WALES (CYMRU)

Had another big interview at Bristol passport control. It seems that UK border control staff can’t fathom that someone could get 5 weeks of leave all at once. Plus they must suspect all Australians just want a UK job and then we’ll stay forever. After a few minutes I almost said, “Look, my dad was born here — I could get a UK passport no probs.” But thankfully I kept my mouth shut.

Another big wait for a hire car and it turned out to be a month-old Seat Leon. Great car — except the sat-nav was flaky. (Kept crashing). The guy at Europcar tried to get me to upgrade to an auto for a mere 50 pounds extra a day. “Um. No thanks,” I said. It was such a ridiculous suggestion I almost lol’d.

Next we were slugging it out with the serious traffic that is omnipresent in the UK. It took us an incredible amount of time to get over to Wales. We crossed this massive bridge — possibly the longest bridge I have ever been on. There was a toll at the end — but apparently it is only a one way toll. We made it to the hotel was in the Cardiff bay area.

IMG_1263.JPG

IMG_1266.JPG

TOBY

So the reason for our trip to Cardiff was to meet my cousin Toby for the very first time. We are actually half-cousins — my grandmother had a child (Pam) when she was a teenager and Pam was secretly adopted out. And I say it was a “secret” because my grandmother never mentioned it to us. Grandma got married, had three children (my dad being one of them) and then immigrated to Australia.

Pam managed to locate my grandmother when I was about 10 years old and it was a big commotion. It was like suddenly my dad had another sister and I had this big branch of family in the UK — including a cousin only a year younger than me (Zoe) and another cousin just a baby (that was Toby). It was almost a scandal because my grandma is such a ridiculously uptight and authoritarian. She seemed affronted by all this information and behaved appallingly.

But during all that drama Zoe and I exchanged a few letters and then again as adults — but we only met for the first time on my very first trip to the UK in 2007. But by that time Toby had grown up and was living in Birmingham so I didn’t get to meet him. Later during the hey-day of Facebook Toby and I bonded over music and it was just a given that I would track him down this trip.

IMG_1316.JPG

By this time he was married to Emma.

So we arranged to meet Toby at a multi-story pub/restaurant called Mt Stuart and that was awesome. Emma came a bit later as she was still working. (ASIDE: Emma was already a celebrity to me because she knows the amazing Cate Le Bon personally.) We all had a great time and Emma and Toby announced one of them was “preggaz”. I am pretty sure they used that exact term/phrasing. Totally!

The next day we went over to Toby and Emma’s place and then drove up to the Brecon Beacons for a hike. It was so fucking beautiful and because the landscape was so devoid of trees — there were impressive views almost 100% of the time. The UK is a pretty flat place — especially at this latitude — so it was incredibly refreshing to see so much landscape in all directions. I think the term”rolling hills” was coined up here.

Later we went to central Cardiff where the Roald Dahl festival was going off. There were giant peaches, big chairs, snow-sledding, frogs, fantastic foxes etc. I was such a big fan of Roald as a kid, and am so glad kids still see how amazing he is/was. He was so irreverent. My favourite book was Danny the Champion of the World. But there didn’t seem to be any monuments to that.

Then we had food and beer at this food stall section in the park. Then we were joined by Toby and Emma’s amazing friend Lowri — which is “Laura” in Welsh. Moved on to a quaint pub, then a small bar where we got to see the fireworks. Brilliant day!

IMG_1363.JPG

PHOTOS OF BRECON BEACONS

IMG_1287.JPG

IMG_1291.JPG

IMG_1293.JPG

IMG_1294.JPG

IMG_1296.JPGIMG_1298.JPG

IMG_1300.JPG

IMG_1303.JPG

IMG_1311.JPG

IMG_1298.JPG

OTHER BITS: in dot-point:

• Roald Dahl was born here.
• There is a Dr Who museum.
• The road signs are in English and Welsh
• People get dressed up in costume (hen’s nights etc) and climb the Brecons
• There was a massive, but very polite, queue just to get a photo at the summit marker (see below)
• There were a bunch of military doing training up there. Guns, backpacks, camo, the works. As one of them ran by us he joked, “We’re looking for a lost sheep.” Everyone LOL’d.

BONUS PICS

IMG_1322.JPG

IMG_1324.JPG

IMG_1269.JPG

IMG_1272.JPG

IMG_1328.JPG

IMG_1331.JPG

IMG_1333.JPG

IMG_1340.JPG

IMG_1353.JPG

IMG_1332.JPG

My 10 favourite books

I am not very smart but bizarrely I do OK at trivia nights. I have a few books in my book case but half of them have a pathetic dusty, sagging bookmark halfway through them like a beacon to where I gave up and to what a deadshit I am.

I remember being at a dinner party once and everyone was talking about their favourite books and I was just lost. I had hardly heard about many of them let alone read any. And when it came time for me to tell everyone my favourite book I defiantly said, “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” and you could have heard a pin drop. They didn’t even think I was making a joke — the vibe was how someone might react to someone announcing they needed an urgent operation. It was like, “Aw. There, there. You’ll be alright.”

