Saturday, 11 August 2012

Lost in the Jungle...


So, it’s been quite some time since you last heard from me. Coincidentally my drop off the information stupid highway matches the amount of time I’ve spent travelling on my own, no safety net, cut loose from the bonds of organised fully-paid-up fun and able to basically do what the hell I want, when I wanted to do it.I apologise if this blog is overly long (I know it is, don’t be polite), but there is a lot I wanted to say and not only do I really enjoy writing this for y’all, but ordering it like this helps me clean my mind up a little from its addled and deranged state.

I’m fairly sure (although TIME and SPACE are now a foggier concept than ever before) that I last preached to you about my first few days in Brisbane, nearly six weeks ago. I was lucky to be staying with my wonderful friend of old, Andrew Jolly (thanks for everything bro). We partied some, visited some amazing rain forest, and enjoyed some sunshine. I got inked, visited the Modern Art Gallery and met my old friend Claire, before I knew that the time had come for me to get the hell outta dodge and leg it out into the unknown tracts and wide open spaces of Australia.

To say that I was daunted is an understatement, however I was equally excited and proud to say that I was finally off, completely under my own steam and able to fully embrace the opportunity to prove to myself and a few various others that I am not infact weak willed, self centred or immature. Let me confide that this has been a huge learning curve for me. Not just because I’ve never travelled solo before but because I’ve essentially never had to make my own way through lands and peoples unknown before. In the past I’ve often sensed from people that they feel the need to shelter me or look after me. This is bullshit. Despite what I know to be everyone’s best intensions it would seem that I do have the basic human instincts and common sense to traverse difficult situations, both mentally, emotionally and physically.

The entirety of the hipster community in Melbourne (basically the city’s outright population) said that I should visit Byron Bay up near the east coasts Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise. It sounded pretty cool to me and I had very vague memories of my UK friend Joe Cooksey saying he had lived there whilst travelling. From Brisbane I booked my hostel for three nights only. Now dig, I cannot stress enough how much this one-click moment effected the following six weeks. The Byron Bay website suggested about five or six hostels and my eye was caught by an Ad for The Arts Factory Lodge. Located in sub-tropical swamp and jungle ‘The Arts’ seemed to be in a great location for the main town and having read through reviews seemed to be pretty popular with us happy-go-lucky 20 somethings (that was a reference for any spaced fans out there, if you didn’t catch it) and artsy types too.

I booked three nights in a shared dorm. My plan was to get to Byron, find a roadworthy boat, round up a crew of misfits and cruise up to Cairns and back in the following 3-4 weeks, stopping at as many of the normal east coast backpacker traps as I could on the way. That was the plan…. And so it goes.

So, to start with I missed my bus to Byron. It went without me, but I managed to blag onto the next service and got to Byron just a few hours later than I expected. I was actually the only person on a 54 seater greyhound and I pulled up into the town square with a Kerouacian mask of sheer joy and amazement on my face at about 6:30 at night, stepping down into a sweet, warm evening air and whistling to myself ‘Wheee! yass yass yass! We’re really at the promised land now!’


sunset drummings in Byron Bay
Having started reading Kerouacs seminal ‘On the Road’ just a few days before (for the second time), I found myself slowly becoming ‘Sal Paradise’, my sense of wonder and excitement reaching poetic levels. I honestly felt myself and Sal becoming one. My journey was his, his was mine and I was to meet the rest of the cast in the coming month of ‘digging’ and ‘kicks!’ in the chillest place I’ve ever been.

soul soothing on the left break.
Byron Bay is like something out of a movie. Sort of lost in time and inhabited by hippies and surfers all of whom seem to be so relaxed its unreal, the sun is a big help. Although there were a few days of bad weather, by and by each day was paradise and it is a wonder what a good beach and a bit of vitamin D does for the soul. I got off the bus and within 30 secs had met a blonde curly haired kid called Dane who ‘worked’ (ahem) at the Arts Factory. Tick box number 1. I walked excitedly with Dane to the lodge and checked in. I got shown to my dorm and met English Andy (later nicknamed Andy4 due to the seemingly never ending list of Andies who where also kickin’ it there). We were to become good friends and often mistaken for travelling buddies. He was pretty stoned and not up for a big night out. I was though. I went straight to the Buddha Bar and made my way to the bar. The tropical air, musical vibes and very most beautiful people made my heart swell.

