The True and Terrible Tale of Babyghost Hill

October, late 2000s. Catawissa, Pennsylvania.
Soundtrack: Les Claypool – What Would Sir George Martin Do?

In the Frozen North, there’s only a couple things you can do after nightfall, and most of them are drugs. The truly daring go to Wal-Mart. NEPA is nothing but broken trains and trees, and when the seasons change and fall comes a-calling, you get that Ned Stark entropy reminder barraging you from every angle. The big freeze is almost here, and everything is about to die.

But me and the band, back in those bad old days, we were chasing down the thanatos far and beyond the Suscon Screamer mythos. The spooky season was upon us, and we were going to spend it unravelling the mysteries of the great beyond. We were going on our very own ghost adventures. Bustin’ made us feel good. We pored over the Weird Pennsylvania coffee table books at Barnes and Noble and identified some likely looking hauntings to either debunk or conclusively prove life after death.

Gather round, little ghouls, and let me tell you the true and terrible tale of Babyghost Hill.

Deep in demon-haunted Catawissa, there’s a gravity hill full of ghosts. Let me explain. If you follow the road down Numidia drive, you’ll come to a gully trapped between two hills. There used to be train tracks down there, and you can still see the rails blanketed under the tarmac. Once upon a time, a bus full of little elementary school kids broke down on the first hill, or maybe the second hill, it wouldn’t matter. The bus rolled down to the lowest point, as wheeled vehicles with government bankrolled brakes are wont to do, and the kids never got a chance to evacuate before the train came. More than thirty children died in that collision, breaking the bus clean in half like a Kit Kat.

The tracks were decommissioned for obvious reasons, in keeping with the demands of thirty grieving families. Numidia Drive hadn’t been a gravity hill before, but now, suddenly, it was. The legends said that the ghosts of all those dead kids still haunt the bottom of that gully, and if you stop your car on the paved-over railroad tracks late at night and shut off all the lights, the spirits will push you and your whole damn car all the way up the hill, to keep you from meeting the same fate as they did.

There were three of us that day, your humble narrator and two colleagues, T and R to protect the innocent and safeguard against any potential supernatural repercussions a la Feardotcom or The Ring. This sheath of anonymity can’t save us from the algorithms, but it might be enough to keep the vengeful dead at bay.

T was a broad fellow with a nose ring and a beard any Tolkienian dwarf would envy. He was the designated pilot of our observation vessel, a powerful green four-door chariot called Gram’s Car.

R was stout, with cokebottle glasses and the kind of 5 o’clock shadow that tends to shows up before noon. He read tarot, and could tell you about the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, if you asked.

We three piled into Gram’s Car and rode the hour out to Catawissa, which comes from a corruption of the Algonquin word Gattawisi, meaning “Growing fat”. I think we were debating the relevance of the word “assertive” in the song “What Would Sir George Martin Do?” I remembered there were no streetlamps on that desolate stretch of road, and we had to break out my girlfriend’s giant hazard flashlight to make sure had parked over where the tracks had been. This was before the ubiquity of smartphones, so we kept this monstrosity in the trunk of Gram’s Car for emergencies. It was the size of a duffel bag, beige as hell, made of solid plastic with a floodlight in the front and flashing orange emergency lights built into the sides. I think her father worked some sort of construction, or maybe in a mine.

“All right, wait, dude,” T said. “Maybe we shouldn’t turn off the car.”

“Why?” I asked.

“‘cuz Gram’ll be pissed if a bunch of ghosts jack up her car!”

“Gram won’t know.”

“Until she looks in the mirror,” R said. “And sees thirty pairs of little dead kid eyes staring back at her.”

“Aw naw,” T said. “Gram won’t be able to go in reverse, son, she’ll be pissed. She will be way pissed.”

“She can lean out the window,” I said. “Like in Ace Ventura.”

“Yeah, or, we don’t fuck with a bunch of baby ghosts right now,” T said. “I think we passed a Sheetz like… forty minutes ago. We could go get some ice cream or something, I don’t know. Meatballs.”

“We didn’t come out here for meatballs,” I said.

“Yeah, no shit,” R said. “There’s no meatballs out here. There’s nothing out here, except baby ghosts. Shut off the car.”

“What do you think, R?” I asked. “How we doing with the… uh… veil? This ghost real estate?”

“Prime,” he said. “Tons of ’em, probably.”

“What if another car comes while we’re sitting in the middle of the road with all our lights off like a bunch of damn fools?” T demanded. “Gram would be way more pissed if we got her car haunted, then totaled it.”

“Couldn’t happen,” I explained. “The ghosts will push Gram’s car out of harm’s way. Right up the hill.”

“Dude, what if the other car is also coming from that direction!”

R and I looked at each other. I shrugged.

“Maybe they’ll race,” R said.

