San Francisco in 18 haikus

Sunday, 26 December 2010

What better way to record my time in San Francisco than a notebook full of haikus?

Haikus are the writer's friend - a nice secure structure:

A crystalised thought
of seventeen syllables
and of three short lines

In a few minutes you get the sense of achievment from having completed something, when, in reality, what you have is only one step away from a limerick:

Photos of the 'loin

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

"What's interesting about San Francisco is that the higher into the hills you go, the more rich people's houses there are. Picture that steep street on Pine and Powell - with the Fairmont hotel on top of it - can you imagine a homeless person pushing their shopping trolley up that?"

One of my friends - an Urban Planning graduate - explaining the urban segregation of San Francisco, the reason that places like the Tenderloin exist.

Another friend, a Couchsurfing member who stayed with us whilst he was looking for a place to live, told us about his trouble finding a suitable Narcotics Anonymous meeting to attend in the TL.

On the American dive bar and Irish Carbombs

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The American equivalent of the English pub is probably the 'dive bar'.

I headed out (sober) to meet some friends on Polk Street, the more trendy, clubby bar area of San Francisco's Tenderloin, and walked into a venue full of pissed-up, halloween-costumed twenty-somethings.

Livin' in the Tenderloin

Monday, 18 October 2010

Living in San Francisco's Tenderloin district and having a bay window that looks out onto one of the city's most infamous 'cross streets' provides hours of free entertainment.
Here's a list of some of the things I've seen during my 3 weeks in San Francisco:

POP: (People Opposed to Popcorn)

Monday, 4 October 2010


Last week Walee and I went to a little arts cinema down the road.

We watched a Chinese film called A woman, a gun and a noodle shop in a tiny, 30-seater theatre. The film had no music, and the atmosphere relied heavily on the natural sound of the Chinese desert; the wind, the animal cries, the squeaking of distant cart wheels. There were 3 other people in the cinema, sat in the row behind us.
One of them, an old woman, had a bucket of popcorn.

Dear Walee

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dear W.B,

There's a British bloke who's trying to set a world record by travelling through every country of the world in as short a time as possible.
His intrepid journey sees him mostly sitting on buses, on boats, on trains, trying to work out the logistics of each nation's transport systems, and rushing to catch his next connection.

He's chasing his record around the globe, as the shadows of the places he passes dart in and out of view, briefly illuminting only a glimpse of what might wait for him in another, more static world.

On Crab Racing and other Caribbean pastimes

Monday, 13 September 2010

Here's my vomit-splattered log of the 5-day sailing voyage from Cartagena, Colombia, to Panama.

Day 1

Decide last minute to join Capitan Federico and his boat, Saconagem, on a five-day sailing trip to Panama.
The boat departs from Club Nautico, a small, ramshackle tin port in the Manga neighbourhood of Cartagena.
Pot bellied, barefoot men pad around the stone harbour, tinkering with oily engine parts and calmly slicing fish bait into buckets.
The boats are slackly tied to the harbour with thick knots of rope; allowed to bump gently against plastic buoys and buckets; sandy scavenger birds hop around the gangplank freely, the waves gently lick moss from the harbour walls. This is a port of pastime and leisure, a passageway to other such places in the turquoise Caribbean sea.
Suddenly it seemed very clear; the sailing life is the life for me.
There are 10 fellow backpackers on board; the largest portion made up of laid back, beer-sipping antipodeans.
The captain, a Brazilian of French naval background, stresses that his orders must be obeyed at all times, and that he will need help with the sailing.
The boat is fuelled, the crew are sat down and the rules are set - Nautical Big Brother can begin.

Day 2


Saturday, 4 September 2010

For your future reference, Cartagena =

"You want Panama hat?"
"No gracias."

"You want wristband?"
"No gracias."

"You want watermelon?"
"No gracias."

Colombia - is it safe?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The first thing any friend or family member says when you tell them that you're in Colombia is either 'oooh... be careful', or 'oooh... snort plenty of coke for me'.
Alas, I'm not writing to you to talk about my Gran and her drug problems.

Despite all of the assurances that I would regularly see police informants being gallow-dropped out of helicopters, my first few days in Bogota was spent feeling surprisingly... safe.