Josh and my trumpet in the Jungle Hut.
I bought a pint and stood heart in throat, fully aware that in many ways the crux of my trip was upon me, the weight of the moment felt tangible, like asking out the girl who would become my wife or leaving Plymouth to travel solo. Now I was truly on my own and about to sink or swim in terms of the next month or so. Those of you who are aware of what my life has been like for the last 4-5 months will know that my confidence has taken a brutal baseball-bat beating and so it was with shaking hands and quivering voice that I turned to the beer garden knowing that I was about to try to make friends with complete strangers. I targeted a table of friendly looking people. “You’re getting me to deal with”, I thought to myself. I sat down and said hello! Would you believe it (of course you would) they turned out to be brilliant and friendly and I straight away made a great connection (that it turns out would last) with a seriously cool cat called Josh from Vancouver (Canadians it turns out are uniformly brilliant people – no joke). We all got smashed and hung out well into the night. It turns out that I can make friends! After drinking hard we made our way to the infamous ‘jungle hut’. A wooden shack right in the middle of the ‘jungle’ (camping ground). I already knew that my trumpet was a good icebreaker and I played all night. Forces-of-Evil 0 – Simon 1.

People really dig something a little different. I guess that although many musicians come through ‘the arts’ not many play an instrument like mine and for that I am thankful. Once again I am labelled ‘Trumpet Guy’ and making friends seemed pretty easy from then on.

The Arts is a very transitory place and therefore people are pretty much as relaxed and as friendly as (presumably) anywhere on earth. Various people told me I belonged there and I humbly felt this too. Free to be whomever I wanted, I was told that I’d move from the ‘Mainland’ (the arts factory slang for the main complex of the lodge) into the ‘jungle’ within days. “I don’t think so” I protested, my plan was to move on after three days. Hmmmm….. Not quite how it went.

I have to admit that things are a little hazy over the six weeks I was at the arts, and so I’m gonna have to switch to a different approach for this blog. Previously I’ve told you what has happened day by day, but despite my best efforts to keep track and maintain my journal I disappeared within days into a black hole of adventure, debauchery and impulsiveness. So far, so good! I think the best way I can regale my tale is to simply recount some stories in roughly chronological order, bringing into the gleaming sunlight the characters I met and some of the stuff wot I got up to. There are almost too many characters to recall, but I’ll try. It was a sheer wonder to be hanging with cool cats from all over the world. It made me realise how alike we all are in a wider sense. Everyone had a story, some I found out, some remained a mystery, but everyone had their part to play as I, Sal Paradise, found my place in the quasi-literary world of my own making in the wyldes of the east coast jungle haven that is Byron Bay.

Me, Cera, Andy4, Kelly and Amy on the way to Nimbin!
One night, jamming in the jungle hut, I met Kelly. A great gal, all flaming red hair and budding guitar skills. We hung out and along with Andy4, the brilliantly sweet Romanian Cera and the self-proclaimed flower-fairy (and new arrival) Amy, we made a trip to the gonest place on earth; Nimbin. What kicks! Thanks go to Mr. Gavin Higgins for suggesting this place to me. Ultimately I’d have found my way there anyhow however. Nimbin is a one street place. A one street place that time forgot. It’s famous for one thing and one thing only. The green stuff. Coppers turn a blind eye and if one where so inclined one could purchase virtually whatever one would want there. Not that I’m inclined of course (ahem), I was merely a witness to the fun and frolics possible if one where to ask the right person the right questions. Not hard to do. We returned home, gunning the car through jungle and mountains in glorious sunshine and blue-sky thoughts, laden with goods and dreaming of sleepy days in our newfound paradise.

The gang

In my first few dizzying days at the Arts factory new friends were radiant and plentiful. I could only sit back and presume that it was like this for everyone. I soon made good connections with an excitable, if transient group. I realised that some of the people I had naturally gravitated towards had been at The Arts for some time. I suddenly had to try to work out who were ‘the lifers’ and who was just passing through. Like your first days at uni, everyone asks “North or South?” (are you travelling up or down the East coast), “how long you been here? How long you got left”, “where are you from?”. You start preparing answers until you realise that it doesn’t matter…..we’re all just getting by…..on our own paths….Whee!!! yass yass yass!!! Dig! Dig! Dig!

