Drowning in the Land of Madness (Day 3)

A bed has one function. To be comfortable enough for you to fall asleep on. Any bed that fails at this important and basic function is not in my eyes a bed at all, but some kind of mystery furniture. Whoever invented the pull-out sofa bed that I am lying on now surely did not have the words bed or sleep in mind when they made it. So then, what is this machine that I have been doomed to spend two weeks on? It looks to me like a giant cigarette rolling machine. I imagine the bed popping back into its sofa shape in the middle of the night and me getting wrapped in the bed sheet and dispensed out of the bottom like a giant cigarette.

This evil device of impractical chiropody has twisted me almost in half during the night and now I feel like a rung towel. I stretch to ease some of the tension and feel my spine crack into place with the pleasing sound of falling dominoes.

David has already put the coffee on and a fresh cup appears on the table in front of me.

“Cheers. Jerky,” I say.

“In your coffee?”

“No. Jerky is what is needed. That is what I want.” My head is hanging heavy, looking down into my coffee I can see a circular distorted reflection of my face in the brew and realise that I am clearly not a human. Not yet at least. And I realise, if I intend to have any hope of making sense, I need to concentrate on what I am saying. “Today, wherever we go, I want some jerky. Proper American jerky. I need to start understanding this country. But I know I never will. Jerky will help me along my path. I have seen jerky in every store we have been in so far. It must be important. It must be.”

“Don’t you eat it all the time in England?”

“No. That’s the biltong. It’s more or less the same. Just more misshapen and softer. And I think it’s made of deer instead of cow. And from South Africa maybe. Or not. I don’t know. Maybe. Who knows? It has a different name but is the same but also different in some way I can’t recall. You know? No? Well, never mind that. But it must be better here. They say all the food is better here. Not that that’s been proven so far.”

David takes the seat opposite me. “I just want to find some normal fucking beer.”

“Here, here.” I drink my coffee and then a thought strikes me. “Where are all the girls?”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you seen any? Anywhere? I haven’t seen a single woman under the age of forty five since we got to this country? I thought these lands were bountiful when it came to perfect beautiful women. Where the fuck are they all?”

“I don’t know. Hiding from us probably.”

“I want one. The States should be bursting at the seams with beautiful Hollywood-moulded immigrants (for all Americans are immigrants except the famously moody Natives). I know they’re around here somewhere. I’ve seen them in the movies. I want jerky, a gorgeous woman, and a decent pint. These things are not hard to come by in England. My ex was a beautiful American. And I met her in a pensioner’s clothes shop in Bournemouth. Why can’t I find any here?”

On Venus (the planet) all of the landmarks have female names except one mountain which was named before the idea to give everything feminine names came about. Imagine being the only man on an entire planet of women. Being in an RV park is kind of like the opposite of that. The only women you see are, what people in the know call, Snow Birds. Grey haired women who travel south for the winter. We are awash in a silver sea unable to get to shore, where, in our delusions, a kingdom of beautiful women lies just beyond sight.

After breakfast it’s time to leave the RV Park and drive to Flagstaff; a place we hear to be an interesting stop on Route 66. We put away anything that could move and break or become a lethal projectile should we crash or break suddenly. When an RV of this size starts to move at speed any sudden stop can cause a normally harmless toaster (or cup, or shoe, or frying pan, or souvenir cactus etc.) to become weaponised. Being kicked in the face by a shoe is embarrassing enough. Being kicked in the face by a shoe that doesn’t have a foot in it is an embarrassment one finds hard to live down.

The sun-blinds that shield the windscreen when parked are taken down. The dining area and double bedroom are retracted back into the RV. The hydraulic feet that are used to level the floor are withdrawn. Sewage pipe, water supply, and electric hook-up are unplugged and put away. The beer cooler is stored safely in one of the luggage compartments. Dad takes the driver’s seat. Mum programs the destination into the sat-nav. Me and David lounge in the two double seats in back and we are set to go. The engine starts with a rumble. The CD player turns on automatically and plays Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. We leave this worn out RV Park in search for greener pastures.


“What the fuck was that?” says David.

Less than three minutes into our journey we are forced to pull over to investigate an enormous boom that had resonated around the RV from above. To me it is obvious what has happened. Someone has jumped to their death from a tall building and landed on us. Or perhaps an angel has been cast out of heaven and burned up on entering the atmosphere and is now smouldering on top of the RV, blackened and charred. Some people in the RV seem to have different ideas.

“I left the damn antenna up!” says Dad, coming to a more reasonable conclusion than my own mind tends to allow. “David, get up there and have a look will you? I always bloody forget to wind it down.”

David is not the kind of person that needs persuading to climb up on top of an RV and fix something. He is by trade a shop fitter and is a natural master at fixing all things (this normally involves merely the application of force. It seems there are few problems that can’t be rectified with a good hard wallop. It never works for me. I am always dumbfounded and amazed when he does hit something that was previously broken only for it to spark back into life. I can only conclude that appliances fear him).

“How’s it looking?” says Mum, shielding her eyes from the sun as she looks up at him from the pavement.

“It’s fucked.”

“Can you be more specific?” says Dad.

“The bracket at the bottom is fucked.”

“Can you fix it?”

“I think I can help.” I say (although it’s no secret that I am only capable of making things worse), and make my way around the back to climb up the ladder and join him.

“Yeah, it’s fucked.” I say, when I get to the top.

“Great. Thanks for your help,” says David.

“It’s fun up here. I feel like we’re in one of those old cowboy films where they run around on top of trains.”

“You are a child,” says David, without turning to look at me.

“So now we can’t watch TV?” says Dad. “Wonderful.”

David tapes the areal down so it doesn’t come lose and we get back in the RV and carry on with our journey to a place called Black Bart’s in Flagstaff.

The scenery is scenic as, by definition, all scenery is. We roll down endless roads flanked by mountains that are dotted with cacti. So much cacti that if you were to recreate the scene with CGI, or paint it, people would accuse you of exaggeration. Every square foot for miles around contains at least one hostile green plant. It looks fake. Like the land has green stubble.

