Ficklish Blog

Friday, September 29, 2006

For Steve

A mate of mine is going through a rough time at the moment, and on the weekend he came too close to doing something really freaking stupid.

I want to write and tell you about him. He's awesome. Apologies for length and rennet content.


We hurtle through Valencia in his rickety old van, chain smoking out the windows, our elbows baking red in the sun. He drums constantly on the steering wheel, in perfect time with the tinny rock seeping from the cracked plastic radio.

He is constantly distracted by his keen appreciation of natural beauty (especially in bikinis near the beach). He has been known to follow natural beauty for several blocks out of his way – he’s often late, that's always why.

I glance in the back, it's a veritable Tardis of useful crap. There’s nothing he hasn’t got in there. And I know, because I’ve asked for everything I can think of. I decide to try one last time:

“Steve, I need a bale of fencing wire, two onions and a clown makeup kit.”

He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Two out of three, I reckon."

"The clown makeup?"

"The onions".


We’re on our way to the airport, it’s time for me to go.


I met Steve mere moments after arriving at my hostel in Valencia. Seeing him triggered a strange memory: when we were in primary school, we were asked to draw 'a typical Australian'. My friend Rachel, who is much smarter than I am, drew a woman in a business suit. I drew Steve, which was very odd, for two reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t going to meet him for another 20 years. Secondly, he’s from Newcastle.

[That’s home of the Brown Ale, not home of the silverchair, just to be clear.]

His hair is blond and long, his skin tanned and leathery from decades in the sun. Surf shirts and ripped jeans and sunglasses with neon-blue mirrors. Thick silver earrings hang in a row from each ear; his neck, wrists and ankles are heavy with shell jewellery and rope bracelets plaited in such a way that they have no beginning and no end.

How do you go from being a Newcastle boy to out-ockering the lot of us? You leave home at 16 and flee to the dockyards, where you sweet-talk your way onto a boat and work your passage across to New Zealand (it occurs to me that the phrase 'work your passage' is very multilayered). You spend the next 20 years in NZ and Oz, go everywhere, do everything. You become that guy.

That first night I arrived he welcomed me with open arms and bawdy jokes. I steeled myself, responding to the cliche, preparing to be bored, yet again, by the stereotype of my countrymen.

Except I couldn’t have been more wrong. He cracked my shit up right away.


We’ve got plenty of time, so we stop for a moment to pick up some stuff he needs for the job he’s doing later at the hostel. We run into Ben, this young guy Steve met last week. Ben's a Northerner, like Steve, recently arrived and wanting to set up his own business. Steve has driven him round, got flyers printed, taken Ben to meet his mate at the job centre who will give him a few leads. Ben's accent makes me laugh, and I like him even more for the genuine, unaffected gratitude on his face as he shakes Steve’s hand.

I’ve never met anyone with a bigger heart, a greater willingness to reach out and help others. He’s all bluster and bravado on the surface, but the soft streak is an inch deep and a mile wide.

He is so free of bullshit that when you talk things through with him everything is far simpler than you’d worried it into being. He talked me down from the edge of a meltdown after knowing me for two days. He convinced me to wear a toga on the streets when I was sickly, shaky-desperate for coffee and all my clothes were in the wash. He convulsed with laughter as we walked down the street, but stopped me and solicitously adjusted it to protect what was left of my dignity before we went in.

As we get back in the van, Ben asks ‘so what did you lot get up to last night then?’. I look over at Steve and there’s no sign on his face of the hangover that I know for a fact must be kicking his arse.


Last night was just like many others we’ve spent here – a pattern established as soon as I arrived and repeated over a blurry month of endless fun.

Steve cooked us dinner early – while Ville’s the chef, Steve has a signature dish that is inevitably a hodgepodge taste sensation known as 'Rolf', as in 'can you guess what it is yet?'

As had become our custom, we then adjourn upstairs to take our reserved places in the centre of the lounge, in two zebra-skin wing chairs that have become known as ‘the thrones’. Once settled, we chain smoke, and drink the deliciously light sixty-cent local red we’ve discovered, enthusiastically greeting newcomers and bidding them join our circle. Together with Ville, our comrade-in-arms, we are a three-person comedy act, ruling the conversation and keeping everyone in fits of delighted laughter.

There’s a cheeky glint in Steve’s eyes as if he’s lit from within by mischief, his laugh is one part filthy snigger, four parts delighted shout. When I ambush him with an excellent punchline he laughs with his whole body, hunched and wheezing in a disturbingly Muttley-esque fashion.