“We came all this way,” I said. “Let’s bust ’em. We’re here to bust ’em.”

“Aw, son,” T mumbled again, but killed the engine.

The silence was incredible. The country road silence was compounded by the late October silence and the silence you get from being in an enclosed car. For a moment, nothing happened.

“Myth busted,” I said. “Ghosts are fake. When we die, we cease to be. Owned.”

We used to say “owned” back then. It was a different time.

“It’s got to be in neutral,” R said.

T muttered something and cranked the shifter, and then we all started groaning in alarm as the car rumbled into motion.

“No way dude!” T said. “Naw! The baby ghosts got us!”

“They got our backs,” R said.

“This seems pretty fast,” I said. “Little kids probably can’t run this fast.”

“They fly!” T wailed. “Babyghosts fly, son!”

“It’s not that fast,” R said.

“How many horsepower you think 30 babyghosts translates to?” I asked.

“It’s not that fast! You wanna get out?”

I did. I did wanna get out.

R and I leaped out of Gram’s car and ran alongside it, discernibly uphill enough for it to kill my knees.

“Don’t leave me in Gram’s haunted car!” T yelled. “Aw, naw, son! Naw!”

Maybe babyghosts could have run that fast. I fell back a bit to run alongside them, but I didn’t see anything around the trunk. The car rumbled and roared its way up the hill, then slowed to a very gentle stop at the peak.

“Might be downhill,” R said to me.

“I don’t know, man,” I wheezed. “Running uphill really sucks. That sucked more than it would have on like, level ground.”

“Get in the car!” T yelled. “I’m not tryna sit in here with a bunch of god– damned — baby ghosts!”

We thanked the babyghosts for their assistance and returned to our rightful place in Gram’s car, then tried to start the engine.

It wouldn’t turn over.

“You pissed them off,” T said. “You were back there fartin’ around behind the car and they found out that there’s no bus and now they’re gonna kill us, dude. This is just like when your brother summoned the fire god from the Necronomicon and then your car battery exploded!”

There were shades of similarity, I admit. A few months earlier, my brother brought the Simon Necronomicon to a bonfire we had in the woods by the airport and tried to summon Innani, the god of fire. It didn’t seem to work, but the next day the terminals in my old Volkswagen Jetta caught on fire. We never established conclusively if my little brother was a warlock.

T cranked the engine again and Gram’s car sputtered to life. We all looked at each other and sighed with relief, then we got the hell out of there.

On the ride back to the Frozen North proper, we debated what the data meant. R maintained it could have been an optical illusion. I admitted that it was possible, but I was running 15 miles a week at the time, and it had looked and felt like uphill to me. T insisted there was no such thing as babyghosts, and they absolutely now haunted Gram’s rear view mirror.

We pulled into one of our own familiar haunts, an Exxon on 315 next to the dread Arby’s.

“You talked me into the ice cream,” I said. “Maybe a milkshake. They got one of those milkshake mixers here?”

“Yo,” R said. “Look at this.”

He was standing behind the car, looking down at the rear bumper. He pointed to the caked-on road grime. It took me a moment to see what he meant.

Tiny handprints were all over the bumper, clean little five-finger smudges on the dusty dark green paint.

“No way,” T murmured.

I held my hand out to compare, and it was easily twice the size of those little prints. They did the same, and it wasn’t even close. They didn’t belong to us.

“Does Gram takes this car around kids?” I asked.

“Dude, Gram hasn’t driven this car in like four years. That’s why we smoke in it all the time.”

“Have… you taken this car around kids?”

“I don’t know any kids, son!”

The three of us stood behind the car, staring at the dozens of little hand marks on the bumper and trunk, our own fingers outstretched.

“Babyghost Hill confirmed,” I said.

It wouldn’t be our last paranormal investigation, or our last confirm. Stay tuned for more spine-tingling Coalcracker Goosebumps.

Love,
BT

Dublin: The Irish Won’t Stop Singing & The Monster Club

September 28, 2019. Dublin, Ireland.
Soundtrack: Headstone Horrors – Monster Club

The hostel was a collegiate Skinner box labyrinth with a grim, cafeteria style dining hall, faux bars full of noisy Australian teenagers, and a “hammock room” full of hungover chrysalises that stank like feet. The walls were covered in elaborate murals celebrating copyright infringement, and I practiced the path back to my 24-bed military dorm by quietly muttering to myself, “Right at C3P0, down the stairs, left at the Titty Elf, door 19.”

I didn’t spend much time there. I dumped my stuff and headed back out into my first weekend in Dublin.

I’d seen the city before, but it had been the launchpad of my first sojourn into bastardly travel, and I was yet a boy, unwise in the ways of the world. I booked the worst hostel money could by and spent the weekend hiding in it from the relentless, oppressive rain.