After driving for a bit we stop at a place called Black Canyon for petrol. Not much is going on here. There are signs on most of the shops that say they are closed on Mondays. I was hoping to poke around the Navajo shop to see if they sell knives. A knife is the only thing I intend to buy over here. Lock knives are illegal in England, though I’m not sure why. I think it has something to do with not being allowed to stab people in the UK. In America you can do what you like so long as you let the police shoot you afterwards.

You can buy knives in petrol stations. They seem to sell them everywhere and they’re always brightly coloured or in novelty shapes. They are either marketed to children or the adults over here have a particularly juvenile mind-set. But I’m not after a toy. I want something to replace a knife I brought in Mont Saint-Michel in France when I was 14. I’ve always found it useful, you’d be amazed how often I used the thing, and I’ve almost never stabbed anyone with it. One day, after making a Galileo Galilei Pendulum Wave Machine with my daughter it vanished. I used it to cut the strings that held the weights after we were done, put the knife down, and never saw it again. I am lost without my handy sharp implement. Kitchen knives just aren’t the same and the kind of knives that don’t lock are lethal, especially if you intend to keep your fingers. There is an idea in England that the only reason you could possibly want to own a knife is if you want to murder someone. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes sitting around a fire, or camping, or hiking, then owning a decent knife is no different to owning a tent or hiking boots. I was hoping the Navajo shop would sell something a bit more authentic than the brightly coloured laughing stock of shitty knives I’ve seen so far but I guess I’ll never know. Still, I have two weeks to find something.

I buy some chilli jerky and David buys a 6-pack of some kind of cherry drink from a convenient store and we climb back into the RV. Before we are all the way in we are startled by a strange sound. A bellowing noise. I couldn’t quite place it. I go back outside to see what the commotion is. It turns out to be something you don’t hear much in England; loud affectionate geniality. A fat American wearing a cowboy hat is impressed by the size of the bus and is practically “Ye-Hawing” in astonishment. What’s with the overt kindness and whooping at strangers that is so common over here? I’m more comfortable with the cynical miserable bastards back home. You don’t have to try and work out if someone is actually happy to see you or just putting on a façade. People are either happy or they are not. They like you or they don’t. They are impressed or they couldn’t give a shit. There’s no guessing in the UK. Although, as the American culture continues to penetrate ours, I’m sure with each passing generation we too will become fake shills. But this man seems genuine in his astonishment. He probably yells in genuine astonishment at everything he comes across.

The weighty cowboy wishes us a good day and safe journey and runs down the street with the bright sun high above him, whooping and firing a gun into the air. So I imagine anyway. I’m in the RV now escaping from his unwarranted kind words. I’m just assuming he’s whooping and shooting his gun. He probably is.

“Well, that’s one goal knocked off my list.” I say to Mum, opening the giant bag of jerky as we pull out onto the interstate.

“I’ve never tried Jerky before. It doesn’t look very appealing,” says Mum.

“No, it’s delicious, try some.” I proffer the bag and she peers in dubiously.

“Are you sure it’s not going to kill me?”

“I can’t promise anything, but it is tasty. It’s kind of like meaty chewing gum.”

She takes a piece out of the bag and puts it in her mouth. She chews, frowns, and then nods. “It’s ok. A bit chewy.”

People who are new to jerky will not know about that one piece of rogue jerky you sometimes come across. For whatever reason that particular piece of jerky is utterly uneatable. You can chew it and chew it for hours and the meat will never separate in your mouth. It seems to be fixed together by an unbreakable bond. The best thing to do when you get one of these pieces is to discard it immediately and pick out another piece. Otherwise it won’t be long before your jaw is aching and you find you can’t eat or speak for the rest of the day due to mouth fatigue.

I am on my sixth piece and I offer Mum another one. To my surprise she is still chewing.

“I don’t know how you can eat them so fast,” she says.

“I think you got a dud one. They normally fall apart in your mouth.”

“I think I’ll take your word for it.”

I think she should too. More for me. I offer David one but he’s happy enough with his bottle of cherry soda.


It was hot in Phoenix, as has been established, but things are set to improve. We are traveling upwards, from 2000ft to 6790ft. As you rise in elevation the air gets thinner and the weather gets milder. The closer to the sun you get the colder you will be. Go figure. Flagstaff is up a mountain surrounded by volcanoes.

We finally drive past a sign that says 6000ft elevation and arrive soon after at Black Bart’s RV Park. This park is essentially a restaurant car park. The only difference that separates this from any other restaurant carpark is that the parking bays are huge and each contain a picnic table and a pine tree. The weather is fantastic. It is hot but not so hot it would melt your skin like it was in Phoenix.

We book in at reception and I buy two large bags of ice for $6 and David haplessly pours them into the cooler from standing height. I open the second bag but the ice is stuck together in one giant ice clump.

“We’ll have to get a hammer or something”, says David, passing a practical eye over the block of rock hard water.

I hold the block of ice up above my head and prepare to let it drop.

“Don’t be so fucking stupid,” says David, trying to stop me.

But it’s too late. The ice is already falling through the air. It hits the edge of the cooler and breaks into a hundred pieces. By some miracle most of them land in the cooler. “Problem solved.” I say.

David reaches down and picks up a can. A thin spray of beer is emanating from a tiny hole in the side of the can. “But at what cost?” says David.

Shit. How many cans have I sacrificed for this labour saving ice drop? I dig through but it seems only one of the cans has been hurt.

“Boys, can you give us a hand getting the RV set up?” comes Dad’s voice from inside the RV.

“Yea,” says David, dropping the broken can back into the cooler, where it continues to spray.

I help mum put the blinds over the windscreen while David sorts out the sewage, electricity, and water. We finish quickly and wander down to the restaurant to have a poke around but it’s closed. It looks cool though, from the outside. It’s an old fashioned western place with a wooden porch. There’s a decrepit horse cart by the entrance and the walls are decorated with rusted stirrups and saddles.

