Monday 28 June 2010


All great seafaring heroes have something wrong with them. Limblessness perhaps, or some other notable ailment that marks them out as being tougher than the teak down below and a few sails short of a galleon. The harder, madder and badder they get, the more things wrong with them. Not content with only having one eye, Nelson got rid of an arm too, and then managed to crown it all by actually dying on the job.

Whilst I’m not intending to take my sailing heroics quite that far, a triumvirate of unappetising physical ailments have rendered me sufficiently hideous to at least trouble for a few minor honours. An unidentified archipelago of cold sores has developed a few points off my mouth’s starboard bow. Whilst applying the cream, I managed to inadvertently scratch my eye with the same finger and now have a bulging right eye bloodshot to pieces that looks like it would be better off rolling around the deck. In order to protect my fellow crew from this hideous aspect, I have taken to shielding myself from the wind.

My third affliction is internal, in the form of some throat infection that feels like I swallow a bag of tacks every time the watch changes. Luckily I barely have time to think about these things, since we are sailing all day. Learning new manoeuvres, drills, knots. Not to mention words - why the hell does everything need a different name the minute you step off the dock?

Sleeping in ten square feet, next to someone else, in a boat that is bobbing around all bloody night is no mean feat, even less so when dogged by these irritations. Whilst my cabin mate Jeff is no Queequeg (Ishmael’s cannibal bedfellow who slept with his harpoon), I hardly slept the first night at anchor. Last night we docked in Cowichan Bay. As soon as we pulled alongside, I had a shower, and then Jeff and I set about drinking a few barrels of beer each.

Routine enquiries into the possibility of watching the football in the morning were fruitless, whereupon I had the brainwave of checking into the local hotel, thereby enabling myself to a) sleep (with no Jeff) and b) watch the match (in bed, still no Jeff). Some ideas just sell themselves. I used my English accent (together with some clever hand positioning and face angling) to charm the girl on the desk into giving me a huge discount and $150 later I had a suite of rooms for the night, into whose boat-wide bed I promptly passed out.

I might be hideously disfigured, say things like “ready to come about”, stink of salt and sweat and know how to tie knots, but if the Pantheon of seafaring Gods saw me swapping my berth for a four star hotel on my second night at sea, they won’t even let me on the friggin’ island.

Saturday 26 June 2010


Call me Joseph. Some days ago - never mind how long ago precisely - having money in my purse, and nothing particularly to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Thursday morning I repacked my bags. This done, I stepped aboard my home for the next seven nights; Windfall. A sailing boat. I should offer to qualify this by stating that I have never been aboard a sailing boat in my life, have never slept upon the waves, and have not the faintest idea what I am letting myself in for. But some siren voice, fathoms deep within me, obliges me to learn to sail.

I slung my duffel over the side with more than a little trepidation. I am not a natural upon the water. In fact I fear it deeply. Perhaps it is the uneasiness one feels when presented with the relentless motion, or that peculiar sensation of suddenly not being a part of the earth. The water, the sea, the ocean; these things are so unfamiliar to a landlubber like me that they are as alien as the inside of the womb.

And then there is the other thing, of course. The sense of adventure, yes, but the allegorical adventure too - what the sea and sailing represent. And what the Great book I so crassly parodied alludes to; and which reflects itself so immaculately in all our actions; that human nature is compelled to fear, hate and hunt the very things that will ultimately destroy it.

For the next week, I think I have a sufficiently thick hull between me and the deep blue sea to keep me safe from harm. Our captain is no Ahab, quite the opposite; he is but a 75 year old Englishman named Victor - gentle of spirit but occasioning to furiously polite commands. And though I feel not embarked upon some hell wrought quest, I will be weary of any in whose shadow I should happen to stand, lest I should find myself bound to some other man's fate.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Don't Mess With Texas

Airports are God-awful places when you think about it. And when you’re in one at 5.30am, with two hours to count out of your life before you get to leave, there’s precious little else to do. Mechanically sipping down a Starbucks coffee and picking my way through a blueberry muffin the only thing to look at is the queue for McDonalds. The supersized line up like a row of butchered carcasses on their way to be hosed down for those last juicy bits of 100% Aberdeen Angus that make up their breakfast burgers. All that’s missing are the meat hooks.

