Friday, 24 December 2010

Cougar Christmas

Nearly there, still managing to get just enough traction in the snow. Merry Cougar Christmas.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


After a ten day hiatus of bad weather and the car stuck in the snow, Thursday night saw me finally rocking and rolling it back to the freedom of the open road. The two mile run on hard packed snow and ice was not an easy drive but the car slid through and out onto blacktop. Inside the condensation and deep freeze conspired to make things misty and unpleasant, a long run to Aberdeen and back with the temperature set to 25 to top blow was the only way to dry out the interior and blow away cobwebs. Winter...

Thursday, 2 December 2010


We are frozen, our fluids are all frozen, stuck to the ground and it's well on the way to -10 or worse.

Friday, 19 November 2010


There never was enough time to reflect, never enough time to get things done, never enough of anything. I wanted this journey to be over before I had even begun it. I was willing the time away, pushing on it to pass, longing in some way for the strong sense of having a life that is actually moving forward. The romantic notion of the noble drifter, the compulsive traveller, the seeker exploring the far horizons were no longer attractive or desirable. A few days and a few nondescript adventures, some dust, some beer and bad driving had worn me out to the point that it didn’t really matter. Inside I smiled at the new maturity that had come upon me so quickly and unexpectedly. This feeling, this smug glimpse into the future and middle age would not last. A second smile eclipsed the first.

There were a selection of fine people in this town, working, walking, hiding and observing. I too a par time job in observation and headed down from breakfast. The chef cooked tinned sausages until they sizzled and split, hens eggs with golden yolks and blinding whites were added to the sizzling oil. Lastly a slice of rough and possibly ancient bread was thrown into the black pan absorbing the oil like a rusty sponge. It was served with a blizzard of pepper on china plates that clattered across the wooden table top as they were unstacked. Tabasco was added by some of the tougher and more valiant diners, I settled for a pinch of salt and black coffee. Fortified by the meal I began my exhausting duties of watching and waiting.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A day lost

I had that feeling that I was missing a day. Perhaps in my inarticulate descriptions f these bandit encounters, guns fights, kidnappings and other peculiar and unrelated badlands events I’ve given the wrong impression. One that says that Ernesto and I are quite familiar with the concept of being caught up in such shenanigans. Nothing could be further from the truth. We represent the young, lower middle class in Argentina, both still somewhere in our studies and likely to be life long at the present rate. Ernesto is still training as a doctor and is in his third year, he is most interested in tropical diseases and respiratory problems. This is due to his mother contracting TB when he was a teenager. He has decided that. As part of a year away from the college and formal studies he will travel the country, this great dusty landmass and reconnect with the people and culture(s) - for no fee or reward whatsoever. He is also, in his heart committed to Claudia but that’s another story for another paragraph.

My career plan is quite different, first of all I do not share any of Ernesto’s social concerns. The noble peasants, workers, administrators, politicians, students and passengers that make up this land are all the same to be (and not in a socialist sense). They are items and baggage passing along in some surrealist carousel known as “life”. I do not pretend to understand it but for no good reason I remain interested in observing and documenting some aspects of this absurd and dangerous sideshow as it trundles by. I also respect their noble path and their stoical determination to try to improve “things”. You may see that as an naive and selfish approach to living and knowing better would expect me to grow out of it. Well to be honest I wish I could but every time I think I’m about to turn concerned again I hear some self serving politician or arrogant General spouting forth on the TV and go back to my dismissive and defeatist views. So, in this self destructive mode I will observe, possibly document, marginally interact and occasionally have a good time bogged down in this Latin and European contaminated mire. Meanwhile Ernesto will fix it, if he can stay awake or away from Claudia long enough.

Our chosen mode of transport is a Ford Cougar, it was all we could find. Well; it was passed onto me in part payment for a longstanding gambling debt. I’d resigned myself to never seeing the money and the offer of the car seemed like a decent deal. I had considered selling it but at best I’d only have gotten a few hundred dollars for it and when the road trip idea was born one drunken night, the Cougar seemed (almost) perfect. We’ve done some maintenance work on it and had (well had almost) grown attached to it’s idiosyncrasy, lack of fuel economy and relatively high standard of comfort. It also seemed quite tough and I considered that it could be another valuable surreal experiment and challenge to see how long a highway car would last for in the rough terrain of the mountains. At the moment it is still with us and healthier than either of it’s regular occupants.

I had a beer hangover. That dry mouth, fuzzed head, concrete brow and bloated stomach thing. Mornings should be my time of creative mountain climbing, my rested brain in it’s strongest and most agile position of the day, ready to pour forth wisdom and document observations critically and pointedly interpreted. Sadly most mornings are dull affairs, trudged through in this pathetic and crippled mode. The sun pouring in through the slats of the blind only made it worse, tiny sparkling beams of solar brilliance alight with life countering my head’s dull, almost clockwork thud and the black hole of alcohol induced brain death I sat amongst. As I looked around I realised that we were still ensconced firmly in the bosom of the backpackers hostel. The good news was I was alone and could begin this day, whatever it’s name was, in personal slow motion. I resolved to do that and so became a time traveller in my own way.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


The tyres were drumming some relentless beat and the white line was running under the car like a conveyor belt. As the landscape on the other side of the glass grew into a grey desert I had a sense of the road and it’s welcome smoothness was coming to an end. Despite my expectation it was a shock when it eventually did. It ran into an small town but stayed their, refusing to leave on the west side and allowing only a poor imitation of itself to struggle against the rising ground that led into the mountain foothills. At that point I stopped whist Ernesto reminded himself of the local geography by folding and unfolding a map and thumbing across the road atlas. “We are here”, he pointed and grinned. I was tired and looking for a soft clean bed somewhere.

The clean bed was in a trekkers boarding house. Dirt brown and slightly shambolic, boots and walking sticks in racks outside, no obvious threat of anything being stolen. Chalk boards advertising cheap meals, continuous soup and stew options, local guides, buses to places and woollen hats help onto wooden racks by paperclips. The bed was two dollars, the soup was one and a bottle of beer was two fifty, a hunk of stale bread was free or buried in a simple but confused pricing structure. We did the eating and drinking and regardless of time or the sun’s errant behaviour slept.

Dreams are far more interesting than reality and reality is far less real than dream. I stayed in the dream for what seemed like a long time and then left it, showered and walked out in circles around the straight streets of the anonymous village. Rucksacked students sat smoking outside the one and only café, desperately growing beards if they were male, desperately pleating hair if they were girls. Each one sucked coffee and blew blue smoke and sprouted more wool garments. The car had been parked at an odd abandoned angle next to a waiting donkey and a bicycle. The primitive line up was completed by some straw bales, a clump of battered beer barrels and a pile of rubble. From a certain viewpoint this band of items and materials formed into a linear composition that was pleasing to the eye. I took numerous photographs and joined the students for banter and caffeine in no particular order.