This time around the weather was as nice as it gets in Ireland, and the whole of the country had gathered in the bars, or in the streets, to sing. There’s nowhere in the world as thoroughly pervaded with music as Dublin on a Friday. The pubs were filled to bursting, and every one was playing live music, and everyone in the audience was singing along with the live music, whether they knew the words or not.

In the streets and walkways were interlocking circles of spectators clustered around buskers playing guitars and horns, doing DJ sets and tooting away on bagpipes.

It was uncanny. There was a college town weekend vibe, if the college town specialized in performing arts and spanned miles in every direction.

I had a coffee stout at an overfull microbrewery where everyone was singing alt-rock from the 90s. In America, ours tend to stick to the Tony Hawk soundtrack. I had as much Third Eye Blind as I could stand, then hiked twenty minutes through the musical chaos and found Fibber Magees.

It was easily identifiable. Punks look like punks, no matter where you are in the world. The battle jackets leaned more toward the Adicts and GBH than I was used to, but I was still able to track the concentration of studded leather to the bar entrance.

I met up with the horror punks from the ferry. They had with them a lanky Irish metalhead who had many recommendations for me, both about metal bands and about how to improve the political climate in America.

“Ye don’t understand,” he told me. “Ye run all of it. Th’ world economy relies on ye. When ye make a decision like electin’ Troomp, the entoire warld suffers, because our leaders just blindly go along with whatever ye say.”

“The problem with my country is they don’t consult me,” I confided in him.

“How’n the hell did ye wind up with Troomp, anyway?”

I was used to fielding this one. I explained that the overwhelming majority of America is made up of People of Wal-Mart. Their terrifying biomass is barely contained by their 4XL Tweety Bird t-shirts and they highly prize family values, which means maintaining two household shrines, one to Jesus and the other to Dale Earnhardt.

“They outnumber the Americans you see on TV or talk to on the internet 100 to 1,” I said. “They are the deciders of the election.”

“Jaysus,” he said.

“And the world mourns together.”

Speaking of mourning, the first band went on.

We went outside and stood in the beer garden shared by four different bars until that ended. When it did, four oldheads went up and played some solid post-punk.

“What’s post-punk?” the horrorpunk drummer asked.

“Punk, but the drums are slow.”

He nodded his spiked head a few times.

“You’re right. None of our songs go this slow.”

The Headstone Horrors set up and the metalhead approached me, slurring heavily.

“I’m goona start a fookin’ pit fer ’em,” he said, holding onto my shoulder for balance. “These guys desarve it.”

It got silly. A bunch of fookin’ taarists or badly confused locals wandered up to the front of the edges of the pit with full glasses of beer. Of course they wound up spilling it all over the place. I was on the wrong side of a few of these unfortunate yet unavoidable accidents, and they looked on me with baldfaced shock. One nearly escalated to violence, but I smiled disarmingly even as I continued to be a hulking tower of American meat.

It got wild. One of the mutants from that first band tried to pick a fight with an elderly skinhead by hissing at him and trying to punch him, and other assorted middle-school anime girl shit. He maintained his composure, which is more than you’d expect from a skinhead.

They tore the place apart, and it was one of the greatest experiences I’d had overseas. Certainly the greatest in the United Kingdom.

They finished up, I finished my beer, and bade a fond farewell to my new friends. They cautioned me again about a fortified Scottish wine; the name escapes me, but they talked about it like it was a combination of Boones’ Farm and tequila.

The only resident Irishman in our little party grew maudlin, as they are wont to do.

“Ya’re leaving? Already? I thought we could grab a few marr drinks. Well, that’s the way it goes, I s’pose. Maybe… in anudder life… anudder time…”

I clapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for his metal recommendations, then congratulated the Horrors on their set again and made for the door.

“Wait,” the singer said. “Thanks for coming, and for dancing. Here, take this.”

And she produced their album from one of their duffel bags, on CD. I didn’t know where I would play a CD, but the gesture was magnanimous. I thanked them again and made my way back to the hostel.

And that brings the tale of my most recent overseas jaunt to a close.

Epilogue: After an uneventful return to America, I discovered that the Girl brought a stereo system from the 90s from her parent’s house. It could play CDs. And since the only CDs in our possession in this, the year of our lord 2019 were the Headstone Horrors LP and what I’m told is a collection of “marimba classics”, I set the stereo up in the kitchen and kept those spooky little punkers spinning whenever I was cooking something.

After the move, the stereo went into storage, so now I stream them on Spotify, but I keep the album in a place of honor out of a Celtic sentimentality that four-hundred years of Americanization hasn’t yet pounded from my blood.

As of this writing, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and it might be a little while before I go on another trip worth recording.

But I’m still here, and I’ll find something to fill up the digital pages.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

B.