Wreckhead Andy. King of the Bush Turkeys
Early on in my stay and in remarkably rough chronological order I met Kurt and Sasha (the providers) from Sydney. We raved it with them good… jumping and digging into the cold starry nights, telling tales by the fire until dawn. Next up came the mysterious Xenia, a brilliantly fun girl, but who confused us outright with her unreal accent, proper queens English, never heard anyfink so posh! Holly, a crazy Lesbian from the US found her way into our gang, and although no one ever knew quite what she was on about we had great fun and adventures regardless! Soon I began to meet the long-term residents at the lodge. ‘Wreckhead Andy’ (later renamed Rock-Andy-Roll) very quickly became one of my favourite travelling finds. A crazy gone 20 year old kid, modelling himself somewhere between Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Sid Vicious, whos reason for existing was to drink, smoke and laugh. I real heart of gold….he’d keep me in ‘ciggies’, goon and laughs for the next six weeks. Oh yeah, Goon! If you don’t know what that it, it’s probably important that you do. Backpackers are poor. Goon is cheap. Four litres of something slightly akin to, though essentially only just resembling wine for $12. It tastes fucking awful, comes in red, white and somewhere in middle, but very good for cheap kicks!

Everyday....seriously.
Sunsets become a real fixture in your day in Byron. Despite me travelling in the middle of Aussie winter the weather is still better and definitely more consistent than the UK and so nearly every day at about 4:30 (mercifully close to 4:20, ahem!) hundreds of surfers, hippies and hipsters would trek to the beach, line the rocks and await the sunset. It’s without doubt the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and so I made the effort whenever I could to see nature at its most kaleidoscopic and jubilant, both in the evening and occasionally the morning too. Goddamn Byron, I miss you so! During the first week I made this bohemian pilgrimage with my new comrade in arms, Josh Manley from Vancouver. What a fucking cool cat! We were to dig each other straight away. After hanging for four days Josh left the Arts to work tree planting in the middle of literally nowhere. We both knew we’d hang out again….and we did, more on that later.

Like I mentioned earlier plenty of people had told me I would move to the jungle and despite my best intentions to move on after three days they were right. Josh left and I decided I loved The Arts and might just stay. I could have rushed about being a tourist but instead I decided to kick it and dig all that The Arts and Byron had to gift me. I gave in and went to reception. I extended my stay by a week and mooched to the jungle. Here I met the brilliantly odd and ever stoned campsite king, Trev. Meet me in five he said. I did and he sorted me a tent, mattress and storage crates. Now I was really in! My first move to becoming a long termer! I should mention a bit about the jungle social and group dynamics. David Attenborough could have done a great job narrating what went on. There was an actual market for real estate. Tents, large and small were constantly changing hands, often for upwards of $150. People moved on and left there ‘set ups’, the largest of which seemed like mansions! Mine wasn’t, but it was home for the next five weeks. I had a good spot too, just next to what was known as ‘Beverly Hills’ as it had the best views of the lake, the site and was on higher ground.

En-mass Jamming! Lee (dean) and Vincent in front.
Once I’d moved to the jungle everything seemed different. The jungle hut was mere metres away and it was here that most of the long termers days were played out. Smoking, drinking and jamming filled our days and time seemed to slide by. Often not much went on, but that seemed just fine. Just digging the sunshine and each other seemed enough and whilst there I couldn’t think of a more relaxed and creative environment to be part of. People always left their mark (the hut was constantly being adorned, redecorated and graffed) and the jungle hut itself beat its heart, marking time with each 4:20 and lock down. An awesome place and pace! I found that the longer I stayed in the jungle and the further out into the wyldes I moved the more cohesive and tight the gang got. We’d all been here longer than the mainlanders and so it was that we clung to each other, trying daily to hold onto the slivering shreds of sanity that we still possessed. I miss the jungle hut family more than I can tell you with these simplistic words that I write now. Pretty soon everyone had heard ‘trumpet guy’ (whether they wanted to or not I suppose) and when I appeared at the mainland I’d always get a few comments…”oh you’re the guy with the trumpet!”, ”yes, yes I am!” I would say. Yeah, Fuck Yeah!