“It’s not open till five,” I say, pointing at a board with the opening times. “Shall we cross the interstate and see what’s around?”

“Sounds like a plan,” says Dad. “How do we get there?”

Mum notices a gate in the fence and we make our way towards it but we stop when we see something move. “What are they?” says Mum.

“A gofer, or are they called Prairie Dogs. Or are they the same thing?” I say. “I want one. Let’s see if we can catch one.”

“Andy, don’t be an idiot,” says Dad.

David takes out his camera to take a picture but they all scarper down their burrows before he has a chance.

We cross the interstate without getting killed, stopping at a petrol station on the way to see if they sell fridge magnets (mum is collecting fridge magnets from every state/town she visits as a souvenir. She is also collecting pins that she attaches to a cowboy hat that hangs on the wall beside the passenger seat in the RV). I ask the guy behind the counter if there is a bar nearby and he recommends a place called Porky’s Pub.

Porky’s is just across the road. We enter and hover for a while. A British person in an American pub will always be confused at first. What are the rules? Our natural instinct wants us to go to the bar and buy a round of beers that we’ll take to a table of our choice by ourselves. But they do it differently here don’t they? Or do they? Is it table service everywhere or just in some places? Maybe there’s a sign. If you find yourself in a table service pub in England you’ll know about it without question. There will be a small lectern as you walk in the entrance with a book of reservations on it and a big sign that says, “Please Wait To Be Seated.” If you try and make your way to the bar by yourself you will be grabbed by the scruff of the neck by a mean looking waitress with thick arms and be led to a table where she will then leave you for an unreasonable amount of time before returning to scornfully take your order. But not here. Not in America. The people here are kind and good at customer service. They are the best at it.

Porky’s seems to be run by one man. A thin bald guy, about my age, is standing behind the counter. He sees us looking unsure of ourselves and recognises us for what we are; simple British folk. “Take a seat,” he says, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

We take a seat and a few moments later he is with us. He doesn’t stand next to us waiting for commands like one of our guys would, instead he pulls a chair from table and sits down. “So, what can I get you?”

“Have you got any Blue Moon?” says Dad.


“Three pints of those I think.”

“What’s that?” I say, having never heard of the beer and being dubious of American lager.

“It’s nice trust me,” says Dad.

“It’s cheaper if you get a pitcher,” says the barman.

Dad looks at me and David for affirmation and we nod in agreement. “Pitcher it is,” says Dad.

“And for the lady?” he says, looking at mum with a smile.

“I think I’ll have a gin and tonic.”

“No problem. Can I get you guys any food?”

“I am a bit peckish,” says Mum.

“Ok,” says the man getting up, “You have a look through the menu while I get your drinks.”

“Cheers,” we say.

“So what is this beer you’ve ordered?” says David.

“Trust me, it tastes like oranges.”

“Oranges? I want it to taste like beer,” I say.

“It does. It just also tastes of oranges. I drink it all the time.”

“Right. I’m choosing the next beer,” I say, picking up the drinks menu.

The barman comes back with the drinks and mum orders a basket of Teriyaki chicken wings with blue cheese sauce for us to share. “Sure thing, they’re on their way,” he says, and disappears into a back room.

The beer really does taste like oranges. It’s drinkable but faintly sickening. I fear more than one pint of the stuff would cause an organised revolt from my stomach. A mutiny of bile.

The barman returns with the chicken wings. “Can I get you anything else?” he says, putting the chicken wings down in the middle of the table. They smell fantastic!

“We’ll have a pitcher of Padst Blue Ribbon,” I say, our beers already finished.

“Ok, anything else?”

“I’ll have another G and T,” says Mum.

“On its way.”

“What’s Blue Ribbon?” says Dad.

“It’s the beer the Hipsters are drinking. I’ve been wanting to see what all the fuss is about for some time.”

The barman returns with the pitcher and mum’s drink. We thank him but by now all the chicken wings are gone so we order more. Those chicken wings, my god, I wish you could taste them. I must remember to Google teriyaki sauce when I get home. I don’t know what it is but spread it on chicken and dunk it in blue cheese sauce and you will create, in your mouth, a kind of heaven.

Sadly with the new beer comes more disappointment. The regretful taste of Padst Blue Ribbon splashes over my tongue and down into my gullet, destroying any taste recollection of the delicious chicken that came before it.

David frowns at his glass. “Great choice,” he says.

“What is that?” says Dad, trying to place the flavour. (Note the “u” in the word “flavor”. Americans, take note, it might not make any sense but it is a well-loved language the quirks of which should be embraced. These random letters that are not needed are relics, a small reminder of the languages origins. You wouldn’t burn all the fossils because we no longer have dinosaurs would you? Wait. We do do that don’t we? Isn’t that what petrol is? Never mind, you know what I mean. Sadly, your version of English makes a lot more sense, is easier to teach, and much more economic. The spell check on my laptop was automatically set to American when I bought it in England, and with the flood of American culture that whispers in the ears of our teens, soon the American way will be the only way. Your power and charm will overwhelm our pointless holdfast on a beloved yet outdated tongue. I must try and stop going off on these tangents, it distracts from the scene).

I have another sip of my beer and the taste brings on a feeling of nostalgia and then a clear memory. “I know what it is. Do you remember those milk bottle sweets we used to get when we were kids?”

“Yes! That’s what it is! It has an aftertaste of milk bottles,” says David.

“It’s not bad,” says Dad (who will admitted drink anything), “A bit strange but quite drinkable.”

“One of these days I will find a normal pint,” I say.

“We could just get a Bud?” says David.

“No! We must persevere and find a beer you can’t get in England that doesn’t taste like fruit, candy, or furniture polish! Once we have found it we can give up and just drink Bud. But not until we find it.”



We’re back at the RV. We left Porky’s, looked in a few shops, and since then we’ve mostly been milling around. David managed to take a picture of a gofer. Other than that it has been relaxing and uneventful. We sat around the RV, enjoying the sun, smoking cigarettes (I was anyway, the others don’t smoke). Now we are heading over to the restaurant for dinner.

