Odessa; The morning after the night before.

Its funny how you remember a place differently to how, in reality, it actually is. The first time I went to Odessa it was three in the morning, I was 18 and drunk and the city was so beautiful.  Snow glossing over the pavements, people wearing fur coats as they hurried to get out of the cold and some very ornate buildings.

Its six years later, Four o’clock in the afternoon, I am 24, sober and Odessa seems like a very different place now. Polar opposite infact to the one I remember. I think a bit part of this is the lack of snow. Without it the streets seem to have this grimy phosphorescence to them.

On exiting the port we were met by a taxi driver named Yuri. As the day wore on I realized that his name had to have been Yuri for him to fit into this “new” Odessa. Everything about the city was so stereo-typically Eastern European. From the overcast grey skies. To the men with their shorn military style haircuts and cheap leather jackets, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. To the outrageously beautiful women who, despite the ever present chill in the air, dress in short skirts and heels and strut as if they were walking a catwalk in fashion week in Milan, or Paris, or London, or. Well you get my point. Even the buildings look how you would imagine. Lavish opera houses and affluent hotels bump and grind awkwardly with the communistic buildings favoring function over form. Yuri dropped us off near the centre gave us his phone number and drove off.

Not quite knowing where we were, we walked (alliteration so sorry about that) in a random direction stopping to eat in a small Italian restaurant. After eating we continued this aimless wandering until it began to rain. Luckily it was at about this time that we spotted a wax museum. Which shall henceforth be dubbed “The Worlds Worst Wax Museum” (although you must understand, dear Reader, that this is entirely opinion based). The first section in the museum was called “Fantasy hall”. This being Eastern Europe I wasn’t sure which way the museum would go with this theme. It, unfortunately  went the PG13 way and the “Fantasy Hall” was filled with characters from fantasy and Sci-Fi movies.

The best was Chewbacca with a dirty blond dye job. Sort of what Chewie would have looked like if he was playing the synthesizer in a electro band from the eighties. There was also a very camp Spiderman and two Avatars from the movie Avatar (although I am not sure that these qualified to be in the wax museum as they appeared to be made of fiberglass).

Unless you have a furry fantasy (and I’m not judging) “Fantasy Hall” may prove to be a disappointment.

The second hall was dedicated to “Famous Ukrainians” aside from Mila Kunis (who incidentally wasn’t waxed (innuendo much?)) I know of no famous Ukrainians. So I shall give the museum the benefit of doubt here and say that this was a very accurate portrayal of the famous Ukrainians of the ages.

The third hall was nameless, though if I had to give it a name it would be “The hall dedicated to the movie X-Men; First Class.” This was my favorite section. Mainly because they freaking dedicated a whole section of their museum to X-Men, but partly also for the fact that they gave Mystique very prominent nipples!

The final and worst hall (sort of like a really shitty dessert (I’m talking to you Flan!)) was the “Hollywood Hall” The wax figures all looked like gross caricatures of the celebrities they were representing. I think my top tip for the wax museum is squint!

Brad Pitt or Leonardo Dicaprio?

Leaving the wax museum it had stopped raining and the grey seemed a lighter shade. As we continued our wander we talked of how we were glad that we went into the museum. Despite it being ridiculous and kind of crap it was only about the price of a venti white mocha from Starbucks and gave us far more entertainment then said coffee would have, plus it’s zero calories so you know my thighs won’t feel it! .

The other thing I remembered about Odessa was that it had a staircase that was famous for something. Not knowing where this staircase was we set about wandering through the old district randomly until we saw some steps that could be the famous ones.

Having no photo, name or map of the actual place we decided that the stairs that were semi impressive must have been the ones we were looking for. It turned out they were and later I found out the reason for them being famous. They are shaped in such a way to appear elongated when viewed from the bottom and shortened from the top. Their official name is “The Primorsky Stairs” but they are also known as the “Potemkin Steps” as the 1925 classic film “Battleship Potemkin” had a famous scene where a pram tumbled down the stairs.

At the top of the steps there were some street performers whose attraction was eagles. I’m not really into this blatant exploitation of animals. The eagles looked beat. These once majestic birds had been objectified to mere props in fat tourists photos After the eagles we kind of felt done with Odessa.

In the cold light of sobriety , I realized that the city I remembered had changed. Or perhaps I have changed. Either way……

Posted in Wanderer | 2 Comments

Seat/Skin; A tale of debauchery in the the fair city of Los Angeles

In life, sometimes, you need to go so far outside of your comfort zone you may not be able to go back.

Last summer, on a hot mid June afternoon, I went that far.

The day had started innocently enough. My wake up run followed by boxing chased with a bagel and large coffee before sitting down to get some writing done. I found it hard to focus that day so instead of flogging a dead horse I decided to find something else to do.

The World Naked Bike Ride was something else.

And it was starting in a few hours. And there was already a Couchsurfing event dedicated to it. I clicked attend, threw my phone number online and hopped on a bus to Silverlake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I had never really done this sort of thing before. My English reserve made sure of that. But I figured I had nothing else to do and I would always wonder about it were I not to go.

When I got to Silverlake my first job was to get a bike from somewhere. I wandered around for a bit trying to find a bike rental place. Before learning that none were close by. As I was walking back up the main street a second time a small mechanics caught my eye. He had four or five bikes sitting in the garage. So I asked if they were for sale.

He said they were all for sale. And just choose the one I wanted. In the end the bike chose me. A deep red, Raleigh six speed bike. Complete with pannier mounts, a completely worn front tire, brakes that didn’t really brake and a seat that was unadjustable and locked in its lowest position. The bike seemed to call out to me. Saying “I want you to take your clothes of and ride me through this damn city.”

“How much for the red one?”

“$50”

I walked the bike to the starting address. It did not feel right to ride her yet.

Arriving at around noon. Half an hour before the start time. I don’t know how many people I was expecting to be there but there were only twelve. I looked round and a wave of panic swept me off my feet. Was this it. You can’t have a naked bike ride with twelve people.