The Irish Sea: Keelhaulin’

September 28, 2019. The Irish Sea.
Soundtrack: Flogging Molly – Salty Dog

“And will ye be wantin’ the tinned to-MAH-tohs?”

“Please,” I said. I hadn’t seen a vegetable in what seemed like years.

The kindly old Welsh lady brought me a fried pile of meat, blood, and gluten, along with two mushrooms and some apocalypse prepper tomatoes. I inhaled the greased protein, chased it with a coffee, and set out to set sail.

I had a romantic notion of how the ferry to Dublin would play out. I’d approach the docks and it would suddenly be night, during a thunderstorm. I’d say, “I’m looking for passage to Dublin’s fair city,” and a crusty old mariner with a Mr. Krabs accent and one or more amputations replaced with hooks, all corroded from saltwater, would glare at me through his remaining eye and spit at my feet and say, “No room for the likes’a you.”

I’d be forced to stowaway aboard the vessel, hiding in the cargo hold, possibly among pigs. I’d crouch behind the storage pens, me father’s lucky knife clutched in me fist, lest I be discovered and need to stab myself out a distraction.

I’d flee from the scene, the crew in hot pursuit, cutlasses hissing from their scabbards, and with one last desperate prayer to Athena, Poseidon, or both, I’d hurl myself from the deck and into the black and fathomless deep, the chaos of the waves roiling around me, unsure which direction is up but fighting with an animal desperation to feel the broken stones of Éire beneath my feet once again, to feel the deliverance of my fingertips sifting the soil of my forefathers.

Instead, a pudgy, smiling lady took my ticket and herded me onto a bus full of middle-aged Dubliners and three punk rockers with day-glo Bird of Paradise hair. I hadn’t seen liberty spikes since high school, and they brought me comfort even as they nearly gouged out my eye.

“You guys a band?” I asked one of the punks, nodding to the tom case he was trying, with limited success, to hold between his ankles.

“Yeah,” he said politely. No sneering. I was a little disappointed.

“What do you play?”

“Punk.”

I laughed. “Well, yeah, I put that one together. What kind?”

They turned out to be a horrorpunk band from England called the Headstone Horrors. We talked shop a little. I told them about the Murphys song that inspired this leg of my trip and the Icelandic Punk museum, and they seemed amused enough. They told me they were taking the ferry because it was the cheapest way from Wales to Dublin, if not the fastest, and they had to scramble to a show that night in a rock bar called Fibber Magees.

The bus stopped, and we were herded onto what had been misidentified to me as a ferry.

The Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls is a ferry. What I had boarded was a floating mall.

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Vile

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It was 11 levels, somehow. I spent some of the journey on what portions of the deck weren’t cordoned off, squinting against the wind and wishing I still smoked.

At some point I made my way belowdecks and explored the multiple fine dining establishments on offer. There was a comfort food buffet situation, likewise without knowledge of vegetables, for $20 a plate.

I opted for the chain pizza kitchen instead, and ate a large pizza to the face. A man has to keep his strength up, especially at sea.

There was no stowing away. There was no swashbuckling. There was barely any internet. I wrote until we landed, then we were all herded into another bus, and I had to get my hands on some Euros again.

The punk rockers were on the same bus, as were a middle-aged couple from Denver. We talked about our various travels, and the Denverites told the punk rockers about their folk band, and wound up buying their CD before disappearing into uptown.

The punks and I took the bus to the last stop, around Temple Bar. They told me to swing by the show if I was in the area. I told them I’d keep an eye out, then ducked into the first bar I saw and had a beer.

Next stop, a two hour hike to my hostel. I needed the exercise.

Love,

B.

 

Holyhead: Me Spirit Never Failin’

September 27, 2019. Holyhead, Wales.
Soundtrack: Crypt Sermon – Key of Solomon

Since Holyhead was such a major historical port for trade between Dublin and the UK, I assumed it would have been metropolitanized. You know what happens when you assume.

I had a burger and a beer at the first place I saw, a roadside inn a few blocks from the combo dock/train station called “The Edinburgh Castle”. It should go without saying that it wasn’t, but the burger was pretty good. The tavern could sit about fifteen, but currently sat six. All were old and weathered, all were mean-mugging the handsome American interloper.

When in Yurp, I stay in hostels. This horrifies a lot of the casual globetrotters back in the real world because it’s supposed to be a vacation. Why go, if not to pampered?

Life is plenty pampered. The overwhelming majority of this country — certainly anyone financially blessed enough to be reading this — never misses a meal, sleeps in a soft bed every night, and almost never confronts their possible mortality. That’s amniotic. The meat husk is still running on paleolithic hardware, and if the mettle isn’t tested every so often, it recalibrates to a neurotic hypersensitivity that causes otherwise rational people to have real, physiologically demonstrable nervous conditions in response to poor voter turnout or twitter cyberbullying.