W.B has some shitty luck and calls me a 'bastard' in German

Monday, 23 August 2010

dear stinky saukerl:

i was thinking about you quite hard when i took the ride to the airport in buenos aires.

mainly because it was like the ride from hell.

On the last moments in Buenos Aires and old photographs

Friday, 20 August 2010

When asked 'so how do you like Buenos Aires?!' by proud-faced portenos, I would stubbornly refuse to add to the gushing bluster that their fat fucking egos expect to hear from the city's tourists.

It's a captivating but frustrating place; at once chaotic and sanctimonious, prim, polished and polluted, loaded with both churches and telos (sex hotels), with thousands upon thousands of the most kind, hospitable people you could meet, all brushing shoulders with the thousands and thousands of distrustful, selfish arseholes that make up the rest of the city.

"You're flying to the other end of the continent tomorrow" ... "Oh. Cheers"

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tomorrow, I head to Colombia.

This morning, I had no confirmed flight, no accommodation and nothing better to do than sit in the children's section of an Argentinian bookshop on a tiny red chair.

Then, whilst trying to read a book about a little worm who crossed the sea in a paper boat, I received the text message I had been waiting for, with increasing scepticism, for the past 2 weeks.

"They are neither dead nor alive, they are disappeared"

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Compare the two following paragraphs:

1. An engineer working on the first section of the Channel Tunnel has been electrocuted. The man died as a result of the incident which happened on Friday at about 19:40 GMT.... overhead wires along the first section of the railway carry 25,000 volts of electricity.
(BBC news)

A list of things my housemate has threatened to stick up my arse

Thursday, 8 July 2010

I gave one client the final push he needed towards quitting his job as global advertising executive for a huge (and often unethical) multi-national corporation, and another the correct pronounciation of the word 'bumfudge' - so it's going well.

On teaching abroad and perving on the lives of others

Friday, 18 June 2010

The word has been spreading for years, but I'll confirm it again; teaching English abroad is a great way of travelling. Not only does it fund your trip (or, in the case of some better-paying nations, allow you to save a lot of money), but it allows you to be a nosey bastard, too.

Don't Mention the Falklands

Saturday, 12 June 2010

"El que no salta es un Ingles!"
"El que no salta es un Ingles!"

"If you don't jump you're English!"
"If you don't jump you're English!"

I asked for the translation of this phrase whilst surrounded by thousands of fist-pumping, chant-bellowing Argentinians in B.A's Plaza De La Republica.

On OCD and fucklists

Monday, 7 June 2010

When talking to folks who are really into travelling, you may have noticed that they occasionally become a bit OCD in the documenting of their trip; creating graphs and maps to work out the exact distance they had travelled, photographing themselves sternly standing in front of every 'Welcome to...' sign, collecting a fridge magnet from every country that they visit, creating post-journey scrapbooks, mostly comprised of pictures of cathedrals, that nobody but themselves could possibly be interested in.

I like the enthusiasm and contentment of these acts of geekery, although I can't say that I've ever fully indulged in them myself.

I'm going to let you in on my own freakish little secret, though.

On feeling disenfranchised after escaping a mugging

Friday, 4 June 2010

Last night I was given an impromptu Spanish lesson on 'the language of being mugged.' Tonight, by sheer coincidence, I had my first ever dose of practical experience.

I was walking home along Avenida Coronel Diaz, past the western border of Parque Las Heras, when I noticed two lads eyeing me up from a park bench. Their necks were tense, erect, their faces following mine, moving simultaneously in the manner of two rat-faced little cobras.

I considered turning back and walking in the opposite direction, but didn't want to present my back to them. Instead I veered more in their direction, maintained eye contact; an attempt to show that I wasn't intimidated. Evidently my subconscious felt that muggers should be discouraged in the manner of aggressive dogs. On this particular night, however, I wasn't in possession of a string of juicy sausages.

One of them whispered something to the other, the other agreed. They stood up in unison.
Either they were a couple of night-gays about to complement me on my jacket, or they were going to mug me. The road was shaded by trees; there was no-one else walking in the vicinity. I slipped my hand into my pocket and wrapped a fist around my house key.

They approached from either end, and said something rapidly in Spanish.

“No gracias”, I replied, and continued walking.