I walked up to a guy who was topless and asked if this was it. He said they were expecting around three hundred people. I then figured out that in my rush to get to Silverlake I had misread the start time. The wave of panic subsided.

Sure enough more people began to show up and pretty soon the garden we met in was packed. I stripped down to my shorts and got some body paint.

“One more bike”. I got talking to a guy called David (he did this for the rush kind of an adrenaline junkie) and another guy called Mau (the guy to girl ratio was a cool 60:1). The three of us were stood topless chatting.

Right before we left we were given a safety talk. Don’t do anything offensive. And there is a possibility you can get arrested but we are banking on the fact that there are 300 of us and no-one wants to deal with 300 naked people so we should be golden.

There was a five minute countdown. We stripped off. I think that was the hardest part that leap from shorts to full frontal.

One more bike.

And then.

We were off.

A pack of naked people whooping and hollering as we cruised around LA. People would take photos of us at stop lights. People would cheer us on as we burnt past them. When you ride a bike naked the line between man and machine blurs. Your thighs begin to chafe against the seat. The body paint begins to sweat off, dripping onto the crossbars.

By the twelfth mile I realized why this was a once a year thing my legs felt like they were on fire. My hands and chest were slick with sweat and my bike was locked into the fifth gear making going uphills a nightmare!

We finally made it back to the garden in Silverlake. Dan, Mau and I brought some Coronas and sat and drank and talked. Reveling in the sudden rush that can only be had when flying naked through this great city.

As for the bike?

Our relationship was brief but intense. I began to ride her to boxing every morning. That was to be short-lived though. The quirks of her character that had so attracted me at the start of our relationship were now starting to wear thin. The non-adjustable seat, the finicky brakes and the way the gears would randomly shift. It just wasn’t to be.

We broke up, but I am happy that for the briefest moment in LA she was there for me and I for her.

Posted in Wanderer | 3 Comments

A brief study in evolution. Or, How we found ourselves atop Mt Blanc.

I cannot remember when we got the idea to climb Mt Blanc. It seemed more like a natural evolution. We started off by climbing trees. These two big stoic bastards in Freds yard. They were Copper Beeches and for that first summer they were our playground.

We figured out that we could only get so high on the gear we owned, so we began to manufacture slings out of baling twine. Looking back at it, I do not think they would have held up had we fallen. Maybe, deep down, in some long forgotten survival instinct, we knew that at the time too. Knew what the stakes were. We didn’t fall. We couldn’t fall. When we finally splashed out on proper climbing slings we would rig them and just practice falling. That split second of floating free fall, before body slamming into the tree.

In those early days we were fearless.

We moved from the trees to the steep, limestone cliffs of Portland. Sharp, painful climbing that cut, beat and bruised us. This was ourHoly Land. And our hymns were vicious punk songs. Screamed at us through the tinny speakers of Freds Peugeot.

Getting my groove on in Portlands boulder field

Our guidebook for Portland began to fill up. We needed something more. Something bigger. And then, suddenly, we found ourselves in the Arrivals hall of Geneva airport waiting for a ride to take us to Chamonix.

This is what happens when you don’t unpack properly.

Chamonix is the heart of the French Alps. It pumps a diasporatic blood of mountaineers, skiers, rock rats and partiers.  All converging on this town for the sole purpose of getting high. This heart is flanked by jagged ribs of mountains, cutting into the sky. Some nights, if you are still enough, quiet enough, you can almost feel the earth breathing as the wind gently flows down the mountains.

We spent two weeks learning; ice climbing courses (of which Fred seemed to take to far better then I), advanced ropework, glacier walking, first aid, mountain rescue and others.

My summit photos need work, see how my hands are holding something? That’s a Mars bar

The first mountain we climbed was the Petit Aiguille Verte. Then there was a mountain inItalywith a serene statue of the Virgin at the summit. Each mountain drew us closer. We were junkies. Just looking for our next fix.

See how I am digging through my bag? Looking for a Mars Bar

Its like “Come on James!” your on the summit of a mountain can you please stop with the Mars Bars?

And then it was time. The first day was spent hiking to the Tete Rousse Hut about 3167m up. We spent the night there eating indiscriminate “grey” meat and Milka Chocolate. I don’t think anyone slept that night. The dorm had this silence about it, a nervous energy and then it was time to go. I am not sure of the exact time but at a guess I would say three. We walked in the inky darkness. Our headlamps didn’t show to far ahead . The mountain, in those early hours was this dreamlike place illuminated by soft pools of light thrown out from our headlamps. We were floating up this mountain.

Dawn broke and we came to a gully known as “The Bowling Alley” notorious for its loose rocks. That would occasionally tear themselves free from the embrace of the mountain and hurtle down into the valley. I did not like this place. The ground felt unstable, like it could collapse at any moment. We moved fast.  Hitting the snowline we roped up. Tying ourselves together. We were bound in this together, literally.

The time began to warp as we pressed on. I do not know how long we walked before we got to the Gouter hut. Our final rest stop before the summit. We paused briefly, ate some trail mix, drank some water and shared words of encouragement.

The way to climb a mountain. The Alpine way. Is you can go as slow as you like but you do not stop (at least not for very long) you keep moving keep pushing. With this in mind we stepped back outside the hut and continued up

We found ourselves walking along an exposed ridgeline. The winds gentle breath had become a battle cry screaming at us “You do not belong here!” The cold hit me like a bitchslap from God. My body convulses and my mouth fills with the acidic taste of puke and I begin to suffer. The wind is right. I do not belong here. My head begins to spin. My breath comes in fits and spurts.  Ahead of me I see Fred, I try to call out but there is no chance of being heard. The wind continues to buffer us, frosting our sides. I feel like puking, my body is heaving and I again taste it. I swallow it back chasing it with a mouthful of water.

This mountain has me on size, strength, experience and aggression. But I am tenacious. I will not stop. I violently stuff a handful of candies into my mouth drink some more water and feel painfully alive.

At the summit we did not say much. There was not much to say. We took a few photos and then turned around and began the long descent.