I’m abroad to see what abroad looks like. I know what Best Western looks like. If I wanted to be comfortable, I wouldn’t have left home. They named a whole zone after that.

Holyhead has one hostel, and it was booked solid. In fact, everything in town was booked up to accommodate the bustling weekend ferry business. On snatched handfuls of stolen WiFi, deep in the bowels of Edinburgh Castle, I booked my reservation at the only game in town.

It was about a mile walk to the Roadking Motel and Transport Cafe, and let me tell you: it’s a truck stop, if a surprisingly family oriented one. I tried to book a room in person and my cards were all declined. It took Wells Fargo 12 days to get wind of my overseas activity. I had been banking (#gottem) on them not noticing until after I was back.

The Welsh teenager at the desk gave me a temporary login that I used to download Skype onto my phone and WiFi call my bank. Fifteen minutes later, I had my very own private room at the Welsh truck stop. I decided to see the sights.

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It sure is – – #Wales #Holyhead #bastardtravel

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That was it. That was the sights.

Still, the Edinburger wouldn’t hold me the whole night. I made my way into town to forage.

I was squared away on pub grub. It had been most of my grub for the past few days, and the bars all seemed to have an elderly Innsmouth “no outsiders” kind of vibe.

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We carvin #carvery #Wales #bastardtravel

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Would’ve loved a carvery. That’s an event where they make a ton of meat and carve off chunks of it for you, all-you-can-eat style. Unfortunately, it was neither Sunday nor Wednesday, and I wouldn’t get to sample the local flavor. I defaulted to a kebab wrap.

I’d like to take a moment to praise the humble kebab. They’re ubiquitous and the closest you can get to real nourishment on the road, unless you’re one of those hardliners who makes your own pasta in the hostel. They’ve got all the food groups, weighted more heavily toward fat and protein. The carbs are incidental, even when they slip french fries in there (which is an affront). And your guaranteed 400% daily intake of Lebanese sodium will keep you from dehydrating on those long treks from centrum to some outlier train station.

There was nothing in Holyhead. It was like trying to tour some random frozen scrubgrass swamp in NEPA, but with a population of 11,000, I couldn’t hold it against them. Traditional Irish folk songs aren’t the ideal travel agents.

I searched up “Holyhead nightlife”, just in case.

It recommended the Edinburgh Castle.

I headed back to the truck stop.

Love,

B.

 

London: Trains, Innit?

September 27, 2019. London, England.
Sountrack: The Clash – London Calling

No one was open carrying. What the hell is a “prime minister”? I needed to get out of this ridiculous country.

In the wasted days of my youth, Rocky Road to Dublin had left a real impression on me. In the days before Uber, before dependable bus schedules, before driver’s licenses or smart phones, my grimy street urchin friends and I would walk from town to town along the railroad tracks, just like Kerouac always cosplayed, and that was one of our favorite songs to howl atonally into the junkie-haunted woods.

The doofy farm boy protagonist arrives at Dublin and gets robbed. He asks around, and the Dublinites tells him that whoever robbed him was definitely back in London (Connaught) by now. This schmuck believes it and stows away on a ferry from Dublin to Wales. He arrives at the port and some Liverpool Englishmen make fun of him for being a dumbass. Our protagonist, in a fit of druidic rage, casts shillelagh and calls upon the sacred rite of donnybrook. A few absolute lads from Galway heard the call and were honorbound to hurl themselves into the melee. The song ends here, at the zenith of this fun-size race war.

Well, I was already in London. Just work backwards. A train to Holyhead, then a ferry to Dublin, whack follol de rah.

I left my hostel and hoofed it across London. All told, the walk was about an hour. I could have got a bus, but this was my only chance at exercise for the day, and I figured it would get me a look proper at the city, in case I was selling it short. Besides, walking was good enough for me back then.

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God has abandoned us

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It was like any other city, but the inhabitants are even more adamant about avoiding incidental eye contact.

I tried to get a cheeky Nando’s, but they were closed until ten minutes before I had to catch my ridiculous $80 train. I wasn’t going to roll those particular dice.

I had this gross hard pierogi, instead. It filled the void.

We cattle-carred into the first train, the Britons and I. There was an arbitrary savesies system in effect that was not explained. I picked a seat that may or may not have been reserved; European politeness would prevent them from chasing me out anyway, and I was good until Manchester, where I had to jump ship onto a much cheaper $20 ticket to Holyhead.

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featuring death #wales #bastardtravel

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Everything England lacked aesthetically, Wales made up for. I stopped reading and stared out the window for most of the two hours.

And then, finally, Holyhead.

Little did I know, it’s not actually a tourist destination.