Ernesto joined us as we discussed the mountains and routes, walking strategies as opposed to driven ones and alternate travel plans built precariously around irregular brightly coloured buses and their parrot passengers (we never did see any despite an intensive search). We then speculated about a journey in which we stumbled upon a witches coven (or was it oven) and Indian burial grounds blown over by great sandstorms. I ordered two fried eggs and they duly arrived, Ernesto was hungrier than me and breakfasted on a large steak of an unknown origin. I couldn’t help but notice the donkey was missing.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Hellcat v Zero

And so it was that after a surreal pillow and gun fight we fled the premises whilst the remaining bandits snoozed or discussed philosophical matters to the nth degree. I for one was happy to be back behind the wheel and quickly fell back into by rusty driving style using a larger than usual font. The rev counter never lies and soon it was time to move through the various options afforded by the slick gear box. We were cruising in every sense of the word except the oceanic kind and the miles melted away and as usual I resorted to my normal bad habit of day dreaming while driving. This time I was making a rather nicely coloured coloured, spicy curry from scratch or at least minimal processed ingredients. The story goes like this:

First I took a large saucepan and poured in oil and turned on the flame. Then I began chopping up the onions, two large ones, I chopped them crosswise and unevenly so they were rough and as I finished the first I added it to the hot oil, then the other, the onion pieces curling and sizzling as I stirred them into the bubbling oil. I patted them with a wooden spoon a crunched pepper and rock salt into the mix. Then I picked up the chillies and cut and crushed them deciding to add them seeds and all to the pan, more stirring and a few moments waiting and appreciating till it was time for the curry paste. I couldn’t resist dropping in a glug of wine just to lubricate the ingredients into a thinner consistency and filled a glass for myself as a brief accompaniment to the cooking chores. The chicken breasts were then removed from the fridge. As the pan steamed and spurted I snipped the meat into small pieces, sprinkled them with oil and herbs and spooned the chicken into the onions and paste, stirring and binding the mix and watching as the meat turned from pink to white and then took on the browns and oranges from the paste and the herbs. I placed the lid on the pan and turned the heat down to allow a simmer to take place, looked up at the clock and noted the time, as a reward I finished the glass of wine…

The daydream petered out and once again the dry strip of road ahead took over. Around then I became aware of a 1982 Lexus Soarer in the rear view mirror. We were on a long straight at the car was quickly catching up, it was gold and the sunlight flashed across it’s front grill and bonnet, dazzling. Soon it was right on our tail as if attracted by some kind of giant magnet in our boot. It did cross my mind that it might be driven by and contain some of the bandit types we had encountered a short while ago and now following a hot pursuit they were upon us and seeking some terrible revenge for whatever it was we had done or not done - perhaps. As I observed in the mirror (and Ernesto slept on) I could see that the driver was female and alone. A good combination and vastly preferable to the other possibility that I had considered. She sat on our bumper, it was like a Spitfire versus and Messerschmidt.

It was like a Spitfire versus and Messerschmidt apart from no hiding in the sun or machine gunning or any of that sort of thing, the unsafe but more civilised practice of tailgating. I though about the situation a bit more and decided that it was more like a Hellcat versus a Zero due to respective marques being driven and their countries of origin. She was still hooked onto the back of my car as we zipped along at a steady 75mph over the shining desert road. I sped up a little and so did she, I caught a glimpse of a smile as she pulled alongside and then the Soarer soared by in what I thought to be a rather disrespectful manner. I often feel disrespected when overtaken. I couldn’t be bothered to follow her and settled back in the seat, lifted my foot a little from the accelerator and settled back to the steady 75.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Put those guns away

They had put their guns away when I regained consciousness but my hands were tied. The edges of my vision blurred and I tried to shrug off the idea that this was some parallel universe I’d fallen into, it had all the hallmarks and few of the smells (not something that all travellers would pick up).We were in a bar but nobody seemed to consider that Ernesto and I were prisoners was in anyway peculiar, in fact we seemed to be a part of the company, propped and trussed as we were on a wooden bench at the rear of the establishment. A sweaty looking Indian in a buckskin top came over, cut the cable tie on my wrists and passed me a bottle of warm beer. “Drink and be strong!” he whispered. I drank whilst Ernesto slept on, pressed against my back and the wooden bar wall.

Over at the main part of the bar the bandits were smoking dope and passing a guitar from hand to hand. It was an old shiny Guild, slightly out of tune but no one seemed bothered. Each man would take his turn to pluck out a tune and sing in a Spanish/Anglo language based on MTV exposure and radio listening. Their efforts seemed earnest enough but none of them were able to recall all the words so songs petered out or verses were repeated in that awkward way that lifts any meaning out of the song and rendered the performance pointless. I was hoping that I could finish the beer unnoticed and then snooze while they sang and then perhaps some escape opportunity would open, particularly if they got drunk and silly. That didn’t look likely as one bandit made eye contact noticing I has come round. “Hey, you city boys play us a song or we get more angry!” I grunted and rubbed my head and mumbled about not being a singer, I added with what little enthusiasm I could muster that I was enjoying their music. “We want your Cohen songs!” cried the bandit, assuming that I was a player of some kind and that I could perform that kind of material. I may have passed out at this point.

Some far away place in the centre of my head I realised, or at least came to terms with the sad fact that within my repertoire there were no Leonard Cohen songs. I could remember some of the lyrics to Suzanne, whistle a few odd tunes and had various mental pictures of the great man but my knowledge was lacking. I was ashamed of my shallow experience, my missed opportunities to live and learn and more importantly listen. I simply hadn’t tried and perhaps (and this was the most difficult point to confess to) I’d secretly avoided bothering to get to know his material. A classic and perverse situation, remaining aloof and disconnected for some secret purpose trapped in my psyche and hidden from my wandering mind. All around me were bathing in the musical and lyrical warmth that he exuded and I was refusing to jump in, frozen in the changing rooms, unchanged. What had I missed? How much more of a rounded and fulfilled individual would I been had I just bought a few albums, even a greatest hits and sat down and listen to them. I could’ve avoided so much radio shit by just slipping on a CD in the car and opening my concrete ears. On one level I felt that my life had been wasted and I was now relegated to some lower league in life due to my serial ignorance and indifference.

The weight of my situation pressed down, my conversations were still-born, words came out from my lips but hit the carpet. There was no mutual pick up from my friends or the others around the bar. Even the alcohol’s fervent lubrication could not pull the right dialogue from my rapidly drying mouth. I was out of step with my own world. No mature and proper Leonard Cohen appreciation led inevitably to a doomed spiral of social exclusion and a deeper psychosis battened down with more alcohol. I felt like I could never return home nor hold my head up in any respectable musical or poetic company. I also expected to be hit at any moment.

The digestive system is both simple in principle and complex in how it operates. It can also move from passive to active in a very short period of time, mine is the typical, standard model. I woke again, this time I was being sick, a combination of stress, beer and one or two unpleasant and unwelcome knocks on the head. I was none the wiser on the Leonard Cohen material either, the good news was that the bandits (or whatever they were) had slumped into some kind of cartoon stereo typical sleep across the room. I nudge Ernesto, he was already awake but grunted.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


MOT done, new springs, new shocks, higher emissions just make it. Now the cat's gone so time to make a few phone calls.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


As the great grey ghost of ongoing fiction and random South American adventure and courageous lies is asleep, the real Mr Cougar is laid low. An offside spring, a track rod end and a shock absorber are the uncounted costs but their added value will soon be known. All these parts were damaged by the ungracious and poorly maintained West Lothian roads. It has been a difficult two days.

Tomorrow a new day dawns and I'm hopeful of a reunion and then the return of the replacement. The Cougar should be back, silent and stable on the road and demonstrating decent and legal emission levels along with at least 53 weeks of MoT. I hope.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cougar Street

Inexplicably we are on a break, the threads will be picked up, the debris collected, meanwhile I have to explore.

Sunday, 12 September 2010


We take more breaks, a caravan sits by the road side. A white body of faded painted signs and a dusty board with a blown away menu. Travelling is looking out of the window, peering through the windscreen dust and swallowing the unchanging dry air until the next meal stop arises. We take two Coca Colas from the wrinkled owner and sit on a plastic chair under the solitary parasol. The flat plain stretches over to a blue tinge of distant mountain, maybe fifty miles in the haze. The Coke hit’s the spot and our eyes close in the heat as we respond to the inner cooling. I feel that somehow I should urinate by the heat and sweat make it a rare occurrence, I feel like I’m drying out from the inside, desiccating and warping with leather intestines and a canvas stomach.

My eye twitches open as I sense a movement. Armadillo. It shuffles across my line of vision about forty feet away, big armoured back oblivious of us and starts to dig at the edge of the parking area. Claws grabbing the dirt, searching for grubs, fleeting and hungry and wild in a dull place. The caravan owner comes out and he is carrying a shot gun, the breaks it’s back and plops in two cartridges ready to blast the Armadillo, “bastards!” he cries and takes a shot. The ground explodes beside the poor animal and Ernesto and I jump to our feet. “Is that how you deal with everything here?” He ignores us and drops the gun barrel while looking out across the landscape.

