It’s high noon and we’re on the motorway back to that which draws all roads, London. We’re going to circle the massive metropolis on the A25 and then north on the A2 to Nottingham, four hours north (pronounced “Notngm”). Rob is driving on the wrong side of the road with style and confidence. We’re feeling good. The kindly Victor Car Hire folks who have rented us this bulbous 8 passenger van have also given us a UK Atlas. Oops, we missed our turn. Do we exit Bexleyheath? We do.
Shearness is actually an island, where the mighty Thames becomes an estuary and merges with the English Channel and the Atlantic. It’s surrounded by the classic names from WWII and earlier times of invasion, rape, pillage, and flotilla: Southend On Sea, Portsmouth, Dover. Mark drove us along the massive concrete seawall and pointed out the ancient gunnery towers far out at sea, home of pirate radio Caroline in the 1960’s. In the harbor is a sunken American merchant ship loaded with unexploded shells from the Greatest War. This is where the Vikings made landing. Behind the seawall is an older seawall that protected a firing range, still a wide pasture. Mark’s mother manned (womanned) a search light in the WWII nights. War and its practicalities (including a no nonsense breakfast of runny eggs and sausage, time to get on with it) haunt this otherwise pastoral lowland. England’s countryside is yielding to motorway lights, housing tracts, and power plants that dominate the view. The cows and furrowed fields seem like an afterthought, living on borrowed time. Although we must eat.Paul L has suffered from severe jetlag (worse when traveling east, defying nature in even more egregious fashion) his whole life, and was in mortal fear of having to do a gig and traveling while in a near vegetative state. But he has escaped jetlag almost completely this time, and wishes to share his recipe:
Get a good night’s sleep before your flight. Pack two days before so you’re not panicking as you leave the house. Take an evening flight, in this case to London Heathrow. Purchase No Jet Lag ™ at Trader Joe’s and take your first pill waiting for your flight at the airport. Treat the ritual humiliation of electronic strip search with bemusement. Bring two bottles of water and chug from them obsessively. Take the No Jet Lag pill every two hours. An hour into your flight take a half a valium courtesy Paddy McCorkle, rogue pharmacist. Fall asleep.Wake in time for your croissant and yogurt. Don’t eat the yogurt. When you get off the plane, do not fret over the fact that somehow it’s now 3:30 in the afternoon. Enjoy the sights from Heathrow into London. Set up your gear in the rock club, drink beer and tequila, have pizza, and play an electric country rock show. Have a midnight falafel. Drive one and a half hours to your late night accommodations. Smoke hashish rolled into stinky tobacco and drink more beer with Russell, your kindly host, a 62 year old Shell Oil retired engineer with stories to tell. Chat till 3:30 a.m. whilst watching VH1’s band reunion show, starring the entire original lineup of Berlin. Curl up on the settee (a couch that’s too short to sleep on). Drift off to sleep while your host continues to watch TV, which appears to be a series of electronica videos. Dream of nothing.
Wake at 11 a.m. Watch British morning TV, which is actually more vacuous than American, have a coffee with Russell. Join your mates down the road for eggs and toast at the amusement arcade. Hit the road. You’re cured. Jetlag-free.Russell’s philosophy on drinking: Vodka. Pure and simple. With lemonade. Single malt scotch is nice, but not for an evening of drinking. Stick to the pure stuff. Same with Guiness. You can only drink one, not worth the stroll down to the pub.
Russell is a good pal of his younger friend Mark Ellen, our gracious host. Mark dumps excess band members at Russell’s house. Mark works on Russell’s car when it needs the odd repair. British communalism. Mark is the drummer with Vanity Fare, who had two huge hits in the late 60’s, including “Hitchin’ A Ride” (“ride, ride, ride, hitchin’ a ride; gonna make it home; to my baby’s side”). Russell shows Paul L a video of the band, and they and Mark rock. See them if they come to your town. Mark also is a talented singer and guitarist, and has made a record of old cowboy songs set to a rave beat. We’ll see him again at the festival up in Scotland, his ancestral home.