I soon snap out of this somewhat delirious state and, since I’m flying out of Houston, spare a few minutes to think about the country I’m about to leave behind. Texas is the only state in the USA whose flag may fly level with Old Glory and, should it wish, may cede from the Union at any time. It certainly feels like its own country. The first thing I saw when I walked in the Hoity Toit beer joint, my first night in Texas, was this sign;

It didn't mean a whole lot to me then - just a swaggering, arrogant sign on a pub wall. But it's a far deeper sentiment that covers a lot of ground. It says that we like things the way they are round here, it's a nice place, and we want it to stay that way. And I can't find fault with that.

You might not think of Texas as being a particularly scenic state, and on the whole you’d be right. The Hill country isn’t really that hilly - it’s more a question of an obvious contrast. Looping into Austin on the freeway it is obvious - dead flat on one side, gently rolling downs on the other. A little further north is lake country, and stunning scenery abounds.

Driving through it, you need the radio on. Naturally, they like both types of music down here - country and western. Now I like a bit of country music, but after 1600 odd miles, it can get a bit much. If you’re even remotely depressed, or worse still lovesick, you might find yourself pulling over at the next bridge. Luckily there are a few numbers that buck this trend - every time Devil went down to Georgia comes on the volume goes up and I start my Wayne’s World impression. Best of all though is I’m Still a Guy by Brad Paisley, a lyrical muse on declining masculinity in the modern age;
With all of these men lining up to get neutered
It's hip now to be feminized
I don't highlight my hair
I've still got a pair
Yeah honey, I'm still a guy
Oh my eyebrows ain't plucked
There's a gun in my truck
Oh thank God, I'm still a guy
To keep myself going on the road, I’ve chewed through the best peppery jerky on earth. Forget Jack Links - gas stations out in the countryside nearly all have a local variety on the counter. Out near Stonewall, where they grow peaches, stalls line the highways, and sell the sweetest, juiciest fruit imaginable. You literally have to lick your arms clean afterwards, which makes driving difficult.

From a culinary perspective, Texas is as close to Mexico as you can get. Taco joints grace every corner. Aside from this, they eat a lot of barbecue. That word that means different things in different places. In Texas it means beef, pork, chicken or turkey slowly smoked over mesquite, dowsed in sauce and washed down more often than not with sweet iced tea. It was the first and last meal I had in Texas, and when it’s good - like at Willard’s in San Antonio, Granzin in New Braunfels or Janak’s just outside of Worthing (!) - it is really good.

Texan wine is in the ascendency - the Hill Country is chock full of vineyards, but the beer is something very special. Small, local microbreweries create all kinds of hoppy delights. The most famous is probably Shiner - they brew their famous Bock, a stout, hefeweizen, smoked beer, pilsner, blonde and all kinds of seasonal ales. Favourite for me has to be Southern Star brewery’s Bombshell Blonde though - a creamy golden ale that hits the spot every time.

Spoetzl Brewery - Shiner, Texas

But what makes Texas great isn’t peaches or beer or hills or music. It’s Texans. It’s what they offer you, and what you find at every turn; warmth and hospitality. They hear the accent, ask where you're from, and give you a heartfelt Welcome to Texas. They say sir and ma'am. All the time. Walking down Main Street in Fredericksburg after dark, the shops are all shut for the night, but their wares still line the pavements. The contrast with the typical view of America as a gun-toting lawless society devoid of any kind of moral compass could not be starker. Even in bigger towns, like New Braunfels, things go pretty smoothly. People leave their cars unlocked, stuff out on their porches. There’s a trust, and it runs so deep that it pretty much goes unnoticed.

Pacific War Museum - Fredericksburg, Texas

To enjoy it, you must first adjust to the heat. And then, every time you leave an air-conditioned space for the outside world, you have to adjust again. Even after three weeks, opening that car door feels like sticking my head in a tumble dryer on perma press. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. The phrase as hot as Texas has entered my newly burgeoning lexicon (together with this ain't my first rodeo).

Kids cooling off in the river - Llano, Texas

Driving back towards Houston yesterday, I watched a storm heading over from the west. The bruised sky reminded me of the drive out to New Braunfels on my first day in Texas. How often things return to reference themselves; how commonly do they loop back toward their beginnings and the open ends hitch seamlessly together. I come and then I go, and mother nature, or God, if you want to call her that, counts me in and out. It is time to move on once more, and not for the first time, I am torn by not wanting to leave, and knowing that I must. I can do so in peace, since I know I never messed with Texas. Quite the opposite in fact - I have a suspicion that it may have messed with me.