The sky is a straight ahead blue with those fizzy white edges but in the east is a cloud, a cloud no bigger than the fist of a man. My eyesight is remarkable or am I just imagining this tiny cloud as some kind of pattern piece on the plain background of the worlds ceiling. As I stare at the cloud it grows, coming nearer, spinning and forming a shape. I focus on it’s wandering and vaporous heavenly signature. Now it is also making a noise, that’s because it is a Beechcraft Bonanza, flying low and looking for all the world like it’s about to land on the plain behind us.

I can see the caravan man looking at the oncoming aircraft. He stares at it like it’s a Zero at Pearl Harbour and to my horror lifts the shotgun to his shoulder. He gathers the aircraft into his sight and follows it’s line with the barrel. The Beechcraft angles over a little as the pilot struggles against the warm, rising air. Ernesto and I are frozen, dry mouths aching to shout, tired limbs aching to move.

No shots are fired, thankfully and the aircraft lands. Who are these people?

Monday, 6 September 2010


The police were rough and unsympathetic, a man was dead, the bar and café were trashed, the locals had scattered and there were two strangers corralled out in the car park. We explained ourselves, showed our papers and pointed at the parked car. The police shone torches in the dark and threatened us with questioning and being transported somewhere else for identity confirmation. The café owner was also part of the melee, complaining about damage and custom and reiterating that he had no idea who anybody was. At one tense point the seemed to be blaming us but then shifted in his version of things to Pete who appeared to be some kind of itinerant and opportunist criminal type who arrived and operated from here a times.

My head was sore and I was still trembling, I was sitting on a box by the entrance, the waitress who had plugged me appeared with a tray of drinks, somebody had had an idea to make amends, perhaps covering for all I knew. We accepted the whisky (as it turned out to be) and began to discuss where we could spend the night. The waitress (Rosa) pointed to the bunkhouse and mentioned a price. The police liked the idea of us remaining by the crime scene so we hobbled over hoping to find some rest. As we entered the door the lights of the ambulance arrived and Pete’s body was carted out and away. The police remained for a while as we lay on the rough blankets and stared at the light patterns on the ceiling. Sleep eventually came disguised as loss of consciousness and the cumulative effects of drink, both piled down on me bringing a selection of film noire dreams and dark corridors, none of which led anywhere.

Morning came as a shock and the dream time and recent murder blended into unreality. Through the grimy window I saw how the car now sat alone in the dusty car park but the tin chimney on the café was spouting white smoke into the dawn. There wood some coffee and food and those little glimpses of civilisation might help our self inflicted and bullet ridden headaches.

In the café we ate a steak breakfast, the owner personally preparing it and assuring us that whilst shootings were rare these days (and this one had been exceptional) there was no need now for us stay, the police had all the information they needed. I also assumed that they had the contents of Pete’s wallet and that was most likely a big help to them in deciding on how to proceed with the case. We thanked the owner and tipped him a few dollars and decided to put as many miles as we could between ourselves and the village, San Pedro.

The road from San Pedro was a long and featureless straight. Red trucks and tractors headed East on the opposite side but we seemed alone in our intent to head West. The telegraph poles counted down a hundred miles or more without any of the monotony breaking or revealing any aspects of the land’s secrets.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Gun fight

Pete sat back on the basket chair, burped and lit up another cigar, he began to use the cigar as a pointer. He pointed to the barman who dutifully came over, “Armadillo!” said Pete. The barman turned quickly, fiddled behind the bar and returned with a dark brown bottle and there shot glasses. “This” said Pete “will complete your education, this is the spirit of the Andes and the elders.” He poured us a shot each and in almost automatic mode the three of us clinked the glasses and swallowed the unspectacular looking drink. It was a burning, muddy, dirty spirit, forged with an acid heat that treated the back of the throat like a familiar and unfriendly razor. Ernesto smiled in a broad, uncontrolled grin, “she is the spirit!” It was good and I could tell Pete sensed our tongues loosing, our guards dropping and a potential launch pad for his business opportunity ramble to open up.

We drank three more each in quick succession, Ernesto seemed most affected, eyes glazing slightly and speech dropping. Pete was smoking and talking and I was trying to keep tabs on the barman who I decided to mistrust. I also became aware that in the corners of the room, bar or café or restaurant various shapes had taken up lodging, human shapes. Pete’s words were flowing forwards with various money making schemes, gold mines to invest in, archaeological sites to loot, pre-Colombian art deals and drugs of many kinds. Ernesto looked like he was listening but he was tired and on the way to drunkenness, I was growing in the grip of paranoia. We were here drinking like Scottish tourists with an obvious crook in a slowly expanding criminal universe a few hundred miles from home in the rain.

Like on some incoming tide the room was filling with assorted floating farm workers and bobbing truck drivers. A few candles and oil lamps had been lit to supplement the dim electric bulbs that hung over the bar area making the place only more sinister. I decided, as I drank to respect Pete a little more, listen and then look for a good opportunity to bow out to the motel at the back where I thought we’d rented a billet. Pete was babbling about the economy and the police and Ernesto was responding with one of his idealistic political arguments. Then, with no warning that tide of workmen suddenly broke over us, a group of figures appeared in front of our table blocking out the light and so applying a wild and contrived sense of theatrical drama to the evening - but with no humour. There was a crack of a gun and a searing flash of yellow and white and smoke. Furniture tumbled, hands, feet and fist flew as I spilled left and Ernesto spilled right. In the middle Pete was collapsing like a pierced balloon and gasping, he‘d been hit. There were bottles flying from somewhere and I felt a sharp pain in my wrist as my weight fell upon it as I skidded across the floor. Looking up I saw the shape of Ernesto head out the back door and in a split second I was there with him. Behind us thirteen kinds of chaos were unfolding as two other shots rang out sending a cruel percussive crack of sound into the back of my head, but I wasn’t going to stop running.

What did stop me running was the kitchen girl, screaming and shouting and waving a tray like a tennis racquet. She thinks I’m responsible for something and catches me square of the side of the head as I fly past. It is a stunning blow and propels me sideways into the wall and across the floor of the corridor (I think it’s a corridor), then it’s another blow, same tray, same head. My face hit’s the floor and a black sheets descends. I feel strangely grateful, I am either dead, shot, concussed or drunk, perhaps all four, perhaps some fifth state, the nature of which I know nothing about.

The darkness doesn’t last as long as I’d wish, headlights and rain wake me. I’m lying in the car park. Behind me I’m aware of people jabbering and moving and a distant police siren wails closer and closer.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Anonymous vegetables

“I don’t like spiders and snakes!” thankfully there were none, just a dark corner in the back of the café where a man sat, alone. We ordered a cup of coffee and browsed the menu. As we sat down the man looked up and then looked down. He was erring on the side of portly, middle aged, wearing a linen suit with all the usual crumples. His tie was loosely hanging from his neck like an upside down noose, his shirt collar was swearing at him and the rest of the room and he was in the middle of setting up a significant sweating self irrigation system. He was reading a paperback book and smoking a long thin cigar, in the mirror opposite his reflection was smoking a paperback book and reading a long thin cigar, if only I thought.

The coffee was South American muddy, it may even have been African, depends on pirate travels and broken axles. The man had stopped reading but was still smoking, long thoughtful draws resulting in grey blue rings and circles of exhaled puff. He began to look across, moving in slow motion like some heavy lizard, his eyes seeming to scan across the floor and furniture, over our table and then over to us. Two travellers hiding behind the pale coffee. He produced a squint smile that smacked of pain and irritation and then he opened his mouth and spoke. “You guys need to talk to me if you know what’s good for you.”

Gangster cliché I thought and a tad scary, he’s some old con man, bored, looking for easy prey and not finding it in us, two slippery, tired and hungry road rats with an entire days pedigree (almost). We shuffled over and sat with him, perhaps he’d have a story and that story, once started could live on with us and join the great pool of stories that lives in the collective consciousness, never written, occasionally spoken, often changed, the true living bible and lost testament. Three lives.