We enter and are shown to a table a row back from the stage. The back wall of the stage is a book shelf loaded to the brim with music books. There is a piano and next to it, at the front of the stage; a microphone.

The waitress appears at our table and asks if she can get us any drinks. She’s kneeling, looking up at us with wide welcoming eyes. They really have nailed the customer service over here. If a British waitress knelt down at a customer’s table in the UK she would be fired for public indecency. She would probably get a good tip though.

“Do you have a beer menu?” I say.

“Yes, sir, right here,” she leans forward and takes a meu from a small stand on the table. She opens it and hands it to me.

“Bloody hell, quite a few.”

“Yes, and they are all brewed locally.”

Here we go again, I think, and David flashes me a look that suggests he’s thinking the same thing.

“Get me a drink, I’ll be back in a minute,” says Dad, excusing himself to use the restroom.

Me and David look through the menu and settle on two different ales. For me and him we get an ale called Left Hand into the Dark Side. Not a promising name but its description makes it out to be a light and refreshing ale. For Dad we order what is called Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale and is described as a Scottish IPA but is actually made locally and the reference to its Scottish-ness is ungraspable and probably non-existent.

Dad comes back and the waitress joins us again to take our food order. “Have you decided?” she says.

“Yes, could I-“

We are interrupted by a sudden tinkering of keys from the piano on the stage.

“Could you excuse me for a moment?” says our waitress.


“Thank you,” she says, and then puts her order pad down, walks up on to the stage, up to the microphone, and sings Sweet Virginia. The song ends, she thanks the audience, we clap vaguely, and she comes back to finish taking our order.

“What was that about?” I say, as she picks up her order pad.

“This is a live music restaurant. When we don’t have a band the waiters and waitresses take turns doing Vaudeville songs.”

“Got it,” I say.

“I’ll have a 9oz steak,” says David, presumably finding nothing noteworthy or unusual about our singing waitress.

“Me too,” says Dad.

“And me,” says Mum.

“And you sir,” says the waitress to me.

“I think I’ll also have the 9oz steak. But can I have peppercorn sauce with mine?”


“Pepper what? Where’d you see that?” says Dad.

“On the menu.”

“Add that to mine as well please,” says Dad.

David and Mum also add the sauce, for what is steak without peppercorn sauce? Nothing but a bit of dead cow, that’s what.

The ale, as you will be expecting by now, is another disaster. The worst yet in fact. It has the consistency and hue of dirty toilet water after a bad night on the curry. It is just unpleasant. I can’t understand why anyone would consider this a drink? Not one to be beaten by a drink I force mine down. I have a taste of Dad’s but it is just as bad, not that he seems to mind it. He acknowledges that it is indeed disgusting but drinks it without issue regardless. David gives up on his and calls the waitress over. What is left of David’s beer dad uses to top up his own, creating a combo that would, I suppose, now be called Dirty Bastard Left Hand into the Scottish Dark Side (which is a hideous yet apt description).

“Any chance we can get a few tasters of the rest of your ales?” says David, to the waitress.

“Sure,” she says, “Back in a mo.”

She returns with a wooden rack of shot glasses each filled with liquid that goes from amber, to burgundy, to brown, to black. After tasting them all we order two pints of the amber coloured ale, the name of which I never discover. Dad pours the undrunk shots of ale into his pint glass creating a mixture David and Me are both unwilling to try. Dad continues to drink it like water but grimaces when he finally polishes the thing off.

The streak is good but the Vaudeville tunes are sung with the gusto and brevity of a dying breeze. They inspire boredom and a deep overwhelming sense of loneliness. As they sing you can see the emptiness in the eyes of the waiters and waitresses as they are forced to perform every day for a weirdly delighted, and easily pleased, gaggle of Snow Birds.

The moderate food, iffy ale, and terrible live music has finally taken its toll. As I’m watching the big finale (where all the waitresses and waiters gather on stage and sing something very proud and patriotic about America and how great all of its citizens are), someone taps me on the shoulder.

I turn in my chair and there, at the table next to us, is a young and very excitable Chinese guy. “Yes?” I say.

“I’m sorry to bother you.”

“That’s ok. What do you want?”

“I was just wondering, that guy, is he your dad?”

I look over at the man in question and am quick to surmise an answer, “Indeed he is.”

“Is he famous?”

“That depends. Who do you think he is?”

“Is he the guy that played the doctor in Back to the Future?”

“Great scot!” I shout, “We’ve been rumbled!” David starts laughing, but Dad, in his curiously vacant way, hasn’t seemed to have noticed the interaction. “Let’s get out of here,” I say to the table at large. (Dad is not, by the way, Dr. Emmett Brown.)

Dad calls for the bill and I chuck some money on the table for my bit. David and I wait outside while the rest of the bill is paid so I can have a cigarette.

The evening at this elevation is chilly (a welcome break from the sweaty night that preceded). Luckily David brought a spare jacket with him so we are able to sit outside and have a few cans before we shoot off to bed. I, stupidly, did not think I would have the opportunity to get cold enough on our journey between Arizona and the Mojave Desert in Nevada to need a jacket. David, on the other hand, has enough scepticism (when it comes to weather) to bring two jackets.

Drowning in the Land of Madness (Day 2)

Morning comes like a practical joke. Waking me up in the night like a hyperactive infant. My body thinks its 3pm but the time is actually 7am. Me and David are up and have found the coffee percolator. I search for the coffee and find it in the cupboard above the sink. Nobody should be up at 7am while on holiday. 7am should be a secret kept by the employed. The rest of us should not know of its evils. Our parents wake up, disturbed by the racket we are making, and join us in the lounge of their RV.

