Monday, June 14, 2010

Melodies Haunt You

The problem with being legitimate is that is there are things you like to talk about, but are just too risky to do so. I especially find this the case when I think about the years between 1979 and 2000. There are large tracts of my life that could be transplanted wholesale onto this page with no fear or paranoia; but there are also patches that will remain 'unwritten'. There aren't that many, and a large portion of them are probably just too embarrassing or cringeworthy to repeat; but there are a few things that, by virtue of what they were and who I am, just can't really be repeated in a public forum. Sounds enigmatic; probably more enigmatic than it probably is.

But as a result; things like Roz's party; the Mereway Post Office sex scandal; the Bibury year; the uncovered Zep connection; The Shenley-Radlett-Borehamwood triangle; The blank 1983-1986; the pink toilet from hell; my sometimes farcical evenings of pursuit; the cellar bar plan; the Heathrow to Wellingborough fiasco; the vomit revelation; the Memorabilia mystery; the Millwall trip and the agoraphobic years, to name but a few, won't probably ever get written down, unless it's in some fictional form. [Which makes me wonder why I've never used some of my real experiences in what I write...]

I'm such a tease. If I didn't know the stories above, there would be at least 3 that I'd want to know.

A lot of stuff from my past is either related to my ability to always get myself into more shit than I expected, my ability to make myself look like a plonker, or my ability to fail to make the right kind of impact on certain things; and a lot of it was about the amount of drugs I used to take and the (funny, to me) scrapes or situations I got myself into.

However, one of my most embarrassing moments has happened in the last 7 years and involved the hangover from the mother of all hells, the longest pointless walk I have ever taken, sweating like a pig in -4 degrees and feeling so bad, I couldn't bring myself to feel worse after fucking up something very important. Let me explain...

In October 2003, my good friend, Martin Shipp and I were invited to Łódź in Poland, as guests of the British Council, as two of the guests of honour at Poland's largest comicbook convention. Now, the reason for this was because despite Borderline having stopped publishing, the magazine was hugely popular in Eastern Europe, because we acknowledged their existence. We did a massive feature on Polish comics during the run and become something of cult celebrities over there in their equivalent of Polish comics fandom. I was chuffed to bits; Martin felt suitably humbled.

One of the weirdest things that can happen to you is to arrive somewhere and see you name in HUGE letters. This is what happened to us when we arrived in Łódź. We were flown over to Warsaw, with 2000AD alumni Pat Mills and Clint Langley; met there by a score of ravishingly beautiful Polish women, who were to act as our PAs for the 3 days we were there. We piled into a luxury minibus and headed the 100 miles or so to Łódź (pronounced Wuj). We settled into our hotel rooms and agreed to meet the PAs in the reception at 10pm, where we'd go for some food and a drink or two. This is perfectly normal in Poland, but to this sometimes naive Brit this seemed a bit late, but I was their guest and I followed along like a good boy.

We started by going to a bar that served some food; I ate an interesting vegetarian option and we started to drink the local beer, which was 6% proof, but didn't taste like it. We moved onto a club, where LCD Soundsystem were playing (it wasn't until I looked back at the program tonight that I realised this) before it got too intense and loud, so we moved onto another bar.

By 4am, I was completely and utterly pissed out of my face and we needed to be at the Convention Centre for 10am to be there for the grand opening at midday. Martin, who is either a) a lightweight or b) far more sensible than I, drank less and went back to the hotel about 2.30. Clint and I got back about 5am, with snow falling.

The next thing I remember was Martin calling me at 9am; I felt like I'd been killed several times during my unconscious period and reanimated in unpleasant ways. I crawled out of bed, made myself coffee and threw myself into the shower, where I sat and soaked for about 20 minutes until Martin called again to tell me he was finishing his breakfast and would I hurry the fuck up. I got dry, necked some painkillers, got dressed and figured I'd get to the centre by 10.10; a little late, but not too late.

I had been so drunk the night before I'd not paid an awful lot of attention to where the convention centre was; so what followed was unbelievably stupid, but not as stupid as what I continued to do...

I stood outside the aptly named Grand Hotel on Ulica Piotrkowska, the main artery of Łódź and one of the longest commercial thoroughfares in Europe, with a length of nearly 5km. Do I turn left or right? I couldn't remember. I looked down both ways of the street and figured the right didn't look familiar, so I went left and started walking. Now, I knew that it wasn't very far. Now, Piotrkowska runs longitudinally in a straight line between the Liberty Square (about 200 metres from the Grand Hotel to the right as you look out the front door) and the Independence Square, over 2½ miles away. Nursing my aching head and the waves of nausea I was getting, I put my hands in my pockets, marvelled at how bloody cold it was and walked and walked and walked. Then I walked some more and then my mobile phone rang. It was 11.20am.

"Where are you?"
Looking around, "I have no idea."
"What do you mean you have no idea?"
"I left the hotel at 10.15 and I can't find the place."
"What do you mean, 'you can't find the place?', it's 50 yards from the hotel!"
"50 yards?"
"Well maybe a 100, but no more."
"You walk out of the hotel, turn right, then right again, straight away and it's down the side, about 100 yards away, it has this big sign which says Convention centre on it and this billboard with our names on it; you really can't miss it."
"Oh fuck."
"I turned left and walked for an hour, I couldn't understand why I didn't recognise anywhere. Shit."
"Get a taxi."
"I don't know how to ask to get there." Martin told me to hang on while he consulted the PAs, but we got cut off. I tried to phone him back several times, but my network wasn't doing it for one reason or another. Anyhow, the point of giving you the technical info about Piotrkowska is key. It is a perfectly flat, straight road and on a clear day you can see the other end. Łódź is like a Soviet version of Milton Keynes or Los Angeles; it's built on a grid system - there are no bends in Łódź.

For some reason, I could say unknown, but the wife and several friends would disagree, I thought that maybe I could get back to the Convention centre by going diagonally; cutting across the grid system and walking down and jumping across a block every 10 blocks. Had I not been told less than 5 minutes before hand that the convention centre was 100 yards behind the hotel? Yep, I sure had, but by 11.50, I was completely and utterly lost and to add insult to injury, I had sweat so much that my undergarments, shirt and jumper were wringing wet.

I decided the only thing I could do was find my way back to Piotrkowska, even if I had to retrace my steps. I did and walked back up to the Grand; it was 12.15 and I was completely oblivious to the discord and annoyance I had caused, or the pressure I had put on Martin. When I got back to the hotel, I had to stop and get changed; put my clothes to air and probably have another shower; which I promptly did.

Now, I should point out that I had been incredibly nervous about the event and Martin was by this time thinking that I'd got cold feet and had panicked and run away; this wasn't the case, but I could certainly see why he thought so.

Feeling actually surprisingly better than I had, I found my way to the convention centre at 1.30. I was ushered in by the PAs and whisked away to the cafeteria for more coffee and something to eat; we were on at 2.30, suddenly I was all sweaty again.

The rest of the weekend went without a hitch, but my 9½ kilometre walk, dressed like Scott of the Antarctic with a mind-numbingly dreadful hangover will haunt me forever. How could someone, even probably still pissed from the night before, make so many simple errors and make things far worse by compounding those errors for 9km? Suffice it to say, I've avoided Polish beer ever since. Crazy stuff, makes you do all kinds of stupid things; no wonder all the Poles came here to drink our weak, industrially produced beer. It would be like us going to America and drinking them all under the table.

The rest of my embarrassing or best forgotten past can stay that way until I remember something else that proves what a schmuck I can be at times!

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