So my favourite book is indeed:

Image

#1 The Secret DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE aged 13 3/4 — by Sue Townsend [1982]

Me and Adrian are tight. I was only a tiny bit younger than Adrian Albert Mole when this series started. And it was almost like a ‘secret book’ in the school yard because it was a bit controversial, had a bunch of grown up themes that made fuddy-duddies cringe and only now I realise it was actually a very clever satire — perhaps even one of the 80s most biting political satires of the Thatcher years — just masquerading as a kid’s book. It wasn’t in the school library (but as far as I know not exactly banned) and none of my friends had a copy so I had to wait until 1985 to get it, in a perpetual state of almost peeing my pants in anticipation. And it was on a visit to my mum in Sydney and I remember it took a bit of haranguing before she caved. And all these years later the scene is like yesterday — it was at a bookshop in Balmain and that day my life changed. I have thus grown up with Adrian and I loved each and everyone of the books in his life’s adventures.

#2 Danny The Champion of the World — by Roald Dahl [1975]

Image

I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl. But this book was his darkest, his most serious I think. It was about a single parent (with a secret) raising a boy in tough economic circumstances. Basically it was a life that very much reflected mine. It was just me and my dad in those days. When the SEQEB strikes meant we had sporadic power for weeks dad would take me out into the dark, empty, powerless street and we would lie on our backs in that electrical-void. There on the footpath flat on our backs we would look up at the stars and enjoy the heavens in their sudden potency without any local light to spoil the view. And dad would point at planets and constellations and tell me mind-blowing stories of the universe probably based on what he had seen on the (still) phenomenal Cosmos series by Carl Sagan.

#3 The Beatles — Hunter Davies [1968]

Image

I almost love the story of the Beatles more than I love their music.

And so I have read countless Beatles biographies. But this one was the first I ever read and the one that started it all. To be honest I enjoyed “Shout!” By Philip Norman and “The Love You Make” by Peter Brown a tiny bit better — but this book is the pillar that all Beatles bios rest against and need to subtly acknowledge. It is the ONLY official bio and as a “quasi-historian” (ie half of my shitty BA is in History) — it almost equates to a primary source. The original edition I read was my mum’s, but year’s later I bought this edition which has a 100 page preface that explains all of Hunter’s trials in documenting this “official” history — all the stuff he had to cut our and Mimi’s interference which kinda turns all that propoganda into a real story.

Image

#4 The Seance — John Harwood [2008]

Image

In the days before online newspapers, I first heard of John Harwood (who hails from my spiritual homeland of Tasmania), in Spectrum in Saturday’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. I was that keen on the SMH I used to reserve a copy of every Saturday’s edition at my local newsagent because they only ever ordered maybe 5 copies and I had turned up so many times to find all their copies sold. So in the book reviews I saw a review of his first book — “The Ghost Writer” which I dutifully bought and fucking loved! And so when John released a new book I was all over it. And it was at least 15 times better than his first novel, but just as scary and a beautiful mindfuck like the first one. Harwood is a master of that Shakespearean trick — stories within stories. But these novels just put that literary device on speed — and in such an accessible and inventive way. Gripping!

#5 Unreliable Memoirs — Clive James [1980]

Image

Clive is my favourite writer. He taught me everything I now practice. His prose was simple, accessible, in plain English and he strove to make every sentence highly intelligible and almost like you could pluck it out of one of his books and read it without any of the book’s context all around it — and it would still be complete and funny and cool. I think the key word here is “accessible”. That’s how I try to “write”. I don’t want anyone scratching their heads let alone having to re-read sentences or paragraphs or chapters in an effort to connect with the text. Plus I don’t want to take anything too seriously. Clive is a deadshit like me. We both use our weaknesses as strengths and see life as heavy enough without a bunch of deadshits further bringing everything down. The other thing that Clive taught me was that art of story-telling. The secrets are all in this book. He even fucks with your brain a bit too by saying these stories are “mostly” true, but cause it’s his story — he gets to tell it the way he wants to tell it.

I actually met Clive once! For that story — see below.

#6 The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes — Scott Frost [1991]

Image

This is a book I read as the most snotty-nosed impressionable introspective teenager you could imagine — and it was essentially the diary of my absolute hero. And I spent my entire youth looking for heroes. Maybe that was cause all the adults in my life were a bit too human and I was such a dreamer and being in my specific circumstances — I grew up fast. But that didn’t mean I had given up on humanity. I looked for people to aspire to be. And Dale Cooper was like the most perfect, most amazing, most eclectic and most complex hero ever. And this book, written by the son (Scott Frost) of Mark Frost — co-creator of Twin Peaks — was just so funny and such a exposition of growing up. It was like Adrian Mole — if Adrian had been cool but not tragic.