His stories are remarkable, and there’s a never-ending supply. We had a challenge amongst ourselves to bring up random topics to see what he would come up with. He never disappointed. The ones I remember best involved mass destruction: drowning his ute off Stradbroke; totalling a mint 1970 BMW moments after buying it cheap off a clueless old lady; that time an employee of his left the crane arm of the truck extended and took out 17 telegraph poles before he noticed; getting in with a mad crew as a kid in Newcastle, driving a truck through the doors of the local M&S to kick off a looting spree.

At first, I tried to match him, but soon I realised the folly of any such attempt. No matter how crazy my story, he can always top it. I told him about the time I interviewed the Tea Party, he told me about the time he drummed for Green Day onstage at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Maybe I need some crazier stories, maybe he's just had a remarkable life. Probably both.

And I’ve only ever heard him repeat a story once. I didn't even care, because it was really freaking good one (involving a justifiably enraged dolphin).

As it gets later, Valencia awakens and we head out to greet the night. At our favourite club, our new mate John is DJing, and he takes all our requests. Steve asks for Pearl Jam for me, because it cracks him up to watch me lose it like a teenager. I ask for the Cult for him, ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, the song he’s always whistling as he wanders about the world, as I want to see him air drum as he bounces up and down.

He dances like a pogoing dervish, with a flailing, manic energy that is highly contagious. I'm still carrying a leg injury sustained on one such night.

He offers me his jacket at one point in the evening and I decline, too warm from the dancing to want fleece anywhere near me. It won’t until I get home later that night that I realise I’ve torn my jeans all the way up the arse, and he was merely trying to make my wildly abandoned dancing a little less of a spectacle.

He warns me, again, against the Agua de Valencia.

“That shit will fuck you up.”

I ignore him and drink it anyway, and he’s there to wander along beside me as I stumble home.


He and Ville are the reason I’ve stayed so long. Driving to the airport, I can’t actually believe that I’m leaving. Together the three of us have come up with a dozen crazy plans for how we’ll all stay, how we’ll make it work.

As he drops me off outside the terminal, I remember the day that we went to check out a catamaran, Steve full of the idea of starting a charter day out for backpackers. He’ll be the Skipper, he wants me to be the Cruise Director.

"You'd be great, jLo!"

I smile to myself, other plans in mind. But his enthusiasm is infectious; and with Steve, it seems possible.


I’m very glad to know you, my friend. You’re one of the reasons I’m here.

Let me say this as clearly as I can: I know it’s there. You know I know it’s there. You can’t fool us. You won’t let us help you, so know this: you are loved.

Stick around dude. I mean it. Don’t scare me like that. I want more stories.

And as for the rest of you? I love you very much and miss you every day.

Just so you know.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I am reaping the consequences of my lifestyle this week, folks, in the shape of a nasty illness that has rendered me bed-bound for two days. I haven’t felt this bad in a really long time. I’m a contractor, dammit, I can’t afford to be sick! Am very cranky, both at the illness itself and the fact that (a) I never got off my arse long enough to register with an NHS doctor, so my only options are insanely expensive private drop-in clinics and (b) I am so disorganised that my travel insurance expired last week. Grr. I am officially an idiot. Look after your health, kids!

As some of you are aware, a good friend of mine, Mr F (I would make up a better pseudonym, but my brain is too fuzzed), moved to London last week. His welcome weekend coincided with the birthday of another friend I can’t think of a good pseudonym for right now, and the ensuing festivities comprised a very unhealthy few days.

It was really, really fun, but holy hell I’m paying for it now.

Welcome to town, Mr F, you live in London, hooray! I’m really glad you’re here. I look forward to many activities of a very clean-living variety, with the high teas and museums and picnics and whatnot. Certainly not crazy parties that last until I stagger home to shower and change on Monday morning before heading to work. Not at all.

Am off to have another mug of Rooibos with honey and lemon. That’ll show you, angry red tonsils!

I hope you are all well.

Friday, September 15, 2006


The dog ate my blog posts.

Actually, that’s not true – I have, in fact, written a couple of entries, but they’re not yet good enough to post.

“What’s that”, I hear you exclaim in surprise. “She actually cares about quality? I would never have guessed.”

Fair point. Most of the blather on here (this included) is posted when the guilt just won’t let me go another day without updating. I know how my people need me. Sooner or later I’ll knock the other stories into shape.

Anyway. This post is a belated commemoration. Last weekend (9 September) marked a whole six months since I departed the fair shores of my homeland. I should, really, compose a very meaningful post about, you know, my journey and all the things I’ve learned thus far. Whether I woke up alone and all my wounds were clean, etc (that was for you, Kloss. If you can’t work it out you are dead to me).

But no! Instead, I choose to mark this milestone with a sweet but faintly disturbing story that I believe illustrates all I need to say about my travels thus far.

(Or perhaps I just think it’s funny. You decide).