We talked for a while, his offer was muling, a stupid idea and we told him so and he became angry. We decided to tame him by ordering dinner, sharing it with him and by stealth getting information on mule routes and methods. Then we could either engage with them or avoid them, travel knowledge is power, at least over the highway and the mud slide. He spoke east west and coast to coast until the food arrived, Ernesto noted the place names and road numbers, they may be real, they may be made up.

There was rice, green anonymous vegetables, orange anonymous vegetables, pink meat and oily liquid with a roll of hard unleavened bread. We three were hungry men so we ate and conversed, the suited man ate but still smoked, odd and off putting, like sex with socks on or swimming in a hat. His name was Pete apparently.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Lovely Bones

We spilled out of the car eventually and the daylight flooded in. A girl with bottled red hair and miscellaneous piercings sat at a desk. She pointed to the price list and began to talk in a thick Spanish and a thin English version of international soundscape. We must have looked a sight but we handed money over and thanked her in return with body language. She picked up a phone and said a few quiet words into the mouth piece. Ernesto whispered a joke about oral sex as she got up and ushered us through a doorway. "Don't touch the bones" she said, "don't touch the bones."

Monday, 16 August 2010

Dead engines

For those of you who don't know, don't really know or really don't care; I can see dead engines. Ernesto, Claudia and the rest do not possess this twisted gift, I struggle with it, it's use and the inherent responsibilities of having this weight to myself. Sometimes I think that this pain will never end, then I wake up, with a start, sweating and realise that though I have been sleeping, perhaps for a very long time, none of this is a dream.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Roadkill Ford

Everything is everywhere at all times and matter cannot be destroyed, it is all on a journey to somewhere unspecific, we may for a time join it as it travels and as our paths run in parallel. This 1983 Ford Sierra is a reminder of...1983 I suppose.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


I was asleep for most of the 36 hours that I’d been awake for and it seemed to have been dark for longer. We had swapped driving, thinking and sleeping duties eventually despite the fading light and the pressing need to get out of and through the country. I lost count of the artificial borders we crossed and recrossed but I had to eat something. The lights of a restaurant beckon and we stop, the rain water steaming on the bonnet in rainbow wisps as the doors slam.

Inside it’s warm, welcoming, slightly grimy and busy. Diners jostle for positions, glasses and cutlery play a rough musical accompaniment, the diners eat and talk. There is candle light and music, louder than it should be. There is a customer queue but it is reducing like an optical illusion. The waitress shows us an empty table and despite being cramped in the car the wooden benches are a comfortable relief. We order from the limited menu, steak. See wipes the table with a cloth and smiles.

Steak comes from cattle, cattle from fields, fields from farms, farms from the land, the land from the sea, the sea from the clouds, the clouds from the vapour, the vapour from the breath, the breath from the lungs, the lungs from the body, the body from the womb, the womb from the female, the female from the male, the male from the chip, the chip from the block, the block from the granite, the granite from the cliff, the cliff from the beach, the beach from the sand, the sand from the stone, the stone from the earth, the earth from the other, big earth, somewhere out beyond our understanding. That is the story of the steak that sustains us. The tomato and baked sweet potato that take up the remaining third of the plate have their own stories and creation theories, I cant repeat them here. We all need some mythology to sustain us on this long journey, e need to come from somewhere and be going somewhere else.

I cut into the dark, brooding steak creating a continental divide and took a mouthful of coffee. Ernesto was staring at his plate savouring the meal, smiling and chewing on the beef. He pointed his fork at me to make a point, “here the produce the best meat, the best, it what they do, the cattle men, we can learn, we can watch, we take our knowledge back to our ranch, one day.”

I don’t know so much about the steak, though it is pretty good, the right thing at the right time, I like eggs.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Coffee will help

I was enjoying this disastrous break with that permanent fixture and dog lead that is time. Studies and essays and the apology for early adult life were somewhere back in the tyre tracks, veiled with rain and pinned into the retrograde grey cityscape. My beloved, remote intelligentsia were propping up bars, flexing angle poise lamps and scribbling, they were drinking a fourteenth cup of coffee, watching pavement patterns and reading dull books. I was a passenger in a speeding car in a new conversation famine but I still could see them..

Claudia was lying on Ernesto’s bed, close to an exaggerated embryonic position in the dusky room. Eyes everywhere, looking for clues. His things were scattered around and she breathed in the remaining atoms of some testosterone cocktail that she sensed was hanging in the air. Each intake was like a sweet addictive overdose, each one an experience of something that she’d never admit to. She had rummaged in drawers and cupboards looking for tags and traces. She has found glossy pornography and tattered novels, penknives and family photographs, bills and receipts, coins and broken cigarette lighters. She settled for the pornography and thumbed across the tanned and shaven pages sensing more and less of him and some wild cloud of past appetites and sexuality. As the raindrops beat the time’s dry passage onto the wet window sill she slept but could find no dream. When she awoke he was still gone.

We are racking up ruthless smooth miles, dark towns and villages, road numbers and green signs, truckstops and the flotsam of traffic and animals pass by. We follow some vehicle for a while, a speeding taxi or empty truck, some other sports car or a white minibus cranked up to it’s limit. One by one they leave the road, turn right or left, are overtaken or just disappear backwards into their own lives and journeys. We however pursue the straightest and most direct road while those others, the non explorers peel away. The trip counter says 425 miles and we are running low on fuel.

The crumbling petrol station is glistening like a forgotten Christmas tree, the petals and balls and coloured masks reflect in the shop window festooned with adverts and notices. The pump sucks some life back into the car and pushes the needle back from E to F, back down the alphabet lined road. We buy sugary drinks that look to be doctored, suspicious, we pucker up and drink through straws and much chocolate that has escaped from silver paper. At the till nobody bothers with eye contact or talk, this night time rendezvous has no witnesses to it’s business. The CCTV captures images but fails to record, a habit that the local police have also acquired.

Claudia rubs her eyes, sits up and falls back on the bed unsure how much time has passed. Ernesto has flown like a ghost and the debris around her is all his fault. Seedy magazines and trash, she feels spiteful, remorseful, angry and frustrated. The coffee will help.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Save as a draft

And so on the 2nd August the dull and dreary descended upon us blanking out the endless tape worm that is the road. The future is reduced to light and shapes and spontaneous manoeuvres and reaction times. We can see only so far and every other driver is intent on blinding us and puts the fear of some dark God hard into our souls. It all feels strangely good, almost wholesome, wildly scary, like a fairground ride gone wrong but nobody wants to stop and dismount. I collect my thoughts nicely and then proceed to let them loose like freed pigeons escaping into a crazy race they don't even know they are competing in. We just drive, today, the first day.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Two days later

Two days later it was still raining but we had decided to go and we did. We took surprisingly little, a couple of backpacks stuffed with odd bits of clothing, sleeping bags, a crate of bottled beer (a gift) and odd tools, a petrol can and a water bottle. Ernesto did have a few books, a few note books and a stationary wallet. As for money there was a few hundred dollars between us, available for whatever use we might put it to. Ernesto likes the feel of paper in his hands, he tightly clutched the grey bills in one hand and a hardback notebook in another while trying to give his parents a farewell hug. Claudia was standing back a few yards kicking the step. She was wearing a wide brimmed hat and the rain was dripping onto it. Her eyes were down, deep in the brown muddy soup beneath her boots, she seemed engrossed in the dirt patterns and puddles. Ernesto but his belongings into the car and turned back and grabbed Claudia grinning first and then making faces. This time none of them worked on her however and she remained stuck in a loop of obvious disapproval.

