January 8, 2016 by Jason Phillips
I had been ill since Boxing Day. I thought I had recovered three separate times, only for it to hit me again, like a rabbit punch from Muhammed Ali, and get me hanging off the ropes reaching for my dressing gown. I was depressed and needed a break.
Every flight to Europe seemed to be twenty quid on Easyjet so I decided to head out to a Festival celebrating the work of my favourite composer, Scelsi. The alarm had failed to wake me. It was 8.59am, the train to Bristol airport was 9.30 and I hadn’t packed and had hardly slept a blink.
Luckily, I had scored a bed for the weekend from the popular traveler’s website, Couchsurfers. I was going to stay with a chap who, he had said in his message, was lonely. A Malaysian geezer called Bram. As is customary in the Couchsurfing community, it would be considered good manners to cook a typical Welsh dish for Bram tonight. Crumpets? Cheese on toast? Lava-bread and Cockles? I’ll decide later, I thought.
I scraped half the bum-fluff off my face with an old blunt razor; forced the least smelly clothes off my bedroom floor into my little rucksack along with books, pads and pencils; drank a bowl of cold watery porridge and off to Switzerland I went. I had a fartful of money and a loose plan. I knew Sunday night I was not going to want to board that flight home, back to my boring life in Cardiff, in the dead of winter, and I might well not. My life had become like a sink of cold dirty dish water, blocked up with soggy lumps of old toast. I cleaned my teeth in the train bathroom, sat back and got stuck into some reading.
After all the rushing, I arrived at Bristol airport with lots of time to spare. I bought the Telegraph which included a free bottle of water.. The Telegraph is SHIT, and the comedy size pages make it impossible for my arms to hold it out far enough to read. Like a frustrated T-Rex I gave up, gathered up all the scattered and crumpled pages and binned the fucking lot in a big ball of paparazzi bollocks.
I threw all my money to a grumpy woman behind a counter. He hair was so tightly scraped back that the her fringe was on the back of her neck and her nose directly on the top of her head. She refused to crack a smile on her grumpy forehead, as she counted my measly amount of Swiss Francs back to me. Ripped off.
I was stripped to my pants by a five foot smiley security guard, good job I put some on this morning. I looked at the shelves of WH Smith. ‘Chav Punk Hobbit‘, my first and only book, needs to be here, I thought. People could read it on their flight, it’s the perfect book for that! Instead, I was confronted with every word Jon Ronson has ever written. Shelf upon shelf of his shit. Last night I had read a Guardian article he had written about his all-expenses-paid trip to Lapland for his son to meet Father Christmas. It made me want to rip my eyes out and it was launched against the far corner of my bedroom wall, joining the ever growing shit pile, along with Harry Potter and Dalai Lama. Jon’s ‘Psychopath Test’ was a little better but I was yet to read his big hit, ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’, and after that overly cute, pompous Santa shit I was unlikely to bother. I feel a lot of his real life stories are so lamely hyped up to try and make his middle-class audience titter while sipping their champers reclined in their roomy first class seats. He seemed to have one strategy: fly around the world, on expenses, and interview people who are more interesting than he, and then make himself out to be the hilarious outside observer. It don’t cut it for me. What does he actually do? FUCK ALL. Shit, am I a little bitter? Yeah, probably. I don’t know how to get my book – that attempts to illicit the same effect but upon the chavs and benefit cheats in Ryanair cattle class – onto the shelves of WH Smith at Bristol Airport. That wild jealous beast was momentarily awoken, but in my progressing years, I had the skills in my armoury to tame the bastard. I simply walked off frothing at the mouth whispering expletives into mid air, looking like a slightly lost rabies victim.