Picture it: London, 2006. A very hungover jLo wanders slowly along Camden High Street. It’s late Saturday morning, but our heroine is still on her way home from the night before. She is quite ill, the rigours of the previous evening’s debauchery (including, very ill-advisedly, numerous rounds of cocktails) inscribed across her pale, clammy face. She is not looking her best: her hair is so frizzy it frames her skull in a pathetic whitegirl 'fro (seriously you guys: since when is my hair super-curly? Since London is when. It’s too weird). She smells pretty bad, she is limping along in stupid boots.

She lumbers slowly to the bus stop and comes to a halt, lighting a cigarette that her raw scratchy throat really doesn’t need. An elderly Italian gentleman approaches her.

EIG: You are very beautiful.

jLo (smiling wanly through the pain, wondering yet again why she is such a magnet for the crazy): Thanks.

EIG: Are you Italian?

jLo: No, no I am not.

EIG: Oh. (a pause). Do you have a boyfriend?

jLo: No, I don’t.

EIG: That is very surprising.

jLo: Yes, I find it quite surprising myself. (Lie #1)

The EIG does not respond, he turns around and starts to scrabble around with something jLo can’t quite see. Oh well, she thinks. That was that.

But she was wrong.

The EIG turned back, a scrap of paper in his hand. He thrusts it towards her.

EIG: Here. This is my phone number. I am Alfonso.

jLo: Thanks, Alfonso.

Alfonso: What is your number?

jLo: Oh, I don’t have a phone. (Lie #2)

Alfonso: Okay. You call me. We will be friends.

(Dramatic pause)

Alfonso: And then one day? I shall make you my wife.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Elderly Woman Behind A Computer Screen in a Small Bedroom

I am officially old.

I had a fantastic time, don’t get me wrong. It was an excellent weekend. The binbag-train-platform memories have been well and truly banished. It ROCKED.

However, I am now suffering.

It has taken me all week to recover, and I’m not there yet. In addition to exhaustion, a hangover, digestive issues caused by excessively bad festival food and a nasty virus of some kind, I can barely freaking walk. A random drunken-dancing-related-injury (DDRI) acquired in Spain has flared up again and now I’m hobbling around the house moaning like an English person. It’s a bit sad when a weekend of ROCK requires a follow-up physiotherapist appointment.


But no! I was mostly very well-behaved. Lots of standing and nodding, some clapping, a not-excessive amount of dancing about in glee. You know, your usual. It just takes more of a toll these days than it did before.

It was a very good time. I joined two of my good mates from Exeter days, DJDJK and Keith and a posse of their excellent friends and we had ourselves a blast.

The Conditions

As many of you know, I am not the world’s greatest camper. Nor do I even particularly enjoy the outdoors, especially when sharing said outdoors with many tens of thousands of drunken teenagers (OLD!). I therefore owe a great debt for my overall enjoyment of the weekend to the friends of DJDJK, seasoned veterans of the camping festival circuit who have their setup refined to a degree of luxury that made me weep with joy. Camp Blah, named thusly for reasons never actually explained, consisted of three tents (two of which were so big we each had our own wing to sleep in), a gazebo, an eyecatching flag (very useful when trying to navigate amongst acres and acres of brightly-coloured canvas) and – this was the best part – outstandingly comfortable camping chairs for everyone. It didn’t rain much, but when it did we dragged our armchairs inside the most giant of the tents and sat in comfort, listening contentedly to the plaintive cries of soggy anguish outside.

Alan, Chief Camp Stuff Dude, had even thought to organise for a set of walkie-talkies so that we could all stay in touch when meandering around the site and organise rendesvouses throughout each day. We had callsigns and everything, which was the awesome. They didn’t work brilliantly inside the arena, but did provide hours of fun late each evening, shouting random comments into the ether on various channels to see whom we could bewilder.

Safe and comfortable in our cosy little world, I only had to venture out into the rest of the campsite each evening to laugh at the antics of the kiddies (OLD!) playing chicken in shopping trolleys, wandering in drunken, chanting mobs and setting things alight…

… and to use the facilities, the thought of which make me shudder even now, days later. Imagine thousands of revellers, drinking themselves into stuporous sickness and eating truckloads of processed takeaway food all day, camping in the one place for a long weekend. Imagine a set of long-drop pit toilets. Oh god, the horror. As one of my Camp Blah fellows put it, “the smell just peels the skin right off your face.” The sooner I can block that particular memory, the better.

The Crowd

For all my moaning about the youngsters (OLD!), in fact they didn’t bug me too much throughout the weekend. Each day we would venture into the main arena from camp and wander from paddock to tent watching bands. In between, I would indulge in the endlessly pleasurable freakwatching that is one of my favourite aspects of mass public gatherings. Boys in tutus, girls in head-to-toe PVC despite the heat, makeup and hairdos and slogans and so much EFFORT - the uniforms of each social group clearly defining identity and creed.