The RV; I am yet to introduce you to it. The grand tour then. When I think of my parents roaming around this huge country I imagine the RV like some kind of a giant mechanical rhino, galloping enthusiastically down interstates and highways in search of some kind of peace. Some kind of American dream. It has the ability to convert from a vehicle to a place of residence like a giant movie-inept Transformer. It starts off as a bus and with the press of a button the sides extend outwards in two places and then, as if by magic, it becomes a slightly wider bus with a lounge and a bedroom in it. It has two sofas, a dining room table, a double bedroom, a kitchen with a sink, gas hobs and microwave oven, a toilet and shower room, a fridge/freezer with ice maker, a cockpit with two white leather swivel chairs. It’s homely and comfortable. It has cable and satellite television, and it also, and most importantly, has a cooler full of beer and ice. Converting it from bus to home is an easy and quick process. One of the sofas and the dining area both convert into double beds meaning that this RV has three double beds in total. Last night David got dibs on the dining table bed while I ended up with the sofa bed.

I drink two coffees but still don’t feel human. My mum, by some kind of culinary miracle, cooks up four toasted sausage, cheese, egg, and BBQ sauce sandwiches and we all sit around the table to eat. We chat like we’ve sat around this table many times before. It doesn’t matter, as you probably know, how long it has been since you last saw a loved one you know well, when you do meet again it is like no time has passed at all. It is good to sit around with them, talking about nothing and stuffing our faces with mums greasy sandwiches, and dad’s strong coffee. With the coffee and food in my body a sense of humanity is finally finding its way back to my soul.

Outside, next to the pool, humming birds flit around man-made bird feeders filled with red syrup. The swimming pool is calling me. So is the beer in the cooler. Is it too early to drink? For the people back in England it’s 4pm now. I crack open a beer and head to the pool.

Keeping a regular diary is an undertaking that few of us have the ability to keep up. Hold on, let me stop here for a sec. Why do people keep diaries? Why am I keeping this diary? I have tried to keep a diary before but find I have too much to write so I just end up with a backlog of notes that grow with no hope of ever being properly put to paper. Perhaps that’s why keeping a holiday diary is the right option for me. I won’t be able to do this for a year but I think two weeks is well within my grasp. This holiday then seems like the perfect opportunity. But who is this for? For me in the future? Yes, of course. But knowing me this will end up the length of a novel and I’ll want to release it into the wild. Publish it. But why would you read this? Why are you reading this? These are questions I can’t answer. I haven’t even managed to put my trousers on yet so answering hypothetical questions posed to myself is well beyond my current grasp. However, in the interest of both nudging my future memory, and filling in a bit of back story for you, I’ll tell you why my parents, and by virtue of that, me and my brother, came to be in this situation.

My parents have been married for 35 years. Their three children, me (Andy), my brother; David, and my sister; Marie, are fully grown and responsible human beings. Our parents were sick of going to work every day and so made the envious choice of fucking off around the world for the rest of their lives instead. They sold their house, got rid of most of their things, and managed to reduce 35 years of marriage down to two suitcases and a handbag. They hopped on a plane and landed in Texas with no real plan or idea of what the future held for them. After a few weeks they had bought an RV and set off on a vague course due west. A few months later my sister visited them for a month and now, another month down the line, me and my brother thought we would take up the opportunity for a tag along too. We had no idea what part of the country they would be in when we booked our time off work but as it turns out they are in Phoenix and we plan to spend the next week traveling to Las Vegas stopping at the Grand Canyon on the way via the historic Route 66. Anyway, that’s enough back story for now. Feel free to make up the rest.

I tentatively tiptoe into the freezing pool with the sun blazing down on me and with Mum calling me a wuss. I take the plunge and swim for a while under water. I surface and attempt to float on my back, something I have never fully mastered, and notice that I’m thirsty. “David! Get me a beer!” I shout, in the direction of the RV.

“Get it yourself.”

“I can’t. I am immersed in water. Get beer and come get in the pool. We’re on holiday!”

He appears from behind the RV wearing a giant floppy hat and sunglasses. His face, which was clean shaven just yesterday, is beginning to sprout some ginger bristles. “No.”

“Come on, it’s warm. Mum and dad are in here.” I point at them to give unnecessary credence to my statement. There they are, apparently immune to the sun. I’m already feeling the skin on my shoulders begin to sizzle and here they are floating around like happy sea lions.

“Fine. Catch.”

He throws a beer over the fence and I catch it with one hand. Unfortunately I have to immediately hide the beer under water. There is a list of rules on the wall which stipulates that booze is strictly prohibited from the pool area. It also says one must have a shower and go to the toilet before entering the pool, but I’m not sure why. How will they know I haven’t been to the toilet if the question for some reason arises? Will they squeeze me and see if I squirt? Normally I would drink anyway and wait to be told not to. Who reads those safety signs anyway? But the owner of this RV park is clearly a tyrant and a menace. She enters the pool area and grunts at us. She is a woman who seems to have no knowledge of customer service, and possibly lacks entirely the ability to smile.

I patiently hold my beer under the water until she is done re-stocking the vending machines around the pool (there is nowhere in this fine country where fizzy drinks and chocolate bars can’t be easily obtained. Vending machines litter the place like clumsy loitering youths). Finally she leaves but my beer has become warm. David joins us in the pool.

“Damn it. I need another beer.”

“Just drink it warm.”

A reasonable argument that persuades me easily. I open the beer and down its tepid contents. “Well, that was jolly disgusting.”

“So, what’s the plan for today?” says David, who stands in the pool like he’s never seen one before and has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing in it.

I shrug. “Mum?”

“Whatever you want. Go for a walk and see what’s around? We have no plans today. Just to relax so you two can get over your long flight.”

“Well I’m finished swimming,” says David, getting out again. He then proceeds to take my towel from a nearby sun-lounger and fucks off back to the RV.

“Hey, that’s my towel. How am I supposed to get dry?”

“I don’t know. That’s your problem.”

I get out and wander around aimlessly until the wet is blasted from my body by the Phoenix sun. It takes only a moment. In fact by the time I get back to the RV to grab my towel off David I no longer need it. I take a seat next to him instead on one of the camping seats that have been set up outside the RV and crack open another beer.

David is drinking a Muller Draft and he is looking at it quizzically. “What’s this?”

“I’m no expert, but I think it’s a beer.”