Love,

TB

London: The Broken Clock

September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Ghost – Monstrance Clock

Fortified by fine English porter, I leapt majestically over a puddle and then diverted my attention to another gaudily overwrought imperial legislation building. Despite my incredible agility, catlike poise, and natural grace, this led to me not looking where I was going, and I tripped on a loose cobblestone.

Just a little stumble. Not even a tumble! I never lost my footing due to the aforementioned podracer reflexes, even GABA inhibited as I was.

Still, this temporary loss of face was enough to send a couple of fancy lads behind me into screaming hysterics. Real middle school hours, right in their mid twenties! Could this be hooliganism?

I whirled on them, equilibrium restored.

“Hey,” I said. “Where’s the big clock at?”

“Wot?” one said, in the same voice and tone I use for peasants in D&D.

“The big clock?” the other asked. “You mean Big Ben?”

“Unless there’s another one.”

“Right there,” one pointed. We were mates now. “It’s under construction, though.”

“Cheers,” I said.

I turned the corner and gazed upon the legendary Big Clock, the iconic building that serves as Britain’s biggest tourism draw.

My laughter was perhaps a little mean-spirited.

I stood on the bridge over the Thames and looked at the big broken clock. I admit to being mildly raucous. Raucous enough for a local to overcome the nation’s stereotypical self-reservation.

“It is what it is,” she told me without slowing her pace. “Whole country’s under construction, innit?”

“So I see!”

(The words you can’t make out are “scenic vista of the mighty Thames”).

I also checked out a big ferris wheel which, I was told, is also a big draw to London. I’d never heard of the big ferris wall until I was in the city and Google Maps told me it was a landmark. I guess it’s been pushed up to number 1.

Just messing with you. We all know there’s only the one reason to go to London.

I was well and fully cashed on this particular city. The Mayflower was making more sense by the second. I got one last eyeful along the river and headed back to my hostel.

Love,

B.

London: Empires and Ashes

September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Flogging Molly – Tobacco Island


It was unusual, how silly I was after three glasses of beer. I even looked up the elevation to see if that was the issue. It was 36′ above sea level. In retrospect, I recognize it as attributable to malnutrition; I was down to a meal a day and, tragically, today’s had been fish and chips. And I skipped the chips.

Off I went, into the gloomy and actively darkening city of London to see what there was to see.

There was this sick monument to the Great Fire of London. Nowhere in the plaque did they specify if they were for or against it.

I crossed the Thames and it turned out that I was outside of Parliament. See, Parliament meets in Westminister.

I didn’t take a picture of the palace itself because who wants to see another boring palace? I was still a little irritated by the — (get ready I’m about to use a real British word) — hullabaloo over the Crown Jewels back at the Tower of London. Yeah, real fancy, got it.

Although, Black Rod’s secret trapdoor should have given me a hint, but who can decode this daffy (that’s another one) political system? Lords and Commons? Get outta here.

The pig hid his face in shame as I took the picture, as pigs should. I turned the corner and encountered an Imperial shitton of scaffolding around a statue of King Richard the Lionheart.

If that’s what you’re into, go to town, I guess. Richie was a big crusader and conqueror, which tends not to reflect well in the totality of time, but crusading was in vogue back then. What, you’re gonna tell the Pope “no?”

There was also that prickly little matter of him declaring the Purge on all of London’s Jews, then saying “oops jk” after the murderous riots got a little too expensive, but that’s no reason to take down a statue! Those were the times! Jefferson was a slaveowner. Skeletons abound, I’m sure.

Yeah, I was doing some mental gymnastics trying to give the benefit of the doubt until I turned the corner and saw the statue celebrating Cromwell.

If you’re an American who went to public school, you don’t know who this dude was, unless you listened to Flogging Molly, or had a brassy Irish grandma.

Cromwell was the Puritan son-of-a-bitch who masterminded what amounted to an Irish ethnic cleansing in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Penal Laws passed after the Reformation turned Catholics into bags of expendable meat. They weren’t even criminals, since all the rights were revoked. You could do whatever you wanted to them. This led to a lot of instantaneous robbery and murder, though you couldn’t call it robbery since they weren’t people anymore.

Now you might have heard of a guy called Saint Patrick. In America, he has a day. You drink green beer and perpetuate fun racial stereotypes. Patrick catholicized Ireland about a millennium earlier, so the majority of the country was Catholic (read: disposable). As of 2016, the whole country is still 82% Catholic. Old habits die hard.

But not for Ollie’s lack of trying! Cromwell had quite a Roundhead for business, and decided to monetize this genocide. Like Colombus!

Thus came transportation, or “Barbadosing”. If you were found guilty of Catholicism, or Irishness, you were packed up and shipped to Barbados to work the tobacco and sugarcane plantations. Or maybe to Australia. Or maybe to some other English colony! Christ (the Puritan one) knows there was no shortage.