The summit of Mont Blanc … 4,808 metres.
Date and Time: Friday 5th August 2005, 7:23am
Wind Speed: 60kmh
Temperature: -30 degrees C, before windchill.
And not a Mars Bar in sight!

When I was seventeen I was addicted to climbing. Now as I prepare to climb Mt Elbrus in July I feel that addiction creeping through me. It has lay dormant for years but it is back.

I, am back

 

Posted in Wanderer | 4 Comments

The time I inadvertently made a Aquaphilia video.

I brought a waterproof camera a few years ago. I figured it suited my personality. This thing was tough. It could go three meters underwater, was shockproof (I tested this by saying some pretty shocking things but it remained unperturbed throughout), dustproof and ice-proof.

When I got it back from the store I felt like testing how it preformed underwater. I wanted to see what the video quality was like. I tied a barbell to a tripod and set the whole apparatus up in the shallow end of a pool.

Before I started filming though I had a change of heart, just swimming underwater would seem kind of boring. So I decided that I would jump into the deep end fully clothed and struggle out of my clothes like some escape artist.

I made the video here it is.

I uploaded it and thought nothing else of it. Until I noticed that my views were skyrocketing. Having found my niche I decided to make another one.

It was then that the strange messages started to appear.

“hi

i have seen your last underwater video
i have to congratulate you
you are made to be underwater

i do love underwater photos & videos but i can not find what i am looking for
so i am ready to buy photos & videos that you can do for me if you are interested

hope to hear from you soon
phil”

“I felt the videos you made, especially the “overdressed swimmer” was beautifully done. Your body seemed to be at one with the water, especially at the end of the striptease when you were finally down to your swim shorts capturing your love for the water and swimming.”

“i love the underwater vids in that pool too..but do you ever show any footage of you getting out of the pool dripping wet..love dripping wet shiny clothes..the look and feel are so cool…would love to see that in some of your vids…take it easy dude”

“Hello dear friend
thanks for your beautiful video
It ‘s very nice and will do my best congratulations, you’re a man fish
can I ask a favor?
Can you make to your video whit your performance figures handstand in the water for me?” This was my favorite message “man fish” #winning

“Why not try doing a shower video wearing your shirt, jeans, and your trainers without socks.
get yourself nice and soaked, then take off your trainers.

If you do this, please keep me anonymous.”

So yeah. For a while in 2010 I was a “wetlook/aquaphilia fetish artist”.

I don’t think I really learnt anything from this…..

 

 

Posted in Wonderer | 2 Comments

Wilderness is a necessity

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” John Muir

I came upon this mountain by accident.

This time two months ago. Though I knew of Mt Elbrus’ existence I had no inclination to climb it. That all changed at the London Adventure Travel Show. I had originally gone to plan a trip to Africa. The Mt. Elbrus stand did not stand out from the others. I took a brochure and a free DVD.

One week later I sat, jaw agape, watching the DVD and I knew that this mountain was something I had to do. The next day I began training. Focusing on pure cardio work. After a month my body began to look different. Gone was the thick heavy muscle gained from months of boxing. It is place lean muscle far more suited for the mountains.

Thoughts of the mountain began to consume me. It came to be in idle moments in the day I would find myself thinking about it. Looking up photos and reviews online. Re-watching that free DVD. Any scrap of information I found on the subject was hungrily devoured.

I became addicted.

I am addicted.

I am writing this in April. I am off the coast of Portugal and I have two and a half months before I can start the climb.

There are four ways to climb Mt. Elbrus. The South route is the shortest and offers the easiest ascent with cable cars transporting you to a height of 3800m.

The North Route is slightly harder, no cable cars and due to its inaccessibility is less popular (though that means far less crowds).

The West Route is the most technically challenging route and you have to have had some mountaineering experience beforehand.

The fourth and final route, and the one I have decided on is the Transverse Route from South to North. I have decided on this route as it offers the best of both the North and South Routes. It is also the route that allows you to see the most of the mountain. The trip will take eleven days. The first six of those will be spent acclimatizing and partaking in snow and ice courses. The seventh day is summit day where we will climb to 5642m. There are two reserve days in-case we are unable to make the summit on the seventh day.

There is a fifth way to experience the mountain and that is a ski tour. This would interest me, but for the fact that it would be my first time skiing and I think skiing constantly for seven days at a complete beginner level would tire me out.

The company that I have chosen to climb Mt Elbrus with is Elbrus Tours. They are a small travel company based out of Moscow that specialize in Mt. Elbrus but also offer trips to other mountains within Russia.

Elbrus Tours

Elbrus Tours Facebook

Posted in Wanderer | 1 Comment

Je suis un cataphile!

The last time I was in Paris I found out that I am a Cataphile (bear with me this is not a confessional fetish piece!)

Paris is one of my favorite cities. From its grandiose old buildings to sleek modern bars Paris has something for everyone. Most people will be able to name a few attractions in Paris. The Eiffiel Tower (obviously) the Arc de Triumph and Notredam. But, Dear Reader, this is not what I want to talk to you about today. I want to take you beneath Paris.

See Paris has a dark side. The foundations of this city wrap around an underground tunnel network that few experience. These tunnels are commonly referred to as “the Catacombs” and are made up of a labyrinth of old mines and burial sites.

I had no idea about these catacombs until I couchsurfed with my (now) good friend Mike. When I first stayed with him, he showed me an intricate map of the catacombs that he and his friends were working on. He told me that the next time I was in Paris I could go down with them on one of their explorations.

So, two years later, I did.

The equipment

Mike and I were the first to arrive at the meeting point. Mike stayed with the bags while I went and brought some beers and food for the trip. While I was gone two more people had showed up. There was an air of nervous conspiracy about us as we got changed from our street clothes to our underground clothes. Three more people showed up and we were ready to go.

The first task was to enter the Catacombs. Mike led us to a construction site and we squeezed through a hole in the fence before crawling to a manhole. He opened it pulled it to one side and we were faced with a void. I turned my headlamp on and looked down. There was a 15m ladder broken every 5m by a platform. We entered and descended. The hardest part was getting around the platforms as each time you had to remove your rucksack and hold it above your head so you could fit through.