He picks the RV keys up off the little plastic table next to him and jabs at the top of his can. I look at mine to see what he could be doing. Just to the right of the ring pull there is a small half circle and the directions on the side of the can seem to indicate that if you puncture it the can of beer will, by some kind of wonderful technological advance in beer-to-mouth delivery systems, take on all the characteristics of a draft beer. I try to beat mine through with a stone but only managed to dent the thing into an almost undrinkable shape. David takes it off me and presses the key into it.

“Does it make any difference?” I say, sniffing my can dubiously.

“Tastes the same. I think it just allows the air to flow while you’re drinking it.”

I slurp from my mangled beer receptacle and frown at it. “Why don’t beer companies stop with these goddamn gimmicks? The beer tastes like crap with or without the second blow hole.”

Dad enters the shadows of the RVs canopy with a towel around his shoulders. “We found a bar just down the road yesterday when we were waiting for you two to arrive. If you want we can go down there for a few tonight. We’ll take a walk down the road in a bit and you can check the place out.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I say.

David nods, but still seems lost in solemn contemplation of the extra hole in his can.


I had no idea that ears could sweat. This is why people travel. To learn new things about themselves. I have the ability to sweat from my ears. I’m not sure if that’s quite the great epiphany people seek on their excursions into the unknown but it’s the best I can do right now.

As we left the RV I realised that the vicious sun was out to get me so I borrowed my dad’s faded green baseball cap to protect my scull from melting. I have also donned sunglasses. We all have. There is no other way to see through the blanket of white heat. I wonder if they sell ear hats in this part of the world? What if this heat kills me? Or renders me in need of a hospital? Thank god I’m not American that’s all I can say. These fuckers get in debt when they fall ill. At least in England if the sun attempted to kill us the NHS will fix you up for no cost (that is of course until the politicians finally lose their minds and bring our forward thinking socialist health care system into the dark ages by privatising it. Go on Cameron, tempt the nation, an uprising of angry sick people will fight you in the streets!)

“I need water,” I try to say, but no sound leaves my quickly mummifying mouth.

Before we flew out here me and David went online to buy travel insurance and he discovered it’s much cheaper to get couples insurance than it is to get insured separately. So that’s what we did. Two brothers pretending they are on a romantic trip to Vegas for the sake of saving a few quid. If I am hospitalised by this heat what will happen? Will they make us kiss to prove we are a couple? I look over at David. He seems to be coping well, but then he is wearing a floppy hat. Christ, that’s a hell of a thing he’s got on his head. It looks like a giant sky-bound manta ray has perched on top of him.

Below my hat and shades you can only see my nose and bearded chin. My beard has become soft with sweat. You can sweat up to 4 litres of water an hour, out of 3 million sweat glands, and the average human body contains 55 litres of water. That gives me 13 hours before I turn to dust. That timeframe gives me hope and I am able to trudge forth in search of a cold beer.

Finally we come across a petrol station and we are pulled by an invisible force in to its air conditioned insides.

“How far is this place?” I say, as I rummage through the treasures in the fridge. “I’m going to need supplies if it’s much farther.”

“It’s just across the interstate,” says Dad.

“Good. I think I’m ready for this.” I had found an oversized can of Red Bull.

“I thought you quit drinking that shit,” says David. Or I think it was David. Maybe it was the Manta Ray? I frown at it. “What’s wrong?” This time I see David’s mouth move and I rest easy.

“I did quit. But needs must.”

Solving dehydration by drinking half a litre of Red Bull is not dissimilar to solving a basic DIY problem by burning down your house. The DIY problem has been eliminated but everything else is in ruin. My eyes begin to twitch behind my shades and my heart grinds against my rib cage. Coffee manages to stimulate you without forcing your heart into hyper drive so why does your body rally so hard against the intrusion of this soft drink?

“Ok, let’s cross this son of a bitch.” I say, as we reach the mammoth interstate. “Do they really need six lanes of traffic?” I ask, and then think aloud, “Maybe it boils down to their inability to queue.”

“Alright, we’ve done this before,” says Mum. “The key is to remember which way the cars are coming from and then run for your lives.”

“Got it.”

“Isn’t that called jaywalking?” says David.

“If you want to walk another mile to the nearest crossing that’s your business,” says Dad.

“Go!” shouts Mum.

We run, and hop, and stall, and run again, and make it across without a single loss to our party.

“Well, this is the place,” says Dad, motioning to the flat roof cement building in front of us.

“Why do you think the windows are blacked out?” says David, opening the door to look inside.

D. H. Lawrence once said, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” I wonder if he was standing right here, where I am now, when he first had that thought? Inside the bar it is dark and the men inside are sat separate from each other at the bar. Some are sitting at the far end staring up at a silent television on the wall above them that is playing baseball. None of them turn to look at us, to see who has shed this glimmer of light into their usually dark abys. They just carry on, festering in their silence and beer, shrouded in ill darkness.

“You think this would be a nice place to drink?” I say.

“It’s the only bar we could find,” says Dad.

“I think I’d rather sit outside the RV and drink the cold beers out of the cooler,” says David, turning away from the bar.

“Agreed,” says I.


There is no purpose to real life, especially when on holiday. Things just are, and then, just as quick as they were, they are not. But there we are. There is no ultimate goal or structure. Things begin that seem like they’re leading to a greater narrative purpose and then nothing comes of it. Life is a novel written by a sociopath with amnesia.  It’s something you’ll just have to get used to. There will be no point or ultimate revelation, or insight into the human mind, or meaning to anything. You are wasting your life reading about mine. But I’m glad you are here. This whole thing would be nothing more than marks on a page if you were not.

We arrive back at the RV and sit around drinking for a while. For some reason the beer isn’t getting us drunk. I think maybe the booze is evaporating out of our sweat glands before it has a chance to affect our mental states.

Bored of sitting in an RV Park, drinking, David and I decide to go on a little venture out on our own to see if we can find a different pub.