It was about eight thirty as we headed out onto the wet highway driving south west, the sun somewhere behind us prodding the rear view mirror with occasional rays through the broken rain cloud. Ernesto was driving and I was doing little more than looking out of the window as we found ourselves some natural place in the rhythm of the early morning traffic. There is a pecking order in traffic that comes and goes, you fit in, you are edged out, you are leading, you are tail-gating, you are in some one’s way, you are barging your way through. In simple terms today I was just happy to be moving and I was clear that I didn’t want to travel against the clock, on time pressure and be here or there on any given or special day, I just wanted to explore. That state of a floating exploration is hard to get to and stay in , it’s some anti-human position of achieved equilibrium where your speed, your direction of travel and the experiences that you pick up are all in line, all relative and balanced and most importantly able to be enjoyed and understood. I was thinking that to people travelling together could never quite sustain that as one would certainly push one way, naturally. Perhaps then it is best to try to drift and ride on currents like in a canoe but without a paddle. Anybody would tell you that doing that is heading for some kind of disaster - at least we were moving.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Not like this

She isn’t like this, she’s less ethereal or perhaps more physical, some thing like that. A peculiar essay on a clutch of thoughts and imaginings that transcend the actual and become somehow more beautiful. Particularly when she’s not there, she’s more beautiful when she’s not there but when she’s here I can become speechless, for short periods because of that same thing. Confused and complicated. Of course she’s with someone else and rightly so, perhaps that pushes her into the untouchable ghost world. My ghost world and over the edge.

In my head I still live by rules, I live differently but there are rules, parallel rules that fluctuate between being extreme and unworkable and liberal and unnecessary. Claudia has now become caught up in this messy mesh of unworkable rules and she, not me has broken them and so is guilty. Such is the bizarre justice system in my ghost world, it is quite unjust, unfair and unpredictable. Tomorrow it may quite different. Tomorrow if we can put some road miles between ourselves, the ranch and Claudia then things will change, the fever would lift, the ghost world’s boundaries will adjust and the panorama beyond the wide windscreen will take over. That is how I see things.

I stood on the ranch porch watching the rain and listening to the drip symphony from the roof gutter and onto the wooden boards. Rivers of rain ran under the boardwalk into puddle lakes where more frogs sat looking at one another waiting on more rain drops, as if that was their sole purpose in life. The drops continued relentlessly, the frogs remained focused. Tomorrow the weather would clear, we’d pack up the car, say goodbyes, clear the mud, check the mirrors and go. Finally go.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


I guessed that Ernesto, who I know clearly is head over heels for Claudia has, as a pre-trip measure cracked and asked her to marry him so that she can be occupied with whatever that means and that he has something to return to. I would have thought both these avenues were well covered already but perhaps things in their relationship are at a higher pitch than I appreciate. Claudia spoke a little more of the wedding and her family and then returned upstairs to prod Ernesto. I wanted us to finally get going, this stalled start and never ending ranch house summer had gone on too long.

Later that day the tyres arrived and after a struggle we fitted them and using a small tractor compressor got them fully inflated. The car looked fine and now sounded a bit better thanks to the repaired exhaust. I drove around the yard a few times and then as it was a hot afternoon sat back in the drivers seat with a beer and fell asleep. I awoke to a hammering sound, on the roof, on the bonnet, across the windscreen. Great plops of rain were battering the car, the sky was as dark as spilled pint of Guinness and was pouring down from horizon to horizon. The yard had turned to a mud slide and I could make just out hazy figures on the porch like me observing the passing storm. The frogs loved it, I could see two hopping between the pelting raindrops on the car bonnet, it was as if they slept in some damp corner and then the rain, when it came summoned them out to dance, hop and frolic in the wet. They wee a bright green, no match for the brown land and in the dry an easy meal for birds and rats, in the wet they owned the place. Everything has its time and place to rule however short or long, everything has its time. Every so often it does rain fish, toads, frogs or some other range of slimy creature and that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, mainly as cosmic coincidence. Today I just have two displaced frogs and a lot of rain.

I thought about the frogs, the rain and the car. The rain pounded down but I got out of the car at normal speed, not bending, shielding or covering my head, just getting wet. Then I walked slowly back to the ranch, it felt good.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

We are all lost

Of course I took her bait and apologised to her, I’ve no real idea why I felt that an apology was called for, in fact I wandered if I was apologising for not killing myself and so putting an end to the journey Ernesto and I hoped to shortly undertake. She gave no indication of her feelings about the trip and carried on chatting in a bouncy way about her university course next year, about horses, about a trip to Europe and about her parents back in Buenos Aries. In this present mood she was actually quite exhausting to listen to and her constant chatter dulled her sexual potency a bit so I was at least able to keep up and nod in all the right places. As I listened sponge like it did strike me that Ernesto owed me for this, there he was asleep in some post sexual coma and I was providing the sounding board that allowed his silent recovery and the continuation of his potency. I became conscious that I was not listening to her, her lovely mouth was moving, her eyes darting and there were words hanging in the air…“so what do you think?” I shrugged and raised my arms to indicate I didn’t have an answer. “Well you must have a view about that!” she quickly came back at me.

“The wedding!” she cried, almost slapping my face with the power of her delivery, “we’re getting married, have you nothing to say about that?” I had a lot to say but first things first. “I’m sooo happy for you both, many congratulations!” and I leaned over and kissed her mouth. “Shh, of course nobody else knows so you’ve got to keep it quiet.” I was ready for that and put on my most serious expression. “you can rely upon me Claudia, for you and Ernesto I will keep these lips sealed.”

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Mr Safe Driver

I decided to have an early breakfast and came into the dining area to find four of the ranch hands already drinking large amounts of coffee and swallowing smaller amounts of scrambled eggs. I got myself a hot drink and a plate of eggs and sat with them where a peculiar conversation was underway. They were discussing relative penis lengths but not in the usual size matters way, more in a “over time” way. There was a view held by some that a man grows older whilst his flaccid penis remains the same size (?) his erect penis loses length, or I suppose you would say potential length. This also applied to girth as far as I could tell. Two of the cow hands were certainly well into the their fifties and held the strongest views on this, the other two, both about forty were unbelievers. I wondered it was more of a perception thing, like worn machinery running a little loosely, weather leather that has stretched and lost its springiness or an old clock slipping seconds as the cogs wear out, or even a bit of memory failure where looking back things seemed different, more vital and err…bigger. The old hands would have none of that and laughed about God’s revenge on them apparently for their exploits in the years of wild youth and how they’d already lived too long and seen more than enough change. Too much change in the penile area it seemed.

They finished their meal leaving me to chase errant slabs of egg around the plate and sup the remaining grainy deposit from the bottom of the coffee cup. Since yesterday’s accident I had been busy with the repair, mostly on the phone or standing watching and hadn’t really seen any of the family or Claudia and Ernesto. They’d eaten alone last night I guessed and I had stayed out in the barn and then gone straight to bed. It was a pleasure then to see Claudia breeze into breakfast just as I finished clearing my plate. She was wearing a black skirt and white smock, clearly with nothing underneath the smock, her hair was wet brushed from the shower and she had that glow about her that woman have only at certain, mysterious times. It was a shame that the cowboys hadn’t stayed a few moments longer, they could have done a little more penis size research or data gathering as she breezed around the room, picking up breakfast items and without realizing it creating great flashes of electrical impulses in all directions for all comers (well only me at the moment). After watching her for about a minute I could feel the perspiration beads build up on my forehead and when she sat opposite me and pushed her plate forwards towards me and grinned, a big bubble of restrained energy suddenly rushed from my middle and was sticking in my throat. “Good morning.” she said looking me square in the eyes, her pupils like black diamonds, “another busy day for you Mr Safe Driver?”

Monday, 19 July 2010

Appetite suppressant

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but if for example you are doing nothing for example then that is a good example of a kind of non-example nothing doing object or as some might say nothing much happening. Nothing much was happening but then it was the middle of the night, I couldn’t seem to sleep and was holding in my head a headfull of agitated thoughts that collided like skiers in an avalanche. I felt my fists clench, disconnected as if called by some buried instinct to protect the conscious mind for the mental graffiti and raiding party sent out by the subconscious. Try as they might, my fists remained trapped in the physical and could subdue my wandering thoughts. Outside, through the window, somewhere across the grass lands I could hear a couple of wild dogs howling and fretting. My conscious mind caught onto their frequency and fully tuned in to the howls and varied spaces between howls. Those empty spaces seemed more important and meaningful than the howls themselves and they soothed like some cool lotion. Without trying to turn off my thoughts they turned off themselves thanks to that wild dog chorus. “I must be asleep” I thought, and promptly awoke, it was 7.30.