The Arts holds its very own talent night every Tuesday. I played in various capacities every week for five weeks. I jammed with The Arts’ very own songwriter in residence, the wonderfully talented Rich Maule. I smashed out punk songs with Wreckhead Andy and jammed en-mass with entire groups of drummers and guitarists. So much fun! It got to the stage where I’d just take my horn and would end up being asked by nearly every actto join them. I always said yes. Wheee! What kicks!!!! Sal Paradise was on the scene!

the official jungle hut theme. by me.
Kelly, Me, Emily and Shu!
Possibly the best jam I’ve ever had came a few days into my move to the jungle. One night I met possibly the coolest cat I’ve ever seen. Shu, a Japanese drummer seemed to osmose into the jungle one night and played djembe with the most impeccable rhythm and passion I’ve seen. We understood very little of each other’s words, but that didn’t matter, we had our music. We connected deep down into our souls, digging our combined counterpoints and hitting every beat. Later that night I met the wonderful Emily, a young girl with such soul and funk that it made my heart bleed. Shu, Emily and I blew and beat and within minutes I hit upon maybe the best pop hook I’ve ever played. It sounds stupid to say it but that jam became an instant hit to us and in a way defined my stay at The Arts. We coined it ‘the official jungle hut theme’ and jammed it all night. A kind of jumping electro-swing vibe that had everyone singing and dancing. Tash, the ever-lovely hula girl from the UK appeared and danced all night. For the next month people (long termers or not) came up to me asking me to play ‘that tune!’ and often singing it back to me perfectly… oh the joy! (When I left the Arts I wrote the main themes and chords out and left it in the jungle hut for future musicians to jam out to!) The next day after the jam Shu, Emily, Tash and I agreed to meet on the sea front and play. We did, and busked amongst the throngs of hippies and hipsters. We earnt proper dollar too! Awesome! Later that day we missioned it up to the old lighthouse that overlooks the beautiful seven-mile beach at Byron. We saw Whales and Dolphins. Paradise.

It always amazes me how musicians find each other. There will always be masses of guitarist on the road, but it takes a specific kind of mind to hold down a real good jam. Lest I forget I have to mention the supreme talents of Jimmy Harwood from the UK on his trusty 12 string. Another amazing jam happened there! Unforgettable Jimmy, thanks bro! Mitch, a loud and very funny cat from Adelaide turned up to drum and we played a sick jam, Little Ollie and Andy Hill from the UK and Katia (sax chick) from Melbourne also joined in and the gang just grew!

Alright Beard!?
Soon I met a guy who I would have many an adventure with. Jack (later simply Beard). What a guy! A man large of beard, few in words, with impeccable phrasing, and great humour! We started to hang, went drinking, made a million ‘in jokes’ and confided earnestly in each other. Another connection that cannot now be broken. More of Jack later for sure. Through Jack I met the awesome trio of friends Dave, Nicole and Jessie. We ended up closer than hell and I spent much of my final month with these guys. Dave (later simply Chef) is a rude boy from the UK who cooks up a dream. Jessie is an off the hook Aussie, hell bent on partying the world off its hinges and Nicole is a brilliant girl from the UK, also on her first solo trip. Jessie wanted to rap….and actually could. He took a bit of guidance and prompting, but eventually me and J-cat performed five or six times, ending up as ‘J-cat and trumpet’ winning $50 at a local bar, with us exchanging 8’s jammin out to a bouncin crowd. Was so dead proud of him….the boy had flow too!

Nicole, Chef and Jessie-cat!
Me, Becky, Lee (dean), Emily and Kelly.
I’ve not mentioned one of the main players of my time in Byron yet. As I said I’d been becoming steadily more obsessed with Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’. Sal Paradise is nothing without his Dean Moriarty, The holy con man with the shining mind. A week into my trip I met my Dean (Lee, another brilliant Canadian). We connected immediately, due in part to him being remarkably like my friend little Lee from the UK, in stature and temperament. This cat had the sharpest mind I’ve locked horns with in a long time. Inquisitive, detailed, philosophical and mathematically on point. We talked all night, made plans, solved the world and lost our minds together. One particularly hedonistic night we ran around Byron in one hell of a state and fully became Dean and Sal. Digging everything all at once in the sweet evening air and started to understand TIME and IT for the first time. Whee! What kicks man! Yass yass yass!!!! As I read more of the book we understood the world and each other more, until us and Jacks sporadic ramblings became one. Kerouac was writing about us and we were reliant on his mind for our very existence. We talked of girls, tea and philosophy deep into each night until Dean more often than not ended up on the run with some gone little chick somewhere. Old Dean surfed all day and thought deep all night. What a gone cat! We hung out until I left a month later. I have a feeling that I’ll see old Dean on the road again at some point. Maybe we’ll follow Kerouac’s route one day and lose ourselves for reals!

