then that I had truly arrived. I hope to finish off the poem I begun in France earlier this month over the next few days. When we were drunk the guy showed me his pad & cooked me supper, then gave me a gas heated lamp so I could write back at my tent. Only managed a few lines before I fell asleep.
Awoke in Ligny… quite a cool sensation to be just about to embark on a march thro’ the battlefields of the campaign. The local museum was closed, but I did obtain a map which I used to discern the battlefield (difficult with houses in the way). At the magasin I was buying some wine & tobacco when an English=speaking lady saw my map & whisked me off to her house. It turned out her husband was a Napoleonic expert & gave me more maps (plus troop movements). They were really nice & sent me off in buoyant mood. Thus armed I packed up my tent & set off to the site of the now destroyed Mill de Bussy for the best panorama of the battlefield. I chilled in the sun, close to the site of Wellington’s & Blucher’s meeting, composing a little, then set off for Quatra Bras.
I idled along for a very pleasant 6 or seven kilometres, pausing for dinner en route, & reached the barren looking junction at about 6pm. Quatra Bras means ‘four roads’ & apart from a restaurant & a farm that’s all there is really… plus a lot of traffic toing & froing. I made camp by a monument & took a stroll around the battlefield, the best feature being the farm Gemioncourt. I chilled there awhile, dining on cold tinned chicken curry & tinned peaches, then settled down for the night with my poem. Unfortunately, I had camped in a field full of bulls & soon became the focus of their attention. After several inquisitive snorts & a few horns bulging thro’ the canvas, I literally picked up the tent & chucked into the next field, where I could at last settle down into a sleep.
Awoke, breakfasted, packed up within half an hour, then hit the road on the march north to the battlefield. After a short while, with the sun beatin’ a very perfect heat, I arrived in Genappe. In 1815, this was the sign of Wellington’s reargaurd, holdin’ off Napoleon’s forces in the pourin’ rain while his main body headed back to the slopes of Waterloo. I found a cafe & downed a couple of stellas, then spent a wad of mi francs on wine & food & renewed my march. In Genappe town centre, loudspeakers were blarin’ out tunes, & when James’ Sit Down came on a great sense of well-being came over me… duly sittin’ down in the mid-day sun.
Further down the road I came upon a museum where Napoleon made his HQ on the eve of the battle. It was tres cool, especially a little ossiary full of battlefield bones. Then, with the Butt de Lion in sight, I reached the place I have been studyin’ relentlessly for. The sun shone bright as I stashed mi bags & took a little stroll around the field… a beer at La Belle Alliance, a chill amid La Haye Saint & then sneakin’ up the lofty Butt. On the top I had to correct a loud mouthed Yank who’d got the battle positions back to front. We got on well & he drove us to the house at Hougoumont. The place was better than I expected, the wall still full of musket holes from the battle.
After he went I reclaimed my bags, returned to the chateaux, pitchin’ my tent in some nearby woods. From here I took a walk into Braine L’Alleaud, picked up some beers & chilled awhile in the local park, composing. On returning to the battlefield the sun had already set. I ascended the ridge where the Garde Imperial met their doom before mounting the Butt once more. On the night before the battle the scene would have been dappled with fires, but tonight the field was black & an eerie sensation overcame me as I stumbled back to my tent in the dark thro’ the dense woodland…
A pleasant day of wandering around the battlefield writing my poem. I tried to write each stanza in the appropriate place where the action occurred. However, the sun & wine began to make me weary & before too long I found myself getting drowsy with the writing. Then I had a shit & to my surprise found it was green… I suspected the cold tinned chicken. I still had some of the poem to write, but realised I could finish it at a more lazy speed during my last sunny month in Brighton… so packed up my tent & set off home. I jump’d train from Braine L’alleaud to Brussels & then to Ostend. Flicking through my poetry on the voyage home I felt satisfied with my performance. It had been an interesting experience & the study prior to the visit had paid off. To most other people passing over that terrain, they would see just a few fields & houses. But I could recreate the individual portions of a great battle… a sort of living cinema.
Tuesday June 12th
Kate’s mobile phone alarm started buzzin’ at 4:30 am – a time only one third of the population has ever seen. After a wee cuddle, I set off into the seagull squawks of Brighton, spliff in hand, to catch the 5.10AM to London. I was lucky with the trains to Stanstead airport where I stroll’d onto an Easyjet (i), which was dropping, before anyone knew it, into Salzburg. I had never seen the Alps from this angle & was surprised to see how suddenly they thrust up against the North European Plain like some indomitable fortress of rock.
At Salzburg I jump’d straight on a train to Munich where, despite the efforts of border police & conductors, I perform’d my first train jump (ii) of the tour (1-0). In Munich I found a scenic woodland campsite for £4.50 a night. After more spliffs, the city was roam’d in a piss’d & stony haze (30p a can). The city is quite pleasant, having an almost Italian air, & I found it weird to think that I was walking the birthplace of the Nazi evil. Talking of which, I found the very classical Koenigsplatz & the Braunhaus, site of the 1938 Munich Crisis (iii), to be very cool indeed.
After taking a few notes, I idled back to camp, which appear’d to be full of the Irish. It seems it is quite common for young Irish kids to come over to Germany in the summer & work for a couple of months… a mixture of Auf Weidershein Pet & the Potato Famine. Had more beer & spliffs & an early night in the tent, which was a little cold & uncomfortable – I hate camping!