Smoking kills the appetite for food or to be more precise nicotine is an appetite suppressant. Fat, obese or corpulent smokers please note, you are doing something wrong. 4999.

Never mentioned again

As far as I am aware the burglary and Father Jake’s behaviour were never mentioned again.

Ernesto was clearly nursing two things today, one was a good old fashioned hangover and the other was a version of Claudia who was also fragile but for un-stated, complex reasons. They sat together out side on a weathered oak bench his eyes closed, her eyelids heavy. She was wearing tight green jeans and a loose turquoise peasant top, she was circulating and twisting around him like a jungle snake trying to eat a lamb. There were beads of perspiration forming on his forehead, he hadn’t slept properly or shaved for a few days. I didn’t image for a minute that our journey was going to begin today. So it was no surprise after a few more minutes of reptile and victim manoeuvring the two of them headed west for the ranch and more pre-siesta siesta time.

I walked over to the car, opened the door and turned the key. The Ford’s iron lump coughed like a 40 a day Baptist minister and came back to life. I got out and lifted the hood and twiddled with e few cables and wires. Everything seemed sound, the belts were clear and clean, no odd fumes and the liquids were all sitting at their maximum readings. I slammed the lid back down, jumped in and headed down the track. I needed to get away from the ranch and enjoy my own company and space for a few hours. I headed back onto the main road and put my foot down and crashed up the gears. The rev counter wobbled at 5500 and with the windows down and the wind racing the noise was rich and fantastic, in a few seconds I was doing 85. I was close to feeling like flying and the strangely and conveniently empty road ran under the tyres like a grey conveyor in a factory running at full production. I enjoyed the rush.

The next part of the journey however was a lot less enjoyable, a T junction on my right suddenly gave birth to a sky blue Pegaso Troner truck carrying a cargo of cut timber. Clearly it was moving too slowly and I in total disrespect to it’s superior and heavier presence was headed straight towards it as it executed the final part of it’s turn onto the highway. Instinctively I pulled over to the right hoping to find space to pass on the opposite carriageway, the quick jerk on the wheel met with disapproval from the stiff suspension and the car began wobble and I began to fight the wobble. To add spice to the horrific equation I could see headlights flash facing me as I toiled to control the car whilst on the left-hand side. The oncoming headlights still flashed and now presented a greater danger than the still turning Pegaso drone. There was only one way to go and that, in the spilt second I had to consider ,it was going to mean travelling off the road altogether.

When the Ford left part of the road four things happened:

a) I flashed by the Pegaso on by my far right, a cloud of fresh dust and particles signalling my move, the truck driver simply stared through his sunglasses, mouth drawn wide in shock and sudden surprise.
b) On my near right a black saloon, now with screaming horn accompaniment passed within inches nicking the passenger mirror in a brief and frankly satisfactory encounter.
c) My passage on the rough ground and partly on the metalled road became increasingly violent as the surfaces changed, my car was slowing but not quickly enough. There were a series of thumps from underneath the car and plume of dust that very quickly had me blinded and disorientated.
d) After the final and loudest thump my car stopped and I was pushed into the wheel whereupon an airbag exploded and I was then pushed backwards. Stones, rocks and more dust then seemed to descend upon the car as if burying it alive now that the worst of the manoeuvre was over.

For a few seconds I was unaware of anything, I just sat still as the airbag hissed and more fragments fell from heaven above. I closed my eyes and decided to take my time whatever was happened and regardless of whoever was out there. I counted to 25 for no good reason. I clicked the door and struggled out of the car suddenly realising that it was in fact the right way up but facing in the wrong direction. I’d come to an undignified rest 100 feet from the highway on which despite the recent violent hiatus business as usual has resumed. The Pegaso was headed away from the scene grunting up the valley with its load and the saloon had gone altogether. Neither vehicle’s driver had bothered to stop either to help or to remonstrate, life goes on, mine and theirs by a lucky and stupid thread.

Once I’d shaken of the shock and cursed myself for my own reckless driving I began to be aware of the state of the car. The vital tool in our planned journey. Firstly I noticed that it now sitting in a very rough field, one with rocks and ploughed troughs and lots of loose earth. Then I saw that the two front tyres were completed flat and that the exhaust system had detached and was scattered across the field in the dusty wake of my rapid highway exit. That was all the visible damage I could pick up but it was significant.

It was about two hours before I managed to contact a tow truck and three by time I was towed, sheepishly back to the ranch. My arrival caused a slight stir but thankfully Ernesto and Claudia were still elsewhere so at least I had a little time to recover personally and as far as possible make repairs to the car.

One of the hands was quite an experienced blacksmith and he took it upon himself to fix the exhaust, it was in four clear pieces but he began to repair it with gusto and by early evening he’d put if back together, strengthened it and renewed a couple of badly corroded parts. We managed to fit the assembly back into the car by supper time and it was now sounding remarkably sweet. The tyres were more of a problem, both were badly damaged and new ones were needed, due to their sizes they’d have to be ordered from the city and could take up to week to arrive. Things were not quite balancing up and I carried a heavy weight of foolishness around that I didn’t want Ernesto hear about too soon. I decided to stay quiet about the tyres and wait see what might happen next.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Tick tock

The debate between Raol and the neighbours, sparked by the burglary showed no sign of cooling down and I could see that Ernesto was beginning to wonder when the shooting might start. He decided to call in the village priest to mediate who gathered these angry, quarrelsome men (all of whom had better things to do) around a blistered old table in the yard. Father Jake a white haired, red faced and pipe cleaner thin man laid a heavy gold and black bible on the table top and then placed an American quart bottle of Scotch whisky on top of it. He took a moment to make eye contact with the five ranchers seated around and then began to speak. “Gentlemen, on the table I have placed two wonderful things, the good book of life and the eternal water of life. Onto these two I place my own hands.” He clutched the bible in his right hand and the whisky with his left , straightened his arms and held the two items aloft as if they were some form of offering or sacrifice.

“Your differences are to you significant, the line of a ditch, the track of a hedge, the width of a field and the depth of a well, the track along which you drive your cattle, the pasture your horses enjoy and the spaces onto which you have moved your homes and the heart of your honourable businesses. Then there are the things you share, the common good and the blessings, the good weather and the predictable seasons, the quality of our home soil, your health and strength, the love and goodness of your families, the freedoms your children have come to see as normal and the green dollars you secrete in your wallets, mattress covers and old iron safes. You have a lot to be thankful for.”

He looked at each one again, then at the bible and whisky bottle and placed them both back onto the table. “God has been good to this land and to you, you are wealthy, mature and stable men. I say (and in doing so give you God’s good counsel) that these disputes, allegations and the agitation between you must cease.” Nobody spoke. “ Raol, I have something for you.” He clicked a finger and policeman emerged from the kitchen carrying a rifle case. He laid it upon the table, clicked the catches and opened the lid. It was empty, Raol growled and the other ranchers sucked in the summer air like the hiss from a bag of snakes in the marketplace.

“Raol, your shotguns are gone, the police found your empty case in the city last night, they have no doubt been sold and moved onto some rich unappreciative fool, a gangster or drug baron who will not care for them but will own them until he himself is robbed or cut down. They have passed out of your life so be at peace, your neighbours, your friends are not party to this but in their own way they share your sense of loss and injustice and I offer you my sympathy. This is what it means to be alive, to live and learn and to let go. Let go of the guns and let go of (all) your differences.” He clicked a finger again. “Glasses?” He cracked the whisky open and poured shots for each man, including the police officer into the rough farmyard tumblers. “One in the eye for the Devil” he cried and emptied his glass into his throat.