Most easterly point of Oz, in Byron.
yeah, fuck yeah! swimmin' yeah!
As the days rolled by characters swam in and out of focus. The lovely little pixie chick Becky from Perth had us all in pieces. The sweetest little thing we’d ever met, we walked on the beach, talked of philosophy and sci-fi nerdism and passed entire days smoking and singing. Steve and Melody, a tattooed and painfully steezy couple from Florida made us all laugh for weeks. They instigated ‘Crafternoon’ and led workshops in this and that each day. I will always remember Steve for one comment. When we were all about to go to a music festival Steve had hidden some ‘stash’ in specially modified ear stretches and said, “Well, I’ve got ears full of pot and I’m ready to rock”….too true my friend, too true. The stunningly beautiful Candice and her travelling friend Celine were always around, partying and hula-ing. They helped to make the jungle the wonderful place it was. Next the French guys. AAAaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhm what brilliant guys. Vincent and Max, I’ll never forget you guys…. The best jams and ‘situations’ galore…. more of that later for defs. Aaron, my favourite ever next-door neighbour, simply wonderful jamming Pumpkins songs with you my friend. Sarah-Jane, the coolest most REAL punk chick I ever met. Thanks for the lifts and the best jams xxx Oren, you’re soundsystem setups and car park rave instigations were the best, oh and thanks for dropping some insane beats for us all to rave it up to. Felipe (Angel), what a guy, sorry we didn’t get to hang out more and to the other Felipe (BUS TO TOWN!!!!!) you are the most chill guy I’m ever likely to meet. Julian, chess master and chief thinker amongst us, you rocked and last but certainly not least, Diego, your pancakes rocked my world my friend!

And so it went that I lazed day-by-day dropping further and further off the grid. What bliss! I checked my emails only when I needed to do something else, like book a flight or whatever. Everything on the omni-present harbinger of shit, Facebook, seemed irrelevant and useless. My phone was either lost or out of battery most of the time and you know what, it was brilliant. I’ve learnt a lot in the last six weeks (I can’t be 100% sure what however) but one of the things I know is that we, as a race, although we are becoming closer in this ever shrinking world, are becoming way too fucking caught up in the bullshit of social networking. It’s just rubbish. Not real. Fin. As I’ve said in previous blogs, at least on the surface ‘Ignorance is Bliss’. I’ve had a lot to hide from and being almost completely off grid helped me in the middle of my trip by sheltering me from the often-painful reminders that the “internet” continues to serve me up, should I choose to look.

Normally in my blogs I’d tell you about my “feelings”. I’ll do the same right now I think. I’ll say it with my words. Lets get growing….

For the most part I’ve kept my brain occupied with drinking, smoking, travelling, beaching, walking, laughing and playing, but there have been occasions where my insanely slim veneer of sanity has slipped. I had a few really rough days. The nightmares returned. The worst yet! Woke up three mornings running cold, sweating, crying and out of breath. It is beyond me how hateful the images my brain conjures up for me can be. Still on the same themes as ever, however. Fighting the same guy all night and locked in an unwinnable duel to the death. Blood spills and I awake repulsed and disappointed that it was just a dream but thankful that I am out from under my sleep-delerium. Begging the same girl from the bottom of my soul to find a way to take it all back and make it all right and being taunted to tears yet again. Fuck….I’m done with that shit!
My health remains in the balance. I dried right out in Byron, but a month of partying and sleeping in a cold tent (fully clothed, it is winter after all) and my chest is fucked again. Due I think in part to the sheer level of partying that took place at Splendor in the Grass (mud)….more of that later.

