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Published: April 25th 2013
Episode 4 – Perth (Scotland, not Australia ya silly wallaby)
Monday the fifteenth of April. I step outside Castle Rock hostel in Edinburgh around 11.30 in the morning, have a much needed wake-the-fuck-up smoke, and give the lighter I borrowed back to the nice Italian boy who's been working and living in that hostel for god knows how long. This is probably my third hitch out of Edinburgh, and for the first time I'm going to do it without getting the bus out of town. It doesn't take me too long to walk to a half decent-looking spot on the road that leads to Fife - that which many refer to as the Penis of Scotland - and beyond to the A9, the great and magical artery into the highlands. I wait for a while and get one of my impatient hunches that somewhere a little up the road would be better. It starts to rain as I walk down to a slightly more suburban stretch of road.
I've not been standing there two minutes when a police car pulls up. Someone has called in, worried, proclaiming that there is a ten-year-old hitchhiking. If you've not been following this blog, I'm twenty-four. I've been visited by many police in my time as a hitchhiker, usually because I've accidentally wandered onto a motorway, and I have to say these are the nicest ones I've dealt with. Not that they aren't noramlly nice in these scenarios, it's just that these ones seem particularly down to earth. I'm happy to give my details this time as they're only here to make sure everything is OK. I'd like to think.
Anyway, with that sorted it's not long before I get my first lift. Like many friendly souls who have picked me up, he says he's only going a couple of miles and then takes me all the way over the bridge and drops me on the A9. Score. By this time the weather is mild, the sun is almost out and it's giving me one of my first on-the-road feelings in a good while. That free feeling. The next dude is off to Aberdeen, for which the turn-off is around Perth. Too easy. For some reason he needs to go through Perth, which suits me even better. This is the first new place I've hit on my improvised adventures. I didn't really have a picture of it in my head, and somehow it intrigues me. A flat, sprawling park spreads out on either side of the road, with flowers just by the wayside that remind me of the road along the meadows in Edinburgh. We drive along the River Tay and hit the outskirts of the city centre in no time. The nice bloke drives me all the way to my friend's road. I'm staying with the grooviness that is Moe, a mutual friend of some of my old buddies who lived with me on Skye, having also lived there on and off during times that I had temporarily buggered off for some silly reason. He's told me his house number, which turns out to be a whole flat building. I knock on all the doors and of course am answered at the very last door at the top of the stairs.
The grooviness that is Moe has bagged himself a badass bachelor pad of a bedsit - complete with a hi-fi that can direct tunes from his laptop into the speakers as well as play CDs, tapes and the rather random and rather tasteful assortment of vinyl that has been left for a while by the person who used to live here - although he has chosen to cover up the amazing 70s-style busy flowery couch with some beige drapes, saying he can't stand to look at the pattern. Looking at his laundry hanging around the room, which is black without exception, I can see why this would be a problem.
We get to catching up and it's not long before Moe rolls a nice fat spliff. We get some tunes going for a while, then cook up a tasty tomato and pasta dish. We then head for Moe's friend Andy's, who is a delightful chap. We walk via the main high street which has a couple of modern arty sculptures, and the place gives me the impression of a fairly pleasant, compacted mini-city. I am a little envious upon stepping into Andy's gorgeous living room. It has a lovely carpet, suede couches and three bay windows, assorted instruments lying about the place and to top it off one of those drinks cabinets resembling a brownish treasure-map style globe, the kind that you expect someone like James Bond or a member of the Sicilian mafia to swan over to in a dressing gown. That said, he first presents us with a couple of cans of Red Stripe – no complaints there of course. He does whip out a couple of bottles from the cabinet and we sample some pepper vodka. He says it's shite and I expect this to be the case as I normally find vodka dispicable, but I find it quite alluring. I also get to try absynthe for the first time, not at all what I expected. It tastes like strong sambucca, tasty business indeed. This is what the adventure is about - new experiences in all forms. I do not however get shitfaced. I'm careful to pace myself with the hefty juxtaposition of spirits and beer. Too much so as I leave half a can when we get up to go to the number one student joint, the Green Room.
The Green Room is a splendorous tavern with lime-green painted brick walls sporting such hanging decorations as a battered old silver saxophone and a didgeroo. To my left is a shelf of board games, to the right of that a very cosy wood fire, with two couches in prime position on either side, next to that a computer with free internet, further along a piano that apparently is actually in tune, and the room stretches down towards another piano against the back wall that is apparently not in tune. In the back room there's a comedy night on entitled Drink Up and Fuck Off, but we're a bit late for that.
We take a pew by the fire which slowly burns my face as we engage in idle chit chat, and soon after a wee pint of Tennents we hear the last orders bell, after a which a screen on the wall overhead starts counting down the minutes til closing time, from fifteen. At the last minute it starts to count down the seconds, and finally displays the message, "Now, in the nicest possible way...fuck off!" Frank the barman has been explaining to us that the name of the comedy night came from someone complaining about being told to fuck off. He seems to know Moe and Andy and gives the place an added level of friendly intimacy. At the end of the night he himself announces that everyone should now drink up and fuck off. It's delivered with a blatant jovial spirit. We pop back to Andy's for a chill on the way home, and by the time we get back I'm fairly knackered so we pull out the dilapidated sofa-bed and I have a jolly good wrap up in my sleeping bag...
The next day we have a reasonable lie in – Moe has a day off college – and we begin smoking ganja at about one in the afternoon. We pop some tunes on for a while. At my request we listen to Moe's album, which is very cool indeed, an homage to crusty 30s American blues involving lots of slide guitar, a guitar he made from a cigarette box, and vocals sung through a cardboard tube. We go out for a walk round the lovely park and to a massive Asda and pick up a trout from the reduced section, which we later bake alongside some fried-eggy-potato and cabbage, because we are culinary geniuses. We enjoy this immensely and proceed to light what is probably the fifth spliff of the day, and Moe educates me on blunt wraps. Bed time rolls around and I listen to a bit of my audiobook before nodding off.