A storm brewing

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Keep Austin Weird

Given that the city flies under the above banner I should have been prepared for anything. My friend Janell and I hired bikes for the day to ride around the city, and the first thing I saw was a man pushing his bicycle along the sidewalk, wearing only a thong. A thong and a thin smile of broad contentment that presumably only a well aired pair of buttocks will bring to the face. Weird indeed.

We rode out through the park and alongside the natural springs that flow through the south part of the city. After the searing heat had reduced our clothes to sodden rags, we swapped them for swimmers and took a dip. Hot out of the water, bloody cold in. Kids, dogs and weirdos splashing about to their hearts' content.

Barton Springs, Austin, Texas

Having cooled off and dried off we headed downtown and rewarded ourselves with a cold beer. Austin really reminds me of Melbourne - the skyline, the rooftop bars, the water. And that laid back easy feeling that only comes when a city is effortlessly cool, knows it, but chooses not to brag. And that slight niggling feeling that I could probably quite happily live here.

Could have middled it but didn't want to die

On Sunday I indulge in a photowalk. It's Father's Day, so the place feels rather empty. It is excruciatingly hot, and downtown is filled exclusively with bizarre looking winos. I think about wetting myself and drawing tattoos all over my face with a biro in order to blend in, but eventually opt to just secrete a few gallons through my pores instead. In spite of the giant sweat patches, or perhaps because of them, everyone I meet smiles and says hello.

If you believe what they tell you (which I usually do, depending upon who they are) then Austin is the live music capital of the world. Everywhere you turn someone is strapping on a gui-tar and getting on down. Sunday night we took in some blues on Sixth Street, an endless sprawl of music venues. The band were awesome. Ol' JT Coldfire (he had his name written along the frets) was a machine and the closing number, a medley of Folsom Prison Blues and his own version of the Texan anthem was a suitably rousing, foot stamping finale. He also gave me some stick for drinking Lone Star, which raised him considerably in my estimation.

JT Coldfire and the boys

So yeah, Austin is a just a little bit crazy. And there's live music within earshot wherever you are. And there is that glorious feeling once again - a place, and the people in it, just happy, content. Smiling that buttock baring smile of cheerful tranquility to which we mere mortals can only aspire. Or just de-robe and move to Austin - every other nut job in Texas has...

Weirdness sprinkled all over town

Sunday 20 June 2010

Rodeo Ga Ga

Halfway between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, in the heart of Texas hill country, lies Stonewall. A motel, gas station cum diner, a few houses, vineyards and peach orchards. And every June, they hold the Stonewall Peach Jamboree. A rodeo. Not a flashy, glitzy big town rodeo, but one befitting a place of less than five hundred people.

Stonewall, Texas

The crowd awaits the main event

I turn up half way through the Mutton Bustin' - any kid under 70lb can rock up and see how long they can stay on the back of a sheep. What ensues is pretty funny, tiny little kids clinging on for dear life. Somehow I can't see the Health and Safety Executive allowing these kind of antics at your standard British village fĂȘte. Whoever stays on the longest wins a pair of cowboy boots. Most don't need them it would seem - there are a lot of little cowboys kicking around the place.

While the flags are ridden out they play Johnny Cash's Ragged Old Flag to the standing crowd. The undercurrent of pride and patriotism is gripping, though not a word or face betrays it. Why is this kind of display treated with such suspicion and disgust in England? Why, as a nation, are the English unable to face up to their past, accept the things that were wrong, applaud the things that were right, and embrace the essence of what it means to be English? Perhaps it is because it doesn't mean anything any more. That the lack of any cohesive identity means we forget what we stand for. Aside from drinking cups of tea and losing penalty shoot outs, of course.

Flag waving

Right now, back home, the country is no doubt deeply immersed in its quadrennial bout of flag waving. How curious it is that the only time as a nation we should engage in such activity is when a group of cashed up chavs step forth onto the world stage to 'represent' us. Standing on the steps with Americans - a nation of nations if ever there were one - and feeling the depth of their pride was enough to make me feel slightly ashamed of our awkwardness.

That's not to say that this pride can't be misplaced, as the George Bush impersonator behind the mic kept banging on about troops and armed forces and God, and the 'clown' in the middle made so many Brokeback Mountain jokes that he must surely be a bit of an Ennis himself. He even managed to drop in the odd Mexican gag too, despite the fact that the crowd was about half Mexican and he probably ate tacos for breakfast, but hey.