After dragging ourselves around the streets for what seems like a lethal amount of time in this sun I notice that no one else is outside. They must be hibernating away somewhere, in giant nests under industrial air conditioning units. We fail in our endeavour to find another pub and head back having trod the side streets and main drags to find nothing more interesting than petrol stations, churches, and fast food places. People don’t walk in this country. There is nowhere to walk to. Miles of nothing separate everything. If you can’t drive somewhere you stay at home and slowly die.

“Brownie for a dollar?” came a woman’s voice.

“Who the fuck said that?” said I.

“Excuse me? Brownie for a dollar?”

“Who is it? And what do you want from me?”

“I think she wants to sell you a brownie,” says David, pointing at a heavy-set black woman and her family hidden away behind a wrought iron fence.

“Ah, I see. I’m good on the brownie front thank you. But listen, do you know of any bars or pubs around here?”

They look mystified but eventually the tall skinny dude at the back with half his teeth missing chirps up. “There’s this one place just down the interstate you can get a beer.”

“No, we tried that place. We are looking for somewhere with more life in it.”

“Sorry, can’t help ya. Will you buy a brownie though? Shampoo? We’re trying to raise money to start a crèche for the local moms.” (Note the “o” in the middle of the word “mom” as opposed to the “u” that we all know should really be there. These Americans, with their reckless and inconsiderate deformation of our beautiful language. What is so wrong with the clear and not at all confusing way we intended these words to be spelt… or should that be spelled?)

“Shampoo?” I say.

“Or cookies.”

“Fine, I’ll have a brownie.”

I gave the woman a dollar and she gave me a brownie.

“Thank you,” I say, and almost add “Have a nice day,” but manage to stop myself. There’s something about this place that makes you want to say these things you’ve never said before like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Have a nice day,” and, “Where is the restroom?” I’ve never asked for a restroom in my life. It’s a place I only ever rest in by accident when blind drunk. It’s never occurred to me to take a nap in there while in any sober frame of mind. But I’ve already caught myself saying both things and I’ve only been in the country for two days.

“Beer out of the cooler it is then,” says David as we walk off.

“Yep. Do you want this brownie?”


“Why did he say shampoo?”

“Did you see the table with the stuff on it?”

“I wasn’t taking any notice.”

“Three trays. Cookies in the first, brownies in the second, bottles of shampoo in the third.”

“Oh. Right. Cookies and shampoo. That’s either a stroke of genius I can’t quite grasp, or a serious cry for help.”

Back at the RV we put on a film and drink a couple of beers. The film is Assassins Bullet (spoiler alert!). It is an incredibly frustrating movie in which the twist at the end centres on the notion that nobody can recognise the face of a woman they know intimately just because she is wearing a wig. The brownie is not touched by either of us.

If you’re thinking, fuck, you’re on holiday and all you’re doing is sitting around watching movies? Well fuck you, we have jetlag. We’ll do more tomorrow. Sorry for swearing. I’m tired.

Drowning in the Land of Madness (Day 1)

“It’s hard to make nonfiction seem believable.”

–   Kurt Vonnegut



I am on a plane, and terrible things are happening.

I have long suspected that invisible beasts live inside the clouds, hankering for a bite of the tasty metal that flies above them. Right now one of these beasts has grabbed the plane and is shaking it wildly. I tighten my grip on the armrests. A voice comes out of a speaker on the underside of the storage compartment above me. It’s the pilot telling us it’s just turbulence. Deep down I know it’s something more and I know he knows it too.

The pilot is either a master of flight or a tamer of luck and he somehow escapes the grasp of this invisible plane eating creature. The fuselage stops shaking and I exhale and loosen my grip. An air hostess, with her hair pulled back, red lipstick and blue shoes, begins a seductive walk down the aisle with a metal cart bearing the fruit that will calm us travel-weary alcoholic passengers.

In 1987 American Airlines stopped serving olives with their salads. As a result they saved around $500,000 a year. The olive company that supplied them got mad and fought for the people’s rights to eat olives while hurtling through the sky. Eventually American Airlines gave in and put them back in their salads. With this knowledge in mind I order a Martini with extra olives.

The olives are free and anytime a corporation offers you something for free you damn well take it. So long as the free thing doesn’t lead to you buying something extra from them you take it and you ask for more. Every free thing you take from a corporation is costing someone somewhere money. It is your duty, friends and cohorts, to do all you can to take money from the pockets of every capitalist poverty-making bastard that crosses your path. They are not your friends. The olives are a ruse designed to lure you into their evil money grabbing traps.

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t have any olives.” (How am I supposed to rebel under these circumstances?). “Or Martini, but we do have whisky, wine, or beer.”

Hangovers are designed to teach us a hard lesson; to not be so stupid in future. Some part of this lesson makes it to the front of my mind and I make the sensible choice of coffee over booze. I watch the air hostess finish serving her treats to the other passengers and then take a seat at the front of the plane. She sits there smiling to herself like some kind of strange attractive robot. What goes through the minds of these unusual people? These sky people. Spending so much of your life in the air must make you feel separated from humanity. Unhinged from the Earth. Crowbarred into the clouds by impossible flying machines. Crossing date lines and time zones. These people do not, cannot, judge time by the clock, but with geography and calculators. These people are only certain of their true age on those fleeting moments they spend in the land of their birth. Madness must surely chase them around the globe. She is still smiling as I finally turn my glance from her and to the film that is just starting on the screen in front of me. It is the new X-Men film, Days of Future Past.

The screen goes momentarily black before the film starts and I catch a horrifying glimpse of my reflection. Is that haggard looking man really me? I look at my brother. He at least has shaved before the flight. And had a haircut! My god, how do people find time to do these things? When we land to be welcomed by the long awaited embrace of our parents they will think my brother has captured a tramp and is trying to pass him off as me. I run my hand through my hair but it’s no good. Nothing will help me. Luckily such things as hairstyles can be easily forgotten with the simple aid of superheroes. The movie starts. The inane boredom that comes with watching such movies gives me time to reflect on the frantic journey that got us to this aircraft.