Essentially I am none the fucking wiser as to my situation in life. I guess I never thought I would be. Time is a great healer but I am still pretty confused and under the surface mask of a happy traveller I’m still gutted beyond words. I’m even now confused as to what I really want from my life. Who do I want to be and what do I want to do? Christ knows! All I’m aware of is that however much fun all this partying and pretending has been, shit is gonna get real very very soon. All at once I am despairing coming home to the UK and can’t wait. In the words of my good friend Beard, “Come on Son!”.

Some things I’ve realised.

1) In general people don’t give a shit about you. Not in a negative way, I just mean that by-and-by people are too wrapped up in their own shit to have enough spare energy to give much of a shit about your woes. This I now see as a positive.

2) Kerouac is AWESOME.

3) People are mostly kind hearted.

4) Happiness comes from within, only sometimes its fucking hard to find and harder to maintain.

5) At some point in my life I really need to get some fucking self-belief and confidence. A few times over the last six weeks a few people who I held as the coolest cats have said things so kind about me that I’ve blushed. What does one do when ones confidence is so bruised that your not sure for shit what the point is?

6) There is a lot to be said for travelling and partying. Staying young is a good thing.

7) Bush Turkeys are the most annoying and gnarly creatures on this green and blue mess of ours. They became a genuine part of every day life at the lodge and I found myself becoming one with the thieving little fuckers (one day they bust into my tent and stole my freakin bananas!!!). However it is Wreckhead Andy and not my dear self who was to become their king! To ‘bushturkey’ even became a verb, meaning to blag something, i.e can I bush turkey a ciggie please?

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

Wotcha!
About three weeks into my stay at The Arts, I realised that I’d probably be really mad at my self if I got home to the UK without making any effort to travel north up the east coast in Oz. Therefore I made the choice to book a screamer of a visit right up into Queensland. Some good adventuring and tricky situations presented themselves! I travelled early one morning to Brisbane Airport and took a plane to an outback mining town of Mackay. There is literally nothing there. I knew I had to get from there to Airlie Beach (Gateway to the Whitsundays) somehow…. it was another 300K away and a girl at the airport told me she didn’t think there was any way on a Friday evening to do it! Shit! I hitched from the airport into the town and then again to the local bus station which was infact a petrol station. In the fading light and heat I found a late night bus and bumped into yet another amazing gang of Canadians (I’m so going one day!). We discovered we were all going to Airlie Beach at the same time and for the same reason, so we hung out. I booked into the Nomads in Airlie beach later that night then went out on the town with the Canadians. Fun happened. I awoke very groggily at 7 the next morning to go and sign in for my three-day trip around the Whitsunday Islands.

Paradise for Sal.
The funniest night!
Bram, Me and Mike.
I boarded the 18-metre catamaran; ‘Avatar’ and we set sail. The wind blew fierce, but the skies stayed a perfect light blue. The wind chill hid the burning sun and I bobbed along, running around deck with the most disparate group of gone oddities ever. You’ll notice that this time I wasn’t worried about whether I could make friends, only who they’d be. Pia, Nash, Mike, Bram, Ed, Laura, Georgie and random St. Austell people turned out to be the gang and for three days we sunbathed, snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef (I swan in amongst inestimable jelly fish and sea turtles!) and walked on the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches. Whitehaven beach boasts sand that is 99.8% Silica!!! That’s crazy right? The sand was so fine it was possible to brush your teeth with it. I tried. It worked. Sick! This really was paradise now! Inbetween drinking goon, snorkelling, playing cards with the ska-loving deck hands I realised that I was getting quite good at holding my own in the world. The night ended with a riotous laughing fit with more Canadians and some nice chicks from London while we sprawled on the Catamarans nets on a starry night and smoked to the gods above. What kicks!

The last morning of my trip, having shared a bunk with a guy from Plymouth who knew my dear friend Welshy, I awoke with a terrible hangover. Think of how awful that could be on a boat. However I was up to watch the sunrise and this made everything better. I met the Canadians I travelled up with and we shared beers and stories of our boats. We caught the same buses back to Mackay and simultaneous flights to Brisbane. I beat them to central but booked into their dorm and met them minutes later for a few beers. I might never see them again but Ryan Barrett, and Kaitlynn Deacon and Jen, it was wonderful to hang with y’all.

I returned to find an odd feeling in the air at The Arts. A lull I thought.