The Void

At the bottom the air was still and cool. The light from our headlamps did not show the ends of the tunnel and there was no way to tell how far in either direction it went. When Mike was down we walked for a short while down the tunnel. It widened into a room and we decided to have a pit-stop and start drinking. For, as we all know, if it is fun sober it will be more fun drunk.

Twenty minutes later we left and continued down the tunnel. Mikes map told us that when we reached the white mushrooms we were to turn left. I raised the point of what happened if the mushrooms weren’t there but he didn’t seem too concerned to I decided to trust the map.

Street sign – Sans Street

The mushrooms turned out to be exactly where the map said they were (though I still felt uneasy about the fact that we were navigating by mushrooms!). The tunnel began to veer deeper and the air got a little colder. We moved fast not stopping for anything as we descended further into the underbelly of Paris. Soon we reached the second room. It was here that we rested and drank and ate. The conversation began to flow as freely as the whisky. At the start of the Catacombs the others had asked me if I would like them to speak in English so I could easier understand. Despite the fact that they were all fluent in English and my French is admittedly not the best I declined their offer figuring that I may as well learn something while I was down there. The drunker we became the easier French became. There was this very specific moment where they were talking and suddenly I understood! It was fantastic. This language that I had struggled with for so many years was not the formidable beast with fangs of tenses and claws of verbs. It was poetry. That, or at this stage I was just extremely drunk.

The seemingly endless tunnel

We moved from the room and began to walk further. Every few minutes a bottle of whisky would be pressed into my hand and I would drink and pass it on. Our troupe got louder the further we traveled. We got to talking of horror films and how this would be the perfect start to one. Twenty-something’s drunk and vulnerable. We sped up until we were running from these invisible demons until we found ourselves in yet another room. We agreed that the notion of being chased was wearing thin and we would have far more fun if we continued our party.

The exact point it turns to a horror film

The hardest part of the trip

A quiche was brought out flanked with two bottles of wine and the remnants of the whisky. The party became louder still and we decided that we should probably start looking for an exit before it got too late. Turning to Mikes infallible map we worked out that we were near three exits. The first we tried would have put us in an underground parking garage but was locked from the outside. The second involved crawling through a very slim space for an indeterminable amount of time. Which did not sound appealing at all. So we put all our faith in the third.

The Room

It was the right decision and we ended up at a ladder similar to the one we climbed down with platforms and everything. At the bottom Mike briefed us. The exit was the time when we would most likely get caught. The plan was he would go first move the manhole and check. If it was clear he would signal down to us and we would quickly exit and disperse. We all climbed up the ladder and waited. Mike cracked the manhole and peeked out. He then opened it fully, gave the signal and we were out in a busy pedestrian walkway.

“My mother groaned, my father wept, into the dangerous world I leapt.” William Blake

I don’t know who was more shocked. The clean-cut Parisians coming from their Saturday nights or us as we were birthed from the manhole, covered in mud and sweat and drunk in more ways then one. We put the manhole back then posed for a photo before heading off into the night. We had spent around seven hours exploring the underbelly. Not your average Saturday night!

Oh and one more thing.

Cataphile (noun) One who explores the catacombs of Paris (told you it wasn’t a fetish!).

Drunk, confused and far too deep in a situation that I have no control over. Just another Saturday night then…

Posted in Wanderer | 9 Comments

Thirst

Argentina 1952

Waking from a dream there’s always that slight blur between dream and reality. During this collision of perceptions your senses are heightened and time seems to slow. Though you may not know the reason for your awakening there is, always, a reason.

I wake suddenly, to my dark, still bedroom. The clock on the bedside table reads four. It’s early. Lying back down I reach my arm around my wife snaking our fingers together feeling the warmth of her against me. Closing my eyes I let the rhythmic tick-tock wash over my senses, massaging my thoughts back to slumber.

This peaceful slumber ends abruptly when the door explodes into the room. A man silhouetted against the door frame is in the room in a flash followed by two more. I push my wife off the bed and scramble for the gun I keep on the bedside table. It’s not so much that I expected this to happen, but one can never be too careful. Rolling onto my back gun in hand I aim it at the first man. He is shining a bright light into my face

“Don’t make me shoot!” I shout.

“You might want to think that through.” He says in a calm voice that he must have rehearsed.

The second man has grabbed a handful of my wife’s hair and is pulling her towards him. Spinning her round. Using her as a human shield, pressing a pistol against her throat.

There is a tense silence. Her muffled screams are barely escaping through the hand clasped over her mouth.

“It would appear.” The first man says “That we now have your wife. The way I see it you have two choices. One. You make a move to shoot me. Maybe you hit me maybe you don’t. That’s irrelevant. In the time it takes you to aim at the others the man with your wife will have shot her through the throat. Notice how I said throat? Not head? That’s because when shot through the throat, rather then a quick instantaneous death not unlike flicking a light switch. The bullet will graze the jugular resulting in substantial bloodloss and an excruciatingly painful death. Of course the man outside your son’s bedroom will no doubt hear the gunshots and your son will be shot as well. Tying up loose ends as it were.”

Her eyes are screaming at me. Begging me to kill them.

“Option two.” He continues. ” You put down your gun, get dressed and come with my associates and I. If you do this I give you my word that nothing will happen to your son or your beautiful wife.”

I mouth “I love you” to her. Close my eyes took a deep breath. Opening my eyes again the situation is exactly the same.

“Ok, ok. Take me just don’t hurt them.”  I have signed my death warrant. I slowly lower the gun and rest it on the bed next to me.

“You made the right choice and if you continue to co-operate I can see of no reason for us not to be civil. If you would be so kind as to get dressed we can proceed.”

I stand up slowly trying to calm myself against the surge of adrenaline. My hand is shaking. I ball it into a fist, digging my fingernails into my palm. Whatever I do I must not show these men I fear them. Then I will lose everything.