We left home this morning at 4:30am. We had been up the night before until 2am drinking weird beer that David, my brother and traveling companion, had discovered. It is called Cubanisto and is a combination of beer and rum. We discovered that the beer does not freeze. We assume this is because of the rum in the drink, but maybe it’s something else. Maybe the unnatural combination is enough to thwart basic thermodynamics. We were unsure if we liked the taste of this new discovery and so drank as many bottles as we could to in order to give the drink a fair trial. We are still undecided. After finishing the beer we opened a bottle of Jameson’s whiskey.

By the time we fell asleep we were beyond drunk and only an hour and a half later we were up again and struggling against our own self-inflicted retardation to overcome and defy the simple yet impossible tasks that mornings insist upon. Like putting on trousers and brushing teeth. Somehow we managed these things. Deano (the man who was volunteered to take us to the airport) due to his decision to not get completely shitfaced, was freshly showered and smiling at us like a smug fucking sensible adult. David currently lives in a caravan in Deano’s garden. They are old school friends. The reason David is slumming it like a gypsy woman is so he can save enough money for a deposit for a mortgage. He agreed to give us a lift to the airport. Deano has many cars I’m too hung-over to recall which car we went up in. It could have been a tuc-tuc for all I can recall.

With reality and normality still many hours and gallons of coffee in our future we dragged our suitcases to Deano’s car and heaved them into the boot. We drove for two hours, from Bournemouth to London Heathrow. The whole trip so far had been kind of a blur. I vaguely remember stopping at a service station and having a McDonalds for breakfast, but that could easily have been a fitful dream. We made it to the airport and thanked Deano for the ride. “She’s mint, Bill,” he said (which, in the language of Deano, means “No worries, chaps”).

Check-in was hard and confusing. Not by any fault of the airport. We just hadn’t sobered up yet. We were living some kind of dehydrated nightmare. We navigated the normally reasonable airport sucking on bottles of water and mumbling incoherencies. Eventually we made it through the various obstacles laid out by well-meaning transport authorities. We rambled through check-in. Stumbled and fell along endless corridors with moving floors. I watched the people standing still on the moving walkway while we stupidly galloped along beside them. Have humans really evolved to such a point that we no longer need to walk? We have reversed evolution so that our environment is adapted to fit us, and not the other way around like nature intended. We have made the ground move so that we don’t have to. I refuse to become one of these lazy future people, and David, through some kind of unspoken agreement, seems to feel the same. Not once did we make use of the travelators, even though our bodies would have been thankful for the ride.

We made it to the gate and sat and waited for two hours before we were able to board. The time was spent staring at the floor while our minds slowly disintegrated. Finally the gate opened and we boarded the flying bus.

Before we took off a part of the ceiling collapsed into the plane and two men in high visibility jackets came on-board and gaffer taped the plane back together. I felt like freaking out just to scare some of the younger passengers but my tiredness prevented me from carrying out this perverse act.

I don’t know if it’s because of the strange men on either side of me and David that prevents us from sleeping the sleep that we so desperately need. But we land in Charlotte, North Carolina, without even a nap over the past eight hours of flight. With two hours to spare before our connecting flight to Phoenix we wander aimlessly to the gate.

Drinking so much before a full day of traveling is not the right way to go about things. Deep down I know that drinking more is not the solution to this problem but I have never been a particularly wise man. Neither has my brother. Opposite our gate is a sports bar and after a lengthy discussion we decide to give up on our travelling sobriety and try some of the ale on offer. The discussion goes like this –



The Americans have misunderstood the meaning of ale. These reckless lunatics do the unthinkable to this normally wonderful drink. Those of you who have a particular affection for the great British ale might want to skip this paragraph. Imagine buying your favourite cheese only to discover it is now made of chimpanzee milk. The ale, and this is unforgivable, is fizzy. And not fizzy in the natural fermented, froth on the top, kind of way. No. They have taken a perfectly good ale, presumably tasted it and assumed something was amiss, and carbonated it. If you want to try this horrendous miscarriage of a beer there is no need for you to travel to America. Simply take a decent Ringwood ale (or whichever ale takes your personal preference) and put it through a Soda-Stream. Too much Hops. Too fizzy. Undrinkable. We had two pints each. The cost for this affront to the honest beer loving alcoholic? $38. Bastards.

We board the second and last plane in our trip. Apart from some initial confusion, regarding the inevitable time travel achieved during such trips, the flight is uneventful. We board the plane at 16:30 and it is supposed to land in Phoenix at 18:30. But as 18:30 comes around I ask the air hostess what time we land and she says, as expected, “Six thirty.”

“But what time is it now?” I say.

“It’s three thirty,” she says.

We have somehow travelled for two hours and now find ourselves three hours in the past. We must have travelled through some kind of time vortex.

We land, collect our suitcases, leave the airport, and get in a taxi. The taxi driver is from Somalia. He seems like a decent sort of chap. He asks us how our Queen is doing. I ask him if he had considered becoming a Somalian pirate before opting to be an American Taxi driver. He says he has not but notes (regretfully) that those Somalian pirates sure make a lot of money.

Finally we arrive at the Covered Wagon RV Stop in Black Canyon, Phoenix. And there are my parents. Thinner than I remember, and tanned as African camel leather. We hug. They show us around the RV. We go outside and sit in the immense heat. Dad hands around beer from the cooler. Mum has a whiskey and coke. We talk. We eat cheese and crackers. Exhaustion makes the evening brief and finally, after only an hour and a half of sleep in the last 48 hours, me and David make our beds and sleep.

And so it starts. This trip from Arizona to the Mohave Desert. And for what reason? You could boil it down to an excuse for a free holiday. Or curiosity of how our folks have suddenly decided to live. But it’s more than that. I heard that some writers write better when they are constantly on the move and surrounded by booze. It gives me the chance to experiment with a genre I love; travel writing. I’m sure these things normally involve a lot of planning to ensure the book has some kind of coherent narrative or point. But forget all that, I think I’ll just have a drink and see what this country is all about. Don’t expect a travel guide.