Cowboys - and not a quitter amongst them

In the midst of all this ruminating, the rodeo continued unabashed. Bareback riding (testicle insurance a must), barrel racing for the ladies, roping, team roping, steer wrestling, cattle scramble for the under 5s, and the grand finale, bull riding. Not to forget the audience participation event - wild cow milking - in which teams of three attempt to catch a cow and hold it still whilst one of them milks it. Coming to a village green near you...

Barrel racing

I got chatting to the girl next to me who told me her husband was a bare back rider. Right on cue, he was introduced as some all conquering cowboy champion, then came out and proceeded to cling to the back of his crazed horse for about ten minutes, in what, even to a layman like me, was quite obviously the outstanding nut-busting performance of the night. I'd get involved myself, I assured her, but I can't bring myself to wear the chaps.

All-Texas Chaps wearing Championships

Once all the fun and games were over, they let wild horses run around the arena. Cue the gushing movie soundtrack music and G Dubya started telling everyone how wild horses represent everything that makes America great - Freedom. Freedom that we owe to our troops. And to God. And Cowboys. And so on. It all begins to get a little too much for me.

I can see his point and all, but I'm sure he doesn't have to labour over it quite so much. Maybe there is something crass about this kind of collective outpouring. Why do we need anthems and flags and symbolism to hold us together as people? Maybe the English are pioneers of modern nation state patriotism, by just not caring for it at all? I mull this question over in my mind for a few moments, before deciding that I cannot possibly address the full range of its consequences without a cup of tea, and head gracefully home to pop the kettle on and ponder the meaning of it all.

Ragged Old Flag - Johnny Cash

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench, an old man was sittin' there.
I said, "Your old court house is kinda run down,
He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town".
I said, "Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,
And that's a ragged old flag you got hangin' on it".
He said, "Have a seat", and I sat down,
"Is this the first time you've been to our little town"
I said, "I think it is"
He said "I don't like to brag, but we're kinda proud of
That Ragged Old Flag

"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there,
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
and It got powder burned the night Francis Scott Key sat watching it,
writing "Say Can You See"
It got a rip in New Orleans, with Packingham and Jackson
tugging at its seams.
and It almost fell at the Alamo
beside the Texas flag,
But she waved on though.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee and Beauregard and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on
That Ragged Old Flag

"On Flanders Field in World War I,
She got a big hole from a Bertha Gun,
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp, and low, a time or two,
She was in Korea, Vietnam, She went where she was sent
by her Uncle Sam.
She waved from our ships upon the briny foam
and now they've about quit wavin' back here at home
in her own good land here She's been abused,
She's been burned, dishonored, denied an' refused,
And the government for which she stands
Has been scandalized throughout out the land.
And she's getting thread bare, and she's wearin' thin,
But she's in good shape, for the shape she's in.
Cause she's been through the fire before
and I believe she can take a whole lot more.

"So we raise her up every morning
And we bring her down slow every night,
We don't let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought
I do like to brag
Cause I'm mighty proud of
That Ragged Old Flag"

Thursday 17 June 2010

No place like home

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.

It’s no coincidence that I’ve hardly written anything in the last two weeks. I haven’t been travelling, but standing still. The same thing happened in Buenos Aires - I just ran out of things to talk about. On the move again, things came to life.

When you stop moving, even for a short time, the molecules settle and find their own level. You unpack your bags. You begin to know your way around. You get accustomed to people, places. You know what to expect. There might not be a routine as such, but there’s a hint of one. This isn’t a bad thing - on the contrary. With all of this comes something that warms the soul: comfort. Stand still for long enough, and a place begins to feel like home.

I don’t have a home right now. I have a 10 x 8 storage unit containing the objects that will one day be reconstituted in the form of a home. Maybe. It’s not just about a house of course, and I do have a home in England. It consists of my family and friends, and the places I know like the back of my hand. But home is where the heart is, right? Well my heart’s here, beating softly inside me. The people I know and love, together with the ones I've met along the way, they are all somewhere else.

Gran's house, New Braunfels, TX. My home for the last 2 weeks

On Wednesday morning I said goodbye to Erin, Regan and Gran, and moved on from New Braunfels. Consequently, I feel a little lost right now. Unsettled. Like one of those little snow dome things. Sat on the mantelpiece for God knows how long, wrenched from its spot, shaken and replaced (though never quite where the ring of dust had formed around it) while the snowflakes flutter and swirl around their tiny universe.