I pull on my clothes from the day before. When I am dressed the first man advances on me. He is holding a length of course manila rope and a hood. He first binds my wrists behind my back. I tense and strain against it, just like they taught us. I’m looking at my wife her eyes are wide with fear. The hood is secured over my head.  And, just like that, I am taken.

I don’t know how long we’ve been driving for. This wicked darkness that has become my world warps and stretches time. When we stop a hand wraps around my bicep pulling me from the car and throwing me to the ground.

“Get up.”

I lie still for a second; my elbow begins to bleed from where I landed on it. The blood sticks my shirt to me.

“Get up” the voice repeats. Through the hood I hear the unmistakable “click-click” sound of a gun cocking.  A gun that is forced into the back of my knee.

“Get up, or you won’t be able to.”

I hear the gunshot with my whole body. It thunders through my senses before evaporating to silence. I brace for the pain. A searing white hot pain that sweeps over me. It’s too much. I feel myself retching and dry heaving. My mouth fills with the acid taste of vomit. I swallow it back trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.

“Let me give you a hand.” The voice says pulling me to my feet. “There that wasn’t so difficult was it?”

He grabs my wrist and rotates them back away from me. “Walk” he barks. I hobble forward feeling my knee jar against itself before totally collapsing I fall for a second time. My mind retreats inside itself, cushioning itself from the horrific pain of reality.

I have no way to gauge how long I was out for. When I wake though I am sitting in a chair. They have taken the hood away and replaced it with a blindfold. My arms are still bound behind me. I can feel they have tied my feet to the chair legs as well. My knee still burns from the bullet feeling as if someone is pushing pins between my bones. There is small respite in knowing that the agony of this will be nothing soon. I have been brought here to die.

I hear the long drawn out creak of a heavy wooden door. Then heavy footsteps. From the echoes of the room I can tell that there is not much furniture in this room. Perhaps only this chair.

The footsteps stop behind me and someone pulls the blindfold from my eyes and my night turns to day. Flooding me with light. As my eyes adjust I see that I am in a windowless room. Bare, apart from the table set for a lavish dinner and a solitary light bulb dangling from the ceiling.

“Now” He whispers directly into my ear. “I am going to release your hands. Before I do know that my only stipulation was to bring you here alive. Try anything, and we have had people try things before, and I will take great delight in liberating your fingers from you. Do you understand?”

I nod. There is no point resisting, not yet anyway. Just got to stay calm, let them think they’ve won. I take a look at the table. Looking for anything that could be used as a weapon or tool. The cutlery is an obvious choice but on inspection it is secured to the table by a fine chain.

The Man takes a hunting knife from his belt. Blade grinning at me he runs it over my cheek. I can feel the slightest resistance as it brushes over the morning’s stubble. I shaved before bed last night. From the growth I can assume I have been taken for almost a full day.

The knife slips from view. I feel against my wrist as it begins to bite into my binds liberating them. I feel the blood rush back into my hands causing a dull numb sensation. I bring my wrists into view and see they are bloodied and bruised. Given enough time I am sure they would scar. The Man plants himself on a stool in the corner of the room.

This Man and I we sit in a tense silence. There is nothing to be said. Some minutes pass before the door is slammed open. A man in evening dress enters.

“Good evening.” He says smiling. “I am glad to see you were brought here alive. I would have hoped they would have treated you better but then again maybe my instructions of bring him here alive were to vague. Mr Chirard?”
“Yes Sir” The man on the stool replies.
“When I said bring him here alive what did you take that to mean?”
“Well I’m allowed to hurt him, rough him up a bit, scare him.”
“I agree, yet it appears you have shot him in the knee would you not agree that that is perhaps a little forceful.”
“You said get him here alive. With respect getting shot in the knee is not a fatal wound.”
He’s looking at me again.

“See this is the problem with Mr Chirard. He has got absolutely no independant thought. Terrifically loyal but sees the world in black and white. I ordered you brought here alive. You sit before me alive but in unbelievable pain. Am I right?”

I nod.

“I suppose I am the one to blame eh?” His voice takes on a sinister tone “He was after all only following orders.”

He takes his jacket off and drapes it over the back of his chair before sitting down and ringing a small bell. Moments later a waiter is at his side.

“What would you two gentlemen be drinking tonight?” He asks in that over friendly manner of waiters around the world.
“I think a nice red tonight.”My captor says. “Do you perhaps have anything from the Lyon region in France.” He looks over at me and gives me a conspiratorial wink. “He and I have some history there.”
“Most certainly sir. We have a lovely Pinot Noir from the region and the vintage sir. The vintage. Nineteen thirty seven. The last really good crop before the war.”
“That sounds perfect. Do you agree?”Again the most I can muster is a nod.“Splendid. The Pinot Noir it is.”The waiter leaves the room.

“It took us a long time to find you. You know. Your support network was almost impenetrable. But I am far more tenacious then your average man. Tell me. What was the war like for you?”
“The war?” I question. “It was quiet for me. I was stationed in France. I didn’t see much action.”
“Well now that depends on your definition of action. If I were you I would talk of my illustrious career during the war. So, I will ask you again? What was the war like for you?”
“The war was quiet for me. I followed my orders to the best of my ability and tried to be a good soldier.”

“I want you to know I despise liars. That’s twice I asked you about the war. Twice you have lied. Now if we were alone I would of course give you another chance, but unfortunately for you my assosiate is here” He gestures to the man in the corner. “And I really cannot let him see that I do not follow through. So I am afraid I am going to have to hurt you. I want you to know that I don’t want to do this. No one really wants to hurt another human do they?”

There is a tense silence broken by the waiter. He is holding a bottle of Pinot noir.
“Would you like to sample it first Sir.” He asks my captor.
“Please I know nothing about wines. I believe my friend here may have a more refined palate for such luxuries though.”
“Of course” The waiter says. He opens the wine and pours a mouthful into my glass.

My hands still feel weak from being tied for so long. I make the effort to swill the deep red liquid. Letting it aromate. Letting the flavour breathe out of it. Holding it up to my nose I inhale deeply.