Having just found out that my brother Josh was returning from work in the outback and that he had successfully got me onto recycling volunteering duties in return for free tickets to the hugely popular ‘Splendor in the Grass’ music festival (almost the most expensive festival in the world!), I decided that this was just the calm before the storm, and man was I right!
The tension at the lodge built to crazy levels. There was fervour in the air and a buzz everywhere you looked. Prices went up around town and the local population just about doubled. Certainly The Arts was at capacity and the lifers in the jungle rallied around to stave off the relentless march of the newbies. Never mind, we all partied together and had a great time.

Splendor in the Grass (mud)

So so totally Rad!
Morning One. “Can you drive?” says the guy who runs the litter picking crew. “Uh huh, but I don’t have my licence with me”, I say. He laughs and points to brand new Ute WITH A TIPPER ON THE BACK!!! “Drive that around all day and pick up what the litter pickers leave for you!” he says. This time I laugh. He puts my newly returned brother in arms Josh in the cab with me and we roar off laughing like idiots. For the first hour we have literally no idea what we are doing and neither does anyone else. We drive around a big loop of the festival watching impossibly beautiful and manicured people flow into the site, beeping our horn with ‘JJJ’ at full blast on the radio screaming FUCK YEAH! Out the windows in the glorious sunshine and beeping any girls we could see! “Can you believe they gave us this thing!?” Josh shouts, “No!”, the masses shout back. Well we couldn’t believe it either. Later that day we discover that our brilliantly funny French friends Vincent and Max have the other Ute. Much hilarity ensues. On the move high fives and screaming and shouting a plenty….thanks guys…. It wouldn’t have been so sick without you. x

Me, Vincent, Max, Tash, Amber, Josh and Liam at Splendor!
In hindsight being a garbage truck driver was stupidly hard work. 11-6pm each day, and hard hard labour. We should have been paid, but alas the company was great. Josh and me had the most fun ever. Stinking, but tanned and revelling in the stupidity of the situation we had a great time and even managed to get into real trouble. After a few hours of emptying bins, lifting bins, nearly crashing and screaming and shouting at everyone we decided it would be the honourable thing to do to give a lift to all the pretty litter pickin’ girls we found back to the recycling depot. They danced all sexy (like some real twisted music video) in the back of the Ute as I drove at 10kph through the site. We dropped off the girls then my radio beeped. “Greg to Simon”, “Copy”, “I’ve got health and safety all over my back and the site managers are going mad! YOU CAN’T JUST GO ROUND PICKING UP CHICKS IN A GARBAGE TRUCK!”…. That, that right there, is the single funniest thing either Josh or me had ever heard.
pure comedy!

PICKING UP CHICKS IN A GARBAGE TRUCK!
PICKING UP CHICKS IN A GARBAGE TRUCK!
PICKING UP CHICKS IN A GARBAGE TRUCK!

We became all but heroes. Every site office we passed people cheered and told us that the message from the depot had been heard across the entire site. Sweet infamy!We spent the whole evening meeting people we’d seen under our working guise. They all thought the story was pretty funny, cos it was!
That night we screamed about diggin this and that and heard At The Drive In and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble do their thing. Sick!

Day 2. Much the same but harder work and hotter sun. Shirts off. Smashin it round. Eco Girls. Hedonism. The Kooks, Bloc Party, Azalia Banks (212 was OFF THE HOOK!), Nice!!!!!

Day 3. We gave up on driving the Ute; we wanted an easy ride like everyone else! We went out, picked up a very small amount of litter. Ditched our stuff and got into the crowd. High as kites, with the spoils of the confiscation bins in our bellys (sneaky) and having avoided a very near miss with the police sniffers we partied till we nearly dropped. A sick band called Fun started the day. Django Django rocked, then the Pumpkins rocked our lives off (Billy on his own really, but the spectacle enough)…I also made the mistake of having one of the Eco girls on my shoulders for the best part of 30 mins…. She was small, but man was I tired after! I met Jack (beard) and the lovely Becky after this and we raved it to mean dubstep and d’n’b till late with faces painted eco-green and warmed hearts.

I returned to the Arts broken, but happy. My feet were ruined and my shoulders tanned. I saw all the bands I wanted to and had a great time with some truly lovely people. Thanks Splendor (in the mud), maybe I’ll be back one day!