Wednesday 16 June 2010


“Aah used to have a lot a crap hangin’ round here.” Wendell’s hand nonchalantly waved toward the walls of his shack. The front porch was adorned, no covered with crap. An artificial limb, bull horns, rusted children’s toys. A hook consisting of an extended middle finger. Old bar signs, beer cans. Crap. Everywhere. Not a spare inch of bare wall. “Whatcha drinkin’ there Wendell?” someone asked, pointing at the Smirnoff Ice like liquid swirling around in the bottle. “Aah, that’s water. It’s kinda murky though.” The clock ticked past midday.

Wendell is a big guy. Around my height, six foot or so, and probably sporting a few more pounds. He looks no more than fifty but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he is. He has massive hands, and his shake tells you everything there is to know about him. He is a warm, generous, kind man. A funny man too, but he won’t take any shit. A Texan, through and through.

We bumped into Wendell again in an outdoor store in Austin. He was buying a knife. In the ensuing discussion of knives, he shared a story. Some kids were camping on his land down by the river, so he drove over to move them on. Spotting the baseball bat on the front seat of his truck, one of them asked if he was expecting trouble. “Nah, that’s just in case you boys were fixin’ for a game a baseball”. Unsheathing the bayonet from an AK47 he added; “This is in case there’s any trouble”.

Friday 11 June 2010

Remember The Alamo

In amongst the shopping malls and Tex Mex restaurants of downtown San Antonio, I can't help but checking out The Alamo. There's not a lot left now obviously, but the old chapel still stands as a shrine in memory of those that died here. It is overrun with fat people, and doesn't feel especially shrine like to me, although the sign on the door touches me, most people inside fail to heed its call.

Maybe it's just the contrast with the crippling humidity outside, but an eerie chill runs through the little museum. What the hell must it have been like to just stand there and fight, knowing you were going to die, but doing it for what you believed in. On the second day of the siege, Travis, the commanding officer, sent the following despatch:

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison are to be put to the sword if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. VICTORY OR DEATH.

William Barret Travis

No wonder then that Texans have a fierce sense of patriotism. Or that the shops around downtown sell t-shirts with the outline of the state, a Colt 45 and the words "Texas - We don't dial 911". Everything starts somewhere, and so much that makes the people of this state so great can be traced back to the courage and fortitude of those that fell on this very spot.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Lone Star State

Luckily for me, I left Miami last Wednesday. My actual exit itself was unceremonious. Some excessive American Express abuse, a hangover that never materialised because I never sobered up, a taxi ride and a conversation in Creole that never quite got going, some ropey airport food, the inexplicable absence of a first class lounge and, finally, a very deep sleep. A two hour flight and a three hour drive later and I found myself outside the Hoity Toit Beer Joint in New Braunfels, Texas. Welcome to America.

I'm staying with my friend Erin, her sister Regan and their Gran, Gran. I'm here for a while, a welcome break from all the moving around of the last couple of months. And it is so nice to just live in a house for a change.

It is hot in Texas. Hot, but most of all humid. Saturday we partook in the locals’ favourite pastime - toobing (pronounced tubing) - floating down the Guadeloupe River on giant inner tubes. A cool box of beers and three hours to cover two and a half miles of river, just gently floating along under the searing Texas sun. We hook legs over each other’s tubes to form a little flotilla, but I peel off every now and then to soak up the serene beauty and just succumb to the river’s wishes. It’s a sublime sensation.

It's a good job we did it while we could. Last night saw the mother of all thunderstorms. Just before bed I sat out on the porch with a beer to watch it pass. But it lasted for five hours or so, and it just kept getting heavier. Lightning so bright you'd think the earth was on fire, and thunderclaps that shook the pictures from the wall. And rain. The heaviest rain you can imagine. A foot of it fell overnight. A biblical flood for bible country.

I like Texas. The people are unbelievably friendly, and fiercely patriotic and proud of where they're from. You rarely see a stars and stripes without the Lone Star flying alongside. They say howdy and y'all all the time. And they eat Mexican food morning noon and night. Last Friday began with breakfast tacos and ended with drive thru tacos at 2am. No wonder they're all so fat - more than a month in this place and I'd look like Michael Moore. It's a chance I'll have to take. For now y'all, I ain't goin' nowhere.