“Well?” The man says.
I look him in the eye. I want to maintain some form of strength through this, I need something from my past to hold onto.

“The wine has delicate floral flavours that at first glance would have you believe it is from the Burgundy region.” I pause taking a sip. “However, this matures into a deep fruity flavour so characteristic of the Lyon region and the waiter was right it is a supurb vintage.”

“Excellent, I believe this wine will do.” He says. Letting the waiter pour him a drink. He fills my glass and leaves.
The man is talking. “Now before we were interrupted I was going to hurt you. I don’t think I will anymore. This fine wine has calmed me.”He gestures to his own glass.

“Now let us talk as men. Firstly do you know who I am.”
“I know of you yes.”
“Good. That saves us some time. And time is precious no? Now do you remember me?”
“Remember you?”
“This is not the first time we have met Herr Commandant. I forgive you for not remembering me. I am sure with our shorn heads and striped shirts we all sort of looked alike. The way you looked at it I am sure it would be the same as me trying to recognize an individual sheep.”

I look at the man and it all floods back. The same brilliant blue eyes. The scar across the back of his hand.I watch him as he undoes the cufflink on his left arm and rolls up his sleeve.
“My name is long gone. I do have this though.” And he rotates his arm showing his tattoo. “Do you know what this is?” He asks.
“Of course I do its an identification tattoo.”
“Oh Herr Comandant it is so much more then that. My number 9876103. It is the largest prime number that could be given as a tattoo. Do you know what that means?”

I stay quiet.

His voice raises an octave “It means I am divisible only by myself and God. Is the wine to your taste?”
“It is very good.” I reply “You’re going to kill me aren’t you?”
“Come now Herr Commandant let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let us enjoy one another’s company and this meal. Speaking of which are you ready for the Entrée? I took the liberty of ordering for you.”

The waiter enters carrying two small plates.

“Beef Tartar” He says as he places them on the table before retreating back out.
“Well” The man says. “Bon Appitet” He gestures to me to eat. I pick up the cutlery it feels heavier then it should.
“Its interesting” He says after a long pause. “ How one can be so easily tricked with chemistry these days. What you perceived as vintage 1938 Lyon Pinot Noir is in fact common Chilean table wine.”
“Impossible. This tastes the same as when I was stationed in Lyon during the war.”

My voice trails off the words cut to ribbons by his razor smile and I notice that he has not yet touched his own glass

“I assure you. That it is. See what we wanted was a delivery system that would ensure some familiarity and what better way then to pry into our subjects memory. For you it was wine. The last man we spoke with had a passion for Scotch. All of these flavors can be replicated in the lab nowadays.Would you care for a cigerette?” The question hangs between us as I process what he has just told me.

“Delivery system for what?”
“Ahha. If I were you I would be wondering exactly the same thing exactly.” He takes a cigarette from a small silver case taps it against the tabletop settling the tobacco before bringing to his lips lighting it and taking a long draw.
“Delivery system for what?” I press again.
“You know it scares me how alike we are. We are both German citizens yet when one of us is bound before the other we turn into animals fueled by hate. You held me captive, you tortured me. Now I hold you captive. I am going to torture you. As I understand it though you were following orders and this is where the similarity ends. I am doing this to you.”

He taps the cigarette on the now empty plate in front of him.

“What have you done to me?”
“Not only what I have done, it is what I am going to do next. The cutlery was heavier then expected, am I right.”

I nod.

“It’s working a little faster then I expected but I have learned that it is hard to judge the correct dose and I am far from being a chemist. In layman’s terms what I have done is created a synthetic toxin. This is absorbed through your cheeks into your blood stream. It starts by making your limbs feel heavy. It gets so that you cannot move them at all. There is nothing physically wrong with you its sort of like blocking the signals from your mind to your body. I want you to know that. There is nothing physiclly wrong with you. And this paralysis that you will experience will exist only in your mind.”

The waiter enters clears the plates and sets the main course in front of us.

“Aha” My captor squeals with delight. “Coq au vin with all the trimmings
“You, you poisoned me?”
“Come now control yourself. You took away my whole family and left me for dead. Have you any idea how it feels to hold your brother as his life ebbs away? I could kill you a thousand times and it would not be nearly enough.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Its not going to help you. You were a dead man the second I left the camp. Now. EAT. I know for you it is a trying time but try to place yourself in my shoes Herr Commandant. I have been searching for you for seven years. To have you bound and helpless in front of me is…” He pauses pointing his knife at me “Ecstasy.”

My hands look like claws wrapped around the cutlery. It is so heavy now. I try to cut into the chicken but the knife slips and hangs off the table by its chain. I can’t pick it up. Each movement is agony.

The man across from me continues to eat. He clears his plate and reaches over to mine taking the rest of the chicken.

“You don’t mind do you? Its just that I can’t bare to see such good food gone to waste. I guess its a throwback to the hunger I felt in the camp. It became so that nothing else mattered, it was all consuming an uphill struggle to which there seemed no end. You witnessed this. You caused this. There is no way for me to replicate the months of suffering we experianced I simply do not have the time. Thats what the poisen is for.”

The waiter again enters carrying two bowls. “Tiramasu” He annonces. Placing the bowls before us. My whole body is locked in place. I can still just move my head but other then that there is nothing.

My captor takes a mouthful. “You know this is good. “ He says chewing. “This is very, very good.” He gets up out of his chair and walks round to my side of the table. Picking up my spoon he begins to spoonfeed me. The tiramasu is sweet and rich and it melts in my mouth just the way it ought. I close my eyes and just taste it.

“Do you know when they found me in the camp I had given up. Not just on life on everything. I was simply a body. You had broken me completly. Now it would appear, I have broken you.”

He grabs my chin and pulls me to face him. His hand strokes the side of my cheek

“I want you to pay close attention. You are mine now. I own you. But I am not the same monster you were so I am going to offer you a way out. Know that if you do not accept my offer my assosiate and I will leave. No one knows you are here, no one will find you, no one will come. This is the end of the line. Dehydration will begin to set in around the end of the second day and by the end of the third your body will begin to shut itself down in want of water and by the fourth you will die. Do you understand? Blink for yes.”

