zaterdag, februari 04, 2006

Week 19-23: London to Biarritz and Back Again

The sun glares through the window above the clouds, ears popping to the dilapidated sounds emerging from my 1 inch speakers of my iBook, en route to Stanstead Airport, London, wondering how many euros it will cost me for a Bloody Mary as the stewardesses approach. I last left off without any money, in the North East of England, in refuge of my English family for a week of Xmas holidays. The time past enjoyably as I revisited my past, and had a few nights out with my cousin Mark who is 19 and now attends Oxford University, and returned to his parents house for the holidays. The last night we went out to some fancy dress party in a bar/club which we had not dressed for, and enjoyed the silly sights of the crazy NE Englanders. The snow was coming down, and girls dressed in mini-skirt Nurse outfits strolled the snowy streets as if they were in New York on a hot summer’s night. Suddenly 4 o'clock in the morning was upon us, and the taxi que was too long, so we went our separate ways by foot, trunching through the snow in my low top Van’s arriving back an hour later for a 3 hour slumber before my bus to London. My cousin had a 5 mile run back to his house, but I’m sure it was no problem for him.

I made it to the bus, feet still wet from the night before, and bloody cold, and I embarked on my 5 hour bus ride (cruising the cheap these days), to Victoria station, central London. It was here I was to meet my friend Reed again, who would join me for New Year’s festivities in London. He was on the ferry from Amsterdam, and would arrive at Victoria station 5 hours after me. I had hours to kill, and kill them I did. A few hours were spent getting lost doing laps of the London Underground, eating fish and chips, having a few pints, and waiting and waiting. He arrived 2 hours late, so after 7 hours of doing nothing but picking up my bag and putting it back down, I was in pain, and getting antsy to get out of the transportation madness. Reed finally arrived, and I had already found a 10 pound a night hostel, where we headed off to, and crashed out after a brief chill out in the dungeon lounge of the hostel. The following day we went to an old family friend’s house on the outskirts of London and spent two days enjoying gourmet meals, and resting. Then came the 31st, and we headed off via the train, back to inner London. The London Underground had decided to strike, so tube access was very limited at best, so we took to the streets with some beers and walked to Picadilly Circus. The evening was simi-uneventful except for your typical hoorah that always comes with New Year’s in any big city across the world. We shared a bottle of whisky, got lost in the streets, ended up back at our old hostel to see what was going on around 3am, and then headed off to a party at another hostel after piling 8 people into a taxi, and then returned back several miles by foot with some friends from the hostel. After the sun rose, we bid good night (or good morning) to our friends and ate a disgusting meal at the world famous McDonald’s as it was the only place open where we could eat. I had 2 hashbrowns and a coffee and we headed back to the train, back to our house. Not wanting to spend another 13 pounds, I thought we should just use our same tickets as 2 days prior, which would have worked fine, but we fell asleep and woke up 50 miles past our stop. We got off the train at the next stop, and headed back the way we came, passing farm lands, and rivers, and hilly countrysides. Then came the train conductor to see our tickets, well, that was a problem, we had the wrong day, we were going the wrong way, and he asked us to pay 5 pounds. "No way! We fell asleep, it was an accident”, “Oh just like you conveniently did just now, sure, 5 pounds”, “No, we’ll just get off at the next stop!” After he informed us he’d given all the train conductors our descriptions and we would not be able to board the next train, we boarded it, and heading back to our destination without a hitch. Phew! 2 for 1 train fare. Nice one!!

Reed headed off a day later, after another good meal, and I stayed for another week, getting some work done and planning my next step. I had only spent 30 pounds in about one week, including everything, so I was quite stoked at my economic preservation derived through necessity.

Adam, me, & Whip at Stockwell Skatepark
The next stop was my half-uncles house where I continued to consume extremely good gourmet meals for another week, and get good rest, and use the hi-speed internet to finish up the last of work I had to complete. I then headed to my friend Scott’s house in inner-london. Scott is a friend of my friend Martin, the son of whom Reed and I had been staying with for a week. Martin tragically died about 10 years ago when, due to some sketchy unexplainable details, he was perhaps chased onto the train line, and was electricuted on the third rail. Through skatingboarding (Martin and Scott were close skateboarding friends with a skate-crew called The Village Idiots), Scott came to know of Concussion, and came to visit me in Santa Cruz about 6 years ago. I took him and his two friends around to the Consolidated Ramp, my old ramp on Dufour St. and of course to Derby Park, which at in my backyard.

Scott and I after our skate session on my way to the train
So now he returned the favor and allowed me to stay in his house for 1 week, with wireless hi-speed internet and took me to the old Playstation Park (now known as Bay 66), and also to the 70’s park, Stockwell, where we had a blast, and skated around with about 6 friends, shooting some photos and video footage which will hopefully be seen in Concussion at some point in time. We also went to a Pie & Ale party the night before our skate session at Stockwell, where the most memorable pie (by name at least, because I still try not to eat red meat) was the Guiness Beer and Beef pie. The next evening after our skate session I returned to my Uncle’s by train, packed my stuff, and prepared to return to France.