One of them placed his arm firmly around my shoulder. He was slightly taller than me, but skinny, hollowed out in the face. Judging by his ravaged glare and fucked-up teeth, he may have been a connoisseur of 'Paco'; a dirt-cheap cocaine resin comprised mostly of chemical by-product.

“Dame la guita”. The rat-faced kid looked somewhere between 16 and 18. As he asked for my money, his work colleague jabbed me lightly in the side, and said something else. They were still walking with me, side-by-side, like old school buddies.
Friends here had told me of their mugging experiences. More times than not, they suggested, the muggers didn't have a gun.

I looked ratface in the eye, and smiled. Tried to use my age as an advantage. “Que Quieres, Chabon?” (What do you want, kid?)

He pushed his face into mine, and began to unzip his jacket pocket, presumably implying that he had a gun or a knife. Logic told me that if he had something, he would show me it, but fear still crept from my bowels to my stomach, the fear of the unknown. How far would they go for my money? They would have known that I was a gringo by that point, so wouldn't they also presume that I had a fat fucking gringo wallet?

His face was in mine again, they were starting to get angry. Their anger fuelled mine. I wasn't going to give these scrawny fucking scumbags my cash, my cards, on the off-chance that they might have a gun.

“I don't know how to say this in Spanish, but in English we say 'fuck you'”. As I went to raise my middle finger to his face, he swang wildly, punched me in the mouth.
Finally, anger flooded into my veins. Proper anger, pure, beautiful, glorious, a blood-red wash of murderous rage. It was crystal clear now; there was no uncertainty, no doubt, no fear, simply the acknowledgement that we were going to fight, that I would smash and swing and bite and rip and gouge until they were unconscious, or I was killed in the process.

Ratface was skipping about wildy, strafing around me in a circle like a super-featherweight boxer. The other scumbag was standing off, either not interested in fighting or, most likely, waiting for my back to turn. I raised my hands, still with a housekey embedded in the right fist, and tried to draw ratface closer without committing myself, began to taunt earnestly, beckon patronisingly with my fingers, hoping to enrage him into an attack.

“Aca chabon, aca you little cunt”.

He sprang forward and then attempted to shimmy away towards the park, hoping to draw me into the darkness and leave me vulnerable to his friend. As he crossed my path I threw an uppercut, and caught the underside of his chin with my key. Later I would find blood on my right hand, but at the time it wasn't enough; I followed him into the park, hoping to grab hold of him and force him to fight hand-to-hand, fantasising about smashing his face 3 inches deep into the concrete path, burying my teeth into his neck and wrenching out his windpipe with my incisors.

His glance shifted a few inches to my left, and two things happened at once; I wheeled around and saw his friend in mid-lunge, as if ready to pole vault; and a taxi driver began to bellow at them from inside of his car. I could only catch hold of the cowardly fuck's jumper before he twisted away and made off across the street. As I turned back towards ratface, savagely happy that we might have a little bit of privacy, he was already clambering over the wall of the park, fleeing into the night.

The taxi driver was shouting something about the police, gesturing me towards his passenger seat. I began walking home again; all I wanted to do was kick somebody to death. My wallet was still in my pocket, the would-be-muggers had run off, and I still felt disenfranchised. The only satisfaction I had when I walked home was in tonguing my swollen lip, biting down on it until I could taste blood in my mouth.

Anyway, how's you???


On exporting filth around the world

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Last Friday I introduced myself to a new group that want twice-weekly English lessons inside their French pharmaceutical company.
Their departing teacher, an English girl named Hannah, had asked them what they wanted to study for their final class.
And so it conspired that I witnessed my first official swearing lesson.

The class had five lower intermediate-level students, all in their 30's or 40's, all shirts, ties and studious brows.
Upon entering the beige, high-ceilinged meeting room, they took out their pens, turned to the right page in their notebooks and made polite inter-office discussion with each other, waiting for the lesson to begin. They were here to learn.

Hannah had decided to model the art of swearing by handing out a scene transcript from satirical UK sitcom In the Loop, before playing the video clip to the class, and asking them to follow the script.
The swearwords came frequently, vehemently and creatively. Hannah watched the scene with a wry smile. The class observed quietly. The scene finished, and the room fell silent.

“What is a twat weasel?” asked Alberto.