Onwards

After Splendor a post festival sickness encircled the jungle. Everyone was sick or getting there. A lull hit the camp, but a tired and contented one. I, for one, was proper crook….old ailments tied me to my bunk and I coughed and coughed. After a few days of chillin’ I realised it was finally time to move on. After a final fling at The Arts talent night and the Buddha bar open mic (where me and Jessie won the audience vote) I prepared to get going. Easier said than done. I was really feelin pretty crook and so I stayed just a few more days, recalculating constantly in order to work how long I could possibly stay in Byron before I really had to leave.

Finally the time came, and with many many heartfelt goodbyes I left my transient travelling family and caught a lift with the incomparable Sarah-Jane Coffey (punk as fuck) and having made a quick stop off to say goodbye to the beautiful songstress Jessie-Rose we headed to Brunswick Head to see one last sunset. What a good choice that turned out to be as it lead to one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Oz. As we turned up to the beach the sun was setting on a millpond still bay. We paddled in up to our knees and almost didn’t notice when a pod of about 6-8 Dolphins played in the water ten meters from our feet. They stayed, we stayed. Perfection and beauty like I’ve never seen. A wonderful goodbye to Byron Bay. I will never forget my time there. I might even go back. Maybe to stay, at some point. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

Sydney and beyond

I had planned to go straight to Sydney and I flew in on a beautiful day. Seeing the opera house and bridge from the air was pretty special. I knew that I might be able to meet up with my Arts Factory friend Kelly and that she might be hanging with another Byron travelling mate, Amy. We arrived at Amy’s almost at the same time and set about getting settled and finding what kicks we could!
It was great to see Amy again and tell tales of Byron. I did all the tourist stuff I could. Opera House….stunning in the blue sky haze. Bridge….sick! Cockatoo Island art exhibition….amazing. Sydney school of music…kickin’, walked in on a choral rehearsal and decided that maybe I’ll do a masters one day after all! I took it easy for a few days….still feeling pretty crook. Went to the bath houses in beautiful Balmain and chilled….hard! Went to the docs. More anti-biotics, I’m starting to think that I’ve actually had pneumonia, but fuck it….onwards.

A few nights ago I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of old from the UK. Ali, so good to see you bro. Made my day for real. We drank and I played with a DJ in salsa bar over looking the Opera House…..tick!

I met some of Amy’s wonderful friends (Chloe, nice jammin’ with you!) and last night I went to see the Siren Big Band. Yeeeeaaaahhh! Siren are an all female big band from Sydney playing really crazy contemporary big band charts. Feeling inspired and boozed up I approached the band leader and said, “I’ll write you a piece”… It’s on! Big band piece is next on the list.

Tomorrow I move on again. A brass band friend of mine, Phil Anderton is taking back up country once more. This time I’ll hopefully be seeing the wonderful Gunnadah Shire Youth Band who have played some of my music before. Incidentally Phil has his own 2-seater prop plane (that he built himself) and we intend to fly around on Monday and Tuesday before I return to my new family in Melbourne for more digging of stuff, sky diving and kicks a plenty. Yass, yass, yass, indeed, Wheee! What kicks!!!!! We’re really in the promised land now!!!

So, simply put, I have no idea what happens next really. I’ve been smashing it and making friends and playing at being Sal Paradise, being on the road and seeing what the world holds. I know now that I want to travel solo more for sure. I’d love to see Asia, Canada and South America, very possibly with some of the inspiring characters I’ve met in the last six months. I find myself in the slightly unenvious position of not really knowing what I want from my life or who it is I want to be, but I guess we all just push on huh?

I’m sorry this pretentiously volumous tome is so overly long…..thanks a million if you made it this far! x

As ever I send my love to my ever-supportive family and friends (now, the world over). I miss you all. My heart is as ever with the blood spattered gutters and gin soaked streets of my gnarly little punk town, Plymouth. I’ll see you all soon. I feel both desperately afraid of returning to my own fair shores and excited to come home. I’m sure something will work out….perhaps I’ll go back to Oz.

…And so it goes….

Xxxxxxx

Yeah, fuck yeah!











3 comments:

  1. Good ol' Venn Diagrams! Keep killing fascists with the trumpet :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Screw Plymouth, the Millbrook boonies need ya. One word. Tour.

    ReplyDelete

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