I struck up conversations with a few of them. My favourite was the boy who couldn’t have been any older than fourteen, waiting patiently at the bar with a tenner in his hand. He gave his order, then turned to me and said, “Wow. Beers are expensive.”

I nodded my agreement.

“These are the first ones we’ve paid for all day, though,” he continued proudly.

“That’s some nice work,” I replied. There was a friendly pause.

“We’re honest people, though, really!” he insisted.

“Oh, I’m sure of it,” I replied. Another friendly pause, during which I looked down at his bare arm and smiled. “Where’s your wristband?”

Without missing a beat, he shot back: “Oh, SHIT! It must have fallen off when I was climbing the fence!”

In spite of such amusing encounters, crowd behaviour at concerts inevitably provides plenty of irritation. The pushing and shoving, the smug sense of entitlement of the girl sitting on her boyfriend’s shoulders, blocking everyone else’s view. The fact that everyone is so freaking TALL and they insist on standing right in front of me.

English people apparently also seem to think it is particularly hilarious to hoik their plastic cups still full of perfectly good beer as far as they can into the crowd in front of them. I sat for a while in the main paddock and watched the drinks fly from one side of the crowd to the other. No wonder they don’t serve decent beer at festivals, if no-one is actually bothering to drink it.

Most bewildering of all: the first set on the first day began at 12:05pm. The first clap-along? 12:11pm. Every single set, the whole weekend, there was the clap-along – at least once, more often five or six times. No matter how thrashy or hardcore the band, or how seriously the fans seem to take themselves, they love the fucking clap-along. It never fails to make me feel like I’ve stumbled into a cult.

The Music

Thankfully, the music made it all worthwhile. I saw many, many bands, most of whom I’d never heard of before (OLD!). I always swore I’d never lose touch – but it appears that has already happened when I wasn’t watching (you’ve changed, man). It’s a wee bit depressing.

However, I had great fun wandering from set to set, soaking up the new and exciting, revelling in that raw, tingling buzz you only get from live music loud.

I have noted that when it comes to band names, exclamation marks are in fashion: Panic! at the Disco, You Say Party! We Say Die!, ¡Forward Russia!, Captain Everything!, Against Me!. Conversations about which band to see next were unusually! animated!

Rather than review each set, I present the following non-exhaustive list:

- Bands my friend DJDJK recommended who I quite enjoyed: Giant Drag, The Metric.

- Bands who were absolutely crazy and cracked my shit up: Spank Rock, ¡Forward Russia!

- Bands who gave me a warm patriotic glow, especially while watching a sea of fists punch high into the air (ROCK!): Wolfmother

- Bands who were so much fun I couldn’t quite believe my ears: Kaiser Chiefs, The Automatic.

- Bands I had been eagerly anticipating who did not fail to impress: Primal Scream, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Broken Social Scene

- Bands I went to see because I thought I should and who were okay but not particularly memorable: Arctic Monkeys

- Bands I saw by accident and who confirmed my lack of interest in them: The Streets

- Bands I saw by accident and whose album I shall purchase this week: The Spinto Band

- Bands I saw years ago in our tiny university bar in Exeter who have become an astonishingly colossal live act: Muse

- Long-beloved bands who rocked my world anew and confirmed that the world is All About jLo by including my all-time favourite of their songs in their setlist: Belle and Sebastian (Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie), Pearl Jam (Yellow Ledbetter).

Aside from the (mighty) Pearl Jams, I think Muse will probably be my most lasting memory of the festival. It was, quite simply, a thrilling and overpowering show. I had intended to watch a song or two for old times’ sake and head off to watch Nouvelle Vague, but I couldn’t tear myself away. They were remarkable.

The End

On the last afternoon, I hit my festival wall and just couldn’t face another band. I skipped Placebo (which I know will horrify Adam Z even more than my admission in the last post that I missed Pulp last time, sorry dude!) and retired to Camp Blah to revive for a while and renew my acquaintance with Comrade Vodka. My new friend Julia and I managed to beat Comrade Vodka thoroughly about the head while solving the many problems of the world, with the result that by the time we retired back to the arena for the Pearl Jams we (well, I) was nicely toasted.

I then proceeded to cavort with abandon, shouting with delight and singing very loudly, much to the amusement of the teenaged onlookers around me.

After the spontaneous combustion of a climax recorded elsewhere, I celebrated my successful texting of the word ‘spontaneous’ while drunken by behaving very poorly back at Camp Blah, irritating (possibly even offending) as many people as possible for several hours before being kindly pointed in the direction of the South Wing and my waiting sleeping bag. Covering myself in glory, yet again.

And thus, I learned that despite appearances to the contrary, apparently when it comes to certain behaviour patterns, I’m not yet old enough.