The final fun little twist was all the opportunities available for indentured servitude. If you committed a different, non-Catholic crime, you could also get shipped off for seven years. The Irish took this with good humor, and wrote a number of tasteful folk songs about how much it sucked.

Finally, you opt into seven years transportation in exchange for freedom and wages, paid on completion of indentured service, unless you had an accident the day before and, say, died in a mine shaft.

I goggled at the statue of this highly celebrated genocidal slaver for a few seconds. The Irish are still mad about this. They live like, next door.

There was cold comfort in the fact that all this imperial detritus seemed so desperate. Remembrance of times when England was great, by the standards of the time, dragged screaming into a future that absolutely does not recognize those standards.

Like Propagandhi said: Today’s empires, tomorrow’s ashes.

I’m not linking that one, though. There are already two punk songs in this post, and I never got into Propagandhi.

You ever read that poem, Ozymandias?

Love,

B.

London: Live Action Harrumphing

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Dropkick Murphys – The Gauntlet

England was a trip, man. I’ll need a few posts to get through all this, so I’m going to break this down into bite-sized pieces.

I survived the Ryanair flight, narrowly, and after the pilot landed the plane like a dribbled basketball I stepped out to the sweet solid ground. This particular solid ground, however, was British soil.

My last name is English. It’s not something I think about very often. I’m an American boy, and that’s as much heritage as I was ever given, beyond Ma’s painfully Irish complexion.

Now, I’m a firm believer that America is the greatest country in the world, despite our leadership, outrageously overpriced health care, disastrous system of cultural values, police brutality rates, test scores, lagging literacy, carbon emissions, obesity rates, car-centric comfort culture, academic debt slavery, intellectual cowardice, pop culture exportation, and humiliating representation on the global stage. I’m a patriot, and we’re still mad about the Revolutionary War.

I say this because it turns out, we modern Sons of Liberty aren’t the only ones.

The rest of the survivors and I were herded out into the little cattle chutes that led into the Southend airport, then divided into two groups: those with an EU passport, and those without. I was the only one without, and stood alone, like the cheese, until I was… regarded.

It’s said that the English take queueing (which is a special Metric system word for “waiting in line”) very seriously. I wasn’t prepared for quite how seriously.

It’s hard to picture this, but imagine a huge, open room with those little cloth bank turnstiles forming a maze. On one side of the room is everyone. On the other side of the room is me. I was being scolded for standing alone ten feet (that’s about 3 meters) of where I would otherwise be standing alone.

“How long are you planning on staying?” he asked, once he decided I wouldn’t experience the appropriate level of shame and started doing his job.

“Definitely not long,” I said. “I’m flying home from Dublin on Friday.”

“Enjoy your stay,” he said dryly, and stamped my goddamn passport already.

I left that charmer behind and found an ATM, withdrew a bunch of regal Monopoly money with one or more queens on it, then caught the train to the Tower of London (see next post). Then, I headed to my hostel, which was in a pub.

My first impression of London is that very few people there seem to be English. I mostly overheard Spanish. All the food stands were run by people from India or the Middle East. Both bartenders I encountered on my walk to my hostel were from Spain.

The people who ran my hostel were really nice, and really English. I chalked Angry Santa up to a fluke. In fact, all the English women I met on my trip were really nice and uniformly exuberant.

Four beers later, I discovered I was drunk! These are the dangers of eating one meal a day, friends. Man cannot live by a single burger alone.

The pub was starting to fill, and had collected a large number of Lads. I had been prepared for the Lads; I was informed that they would be raucous, perhaps cheeky. I did not anticipate them all being in their mid-thirties, or sitting at a table ten deep.

They were all ladded up, though, crowding the booth,shouting. I figured, if this was the rule, it must be real discomforting for British women. Maybe that’s why they were all so demonstratively bright and chirpy.

But that’s just at a glance. I would gain greater understanding of this great nation in the coming days. It was too noisy and ladly now, and I was full of beer. I slung my pack over my shoulders and stumbled out to sightsee.

Love,

B.

Reykjavik: Bones and Stones

Tuesday, September 17, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: The Sword – Cloak of Feathers

We were woken by the dulcet tones of a dude with a jackhammer outside of Kex, which is equal parts hostel and social event of the season. The downstairs bar/venue room is a huge, beautiful library full of fine leatherbound books in a language I can’t read. The chairs are leather as well, and it always smells like toast. Unfortunately, everything there costs a minimum of 2500 krona, which is like $22 in real money. I enjoy the ambiance, but not enough to pay that much for the Icelandic equivalent of Budwiser.

I brought a padlock from the states. I got it from Wal-Mart. It broke as soon as I strapped it onto the locker. I spent the first half hour of the morning googling WikiHows of how to crack combination locks and growling.

I succeeded, eventually. Eureka! We hit a cafe, from whence I tickatacka’d yesterday’s BT, then we made our way to a neighboring hostel where I foraged up something that contained meat and vegetables.