I blink.

“Good.” He walks back to his seat sits down lighting another cigarette. “You can die in four days or.” He gestures for the man in the corner who steps up to the table placing a gun on it. It oddly fits between the mess of the meal. “Or I can end this for you in an instant. I want you to blink if you would like me to kill you. You have until I finish this cigarette”

He leans back lights his cigarette and stares me down. I know what dehydration does to a man. If I deny the offer I will be regretting it in three days. But to ask to be killed, to choose death. The cigarette is burning quickly, soon it will be out and the choice will not be mine to make. At least this way I can have some semblence of control over it. He takes a final drag and stubs the cigarette out.

“Well?” the word comes out cloaked with smoke.

I blink.

“I thought you would. I want you to know I do not like killing. I would rather just leave you here to die a natural, if inhumane, death. However that would bring me down to your level and I am so much more then that” He picks up the pistol, pulling the slide back and letting it rush forward.

He holds the gun at arms length and time has slowed to a crawl. My senses have heightened I see his index finger flex against the trigger and I swear that I hear the gentle tap of the pin as it presses itself into the bullet.

The retort of the gun is every noise I have ever heard compressed into perfect violence. In this explosion I can hear my mothers laugh, the tap tap tap of rain on tents and my father’s deep voice. I hear all these sounds slowly evaporate to silence as the force of the explosion propels the bullet towards me.

I can see the bullet inching its way towards my forehead. Passing over the remnants of our meal.

There are three of us in this room. Three of us and a bullet and the bullet is getting closer and closer.

Soon, very soon, there will be two men and a body in this room.

Our whole lives, every decision we have ever made it all leads to this moment.

As the bullet gets closer it seems to slow more. I watch it as it rotates admiring its simplicity as it glides through the air.

I close my eyes and inhale and wait….

The bullet kisses my forehead, shattering through my skull with a white hot pain. It bores through my brain erasing my very being before erupting out, cloaked in a mist of red. The force of it knocks me backwards. I am falling off the chair. I am floating through the air. I am dead before I hit the floor.

When you die there is always that slight moment when life and death blur together. The universe trying to find the reason for your death.

I know the reason for my death.

I accept it.

Posted in Wonderer | Leave a comment

A long hard look at the New York Museum of Sex

When I was in primary school we were taught how to use the dictionary. I remember one of the first words I looked up (once I had figured out the alphabet) was sex. This mysterious word that would occasionally slip from an adults mouth intrigued me. And now, with this dictionary, I had the power to find out what it meant.

Sex – noun – Sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.

It’s 17 years later and I am standing in the gift shop of the New York Museum of Sex looking at what can only be described as a bike sex machine. The best part of this is not the fact that someone took the time to design and fabricate this machine. Rather that you are encouraged to try it out (the pedaling part not the penetration part!).

FUCK BIKE #001 by Andrew H. Shirley & William Thomas Porter

On the day I visited there were 4 exhibits being displayed Universe of Desire,Spotlight on the Permanent collection, The Sex Lives of Animals, and F8ck Art.

Exhibit One – Universe of Desire

This looked at how pornography has evolved due to the internet. Sort of like a modern day Kinsey study this exhibit gave a unique insight to what people search for on the internet. And we are doing a lot of searching for sex. Out of the 400 million  searches made during the test period 55 million of them or around 13% were sex related. The hundred most common searches were displayed along one of the walls.

A Pixelated View – Dirty Pillowz

The searches ranged from the expected #2-Gay, #3-Milf to the downright bizarre such as #56-vomit or #86-Clown (which must make for terrifying viewing as clowns are pretty creepy).

They then explained why these were the top hundred searches, but to tell you why would spoil the exhibit. So dearest reader, we shall continue to exhibit two.

 Exhibit Two – Spotlight on the Permanent collection.

The Museum of Sex’s permanent collection, is changed up every few months or so. On my visit there was a photo collection of people and their homemade sex machines (which is sort of like a sex toy on steroids), two Realdolls (that you could touch (gently!), vintage vibrators and a rather painful looking anti-masturbation device. Amongst other items.

Realdolls

When you are walking through this exhibit you are exposed to a small glimpse of the vast, vast scale of human sexuality. Case in point, the Torpedo Sex Suit.

Torpedo Sex Suit.

Exhibit Three – The Sex Lives of Animals.

When we think of animals having sex we generally think of it as being solely for procreation. This exhibit smashes that concept and also tells us that fetishes/kink are not the sole domain of man. Animals are into some kinky stuff to say the least. Deer threesomes, Bi-Sexual Bonobos monkeys, and Pink Dolphin Blowhole sex (which is exactly what you are imagining and looks kind of painful although not being a dolphin I cannot comment).

Deer Threesome

 Fourth Exhibit – F*ck Art

In this exhibit a group of prominent Graffiti artists were given a room and commissioned to draw/paint/build pieces that displayed sexuality. My favorite piece from that exhibit was by Mode 2 it’s a beautiful picture drawn on old flattened cardboard boxes. I liked it because it showed you could make something beautiful out of what would essentially be trashed.

 

Part of a one day painting installation for the “Urban Affairs Extended” Berlin MODE 2

Oralfix Bar

After you have explored the museum there is a bar which is well worth checking out,  they offer a selection of aphrodisiac cocktails and there is a very intimate feel to it.

I also found out that the the bar also plays host to sex workshops. Now I did not go to any of these while I was there due to a lack of time but judging from the museum itself I think that these workshops would be a lot of fun.

Getting down to It!

The Museum of Sex is obviously X-Rated so visitors must be over 18 years old to enter.

The hours are Sunday – Thursday 10:00 – 20:00 and Friday – Saturday 10:00 – 21:00

The address is 233 5th Ave @ 27th St.

The closest subway stop is 28th Street on the N or R lines.