Trundling along, the airport was dead, I got to my gate, no one there, no wonder those flights are so cheap this weekend, I thought, no one is flying! The lady at the desk hurried me along as, in fact, the plane was full and they were waiting for one more passenger. Me. The flight attendant asked me if I minded moving to a a full three seats to myself, I agree and stretch out. She then informs me that I am in control of the emergency exit. When this plane erupts into a ball of flames and we are sent screaming through the air in a vertical nose dive into the ocean, it’s my job to open the door, inflate the slide and save everybody. I politely agreed.
A few moments later a kid, in the arms of it’s mother, decided to kick the living shit out of the back of my seat, sending me into an epileptic sit down river dance. It then sang up and down it’s octaves until it tuned its shrieking scream of all screams into the exact frequency that my brain is programmed to launch my system into a state of frenzy. I clenched my teeth. I could taste blood.
I frantically tried to skim a copy of The Independent from my bag and ignore the fat toddler screaming beast thing that was now grabbing at the back of my head. I managed to get through an article that made the point that the ultimate key to happiness lies in the act of selfless, altruistic giving. It was a guarantee for instant happiness, everyone a winner.
The sun beat upon my face through the tiny dusty oblong window. The big wing poked out into the cloud-tiled heaven, written on the back it in large print, DO NOT WALK HERE. I sat back and opened my Alan McGee book. He told me how his dad beat the shit out of him at a young age and how he had nowhere to run. He told of this feeling of no escape had led to him being argumentative, hedonistic, self-destructive, provocative and occasionally down right nasty. I could relate with these feelings. I had been all of these, but surely it couldn’t have derived from the occasional wallop my dad would dish out when I was a kid? Or the slipper across the arse / head from Mam?
The kid screams now pierced my cranium and fingered my brain, and I somehow managed to quash my desire to drop kick it up the plane. The kid, that is, not my brain, although right now, either would do. Altruism, I thought, agreeing with the Independent article: selflessly relieving this poor Mum from her agony, would indeed make me instantly happier. Everyone’s a winner!
Sheet rain welcomed me to Basel. Colder than Wales. Great. I boarded a bus behind a bunch of giggly fat old Brits in panamas who looked like they were on their first ever holiday. I located a supermarket near central and panic bought a pile of ingredients.
Bram tapped me on the shoulder at the train station. He was short. had soft sad eyes and spoke very gently. We boarded a busy fast train and within minutes were entering his apartment. The place was huge. This was a far cry from the cat piss puddle on a pull out smelly sofa I had woken up on in France, with a stinking hangover, during my last Couchsurfing experience. This was pure luxury. He showed me around. Open plan, huge 3 bed apartment. HUGE. The floor was black slate and completely heated throughout. The central heating came through the floor, woah. The sofa was about the size of my bedroom back home. He showed me to my room. My own room! Spotless. Nothing was out of place. Except me.
We hung out in the living room and got to know each other. He had split with his wife just a few months previously and she had moved back to Malaysia, now he was alone in this massive place. He was a scientist, a researcher of the kidney. This seemed significant to our meeting somehow, but I couldn’t place my finger on why.
Then it was time. I am a little mental in the kitchen. And need to be left alone. And then the crazy mess I leave behind I expect to be cleaned by the person I have so expertly fed. I chopped and diced and tossed and stirred. Heat was sizzling and there was shit everywhere. 20 minutes later Bram took his seat, as I presented our meal. One omelette each, but this omelette was different. It was fucking huge, with rings of leak, and covered in grated goat’s cheese and then fluffed up like a souffle under the grill. In between us, a bowl of stir fried peppers, mushroom and green beans with soy sauce and some bread. I hadn’t brought the wine, not only was I currently tee total but also the food alone had smashed in half of my weekend budget! This city was more expensive than London.
Bram loved the food and we retired to the comedy size sofa. I could see him in the distance. He offered to take me to his spa in the morning, after I mentioned my love of swimming. I was falling asleep. I got off to bed after a lovely hot shower and crisp clean towels. I slotted my clean body between the beautiful blankets and then drifted off into a paranoic state of worry and stayed awake all night.