I had observed this short, brittle but effective religious moment from the pool of shade below a tree by the fence and now better understood why, despite all the hypocrisy and complications, ninety percent of Argentineans owed some allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. By now the men were hunched forward, telling tales and laughing loudly around the table. Father Jake sat at the head as the master of ceremonies, listening, correcting and blowing smoke rings.

More drink was brought over the conference table and Juanita prepared a dish of roast chicken. It was like some edited Bacardi advert for old people and priests and if had all been part of Father Jake’s plan then I had to admire his strategy, his execution and recognising the eventual tipping point - the point at which he should rise, step back from the table, still looking like a perfect statesman and by summoning up all the mental and spiritual strength he possessed overcome the power of strong drink and rapid conversation and leave with supreme dignity whilst displaying the curious ability of being able to walk smoothly and serenely with his feet two inches above the dirt road. That was what he thought anyway.

If you are going mad how can you actually tell that it’s happening to you? What signs are there? Are they there in the faces of other people, in their eyes, in their words? Far away and senseless words, they don’t quite hang together, they are like sentences on some bus tour for sentences and phrases crashing over a cliff edge to be broken on the rocks and sharp spikes at the bottom of that deep ravine. Then their sounds, coming up from those depths are fractured and unrecognisable to most people but they make some kind of mad sense to you and you follow the ghostly floating sounds. They call and take you to that same cliff edge as they rise like Texan helium from the wreckage and when you ask yourself why you are there you realise that you are there because you are scared about what would happen if you were not there.

“I never did sleep with Claudia and she never did sleep with me, so help me Jesus.” Father Jake was lying under a tree half way down the approach road, drunk as Frenchman, wild eyed and mumbling.

The next day everybody was suddenly busy out on the ranch using up spare horses and tractors so I walked alone into every room of the house listening to the ticks, tocks and burrs of all the difference clocks. I gave them names and numbers and noted their exact locations as I found them all across the house. I wrote my findings down with a blue crayon into the lined pages of a hard bound school jotter., there was even a remarks column but it remained unused. Now I had a complete inventory of clocks but without remarks. After these excretions, some of which had lasted all of fifteen minutes I retired to my single bed and listened to the others sounds of the house whilst trying to blot out any clock related or generated noise that encroached on my concentrated efforts. It was, now that I had become familiar with them very hard for me to filter out the ticks.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A strong sense of certainty

Ernesto and Raol did spend quite a bit of time together, there were some serious problems with the farmland and ongoing and longstanding arguments about ownership. There was in fact a court case pending and Ernesto very felt obliged to look further into the ranch’s problems and assist his father. The robbery had become the tip of a substantial iceberg. Meanwhile I grew closer to Claudia as we whittled down the time sitting on long dark wooden loungers, petting the horses and walking in peculiar circles around the trees. She was likable, she was moody in a peculiar but attractive way, she was bored with ranch life, she missed the city, her books and café people and the campus dramas and she was very much against the up and coming overland journey. I did discover that Ernesto had semi-bribed her with the opportunity to join us when we arrived up at Cartagena for a celebration of some kind. He didn’t seem to have grasped my vision of the life changing nature of the trip. He and Claudia would reunite, the journey would be archived and his medical career would resume, that much he has figured. A blip. I was not even willing to plan such a thing, should we arrive on the northern coast I would do what I felt I had to do following on from my baptism of road travel, that reunion and celebratory event could be years or lifetimes away.

I found myself staring into the yellow yolk of a fried egg. Yellow as saffron with white flecks of over cooking nicking into the circle, but then shiny and serene like the head of a bald gay man or the Dalai Lama. The white had fat bubbles and framed the rich centre whose consistency seemed solid but threatened to be liquid, unexplored. Fit to burst and pour on contact with a knife or even a dull piece of bread or an innocent spoon edge. Explosive. Or was it to be still, set and benign, something to be sliced, salted and munched with little or no mess or ceremony? It was the standard breakfast egg, done to another’s sense of perfection and proprietary but not mine. I am stuck at the point where I believe that there are some things than only you can do properly and they cannot be trusted to the efforts of others no matter how genuine they are with their efforts. Delegation is the hardest skill to master.

I also developed a strong sense of certainty that (assuming the journey ever started) that the car would morph and shape shift throughout that journey and when that did happen what would then happen to the bemused and weary occupants?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Estancia Santa Rita

A thief in the night

There was no pattern to days here, the ranch work itself seemed haphazard, sporadic and at best occasional. Siesta times ran on into early evening with cow-hands and farm workers appearing and disappearing throughout the day. Everybody was however fed on a regular basis, outside in the evenings, under the sun porch at lunch time and breakfast was an open running buffet in the kitchen. There was a general air about the place of us all waiting for something to happen.. That something was very much dependant on Ernesto as the eldest son and the eventual ranch owner, once this generation had petered out. His father Raol made no secret of this, now approaching sixty, still in good health and with a perpetual twinkle from the soul into the eye he had no long term appetite for the ranch and looked forward to passing the burden on. Of course Ernesto was not looking to accept this responsibility and that was a regular source of wine induced friction.

The next morning I awoke suddenly aware of a commotion out in the yard through the thin glass of the bedroom window. A white and black police prowler was parked outside, its crew in a deep and noisy discussion with Raol. Then I heard their heavy feet clump across the floor of the house and doors slamming and more voices raised. There has been a burglary. I dressed quickly and orbited the group of four of five people who were discussing the crime. The policemen had their note books out and their one radio was cackling. I had the feeling that not much progress was being made by any party as the hot mixture of anger and shock felt by the householders congealed into something solid.

After a short time it became clear that two antique shot guns had been taken, some cash and
Some jewellery. The shot guns had the most monetary and sentimental value and were still working firearms. They had looked down, crossed like the cross of Andrew from above the study fireplace and Raol was infuriated and frustrated by their loss. He was also in the process of blaming several neighbours for their theft, based on fall-outs, land boundary issues and cracked conversations that had occurred sometime over the last thirty years. The police were of course reluctant to follow up this line of enquiry until they had understood the full nature of the burglary and gathered any proper evidence. Ernesto was acting, as best as he could as peacemaker between the parties.

The guns themselves were fine pieces, or at least had been. European in origin, well crafted and probably from the middle of the last century, quite prize and not something that any, strange or purely opportunistic burglar would have expected to find. It did strike me that local knowledge and planning were involved. And Raol was particularly keen to pursue this point rather than watch them slowly pick across the means of entry, damaged window shutters, footprints in the yard dust or anything else that might have been broken or disturbed. Eventually Raol was wheeled away by Ernesto and the police got on with their work. Ernesto flashed a knowing wink, “we may have to wait a few days until this matter is resolved.”

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day one point one

Frankly I felt that I had little time to get to know anybody but I was under pressure to fit with the family unit, even for these few days. I explained myself many times, my course, my research into tropic illnesses and medicines, my year out, the car and the need for exploration. Exploration and some internalising and a need that called me to reach into the heart of this new, magnificent and failing country that was also a fledgling continent.

In the garden Ernesto and Claudia flirted like teenagers while they pretended to do laundry, funnily enough they did and it seemed as if there were hundreds of yards of flying white shirts and aprons on criss crossing washing lines sending semaphore signals across the fields; Ernesto loves Claudia they signed to the corn and grass. I squinted my eyes and turned them into James Thurber’s swans, or Pre-Raphaelitism angels roped back to the earth like newly tamed horses. Occasionally I was invited into their jokes and cigarette strewn conversations, I kept up but they were insatiable. I wondered how Ernesto would ever stand a long journey apart from her, I now know that I did not know him at all. Neither did I know him then or do I now.

I spent a few hours prepping the car, oils and waters and pressures. Carpet bags with clothing that would serve through the four seasons and thousands of feet of elevation variations were placed in the boot. There was also a battered ex-army tent and two sleeping bags, they were grey and looked to have served in numerous wars, all of which had ended in ruination and defeat it seemed.