At 5am we awoke, clambered into my Uncle’s Jaguar, and drove to the coast where we pulled into a train that goes under the Channel from Harwich, England to Calais, France. My Uncle bought a Grange (an old barn to renovate) in the middle of France, and I was going along for the ride, and also to help him to communicate in French. We stopped by my ex-girlfriend’s house in Paris, where I had a box of my stuff shipped from California which took 10 weeks to arrive. We completely filled the Jaguar and headed out of Paris within the hour, heading south to a small town between Poitiers and Limoges in central/west France. The towns were very picturesque and rural, with cows and sheep and rivers and trees and hills and stone buildings and everything you could imagine a rural French countryside to look like.

La Souterraine
We stayed for 2 nights in a fancy hotel, where we were one of two groups staying in a hotel that has over 50 rooms. We were catered to by two beautiful French girls and ate an elegant meal with some Bordeaux wine. Superb! We met the builders at the barn, and everything was going according to plan, and we even toured the wood factory where they use the local wood and create the steps, and banisters, and window frames. It was true learning experience for me who knows little about building and renovating houses. Soon again the time came for me to hit the road, and I was dropped off at La Souterraine train stop, where I took 3 trains that would land me in Bordeaux, on my way back to Biarritz. I had never been to Bordeaux, and I quite enjoyed it, but it’s a big city to get around on foot. I stayed in the youth hostel which was to be the first and last time I paid for accommodation in over one month. I walked around for most of the day and night, seeing as much as I could in the short time I had. Unfortunately, as is common in Europe in the winter, the lighting wasn’t so good (flat) for photographs, also a problem I face when going from place to place without spending too much time in one area for the weather to cooperate.

The next day after some coffee and bread and cheese I headed off again on the train to Bayonne, where I would stay for the next 10 days with friends I had met in the Anglet and Biarritz Youth Hostels several months before. I am so grateful for the hospitality of my friends in South West France for they offer me a place to stay and ask nothing of me but my friendship. I am also participating in a ‘Cooperative Language Learning Institution’ where I am both an instructor and student (ok it’s just me talking and drinking beers, surfing and skating with my French friends who are trying to learn English while I learn French but I thought I’d give it a fancy name). My French has been improving and I can now participate in conversations in French, although sometimes I just have to zone out in fear my brain will short circuit and explode.

While in Biarritz, I received a final payment for website work I have done for US companies, which was enough to pay off my monthly bills from abroad. With no solid internet access and no new jobs lined up, I decided to sell my soul to the devil on Ebay for $1700, and have now stopped stressing out due to a bordering on negative bank balance. Thank god for the devil. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say if I live to be 60 I better have a good way to make money, or I’ll be a crochety old man with a bucket and no teeth asking you for some coinage on your way home from work, 'spare any cutters me brotha.'

I spent the last 5 days of my stay in Biarritz not freaking out about money for the first time in 6 weeks, and finally decided to enjoy myself. I went to Hossegor to surf, and the waves were barreling and a good size, but there was a motocross event on the beach, and the 320 riders raced down the shoreline en route to the course, and access to the waves was forbidden.

Motocross racers shutting down perfect waves. grrrrrrrrr!!
So I shot the competition and then headed a few miles south to Capbreton which also has good waves with WWII bunkers strewn across the beach. I surfed with no booties and no leash (they were stolen from the hostel in Biarritz where I had left them), but I managed not to fall and lose my board the whole session (except twice in the white wash when it slipped out of my hands), and caught some fun waves, and watched some grommet get a 4 second tube ride. Little shit. I surfed another session at Cavalier’s, probably the best spot in the Anglet/Biarritz area, but it was a bit too small, with a few air drops on the larger creeper sets from the horizon. The rest of the time the waves went flat, but we still managed to have a good time skating in Geitery, on the Basque coast, in a fun 6 foot bowl, and also in Tarnos, at a cement mini ramp with a bowled side and a hip on the other. There are also two bowls that aren’t too much fun, and you can easily get stuck doing laps. I decided to have a contest with my friend, and we did 18 laps before he jumped out from dizziness and fatigue, and I jumped off 1 lap later, totally exhausted. Today I am more than soar, I packed my bags, and made it on Ryan Air (1 Euro to London + taxes), without the excess baggage fee (although I COULD have been charged 48 euros even after I fully downsized my bag). I am lucky sometimes, othertimes, unlucky. But never inbetween. I am now enjoying the last of my bloody mary (6.50 euros, but they gave it to me for 6 because that’s all I had), and my computer is out of batteries, and we are about to land, and this whole flight I summarized my last 6 weeks. I arrive in London, and then a bus to the underground, and then I go to Brixton, where my friend Scott lives, for a week of hi-speed internet so I can find some work via the internet via in one of 50 cities around the world. We will skate the Playstation/Bay 66 park tomorrow and then next week, I am going back to Berlin for 1 week (2 pounds ROUNDTRIP + taxes). Once you get to Europe, if you bags aren’t too heavy, and you have a flexible schedule, it is really really cheap to fly around. It’s totally amazing, and part of the reason I am trying to stay here as long as possible. It costs me 2 pounds plus taxes to go to Berlin. From San Francisco, round trip, it’s probably 300 times as much money. Tu comprende? A la prochaine fois. Don't forget to leave a comment sometimes so I know someone even reads this babble. – Jonny Haywire

Photos with me in them were taken by Scott's girlfriend: "Thumper Stone"