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Shakshouka #shakshouka #bastardtravel

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From there, we proceeded across downtown to soak up some culture.

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My mans lost 😦 #berlin #bear #bastardtravel

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I suspect this was the consulate building, if not the consulate himself. We’re both a long way from home, little fella.

A little beyond the expatriate bear, we found Tjornin Lake, a gorgeous shallow pond full of hateful waterfowl.

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sick lake

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Tourists were frigging around with the birds, trying to catch them on their hands like in Snow White. The difference is, the birds in Snow White are cute little cartoon bluebirds, whereas the birds of Lake Tjornin are colossal ex-dinosaurs, molded by evolution since the Mesazoic to become diseased airborne gang rapists.

I have it on good authority that the secret to defeating a goose is grabbing it by the neck, spinning it around like Mario 64 Bowser, and hurling it through the air. It’s important you scream the entire time. I was confident that I could do this, if it came down to it, but I didn’t want to. Instead, we retreated to the National Museum, to look at culture.

This was about the extent of the old god’s representation in the museum, unless it was also Jesus.

Grave goods were a big seller, though. The first half of the museum was recovered beads and rusted weapons once buried with long deceased Icelanders. Grave goods apparently included horses, whom, the Icelandair video had assured me, are known as “the true ambassadors of Iceland”.

Horrific ghoul King Olaf of Norway decided in 1000 AD that Iceland should spurn the old gods and embrace Christianity. Iceland was like “okay, I guess.” Their squat and deadlift totals immediately plummeted, despite their truly awesome fish protein intake.

Look at this messiah, though. Who needs Thor?

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Socialist scum #socialism #bastardtravel

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Politic.

I would’ve preferred this to be an elaborate engraving of Ragnarok but I’m not going to turn down whatever the hell this is.

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Boat #boat

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Boat.

In our time at the National Museum, we were followed around by a cadre of collegiate German tourists with no concept of volume control. They would not shut the fuck up. And it’s not even like they were conversational about it; they toddled along and inflected, shouting in German, presumably to appreciate the acoustics of the empty, silent god damn museum.

It was a dissonant experience for me, and here’s why. Firstly, I don’t speak German. Maybe what they’re saying is pertinent. Maybe this dude is explaining his treatise to his 22-year-old review board. Maybe he’s a tour guide with mild Asperger’s.

Secondly, I don’t know the cultural mores of this land, this Ice Land, as yet. Maybe shouting in the museum is encouraged! Maybe I’m the one making a faux pas by quietly reading the placards surrounding the artifacts.

Thirdly, I’m an American. We are the loud obnoxious tourists. That’s our whole purpose. Look up “loud American Japanese business”; it’s not even a stereotype, it’s a living wage.

It was on the third floor I noticed everyone else at the museum fleeing from the Germans whenever they entered a room. It’s not like you didn’t hear ’em coming.

“Let’s go back downstairs until they’re done,” Ladygirl suggested.

“Excuse me!” I called to them. “Can you guys keep it down?”

They gawped at me, presumably for addressing them at the same volume. Sort of like the frat boys back at college who would yell at pedestrians from their little beer pong porch bunkers, right up until you yelled something back, at which point they would go record-scratch silent.

“We’re just talking,” one of the girls said.

“I know,” I said. “We can all hear you. We’re in a museum.”

European politesse won out, and they entschuldigung`d and continued their heated exchange with their inside voices.

Ladygirl and I finished the circuit at a decibel level appropriate for a dimly lit museum, then suited up and made our way across town to the Culture House. The tickets were two for one, and you had no choice. Sodden with Icelandic culture as I already was, I’d be remiss to waste this other ticket that I apparently bought.

The Culture House was more to my tastes. A lot of the paintings were spooky, and trolls were well-represented.

I also happened onto a display of old Icelandic spellbooks from the pre-Christian days, and I took pictures of them in order to push my luck with the spirit world.

That was as much culture and eldritch knowledge as I could collect in one day. We proceeded to Brew Dog.

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Aqua mural in Brew Dog #mural #beer #bastardtravel

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Toilets with threatening auras #bastardtravel

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The beers were spectacular. The only thing stopping Reykjavik from being heaven is the fact everything costs twice as much as it does in the real world.

I cannot stress this enough: Iceland is preposterously expensive for no reason.

Well, okay, that’s intellectually dishonest. There’s a reason. It’s a huge cold socialist island, and everything has to be imported. While that has nothing to do with me, the cheapest meal surrogate I’ve been able to get my grubby little mitts on is a shwarma sandwich, which still cost $10.

$10! For shwarma! What?

I don’t hold it against them. It’s not their fault. I’d want some kind of recompense too, if I had to put up with this weather every day.

Love,

The Bastard