Ernesto spoke a lot about ethics and justice , the cornerstones of his studies, like mine all now on hold and due to be enhanced by our travel and the sight of an opposite and upside down ocean twinkling under a strange sun, if only. I took a long draw on a French cigarette and watched a family of blackbirds up in a tree somewhere across the garden. The parents furnished grubs and worms from the field across the wire and squashed them into their baby’s beaks, their little heads spiking up from the carefully crafted nest as it hangs on the v bow of a silver birch branch. The adult bird birds fly back and forth feeding the chicks like a sewing machine finishing button holes in an ornate military jacket. I watched and enjoyed their relentless industry, at the bottom of the tree in a pool of sun flakes and black cat rolled in the dust, one eye on the birds.

Across the fields a man in a flack jacket was shooting crows, the crack of the rifle sailed across the open space into the garden. The cat darted away and under a shed, the blackbirds swooped down away from the nest and into the long dry grass. It was the driest summer that any of us could remember when not considering the long term effects of our congenital defects brought about by successive inbreeding, so some said.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Claudia was shorter than I’d expected, no more than five feet tall, tiny but with an obvious boiling pot of energy within. Some vital , striking spark. The whole family had descended at about 5 o’clock and brought with them a rolling, consuming chaos that enveloped the house. Cooking was going on furiously, black pans and red steaks were on every surface and wine corks were gathering on the floor and in the corners. There were at least a dozen adults and a half a dozen children. I found it hard to keep count or to recognize and remember names, I also found it hard not to stare at Claudia who was, when not dancing amongst the kitchen tables herself, staring at Ernesto

It was a long and drawn out meal will introductions and cross connecting and meaningless conversations, few of them in English. Eventually the cheap wine took its toll and there was a mass retiral towards the rear of the house where we sat on the patio. Ernesto‘s father Juan then produced a bloodied port bottle and a weathered looking cigar box. Sexism was unknown here and both them men and women partook, the children had by now escaped and were I presumed asleep somewhere or outside practicing their night time rifle shooting. It‘s vital to keep the rabbits down.

Much later I awoke, I was still on the patio and dawn was breaking open, my unreliable watch said six thirty and I felt cold. I had enjoyed the previous night but my throat was now dry and my head aching. I lay back on the basket work couch and looked at the patterns of the woodwork on the roof. I found that it help to detach from the self and focus on some external point. Then the dogs awoke, I hadn’t realised that they were light sleepers, something had spooked them and they (three greyhounds) began to yelp and sniff. It was time to stretch and they too had to keep the rabbits down.

Breakfast was steak and eggs. Brown round steaks and great yellow eggs like Chinese suns. The coffee was hot, steaming and earthy and tasted like a swarm of wasps. As has happened the previous evening all and sundry gathered around the table and chatted in a higher than night time pitch Portuguese. I almost kept occasionally losing concentration to watch the lovebirds meet and peck in their special early morning place. She was smiling like a warm cuddle and he was grinning like a serious blow job, all between mouthfuls of steak.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

From a blue car park

It was about a 45 minute drive from Buenos Aries to the ranch, the main high ay was fine and the white house and bare trees blended away behind me until after about 20 miles I turned right away from the civilised road and onto a gravel track. The car windows were down and highway’s relatively smooth road-hum was replaced by the gravel’s crackle and cackle and the speedometer fell to 20 or less as a series of potholes, missed by the gravel began to emerge. Behind me a satisfying cloud of dust was roaring nicely emphasising the feeling of progress that I was enjoying and like some self induced cavalry smokescreen heralding my eventual arrival at the ranch house itself.

On either side there had been thorny hedges, these thinned and dwindled until there were only the dry grassy fields, occasional spindly trees and no livestock or obvious agricultural industry to see. Then a sign pointing left signalled my arrival “Estancia Santa Rita” pointed towards a low and wide, creamy bungalow encircled by more gravel driveway and glaring green from behind the house and large and luxurious looking lawn. I drove up to the dark wood front door and parked alongside a red pickup. Around me and the car the dust began to settle as I took a few moments to regard the house, garden grounds and the odd artefacts and tools scattered around the front yard. There was a sense of faded grandeur and enterprise, a permanent veil of rust and a coating of forgotten sweat and rain stains splattered across everything. I felt at home.

I got out of the car and patted my jeans and chest to remove some of the travelling dust, then walked to the doorway and pulled on the bell. A fain ding ding echoed back from somewhere inside the house. I could feel the cool interior drawing me in even before Ernesto opened the door.

A small grey lizard scuttled across my brown boots, over the concrete step and into a bush. I didn’t get his name.

“Ernesto” I shouted as he opened the door. We greeted each other in the mother tongue that is Portuguese. The language of sailors, explorers and adventurers, the brave, greedy and often foolish men who opened up this vast continent and if truth be told ruined huge parts of it. Before I had my bearings in the house Ernesto thrust a three finger glass of whisky into my hand “Explorers and thieves!” he cried, as some impromptu toast and so we drank to their disconnected, collective memory.

“The car looks fine to me” he said peering at it through the window, “ we shall start out in a few days, you need a break and tonight the family shall return and we’ll all eat together and plot a little more”. I smiled and nodded. The few days rest, here in this green oasis sounded ideal and the sharp, rasp of neat whisky had already decelerated my thinking processes and begun to relax my limbs. In a few days I would be ready for the road.

Thursday, 8 July 2010


I never did know quite where this or even I was going and the actual diary has never emerged, how could it? For the first chapter I have to go back to South America and my early years. As the laptop had not been invented I recorded things using simple paper and an IKEA pencil with occasional bursts of memory. I worked mostly on the theory that as time is/was eternal I could always get back to where I'd been, one way or another. At that point I hardly knew my traveling companion but I did wonder about him.

It should have been my final year at college, my graduation year but I could not face the return. It seemed that the last few hundred dollars in my wallet were burning a hole, the road and the mountains were burning the back of my mind and the huge sense of being on the edge of an undiscovered country burned into my soul. So I saw the car and bought the car, it was that simple. The story about the wooden piston is of course a myth but the back street garage vanished shortly after the transaction.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Stock photos

This is a very good photo that shows the car's elegant lines really nicely, note the rear spoiler, trim strip along the midriff, lhd and no number plate, this one is of course a Mercury. Now a similar photo of my car would unfortunately include numerous scrapes, dings and badly matched touch-up paint and the background would be slightly different. Hey ho.

Cougar tracks in the snow, not a common sight in West Lothian.

Monday, 5 July 2010


I'm feeling at peace with the motoring world, the price of petrol, the un-repaired roads and the stupid idiots that drive on them. I am not really bothered. I watched an ugly woman throw litter from a half opened car window in a lay by, she was chewing gum and looking grim faced. The car was nice, clean and new and she clearly had no respect a) for herself b) for her surroundings and c) for anybody else. In a ideal world she would be dragged out of her car, horsewhipped and her nice shiny vehicle torched before her eyes, but what the feck is the point. I am not really bothered and I love my Cougar (at the moment).

Thursday, 1 July 2010

2.5 V6

OK it looks a lot better than the 2.0 under my bonnet at the moment. Is it all worthwhile? Easy to live with? Well it is probably, smooth and long legged and err... a bit less economical. Maybe I'll just stick with what I know and what I can afford.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Is there a more dreary and exhausting road to drive on than the awful A80? Stuck in some perpetual loop of repairs, realignment and muddy cones since 1978 it represents some kind of ongoing caustic comment on the status of Scottish roads and the lack of vision and inertia inherent in our system of design and repairs. The saving grace for the current set of repairs is the 40mph limit and average speed cameras which strangely keep the traffic running at all times and allow some sort of roadway democracy to prevail. The problem is of course the soporific effect of the constant drone and non-lane changing boredom staring up the arse of a white van from Carluke or a heaving HGV carrying a dodgy skip of scrap metal. Finally it ends and you can either zoom onto the open freedom of the M876 going east or lurch into the endless mess of traffic lights and the infamous 30mph speed camera that welcomes you to the bleak, road film covered village of Moodiesburn heading west. It's still (point to point) quicker than the train could ever be, so in a way I can rejoice.