Moe has college on Wednesday so I go to use the wi-fi at the library to sort a few things out. I'm meaning to do some busking, but it's an offputtingly rainy day and I get sidetracked by various emails and library books. I manage about twenty minutes of busking on the high street before losing my vibe, although not without making a good eight quid. I have Moe's key so it's not long before I need to be home to let him in anyhow, and I meander back to the badass bedsit. More spliffs are consumed and Moe cooks up some splendidly greasy egg-fried rice, and I bake some flapjacks. The plan was to take them to a poker night at Andy's, but he doesn't text us so we proceed to scran them.
Moe is off again on Thursday and we keep the vinyls spinning, looking out the window at the grey skies. Right at the moment that Mazzy Star sing the word "sunshine", the sun begins to break through the clouds. Apparently this is a common occurrence. I go for a wander, exploring the outskirts of Perth city centre, and buy some tomatoes for a lunch with some mature cheddar cheese and Moe's homemade bread. Moe pops out to his dealer and I have a play with his four string guitar and slide. At four in the afternoon Moe has to go out to an award show at college and I have four or five hours to kill before meeting him at the Green Room. I go down to the library and find a nice corner upstairs and pour through the usual barrage of forum threads emailed to me from the couchsurfing network, keeping my eye out for anyone who is looking for buskers to join them or for any ideas of interest. The one couchsurfer I had found in the Loch Lomond area has not replied to me yet so I go with my original plan of booking the SYHA in Crianlarich for two nights, with a view to climbing my first mountain (see Episode 5). I pack up my things and go out for a smoke, and feel compelled to begin wandering. I still have to get my head round planning the next few days of my trip.
As I roam the backstreets, I consider the frustration arising from my lack of motivation to make money by playing the same boring shit by myself. If there were couchsurfers clamouring to come and meet me and busk fresh and innovative vibes with me, that would be fine. But so far I'm left to my own devices. I recall a saying at the bottom of an email I was reading yesterday: "Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up." I've always been drawn to the option of following the Tao at all times, in other words doing what the fuck I feel like. There's so much pressure in Western society to be on top of things, to fret about the future, to be productive at all times even if it means wrestling against the desire to do fuck all for however long it takes for our yang to naturally kick in. This has poisoned my brain, and I won't have it. I decide that instead of trying to replenish the funds in my account that were supposed to be for travel insurance if and when I make it out of the EU, I will use that money if I need to and worry about travel insurance when I get there. When I run out of money there will be no um-ing and ah-ing about whether or not to busk. With that decision made I head for a pub called the Twa Tams which my friend told me is the best pub in Perth, grab a cup of tea, log into the wi-fi and book a ferry to Northern Ireland. My friend has already agreed to host me in Glasgow for the night after my mountain expedition so I should have time to hitch from there to the ferry. On we go.
I grab a very greasy but cabbage-heavy burger and chips from a local kebab joint, enjoy it while staring out of the window, and head for the Green Room. I sit down on the bench outside first for a smoke, and a thirty-odd-year-old woman with a chirpy round face sits down next to me and engages in avid conversation with me. Her husband comes out and she introduces us before going back into the pub. He proclaims that I possess an angelic beauty, adding as an afterthought that I look like a lesbian. I tell him a lot of people say that. As we talk he tells me he's been caught carrying a few grand's worth of coke for a friend and is going to prison for six months. Not sure what to say to that. He invites me in for a drink. Moe is not in yet so I let him buy me a pint of Tennents. There's a guitar and a half-broken cajon lying around in front of the piano that apparently belong to the bar, and he gets the barmaid to turn down the jukebox so we can have a jam. He plays some basslines and I play some cajon, and his wife has a sing. She thinks she can't sing but has a lovely voice. He gets me to play a song so I play an old tune that I can't remember properly which he thinks is awesome. I make a note to check out his band, the New Madrids. The couple leave and I enjoy playing around with some guitar ideas. A guy at the bar asks me to play some songs so I give him a couple of songs off my new album. He then apologises for cutting me off but needs to hear some rock and roll and asks for the juke box to be turned up, but he obviously appreciated my music. A girl at the bar enthusiastically compliments my voice, and a few minutes later Moe shows up.
There's a student night on in the downstairs bar and we go out for a smoke before proceeding to the dingy purple-lit bar where the DJ is revving up some semi-chilled trance music, and meet Andy and their nice friend Neil sitting by the bar. All drinks are one fifty but there's no draught beer so we get canned Tennents poured into a glass. It's much less minging in a glass. Before long we are still standing and sitting at the bar making silly dances out of telephone-themed motions with accompanying rap vocals such as "On the phone, on the phone...hang that shit up, hang that shit up..." I meet some of the college students in the smoking area (passing around something lovely-smelling) which is all good fun. The night eventually wraps up with a few people playing Obla-di Obla-da on the piano upstairs, and we pour outside and begin meandering drunkenly down the road, and end up standing in a circle talking with some of the students, including a funny seventeen-year-old lad called Ricky who accompanies me and Moe back to the bedsit for a spliff and gets ash all over the couch. After he leaves it's time for some measly six hours of beer sleep in preparation for tomorrow's hitchhike, albeit a short one. Total tunes listened to. Many. Total weed smoked. Much. Total busking done. Twenty minutes. Tomorrow it's time to head out west for Crianlarich, in the north of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and get myself rested and ready for some very inexperienced mountain climbing.
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