And because I leant this book to Timmy so many years ago and that loan (and the book) has been forgotten to history — above is the companion novel by Jennifer Lynch — David’s daughter.

#7 Unfit for life, a handbook — by Dave O’Neil [2000]

Image

I know this book is meant to be all about the gags — but it’s more than that. It’s so simple and honest and has a narrative. It begins, it has a middle and it has an end. It’s that logic, and the idea that such a deadshit (just like me and this shitty blog) could give advice about life. I bought it in the “bargain bin” at the Bookworld at Mt Ommaney shops in 2000 and seemed to have been chucked in there straight after it was released. It cost about $2 and that is by no means a reflection of this book’s value — but was such a big part of the book’s charm. Dave is a “quiet” comedian, a considered one — the one that makes the best joke after everyone else has had a shitty impulse go at the material. I would love to give him a rock n roll handshake one day.

#8 The Lord of The Rings — JRR Tolkein [1954]

Image

Yeah — enough has been said about this, but I will say this: I read it like everyone else. On the first reading when I got towards the end I was compelled to keep reading so I had the book open underneath my desk in a maths class and eventually this got discovered and I was in enormous trouble. Getting in enormous trouble for reading a book might just be considered surreal these days.

#9 120 Walks in Tasmania — Tyrone Thomas [2001]

Image

So you have gathered this is not exactly a list of books that would win any literary prizes. In fact — the best books are the humble ones I reckon. I thought about putting The Name of the Rose down — by Umberto Eco — which is about the only really cerebral, potentially award-winning novel I have actually enjoyed — but instead you get the honest truth. Even if that makes me look entirely pedestrian.

So this book is by bushwalking mapper and trail reviewer, Tyrone T Thomas, who is such a dude. When I was into bushwalking — he was like the Jesus of that scene. And he slyly imparted a bit of his soul on every one of his very clinical descriptions of the walks he covered. At the time he was aspirational. I got into all those Krakauer books et al as a result.

#10 Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors — Piers Paul Read [1974]

Image

I picked this book up quite innocently at a St Vinnies on a Saturday and then read it cover-to-cover that following Ekka Holiday Wednesday. I just couldn’t put it down. I barely took a break to breathe. It was so fantastic. Such a window to the soul of what humanity means under ultimate survival conditions. And just so you know – I would effortlessly eat my best friend to survive (them being dead already of course) — and would hope he/she ate me too should that be necessary. There is so, so much else to this story apart from the cannibalism too. And if you just read it for that reason you will be disappointed.

HONOURABLE MENTION:

Good Murder — Robert Gott [2004]

Another very simple murder mystery with a deadshit hero and set in a tiny Queensland town. This is the third of this very book I have bought and owned. I gave away one, lost one in a GF divorce and then saw this in a bookstore on special and need to finally and absolutely own it again. And so I will own this book for ever. No one is taking this bad-boy off me. Just try and borrow it. No. Actually don’t try cause I love this book so much that I just might lend it to you so you can love it too. So yeah — don’t ask to borrow it cause I will probs say yes. UGH!

• So I was walking up Albert Street on my way to get my habitual lunchtime sushi lunch and there HE was— just wandering down the street a bit like he was lost. It took me a few seconds to register. He was almost camouflaged in very easy-wearing black slacks and a black button-up shirt. Not very rock star. In that nano-second I also noticed he was carrying two very serious-looking books. Bound books — not paper backs.

I stood there for a second gazing at his form down the road as he retreated into the distance and wondered what I was going to do. I took a second or two convincing myself it was in fact HIM. As I stood there in my dumbstruck daze I finally decided I had to at least say “hello”. So I bounded down the road and easily caught up mostly because he was naturally that stranger in town — searching for something. But eventually he headed for BORDERS and just through the doors I caught up with him and called out.

For the few seconds previously I had wondered how to address him. He was almost a deity after all and so I remembered Dee telling me how she had met Michael Palin and had decided to address him as “Mr Palin” and he had been quite chuffed.

So in that split second I decided to say call out, “Mr James!” He continued for a second, then stumbled and turned around.

“Um, Hi, I am a big fan,” I said “I just wanna say ‘hello'”

And then I saw him shaking. It was like he had Parkinson’s disease. He was literally shuddering.

He paused (like he was wary to shake my hand) and mumbled something about some “condition” he had. He said the name of it but in that moment his words were unrecognisable and oblivious to me in my sheer wonder at being right there.

So then he shook my hand and then promptly “shook off”. Literally. It was a very brief affair. No chance of teaching him any rock n roll handshakes — he was gone. Meanwhile I felt like a groupie who had suddenly acquired a communicable disease.

I know you are supposed to never wash the hand of some superstar you have just shook hands with. But I am about 10% sure he was warning me about some skin condition he ha d when he mumbled that comment to me. So I went back to the office and washed the shit out of my hand. TRUE STORY.