Words were highlighted on the whiteboard, their meanings explained.

“Nob and dick mean penis”, tutored Hannah, helpfully drawing the male anatomy on the board. “So a dickhead is somebody who thinks with their dick”.
Deek is balls?”, asked Giselle, frowning from the back of the room.
“No, balls are huevos. Testiclos.
The lady studied her handout, confused. “But then what is fannyhead?”

“One of the most versatile English words is fuck”, Hannah explained. “It can be used as a noun, an adjective, an exclamation or a verb. Gabriel, can you use the word in a sentence for us?”
Gabriel, a portly and shy looking professional man, stayed silent, as he had been for most of the lesson.
“Do you know how we would use it as an exclamation?” Hannah prompted.
Gabriel merely leant back on his chair and pouted his lips in a non-committal way.
“Ok... you're not sure, then?”
“FUCK YOU!!”, he bellowed. The penny had dropped.

Words which the students had difficulty pronouncing were drilled, chorally and individually. The fifth student walked in halfway through the class, ready to explain that it had been a hectic day at the company, waiting for a break in the loud and monotonous repetition of the word “twat... twat... twat... twat”.
“Not twate, twat”.
“Not zwat, TWAT”
Usage and collocation were also covered.
“In England you would never say the word cunt... 'twat' is still a bad word but people say it more often.”
Hopefully the students were unleashed upon the world with the impression that, should one find oneself in polite, formal company, one should always opt for the infinitely more genteel term of twat during polite raconteurism.
They were also unleashed with an audible enthusiasm for swearing. As the teacher and I tidied up in the empty classroom, their voices could be heard fading away down the corridor, practicing their new vocabulary.
“Knockers... knockers... knockers... knockers...”.

On settling in a new city and rapers

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Flying back from Cordoba to Buenos Aires, 10 days ago, I had a I've made it! (jazzhands) moment.

I'd driven north with my second host (Javier), to sell his car and eat his mother's empanadas, and was just a few hundred metres from touching down in the capital.


Sunday, 9 May 2010


Hello, hope everything's alright at home.

Next time you go into the bank, would you be able to ask someone about my Visa Debit Card? Over the past 3 days I've gradually come to terms with the fact that it doesn't work in any banks or shops here, and I have 2 pesos (approx 33 pence) left in cash.

On drinking twigs and cocaine

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

You've been to Buenos Aires before, haven't you?
So I'm sure you noticed that the Argentines are noticeably more brooding and insular than the folk of other Latin nations.
The strained, airy notes of the Tango bandoneon carry a depth of melancholy that could empty a Brazilian Salsa club in seconds.
One way in which the Latin social flair appears to penetrate Buenos Aires, however, is through 'tomar mate' (drinking mat-eh).
My first afternoon in Buenos Aires was spent drinking Mate with Mauro, my first host, who demonstrated the entire ritualistic process to me.

First, one selects the Mate (spherical cup) which all present will be drinking out of.

Bag for Life

Friday, 23 April 2010

Going away indefinitely- what do you pack?

To fit into 1 medium sized backpack & 1 small day pack:

- 6 pair socks
- 6 pair of underwear
- 6 emergency flapjacks

- 3 notebooks
- 1 biro, marked 'Ben Elton's We Will Rock You'
- 1 Buenos Aires travel guide (to be bookswapped for Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' at earliest opportunity)

It begins

Saturday, 17 April 2010

This week I was ill, but today I am well.
This week I strayed from the path, today I found it again.
This week I was lost, and today I am still lost, but I have a direction, at least.

I've spent the past week in bed with flu, getting backache and spluttering out face-muck like an old pillow being beaten with a knotted stick.

The rest of my time has been spent aimlessly looking for something to do this summer; ways to save money for the 'big trip' from Buenos Aires to San Francisco, which, as you know, I planned to begin in September. Probably.

I applied for English-teaching jobs in the UK, I tweaked the electronical abyss of dead words that is my CV, I looked at rental properties across the cosy home counties, I networked with old friends in different UK cities, I considered moving in and living with any woman who happened to glance at me kindly on the bus.
I chased every small answer until it ran down a burrow and sat out of arms reach, giggling.

And then this morning, I took a long, hot bath, and I ruminated.
I ruminated like fuck.