For a museum coupon as well as the listing of the most current exhibitions, visit www.museumofsex.com.

Tony bones – Over the shoulder

To sum up the New York Museum of Sex is a lot of fun. It portrays sex as something that we all a part of and not something that should be hushed up and embarrassed about. I would also like to thank the Museums staff for being so accommodating and welcoming in giving me the chance to review it.

Posted in Wanderer | 6 Comments

Shit happens.

I woke up about ten minutes ago and am now having my morning coffee. I have learnt to drink it sans milk. An acquired taste brought on by necessity. I do not have a fridge.

My sister is coming over later. I think my mum told her about my imminent breakdown. I need to go to town and get some stuff before she gets here though. I also think I should change my diet as at the moment it consists of coffee, hotdogs and spaghetti, which is probably not doing me any favors.

Its now twelve(ish) and all the coffee I had for breakfast took effect at the worst possible time. I decided that enough was enough and spurred on by caffeine and creativeness I decided that I would go for a run and take photos maybe make a short video that sort of thing.

Long story short I ran too far and needed a shit right at the apex of my run. Right when I was the furthest I could possibly be from the flat. I sped up thinking maybe it would recede and I could hold on until I got back. This worked for about five minutes until I got the feeling that I was going to shit. Like. Right. Now.

Now I don’t know if you are a serious camper or if you have ever been stuck outside when you really, really need a shit but I can tell you its unpleasant. We have been conditioned to only really shit indoors. Theres just something so undignified about that unplanned shit, squatting amongst the trees, digging around in your pockets trying to find something to wipe with, in my case receipts, unadvised.  Theres then the slightly dirty feeling which, when you think about it is odd because what you’ve done is natural perhaps more natural because you’re taking it back to nature.

I learnt to shit in the woods in France. It was during that strange time in my life that I tried to hike across the whole country. I was prepared for it that time. I had a trowel with which to dig a pit and some bio-degradable toilet paper. Seeing as my diet then was perhaps worse then it is now (I was mainlining weight-loss pills and M&Ms) I would only have a few minutes to, literally, sort my shit out. My thought process went something like this.

Shit I gotta Shit
Where to go, where to go.
Am I far enough into the woods.
Can anyone see me?
How deep do I need to dig?
Fuck this is awkward.

 

It was while squatting in the woods in the drizzle off the side of some desolate road in France that it hit me. “Just what in the fuck am I doing here.” I mean I was trying to walk to Italy solo. It got me to wondering; if you’re going crazy can you tell? Is it a gradual transformation or do you just wake up one morning and start shitting in the woods?

I don’t know how far I walked in the rain that day. When I stopped for the night though I was on a road that led south and I had a new plan. It was to get south as fast as possible. In my mind south = warmth.

 Lesson 6

Shit in the woods, but don’t make a habit of it.

Posted in Wanderer | 4 Comments

Latitude

I remember how I felt when I first wrote this poem. Small, dejected and utterly alone. Still reeling from the gut punch of a break-up. That sharp intake of air as you find yourself stumbling to breathe again. The first draft reflected this pathetic thought process. It seemed obsessed with the idea that we would get back together.

For a few weeks I was down. Then one day I realized something. That I would be happy again. With that in mind I thought why not just save some time and be happy now. I started working out. I wanted the man I was to die. He was weak and emasculated.

In his place I fathered myself anew. I began boxing. I imagined the punchbag was me. With every punch thrown I grew at once weaker and stronger.

Six months passed.

I found myself in Istanbul in a non de-script hotel room waiting for instructions. I opened my laptop and re-read what I had written at that desperate stage in my life. I didn’t like it. It felt like the a twelve year old girls fan fiction. I particularly didn’t like the last few lines which felt like a prayer for us to get back together.

I sat in that room and thought of all I had accomplished in the time since she’d gone. I felt good about it. I felt strong and in control. I realized that I never wanted to be in that weak state again.

So I re-wrote it. Giving it an altogether more positive ending.

This poem is about the realization that life is full of change. And positive/negative is based entirely on our viewpoints.

 

Latitude

Eight degrees,
Eleven minutes,
Three seconds,
North,
One hundred seventeen degrees,
Forty one minutes,
Seven seconds,
East,
This,
This is the position of my broken heart,

It erupted out of my chest,
I dived for it in vain,
Hands flung out far in front of me,
My heart,
Bounced,
But once on the deck,
Just out of reach,
Tumbling over the side,
Into the great expanse of the Pacific.

It landed with barely a splash,
Barely even a ripple,
Leaving only a trail of blood,
And a gaping chest cavity in its wake,

I stood jaw agape watching as my heart,
Fluttered incoherently about the waves,
Like a fish lying on the hot,
Alien,
Deck of a fishing boat,
Hook still in throat,
Flexing wildly as it tries to comprehend this savage new environment,
Gills violently struggling,
As it tries to stay alive for,
Just one more minute,
Please,
Just one more minute,
Please
You have to give me that,
Just one more minute.

PLEASE.

But it is to late,

My heart has already drifted to a speck on the horizon,
Massaged by the gentle swells and white horses of the Pacific,
It beats ever slower as it slips beneath the waves,

It begins to sink,
Deeper and deeper,
The sun does not fully penetrate these depths,
The light and warmth of it are beginning to fade,
And yet,
Even here my heart beats intermittent thoughts of you.

Clinging to those memories like the sun scorched man,

Adrift on a raft,
Clings to the thoughts of survival,
The thought of land,
The thought of anything that is not this salty blue hell,
That is the Pacific

It sinks yet further,

Into the true darkness that can only be found at great depth
The only light now coming  from those vicious fish,
Huge jaws snapping at anything curious enough to come within grasp,
They snap at my heart as it sinks further,
Devouring its soft flesh,
Yet still it beats,

My heart is nearly at the bottom of the Pacific now,
The crushing pressure of the sea above,
Has warped it beyond recognition,
Until finally it stops,
Dead on the seabed,
This is where is lies.
This is where it ends.

Posted in Wonderer | 4 Comments