Friday 4 June 2010

Miami: Bond, Crabs and Silken Bibs

With ceremony, a wide silver dish of crabs, big ones, their shells and claws broken, was placed in the middle of the table. A silver sauceboat brimming with melted butter and a long rack of toast was put beside each of their plates. The tankards of champagne frothed pink. Finally, with an oily smirk, the head waiter came behind their chairs and, in turn, tied round their necks long white silken bibs that reached down to the lap.
Bond was reminded of Charles Laughton playing Henry VIII, but neither Mr. Du Pont nor the neighboring diners seemed surprised at the hoggish display. Mr. Du Pont, with a gleeful "Every man for himself," raked several hunks of crab on to his plate, doused them liberally in melted butter and dug in. Bond followed suit and proceeded to eat, or rather devour, the most delicious meal he had had in his life.
The meat of the stone crabs was the tenderest, sweetest shellfish he had ever tasted. It was perfectly set off by the dry toast and slightly burned taste of the melted butter. The champagne seemed to have the faintest scent of strawberries. It was ice cold. After each helping of crab, the champagne cleaned the palate for the next. They ate steadily and with absorption and hardly exchanged a word until the dish was cleared.
With a slight belch, Mr. Du Pont for the last time wiped butter off his chin with his silken bib and sat back. His face was flushed. He looked proudly at Bond. He said reverently, "Mr. Bond, I doubt if anywhere in the world a man has eaten as good a dinner as that tonight. What do you say?"
Goldfinger - Ian Fleming

The setting for this feast was “Bills on the Beach” - in fact a place called Joe’s Stone Crab, on the southernmost point of Miami Beach. Naturally, I had every intention of recreating the experience for myself. Equally naturally, things didn’t quite pan out that way. Stone Crabs are out of season from May 15th, so there goes that one. And sitting on my own drinking a large vodka martini and ordering a tankard of pink champagne from my genial waitress who has worked at Joe’s for sixteen years would have simply marked me out as a twat.

I settle for a large vodka and tonic, a pound and a half of steamed king crab claws and the driest Sauvignon Blanc on the menu. Not without ceremony, the claws arrive on their plate, and clarified butter is poured into a dish. No-one ties a silken bib around my neck, though it would have been a nice touch if they had.

The meat is incredibly sweet and tender. I begin eating it unadorned, but occasionally furnish with a little melted butter. It has a rich, intense nutty caramel taste, almost enough to make me think they infuse it with something. But no, they keep it piping hot in huge jugs in the kitchen, so it is gently toasted a little more the longer it sits. Were the meat itself not so delicious, I would have been pouring the stuff all over the place.

I have ruminated on the splendour of the crab before. That such magnificent, prehistoric creatures should yield such sweet meat is one of the wonders of nature. And that the very tip of the claw, the deadliest, most brutal part of the beast’s anatomy, contains the sweetest flesh of any animal on the planet, the greatest of them all.

Miami is a town of gross decadence and overindulgence. Sodom and Gomorrah. Cashed up city boys smoking cigars in the pool. $250 bottles of vodka. Tanned skin sizzling under the Florida sun. Miami is like a B-list celebrity who has seen better days - propped up by botox and silicone and layered in make up. Walk past her on the street and she might look youthful and vibrant. But any more than a cursory glance and you'll realise that someone's just papered over the cracks.

It is pretty nauseating really, but exactly what I expected and in a strange way hoped for. Ian Fleming knew what I meant. Which makes me kind of glad I didn’t have to wipe melted butter from my chin with a silken bib.
Bond thought, I asked for the easy life, the rich life. How do I like it? How do I like eating like a pig and hearing remarks like that? Suddenly the idea of ever having another meal like this…revolted him. He felt momentarily ashamed of his disgust. He had asked and it had been given. He had made his wish and the wish had not only been granted, it had been stuffed down his throat. Bond said, ‘I don’t know about that, but it was certainly very good.’

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Miami Vice

Wow. What a difference a day makes. With all the subtle nuances of a Snoop Dogg pool party, American Airlines plucks me from the misty streets of Quito and repatriates me, swiftly and ceremoniously, in the Shore Club, South Beach, Miami. Florida. US of A. And with that, everything changes.

I embrace my new aspect by getting into the swimmers and heading down to the pool for a couple of beers. Luckily I own mirrored shades. It's also lucky that I have a high pain threshold. Not content with charging $300 a night, these guys take you for everything you've got. 18% service charge added to every conceivable thing they can bill you for, except the Mini-Bar, which is 20%. If anyone can explain the concept of imposing a service charge on something to which you help yourself, I'd love to know. I thought it was supposed to be the Land of the Free.

I distract myself by indulging in all kinds of novelties, like speaking English, drinking tap water and flushing bog paper down the toilet rather than putting it in a small bin.